§ 31. John.
Can it be doubted by any serious reader that the fourth Gospel presents the Lord pre-eminently in His divine aspect? He is the Word Who in the beginning was with God and was God. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. He was made (or became) flesh; but none the less the Only-begotten is Son in the bosom of the Father, as we hear in the wonderful opening (John 1:1-18) of the three introductory chapters. Indeed most of chap. 4 is before His public ministry commences in Galilee after John was put in prison.
John 1 is striking in its enumeration of His various titles, and in setting forth the work which on earth (ver. 29) or from heaven (ver. 33) none but a Divine Person could do. John 2 prefigures the bridal joy He will usher in at His coming, and the judgment which is to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem; but it is as risen from the dead, as He announces. Man, however, was quite unmeet. Hence John 3 insists on his being born anew as indispensable even for the earthly things of the kingdom. But the Son of Man lifted up on the cross opens the way for heavenly things and life eternal, being in truth also the Son of God given in love to the world that the believer might be fully blessed. And the chapter closes with John's witness to His glory as above all, Whom the Father loves and has given all things to be in His hand.
To the woman of Samaria (John 4) the Lord opens the free giving of God in the Son stooping to the uttermost, yet giving not life only but living water, the Spirit, as a fountain within; as He goes on to the hour when the true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth. Not only does she own Him as the Christ, but many of the Samaritans believed because of her word, and many more because of His, confessing Him the Saviour of the world. When at Cana, the dying son of the courtier is healed by His word, though the father's faith at first was short and corrected by the Lord.
In Jerusalem (for this Gospel tells of His often working there), at the pool of Bethesda, He brings out His quickening and raising power, with a resurrection of judgment for unbelievers, in a discourse which grew out of a man long infirm being immediately made well. The latter part of John 5 points out man's responsibility because of the ample testimonies afforded.
John 6 opens with the five loaves in His hand feeding five thousand men, and the Lord owned as the Prophet, refusing at present to be King, goes as Priest on high but will return to His own, tempest-tossed as they may be, so that the ship at once reaches the land. The discourse follows, or rather discourses (see ver. 59), in which He speaks of Himself coming down from heaven as the bread of God; next, giving His flesh to be eaten and His blood drunk; lastly, the Son of Man ascending where He was before: the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the Ascension, the "common faith."
John 7 completes this portion by the disclosure that, though the time was not yet come to show Himself to the world as He surely will when He comes in His kingdom, He would give the Spirit when glorified, like rivers flowing out. It is the Spirit for bearing witness, as in chap 4 for worship. Judaism is in all these chapters set aside for Christ, Who is really and in power what it was in figure, not to say much more.
In John 8 we have Christ, the Son, yea God, manifested by His word, but rejected; in John 9 manifested by His work, and equally rejected by those unbelievers who pretended to see, while the once blind from birth believed, saw, and worshipped Him. John 10 closes this section by the Good Shepherd service of the Son, one with the Father, Whose word and work are the resting-place of His sheep, not Jews only but Gentiles, and even now one flock, one Shepherd.
The next portion gives the testimonies borne to the Lord Jesus; and first in John 11 as Son of God in power of resurrection shown on Lazarus, already not dead only but buried, "for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." The Jews, dead to all but self and present interests, are only afraid of the Romans; and Caiaphas, more wicked than Balaam, prophesies the expediency of one man (albeit Son of God!) dying for the people. Yes, grace in God sent Him, grace in Himself came, to die; but what blind and blasphemous iniquity in that expediency, whereby the whole nation morally speaking did perish, and their priesthood notably! In John 12 Mary's anointing Jesus' feet with the costly unguent is told, censured by the heartless covetousness of Judas about to betray Him. But the testimony is next given to Him as King of Israel, Son of David, when entering Jerusalem. Here the Greeks desire to see Jesus, Who answers, "The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified," and announces in His solemn formula the necessity of His death to bear much fruit. Thus could Gentiles be fellow-heirs as well as Jews in God's rich grace. But if man was insensible, the Lord realised the sacrifice; and the Father answered the trouble of His soul with the assurance of glorifying His name again, as He had already, to wit in resurrection. The Lord, no longer in figure but in open speech, explains the judgment of the world and of its prince, because of His rejection on the cross; whereby He becomes the centre for all, whether Jew or Gentile, the One by Whom alone the believer comes to God. From ver. 37 the evangelist ponders on the situation of Jewish unbelief, as owned in Isaiah 6 and 53, putting God's seal on the prophet. It is the more awful because many even of the rulers did believe, but feared to confess through loving the glory of men rather than of God. From ver. 44 it is Jesus in His last charge publicly laying bare the root of things. It was not Himself only come as light and to save: the word He had spoken should judge in the last day. The Father Who had sent Him, and Whose commandment is life eternal, was behind and above all.
Then in John 13-17 we have the communications that open out the coming association with Christ in heaven, which was a wholly new thing after the breach with the Jew, chap. 17 completing it by giving us to hear His communion with His Father thereon. The first of these presents Christ in the significant act of washing the disciples' feet, with (not blood but) water. It is His advocacy for us now in heaven with the Father, interceding for us, as we on earth are called to do for one another (14). Advocacy is not to form relations, but to restore communion when interrupted by sins: as generally misunderstood now as by Peter then, to the shame of those who have the Holy Spirit given them. Judas is excepted, whose betraying Him He most touchingly discloses after supper; "and he went out immediately; and it was night!" Thereon, in terms of infinite depth, the Lord says, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God also shall glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him." There is the ground and the display of the righteousness of God in its highest character. The blessing proclaimed in the Gospel is its result to us in His grace. Here we have all fully in Christ, where none as yet could follow. Yet all are exhorted to love one another as His disciples. If Peter trusted himself, he should learn what he himself was by denying Him thrice.
John 14 follows, comforting the disciples on His departure by the blessed hope of His coming to receive them for the Father's house, whither He was going to prepare a place for them: a wonderful statement indeed of that wonderful hope. Next, He points out what the Father is Whom He had been showing while here, words and works alike the Father's; as they should do even greater works because of His going to the Father. Obedience was to be the witness of their loving Him; on His part, the Father at the Son's instance would give them another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to dwell with them for ever, yea to be in them. Hence in that day they should know that Christ is in the Father, and they in Him, and He in them. But obedience should only be deepened, not of His commandments only but of His word. Here comes in the Christian's responsibility, and in the Father's government of our souls more enjoyment follows fidelity. Indifference to the Saviour's words would prove that one loves Him not. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father would send in His name, should teach them all things, as well as recall all that Christ had said. He leaves them peace, and gives them His peace. Why then be troubled or fear? Love to Him would rejoice that He was going to the Father. Now that He is rejected, the enemy acquires the title of Prince or Ruler of this world; but his coming finds nothing in Christ, Who loves the Father and obeys, as Adam disobeyed, unto death. And what a death was His!
John 15 treats of Christ as superseding Israel (fully proved an empty vine, and worse), and the disciples as branches, responsible to bear fruit, but this only done so by abiding in Him. Not life, still less unity of the members with the Head, is in question, but practical cleaving to Him in order to fruit. Those who do not are cut off as hollow professors. Keeping His commandments is to abide in His love; for here it is ours to Him in daily practice, not His to us as in the gospel. Even here His love to us is the spring and pattern of ours one to another; but it is as friends, who once were enemies; and He chose us to bear fruit abidingly, telling us all He heard from His Father, and assuring us that what we ask of the Father in His name He will give us. He urges mutual love in the face of the world's hatred, as of Him, so of those who must expect persecution for His sake, and are avowedly not of the world. Christ's words and works had only brought out hatred of Him and His Father — a sin outdoing all other sins. But the Advocate when come would testify of Him, as those also did who were with Him from the beginning.
In John 16 we have distinctly the presence of the Holy Spirit Whom Jesus sends; and He, when come, demonstrates to the world sin, righteousness, and judgment; as He guides the disciples into all the truth, and announces the things to come, thus glorifying Christ. It was but a "little while" in contrast with Jewish expectation. Meanwhile how wondrous to have the Father plainly revealed, and to be loved of Him ourselves, and to have peace in Christ with tribulation in the world!
John 17 crowns all with the Son's spreading before the Father His person and His work as His double plea for glorification, but in order to glorify the Father in the objects of their common love beyond all thought of man. He requests that they should be associated with Him before the Father as well as before the world; and at length be with Him and behold His glory, and meanwhile yet more know the Father's name with its blessed consequences.
John 18 commences the final scenes: the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the blasphemous unbelief of Annas and Caiaphas, the guilty yielding of Pilate against his conscience, and the guiltier clamour of the Jews who prefer Barabbas. In John 19 Pilate scourges Jesus, but vainly strives against spite till the chief priests disavow the Christ of God in the apostate answer, We have no king but Caesar. The only One that shines with divine dignity and grace is Jesus, as this is the design of the Gospel: not His agony in the garden, but the prostration of the band at His name; not the forsaking on the cross, but, "It is finished," and the dismissal of His spirit; for He, and He only, had authority to lay down His life (soul) and to take it again. Here too is noticed the piercing of His side after death, and the blood and water that came out, as John testifies in the Gospel and applies in his First Epistle. Also Nicodemus reappears, and Joseph (whatever man designed) — "with the rich in his death." In John 20, early as Mary of Magdala came on the first day of the week, she found the stone taken away from the tomb. Peter and John run at her call, and see the evidence of His resurrection. They had not as yet known the scripture that He must rise. Such faith is powerless. Mary knew no more, but remained weeping; when first angels, then the Lord, ask her why she wept. All was known when He said, "Mary." He forbids her touching Him (not so was the Christian to know Him, but as glorified), and sends His message of full grace to His brethren, I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. At evening within the shut doors they were assembled, when Jesus stood in the midst, announces peace to them, and gives them their mission of peace, with administrative remission and retention of sins. Thomas was both absent and unbelieving; but eight days after he was with them, and Jesus comes, though the doors were shut, and again salutes them, with full acceptance of Thomas' challenge to shame him into faith, so that he cries, My Lord and my God. The words that follow confirm the conviction that he typifies the Jew brought to see and believe, after the Christian is called to the better part — believing without seeing.
