What has been said in the previous chapter is admittedly somewhat inconclusive as regards the Evangel of the Circumcision, and even suggests that this is only what we might reasonably expect. Actually, Scripture gives no formal definition of the Evangel of the Circumcision and only a very brief one of the Evangel of the Uncircumcision, in 1 Cor 15:3-8. We may, however, regard the Apostle Peter's first speech in Acts as an epitome of his message.
Placing this beside the Apostle Paul's Evangel, we can see the difference in emphasis. Not "Christ died for our sins," but "you, gibbeting through hand of lawless ones, assassinate" Jesus the Nazarene (Acts 2:22,23). His entombment is not spoken of, but that of David is. Not "He has been roused the third day according to the Scriptures" but "Whom God raises, loosing the pangs of death, forasmuch as He could not be held by it"; and, after this, a demonstration that the Lord Jesus is David's Heir. Not a detailed list of witnesses, but "This (is) the Jesus God raises, Whose witnesses we all are". Not the humble lowliness of Paul, but the exaltation of the Lord Jesus at God's right hand. Not the proclamation of grace, but the waiting for enemies to be subjugated. Not the glorious Secret of the Resurrection, but "Let the entire house of Israel know certainly, then, that God makes Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus Whom you crucify." (Acts 2:36).
There is an immense amount to be learnt from his comparison, but here we can consider only what is relevant to our theme. The really remarkable thing about the two evangels is the diametrically opposite way in which they view what is, in all essentials, the same thing. There is an old story of a street which ran east and west and led straight to a church with a tall spire. One evening, two men who lived on opposite sides of the street had an argument about where the sun had set. One said that it had set at the right of the spire, the other maintained that it had set at the left. The truth was that it had set that evening immediately behind the spire, and both men were right, each from his own point of view.
Both evangels are right, each from its own point of view. They have a great deal in common; but they hold it in different ways, they see it from opposite standpoints, they lead to widely divergent doctrines and they are associated with completely separate callings.
The Gentile who received the Evangel of the Circumcision did not receive "circumcision," he did not become an Israelite. What he did receive was "evangel". He had received good news; but in so far as he had, so to speak, received it from the wrong direction, he was missing its true significance for him. What he did receive was the pivotal fact common to both evangels, that Jesus Christ died and rose again. What he did not and could not receive, until he took his proper place as Gentile, was the meaning and significance of the Lord's death and resurrection, for him, as distinct from an Israelite.
When we said further back that, apart from bringing them into the Kingdom of God, the Evangel of the Circumcision had no message at all for Gentiles, we were stating the exact position. The careless thinker might deduce that this implies disparagement of the Kingdom of God; indeed, many Christians have disparaged the Kingdom and written of it in a way which may justly be called shameful. This sort of deduction is unfair and unreasonable. We do not disparage Kingdom truth in saying that, being only one aspect of our Lord's message, it is deprived of most of its significance if any of us attempt to hold it in isolation. This attempt is the very mistake made by Israel during the Lord's ministry on earth. Even His disciples made it. They made it in a different way from what we do; but the effect was the same, loss of balance and consequent error. They fixed their eyes on the future Millennial Kingdom. We have tended to fix ours on the linkage of the Kingdom with Israel. Both views are partial and so both are mistaken.
What we must never lose sight of is that the Evangel of the Kingdom (that is to say, the good news which concerns the Kingdom itself as distinct from the good news which is of, and addressed to the Circumcision or the Uncircumcision) does not disclose how those who receive it may attain to the righteousness of the Kingdom. From this flows a most important consequence. Kingdom truth concerns all who receive the Evangel of the Kingdom, who therefore come under the jurisdiction of God; but it does not stand by itself. The particular aspect of it which concerns those who receive it is determined by the nature of the evangel which is specially addressed to them, whether the Evangel of the Circumcision or of the Uncircumcision. When one who is of the Circumcision comes into contact with the Evangel of the Uncircumcision, one of two things must happen. He will reject either his circumcision or the Evangel. If he pretends to accept both, he is merely attempting to deceive himself and others; he is like a person who talks of a round square or black light. Similarly, the Evangel of the Circumcision is inapplicable to one who is uncircumcised. He must either reject it or accept the obligations of covenant. Both persons have put themselves into an impossible dilemma through listening to an evangel which was never designed to fit their existing standing and condition.
By a roundabout way we have come back to the point which was made in Chapter two. Certain truths belong, of their very nature, to all who come to Christ as Lord and King and Saviour. Certain other truths are equally dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ, but they are conditioned by the special circumstances of those to whom they apply. In our quite proper efforts to rightly divide the latter truths, to hold to those which are ours and to leave to Israel those which are theirs, we have been inclined to set aside the former and even to hand them over to Israel as legal and fleshly. The time has come to recover what we have lost.
The Evangel of the Kingdom and Kingdom truths have hitherto been set aside by many of us as "Jewish," as things of the past and of the future days after the Lord Jesus has come again to set up His Millennial Kingdom, and as emphatically out of order for the present time. This, it is submitted, is a most serious error and the root cause of all our dissensions over administrational truth. On the contrary, Kingdom truth is present truth and permanent truth. It embodies the only truths which are not only true now but which will remain true after we have been removed from this scene and all Israel has been saved.
For consider what the Evangel of the Kingdom really is. First, the proclamation of the Kingdom of the heavens by John the Baptist. The relevant passages, which should be placed side by side for study, are Matt. 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-18 and John 1:15-37. The first alone speaks directly of the Kingdom, "Repent, for the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near!", but it contains two significant hints for those who have ears to hear, the reference to Abraham in verse 9 and to baptism in verses 11 and 12. Luke alone gives the quotation from Isaiah in full, ending with the words, "And all flesh shall be viewing the saving-work of God." John extends this revelation even further. The fullness of the grace and the truth of the Word become flesh came into being through Jesus Christ, through Whom God is unfolded. All this is crammed with significance for those whose minds are saturated with the Greek Scriptures. The Kingdom is concerned with the promises to Abraham, its entrance is through baptism, it involves the viewing of God's saving-work by all flesh and it is the coming into being of the grace and the truth brought by Jesus Christ.
When the Lord Jesus in His turn proclaimed the Kingdom, He repeated John the Baptist's proclamation, and at Nazareth He announced another quotation from Isaiah (Isa. 61:1, 2; Luke 4:18, 19). This quotation began with His anointing (i.e. His Christ hood) and ended with the proclamation by Him of an acceptable year of the Lord. At this point He broke off—for it is still, to this day, an acceptable year of the Lord. This, then, amplifies John the Baptist's proclamation, but adds nothing essentially new to it.
We have, therefore, four strands of Kingdom truth. Where any of these are found, all are found, and there is the Evangel of the Kingdom.
More than that, they define for all His people the significance of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus meet the need which we encountered further back.
Let us examine them in turn.
The first gives one of the keynotes of Matthew's Gospel. These are struck at the very start: "A scroll of lineage of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham." The genealogy begins with Abraham, the second set of fourteen generations in it begins with David. The presentation of the Lord Jesus in Matthew as Son of David is the best-known feature of the Gospel; we are so used to seeing in it His Kingship that we are apt to forget the other side. Only in Matthew does John the Baptist proclaim "Repent! for the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near." In none of the other three Gospels is the word, "kingdom," used in connection with John the Baptist's ministry, and nowhere at all does the word, "king," occur in this context. John was proclaiming the Kingdom, but not the King, as king. John's reference to Abraham is in connection with the threat of judgment to Israel and a hint that Abraham would yet be father of others beside Israel. This passage is paralleled in Luke, but the next reference to Abraham in Matthew (Matt. 8:11) is peculiar to this Gospel and confirms the hint referred to above. The last reference to Abraham (Matt. 22:32) is paralleled in Mark 12 :26 and Luke 20:37, and is in connection with resurrection.
Matthew is currently regarded as the most "Jewish" Gospel of the four; and so it is in some ways, but not in all. There is nothing necessarily and exclusively Jewish in the Kingdom of the heavens, just as there is nothing necessarily and exclusively Jewish in Abraham. The Abrahamic blessings were never intended to be confined to the Covenant People; they are for all who share his faith. After all, he was not one of the Circumcision to begin with!
The second feature of John the Baptist's ministry, baptism, is the only feature of it recorded in Mark; who also gives a fuller account of John's murder than the others. The request of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, is answered by the Lord Jesus more fully in Mark (10:39, 40) than in Matthew (20:23). Mark alone gives the pronouncement "and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am being baptized." The final reference to baptism, which terminates both Matthew's and Mark's Gospels, has always been a puzzle. Mark refers to Pentecost, but certainly not exclusively to the incomplete Pentecost recorded in Acts. If the Eleven evangelized the entire creation, we have no record of the fact, and the silence of Acts is difficult to account for Matthew's preference is rather to a teaching ministry, and looks to the conclusion of the eon. The only reasonable interpretation of this Commission by the Lord is that it is yet to be carried out, and will be at the end of this eon, and by recognized successors of the Twelve Apostles, perhaps the 144,000 in Revelation, after the Church called out from the Uncircumcision has been taken up to meet the Lord in the air. That such an undertaking would cover a considerable space of time, even under modern conditions of publicity and transport, is evident. Probably we may fairly affirm that only under modern conditions could it be carried out.
However this may be, Mark associates baptism with death, and with entombment, and with the Pentecostal signs. The last of these comes to the fore in Acts. The first and second, in the Apostle Paul's epistles. We see the association with death in Rom. 6:3, 4; 1 Cor. 10:2, 15:29; Gal. 3:27, and with entombment in Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 10:2, and Col. 3:12. The latter association explains why Paul makes the entombment of Christ so prominent a feature of the definition of his Evangel in 1 Cor. 15:1-8. It can be understood only with reference to baptism, while it brings baptism into the forefront of Paul's Evangel.
Acts begins with the Lord Jesus telling His apostles that which concerns the Kingdom of God, and referring His teaching to John's baptism and the promised baptism "in holy spirit not many days hence." (Acts 1:5) This links Acts with the Kingdom. So does the very last verse of Acts, and this latter comes after that closing scene in Rome about which so much has been written. Acts continues the Kingdom testimony; but it certainly does not close it, as many would have us think.
The next reference to baptism (Acts 1:22) also looks back to John's baptism, and is in connection with the choice of a twelfth apostle to replace Judas. This election is necessary in order to complete the testimony to Israel. It is not necessary as a preliminary to unlocking the Kingdom, since the keys were entrusted to Peter, who, therefore, possessed full powers to carry out his task.
Throughout Acts—and indeed throughout Paul's epistles—we have got to distinguish the different threads of teaching; and to do so properly we have to separate them at one time and consider them together at another. It is like listening to a piece of god music. We may first listen to the tune which is going on in the upper notes, then to that in the pedal notes, then if we are sufficiently expert to the inner part or parts. Finally, when we have accomplished these things, we may be able to hear all the parts together. Then, and only then, do we come within measurable distance of hearing the work as the composer heard it.
Similarly, Acts is the continuation and development of the Kingdom testimony of John the Baptist. Acts is the continuation of the history of the rejection of the Lord Jesus by Israel. Acts is the history of the callousing of Israel disclosed by Paul in Romans. Acts is the history of the unlocking of the Kingdom to the Gentiles. Acts is the history of the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Unless we hear all these "tunes" separately and together, we are not hearing what Luke wrote. Only a fool would regard inability to understand music as something to be proud of. Only a fool would claim superior spiritual enlightenment because he could perceive no more than one theme in Acts.
Seven times in all is the baptism of John referred to in Acts. (Acts 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 13:24; 18:25, and 19:3, 4, 5) Twice do baptism and repentance come together (2:38, 13:24). Water is mentioned in 8:36; 10:47, 48, and 16:15 (river). Apart from these, we find the verb in the Passive Voice in 2:41; 8:13, 36; 9:18, and 16:33; and in the Middle Voice in 8:12,16; 18:8, and 22:16.
On these differences of voice, A. E. Knoch in a series of papers in "Things To Come" of 1907 severed the baptism received by Paul from John's baptism. He pointed out that John baptized his disciples, instead of exhorting them to do it for themselves as under the Law. He said that remarkable as this feature of John's baptism was, it was still more remarkable that after this manner had become so thoroughly established Paul should be told to baptize himself (Acts 22:16). Unfortunately for this theory, in the other account the verb is in the Passive Voice (9:18). This would probably have been noticed if the other had been rendered "get him baptism" or "get baptized," which is the real force of the Middle Voice. That the severance is a delusion can be seen from the first occurrence of the Middle Voice of the verb in Acts (8:12), which is in connection with "evangelizing concerning the Kingdom of God." Paul's first proclamation to Israel referred to John's baptism (13:24) and the two last references to it are of great interest and importance as showing that the Kingdom ministry of John the Baptist had penetrated to Jews in Corinth and in Ephesus, although the ministry of the Twelve had not yet done so, if it ever did. Here we actually see the Apostle Paul taking over the Kingdom ministry direct from John the Baptist and, what is more, doing so in churches which were partly Gentile and to which three of his epistles were addressed. This fact settles once and for all the question whether the Kingdom was an exclusively Jewish affair.
Only twice in Acts is water directly spoken of in connection with baptism. In a third passage it is suggested by the reference to the river. In the last reference to John's baptism (Acts 19:1-7) there is doubt as to what really happened. Is (verse 5 a part of what Paul said or is it a continuation of the narrative? However this may be, the fact is that the coming on of holy spirit occurred not when these men were baptized but "at Paul's placing hands on them." It is, then, at least possible that Paul performed no water baptism in Acts, but that his mission, as regards baptism, was to add baptism in spirit to those who had been baptized in water: Since Acts 22:16 is part of Paul's account of his conversion, which took place long before, Acts 19:3-5 is really the last reference to baptism in Acts. It would be foolish to ignore its enigmatic nature. The only certain deduction to be made is that spirit baptism is not necessarily linked to water baptism. This is reinforced by the fact that only once in Acts (10:47, 48) do water baptism and the pouring out of the gratuity of the Holy Spirit indubitably come together; and here the water baptism comes afterwards.
