|Part - II Continued...|
|THE QUESTION ANSWERED:|
|THE OVERWHELMING REVELATION OF THE LIFE THAT PLEASES GOD|
|THE MESSAGE FROM THE GOSPELS|
IN TURNING to the New Testament for further knowledge of the life that pleases God, we begin by recogniziing the two natural divisions of this portion of the Word, the first of which is the section embracing the four Gospels. In the present volume we are to study the story of the Gospels. In the present volume we are to study the story of the Gospels - the story of a life unique and outstanding. An appropriate chapter heading for use throughout this division would be. 'The Message from the Life of Our Lord'. The heading that I have substituted - 'The Message from the Gospels' - has been chosen because I wish to keep before you the fact that we are making a systematic study of the whole Bible, and are now engaged upon a particular portion of it.
The Importance of the Present Study. You will recall what was said, as we began upon the Old Testament, about the two great beginnings that God has made, and the especiallyclear revelations of the life that pleases Him which we would expect to find at these starting-points. The "first man Adam" did not disappoint us; from his life-story there came testimony that was definite and satisfying indeed. We have now reached the second of these beginnings, and may rest assured that "the last Adam" will not fail us. If God has an ideal for human life, we shall come upon it now, as we study the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.
A First Impression. As we find ourselves upon this holy ground, a change of plan seems forced upon us. In studying the lives of ordinary men who pleased God, we have sought to analyze them and discover their secret. But by reason of the indefinite gap between the Lord Jesus and ourselves, the thought of a similar analysis of His life appears preposterous. Of course we shall have His teachings to reveal deeper truth concerning the Life that Pleases God. But as far as a direct study of His life is concerned, it seems that we can do no more than take careful note of His excellencies, with a purpose of embodying them in our ideals and imitating them in some feeble way of our own. Thus the plan for study is apparently determined without there being any particular choice for us to make.
A Scriptural Conclusion. It may be that we have forgotten something. What about the many passages which tell us that Jesus was like ourselves? We love these, but perhaps have not dared to really believe them. Let us read again a few of the familiar verses, noting carefully certain words and phrases: "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren... Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren" (Heb. 2: 11, 17); "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren " (Rom. 8:29).
Do not pasages such as these plainly indicate a similarity between Jesus and His brethren of our race, in far more than externals? Can it be that the life of our Lord, in its inner working, came closer to our own lives than we have realized? Such statements encourage us to reconsider our first thought regarding a plan of study. Indeed, they warrant us in continuing the original plan; in attempting an analysis of even this exceptional life.
A Point of Difference. In studying men of Adam's race we have been upon familiar ground, and have been able to come without delay to the lessons from their lives. But with this extraordinary life before us, the case is different. We shall soon catch glimpses of the teaching that is coming, but before we can really lay hold of the lesson it will be necessary to dig through mountains of prejudice and uncover once more the virgin soil of the Word. Like Israel of old, we are "a people robbed and spoiled". At no point has Satan labored more desparately in his purpose to cover the truth, than in his attempt to hide our Lord from us. Because of his success, practically all of the present volume must be given to the work of shovelling away his lies. As we spend so much time in digging a way through, it may seem again that the purpose of our study has been forgotten. But ultimately we shall come with rejoicing into the clear light, and the reason will be apparent for all of the way that we have traveled.
How We Shall Study the Life of Our Lord. In dwelling upon the great theme of the Gospels, we might naturally expect to confine ourselves wholly, or at least largely, to these books. But this plan is not the one by which we shall most readily accomplish our present purpose. Scripture provides a better way and calls us to it.
Scattered here and there throughout the latter part of the New Testament are passages that throw light back upon the theme of the Gospels. The night before the crucifixion Jesus said to His disciples, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). It is nothing strange, then, if many rays come from the Book of Acts and the Epistles and the Revelation to illumine the life-story of our Lord. Indeed, we are not surprised to find powerful lights in this section of the New Testament. Some of these are searchlights in very truth, whose piercing beams bring out detail not otherwise revealed. If we seek to analyze the life of our Lord let us study it under flashing rays from these later lights that God Himself has set.
