Gospel Address No 3
God in Christ and man in Christ. October 23rd, 1870.
The great point of Colossians 2 is the completeness of the revelation, and our completeness, if we receive it, bringing us out of the old condition into a new. It is remarkable the way the apostle insists here on our completeness before God, and on the completeness of the revelation to us.
It is striking to see - for "there is nothing new under the sun," as the wise man said - how the apostle had to deal with what we have now to deal with: superstition, traditions - ritualism as we call it now - and rationalism, or man's reasoning, which ends in infidelity.
We see how imagination runs to tradition, and the reasoning of the human mind to philosophy; but the apostle insists that everything is in Christ, and that we do not want anything else; and this blessed truth is the revelation of God close to us. As to the way we are brought into it, we are quickened, and forgiven all trespasses.
The apostle calls all these workings of man's mind the "rudiments of the world." Man's mind cannot go beyond his mind, and so it cannot get God, for God is beyond his mind. If I trust to my mind, I may be deceived, for another man may have a cleverer mind than mine, and deceive me; but there is no conscience in it, because if I use my mind, it is not conscience. The whole thing is always false. There is no philosophy but what is false, for it leaves God out. I must live according to the relationship I am in, whether husband and wife, or father and child. If I leave out then the greatest relationship of all, namely, with God, all must be false. When God is brought in, it is not my mind working, because if He is there, I must be subject to Him.
Tradition does not seem to leave God out so much. There may be piety among ritualists, but they do not know their place in Christ. Philosophy is infidelity; they say there are words of God in the Scripture, but it is not the Word of God. Then the mind is to judge it, and everyone takes what he likes. That is man's mind at work.
In ritualism there is no consciousness of our place in Christ; its ordinances are things an unconverted man can do as well as a converted one: he can say prayers - not really pray, of course. There is no worshipping God in spirit. There may be piety, but it goes on the ground that man as man is capable of having to say to God. He can fast, offer money, etc. The Christian does these things in spirit. They are "not holding the Head." Take the instance of having saints as mediators. If I am one with Christ, how can I get a mediator between us? It looks very fair, humble, and so on, but it denies the whole Christian place. If you are toiling and getting others to go to God for you, then you have not been to God. That makes all priesthood essentially false. There was a priesthood in Israel, because the people could not go to God. Now the veil is rent, and to have a priesthood is denying Christianity. Of course we should pray for one another; but now God is fully revealed, you are completely purged, and you can go to Him: "boldness to enter into the holiest."
A man may be feeling after God, and God working in the conscience to bring him there; but a Christian is one who goes right into the holiest with boldness; he learns he is one with Christ, and he holds the Head.
No one can put the slightest thing between himself and the Head without being lost. If a gold-leaf were between my head and my body, my body might as well be at the other end of Europe; I should be dead. I may have forgiveness without having learned that union.
God treats man now as lost; He is not putting him under probation to see how it will turn out, but telling him how it has turned out. God in grace is come to seek and to save the lost. He gave up looking for fruit from man because the tree is bad - not that man ought not to bring forth fruit. He said at last, "I will send My Son, they will reverence Him," and they slew Him. Then all was over (not for Christians, of course; He does look for fruit when He has grafted the tree). Now it is grace, and he has to compel men to come in by the gospel.
The coming of Christ brought out clearly and decidedly, first, that there was no fruit to be had from man; and second, that if all the fatness of God's house is opened up for the marriage of His Son, they won't come to it. For all the patience He exercised, and the pains and goodness He showed, there was no fruit. Then He says: "My oxen and My fatlings are killed; all things are ready, come to the marriage," and they will not come. Then you get the judgment of man - yours and my judgment. The thing tested is what you and I are. It has not produced fruit, and it will not receive the goodness of God. Repentance cost them too much, and yet it was said, "Except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish."
We see no beauty in Christ that we should desire Him: the things God delights in I don't.
He says, "Publicans and harlots shall go into the kingdom of heaven before you," because the moral man does not feel his need so much as the open sinner. But if I find a crab-tree with five apples on it, it is a crab as much as if there were five hundred on it. No one has anything to boast of. If I had been brought up with thieves (it was God's providence I was not), I should have been a thief; but I am just as much a sinner as if I were.
The prodigal was just as much a sinner, though not degraded in the same way, when he turned his back on his father, as when he ate with the swine. Jeremiah says, "If thou wilt return, return to Me."
If from being a profligate you turn to being moral, what good is it, if you don't get to heaven? The test of the heart is Christ. Christ is presented, and they see no beauty in Him. An infidel can see in Christ a beautiful character, but he sees nothing in the Son of God coming to redeem my soul.