It would seem, then, that water baptism was administered only to those who had not been in the way of receiving John's baptism. If this be so, we may look upon water baptism as a kind of extension of John's baptism during the time of transition. John's baptism was "in water into repentance." The Lord's promised baptism was to be "in holy spirit and fire." (Matt 3:11) This was fulfilled in Acts, at Pentecost. The Lord Jesus is never said to have Himself baptized anyone in water. (John 4:2) Then why should we expect to find His baptism associated with water baptism? All the evidence is either against it or neutral. We cannot deny that the baptisms at Pentecost were in water (Acts 2:41); but neither can we affirm it, because the passage does not say, and we are not at liberty to add apparent omissions just to suit our theories. The point is that we are to turn our eyes towards what is disclosed, and not dwell upon and certainly not interpolate what is not.
In harmony with the foregoing, the Apostle Paul did not actually refuse water baptism, but he certainly was not enthusiastic about carrying it out (1 Cor. 1:13-17). He could not refuse it, at any rate at first, because it was the foundation of his Kingdom ministry. He would not encourage it, because his aim was to lead onward and upward, and not to dwell upon the things of minority. Those who lay such stress on it merely demonstrate their own immaturity.
The saving-work of God has already been considered in Chapter 1. The first three of its four occurrences are in Luke's writings and are something more universal than Israel's concern. The first centres round the little Boy Jesus, the second round the ministry of His forerunner, John the Baptist, and the third is the announcement at Rome that it was dispatched to the Gentiles. Moreover, except once in John's Gospel (John 4:22) the corresponding abstract noun "sOtEria" (salvation) is confined in the Gospels to Luke's. (Luke 1:69, 71, 77; 19:9).
Saving-work, sOtErion, is a concrete idea; it is something done or accomplished. Until it is accomplished, the abstract idea, salvation, is unattainable. One of the special weaknesses of the modern mind is its bias towards abstractions. We can talk of even the ultimate values, truth, goodness and beauty, for a long time without producing any startling effect. The words slide over the mind as if on oil. Yet say instead, "This is true," and you immediately challenge attention. You have forced the issue, and the one to whom you are speaking has got, for an instant at least, to face reality. So, here, we have so nearly lost the concrete idea, sOtErion, that in most translations, even the C. V., it is rendered by the abstract noun. We ought to be able to quote Simeon as having declared "my eyes perceived Thy saving," and to read also "all flesh shall be viewing the saving of God"; but idiom forbids. The coming of that little Boy, Jesus, was to the holy eyes of Simeon the visible manifestation of the inconceivably great and terrible and wonderful deed to which God had set His hand for the overthrow of sin and saving of mankind. One day all flesh will view it. When Paul addressed the Jews of Rome it had already passed out of the limited sphere of the nation of Israel and had been sent to the other nations. It was something much more than the salvation which it accomplished; it was the whole unfathomable act of condescension and love and mercy which brought about salvation.
In essence Luke's records are the history of the saving-work of God in Jesus Christ until the time was ripe for the full disclosure of all the marvellous secrets entrusted to the Apostle Paul.
So far, we have been considering three common nouns, three concrete things. Now we come to John's Gospel and to a pair of abstract nouns, the grace and the truth which came through Jesus Christ. Though the Apostle John is more abstract than the Apostle Paul, he does not deal merely in abstractions, but bases everything firmly on concrete fact and reality. These two words are no exception.
The deep and wonderful prelude to John's Gospel ends with the words: "And the Word became flesh, and tabernacles among us, and we gaze at His glory, a glory as of only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." After this John the Baptist at once testifies concerning the Word made flesh. (John 1:15-18).
In a real sense the whole passage John 1:15-37 sums up what was proclaimed in the other three gospels and unfolds their significance, and the remainder of John's Gospel is all extended commentary on it.
The two words get their significance in different ways. In John 1 :14-18 are the only occurrences of "grace" in John's Gospel. The Law which was given through Moses had grace, but this grace was superseded by the grace which came into being through Jesus Christ. By contrast, John uses the word "truth" in his Gospel and first Epistle more frequently than any other writer in the Greek Scriptures. Having stated the theme of the grace which came through Jesus Christ, John turns away. He knew full well that its development was to be put into the hands of another, the Apostle Paul. He, therefore, prepared the way for this by dwelling on the theme of the truth.
A paper, by the writer of this, entitled 'Truth—A Scripture Study," was published in "Unsearchable Riches," 1933, Vol. 24. In it was given a Structure, showing the occurrences of the word "Truth" in John's Gospel. This is so much to the point of the present subject that it is quoted here:
In the light of our present study, this Structure takes on a fresh significance. The first part belongs to the period when the Kingdom was being proclaimed to Israel, and centres round that proclamation. The second belongs to the period after the pronouncement in Matthew 13. It is the plainest possible intimation that the truth which came into being through Jesus Christ was something more, not only than what had already been revealed, but than what could be revealed at that time, even in John's Gospel. It was an unrevealable secret then; it became a marvelous display of the secrets of God's power and wisdom and love in the Apostle Paul's epistles.
And so we find the door opened wide by the Apostle John for a further revelation of the truth and by implication—for we may not separate them—of the grace which came through Jesus Christ. And let us remember that this started by way of John the Baptist's proclamation of the Kingdom. Wherever it may lead us, the starting point is the Kingdom proclamation by him.
And where does it lead us? Where do we learn the crowning revelation of grace, as grace pure and simple, in the Apostle Paul's epistles? Where but in the development of the doctrine of the Conciliation in Romans 5 which shows it as the reign of grace? If grace now reigns, we must be (in a sense) living in the kingdom of grace; and if this is not a figure of the present aspect of the Kingdom of God, language as a medium for communicating God's revelation has failed us.
For something which is supposed by many to be now in abeyance, the Kingdom appears with disconcerting frequency in the Apostle Paul's epistles—some 14 times of which 4 are in the Prison Epistles. Let us refuse to be disconcerted, and examine the facts for ourselves. If they will not fit into theory, so much the worst for theory.
The first is in Romans 14:17: "The Kingdom of God is not eating food and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in holy spirit." Next, in 1 Corinthians 4:20: "For not in the word is the Kingdom of God, but in power." These two passages look back to John the Baptist's ministry. John's diet was sparse and the locusts were not contrary to the law. He pointed to the reality which the Law foreshadowed. From this our thoughts go forward not only to the righteousness proclaimed by Paul's Evangel but to the peace which should go with it— justification and conciliation—and further yet, to the future Melchisedek priesthood of the Chief Priest, Jesus (Hebrews 7:2). The second passage looks back to John the Baptist in a different way. He proclaimed King and Kingdom in burning words, but the power he left to Him Who can and will wield it.
The third passage, I Corinthians 6:9, 10, deals with those classes of persons who shall not be enjoying an allotment of God's Kingdom. (Literally: "Or are you not aware that unjust (people) God's Kingdom will not be tenanting." In V. 10 the words are reversed, so we read "a Kingdom of God.")Two other passages also dwell on this theme, Galatians 5:21 and Ephesians 5:5, though in rather different terms The last reminds us that the Kingdom is Christ's as well as God's. This is not a limitation of it, as some appear to imagine, but an enlargement of its meaning, implied in the Gospels, but not explicitly stated. The Gospels treat of Christ as King with a very careful delicacy. Even so, what He said about His Kingship was misunderstood and distorted by His enemies.
With these three passages we must take 1 Corinthians 15:50 into account "Now this I am averring brethren, that flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the Kingdom of God; neither is corruption enjoying the allotment of incorruption." The whole subject is one of jurisdiction. Grace and conciliation do not come into this aspect of it, nor are we concerned here with what the Kingdom is to be, but with what it is now. It is rather curious that we who have laid such stress on right division of administrational matters should have ignored right division of Kingdom references, but so it is. The Kingdom of the Son of Mankind will assuredly be a kingdom of flesh and blood. All the prophets look forward to this marvellous beneficent rule of Christ over the earth. It will be a spiritual kingdom, but it will also be as material a kingdom as any now in the world; more material in fact, since it will have power and stability and glory far beyond the attainment of any earthly dominion in this present eon. This is the Kingdom which Christ will be giving up to God, even the Father at the consummation; and more, for with it will be included the purely spiritual Kingdom whose subjects we now are. We will refer again to 1 Corinthians 15:24 in the next chapter.
In conformity with the whole principle of reigning grace, of the Conciliation, there is very little of the element of judgment in the Apostle Paul's epistles. But there is a definite judgment atmosphere in these three passages. They make it perfectly plain that for certain sorts of sinners there is no place in the Kingdom of God. The subject, we must repeat, is one of jurisdiction, of rule. Under God's rule certain sins cannot be tolerated, and those who practise them simply disqualify themselves from being subjects of God. The questions of grace, justification and salvation do not come into this. What holds good regarding them is not affected by the even more basic consideration that before they arise the sinner has to come to some realization of his sin and of what it means.
Much has been made by some teachers of the fact that the Apostle Paul does not write in his epistles about requirement of repentance. So, therefore, repentance is set aside (in theory) and relegated to "Kingdom truth", which without any doubt it actually is. But we cannot in practise ignore Kingdom truth, what ever we may try to do in theory. Not only does Paul propound such Kingdom truths as we are considering, but also he implies them. It has become unfashionable to use such terms as "conviction of sin" as a pre-requisite to faith and justification. Paul indeed does not use the term, but the thing itself is there, at the very onset, in the first three chapters of Romans. It does not seem to occur to us that the person who has taken these chapters really to heart, and who has perhaps also experienced Romans 7, has a deeper understanding of repentance than can be obtained from any other Scripture whatever.
After all, Scripture does not indulge in vain repetitions. The tribute collector's cry "0 God, be propitiated to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13) is echoed in the heart of everyone who really comes to the Lord Jesus for salvation. This is the very first. elementary teaching, the foundation doctrine which those who are Christ's ought to be able to take for granted and use as the starting point for growth in the realization of Him. From Paul's epistles we see, or ought to be able to see, that it is implied throughout, that it is what gives meaning and depth and reality to everything that is taught; and it was not necessary that he should have had to repeat what was already so clear and plain. Consider the doctrine of the resurrection. Paul states briefly the outline of the evidence in I Corinthians 15. Is he not pointing back to the full accounts in the four Gospels? And when he says "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for our sakes" (1 Corinthians 5:7), is he not inviting us to contemplate that Passover in Jerusalem? Why demand that he repeat what is already so plainly set forth?
Certain other doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth of the Lord Jesus, lie implicit in the background of the Apostle Paul's epistles, but are not mentioned by him at all. Why, indeed, should he affirm the Virgin Birth? Is not the definite testimony of Matthew and Luke sufficient? That the Epistles were written before the Gospels is a mere assumption. What is certain is that Paul presupposes some knowledge of the Gospel narratives. Since they existed then, at any rate in verbal form, we can hardly doubt that some written accounts existed too. This is what Luke's preface implies, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that he did not write his Gospel during the period covered by his second treatise, Acts.
The Apostle Paul presupposes some knowledge of the Gospel narratives, even though what is essential for his evangel is set forth fully in his epistles. His epistles are very nearly complete in themselves. That is clear enough, and we must not go outside Paul's epistles in seeking to understand his message for ourselves. It is when we come to co-ordinate his Evangel with the rest of Scripture, to examine its setting in the whole of God's purposes, that we need other Scriptures. That is really our difficulty with Kingdom truth. Because the whole of it is not for ourselves exclusively, and because what belongs to it in Paul's epistles is that aspect of it which is for ourselves exclusively, we are apt to get confused. Yet that confusion is entirely of our own making. To avoid it, all we have to do is to grasp, both in theory and in practise, that the Scriptures which belong exclusively to us are Paul's epistles; and then to study the other Scriptures with this understanding as the background of all our thought.
Now we come to the other references to the Kingdom in the Prison Epistles. There are four more, Colossians 1:13; 4:11, 2 Timothy 4:1, 18, making a total of five, the number particularly linked to grace. Christ is associated with God in Ephesians 5:5. Now in Colossians we read of the Father "Who rescues us out of the authority of the darkness and transports us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love." This way of speaking of the Kingdom at the present time shows its transcendent spiritual character and its complete accord with everything in the Prison Epistles. This is one of those passages which are so luminous that any explanatory comment simply obscures them. The same really applies to 2 Timothy 4:1. It belongs to the close of Paul's ministry and in a very special way to the close of the Economy of the Secret. What is urged here is always important, but intensely important at a time like this present distress of ours. In preaching, our greatest need now is a steady insistence on God's sovereignty. Paul's last reference to all the Kingdom brings us back to John the Baptist's. With John the Baptist it was of the heavens, with Paul it has become celestial. If we could think of this without prejudice we could grasp without effort that it is the same kingdom viewed in opposite ways. John was proclaiming that something new had drawn near, the direct rule of heaven on earth, made possible by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had completed what John had begun. To him had been given the glory of taking the grace and the truth brought by Jesus Christ to the very highest transcendence and revealing that His Kingdom was not only heavenly in character upon earth but extended to the celestials as well.