John 21 appends typically the millennial haul of many great fishes from the sea of the nations, in contrast with the catch now (as in Luke) where the nets break and the boats are sinking. Peter is then probed, but reinstated before his brethren and entrusted with Christ's lambs and sheep. Besides, he is assured of that portion by grace which could not be in his self-confidence. Next John has his place defined enigmatically; not as the earliest tradition said, that he should not die, "but if I will that he abide until I come, what [is it] to thee?" All is left in suspense. John remained, when all the rest were gone, to point out the passing away of the churches, "the things that are," and to predict the judgments on the world which precede the Lord's return in visible glory, when He will take His great power and reign.
§32. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
What then is the aim of this book, the sequel of the third Gospel? As the title is human, one may draw from its own contents that we have in it the working of the Holy Spirit, rather than of the Twelve of whom we hear little save of Peter, and of Paul called extraordinarily, but of others too who were not apostles.
In the first chapter the risen Christ is seen ascending to heaven after forty days since His resurrection, and injunctions given to the apostles through the Holy Spirit Who was soon to baptise them. But instead of His restoring at this time the kingdom to Israel as they expected, they were to be His witnesses everywhere when they received power, whilst waiting for His return from heaven. Meanwhile they gave themselves to persevering prayer; and Peter takes the lead in filling up the vacant place of Judas Iscariot among the witnesses of His resurrection, according to Psalm 109.
On the day of Pentecost, as they were all together, the Father's promise was fulfilled with twofold outward signs: a blowing sound out of heaven that filled all the house; and parted tongues as of fire that sat on each, so that all were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as He gave them utterance — the answer of grace to the judgment of Babel. While all were amazed and some mocked, Peter vindicated the wonderful work of God by citing the close of Joel 2, though he does not say it was its fulfilment yet till the great and gloriously appearing day of Jehovah. He then lays on the men of Israel the awful sin of crucifying, through lawless men's hand, Jesus, Whom God raised up (Ps. 16), the Christ yet to sit on David's throne (Ps. 132), meanwhile ascended to sit at Jehovah's right hand (Ps. 110). Pricked in their heart when they heard this, they were called to repent and be baptised in His name; when they too should receive the Holy Spirit. For to them and theirs was the promise. In that day about 3,000 souls were added, and such fellowship in joyous unselfish love and truth and in holy worship as earth had never seen; and the Lord kept adding day by day together those to be saved. It was the church's birthday (Acts 2), though there remained then, and for long, attachment to the institutions of the law.
Accordingly, while going up to the temple, Peter and John were asked alms by a notorious cripple. This was met by Peter's bidding him, in the name of Jesus, arise and walk; as he did immediately before all. And Peter proclaimed that it was the God of their fathers glorifying His Servant Jesus, Whom they delivered up and denied when even Pilate had decided to release Him. They denied the Holy and Just One, preferring a murderer to Him Whom God raised up as the apostles testified. It was the virtue of His name which in faith wrought that deed. He called them then (for grace would treat His rejection as ignorance) to repent and be converted for the blotting out of their sins, so that seasons of refreshing might come from the Lord's presence, and He would send Jesus, Whom heaven must receive till times of restoring all things according to the prophets. This will be the kingdom in power, as the church knows the kingdom in patience till then. But Jesus was the Prophet of Whom Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 18, as all others foretold of these days, for He was also the true Seed of promise for blessing (Acts 3).
But Sadducean unbelief here opposed the risen Christ (Acts 4), as Pharisaic self-righteousness hated Him when here below. And the two apostles were put in ward unto the morrow, when the high priest and his party enquired and learnt distinctly from Peter that it was in the name of Him Whom they crucified, Whom God raised from the dead, that the infirm man stood before them whole. Psalm 118:22 was cited as the most irrefragable evidence and for declaring Jesus the only Saviour. Unable to reply they, after consultation, charged them not to utter a word nor teach in the name of Jesus, but received the bold reply whether they should be hearkened to rather than God, for themselves could not but speak what they saw and heard. These, let go, came unto "their own" (for so the Christians are now distinctly called), and reported all; when arose with one accord their cry to God, applying Psalm 2:1-2, but with no thought at all that the following verses could be accomplished till Christ comes again. The Holy Spirit wrought in answer, and gave great power to their testimony of His resurrection and in all ways of grace, Barnabas then first shining conspicuously.
Acts 5 opens with the sin and judgment of Ananias and Sapphira, deliberately guilty against the gracious working that characterised all at that time; but God turned it to great fear within and without, yet adding more than ever to the Lord, and working in mighty power on men's bodies. Hence the high priest was incensed beyond measure and put in prison all the twelve, who were brought out by an angel and sent to speak in the temple all the words of this life. Led thence by the captain of the temple with the officers, they openly answered that God must be obeyed rather than men, and asserted that the Holy Spirit was witness, as well as they, of what they set forth. This cut to the heart. Counsel was taken to slay them; but Gamaliel with a certain fear of God gave such sound advice, that they satisfied themselves with beating them and reiterated injunction not to speak in the Name. They however retired with joy that they were counted worthy of dishonour for the Name, which every day in the temple and at home they ceased not to teach and preach.
Another cloud gathered; again failure against the very grace that was so marked. Jealousy and mistrust came in, the Hellenists against the Hebrews, as if their widows were not duly cared for (Acts 6). The twelve cope with the danger in wisdom and grace, calling on the mass of the believers to choose seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to relieve the apostles of this outward task and be set by them over the business. For what the church gave, the church was entitled to choose. It is the Lord only who gave spiritual gifts, which are therefore above man's choice. So when the seven were chosen (apparently all Hellenists), the apostles prayed and laid their hands on them. And great blessing followed, even a crowd of the priests obeying the faith. But as Stephen surpassed all in grace and power, so he soon became an object for deadly persecution, and false witnesses were set up, when he was brought before the council.
In Acts 7 he gave the striking testimony, which convicted them, like their fathers, of always resisting the Holy Spirit. Beginning with the call of Abraham (tardy in obeying wholly), he shows him to have been but a pilgrim in the land of promise, as his descendants were bondmen in Egypt, the sons of Jacob selling their brother Joseph to the Gentiles before that. But God, with wonders and signs, delivered them by Moses, whom they had rejected. Even so they went after idols, as the prophets long after testified, and were carried for it beyond Babylon. Law and prophets, Christ and the Spirit, made no difference: they opposed and forsook all. So now, exasperated by the truth, they stoned God's witness invoking the Lord to receive his spirit, and to lay not this sin to his murderers' charge.
A great persecution followed, and the greatest persecutor of the saints a young man named Saul (Acts 8). But grace used those scattered by it, not the twelve, to preach the gospel far and wide. Philip, clothed with power, proclaimed the Christ to the Samaritans to their great joy; so that even Simon the sorcerer, believing the miracles, professed faith and was baptised. The apostles sent Peter and John, who crowned the work with the gift of the Spirit in answer to their prayers and by imposition of hands. But Peter detected Simon's unreality; and while he and John returned, Philip is used to the salvation of the Ethiopian noble travelling home from Jerusalem, but was caught away by divine power for other work, so as to confirm the convert only the more who went on his way rejoicing.
The ninth chapter shows us the new step of sovereign grace in the conversion of Saul to be the witness of an ascended Christ, Who owns the saints as part of Himself, and calls the persecutor to be His chosen vessel to bear His name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel, the deepest in truth, the largest in heart, the most abundant in labour of all the apostles. No wonder the gospel of Christ's glory marked him, who first saw and heard the Lord thus; yet a simple disciple baptised him who forthwith, in the synagogues, preached Jesus as the Son of God. Even the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid; but Barnabas, having a deeper sense of grace, banished their fears by showing what the Lord had wrought. When here too menaced with Jewish violence, Saul is sent to Tarsus. The rest of the chapter recounts Peter's activity and power in the Spirit; the paralytic AEneas healed, the dead Tabitha raised, and all around in the Sharon converted, with many in Joppa.
Acts 10 presents Peter used to open the kingdom to the Gentile Cornelius and his friends, in spite of his own Jewish prejudice. Already converted and devout, Cornelius was yet without; and the law kept such there. The gospel brings them within, as well as converts those who were enemies, telling words whereby believers "shall be saved." For "salvation" means more than to be born again. In a vision seen by Peter, as well as by an angel sent to Cornelius, we see the way God took to call and gather the uncircumcision. Peter preached the gospel, and while he was yet speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on all those hearing the word, who were accordingly baptised at Peter's direction by the brethren that accompanied him from Joppa.
As this unexpected act of accrediting Gentile confessors, no less than Jewish, roused strong objection in Jerusalem (Acts 11), Peter set out the matter as originating in God's word and culminating in the fullest token of God's favour — the equal gift of the Spirit to those Gentiles as to themselves. They could only be still, and even glorify God for His grace. Concurrently with this we hear how God blessed the free action of the Spirit in the scattered preachers to many, not Hellenists but Greeks as the right reading tells us. And Barnabas is sent to Antioch where the work had been; as Peter and John went before to Samaria. He seeks Saul; and there both taught for a whole year, where the disciples were first called Christians. As a prophet predicted universal famine, love wrought actively and maintained sense of unity by sending relief to the brethren in Judea through Barnabas and Saul.