A Galaxy of Searchlights. The Epistle to the Philippians contains a most remarkable passage. There was grievous sin among these Christians, for party spirit had sprung up in the church and self was being exalted. This matter is mentioned several times, but the most extended reference to it is foundation to lowliness and unselfishness, and immediately following is the passage in which our Lord is held up as the great exemplar of self humiliation: "Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (verses 5-8).
This passage has long been precious to us, but perhaps we have loved it only for the truth upon the surface. If this be so, the time has come for us to enter into further blessing. The fact is that the Holy Spirit has here set up a veritable galaxy of searchlights; that He has made this passage one of the most brilliant and important light centers of the whole Word. We shall find it invaluable in our study of the life of our Lord.
|An Introduction to the Study of the
Life of our Lord under Illumination
from Philiappians 2:5-8
The Thought of This Passage in Outline. Before making use of the light that shines forth from this passage, we must note the structure of the passage itself. This being our purpose, let us read it in the Revised Version: "Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross".
In this new reading the structure of the passage has been rendered more apparent, by reason of three changes that have been made. First, three 'ands', that occur in the Authorized Version but not in the Greek, have been thrown out. Second, the words, "made Himself of no reputation" have become "emptied Himself" -- an exact translation of the original. Third, there has been a return to the verb forms that the divine Author used.
By this last statement concerning the verb forms, I mean that at all important points where finite verbs or participles are used in the Greek, these same forms of the verb appear in the English. Of course I have no thought of suggesting this is a rule to be followed in translating. I am merely noting that in this particular instance such a complete correspondence between the original writing and the translation has been possible, and that by reason of it the outline of the thought has become more apparent.
We are now prepared to see the passage, not as the story of a single action carried to completion in a long succession of steps, but as two great independent steps, the point of division being the single 'and' that remains. Of our Lord it is said, that "existing in the form of God. . . . . .(He) emptied Himself". The two great independent steps are an emptying, and a humbling.
Looking again at the passage, we note that each of these steps is further developed in two explanatory statements. We read that our Lord "emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men"; and then that "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross". Perhaps the structure of the passage will stand out more clearly if we write it thus:
|"Existing in the form of God . . . . . . (He) emptied Himself
taking the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men;
being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself,
becoming obedient even unto death,
yea, the death of the cross".
Now a final glance at the passage, to emphasize an important truth and insure a fully rounded vision. We have here firs step, described as an emptying, further elucidatedin two clauses, and complete at the end of the second clause. This is followed by a second step, the humbling, more fully set form in a clause and a phrase, and complete at the end of the passage. These two distinct steps are the two parts that unite to constitute the whole of our Lord's humiliation of Himself.
Using the Lights. With the structure of the passage in Philiappians clearly before us, we are ready to study the downward pathway of our Lord as it is illumined by the powerful lights of its galaxy. To each of the two great steps of the humiliation, an entire chapter will be given. Our plan will be to divide the passage into successive portions, and to consider in each instance the truth that is revealed as the light shine upon the way that was traveled. For the headings of our divisions, at least, we will return to the Authorized Version.
I N THIS chapter, we are to study under the illumination from three great lights of th Philippian passage. The first light shines upon a point that must be clearly seen at the the very start, and then spreads its rays over the whole way that our Lord traveled in the emptying. As the second and third lights increase the illumination upon portions of the way, and then as another great light flashes its beam upon a point of dificulty, the essential truth of the emptying will be plainly discerned.
Perhaps this is the time for a glance at the frontispiece of the volume. This illustration visualizes the present study and the one that is to follow, as it pictures the downward way of our Lord under illumination from the lights of the Philippian passage. As you now turn to it, with the thought of the preceding paragraph in mind, you will begin to understand it. I am sure that you will find it increasingly helpful as we continue in these studies.
|"Christ Jesus, who, being in the form
of God, thought it not robbery to
be equal with God, but made
Himself of no reputation"
The Starting-point of the Humiliation. As this powerful light casts its illumination upon the pathway of our Lord, our eyes are drawn to certain rays which group themselves and shine more brightly than the rest. We must first set apart the words "being in the form of God", in order to give special attention to the truth that they reveal. These rays shine in Heaven and illumine the starting-point of the transition which is to be spread before us.