Colossians 4:10, 11 discloses a remarkable fact. There were actually three men of circumcision who at that time were a solace to the Apostle Paul in his bonds! And this in spite of what he had written in Galatians 6:11-16 and Philippians 3. These three had not been called to Paul's Evangel. They were Israelites who had not been required to abandon their circumcision and become Gentiles, and who therefore were not members of the church which is Christ's body. They were in the same position as the Apostle Peter and other survivors of the Twelve at that time. Their expectation was the same as his and as portrayed in Hebrews. Yet they had one thing in common with the Apostle Paul and with us. They were fellow-workers for the Kingdom of God. The only ones—but the amazing thing is that there were any at all, that any "of the circumcision" could possibly be fellow-workers with Paul.
The word rendered "fellow-workers" occurs in the C. V. 13 times, not one of which speaks of "fellow-workers in the church", and only one (and that textually uncertain) of "fellow-workers in the evangel." That some referred to members of the body of Christ is definite for instance, the Apostle Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). Being an apostle, and not being one of the Twelve, he could not possibly have been one of the Circumcision. See also Rom. 16:3, 9, 21; 1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor. 1:24; 8:23; Phil. 4:3 & Phm 1:24. In Codex B. and T.R. 1 Thess. 3:2 reads "Timothy, our brother, and servant of God and fellow-worker with us in the Evangel." Probably this is the correct text, but we cannot regard it as certain.
The remaining occurrences of "Kingdom" are in 1 Thess., 2:12 and 2 Thess. 1:5. The Thessalonians were called into God's own Kingdom and glory and for it they suffered.
Of the Twelve, outside Acts, the Apostle Peter alone uses the word, and then only once, in 2 Peter 1:11 James uses it in James 2:5, and in a notable way, recalling as it does the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Anything more entirely incompatible with the Kingdom of the Son of Mankind, set up in power in the days of the Millennium, would be hard to imagine. On the other hand, it is eminently to the point for the true Israelite during the present time, and, in the light of our new understanding of the Kingdom, for the true Christian of the Gentiles as well. There is not a word in this part of the chapter, Kingdom truth indeed, which has not been applicable here and there to Christian assemblies all through this present economy. The words are addressed to "the twelve tribes in the dispersion" and are primarily for them; yet, since the Kingdom has been opened to the Gentiles also, the words must be applicable to them, as they certainly are. This does not mean that we may take all James' epistle to ourselves all distinctively Kingdom truth in it.
Though nothing is said about "the dispersion" in Hebrews, its general tone leaves no doubt whatever about the aptness of it's title. It is not concerned with the present Economy of the Secret. It is concerned with the present eon; but only in connection with Hebrews, not with Gentiles at all.
The first reference to the Kingdom in it, in conformity with this outlook, is in connection with the Kingdom of the Son, and with its righteousness. (Hebrews 1:8, 9).
The second occurrence of the word "Kingdom" (Hebrews 11:33) is not connected with the Kingdom of God or related to Israel's past history. The third (12:28) is at the end of the exhortation which sums up the doctrinal portion of the epistle. "Wherefore, accepting an unshakable kingdom, we may be having grace through which we may be offering divine service in a way well pleasing to God with piety and dread, for our God is also a consuming fire." This note of warning with its mingled tone of grace and judgment is, as we have seen before, characteristic of the Israelitish aspect of the Kingdom of God. "Accepting an unshakable kingdom." This cannot mean earthly dominion for that is the one thing the true Israelite has not and cannot have in the present eon. In the spiritual kingdom now in force they are one with us; they are indeed our brethren, and we must not forget it. The same may be said of the Apostle Peter's reference to the Kingdom.
The Kingdom as it is seen in the Apostle Paul's epistle has a different appearance from the Kingdom as exhibited in the Gospels; but there is no need for us to be surprised or disconcerted at that. Like everything else connected with Paul's Evangel, the Kingdom is shown as released from the fetters of covenant. For the present, it is no longer bound to Israel. It is suffering no restrictions; and we are thus able to enjoy a sort of preview of it as it will be in that glorious state of finality and completeness before Christ delivers it to the Father.
Why should we imagine it is in abeyance when it has actually been freed from bondage is a mystery. For that is the exact position. The purely Israelite kingdom which was expected by Israel could only be a temporary thing, analogous to the chrysalis of a butterfly. That this is the general aspect of it in Matthew's Gospel is simply the consequence of the fact that it had to start that way. It had to start bound to covenant. It had to start as related to the promised Kingdom on earth, because that promised Kingdom is the form it must needs taking in the coming eon. Even so, there was never any doubt from the very beginning of its proclamation that it was to be something more than "the Messianic earth,rule of the Son of Man" as some expositors have described it. From the very first it was the Kingdom of the heavens. That should have warned us all off the idea that it was the kingdom of the earth. The reader is urged to bear patiently with all this underlining of the obvious, because the extraordinary fact is that to most of us it is not at all obvious. In our recoil from the error that the Church is the Kingdom and that all the Kingdom prophecies are fulfilled in the Church we have gone to the opposite extreme and severed the two completely. Both extremes are mistaken, and we would perceive this readily were we not blinded by tradition.
Dr. Bullinger's pamphlet, "'The Kingdom' and 'the Church'" displays this blindness to a distressing degree. It starts by drawing a line. of separation between the whole series of pairs of ideas, between law and grace, between the Christian's standing and his state, etc., and ends the list with the Kingdom and the Church. Now, the mere operation of classifying these pairs together as opposites does not make them so. He was simply assuming the very thing he had set out to prove! Later on, the word "kingdom" is defined correctly, except at the end, where a little twist is given "So that a kingdom necessarily implies the presence of reigning king." Then Britain, by this definition, ceased to be a kingdom during the royal visit to South Africa in 1947. This view will not find ready acceptance among British people!
For Dr. Bullinger's theories to hold, it was necessary for the Kingdom to be in abeyance while the Church is in existence on earth. As Scripture is silent about this supposed abeyance, it has to be supplied somehow, so it is assumed to be going on during part (but not all) of the time of the absence of the Lord Jesus. Such is the blinding effect of preconceived theory. It is all distressingly vague. In one place the Kingdom appears to go into abeyance at Matthew 13. In another the parables in this chapter "bring the history of the Kingdom down to the destruction of Jerusalem, and do not take it up again until after the Church of God has been removed." Truth does not require to be supported by jugglery of argument; and when such methods are employed, we may take for granted without hesitation that something is amiss. If we think of the Kingdom of God in a natural simple way, as the sphere of God's jurisdiction, sovereignty, rule; we find no need to explain away any Scripture. On the contrary, every reference to the Kingdom explains itself. We are enabled to hold our place in the Kingdom in our own right in Christ Jesus and without stealing anything at all from Israel. We can accept what belongs to us of Kingdom truth without surrendering anything whatever of our special standing and privilege revealed in the Secrets entrusted to the Apostle Paul. We lose nothing at all: indeed we gain, in that we are able to refrain from defending questionable theories, since we have surrendered the theories and freed ourselves from everything but the truth.
When Luke penned the closing words of Acts he was not merely rounding off his historical narrative with a little padding, so to speak; he was making a disclosure of fact which is necessary for our understanding of the whole historical framework of the Greek Scriptures. The dissolution of the meeting of the Jews in Rome marked the completion of Paul's ministry to Israel, and set him free to go ahead with his main work without any administrational restrictions. This work was two-sided, as the last words of Acts declare. At last we have recovered some idea of the meaning of his preaching of the Kingdom of God. "That which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ" was necessarily somewhat enigmatical, because it referred to a ministry above and beyond the scope of the historical parts of Scripture. Both elements are needed by us and in the next chapter we shall consider their point of contact, the conciliation.
Since I wrote the foregoing comments on Col. 4:10, 11 (Chapter 8) some further light on the passage has appeared and the whole mater has become of such importance as to call for more detailed examination.
The C.V. rendering seems to imply that nobody else whatever, except these three "of circumcision", were fellow-workers of the Kingdom of God who became a solace to Paul. In the face of Acts 28:31 this cannot possibly be what is meant. I suggest that we could follow the Greek more closely by rendering it." . . . and Jesus, the one called Justus; they being out of circumcision, these only, fellow members unto the Kingdom of God, who indeed became a solace to me." This, brings out the ruling fact that these only were "out of circumcision"; but see below as to this point.
Immediately the question arises, what exactly does "out of circumcision" mean? Too readily have we all assumed that this is merely a circumlocution for "Jews" or "Israelites"; but Scripture does not interchange terms in that casual way. Where there is a difference, there is always a corresponding distinction, even though it may be so delicate as to elude all but the most careful and thoughtful students.
The words "ek peritomEs", "out of circumcision" might, I suggest, with propriety be rendered "Circumcisionists" in all six passages where they are found. That is just what they mean, and I can see no reason whatever why we should not be strictly concordant with them. As this point is of major importance, it must be looked into closely. The Genitive "peritomEs", "Of circumcision", occurs in Acts 7:8; Rom. 4:11, 12; Eph. 2:11, and in Rom. 2:27 after "dia", meaning "through circumcision". With the article and meaning literally "of the circumcision" it occurs in Rom. 3:1; Gal. 2:7, 8. With "ek", "out of", it is found in Acts 10:45 and 11:2 (the out of); Rom. 4:12 (to the ones out of); Gal: 2:12 (the ones out of) ; Col. 4:11 (the ones being out of) and Tit. 1:10 (the out of). Some texts add "the" after "of" in Tit. 1:10, but the balance of authority is against this, as also is the evidence of the other five occurrences.
Now it is, or ought to be, evident that if "tEs peritomEs" means "of the circumcision" and "peritomEs" means "of circumcision", "ek peritomEs" must mean something different from either. It is not right to claim to be concordant if we do not show such distinctions whenever it is possible to do so. . Here I am convinced that it is, and, I submit that we can render the six passages correctly and concordantly, as follows:
also who are observing the elements by the
footprints of the faith, in uncircumcision, of
Gal. 2:12 fearing those who are Circumcisionists
Col. 4:11 they being Circumcisionists
Tit. 1:10 especially the Circumcisionists.
One deduction from all these considerations, due entirely to Dr. Roberts, is particularly interesting. Almost universally Luke is regarded as a Gentile; but Dr. Roberts points out that this is simply a mistaken inference from Col. 4:11 (ibid p. 491, Note), for v. 14 Paul names Luke in a way which distinguishes him from the previously named "ek peritomEs", and so, according to the usual understanding of the term, Luke could not have been a Jew by birth. If Dr. Robert's idea is correct, the fact that Luke was not a Circumcisionist is no proof whatever that he was a Gentile. Dr. Roberts adds: "We are therefore at liberty to believe that, like the other writers of the New Testament, he was by birth an Israelite; and hence we easily explain that intimate familiarity which he displays with the peculiarities of Judaism." I am grateful to him for removing this difficulty I have always felt about Acts being written by a Gentile.
Correspondence of style have been noticed between Luke's writings and the Epistle to Hebrews. It now becomes possible to consider on its merits the possibility that Luke was author or part author with Paul.
I hope the foregoing has cleared up one section of a group of words about which complete confusion has hitherto reigned among us. Others will be dealt with later.
In his epistle to the Romans the Apostle Paul was laying the foundation of a new revelation of the goodness and grace and grandeur of God. The Hebrew Scriptures rose to great heights, and so did the Greek Scriptures addressed to the Circumcision, and the five historical books of the Greek Scriptures. the four Gospels and Acts; but they were not free to reach the loftiest heights of all as Paul's Epistles were. The reason for this is that they were, one and all, bound up with Israel. Their scope was conditioned by the privileged position of Israel as the covenant people.
Romans breaks the bonds. First, it breaks the bonds of privilege (Rom. 3:9, 10). The true nature of the Law is revealed. "For through law is recognition of sin," or perhaps even better "For through law is a fuller knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3 :20). The aim of the Law is revealed, "That every mouth may be barred, and the entire world may be becoming subject to the just verdict of God".
Next, Romans breaks the bond of enmity. "Being, then, justified by faith, we may be having peace toward God" (Rom, 5:1). This is viewed as the sequel to the Abrahamic blessing, the theme of Chapter 4. Both the agreement and the contrast with Hebrews 7:1-2 are deeply impressive, but Hebrews cannot reach the goal which Romans does because, for Hebrews as such, the way must be through the New Covenant.
Further on we read, "When we were still sinners Christ died for our sakes".. (5:8). Then comes something analogous to the process in music of modulation into a different key: "Much rather, then, being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation through Him." "Christ died for sinners," but now the thought arises: That deals with sin, but what of the offence brought about by sin, and the indignation which the offence must needs call for? So we leave, for a time, the thought of sinners for whom Christ died, and envisage. instead enemies for whom God's Son died. "For if, being enemies, we were conciliated to God through the death of His Son, much rather, being conciliated, we shall be saved in His life," (Rom. 5:10).
That it is the Son of God Who is here presented shows that (in some measure at least) it is the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ which is in view. Whenever we read of the Son there is an element of sovereignty. In the first reference of all (Matt 1:1) He is Son of David and also in the first by Paul (Rom. 1:3). Colossians 1:13 is an outstanding instance. In Hebrews we come to His Sonship in a more forceful and dominant sense. Sovereignty in its most dominant form is to be found in those passages of Matthew which refer to the King' dom of the Son of Mankind. That dominant sovereignty is foreign to Romans, because dominant sovereignty implies absolute rule and absolute rule implies bonds for its opponents. An absolute sovereign cannot tolerate the existence of enemies.
We therefore read in 1 Cor. 15:24-28 that preparatory to the consummation, whenever Christ may be giving up the Kingdom to God, even the Father, He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. In this passage, a.gain, the theme modulates from Christ to the Son." . . . then the Son Himself also shall be subject to Him Who subjects the universe to Him, that God may be All in al1." (v. 28) . Not until the perfection of government is attained can the end of government come about.