In Jerusalem the Spirit testifies (Acts 12) to the murderous hatred that animated the people and their king, who killed James the brother of John, and apprehended Peter with a like intent. But God answered the prayers of the saints, even to their own surprise, in delivering him the very night before the purposed execution. And ere long Jehovah's angel that brought the apostle out of prison smote the self-exalting king. The word of God grew. Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, as Peter left on his deliverance; but we hear no more of his active work, though he spoke to good purpose in Jerusalem (Acts 15) at the council.
The solemn and momentous mission of Barnabas and Saul for work among the Gentiles is recorded in Acts 13. It was from the Syrian Antioch (Antakieh), and by the Spirit through a prophet, their fellow-labourers fasting and laying hands on them as thus commended to God's grace. Going to Seleucia they sail to Cyprus and preached in the synagogues in Salamis. But at Paphos Jewish hatred to the gospel's reaching the Gentiles is judged by the infliction of blindness for a season, whilst the proconsul believed. But from Perga in Pamphylia, John Mark (not then profitable for service) returned to Jerusalem; and the apostles come to Antioch (Yalobatch) in Pisidia, where Paul, as he was now called, preached Jesus and the resurrection in the synagogue, dwelling on Psalm 2, Psalm 16, and Isaiah 55, with the warning of Habakkuk 1:5. On the next sabbath almost all the city flocked to hear; which filled the Jews with a jealousy that drew out the striking use of Isaiah 49 to the joy of the Gentiles, though the apostles were expelled.
At Iconium (Koniyeh), the capital of Lycaonia, the apostles had like experience (Acts 14) in the face of signs and wonders; and when worse was purposed, they fled to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding regions, and preached. At Lystra a miracle of healing would have led to offering them sacrifice, had they not utterly refused it, exhorting them to turn to the one living and gracious God. Yet at the instigation of Jews that came and opposed they stoned Paul, who revived and departed next day to Derbe, where they preached and taught, but revisited the scenes of their labours on their return through Attalia (Adalia) in Pamphylia, from whence they sailed to their point of departure. On this journey they chose elders for the disciples in every church. At Antioch they related to the assembly what God had wrought among the Gentiles.
Acts 15 records how the Judaising snare which would have put Gentiles under law was put down authoritatively in Jerusalem itself by the apostles and elders, with the whole assembly concurring. Peter testifies, as well as Barnabas and Paul; James sums up in the establishment of liberty for the Gentiles, but of course recognising those principles which prevailed from Noah's time before the law. Thence Paul and Barnabas return (Judas Barsabas and Silas being chosen to go with them), and read the letter at Antioch whence Judas returns, Silas remaining. But after a while the question of taking John Mark on their next missionary journey led Paul to sever himself from Barnabas and take Silas with him, recommended afresh to the Lord's grace (which is not said of Barnabas): ordination it clearly was not.
From Acts 16 to 20 we see the free power of the Spirit in the apostle's ministry, its character, and its effects. Compare his circumcising Timothy, and his refusal of it in the case of Titus; his use of the apostolic decrees in the cities passed through, and his solving the question independently of that letter in writing to the Corinthians. The Holy Spirit (for the book treats of His action rather than of the apostles') specifically calls him to fresh scenes. After visiting Phrygia, and working in Galatia and in Philippi of Macedonia, it is still "To the Jew first and to the Greek." Satan wrought by applauding the servants through a Pythoness; but Paul exorcised the spirit. A tumult ensued set on by those whose gain was stopped, and the colonial Duumvirs (for it was a Roman province) yielded for peace' sake and committed them to prison; where God (not the prisoners only) heard their praises and answered by such an earthquake as never was before or since: doors opened, bonds loosed, yet none escaped. The alarmed jailor received the gospel on the spot, and was baptised, he and all his, immediately. But the magistrates, wishing to hush up things, are compelled by Paul to own their wrong: and Paul and Silas depart at their request.
In Acts 17, at Thessalonica, we see the more usual religious opposition to the gospel; and some converts are brought before the Politarchs, who take security and no more. The brethren send away Paul and Silas to Berea, where the Jews prove more noble than those in Thessalonica, being such as received the word of God readily, and searched the scriptures too. But when Jewish enmity pressed here also, Paul went off, Silas and Timothy abiding. At Athens the apostle reasoned in the synagogue and in the market place; and, when attacked by Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, made a speech at the Areopagus, which refuted alike Chance and Fate by a Creator Who is misrepresented by idols, the work of men's hands, and Who will judge the habitable earth, having given proof to all in raising from the dead Jesus Christ the righteous.
From that inquisitive seat of art and letters, where the fruit was small, the apostle goes to dissolute Corinth (Acts 18). There after Jewish opposition the Lord assured him of His protection, as He had much people in it: and there he stayed a year and a half teaching the word of God. Even the proconsul Gallio's indifference to Jewish plots and to contemptuous Gentile violence shielded him. After a visit to Ephesus where the Jews were willing to hear, he goes to Jerusalem to pay a vow as well as salute the assembly, and revisits Galatia and Phrygia. From verse 24 we have the interesting account of the Spirit's way with Apollos at Ephesus.
After that while he was at Corinth (Acts 19), Paul comes to Ephesus; and finding a dozen disciples, who, like Apollos at first, only knew the word of the beginning of Christ, he sets the truth of the gospel before them; and they are baptised unto the name of the Lord Jesus. We may profitably compare Eph. 1:13-14. He preached for three months in the synagogue; when conflict came, he separated the disciples, discoursing daily in the school of Tyrannus; and this for two years, so that all in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. There the wiles of the enemy in profane Jews bowed before the power of the Lord Jesus, even when great gain through sorcery was in question. Here again Satan raised an uproar against His servants, by which the Jews sought to profit. Yet in fact it was the mingled pride of local idolatry and their interests which agitated men; and some of the Asiarchs who were friendly dissuaded the apostle from taking part in the scene. But after much outcry the town-clerk pointed out the futility and disorder of the proceedings, and dismissed the meeting.
The next chapter (Acts 20) opens with Paul's departure for Macedonia, where he exhorted much, and then came to Greece for three months; but when Jewish plots threatened, he resolved to make his way to Jerusalem through Macedonia. At Troas we have the instructive account of a Lord's-day; and Eutychus suffers for his drowsiness, but is restored through the apostle to the comfort of all. From Miletus the apostle sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church, and gave them that really edifying charge which fills the latter part of the chapter. He feels as if his work was closed, dwelling on its character for their profit. He does not doubt that bonds and afflictions await him; and as he was clean from the blood of all, he calls on them to take heed to themselves and to all the flock wherein the Holy Spirit set them overseers, to feed God's assembly. He knows of a sad change after his departure, not only grievous wolves coming in, but from among themselves men rising up, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples. Not a hint of succession as a safeguard, but a sure declension. Yet he commits them to God and to the word of His grace. This is the resource in perilous times, And in the spirit of His grace had Paul laboured, as they ought, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, the reflex of Himself. No wonder that they wept, especially at the word that they were to see his face no more.
As far as the inspired history speaks, the active service of the apostle was closed. His latest Epistles give evidence that he wrought freely between his first and second imprisonments in Rome. But his visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21), against which he was cautioned, issued in his arrest, and the book terminates with Paul a prisoner. It was thus the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, rejected by the Jews whom he loved, and the Gentiles urged by them not only to imprison but to kill him.
On his way he enjoys Christian communion at Tyre; then from Caesarea he goes on in the face of warning, and in Jerusalem yields to Jewish feeling, which brought on the opposition it was meant to allay: all Jerusalem in uproar, and the multitude demanding his death.
In Acts 22 he addresses his defence in Hebrew to the excited Jews, who hear the wondrous tale of his conversion, but are convulsed afresh. Mission to the Gentiles they would not endure; as he should have learnt from the Lord's words to him in a previous trance. As the Jews raged murderously, so the Roman tribune or chiliarch violated law in his haste; and in Jerusalem the apostle did not display the power which marked him in his own proper field outside.
Nor in Acts 23 do we see the same superiority to circumstances, as usual, before the council, where he set the Pharisees in his favour against the Sadducees. But the grace of the Lord was as perfect as ever to cheer him, when he needed it sorely: he was to bear witness in Rome, as in Jerusalem. Then we find the Jewish plot discovered, and Paul conveyed to Caesarea under a characteristic letter from the tribune to the governor or procurator, Felix.
Five days after, the high priest and the elders, with an orator they had retained, accused the apostle of that which he refuted with simple truth and dignity, pointing out the resurrection as the occasion of offence. Felix, conversant with Jewish prejudice, gives latitude to Paul till Lysias came down and all was known. But after an interval he and his wife Drusilla, a Jewess, sent for Paul, who, instead of discussing the faith, dealt with the conscience, so that Felix trembled and closed the interview. The "convenient season" to hear more never came. Disappointed of a bribe from Paul, and willing to gratify the Jews, Felix left him bound when Porcius Festus succeeded (Acts 24).
The new procurator (Acts 25) was equally unscrupulous. For at Caesarea he proposed to send Paul to Jerusalem, which he had before refused to the Jews; thereon Paul appealed unto Caesar, which compelled Festus to act on it. But the arrival of king Agrippa with Bernice furnished a new occasion for testimony before the dignities of this age; and Festus was glad, not only to give these members of the Herod family a hearing of interest, but to gather matter for a report to the emperor.
In Acts 26 Paul before all again lays stress on the resurrection as the basis of the promised hope, and tells how he, as determined a foe of Jesus as any, had seen His glory from heaven and heard His voice constituting him a witness, and taking him out of the people and the nations, to which last he was now sent. And this was to turn them from darkness to light and the power of Satan to God, that they might receive remission of sins and inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith in Christ the Lord. Not disobedient to the heavenly vision, he was standing to this day to the call of God everywhere, which drew on him the hatred of the Jews; yet was it in full accord with what Moses and the prophets said should be. Festus broke out as an incredulous heathen; but Paul calmly appealed to the king as one cognisant of the prophets; and his answer proved that he was not unmoved, though seeking to hide it. This drew out from the captive apostle the expression of a heart filled with a happiness he desired for them all, except his bonds. They admitted his innocence: only his appeal sent him to Caesar.