The original state is here described as "the form of God". Some professed Bible teachers seize upon this phraseology and hold it before their students as they attempt to deny the deity of the Lord Jesus. Upon what is written here they base a contention that He was not God, but a created being of the highest order - one "in a form of God". Away with such nonsense. Let us note two things, with a purpose of recognizing the simplicity and naturalness of the language here, and its testimony concerning the deity of our Lord.
First, the reason for the omission of a direct statement that our Lord was God, and the substitution of this record that He was "in the form of God", is clearly apparent. This passage is the stofy of a transition, and is concerned solely with the way in which our Lord was circumstanced as He passed along. Of course, then, it begins by telling us that He was original circumstanced as God.
Second, it is no part of the purpose of this passage to prove the deity of our Lord, yet the divine Author has been careful to guard this great truth. The word translated "form" -- one of many words that might have been used and so translated is a word with a special meaning. According to the lexicographer, it has reference to "the form as indicative of the interior nature". As we read here in the marvelously accurate Greek language that our Lord was "in the form of God", we also read that He was God.
The starting-point of the transition that is to be set before us was the highest height of Heaven. We begin with a clear vision of our Lord's deity.
The Two Persons Here. The person of primary importance is, of course, the One whom we know as Christ Jesus our Lord, the Saviour of men, with whom the passage is to be concerned throughout. We have just recognized the deity of our Lord, which means an identification of Him as one of the persons of the Godhead. In the light of the whole teaching of the New Testament we know Him to be the second of these three persons. Thus, as the second person of the Trinity, and as He was originally circumstanced, our Lord first appears in this passage from Philippians.
The other person mentioned is God. Many Christians, as they read this name, think always of the triune God -- one God in three persons. It is a mistake to do this. Such an understanding would be confusing here. We must remember that the name 'God' is applied not only to the whole Trinity, but also to the first of three persons of the Trinity (see John 1:1;2 Cor. 13:14). In this latter sense it is now before us.
The two persons, then, are the first and second of the three persons who constitute the triune God. The statement is, that the second person of the Trinity "thought it not robbery to be equal with" the first person of the Trinity, "but made Himself of no reputation".
Brightening the Light. We now turn to the words which follow those already set apart and considered: "thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation". These spreading rays of the first light, as they thus shine for us, have been sadly dimmed. If they are to be of real use, their brilliancy must be restored.
The first clause of this section has given the translators a great deal of trouble. There is required of them a close translation in good English, and it seems to have been difficult to thus render the clause and set forth clearly the meaning of the original. From our common Version we have read that this heavenly Being "thought it not robbery to be equal with God". The Revised Version has told us that He "counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped". In a later Version -- that of 1911 -- the clause is rendered, "did not reckon His equality with God a thing to be clung to". Without doubt we find the real thought of the Holy Spirit in this last translation. It is the only one in unquestionable harmony with the teaching of Scripture concerning the equality of the divine persons from eternity. Furthermore it gives most clearly the sense of the Greek that is required by the context; the whole passage calls for this phraseology, and the setting demands it.
The words of the second clause -- "but made Himself of no reputation" -- are precious indeed to us who have learned to love the old Version. We shall always treasure them. But, let us recognize a fact noted in the first chapter of this volume -- that they are not to be accepted as a full rendering of the sense of the original. The Revised Version and the 1911 Version translate this clause, "but emptied Himself", and thus they express the exact idea of the Greek.
We may then restate this whole section in the words of the 1911 Version, as follows: "did not reckon His equality with God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself". Thus the original brilliancy of this portion of the light is restored, and the illumination becomes really effective.
What These Rays Have Seemed to Reveal. Our eyes are caught at once by the statement that our Lord "emptied Himself". What does it mean?
Those who regard the person of Christ lightly lay hold of these words with rejoicing, for they are quick to decide that if this heavenly Being emptied Himself, the thing poured out must have been His God nature. Does not the passage ready say they, that being God, or perhaps a God, He emptied Himself and became man?