The first reference to the Conciliation is the only ore which associates it with God's Son. Of the two references to the Re' conciliation only the last is associated with the Son. Here sovereignty is once more the basic theme. ". . . the Father. .. Who rescues us out of the authority of darkness and transports us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love". (Col. 1:12,13). The rest of this most marvellous passage, ending with v. 20 is about the glory of the Son, culminating in the reconciliation of the universe. Immediately after this is a parenthesis, "making peace through the blood of His cross," bringing us back to our starting point in Rom. 5.
This association of both Conciliation and Reconciliation with sovereignty ought not to surprise us. As sinners we need a Saviour. As enemies we need a King. People are enemies of God primarily because they refuse to recognize His sovereignty; and the result of this refusal is that, whether they like it or no, they come under another sovereignty, that of death. (Rom. 5:12-14).
So Romans breaks another bond, the bond of death. The result of the Conciliation is that "even as sin reigns in death, thus also Grace should be reigning through righteousness, for eonian life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." (Rom. 5:21). Here the C. V. does well to give capital letters to "sin" and "grace," for they are personified. The figure of speech is perfectly plain, and there is not the slightest excuse for misunderstanding it. As always with figures of speech, the aim is to make understanding more easy. If our treatment of figures makes understanding more difficult, the fault is in ourselves.
The English language takes root words from many tongues. This is a great strength; but for the careless or for those not deeply educated in words, it is apt to prove a snare. In Greek, "basileus" means "king," "basileia" means "kingdom," and the verb "basileuO" means "to reign." The superficial difference in English of this third word tends to blind us to the essential sameness of the three. All too easily, it is possible for us to read about the reign of grace without the smallest realization that it is Kingdom truth we are encountering! We can put the matter in a colloquial, but therefore, perhaps, all the more vivid way, by saying that the Conciliation is what happens to the Kingdom when it has been released from the bonds of covenant. At first this sounds an almost intolerable paradox. We read those wonderful words in 2 Cor. 5:18-21. We think of ourselves as ambassadors for Christ. (And, after all, an ambassador is the representative of a kingdom or of its equivalent.) We think of God entreating through us. We think of ourselves as beseeching for Christ "Be conciliated to God." And when we think of the great battle in heaven (Rev. 12:7) and the following words, "Now came the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ"; and, further back, "The world kingdom became our Lord's and His Christ's, and He shall be reigning for the eons of the eons!" (Rev. 11:15) And finally, we think of what is said about the Kingdom of the Son of Mankind. And then we ask ourselves, as we must, what have these things in common? The answer is the Greek root "basil."
Sovereignty, rule, does not necessarily imply the exercise of force. Force need come in only when sovereignty is challenged or defied. The tremendous display of force in Revelation is God's long,deferred answer to the age-long defiance of Him by His enemies. As long as law; is imposed upon sinners, so long will it be broken; and the Lawgiver defied, by those who break it. Prophecy tells us that in the coming eon the Law will be imposed on the world by force. Rule will be in its firmest, strongest dominant form, figured by an iron club. (Rev. 12:5) But no trace is to be seen of this iron club among the Covenant People themselves when the New Covenant is concluded with them. (Heb. 8:8-12) The Lord will be to them for a God and they shall be to Him for a people. For ruling His people no force whatever will be necessary in the state they will be in then. The iron club will be for those who are not in covenant with Him. Their obedience will be compulsory.
For us who are Christ's there cannot possibly be any challenge to His reign over us. We were conciliated to God by the death of His Son.
So Romans breaks yet another bond, the bond of sin. Again there is a modulation after the climax at the end of Romans 5. From the thought of sin reigning in death comes a new thought, "we who died to sin." (Rom. 6:2) The theme of sovereignty passes away, to be replaced by the theme of death, entombment and resurrection. After a while sovereignty returns for one brief instant: "Let not sin, then, be reigning in your mortal body." (Rom. 6:12) It disappears from the scene with these words and the issue changes to slavery versus freedom.
At this point the reader may be inclined to say something like : "Yes, I see all that; but you have not touched the real problem. Whatever possible connection can exist between Kingdom truth and world-conciliation."
Romans is one epistle; and only as a unit can it be properly understood. The first main theme, the demonstration that "all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), is not simply the prelude to the statement of the doctrine of justification by faith; it is the prelude to everything else in the epistle. It destroys all claim by Israel now to special privilege; and it does so, not on the ground that Israel rejected their Messiah, but that all humanity are brought down to a dead level of abasement by sin. At the very outset Romans has struck a new note. The Gospels and Acts centre round Jerusalem and are concerned with Israel's failure and Israel's crowning sin and Israel's refusal to repent of that sin. In Romans, the curtain rises on a far wider stage; not Israel but all mankind, not Jerusalem but the whole world.
We are quite right to distinguish between the various themes in Romans. We are quite wrong to separate them and to isolate them. For many the epistle is little more than a treatise on justification. They stop at the end of Chapter 4. Others receive Chapter 5, jump to Chapter 8, and then stop. What we need to grasp, theoretically and practically, is that it all hangs together. Romans 1 to 3 is concerned with all humanity because of the Conciliation, not because of justification of faith alone which, though open to all mankind is in fact the concern only of the relatively small number who receive it. Very little is said specifically about the World-Conciliation; but everything in Paul's epistles implies it and would crumble into nothingness without it.
From this point of view the declaration that the casting away of Israel is World-Conciliation (Rom. 11:15) is the key to the whole epistle and to all Paul's epistles. In some aspect or other it permeates them through and through. Apart from it, not a single word could properly be written to a single individual of the Gentiles. Although the Apostle Peter unlocked the Kingdom to the Gentiles, it is quite obvious that he did not properly understand what he was doing. Yet his act was possible only because the Conciliation already existed potentially; and was about to be proclaimed, actually, in the Apostle Paul's preaching and epistles. On Peter's part it was a superlative act of faith, as became the one of the Twelve whose faith was outstanding. The Conciliation was the consequence of the death of God's Son. It began on the cross. It was, however, foreshadowed before that, in the Secrets of the Kingdom. The second of those parables, that of the wheat and the darnel, implies it. "Leave both to grow up till the harvest." (Matt. 13:20) Does not that presuppose a toleration of the existence of evil which is impossible except for the Conciliation?
This does not mean at all that we find the Conciliation in Matthew's Gospel. The Conciliation belongs to the secrets .entrusted to the Apostle Paul, and nowhere else. But it is not hanging in a void, as it were. It existed from the cross. The casting-away of Israel was an actual fact, even though unrealized, from the time of Matthew 13. These things were actualized, realized, made public, by the Apostle Paul; and the commission to do so was given to him alone.
One of the notable characteristics of Paul in his epistles is his avoidance of what we might call "history for history's sake. " He is concerned with facts rather than acts. He is concerned with the fact of the Conciliation, not with its historical place; and that is evidently the way we also are intended to look at it. History in the Scriptures belongs to Israel, it is centred round God's purposes for them and ceases when they cease actively to operate. So we see the historical basis of the ~Conciliation in the death of God's Son, we see its world significance in the casting-away of Israel.
Secrets do not present themselves in Scripture while Israel is the privileged Covenant People. There are no secrets in Matthew till Israel's King is rejected and the Lord Jesus turns From the nation as a whole to His chosen band of, disciples. Then appear secrets, the Secrets of the Kingdom; and these are concerned with the whole of the remainder of the present eon, and consequently with the whole time covered by the present Economy of Secret. All the outstanding features of the Economy of the Secret except one, justification by faith alone, are secrets, and even the evangel characterised by justification by faith alone would lose its essential nature if it were not for the Secret of the Evangel, the Conciliation. All these features of Paul's Evangel are interlocked, and we cannot really separate them from one another without virtually destroying them. We cannot separate them from the Conciliation at all.
The very fact that the Conciliation is "world-conciliation" indicates in itself that it is a Kingdom truth. It is the present form of the Divine government of the world. Now that, in God's sight no privileged class exists, He is released from all the restraints imposed by the existence of such a class. That for Him the restraints are entirely self-imposed and voluntary does not alter the fact that they are restraints. The breaking of bonds for us is also a breaking of self-imposed bond; for Him. So now He is free from such restrictions. Because the world has done its worst to His Son and can therefore do no more, He is able to ignore whatever more it may try to do. No longer need He reckon their offences to mankind. As it is no longer possible to go any further in that direction, it becomes possible to go infinitely far in the direction of love and favour. This does not mean that judgment is not possible any more. It is possible, and it will in due course be wrought to the full; but what has happened has made it possible for God to refrain from judgment without detracting in any way whatever from His holiness and His justice—and that is what the Conciliation means.
This becomes much easier to grasp when we consider what the ultimate Reconciliation will mean. Then, there will be no enmity on the creation's part and thus there will be no cause for enmity (and therefore no enmity on the Creator's part. Now, there is enmity on the creation's part, but the enmity has gone so far in bringing about the death of God's Son that it is incapable of effectively doing any more. It has exhausted itself in overreaching itself. In destroying its every claim on God, it has freed Him to do infinitely more than any creature claim could ask.
The question will arise in many minds, "How does all this affect the Secret of Ephesians 3?" The answer is, "Not at all. In no way whatever." In reorienting the Conciliation, we have in no way altered it; and if we have not altered the Conciliation, we certainly have not altered the Secret.
If anyone doubt, it is only necessary to ask in what way we have changed the Conciliation? By associating it with Kingdom truth? Only if Kingdom truth is not for ourselves. Only if the case built up in the preceding chapters can be overthrown.
This doubt is very right and proper, provided it springs from a strong desire to have nothing to do with any notion which may weaken our grasp of the Apostle Paul's Evangel and of the Secrets which belong to it. It is of the utmost importance that we reject any teaching which seeks to dilute the Evangel of the Uncircumcision with elements which belong to covenant. That is why, throughout these chapters, the essential distinctness of the two focal evangels has been again and again insisted on. The continual aim has been to prove beyond any doubt that Kingdom truth is not confined to .either evangel. If that aim has been achieved, it is evident that our recognition of Kingdom truth in the Apostle Paul's Evangel and even in some of the Secrets will not touch in any way their special character, or do anything whatever to rob them of their exclusive connection with the Uncircumcision.
The Secret of Ephesians 3 is not Kingdom truth and bears no direct relation whatever to Kingdom truth. Its formulation uses no Kingdom ideas. As we shall see later, it is not even connected in any way with Israel. It is all in spirit, and at the outset it defines its administrational scope as to do with the Gentiles. We need have no fear that further light may rob us of the Secret. On the contrary, it will enhance our knowledge of it and our exultation in it.
There is a school of thought, which limits the Scriptures exclusively concerned with the Economy of the Secret to the four Prison Epistles, viz: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and 2 Timothy. Its exponents relegate Kingdom truth to Israel and the Circumcision; and, detecting Kingdom elements in the Apostle Paul's earlier epistles, relegate these also to Israel and the churches to which Paul wrote during his ministry up to Acts 28:28. Many others have opposed this, maintaining, quite rightly, that all the Pauline epistles are for us; but they have sought to meet the attack by denying that there are elements of Kingdom truth in, for instance, Romans. In attempting to defend what is true by using arguments which are untrue, they have put themselves in a false position. The other side is quite correct in seeing Kingdom elements in Romans. Where they have erred is in failing to see Kingdom elements in all the Pauline epistles. Once we grasp the simple, yet vital and fundamental, fact that the real line of cleavage is covenant, that the essential distinction is between the Covenant People and the Gentiles, who are outside covenant, all these puzzles and complications disappear. Dr. Bullinger and his friends went astray, and led us all astray, by creating a false antithesis between Kingdom and Church. We have gone into a blind alley, so to speak. Now is the time to retrace our steps, to forget a whole series of barren controversies which have divided us and hampered our work, and to go forward to a fuller and deeper understanding of God's purposes.
The realization of the linkage of the Conciliation to Kingdom truth is no more than the logical completion of the consideration which led to an understanding of the relationship of the Conciliation to the New Covenant set forth in my book, "The New Covenant." Basically, these derive from the same source. In every other respect they are in sharp contrast. The cross and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, of God's Son, are the same for all; the blessings which result are different; not by an arbitrary ruling on God's part, but simply because they are applied under opposite and entirely incompatible conditions.
Bound up with covenant privilege they eventuate in the iron Kingdom of the Son of Mankind for the world, and in the New Covenant for God's Covenant People.
Freed from the bonds of covenant they eventuate in the Conciliation and everything that accompanies it. The truth of the matter is as simple as all that! The difficulties, we have made for ourselves.
As this series of papers was originally planned, study of the Secret of Ephesians 3 was to have been near the end, as the culminating point, the proper place for a subject of the most supreme importance. Considerations of literary or of logical fitness ought, however, to take secondary places in our minds. The only important issue is how best to edify those who read and learn.
There is perhaps ground for some fear lest the stress we have been forced to lay on the Kingdom should persuade some readers to imagine that the place of supreme importance given to the Secret by Dr. Bullinger, and by the teachers who have followed him both in Britain and America, is a mistake. This is by no means so. That they have gone too far in denial of certain teachings does not mean that they have affirmed too much regarding the Secret and the very special teaching of the Apostle Paul's Epistles. In fact, I hope in this chapter to be able to show that they have not gone far enough in displaying 'the unique and exclusive position of the Secret. Those who may, perhaps, feel some irritation over the way the scene shifts in the next chapter back to Pentecost are earnestly asked to bear in mind this primary object of edification. Our present distresses are largely due to our failure in the past to hold the balance of truth. The primary aim of the present study is to restore balance. Hence, when our theme seems to lean over-much one way, we must restore the balance, even at the cost of breaking the thread of logical development.