Then in Acts 27 we have his voyage as far as Malta where the shipwreck occurred. We hear not of evangelising; but the proof is plain that faith saw clearly in circumstances so novel where no other eye did. It was reserved for a naval man, a Christian in our day, to clear up terms and facts misunderstood by all previous translators ignorant of things marine. Yet the great feature was unmistakable: the reality of God's mind and care enjoyed here by the believer.
The last chapter is also full of interest. Paul practically proves the truth of Mark 16:18 (first clause and last); and many honours and kindnesses followed for the Christians from the heathen islanders. In another ship, of Alexandria, the rest of the voyage was completed; and they slowly made their way from Puteoli to Rome, met on the road by the brethren at Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae. This cheered even the apostle. Arrived at the great city Paul was suffered to abide by himself with the soldier that guarded him, and after three days called together the chief of the Jews, and explained the strange fact that for the hope of Israel he was a prisoner through Jewish accusation. On a subsequent day he testifies the kingdom of God, and sets forth Jesus from the law and the prophets, some being persuaded while others disbelieved. So that Paul could but show them now the sentence finally of the Holy Spirit, as of the Son on earth (John 12) and of Jehovah of old (Isa. 6). But if Israel cut themselves off, save a remnant (the pledge of future restoration), the salvation of God is sent to Gentiles who hear.
Such is the bearing of this book first and last. Only it is well to add that the apostle's charge in Acts 20 is no less clear that after his departure evil would prevail in the church, as previously in Israel. And we know from Romans 11 that the Gentile, if not continuing in God's goodness (as he surely has not), must also be cut off, and thus make way for the recall of Israel to the universal joy and blessing of the world under the Redeemer.
§ 34. THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE ROMANS.
It is scarce possible to overlook or mistake the divine aim. For herein, on the proved failure of man, God's righteousness is revealed, by or of faith unto faith, with its resulting deliverance (Rom. 1-8). Yet sovereign grace like this is conciliated with special mercy and unfailing promises to Israel (Rom. 9-11). The practical consequences of God's mercies are urged in devotedness as a living sacrifice to Him personally, as well as in subjection to the world's authority, and in grace one toward another (Rom. 12-16).
In Rom. 1 the inspired writer presents himself as bondman of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated unto God's gospel, which He promised before through His prophets in holy scriptures. It is now fulfilled; for it is concerning His Son, Who came of David's seed according to flesh, and also marked out Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection of the dead — Jesus Christ our Lord. Thus He is heir of promise, and conqueror of death. It is not yet the day when to Him shall the obedience of the peoples be; but He is sending out witnesses of Himself, as here He was God's faithful Witness. Through Him Paul received grace and apostleship, not for law but for faith-obedience among all the nations, in behalf of His name; among whom were also they called of Jesus Christ, all that were in Rome beloved of God: they saints, as he apostle, not by birth or merit but called respectively by divine grace. He wishes them grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, as he did to all saints. It was not only that he thanked his God for them, always at his prayers beseeching that he might be prospered in God's will to come to them, for joint comfort as he graciously said; but he was hindered hitherto. He is not ashamed of the glad tidings, for God's power it is (not promise merely) to every one that believes, both to Jew first and also to Greek; for God's righteousness in it is revealed, and therefore by faith unto faith. Thus the gospel is about God's Son; and therein God's righteousness is revealed, in contrast with His law in vain claiming human righteousness. Hence as faith is the way or principle (so wrote the prophet), it was open to every believer, Jew and Greek (as wrote the apostle). Such is the introduction (vers. 1-17).
Then follows from Rom. 1:18 to 3:20 the overwhelming proof of man's dire need of the gospel. For God's wrath is revealed from heaven (in contrast with earthly judgments under law) upon all impiety and unrighteousness of men holding fast the truth in unrighteousness. As this embraces both Gentiles and Jews, he from verse 21 to the end of chap. 1 shows the shameless departure of mankind from God: first, ignoring the testimony of creation (19, 20); secondly, abandoning what they knew, especially by the public demonstration of moral government given in the deluge. Professing to be wise they were befooled, and changed the truth of God into falsehood; and as they gave up God for idolatrous images, God gave them up to vile lusts and a reprobate mind. Such were the heathen for ages before, and when the gospel went forth, morally as bad or worse (21-32).
But had there not been philosophic moralists who judged those unspeakable enormities and religious follies (Rom. 2)? Yes, but they did the same things; and their fine words could not screen them from the judgment of God. For they despised His long-suffering goodness, which leads to repentance, and thus treasured up wrath in a day of wrath. Then God will render to each according to his works, Jew and Greek (for with Him is no favouritism, though He considers privilege or the lack of it), in a day when He will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ (1-16).
From Rom. 2:17-29 the Jew is weighed, and his rest on the law, and boast in God, and superiority in light to others; but how about his own ways? Was not the name of God blasphemed among the nations on their account, as it is written? Unrighteousness made circumcision uncircumcision, as righteous uncircumcision will be reckoned for circumcision. Shadows are gone with God, Who insists on reality; and he only has the praise of God who is a Jew in what is secret, and heart-circumcision is in spirit, not in letter.
Are divine privileges nothing? Much every way, says the apostle in Rom. 3 (1-19); and in nothing so much as having the scriptures. Yet the unbelief of some cannot invalidate either the faith of God or His right to judge. Was not the Jew then better than the Greek? In no wise. Jews and Greeks are alike under sin. This is shown in Psalm 53, etc., Isaiah 59, etc. "Now we know that whatever things the law saith, it speaketh to those under (or, in the scope of) the law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world come under judgment to God." The Jew, who would readily allow the Gentile to be hopelessly evil, is expressly condemned by the scriptures. All then were guilty beyond dispute. "Wherefore by deeds of law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through law is knowledge of sin" (ver. 20).
From verse 21 God's mouth is open to declare His grace, and how it can be righteously, now that every mouth of man is stopped. It is God's righteousness manifested apart from law, witnessed by the law and the prophets; God's righteousness by faith in (lit. of) Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all that believe: its universal direction, and its actual effect (confounded in the R.V., because of trusting the blunder of some old MSS., but right in the A.V.). For there is this distinction. All in fact sinned, and come short of the glory of God; for this becomes the standard, when Adam's paradise was lost. Hence there is "no way" but being justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God set forth a propitiatory through faith in His blood for showing His righteousness in the present time, that He might be just and justify him that is of faith in (lit. of) Jesus. What can be plainer or more precise? Behold boasting excluded. If law can be said, it is faith-law, apart from works of law; and God is of Gentiles as well as of Jews — one God justifying Jews by faith only, and Gentiles through the faith which they have (and hence only in this case the article is used). Thus is law established, not annulled, through the faith of Jesus Who paid the penalty to the utmost.
Did the Jew plead the cause of Abraham for favour to his seed? The apostle answers in Rom. 4:1-5 that Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned for righteousness. David's case (6-8) equally and quite as evidently proves that all depends on God's grace through faith. For how else is a transgressor to have blessedness? We see again, how circumcision contributed nothing; for Abraham was reckoned righteous by faith when uncircumcised (9-12). Faith secures the promised heirship of the world in the face of all natural disabilities; not law, which works wrath through man's transgression (13-19). Faith on the contrary gives glory to God, and reaps its fruit (20-22), And the Christian has more even than Abraham, fully persuaded as he was that what God had promised He was able also to do; whereas we believe on Him Who actually raised from among the dead Jesus our Lord Who was given up for our offences and was raised for our justification (23-25). Thus as the latter part of chap. 3 brought in propitiation through Christ's blood, chap. 4. adds the intervention of God in justifying us by His raising Him from the dead, though not without our faith.
Rom. 5:1-11 draws the blessed consequences: peace with God in view of the past, His grace for the present, and His glory in the future. Not only do we boast this, but also in tribulations, as the allotted experience of Christians now, knowing the invaluable result to which God turns them, in breaking the will, and severing from the world, and lifting above things seen; so that faith, love, and hope are all strengthened by better learning God's love. Not only are we so, but "boasting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom now we received the reconciliation." Beyond this "boasting in God" it is impossible to rise. One may learn the glories of Christ in God's purpose and our own union with Him in them; but to boast in God Himself is of unequalled depth and joy, and we are called to it now.
Yet a profound discussion forms the needed supplement to that which we have already had, dealing not with our sins, but with sin in the flesh, and deliverance in Christ learnt experimentally and enjoyed by the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Hence from Romans 5:11 (closing the former part) the apostle is no longer occupied with the evils we had done, and the grace of God in justifying the guilty by faith. He now lays bare the root of all that we are, and so goes up to Adam, the figure of Him that was to come. For as to man there are two heads, of whom scripture speaks: as of sin and death in him who transgressed where all was good, so of obedience and life eternal in the face of nothing but self-will and ruin here below; the first man, and the Second. For, as we know, no Jew doubted that one man's sin brought those dreadful consequences on the human race.
If this were just on God's part, as they allowed, was it not worthy of God to bring in the gift by grace through one man, Jesus Christ? Adam was under a law, and the Jews had the law; and transgression followed for both. But the nations who had not law were none the less sinners, and thus obnoxious to death like the Jews; for in fact death reigned universally. But shall not the act of favour be as the offence? And shall not the gift be as through one that sinned? Accordingly, as the bearing through one offence was to condemn all men, so is it through one righteousness toward all men for justification of life. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were constituted sinners, so through the One's obedience the many shall be constituted righteous (vers. 12-19).