We are not in paradise. How did we get out of it? We were turned out. Have you got back to God? The last Adam was rejected by man, the first by God (not that there is no mercy for him). Then the world came in, that God never made, but that He overrules, an immense system made by Satan to distract the heart from God, that it may not want God. But it does want Him. The prodigal "began to be in want." Is there no heart here that wants? It may distract itself, but there is a hungering in the soul. "He that cometh to Me shall never hunger." The soul has wants; it may turn to works, hankering after this and that to make you happy, and tired of everything but yourself, which is the only thing you ought to be tired of. Such a one is not at peace with God. You may forget God, and the effect of bringing in the thought of Him makes you miserable. The conscience feels it is not right; you would get away from God if you could; and you can busy yourself with the distractions of the world till judgment comes - then you cannot get away from God.
The world we are in is the world Satan has built up, to make us forget we are out of paradise, and without God. God makes Cain a vagabond, and he goes and builds a city in the land of Nod: the word signifies vagabond. He goes and settles himself there. Then he must have it as comfortable as he can: he has artificers in brass and iron - so have we; and harps and organs - so have we. Man's cleverness has invented these things to hinder our coming to God.
In Christ is "all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." I get God come into the world - God's side of it towards us - all the fulness of God, love and light, bodily. He looks for no fruit from man here. He is the fruit of God's love. He is seeking for no fruit at all, but He is the fruit of God's heart. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses." He never said "Come unto Me" until He had come to them. He did not wait in heaven and say, You get right and then come up here; but He came in sovereign grace where and when they were wrong.
He was the fulness of the Godhead bodily, a Man, born a Man, God thus showing that His delights were with the sons of men; and His dying was the grand testimony to the extent of God's love. He came, sinless, in infinite grace, the light of the world, and God in love in the world, where men were in sins. How dark our hearts are! He may well say, "to turn them from darkness to light." See God Himself, as a Man, talking to sinners, the One sufficiently above sin to talk to those who were in sin. The need of the sinner is the everlasting joy of the saint - Christ. When He has fully manifested all that you are in the light, you find yourself in the presence of perfect love, not imputing the things He has revealed to you. You find life and light and love come into the world in Christ. Light, confounding you with your sins. Love, showing you how God is dealing as to your sins. Life, eternal life, to live with Him. He could not have us in our sins. He must reveal them in the light, and bring us into God's presence before the judgment, or it is too late. It is humbling, breaking us down, and making us hate ourselves for the sins, but what a blessed thing to have the love that makes me hate my sins! But the love in itself is not enough, for we could not go to heaven with our sins, and He died. "In Him dwells all the completeness of the Godhead" (I alter the word that you may see the connection), "and ye are complete in Him." When I look at His work and at my being in Him, I see I am complete in Him. He found us in death, spiritual death, and He came in grace into actual death: and what has He done, in going there, for those who believe? He came where we were and bore the curse, putting all our sins away. He is the One who puts our sins away, before ever He is our life; "quickened together with Him," born out of His grave as it were. He has borne our sins, and He is life to a person whose sins He has already put away. We get the quickening by faith in Christ Jesus, the Christ who died for my sins before ever He comes into my heart. We are in the place of the Second Man, Christ, members of His body, of His flesh, and His bones. He is our righteousness before God, always appearing in the presence of God for us, and our Advocate if we fail in anything. My place before God is complete in Him. All that I should have had to answer for before God, that my conscience takes cognisance of, repents for, is put away, and I have Christ - complete in Him, have eternal life - am the righteousness of God in Him, and hereafter the glory. Christ comes in the perfectness of grace to me as a sinner, and I am in the perfectness of righteousness before God in Him. He has quickened us, having forgiven us all trespasses.
Then, if I am in Christ, it is equally true that He is in me, and I am to show forth the life of Christ in my mortal body.
How far can you say these two things? First, all my sins are forgiven. That is one side of it; and if you don't know forgiveness as complete and thorough as Christ's death can give it, you have not got what Christ gives in the gospel. He does not leave us to answer for our sins, or it would surely be judgment.
Then, secondly, can you say you are "complete in Him"?
Having all in Christ, the apostle says he is not going to make Jews of them. He has led everything captive for you. In detail you have everything in Him. What a thought! And how we need it, if we honestly know and judge ourselves. We have poor, even evil thoughts, if not deeds; how little the fibre of our hearts is able to take it in. But it is our own fault, for God is our strength.
How great the comfort of knowing we are in Him! He is life, and He has entirely overcome death. He comes in the power of life to the stronghold of death, and destroys it. We are not subject to death. We shall die, of course, if the Lord does not come first, but it is a beaten enemy. When I die I leave what is mortal; that is all death is, "absent from the body." It breaks all ties here, of course. We were death's prey, now "all things are yours." Death saved me, and death, spiritual death, is my deliverance. Dead to sin and to the world. And when it actually comes, I leave my poor mortal body and go to Christ; and so completely is it overcome that those who live when He comes will not die. "We shall not all die." If Christ came to-night, those who are His would never die.
Have your souls seen the vileness, guilt, self-will, and uncleanness of their condition before God, and seen that you are not there, but in Christ? If I am complete in Him, I want nothing else: it is deliverance; and if my eye is single and turned to Him, I have everything.
The Lord give our hearts to know it every day, that they may be satisfied. "He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and He that believeth on Me shall never thirst."