The most curious feature of the secrets which God has revealed to us is that so few of us have any clearly defined idea of what they mean. We still regard them as "mysteries." Somehow, that mental outlook remains with us even when we reject this traditional error and accept the fact that they are not "mysteries" at all, but sacred "secrets" which God, in His transcendent grace, has been pleased to disclose to His saints. The mysterious element in them comes about through two causes. First, we fail "to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" what God actually says. Second, we fail to believe that they are secrets now actually revealed to us, and therefore something perfectly simple and clear. When we encounter in any of the secrets anything which is not simple and clear, we may be certain that we have introduced this complication ourselves, either in faulty translation or by injecting something which the Scripture does not say.
The statement of the Secret can be set but in Scripture form, as shown on. the next page. Its resemblance in form to the Structure of the occurrences of the word "Truth" in John's Gospel (see Chapter 7) is striking. The whole statement is a piece of continuous interlocked thought from start to finish. The reader who goes through it a few lines will perceive that we cannot stop short at any point in it. We can justly laugh at the absurdity of breaking off after the words "through the evangel" and solemnly announcing that the Apostle Paul was a minister of the gospel, as the A V does; but we must not make the same mistake ourselves, even in a less obvious and ludicrous way.
Bl. 6. the Gentiles
C1. 6. are to be joint-heir-people
joint-body-people (of the promise in Christ Jesus)
D1. 7. through the Evangel of which I became dispenser
C2. 7. in accord with the gratuity of the grace of God
B2. 7. which is granted to me
A2. 7. in accord with the operation of the power of Him.
B3. 8. To me, less than the least of all saints, was this grace granted: to the Gentiles to evangelize the untraceable riches of the Christ,
C3. 9. and to enlighten all as to the administration of the Secret which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates the universe,
D2. 10. that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the church, the multifarious; wisdom of God,
C4. 11. in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in the, Christ, Jesus our Lord;
B4. 12. in Whom we are having the boldness and the access in confidence,
A3. 12. through the faith of Him.
In view of the extreme importance of an exact understanding of the Secret, I have gone to the limit of literalness in translating it in this Structure. It is not always realized that the moment we make a version idiomatic, we depart in some measure from exactness and sometimes from concordance and accurate rendering of Greek grammar as well. Here, we cannot afford the sacrifice, so idiomatic English must go instead.
Before we consider any of these items in detail—and a full discussion could well fill a book—it will be profitable to make a general survey.
The "A" members are in complete accord. In this economy all is in spirit. God's power operates in spirit and through the faith of Jesus, our Lord. This leads our thought to the doctrine of justification.
The "B" members relate to Paul and the Gentiles, and link up with the Conciliation and reigning grace.
The "C" members constitute the essence of the Secret. C1 and C3 relate to the Secret itself; C2 and C4 to God's purpose and grace with which it is in accord.
There are only two "D" members. Contrary to what merely human wisdom would expect, the heart and core of the Secret is not in the "C" members but in these two "D" members. Just as the "Truth" Structure has "Truth" in the centre of its central member, so the Truth which came through Jesus Christ fills the twin centres of this Structure. D1 is the truth which He promised, D2 is the proclamation of that truth and of what it means to the sovereignties and authorities among the celestials. Here we meet; for an instant, the profoundest mystery of all—the unspeakably glorious work for which our Lord has called us and is training us, and with a view to which the supreme glories of the Secret are designed. At this mystery, all we may fittingly do, until we are transformed into the likeness of His glory, is to bow our heads in silent adoration.
Let us now examine some of these items in greater detail.
(1) "In spirit." This forms the very portal of the Secret and governs every aspect of it. It is in spirit; that is to say, and to say with special emphasis, that it is not in flesh or fleshly in any way at all. If, therefore, we find in any reference to the Secret anything connected with what is "in flesh," whether fleshly obligations or fleshly privilege we may take for granted, without troubling to consider the matter, that it is a human interpolation or addition, and invalid.
Unfortunately, such additions are often specious and very subtle; so it is as well to consider what sort of thing we have to look out for. As an example, many writers tell us that Jew and Gentile are made one in the "joint-body." Here is the danger signal at once, in the word "Jew." This is a name of covenant privilege (e.g. "the prerogative of the Jew" Rom. 3:1); and inseparably included in it is fleshly privilege. Therefore, we must not use the word "Jew" in this context.
A new form of this error has been brought forward in the "Round table" periodical. The October, 1944, issue, on p. 26, speaks of our failure "to understand that the Gentiles whom Paul sought among the nations were descendants from all the tribes of Israel." If this were the case, then the Gentiles referred to in Eph. 3:6 would be Israelites after all—so fleshly standing has crept in again! Note, incidentally, the clever twist in the words "the Gentiles whom Paul sought among the nations." Who, unaware of the facts, would imagine that "Gentiles" and "nations" represent the same word in the original? Paul's Evangel was the Evangel of the Uncircumcision, his mission was to Gentiles, to individuals of the nations. It is a travesty to state that he was seeking a special class, the Gentiles, among the nations. It is to be hoped that the capital "G" for Gentiles and the small "n" for nations were unintentional, and not deliberately designed to mislead. For those who have ears to hear, this quotation is extremely instructive. The tone of its context gives the feeling that its author was so dazzled by what he imagined to be a new discovery that he unconsciously twisted his words to accord with it.
A further important point which this illustration brings into sharp prominence is that while the Greek word "ethnos" stands for a whole nation without ambiguity, that is not the case with its plural form. This, "ethnE," may correspond to whole nations, or else to a number or group of individuals of the nations of the Uncircumcision, or to the totality of them. In the latter senses, "nations" is misleading, and "Gentiles" should be used instead. I would be inclined to reserve the capital "G" for use when there is stated or implied a direct contrast with Jews and Israelites—though it is largely a matter of taste—as in the Structure below, where "nations" is quite unsuitable. We cannot take any item to apply to a whole nation, say Britain, France or Germany. On the other hand, in such passages as Acts 13: 19 we are compelled to use \ "nations." The usage of the A. V. seems quite often the best.
All this indicates that we must not use the principle of concordance as if it were a kind of magical touchstone. Undoubtedly it is vitally important, but it must be used with intelligent discrimination. Employed blindly, it can and will on occasion lead us astray.
(2) "The Gentiles." Our discussion of the first item has encroached on the second, but more remains to be said. The word occurs five times in Ephesians, all in the plural, forming the following Structure:
A1. 2:11. Wherefore, remember that once you, the Gentiles in
flesh—who were termed "Uncircumcision" by those termed
"Circumcision," in flesh, made
by hands—that you were, in that era, apart from Christ, being
alienate from the citizenship
of Israel. . .
Bl. 3:1. Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you, the Gentiles, since you surely hear of the administration of the grace of God that is given to me for you.
Cl. 3:6. In spirit, the Gentiles are to be . . . (The Secret)
B2. 3:8. To me (Paul) less than the least of all saints, was granted this grace: to the Gentiles to evangelize the untraceable riches of the Christ, and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the Secret.
A2. 4:17. By no means are you still to be walking according as the rest of the Gentile-world is *walking; in the vanity of their mind, being alienate from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.
The suggestion has been made that there is nothing particularly wonderful about these literary Structures, since any really good writer will present his subject in an orderly manner and his thoughts will therefore exhibit correspondences. That is so, in a measure; yet it is doubtful if many authors do, or can, present their subjects with such neatness and completeness as the Apostle Paul does in this Structure. The wonderful thing about Scripture is not only its literary excellence, but its superlative breadth of view, its self-consistency, the depth of its thought, the marvelous way everything dovetails together. All good writing has some of these merits; no merely human writing exhibits them in such perfection. This Structure is a very fine example, as befits one which enshrines in its kernel so supreme a treasure as the Secret. Take first the "A" members. A2 is in a different section of the epistle from the rest, yet the parallel between the two is striking. The word "apEllotriOmenoi," which occurs in both, and elsewhere only in Col. 1 :21, presents a real difficulty. In the first the C. V. reads "alienated," in the second "estranged." N either is satisfactory. The term is a Middle participle, not a Passive; and I have tried to convey this, as suggested by Mr. Alexander Thomson, by rendering it "being alienate from." As he puts it, "There is a vast difference between, say, a Pole coming into Britain, as an alien, and probably becoming naturalized, as many are doing in Scotland at least, and a British person emigrating abroad and in time becoming alienated from his native land." From the C. V. readings we are liable to get the impression that at some former time the Gentiles had not been aliens. This is not what the word means. They were, so to speak, in a state of "alienness," to coin a word; and nothing is said about any different state having existed. Even with "estranged" there is still the same misleading impression in the background. No suggestion made so far seems to me wholly satisfactory by itself, and in any new translation it would probably prove best to adopt Mr. Thomson's rendering with an explanatory footnote. Another possibility, which conveys the sense well, is "being outsiders from," but it is open to the objection that a noun is substituted for the verb and also that "outsider" is already allocated to the shorter word "allotrios." As Mr. Thomson well puts it, "One can be an OUTSIDER without being an ALIEN. And the Gentile nations could be OUTSIDER nations without ever having been put outside."
Between the "A" members and "C" is an abrupt contrast. In A1 it is the gentiles in flesh who are in view. The words "in flesh" are repeated, and dominate the passage. Words primarily connected with fleshly distinction are found. In A2 the fleshly sins of the gentiles are in view. But in the "C" member we read, simply, "in spirit, the gentiles. . ." All is in spirit, even to the culminating point of vv. 9-12 where the glory is carried up to the celestials.
Thus we get back to our starting point, that the Secret is not in flesh or fleshly in any way at all.
The "B" members form the connecting link. Their scope is the Apostle Paul's ministry to the Uncircumcision, and they convey the important fact that the Secret is based on the whole of it. Some expositors seem to treat the earlier secrets as if they were swallowed up by the Secret, or, to change the figure, as if they had vanished as the stars vanish in the sun's radiance. We ought to be very careful to avoid this pitfall.
(3) The three "joint-"words (Greek "sun-"). Here we reach the only real difficulty connected with the Secret. All three words are neuter plural, and therefore agree with "ethnE". They are also adjectival in sense. "A joint-body" is not, therefore, correct. In English it is so definitely singular in number as to be quite misleading. The literal idea is like "together-body-ish-ones". Also the Greek infinitive "to be" (einai) with, the accusative case, as here, takes something of the idea of "to make". The sense would therefore be something like this: "the gentiles are caused to be joint-heir-people and joint-body-people and joint-partaker-people as regards the promise in Christ Jesus. .. ". An alternative might be "of the nature of joint-heirs, etc", but this does not convey the adjectival force so clearly. The Rheims version of 1582 translates the three words. "coheirs, concorporat and comparticipant of the promise. . . ," If the first read "coheir" this would preserve the adjectival sense, and I am not at all sure that this idea is not the best rendering of all.
Another point is, are all three terms related to the following word "promise"? If the three "joint-" words were nouns, the ordinary reading relating only the last to "promise" would perhaps have to stand; but by treating them adjectivally we bind them together (as indeed the thrice repeated prefix "joint-" does); not only to the preceding word "gentiles" but also to the immediately following clause.
After pausing for meditation so that we may grasp what these words really mean in themselves, let us see where this has got us.
To begin with we have escaped altogether from the danger mentioned under item (1) the idea of Jew and Gentile, of Israel and the Nations, having been made one in a joint-body. As already pointed out, any intrusion of Israel collectively or of the Jew individually, of the Circumcision as such, into the Secret simply wrecks the whole concept. This escape is a great gain. No longer need we worry at finding so few Jews among the joint-body-people; or about whether there are, in fact, any at all. There are none! No Jew, as a Jew, can possibly gain admittance. He must first renounce utterly his Jewish standing, he must become a gentile in the same sense as Abraham when he was in uncircumcision. Only a gentile can come into this position of privilege wholly and exclusively spiritual and celestial.
The road to Ephesians is through Galatians.
To some this idea will be startling and perhaps a little shocking. They need only consider how the Apostle Paul came to the Secret. Not for nothing does Galatians immediately precede Ephesians in the canonical order. If Galatians 6:12-17 is not an utter and complete repudiation of his circumcision by the Apostle Paul, words are useless for conveying thought. No Jew can possibly come into the Secret unless he chooses to repudiate the flesh as utterly as Paul did, thereby ceasing to be a Jew. What makes these closing words all the more poignant is the final benediction on the covenant people whom Paul has left, the final reminder that Israel, though their casting-away is world-conciliation, are still the Israel of God.
In Romans 9:1-5 the Apostle Paul's sorrow is great for his brethren, his "relatives according to the flesh. . . out of whom is the Christ according to the flesh." In this statement the dominating position of the flesh is again noticeable; the who concept is right outside Ephesians 3 just as Eph 2:11, 12 is. It is a natural, human sorrow and pain; and has nothing to do with the Apostle Paul's spiritual standing.
The next thing to observe is that the Secret does not concern the church. In the statement of it there is not a word ,about the church. As we have already noticed in detail, the Secret is about the Gentiles. This fact has never been given due weight. We have all been inclined to talk and write as if the revelation of the Secret had altered the status of the church. It has not. In seven occurrences of the word "church" in Ephesians all but one are linked to the body; but the only secret associated with these references (and in five out of the seven) is the great Secret of Marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). Those who talk as though the revelation of the Secret had completely revolutionized the status of the church, are putting in something which simply does not belong to it. The Secret completely revolutionized the status of the Gentiles. This revolution undoubtedly did affect the church it could not help doing so, and doing so profoundly yet this effect was not the Secret itself, but one of the consequences of it. In the same way, it affected Israel, but only consequentially: it had no direct connection whatever with Israel.