Thus grace far outstripped sin; and if the Adam family were obnoxious to death through sin, the Christ family in spite of manifold sins shall be justified and reign in life. The law came in by the way, that the offence might abound and so crush Jewish self-righteousness; but where sin (and not transgression only) abounded, grace exceeded far; that as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness unto life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord (vers. 20, 21).
Rom. 6 meets the cavil that grace tends to license sinning. This, the apostle shows, contradicts the truth that we died to sin, and by baptism unto Christ Jesus were baptised unto His death; in order that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too should walk in newness of life. He that died has been justified from sin; for it is a question not of sins forgiven, but of sin and of continuing in it, which death with Christ denies. Hence this also is the meaning of our baptism (vers. 1-14). But there is the further reply that being under grace, not law, is the way of holiness for those set free from sin and become bondmen to God. For the wages of sin is death, but God's act of favour is life eternal in Christ Jesus our Lord (vers. 15-23).
Then in Rom. 7 Christ dead through Whom we were made dead is deliverance from law, as in chap. 6 from sin. Law provoked lust and condemned those under it. The Christian belongs to Christ dead and risen, in order that he might bear fruit to God (vers. 1-4). When we were in the flesh, fruit was borne to death; but now even Jewish believers have been discharged from the law through having died thus, so as to serve in newness of spirit (vers. 5, 6). Thereon follows the detailed case (which the apostle personates, as he often does) of one converted yet still struggling under law with its powerlessness and misery; till, experimentally learning that we have flesh unchanged along with a new nature, one looks to God for deliverance, and finding it in Christ (as truly as before for the remission of our sins), he thanks God for it; though the old man is as bad as ever, but with the mind he serves God's law (vers 7-25).
Lastly, Rom. 8 is the blessed conclusion of this appendix on indwelling sin through death with Christ, as Rom. 5:1-11 was of pardon of sins through Christ's blood. We are in Christ where all condemnation is gone, as fully treated in vers. 1-4 (the latter half of ver. 1 being spurious, but right in ver. 4). We are not in flesh but in Spirit, if so be that God's Spirit dwells in us — the distinct privilege of the Christian; and therefore we put to death the deeds of the body. For the Spirit we have received is of power, love, and sobriety, as the apostle reminds Timothy. Hence as He is a spirit of adoption, so He groans in us who are delivered, yet with our bodies awaiting redemption which we now have only in our souls. Thus the Spirit, Who gives us joy, helps our weakness, interceding for us according to God. For we are called, as well as predestinated, and being justified, the apostle can say, "glorified": so sure is God's purpose (vers. 5-30). Then comes the final triumph even now: God for us, who against us? A series of unanswerable challenges of grace and truth in Christ follows, in the face of all opposing circumstances; and as "no condemnation" began the high argument, "no separation" from God's love closes it in vers. 31-39.
We have now to consider the bearing of Rom. 9-11. They are the divine solution of the question, how to reconcile the indiscriminate grace of God in the gospel (as already seen in Rom. 1-8) with the special promises made to the fathers in favour of the children of Israel. Here all is cleared to the opened eye. The scriptures, which the Jews owned to be of God, are here also clear and decisive.
First, the apostle shows how far he was from lowering his interest in Israel; they on the contrary were shutting out their highest privileges by their unbelief. Moses loved them no more than he; but how blind were they in not recognising the Christ, not more truly of David according to flesh than One Who is over all, God blessed for ever! Psalms 45, 102; Isaiah 9:1. (9:1-5). Next (in 6-13), he denies that the word of God had fallen through, for it is certain that not all are Israel that are of Israel. This he proves from the family of Abraham and of Isaac. Fleshly descent, or "seed," is not all: witness Ishmael and Esau. If the Jews must, as they would, repudiate the title of both lines, they must also admit God's sovereignty: a principle plainly shown in Isaac, still more in Jacob where the mother and father were the same, and the children twins. It was God's purpose according to election as Jehovah indicated before their birth, in the first book of the Pentateuch (Gen. 25:23), and sealed it by the last of the prophets (Mal. 1:2-3). Is anyone ready to charge God with unrighteousness? The unrighteousness was in Israel beyond doubt, when they made and adored a calf of gold, and must have been justly destroyed but for that sovereignty in God which unbelief criticises and rejects: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Ex. 33:19). How would pretension to righteousness have suited Israel then? But God is no less sovereign in judgment, as the apostle cites Pharaoh's case (Ex. 9:16). God is judge, not man, who has no right to reply against Him. For has not the potter power of the same clay to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour? In effect however He endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction, and vessels of mercy which He fore-prepared unto glory. The evil is man's, the good is of God's grace, whether of Jews or also of Gentiles, as Hosea declares (Hosea 2:23; Hosea 1:10). On any other ground all was lost for Israel; but if God fell back on His sovereignty, the prophet shows he would use it for Gentiles who believed; and this at the very time He executes judgment on Israel, guilty not of idolatry alone but of rejecting their own Messiah, His Messiah, as is plain from Isa. 1:9; Isa. 8:14; Isa. 10:22-23; Isa. 28:16 (vers. 14-33).
In Rom. 10 the apostle reiterates his earnest love for their salvation. Zealous for God, they ignored His righteousness in the gospel and sought to establish their own. For Christ is end of law for righteousness to every believer. Deuteronomy 30 furnishes the proof; for there, when Israel lost their land by apostasy, God holds out His testimony for believers to lay hold of, though exiles from the land where alone the law could be carried out. Under the law they were ruined, where the word of faith (pointing to Christ) can alone avail, as Isaiah 28:16 confirmed. But being the word of faith, not law, it is for Gentiles as much as Jews, and calls for preachers according to the principle of Isa. 52:7; Isa. 53:1; Psalm 19:4; and, as a fact, Jews needed it no less than Gentiles. Nor could Israel deny that God had made this known. Moses (Deut. 32:21) and Isaiah had warned, not only of God's provoking Israel to jealousy, but of being found by a nation that sought Him not, while Israel was perverse and disobedient.
This raises the enquiry in Rom. 11 if God thrust away His people (Israel), as indeed Christendom had long dreamt. Of this three disproofs follow. (1) The apostle cites himself as witness of a remnant, and refers to Elijah who erroneously thought himself alone; whereas God had and has a remnant, the fruit and pledge of grace, the rest blinded and for judgment (1-10). (2) Their fall, far from being definitive, is but to provoke Israel to jealousy, as already stated. Theirs is the olive tree, so that they are the natural branches, and the breach of some was because of their unbelief. The Gentiles, now grafted in, were but wild olive; and if they continued not in God's goodness, they too should be cut off (11-24). (3) The prediction is sure, that after the solemn dealing of God with His guilty people, and when the complement of Gentiles shall have come in during the partial blindness of the Jews as now, "All Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall be come out of Zion the Deliverer; He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." According to the gospel the Jews are enemies for the Gentiles' sake, according to election beloved for the fathers' sake. God does not change His mind as to His gifts and calling. "For as ye once disobeyed God, but now were objects of mercy by their disobedience, so also they disobeyed your mercy that they too should be objects of mercy. For God shut them all together into disobedience that He might show mercy on them all." No wonder that the apostle breaks forth into a transport of praise. For thus the special promises are fulfilled, while all pride of the law and pretension to righteousness vanish: again, Gentiles who boast, instead of enjoying all as mercy, like the Jews before them, must be cut off; whilst all Israel returning to His mercy are saved.
After the episode of the three chapters preceding, the direct course of the Epistle proceeds. The apostle beseeches the saints by the compassions of God, so fully shown, to present their bodies (for they are now vessels of the Spirit) a living sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing to God, their intelligent service (or one governed by the word). Outwardly they are not to be conformed to this age, yet not by mere externalism, but changed by the renewing of the mind unto their proving the will of God, good, well-pleasing, and perfect. They were to be lowly, and obedient to God in the Spirit, each acting according to the place God chose, many members in one body, but each in his own function. The gifts pass from those in the word to moral and gracious service in the varying circumstances of saints on earth, blessed with all good and its expression to all, in a spirit of humble and holy sympathy. Such is Rom. 12.
In Rom. 13 the saints are set in their due relation to higher authorities of the world. Every soul was to be subject. For there is no authority but of God; and the existing authorities have been ordained of God. To resist authority is to oppose God's ordinance; and they that do shall receive judgment (not "damnation," which is an extravagant mistake here as in Rom. 14:23); but a chastening (compare 1 Cor. 11:29-32). Conscience therefore acts, and not merely dread of punishment. The Christian is to pay honour as every other debt — love alone the due that can never be paid off. And love works no ill, and is the law's fulfilment. Besides, it is already time to wake up: salvation, our deliverance for glory, is nearer than when we believed. As in day-light let us walk becomingly, not as the dissolute world, but putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, and making no provision for lusts of the flesh.
From Rom. 14 to Rom. 15:7 is the great seat of brotherly forbearance as to things above which "the strong" rose in liberty, but which burdened "the weak" with scruple. Many Jewish saints did not realise their deliverance from meats forbidden, or from days enjoined by the law; which Gentile believers knew to be outside Christianity. This led to friction and trial: to judging on the one side; and to despising on the other. The apostle does not hesitate to declare for freedom, but urges receiving the weak, not for discussions of such points. Conscience, though uninstructed, must not be forged: doing, or not doing, "to the Lord" is a great peace-maker. Each shall give account of himself to God. We are therefore now if strong to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves, receiving one another, as Christ received us, to God's glory.