To some this may seem no more than hair-splitting, but it is not so. Wrong emphasis on a truth may easily be every bit as misleading as downright falsehood. The advocates of the administrational view against which this book is largely directed, teach that the revelation of the Secret so profoundly changed the church that is ceased to be as it had been before and became a different church, a different company of believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, with a different standing, a different destiny and a different expectation. The queer feature of this theory is that it concerns itself with two crises, not one. Sometimes the crisis is the revelation of the Secret, sometimes it is Acts 28:28. In flickering from one to the other, it attempts to lead us to believe that the two are different aspects of one critical dividing line. This belief is quite unfounded, for reasons which have already been set forth. The time of revelation of the Secret has been hidden from us, and it is dangerous presumption to attempt to link it to a definite point of history at the end of Acts.
Much more could be said, but we have to confine ourselves to what is essential to our theme, bearing in mind that this subject is far larger than anyone chapter or even book. We at least have the Structure to remind us of this truth.
Here I have sacrificed concordance and strict English grammar to bring
out the sense in the Greek, which does not mean that every single
non-Christian gentile is walking in this way,
as the ordinary renderings imply.
Pentecost is the real enigma of Acts. Without it, Acts would be much easier to understand—but what we would be understanding would not be Acts. It is a real problem. For instance, why could not the Twelve have evangelized Israel in much the same way as evangelists and missionaries evangelize people nowadays? True, we never manage to bring whole nations or even whole communities to Christ; but then, neither did the Twelve nor the Apostle Paul. In fact, to put it bluntly, there is no evidence that the average church in apostolic times comprised a much larger proportion of the total population than Christians in an average town in recent times. Anyone who expected a mass conversion anywhere then would have been disappointed.
At Pentecost itself the apostolic achievements were spectacular. A short while afterwards, they had ceased to be specially remarkable. Quite soon, comparatively little of the narrative relates occurrences of Pentecostal power in action. Most of it records what was said. There are long speeches, important speeches; but for anyone who is looking for vivid action the account must certainly drag. It cannot be denied that from this point of view, after the first exciting, even thrilling, events, the rest comes as somewhat of an anticlimax. How different from the Gospels!
This way of looking at Acts leads to disappointment. That fact shows that it is a mistaken way. It involves an assumption that Pentecost was intended to lead to the repentance and conversion of Israel, the setting-up of the Kingdom in power, and through Israel the conversion of the world. Those who make this assumption declare that the failure was on the part of Israel-a delicate, but hardly candid, euphemism for what their view really means, that Pentecost itself was a failure and, in even plainer words, a fiasco. This sounds a very hard saying, but the subject is too serious for anything but plain speaking.
Somehow we still find it difficult to see Acts as it is, the continuation of Luke's first account; though Luke leaves no room for doubt, in the very careful way he splices the two narratives together, so to speak. Moreover, apart from the history of the Lord's last instruction and His ascension, Luke's post-resurrection account is taken up wholly with the journey to Emmaus, which is peculiar to his Gospel. This tells us as plainly as words can that what had happened and was to happen was linked to "all which the prophets speak." (Luke 24:25). We cannot understand Acts apart from previous history and from prophecy. It is a mystery how anyone can read Matthew 24 and Luke 21 without grasping that Israel's subsequent history could not possibly have been materially different from what it was. If it had been, the Lord's prophecy would have failed.
What is supposed by many to be the pronouncement of the sentence of callousing on Israel, the Apostle Paul's declaration in Acts 28:25-28, is nothing of the kind. It is a declaration of something which had already happened, and had happened as far back as Matthew 13. Thus, when the Lord Jesus uttered the prophecies of Matthew 24 and Luke 21, the question was no longer an open one whether Israel would or would not repent. That was settled already and judgment was in due course to ensue.
Pentecost was preliminary to judgment on Israel. We have already gone into this subject and seen that the Pentecostal atmosphere was heavy with impending judgment. Joel's prophecy was concerned with judgment. The pouring out holy spirit was in order to bestow power on the faithful of Israel. The tongues were a witness to the unbeliever. H f way through Acts both phenomena fade out of view. We learn from secular history that the destruction of Jerusalem foretold in Luke 21 took place within a few years of the end of Acts; but it cannot be pretended that this event was a complete fulfilment of the prophecies of judgment in Joel.
So this judgment has not yet taken place except as a partial fulfilment of the prophecies.
The main teaching which has come under criticism in these chapters is that Acts records the postponement of the Kingdom. But it is untrue that the Kingdom was ever postponed. The whole of the teaching which presupposes a postponement of the Kingdom is a mistake which has led us seriously astray.
Yet there was a postponement in Acts, after all; but it was a postponement of judgment. It is true that this is not explicitly stated, but the fact remains that the impending storm of judgment which "was imminent at the beginning of Acts, and of which Pentecost was the preliminary, is still impending after some nineteen centuries and is certainly not yet imminent. Some things were passing away in Acts. One thing was Israel's position of special privilege. Another was the imminence of judgment. These are interlocked.
God postpones His judgments, not His blessings.
Throughout Israel's history blessing and judgment have stood side by side. One or the other. That issue is inherent in Israel's position of covenant privilege. What had applied throughout Israel's history held good also in Acts. The only difference was that owing to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus the issue had become far sharper than it had ever been before. The reason was that the cross had really rendered meaningless all fleshly standing and privilege. The sign of this privilege, flesh circumcision, had therefore lost all its point. This is what is implied in Galatians 6 and stated in Colossians. Now, it is not possible to destroy the foundations of an edifice and retain the superstructure intact. The destruction of the basis and sign of the Old Covenant, in logic destroyed the Old Covenant itself. Until the New Covenant could be concluded Israel's standing had become wholly fictitious. What was to be done about it?
In the ministry of John the Baptist, the ministry of Elijah showed itself and retired. Why was this? Because a greater demonstration of grace and love was about to be displayed to intervene before the full mission of Elijah could be fulfilled.
Similarly, in the ministry of the Apostle Peter, the prophecy of Joel showed itself and retired. Again a greater demonstration of grace and love was to intervene before the greater Pentecost of the last days could be fulfilled.
The former was a subject of prophecy. The latter was not. This was made clear in the beginning of the Apostle Peter's first epistle; but only to the Apostle Paul was given the secret which explains that Israel in part, had become calloused until the complement of the Gentiles may be entering (Rom. 11:25-28). Israel's casting-away is world-conciliation. So the storm which seemed about to eventuate in the judgment of the time of the end melts away in the sunshine and peace of the Conciliation.
In Acts we see this judgment pass off the stage together with Israel's privileged standing.
This process was a part of history. It took time to accomplish itself, and meanwhile the Apostle Paul's Evangel was being preached and Gentile churches formed. These Gentile churches were in no way affected by what was happening to Israel except, needless to say, as regards the Conciliation. Otherwise the steady decline of Israel's spiritual supremacy and the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem did not directly concern them. Nevertheless as we have already noticed, some of them had received, as Gentiles, the spiritual blessings of Pentecost. What was their position to be?
Israel's position of special privilege, which was passing away in Acts, was a fleshly position. The fleshly position of privilege goes with Israel because it belongs to Israel alone and cannot remain if Israel goes. One cannot exist without the other. Yet, what was really passing away was not so much Israel's privilege, but fleshly standing itself. That is the point of the first three chapters of Romans. All—not simply Israel had sinned and were wanting of the glory of God. Why, then, were not all involved equally in the same abyss of condemnation? They were! Then why did Israel get so much the worst of it? Because Israel's standing is, and must be, essentially in flesh, and unalterably, of its very nature. Thus, in a state of affairs wherein the flesh has no standing or place at all, Israel can have no place at all either; and this applies to Israel's spiritual standing as well, since for Israel flesh and spirit are indissolubly linked together. Until the present state of affairs is brought to an end, Israel can have no effective part to play in God's purposes. The judgment foreshadowed at Pentecost has come into operation as regards the flesh. The flesh now stands under condemnation; but there has come about a stay in execution for those whose standing before God is not in flesh; because the condemnation has broken the bonds made by flesh. Those blessings which were held in leash, because that which was of fleshly privilege was wholly incompatible with them, are now set free, entirely free. That is the Conciliation.
Meanwhile the judgment has operated against all fleshly standing and privilege. The Apostle Paul carried his witness for Israel to Rome, the metropolis of the world; where he told the Roman Jews the exact position. Their exit from the stage marked the end of Israel's recorded history in Scripture. From secular history we learn that about ten years after, the Temple and, with it, all pertaining to fleshly privilege was destroyed, not to be restored until the stage is to be set for the tremendous drama of the end time.
The history set forth in the last half of Acts is that of the closing testimony to Israel; not indeed of warning to them as at first of what was to befall if they did not repent; but to inform them of what had actually happened. Judgment on fleshly standing had been pronounced, and was in process of execution. The necessary consequence of this was that all those spiritual things which were fleshly as well had to go also. All those things belonged to an era of judgment, for they were connected with Joel's prophecy, which had its partial fulfilment at Pentecost. Thus the judgment involved the passing away of these things; and the passing away of these things involved the passing away of the judgment with which they were inseparably connected. At the opening of Acts the Pentecostal powers were in full swing. At the close: no record of their existence is to be found.
We can trace the process in the Apostle Paul's epistles. What is of the flesh has very little place in any of them, even the earliest, and has vanished entirely in those which he wrote after Romans.
Later on a demonstration will be given that the great stress laid on the chronological order of Paul's epistles by many modern expositors is a mistaken idea; but for this particular limited purpose it has some validity, since we are dealing with the historical aspect of them. The argument from this chronological aspect has been pressed by some writers, who have pointed out that 1 Corinthians is largely concerned with rather fleshly matters in a somewhat unspiritual church, while "the epistles written after Acts 28:28 are wholly spiritual in their outlook." This is true, but it is a truth out of focus all the same, because it is not all the truth. The earliest epistle of all, 1 Thessalonians, was addressed to a church which was almost faultless (this too will be discussed later on); and Galatians, another very early epistle, though addressed to a church which had in some measure departed from Paul's Evangel, is as spiritual in tone as any epistle. Nowhere, not even in Ephesians, which is the next in canonical order, and up to which Galatians leads, is there to be found anything of a loftier spiritual level than that last chapter of Galatians.
What determined the matter and manner of anyone of the Apostle Paul's epistles was the subject he had in mind and the kind of church to which he was writing. This ought to be self-evident! A man does not write in the same way to congratulate a friend on his promotion as he would to condole with him on the death of his mother, nor does he dwell on the same subjects in a letter to his wife as he would do his bank manager.
The content of any particular epistle of the Apostle Paul depended on what he had to say, and only in a very secondary sense on its date.
The later epistles would naturally be conditioned to some extent by what had taken place during the time which had elapsed since the earlier epistles; but there is no reason to sup pose that any important changes in them were due to historical events apart from the Conciliation. The other Prison Epistles assume acquaintance with the Secret of Ephesians 3, but this is due to the fact that they were written to people who had read Ephesians 3. Naturally, they could not know about it until it had been revealed; but to read Israel's affairs into the development of Paul's doctrine is to go far beyond anything warranted by the facts.
Some reader may at this point be moved to retort: "In spite of all you say, the fact remains that the Secret was not revealed until after Acts 28:28!" This alleged fact is almost certainly the truth; but what nobody has yet proved is that it was the pronouncement of Acts 28:28 which enabled Paul to reveal the Secret.
In the first place—and it cannot be too firmly impressed on our minds—Acts 28:28 is not a pronouncement of judgment on the Jews or on Israel or on anyone else. It is a statement that a change had already happened. It is the disclosure of an event already in the past. And it is a disclosure to a company of Jews, not to the church in Rome or anywhere else. The disclosure marked a crisis for those who heard it; but it is fantastic to contend that it marked a crisis for anyone else.
In the second place, the Secret was not the only Pauline disclosure which depended on Israel's casting away. World conciliation is another; indeed, it is the one thing which is expressly stated to be so. If the Secret could not have been revealed until after Acts 28:28, no more could the Conciliation! In actual fact, nothing whatever of Paul's Evangel to the Gentiles could have existed (except those elements of it which are common to the Evangel of the Circumcision) apart from the casting-away of Israel. This follows automatically from the fact that it is the Evangel of the Uncircumcision. This point we have already discussed in full.
The very great contrast between the churches of Thessalonica and Corinth, and in some ways they were poles apart, was due to one thing and one only, the contrast between the people themselves. Both churches are mentioned in Acts, so it cannot be due to any administrational difference between them.
As we shall see later, the Thessalonian church was almost purely Gentile and free from Jewish influences. It was single-minded and intensely evangelistic in spirit. The Corinthian church was swayed by all sorts of influences. It was already extraordinarily sectarian when Paul wrote the first epistle, and not only fleshly to a remarkable degree, but many of its members were a scandal because of their fleshly indulgences. It was also outstandingly a Pentecostal church. The atmosphere of impending judgment which is so characteristic of Pentecost is present in this epistle (see 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 4:5; 5:5; 6:2, 3; 10:1-11). Yet it is present in a very different way. It was not a judgment impending on Israel if they did not repent. The Corinthians had believed Paul's Evangel. They constituted a church, every bit as much a church as that at Ephesus. To the Ephesian church the Secret came through the Evangel of which Paul became the dispenser. This was the same evangel as that which the Corinthians had received, and no amount of argument will get over the fact.
The judgments in the above references are not of the same kind. The first is of the work of God's people. The second refers to their thoughts. The fourth is about judgment of one another and the future work of judgment by the saints. The fifth concerns our duty to judge ourselves. Only the third is about judgment of the kind we read about in Acts.
Th.is passage, 1 Cor. 5:1-5, is a very remarkable one. The judgment of giving up to Satan is paralleled in 1 Tim. 1:20, but is quite unlike anything found anywhere else in Paul's epistles, or anything which has existed since. It also seems incompatible with the Conciliation as revealed in Romans 5 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Yet these two Corinthian epistles were addressed to the same church at no great interval of time.
Here we are back again at our old problem, the Evangel of the Circumcision versus the Evangel of the Uncircumcision. Corinth was the arena of their collision. (See note 3 after this chapter.) The whole difficulty of understanding the administrational position during this very short period of transition will disappear only when we grasp that these two evangels, being incompatible, cannot exist side by side, except in a very temporary and uneasy balance with so much mutual give and take that neither is much more than a small instalment of the reality.
We can, as usual, see the truth more clearly if we look first at Israel's side. Israel is, and always must be, a covenant people. Where there is no covenant in force, there is virtually no Israel either. At the time 1 Corinthians was written, the Old Covenant was vanishing, the New Covenant could not be concluded. That is the case now, but then something was taking place which ceased soon after—the proclamation to Israel made by the Apostle Peter and repeated by the Apostle Paul (one of the main themes of Acts) was going on and had not yet discontinued. Even so, the Evangel of the Circumcision could not be really adequately proclaimed, because its governing covenant was not established; the covenant blessings according to flesh were practically in abeyance, those according to spirit were becoming freed from covenant because the Conciliation was unfolding. That is to say, they were already hnked to the Evangel of the Uncircumcision. The whole position was fluid.
On the other hand, the Evangel of the Uncircumcision could not be "released" in all its fullness because, until the proclamation to Israel ceased, circumcision still had its place and conferred its benefits on the Jew. Blessing was still tied ill some measure to covenant and, until that tie was severed, could not become wholly uncovenanted. The Conciliation could therefore not come fully into its glory because the condition for this did not yet hold good.
Parenthetically, I must recant what I have written in the past about this constituting a "Transitional Economy." A period of transition was in progress; but the individual Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, was never in transition. At any instant, he or she believed one of the two focal evangels or the other, not both and certainly not partly one and partly the other. There was no separate Economy in the sense of a special order of God's rule. There was simply an unavoidable overlap, unavoidable because in the nature of things no abrupt change-over could occur.
Two epistles, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, give us between them a unique and most valuable picture of conditions during this strange period. The former shows a church which, though unavoidably deficient in knowledge, was super abounding in faith and in works well pleasing to our God. It is what we might almost call "a demonstration model" of the idea the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote I Corinthians 13. The latter is a model in many respects of what a church ought not to be. Because of this and because of the conditions existing at the time, while Pentecostal judgment still continued in force, the incestuous person of I Cor. 5:5 had no right of appeal, so to speak, to the Conciliation. The Corinthian church could not have it both ways. It could not enjoy the Pentecostal gifts and escape the Pentecostal judgments.
But what has all this to do with the Secret of Ephesians 3; or, as some would put it, "the Church of the one body in Ephesians" or "the Church of the Mystery"—both, incidentally, unscriptural terms? Just nothing at all. Nor had it anything to do with the Conciliation. Paul told the Corinthians that there were some secrets which they were unfit to receive but he did not say that they were unfit to receive any secrets at all. He actually disclosed to them, the sinful and fleshly Corinthians, the Secret of the Resurrection! But the Secret of Ephesians 3 was not for them as they were then, nor was the Conciliation until he wrote them his second epistle: and in this second epistle we behold the Conciliation set forth, but no longer the smallest sign of Pentecost, of Pentecostal gifts or judgments.
Superficially, the easiest course is to write off 1. Corinthians, with its Pentecostal gifts and judgments, as "Jewish"; heave a sigh of relief at one encumbrance shaken off, and leave it at that. Superficially! Very superficially, because the nemesis of real problems and difficulties soon presents itself. There is too much of essentially Pauline doctrine in I Corinthians for this course to be logically permissible. If we take it, we have got to explain away the one body, the Secret of the Resurrection and the fact that the Lord's Supper is to continue until He should be coming. Denial of the relevance of these to ourselves involves very real difficulties. Acceptance of the Pentecostal character of the Corinthian church at that time, and only at that time, really involves no difficulties at all. It fits into the historical framework of the Greek Scriptures. We cannot reject the Corinthian church; and this, for reasons which ought to be apparent to us all, we simply cannot do.
If in the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians Paul is condemning the evangel preached by the Apostle Peter, he is condemning at least as much the evangel preached by the Apostle Paul, not to say Apollos. In point of fact, Paul very delicately and carefully guards himself from misunderstanding regarding this by the way he words his criticism in 1 Cor. 1:12, 13. At the very start he announces his subject, the strifes among the Corinthians. Then he specifies the four sects, tactfully condemning those who are "of Paul" first and those of his co-worker, Apollos, second. It was not that these men were wrong in following him; their fault consisted in making their following an occasion for schism.
The precise significance of the names of the four sects has long been a matter of controversy. Godet, in his commentary, devotes some 25 pages to the subject, and his remarks appear to be generally sound. He points out that, "even in Jerusalem, there was a party opposed to the Twelve, that of the false brethren who were smuggled in" (Gal. 2:4). These were the men who wished to enforce circumcision on Gentile converts, the preachers of "a different evangel which is not another." Godet thinks "that this ultra-party was guided by former members of the priesthood and of Jewish Pharisaism (Acts 6:7; 15:5), who, in virtue of their learning and high social position, regarded themselves as infinitely superior to the Apostles. . . . They designated themselves 'those of Christ' . . . as being the only ones who had well understood His mind and who preserved more firmly than the Apostles the true tradition from Him in regard to the questions raised by Paul." (Commentary Vol. 1, p. 75). This, indeed, would appear to be the theme of Chapters 10 and 11 of 2 Corinthians. (2 Cor. 10:5; 11:3-6). Godet even suggests that this doctrine added theosophic elements to the Evangel of the Twelve. Another Jesus, a different spirit and a different evangel, are not terms which can properly be applied to the Evangel of the Circumcision. This idea may explain 1 Cor. 3:17-20 and 12:3.
Godet then goes on to consider the identity of "oi uperlian apostoloi," "the paramount apostles" as the C. V. renders it, or "archapostles" as Godet. (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11). The critic Baur held that this was an ironical designation of the Twelve, and built on this his whole theory of primitive Christianity being shaped by their mutual hostility towards Paul. Against this view Godet gives five reasons which are conclusive. They are, briefly:
1. The attitude of the Twelve, quoted in
Gal. 2:1, 10, is
incompatible with this theory.
2. If the "archapostles" were the Twelve, who was to be reckoned as a simple apostle? If Paul, then his adversaries were admitting his apostleship by implication.
3. In 2 Cor. 11:5, 6, Paul says: "For I am reckoning to be deficient in nothing pertaining to the archapostles. Now even if I am plain in expression, nevertheless not in knowledge. .." The Twelve could never have been regarded at Corinth as superior to Paul in the gift of speech, first because they had never been heard there, and next because they were themselves expressly characterized as illiterate and ordinary men.
4. Unlike the archapostles, Paul had not been supported by the Corinthian church. This cannot refer to the Twelve, who had not been there.
5. In 2 Cor. 9, Paul recommends a collection for the Jerusalem church (see C. V. note). How could he designate men sent by that church and by the Twelve as servants of Satan? (2 Cor. 11:14, 15).
From this Godet deduces that "these archapostles are none other than the emissaries of the ultra-Judaizing party, of whom we have spoken. Their partisans at Corinth honoured them with this title, to exalt them not only above Paul, but above the Twelve."
About Apollos we learn from Acts 18:24, 25 that he was a Jew, a native Alexandrian, a scholarly man, able in the Scriptures. Alexandria was the great centre of scholarship at that time. The Apollos sect, then, was a scholarly party who put deep learning first and did so in a sectarian spirit. Those "of Paul" had evidently made an orthodoxy of Pauline truth and had developed the sectarian intolerant spirit which such orthodoxy is apt to breed where love and unity are deficient. Similarly, in those "of Cephas" sectarianism had evidently made the Evangel of the Circumcision into a cold and narrow legalism. Let us keep a sharp look-out for these sects, and shun them. Yet we should not seek to detect them in others but rather in ourselves. For it is in ourselves that sectarianism starts. If each one of us had more love and less pride in the flesh, we would neither be sectarian nor a temptation for others to be.
Perhaps one of the keys to a right understanding of the Corinthian epistles is an appreciation that the Corinthian church was in a very special way the arena in which the four sects struggled among themselves and also against the Apostle Paul and those who truly followed him. Regarded in this light, the range of subjects discussed in I Corinthians loses that air of unreality in which we are rather accustomed to invest it and gains a profound depth of meaning. Not only do we perceive its inwardness for the time, but we are enabled to apply the lessons taught by Paul to our own problems which, though set in entirely different circumstances, are basically the same as those which divided the Corinthians.
The most likely solution, perhaps, is that except in Gal. 2:7, 8, Paul and Peter had no official relations with one another. Each kept to his own sphere of work. Paul had himself deemed a forfeit all his Israelitish privileges. To him, "Cephas" must needs have been one who had not had this call and who therefore had not been able to enter into the new standing among the celestials. Thus, he was to Paul the Israelite "Cephas," and "Peter" only in the ceremonial recognition of the two Evangels before God.
A curious theory has recently been put forward that it was James and his supporters in Jerusalem who had really brought about Paul's imprisonment. Peter, supposedly, was dominated by them; and their machinations succeeded to a very great extent—in silencing Paul until the destruction of Jerusalem brought their authority to an end. A. D. 70, then, according to this theory, was the great crisis of the Church.
It is hardly necessary to bother to reply to such an idea; but perhaps it should be noticed, lest any be unsettled by it. The whole thing is mere conjecture. It involves, by implication, another betrayal by Peter of His Lord. It ignores the fact that Paul's Prison Ministry was the great climax of his life work. Though traces of the struggle with the "Circumcisionists" are to be found in the latter epistles, other issues had come into the foreground when they were written.
Again and again do we find Dr. Bullinger and his followers speaking of the administrational boundary of Acts 28 :28 and applying this administrational boundary to matters connected with the Apostle Paul's epistles, dividing them into those writ, ten before this pronouncement and those written after it.
In these chapters enough evidence has already been presented to prove conclusively that this division of the Apostle Paul's epistles is a mistake.
On the other hand, it cannot be gainsaid that there is a difference in character between the epistles. 1 Corinthians is definitely Pentecostal, even though this cannot be said of the earlier 1 Thessalonians. The Pentecostal element was passing away in 1 Corinthians, and had almost passed away when 2 Corinthians was written. After Romans it had entirely disappeared. Presumably, then, there must have been some sort of administrational boundary which was meanwhile being crossed.
It must not be supposed that we ought to deny that Acts 28:28 is an administrational boundary for anyone at all. For Israel it certainly is. It is the last recorded instance in the Greek Scriptures of any action concerning Israel. In fact, it is the end of their history in the Divine records. Yet it is emphatically not a pronouncement of judgment on the Jews of Rome. Some had believed. They had treated Paul well; with at least a measure of respect and without violence. It is unfair to write of them, as many have done, as if they had then and there filled up the cup of iniquity and brought utter condemnation upon themselves. No. Their partial refusal of Paul's message to them had simply served to terminate his mission to the Circumcision; and he told them so. What we must not do on any account is to drag this into our affairs. That is where Dr. Bullinger and his followers went grievously astray.
Where is the administrational boundary for ourselves to be found? The answer, which should by this time be evident, is Romans 11:25-28, the Secret of Israel's callousing. And it is to be noted that this answer really permeates the chapter and is not strictly confined to the secret which is its climax and marks the formal boundary. "There has come to be a remnant, according to the choice of grace" (11:5). "Did they not trip?" (v. 11). "Their casting away is world-conciliation. (v. 15). "If some of the boughs are broken off" ( v. 17). "These also are now stubborn" (v. 31). These are only a selection. The whole chapter is an affirmation that the sentence supposedly pronounced in Acts 28:28 was already in full force. Why look in Acts for our boundary line, when here it is in Romans 11 laid down so unmistakably?
We do not know precisely when the Apostle Paul wrote these words and we should not want to know, for it is of no importance. Times and eras are not our concern. The important point is that the Conciliation, being world-conciliation, was announced to the saints of the world-metropolis, Rome; and that a corresponding announcement was subsequently notified, not to Jerusalem, but to the Jewish colony at Rome. This announcement was not of the Conciliation, but of the corresponding facts which concerned the Circumcision as such. The whole thing had got outside the narrow boundaries of Jerusalem. It had become a world event of world significance.
Our administrational boundary line, then, is Romans.
And it is not without significance that Romans is the first in the Canonical order of the Apostle Paul's epistles. It is the beginning of a new departure in God's purposes. When we have read through Romans, we can read 1 Corinthians, or we ought to be able to, without being in any way dismayed by the Pentecostal elements in it. No reason exists why there should not be such elements in the epistle, since it was written before the administrational boundary line. What would be remarkable and very difficult to explain or explain away, would be the absence of such elements in some, at least, of the epistles written by Paul while Pentecost still remained an active force and before Romans was written.
Suppose that his were what had actually happened, that in spite of the Kingdom having been unlocked by the Apostle Peter to Gentiles and the Pentecostal gifts imparted to at least some of them, there were no trace whatever of any of these things in Paul's epistles. There would be the same tremendous gap between the climates of thought in Acts and in Romans — but it would be an unbridgeable gap. We would perceive that a vast change had occurred, we would see why it occurred, but how it occurred would be an insoluble mystery.