This question, to which the union of Jew and Gentile naturally gave occasion, leads on to the apostle's explaining God's ways from verse 8 and onward. Jesus was minister of circumcision for God's truth to stablish the promises of (i.e. made to) the fathers, and that the Gentiles (who had not promises) should glorify God for His mercy. And proofs are produced not only from Psalm 18:49, Psalm 117:1, but from the law (Deut. 32:43) and the prophets (Isa. 11:10). He appeals to the God of hope to fill the saints in Rome with all joy and peace in believing, and give them to abound in hope; and the more so, as he had no doubt of their actual blessing and ability to admonish each other. But he does not hide from them the grace given him by God to do Christ's public service toward the Gentiles in the sacred work of the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. What a difference from Israelitish holiness with its fleshly mark of circumcision!
Then he speaks of the extensive work he had already wrought in might of signs and wonders, in power of the Spirit, preaching the gospel of the Christ from Jerusalem to Illyricum round about, and this where He was not named (as in Isa. 52:15). This had been the hindrance; but as he had no more of this work in those parts undone, and had long desired, he would visit them on his way to Spain. He was going now to Jerusalem in remembrance of the poor saints, as those of Macedonia and Achaia wished with their contributions; after which he would set off by them into Spain, assured to come with the fulness of the blessing of Christ (omit "the gospel of"). But he beseeches their earnest prayers for him that he might be delivered from the disobedient in Judea, and that his service in Jerusalem might be acceptable to the saints. The Acts of the Apostles shows how he got to Rome, not free but a prisoner.
Rom. 16 is very full of personal commendations and salutations to individuals, though he was as yet a stranger there. But what associations of love and faith! What comfort to Phoebe going to Rome! What joy to Prisca and Aquila in such a mention from him! and to the assembly in their house! It is a notice of much interest. Then follows a roll of brothers and sisters with the distinctive marks of honour which a single eye does not forget, closing with a call to them all to salute one another, and to receive the salutation of the churches of Christ. It is the mind of heaven on earth. In verse 17 he is equally earnest in warning against those that make divisions and stumbling-blocks contrary to the doctrine learnt. If they formed divisions, they were to be avoided; for such serve their own belly (he says with disgust), whatever their fair speech to deceive the hearts of the harmless. The obedience of the Roman saints was known: but they should be wise unto the good, and simple as to the evil. And a second time he commends them to the God of peace, yet more fully and triumphantly. Then he adds this names of Christians saluting with him, and of the scribe of the epistle, Tertius; and after more salutation prays that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with them all. Lastly he himself ascribes glory to Him that was able to strengthen them according to his gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery as to which silence had been kept in everlasting times, but now manifested, and by prophetic scriptures according to the eternal God's command made known for obedience of faith to all the Gentiles; to an only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for the ages. Amen.
§ 35. 1 CORINTHIANS.
We now enter on a very different theme from that developed in the Epistle to the Romans, where the foundation of the gospel is in question, and the individual privileges and walk of the saint. The same apostle writes on the corporate walk of Christians, of the church. The difference of the divine aim is made evident in their respective addresses.
To those in Corinth he writes, but to more; "to the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, to called saints, with those that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours." It is a remarkable superscription, and, as written by the Holy Spirit, surely means to warn against an imminent danger to which the new institution of His grace, His assembly, was to be exposed. The work of grace in each is of course presupposed. That they were saints by God's calling is not forgotten in addressing them in their corporate position. Further, there is care taken from the start to guard against all independency, "with all that in every place," etc. (1 Cor. 1:1-3). No countenance is given to the assumption that the church is free to change or innovate; it has to walk everywhere, and, we may add, always obedient to the word and in holy fellowship.
The usual thanksgiving follows for the grace of God given them in Christ Jesus, which assuredly from the apostle was no mere form. But we may observe that it is not said for faith as he speaks of the Roman believers, but for gifts of grace, while waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who also would confirm them as blameless in His day. Solemn responsibility with encouragement he thus awakens: "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (vers. 4-9).
Thence he turns to their state, and reproaches them with their divisions. They had set up schools of thought among themselves, like the Jews and the heathen, saying, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. Assuredly Christ was not divided, nor was any servant of His crucified for them. The apostle thanks God that, as things were at Corinth, he had baptised only a few of them, lest any should say that he had baptised unto his name. His repudiation shows the mistaken place assigned to baptism. For he presses the superior dignity of evangelising, which Christ sent him for, and the contempt which God puts on the world's wisdom by that which is its foundation, Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling-block, and to Gentiles folly, but to those that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Far from choosing the wise, powerful, and well-born, God had chosen the foolish, the feeble, the vile and despicable, yea things that are not to annul those which are, that no flesh should boast before Him. But he adds the position and blessing too: "Now are ye of him in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that, according as it is written, He that boasteth, let him boast in the Lord" (vers. 10-31).
Hence when Paul first testified at Corinth, it was not the world's wisdom he urged, but Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified. No truth makes less of man, and more of God, when those who heard were men, yea, guilty and lost sinners. But when believers can bear, they indeed need more; when they are not infants but grown men ("perfect" here as elsewhere), he could, and in fact did, lead them to learn of Him everywhere, incarnate, risen, glorified, and coming again. Then he goes on to make known that all hangs for the truth on the Spirit of God, Who now does far beyond what the O.T. had revealed. We have Christ and redemption accomplished for the soul; and hence, as He is on high, the Holy Spirit is sent down here, God revealing by Him what had previously been reserved. Thus the all-important relation of the Spirit to Christ comes fully out. Revelation, communication by words, and reception, are alike and only by the Spirit of God. So foolish was it to cry up man's mind or the spirit of the world (1 Cor. 2).
The Corinthians addressed were not "natural" as once; nor were they "spiritual" as they ought to have been. They were "carnal." They falsely estimated their state, and, in fact, needed the food of babes rather than of men in Christ. The proof of their carnality, of their walking "as men," was their setting up Paul and Apollos, as rival leaders with the saints as followers to each. The servants thus shrouded the Master to their loss, fleshly as they were. God gives the increase. The most honoured fellow-servants are but God's journeymen; while the saints are God's building. If Paul was given as a wise architect, the sole foundation is Jesus Christ; and hence the serious question of what one builds on Him. Happy he who builds things precious that stand the fire! Sad is he, who, though saved, loses his building of what the fire consumes. Terrible is his lot who corrupts God's temple and is himself destroyed. Here the world's wisdom only ensnares. Besides it is real folly: for all things belong to the saints, not only Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, but world, life, death, present things and future: "all are yours, and ye Christ's, and Christ God's" (1 Cor. 3).
The apostle then in the beginning of 1 Cor. 4 exhorts that he and others like him should be accounted as servants or officials of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. These last are the Christian truths, previously hidden as being incompatible with the restricted object and the earthly character of Judaism, but absolutely essential to the gospel and the church. They have nothing to do with the notion of sacraments, which superstitious men have fancied. Now fidelity is requisite in a steward, and the Lord is the One that examines; not the saints, who have neither the place nor the power, but are responsible in matters of discipline as we shall see in 1 Cor. 5. When the Lord comes, He will make manifest the hidden; and then shall be to each the praise from God. He had applied the case to himself and Apollos, not to set man up but to humble him and exalt the Giver (6, 7).
In fact God appointed apostles to the extreme place in suffering at the grand spectacle that Christianity affords to the world, both to angels and to men. The light-minded worldliness in Corinth adds point to the comparison: "we fools for Christ, but ye prudent in Christ; we weak, but ye strong; ye glorious, but we in dishonour." And as he had opened this in verse 8 by saying that they "reigned without us," so in 11 he continues, "to the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are in weakness and buffeted, and wander homeless, and labour working with our own hands. Reviled, we bless; persecuted, we endure; blasphemed, we entreat; we became as the world's offscouring, refuse of all, until now." How withering is the contrast, not for the Corinthians then only, but for the still more selfish and vain development in our day, as in fact ever since!
Yet he tenderly assures them, that it was not as chiding, but to admonish them as his beloved children, he writes (ver. 14). "For if ye had ten thousand child-guides in Christ, yet not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begot you through the gospel. I entreat you then, become mine imitators." "Teachers" is not the word in ver. 15, but a servile term expressly. And in his love had he sent to them one so beloved and faithful as Timothy, "who shall remind you of my ways that are in Christ, according as I teach everywhere in every assembly" (ver. 17). The church, as the Christian, stands in liberty; but it is the liberty of Christ, never the liberty of differing as we like, or to oppose others. The Spirit of God dwells there to maintain the glory of the Lord Jesus, Whose mind is one. Petty man sets himself up. The apostle lets those know who said he was not coming, that he was, and quickly, the Lord willing; then he would know not the word of the puffed up, but the power. It was love, and to spare them, that he did not come sooner (18-21).
In the next division we have the apostle availing himself of evil rumours which had reached him, not about their general party spirit on which he had dwelt so fully from chap. 1 to 4, but on special evils, the abominable case of incest as yet unjudged in their midst (1 Cor. 5), their worldliness in going to law before the unjust (1 Cor. 6:1-11), and their abuse of liberty, or licentiousness, denounced and corrected (12-20). As the portion is short, we may dilate the more.
Desperately evil as were these disorders, general or special, the apostle did not lose confidence in the words of the Lord during the early days of his work at Corinth: "Fear not but speak … because I have much people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10). With these evils of theirs weighing on his heart he wrote to them as "the assembly of God that is at Corinth," sanctified (as they were) in Christ Jesus, saints called (or, by calling). The inconsistency of their practical state with their standing, individually and corporately, was extreme; but he remembered the Lord's assurance, and pressed home their responsibility. There is no sufficient ground for assuming a lost epistle from 1 Cor. 5:9, any more than an unrecorded visit from 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, though not a few have argued for both. The worst enormity may glide into the church through its light state or individual pravity; and thus Satan incessantly seeks to dishonour the Lord and destroy those who bear His name. Then comes, as here, the testimony of the Holy Spirit to judge the evil and deliver the saints. It is the rejection of His testimony, and the maintenance of the evil notwithstanding, for which they forfeit their place as God's assembly. From heinous evils, as here, the church may be restored, as the second Epistle proves; for incomparably less, if not judged, the church may have its candlestick removed, as we read in Revelation 2:5.