However, there is no need to labour the point. What it all amounts to is this: Can we do without 1 Corinthians?
Nobody among us, needless to say, would affirm in plain words that we can; but it is what is only too often implied. In his regrettable book "The Foundations of Dispensational Truth" Dr. Bullinger devoted Chapter 12 to what really amounts to explaining away 1 Corinthians. The system of doctrine which he adopted in 1907 demanded that the earlier epistles of Paul should be severed from the Prison Epistles and handed over to Israel as Jewish and Kingdom truth. So he wrote of our "having robbed Israel of their hope in 1 Thessalonians 4" (p. 121), though the epistle does not refer to the word "Israel" at all and only once to the Jews, and then in such a way as to imply that the Thessalonians were not Jews. Having thus disposed of 1 Thess. 4, he had less difficulty in disposing of 1 Cor. 15:51, the awkward word "secret" being minimised by inserting it in inverted commas (p. 128) and Phil. 3:11 described as a further secret, which it is not. In his Chapter 13, though admitting that "the second Epistle to the Corinthians is, in many ways, in contrast with the first" (p. 130), he was compelled by his theory to make it Jewish too, and in Chapter 14 he had the even more difficult task of doing the same with Galatians. These three chapters are worth studying as a shocking example of misplaced ingenuity forced upon a fundamentally honest man by his obsession with an untenable theory.
Thank God we can escape all this folly! Yes, 1 Corinthians is for us, and God did not make any mistake in including it among the Apostle Paul's epistles and preserving it for our learning.
Delivered from this obsession, we can read 1 Corinthians with delight and profit. We can note its Pentecostal features, observe how they were in the act of passing away even as the epistle was penned, and profit by the positive insight into our celestial blessings, which have replaced them, given by our study of the process of replacement. More than any other epistle, 1 Corinthians exhibits the boundary conditions of the Economy of the Secret. And these words mean precisely what they say. Acts exhibits boundary conditions too; but it is on Israel's side of the boundary, so it looks back—back to Pentecost, to Joel, to the prophecies of Israel's future salvation and glory. 1. Corinthians is all the time looking forward. Though largely Pentecostal, its back is (so to speak) turned on Pentecostal and it looks forward to the things of maturity.
As a reminder at the very outset that 1 Corinthians is one of Paul's epistles there is a short preface very reminiscent of that of Romans. The three references to Christ Jesus in the first four verses confirm that the epistle is Pauline in spirit. The remark made above that Pentecostal features were passing away is well exemplified by what is said about baptism in 1 Cor. 1:13-17. This is about water-baptism, but the outstanding feature of the passage is the Apostle's lack of interest in the subject. He could not even recollect whether he had baptized any more than the few mentioned. No figure in all Scripture is more enthusiastic, more wholehearted in his service of God than the Apostle Paul; and if water-baptism were part of his ministry, his attitude of indifference toward it would be inexplicable. Yes, water-baptism is in this epistle, sure enough, but certainly not in such a way as to give any comfort to those who set such store by it at the present time. "For Christ does not commission me to be baptizing, but to be evangelizing. . ." This is meaningless if there be no real antithesis between the two. Compare "Going, then, disciple all the Gentiles, baptizing them. . ." (Matt. 28 :29) and "going into all the world, proclaim the evangel to the entire creation. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:15.16) Paul's ministry is not only separate from these, it is wholly different—and water-baptism is no part of it.
If water-baptism had been part of Paul's ministry, it is difficult to imagine how we could have explained why. It is essentially a ceremonial cleansing, and it is therefore wholly in keeping with an administration of which ceremonial observances are an essential part. All the more, then, is it out of keeping with the administration indicated in the Prison Epistles. In this connection, Col. 2:11, 12 is a particularly significant passage. It speaks of our circumcision and our baptism. If the former is neither literal nor physical, the latter can hardly be. It is wholly unreasonable to make one literal and the other figurative or spiritual. Nor is it of any avail to argue that our circumcision is expressly stated to be "not made with hands" but this is not said of our baptism. Paul does not as a rule write in a repetitive style. Such exceptions as parts of 2 Corinthians are all the more striking because, under the stress of his extreme emotion, they are so violently at variance with his normal manner.
The place where we would most expect water-baptism to be enjoined, if it had been intended as a permanent ordinance for the Evangel of the Uncircumcision, is 1 Corinthians. As it is not there, it would be inexplicable anywhere else in the Apostle Paul's epistles. There is no space here for a detailed examination of 1 Corinthians, but the reader is recommended to go through the epistle and study it again in this fresh light. He will perceive a few things which have definitely passed away, not to appear again until the end-time judgments become imminent. Other things are no longer applicable as they stand to any churches, yet the principles governing them remain as true, and as valid for Christians, as ever they did. Yet other things remain unaltered and unalterable as literal truths for ourselves — the Lord's Supper, the one body, the transcendent importance of love, the Secret of the Resurrection, for instance. Many have claimed that these are stolen goods, so to speak, which we, should hand back to Israel. The foolishness, as well as the wrongness, of this proceeding will be discussed later. Meanwhile it is sufficient to point out that the Apostle Paul's message to us is not so voluminous that we can afford to cast any of it on the scrap heap. If it can be proved that some of it is really not for us at all, then we must let it go; but we have the right and duty to demand that those who think this should give a convincing proof which will bear the severest scrutiny. Such proof has been attempted, but as we shall see later on, not achieved.
There is one aspect of the matter to which none of us seem to have given sufficient attention. Even when Acts 28:28 was accepted as the administrational boundary line, the interval after the writing of 1 Corinthians was very short. Now we realize that, for us, the boundary line is Romans 11, the interval has dwindled almost to nothingness. If most of 1 Corinthians was written with regard to affairs so transient as all this, which were indeed passing away even while the ink was drying on the scroll, the circumstance cries aloud for explanation.
Obviously there must be more in it than that. Even the most transient of the Apostle Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians have applications which are important for us and throw needed light on other matters.
To begin with, nothing could be more foolish than to imagine that no judgment of our work on earth lies before us. There is now no condemnation for us. That issue is settled once and for all. Yet if we suppose that God is going to pass as perfect all our very faulty work for Him — let alone our even more faulty works for ourselves and for our own satisfaction and glorification—we are simply deceiving ourselves. Only our very best is good enough for God, and then only by His grace and mercy transmuting them into an acceptable service. 1 Corinthians 3 is very much to the point. The C. V. note on v. 14 deserves to be written in letters of gold. "Let all who teach take this to heart: their work will be tested to see what kind it is. It is better to have a little after the fire than much before It." To be permitted to work for God is a tremendous privilege and a very solemn responsibility. No one should presume to touch such work unless all the time mentally on his knees and often times physically so as well.
These chapters are not very popular among us, and it is highly convenient to be able to hand over to Israel their awkwardly heart-searching criticisms of our innermost thoughts and secret motives. It is very nice to confine ourselves to those portions of Scripture which tell us about God and His high purposes for us, to meditate on our transcendent spiritual blessings and not to worry ourselves over-much about how we are to respond to God and behave to our fellow men — very nice and very convenient indeed for the flesh, but very wrong indeed for those who claim to have no confidence in flesh and whose blessings are not according to flesh, but wholly spiritual among the celestials.
The fact that these chapters are—let us admit it frankly—somewhat unpalatable, suggests that they constitute the very spiritual medicine which we most need.
Among us there are signs that the tendency to what is called Antinomianism, a claim that we can disobey God's Law as and when we like, is becoming so strong as to weaken very seriously indeed our whole witness to Him and destroy our service. We cannot emphasize too strongly that grace is not to be an excuse for license; and even if we escape the deadly sin of so treating it, we must always remember another snare which awaits us, making grace an excuse for self-will. Rightly understood, 1 Corinthians is full of warnings for us against this sin also. It is, for instance, well pleasing to the flesh to sit in judgment on our brethren for their sins, real or presumed. Such passages as John 8:1-11 and Rom. 2:1 should warn us against that. So also by implication should 1 Cor. 5:4, 5. We have not got the supernatural power here possessed by Paul; so we have neither the duty nor the right to assume the function of judge as he did. We are not to associate with those whose sins are open and unrepented, but we should certainly otherwise leave the judgment and condemnation of brethren involved in crime to the properly constituted tribunal, and not judge, and certainly not condemn, on our own account or on the evidence of mere gossip.
Before we can leave this section of our subject, there remains the problem of the spiritual gifts. The doctrine of the body will be considered in another chapter.
The C. V. note to 1 Cor. 12:4 rightly points out that the so-called spiritual gifts are in the Greek simply "spirituals" (pneumatikon). Of its 25 occurrences, only two are outside Paul's epistles, in 1 Peter 2:5. The Pauline occurrences are, as an adjective qualifying a noun. Rom. 1:11; 1 Cor. 10:3, 4; 15:44; Eph. 1:3; 5:19; Col. 1:9; 3:16; and by itself as a noun Rom. 7:14; 15:27; 1 Cor. 2:13, 15; 3:1; 9:11; 12:1; 14:1, 37; 15:46; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 6:12. The reader should go carefully through these and note that "spiritual gifts" or "spiritual endowments" inject an idea which really is not in the original. All these "spirituals," "spirituals ones" or "spiritual matters" are good exceptions, Eph. 6:12.
In 1 Cor. 12:1 the word is genitive plural and may by its form be either masculine or neuter. Rotherham reads "concerning those that are spiritual," but it might equally well be "concerning spiritual things" or "concerning spiritual matters."
We have become accustomed to read all this as if those "spirituals" were really "soulish"; but if the Apostle Paul calls them spiritual, then spiritual they are, and it is not for us to dispute the point.
The first reference to a "spiritual," pure and simple, Rom. 7:14, is very significant. "The Law is a spiritual thing." The other Romans reference speaks of the Gentiles participating in the spiritual things of the poor saints who are in Jerusalem. We must not overlook that the Apostle Paul says in the context of the former that he is relishing the law of God as to the inner man. The fact that law has now no menace for us should set us free to relish it and delight in its perfections.
The spiritual things in the Corinthian church when Paul wrote his first epistle to it were Pentecostal spiritual things. The spiritual things in all the churches of the Uncircumcision when Paul wrote Ephesians were "all spiritual blessings among the celestials." Quite a number of things can rightly be regarded as spiritual. The actual nature of the spiritual things in view depends on the context, on the subject under consideration. Furthermore, none of them are explicitly defined as spiritual things until after Pentecost.
The traditional ideas about Pentecost being the birthday of the church and the coming of the Holy Spirit are erroneous, but not entirely so. Our mistake has been to reject the true with the false. The partial fulfilment at Pentecost of Joel's prophecy was not only in connection with judgment, it was also in connection with the pouring out of God's Spirit. So tremendous are the love and the grace of God that even with His judgments come blessings, just as the judgments themselves are designed to bring about ultimate blessing. The judgments of Pentecost faded away with the coming of the Conciliation—but the spiritual things brought with it did not fade. On the contrary, the development of reigning grace freed the spiritual things to take wings and, leaving all terrestrial limitations, attain to celestial heights. Similarly with the church. If there had been no Pentecost, there could have been no church. "For in one spirit we all are baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13). No doubt the Circumcision imagined that Pentecost was entirely their own affair. It was theirs primarily, but in none of these things did God restrict His blessings to them. His blessings were intended for Israel first and foremost, but Israel was intended to be God's agent in spreading His blessings to the entire world. Israel refused this duty and privilege, but they could not frustrate God; and so the blessings flowed far and wide apart from Israel.
Some have thought that the Gentiles on whom the Pentecostal spiritual things came in Acts 10:44, 48 through the instrumentality of the Apostle Peter were thereby guests of Israel's privileges, and that the early Corinthian church was in much the same position. This is all part of and dependent upon the notion that the Kingdom of God was something which belonged to Israel alone. Once we grasp that the Kingdom had then ceased to be tied to covenant and its sign circumcision; we can see that the administrational state of any church during that period depended on the part of that period we are thinking of, on whether the Conciliation was yet fully effective. After all, what could be more reasonable to expect during a period of transition than a state of transition? Before the Romans boundary line all the churches were in some measure Pentecostal. Their spiritual things were Pentecostal, not because they themselves were under covenant and possessed fleshly privileges, but simply because the reign of law, and therefore of death, had not yet fully passed away and the reign of grace had therefore not yet fully established itself.
From the call of the Apostle Paul onwards there have always been two evangels, of the Circumcision and of the Uncircumcision respectively. This was the case even when 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians were written. The Pentecostal character of these churches did not affect the Evangel of the Uncircumcision in any way whatever. What it did bring about was the prevention of the full manifestation of the Conciliation and the revelation of the Secret of Ephesians 3. What it could not and did not do was alter in any way the fact that these churches were essentially of the Uncircumcision, essentially Gentiles, essentially free from covenant. Thus, we perceive the true nature of Israel's influence on the affairs of the churches which received Paul's Evangel. Since world, conciliation was dependent on Israel's casting away, the delay in bringing about Israel's casting-away involved a delay in bringing about world-conciliation. Not until the casting-away process was completed did Israel cease to dominate world affairs. While Israel's dominance lasted, the condition of world-conciliation could not become dominant.
The fact is, the whole of this theme is in essence Kingdom truth. It is a question of whether law or grace is enthroned.
The question of whether God deals with mankind on a basis of covenant privilege or of uncovenanted blessing, is a different matter. It is a related issue, but it is not the same issue. There never could be, and therefore there never was, any sort of transition between the Evangel of the Circumcision and the Evangel of the Uncircumcision. Both could be in force at the same time, though necessarily for different people. But Law and Conciliation could not reign simultaneously. It had to be either one or the other, and the choice was not for the individual.
R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 28.11.2005