What a grief for the apostle to write about the common rumour of fornication among the Corinthian believers, "and such as is not even among the Gentiles, so that one should have his father's wife (1 Cor. 5:1)!" But it was a great aggravation that they, the saints generally, were puffed up, and did not rather mourn, in order that he who did this deed might be taken away from among them (2). Though not on the spot, the apostle could and does pronounce on the case. "For I, absent in body but present in spirit, have, as present, already judged him that hath so wrought this, in the name of our Lord Jesus, ye and my spirit being gathered with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, — to deliver such a one to Satan for destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (2-4)."
Thus did it seem good to divine wisdom that we should have the extreme act of excommunication fully left on record. If the Corinthian assembly had known and discharged its duty, we could not have had it in so solemn a form. For in this instance the apostle joins the exercise of his own official authority and power with the duty of the church to put away the offender. He could deliver to Satan, and thereby to sore trial of mind and body, though with the good and holy aim of the flesh destroyed in order to the spirit's salvation eventually; as we learn in 1 Timothy 1:20 that he could act similarly in cases demanding it without the church. But, with or without apostle, the church is bound not to tolerate but to remove the wicked person from themselves (6-13).
In order to explain the principle further, and to show its application fully, the apostle uses the figure of leaven, intelligible to everyone familiar with its working, and especially to such as knew the care to get rid of it required at the paschal feast, which bore typically on the redeemed. Leaven represents corruption — evil in its tendency to spread and in its character of contaminating. "Your glorying is not good: know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also, Christ, was sacrificed: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven nor with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened things of sincerity and truth." Clearly Christ's sacrifice, set forth in the paschal lamb, is the ground and means by which Christians are unleavened. The feast of unleavened bread that follows figures the hallowed condition that attaches to them imperatively.
We who believe in Christ are now celebrating this feast during our earthly sojourn as pilgrims and strangers, if we rest on His redemption. But the Corinthians in their levity had ignored it; and the apostle most instructively rebukes them with the authority of that word which abides for over. If they did not yet know God's mind about discipline, divine instinct left them inexcusable. Granted that they had no elders, nor experience; but they had gifts, and if they had life eternal in Christ, they should have felt rightly. Instead of mourning, they were puffed up and boasting: never a becoming state, but how shameful at such a crisis! The will of God was now declared; theirs was to judge themselves and obey. Here we have authoritatively the fullest light from on high to guide us, and to guard from like error.
"I wrote [or rather "write," the epistolary aorist] to you in the epistle not to mix with fornicators; not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or the covetous and rapacious or idolaters, since then ye must go out of the world. But now I write [same aorist as before] to you not to mix, if any one called a brother be a fornicator or covetous or idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or rapacious; with such a one not even to eat. For what have I [to do] with judging those outside? Ye, do ye not judge those within? But those without God judgeth. Remove the wicked [person] from among yourselves."
Here the scope is shown to embrace not only the immoral but the evil generally, though in no way to give an exhaustive list; for other scriptures duly denounce other sins. As a plain instance, false and wicked doctrine does not here find a place; whereas in Galatians 5 it is treated as "leaven," no less than immorality. In 1 John also fundamental error as to Christ's person is dealt with more stringently still as "antichrist," or even not bringing Christ's doctrine. Thus is the church preserved from legislation and called to be true in this respect as in all others to Christ's glory. We have only to do God's will, as He did it perfectly.
In 1 Cor. 6:1-11 the apostle insists on the incongruity of the saints appealing to the tribunals of that world which they are destined to judge, yea, to judge even angels. Yet at Corinth, instead of bringing a difference before the saints, they like men who had no faith appealed to "the unjust"! Even those of no account in the assembly could well judge such matters; for he speaks to make them ashamed. Why did they not rather suffer wrong? Alas! they did wrong, and to brethren, forgetting that wrongdoers (and he enumerates more than in 1 Cor. 5) shall not inherit God's kingdom. Their past evil was no excuse; seeing that they were washed, sanctified, justified (a very observable order), in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
This introduces the abuse of liberty. It is not Christian to be under the power of anything. Even now the body is for the Lord; and as God raised Him up from the dead, so will He raise us. We shall be conformed to Him in that glorious change, and are to act now in faith of it. Our bodies are Christ's members. How shameful and disloyal to be joined to a harlot! For this was the habit, one might say the religion, of the old Corinthian community. Hence the enormity of fornication in a saint, who is "one spirit with the Lord." Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in us, and this of God. We are not our own, but bought with a price, and therefore to glorify God in our body. The rest of the verse in the Authorised Version and others is a spurious addition from bad manuscripts.
In this section of the Epistle we have answers to questions which seem to have been submitted to the apostle on marriage and meats, with a notice of the detraction of his authority.
There is a spiritual energy which raises one to whom it is given above ordinary conditions; but the institution of God, as here marriage, remains all the same. If Paul was a witness of the former, none the less does he maintain the latter. Marriage is the rule as laid down of God; but the Holy Spirit may and does exceptionally lift up this one or that for worthy reason above the need of marriage. It was a question of God's gift; so that he who marries does well, and he does better who does not marry. The contrast of this holy wisdom is seen in the world-church, which turns the exception of grace into an ecclesiastical rule of corruption, and builds up thereby a city of confusion hateful to God and ruinous to man. The apostle calls for mutual consideration in married life, as well as for prayer, as having to do with God and the adversary.
This leads him, in an interesting and instructive way, to draw the line between what he counselled, and what the Lord commanded by revelation, though the apostle was inspired to give both. He deals also with mixed marriage, and, looking at position and occupation, reminds us that God has called us in peace. Hence too, if one were called as a bondman, it was not to be a concern; but if one could become free, to use it rather. For the bondman called in the Lord is His freedman; likewise the called freeman is Christ's bondman. Bought with a price, they were not to be bondmen of men, but abide with God in that wherein they were called. He presses also the time as straitened, and the passing sway of this world's fashion, as reasons for not setting the heart on change. Such is the outline of 1 Cor. 7.
In 1 Cor. 8 he speaks of eating of animals sacrificed to idols; and, quite allowing the nullity of an idol, he points out the danger for conscience in those who lacked that knowledge seeing a Christian at table in an idol-temple. Gracious thought for another is better than knowledge empty, selfish, and sinning against Christ.
This largeness of heart in the apostle exposed him to the false charge of looseness and self from those really guilty, and brings in the parenthetical 1 Cor. 9 in which he vindicates his apostleship, and glories in its grace. He maintains title to eat and drink and lead about a sister-wife, as also the other apostles, specifying the Lord's brethren and Cephas. "Or I only and Barnabas, have we not a right not to work?" Yet he draws the plain title to support for all labourers — from the soldier, the husbandman, the shepherd, and the herdman. Nevertheless he used no such title, supported though it was by the clear case of those that served the altar in the law. While asserting the right, he refused to use it for himself (not "abuse") in the gospel. It was God's grace in it that filled his heart and led his course, free from all yet making himself bondman, so inexplicable to man and hateful to the worldly mind, becoming all things to all that he might save some. A fellow-partaker with the gospel, he was living what others only preached, lest he, after preaching to others, should himself be rejected or reprobate.
This warning, though transferred to himself (as he says in 1 Cor. 4:6, "to himself and Apollos for their sakes" who were in danger), he follows up in chap. 10 by pointing out the ruin of so many in Israel of old, who all were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Is the Christian to be more indifferent, because privilege is now greater? Idolatry is a great danger for the professing Christian, as it was for the Jew. Yet what condemns it more than Christ's death? What more inconsistent with the Lord's table? For demons were behind the idols; and those a serious reality. True liberty is profitable and edifies; it cannot be at the expense of God's glory, unto which we as Christians are called to do all things, giving no occasion of stumbling to Jews or Greeks or God's assembly. So it was that the apostle pleased all in all things, not seeking personal advantage, but that of the many that they might be saved; and he called them again to imitate him, as he did Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
We have here another section of the Epistle, as distinct, or nearly so, from what precedes as from its concluding two chapters. Before coming to the assembly which was compromised in more ways than one at Corinth, the apostle regulates the relative place of the man and the woman in themselves. The importance of this is the more evident from the humanitarian liberalism of our own day which leaves out God's mind and order. Paul wished them to know that the Christ is the head of every man (ἀνδρὸς andros), but woman's head is the man, and the Christ's head is God. Hence not men but women, in praying or prophesying, were to have their heads covered before others in token of subjection, as the act otherwise seemed to deny it. For woman was created because of man and as of him, so also the man by her; and angels looked on who should see godly decorum. Neither is without the other, but all things of God, which unbelief forgets or takes no account of. For woman to act like a man is to her shame, and that of the contentious person who ignores God's will (2-16).
Nor was it in private only. The Corinthians publicly were coming together for the worse. Schisms already existing would surely lead to heresies or sects, which in effect deny the one body of Christ, the church, though the approved are thereby made manifest. How sad too at such an occasion as the Lord's Supper the dishonour put on the poor. It was really on the church of God; so that such a supper was not the Lord's. Therefore as he emphatically received the Supper from the Lord, he here also delivered it to them in all its grace and holy solemnity for the remembrance of Him, the centre of the church's worship. The Lord's death makes selfishness in any form most hateful, yet fills the heart purified by faith with thanksgiving and praise, and claims vigilant self-judgment, lest any slight might bring on the Lord's chastening now, that one be not condemned with the world by-and-by. So the apostle rules the severance of a meal, even were it that called the love-feast or Agape, to hinder such disorder in future (17-34).
Thereon follows the greatest unfolding which scripture furnishes of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in the assembly with the love so essential to right and worthy operation, and the Lord's regulation of it accordingly against abuse, in 1 Cor. 12-14. It is designedly apart from the Lord's Supper, though that Supper was in fact the most indispensable aim on the most important occasion for which the assembly met, the Holy Spirit acting in all holy freedom. But it seemed good to the Lord to treat of His Supper separately, and before entering on "the spirituals" (or manifestations of the Spirit) which are here explained. The apostle opens it by guarding against the imitative intrusion of demons, whose aim is to debase Jesus, the Son of God, as the power of the Spirit works in exalting Him. Now there are distinctions of gifts, but the same Spirit; as there are of service, but the same Lord; and of operations, but the same God that worketh all in all (1 Cor. 12:1-6).
It is a question here, not of souls saved but of discerning spirits who sought to dishonour the Lord, and deceive if it were possible the very elect. None the less but the more is the Holy Spirit sent down, and here in the church, to glorify the Lord and bless His own as His witnesses of Jesus in glory. The presence of the Spirit is more momentous than even the gifts He distributes and directs. It is that which constitutes the one body; and the assembly is bound to own and act thereon; which is exactly what Christendom has in effect denied since the apostles, perhaps the most perverse of the perverted things the apostle warned of as at hand. There was but one Spirit, as also but one body; as faithfulness means walking by faith, so it is the shame of any to confess truth which they do not seek to carry out at all cost. The Corinthians were light and carnal, and their failure is turned to everlasting profit by the inspired instruction and corrective (7-13).
The gifts are manifestations of His power Who dwells in the church and works, though sovereign, to the Lord's glory; the one Spirit's baptism at Pentecost established that unity, which unbelief overlooks and virtually denies. Every true assembly is Christ's body, as the apostle told the Corinthians they were, though their state was bad enough to draw out the gravest rebuke. But it is the refusal to bow to the word and judge the evil which forfeits the title of God's assembly; whilst the Corinthians did bow to their restoration, as the Second Epistle shows. Again it is in the assembly as a whole that God set, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, etc. (14-28). Ministry therefore (that is, gift in exercise) is set in the church. The gift in every variety is for all. There is no such idea in scripture as the minister of a church; which supposes and generates all sorts of error. The edifying gifts are on the same principle and from the same source as the sign gifts (miracles, healings, tongues, etc.), but far more important and permanent and set in the higher place, whatever Corinthian vanity might prefer.
There was however a quality higher than all, and of deep necessity for the right working of every gift, as indeed for the well-being of every saint, to the Lord's praise. It was love: a sad word among the Greeks, who readily claimed the most refined place of the first man; but how blessed and blessing and divine as heard and seen and proved to death and deeper still in the second! And this is essential both for the individual Christian (who alone loves, as begotten of God), and for the assembly. Again, it accounts for its place here, between the presence and the operations of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12, and the order of His action (for which every member is responsible) in 1 Cor. 14. It is striking to observe how the passive characters of love take precedence of the active, while the intermediate dwell on that joy in good which is truly godlike, as it well becomes the children of God now on earth. Again love never fails and abides for ever.
It is well to note in 1 Cor. 14:3 that we have no definition of prophecy here, only its description in contrast with "a tongue." Edification is the great criterion for the assembly, as comely order is due to Him Who dwells there, and to the Head. Revelation, now complete in scripture, is distinguished from knowledge; and power is subject to the Lord's authority Who gives rules which bind even prophets who might plead divine impulse, as they impose silence on women in the assembly. These might use their gifts at home, though as subject to order, like Philip's four daughters who prophesied. The word of God did not come out from the assembly, nor does it come to one only. Through a called and inspired channel it is for all the church, being the Lord's commandment. "But if any be ignorant," it is his withering rebuke of the independent, "let him be ignorant." God has not only spoken but written, and His word abides for ever. May we be subject to the Lord, not in word only but in deed and truth!
Next comes the great unfolding of Christ's resurrection and its consequences. Some of the Corinthians doubted that the saints rise. They had no question as to the soul's immortality, but ventured to deny that the dead rise. The apostle treats the matter from its root in Christ, and thus decides it for the Christian, being associated with Him, as man is with the head of the race. It is for the apostle fundamental, bound up not only with God's counsels but with the gospel itself, which announces the glad tidings of Christ dead and risen. With this accordingly he begins, proved by the weightiest and fullest testimonies, his own closing them (1 Cor. 15:1-11). Then (12-19) he reasons on Christ's resurrection out of (or, from among) dead men as the incontrovertible truth which utterly destroyed their speculation. "How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" For this denies Christ's, and if so Paul's preaching, and their own faith; nay, it would make them false witnesses of God Who in that case had not raised Christ, and themselves be yet in their sins: so those put to sleep in Christ must have perished, and Christians alive be the most pitiable of all men.
This he interrupts with a sort of parenthetical revelation, terse, pregnant, and profound. "But now hath Christ been raised from out of the dead, first-fruits of those that are asleep. For since through man [is] death, through man also [is] resurrection of the dead." Two heads have thus their families respectively characterised, dying, and made alive. "But each in his own order (or, rank): Christ first-fruits; then, those that are Christ's at his coming; then the end, when he shall give up the kingdom to the God and Father, when he shall have annulled all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign till he put all the enemies under his feet. Death, last enemy, shall be annulled. For he subjected all things under his feet. But when he saith, All things are subjected, it is evident that he is excepted who subjected all things to him. And when all things shall be subjected to him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all" (20-28). The resurrection of those that are His is at His coming, and to reign with Him. The end is, when He judges those that are not His, yet raised; and He delivers up the kingdom, all enemies put down, for the everlasting scene, when not the Father only but "God" (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) shall be all in all.
Next he renews the reasoning, and refers in 29 to 18, and in 30 to 19, which clears up the sense. Why by baptism join such a forlorn hope, why share such a life of danger, if dead men are not at all raised? Paul's life was in view of resurrection; as theirs denied it who merely eat and drink. Let such not be deceived, but wake up righteously and sin not. Ignorance of resurrection is ignorance of God and holiness, to the shame of those that speculate. And why raise curious questions? God surrounds us with even natural facts of analogous character: wheat and other grain, after death of what perishes, spring up, not what was sown, but of its own kind and not a different, yet in a new condition. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly. So too is the resurrection; and here again and yet more richly the last Adam, the Second Man, is contrasted with the first. We too who believe are styled heavenly, for we shall in due time bear that image, as now we bear the image of the earthly (or rather dusty) man, Adam (29-49).
Christ's life (and in resurrection, if men were to be His associates) alone suits God's kingdom and incorruption (50). This introduces a mystery or secret of God not revealed in the Old Testament: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in an eye's twinkling, at the last trumpet; for trumpet it will, and the dead shall be raised, and we shall be changed" (51, 52). And this new Christian truth he connects with Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14, the heavenly things with the earthly; for the Kingdom of God, as our Lord shows (John 3:12), comprehends both. All is wound up with a call to his beloved brethren to be firm, unmoveable, abounding in the work of the Lord always, knowing that their labour is not vain in Him.
This is fitly followed by the various details of 1 Cor. 16. As he directed the assemblies of Galatia to collect for the poor saints in Jerusalem, so he wished those in Corinth to do. Each first of the week is a most proper day for the Christian, in the sense of his blessing and of that infinite grace which is its source, to lay by him in store as he may have prospered. The apostle would not use personal influence when he came; but whomsoever they should approve, these he would send with letters to carry their bounty to Jerusalem; and if well for him also to go, they should go with him. How incomparably better is God's way than man's societies and their machinery or devices! Christ with His work is the centre of all. It was only when restoration wrought, that in his Second Epistle he explains why he did not then visit them. But while tarrying at Ephesus, he would have no despising of Timothy if he came. And he lets them know how much he besought Apollos to go to Corinth, who, though not now, would come when he had good opportunity (1-12).
The apostle then charges them to watch, stand fast in the faith, play the man, be strong. "Let all ye do be done in love." They had failed in all: he despaired in nothing (13, 14). They knew the house of Stephanas, that it was the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they devoted themselves to the saints for service; so he besought them to be subject to such, and to every one working together and labouring. This is the more notable, as we never hear of elders in the two Epistles to the Corinthians; for if there had been, they must naturally have incurred special blame. Apart from elders (who needed appointment by those who had discernment and full authority) there were, as we learn, labourers to whom the subjection of the saints was due, as we also find in other Epistles: a fact of the utmost importance for the present circumstances of the church. Any unbiassed reader may satisfy himself of this, who will consider the import of Rom. 12:6-8; of 1 Thess. 5:12-13, 19-20; of Heb. 13:17; of James 3:1; and of 1 Peter 4:10-11. Elders or no elders, it is clear that the door was open for ministrations to edification where gift existed without official designation of any kind. Ministry in the N. T. is the Lord's service, and far more varied than what has been so called since the apostles, who sanctioned it to the largest extent if exercised in the fear of God and in love of the saints.
Further, he speaks of Stephanas with two others, whose names are subjoined, coming and by their practical love refreshing his spirit "and yours" he graciously adds. "Own therefore such" (15-18). Salutations of assemblies and individuals follow, as he affixes his with his own hand (19-21). But while desiring the fullest flow of holy affections with one another, he pronounced an unsparing curse on any one that loved not the Lord [Jesus Christ]: "Let him be anathema Maranatha" (our Lord cometh). This assuredly was no licence for such to be in their midst (22). Not content, in the face of much he had suffered from them, with the prayer "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you," he concludes with "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus, Amen" (23, 24). What more Christlike!