We who know assuredly that our Lord was the second person of the Trinity, have felt that we must tread carefully at this point and recognize Him, as far as possible, in His original majesty. So we have read that "being in the form of God," He emptied Himself and took "the form of a servant." Our decision has been that the Lord laid aside merely the insignia of His majesty, or in other words, that He divested Himself only of the dignity that belonged to Him. We have said that while in the flesh. He was still in active possession of all the attributes of God, and though living ordinarily as a man, could at any moment act as God, and did so act when occasion required. His position, then, as we have seen it, was merely that of a king traveling incognito.
What the Rays Actually Do Reveal. Suppose now that we dismiss all prejudice, and with free minds and hearts seek the answer to the question that is before us. If we look carefully at the statement that our Lord "emptied Himself", we shall find that it is not a connective between the words "God" and "man", and that it does not stand with the phrases "form of God" and "form of a servant" adjacent on either side. The words in closest association with this statement are those joined to it in the section that has been set apart for our present consideration. We read that our Lord "did not reckon His equality with God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself". What could be more evident than the fact that this thing which He did not deem it necessary to cling to, is the thing of which He let go, or of which He emptied Himself. It was equality with God that was put aside.
Confirmation from Other Scripture. We need not be afraid of this thought that our Lord emptied Himself of equality with God. The same truth is taught elsewhere in the Word. In the days of His flesh He was even further down the scale than some of the creatures, for we read of "Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels" (Heb. 2:9). Our Lord's own testimony from the upper room in Jerusalem was, "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).
The Truth was We Now Have It. This first light has clearly revealed as starting-point of the humiliation, and has spread a general illumination over the first step. We recognize our Lord as God, and the throne of Heaven as the beginning of this downward path. On the portion of the way that was first revealed as an emptying, we now see our Lord pouring out equality with a fellow member of the Trinity.
Never mind if the general illumination from the light is no altogether satisfying. We are beginning to discern the truth and what we have seen has, at least, made us eager to know more about it. With other lights yet to shine upon this first step of the humiliation, there is promise of the clearer vision that we long for.
|"And took upon Him the Form of a Servant"|
Repairing Another Light. Once more we shall have to put a light in order before making use of it. This time it is single word that is at fault - the word 'servant'.
The Revised Version notes in the margin that the Greek here is 'bondservant' and thus renders this statement concerning our Lord a little more startling. With the spirit of investigation upon us, we may learn that in every one of the six score instances in which this Greek word is translated 'servant' in the King James Bible, the later Version has made the same note in the margin or put the word 'bondservant' into the text. Evidently the revisers had no doubt as to the meaning of the Greek, and were impressed with the importance of making it clear. Their concern regarding this matter will be better understood if we turn to the lexicographer, and hear him say that we have here "the lowest word in the scale of servitude".
At last we are coming upon the truth. With this final fact before us, it is apparent that we must go deeper into our present day vocabulary than the revisers have gone, if we would follow the Greek in its plunge to the depths. In order to grasp the thought that was in the mind of the Holy Spirit, we must read here that our Lord came from Heaven, not merely as a servant, or even a bondservant; but as a slave, and more than that, a bondslave. Strictly speaking, these latter terms are synonymous with 'bondservant'. But here is a case where too close a following of the dictionary may jeopardize the accuracy of our impressions. The truth is that the word 'servant' has become so weakened that neither it nor any compound of it can be trusted to convey the full force of the Greek in this passage. Hence our insistence upon reading that the Lord "took upon Him the form of a bondslave".
The Essential Characteristic in a Bondslave. Now that we have this light working at full brilliancy, we may turn our attention toward the truth that it discloses. In the first place, what is the particular fact that this word 'bondslave' points but? Such an one is not set apart among men on account of being a hard worker; nor is his name given to him because he serves another, or by reason of the fact that his work is laid out for him and effects purposes other than his own. These circumstances are common to the life of both slave and freeman. A difference appears, however, as we consider these two classes of workers and turn our thought to the matter of control. The ordinary laborer is independent and free to determine the course of his life, but the bondslave lives always in submission to the will and command of another. It is limitation of the will that really distinguishes a bondslave from other men.
A Great Truth Revealed. We have come at length to the exceedingly important truth that stands out in the life-story of our Lord under the beam of this divine searchlight. As a bondslave, He was without the right to choose for Himself. In the new form He still had opportunity to be the mighty worker that only God could be, for the divine arm remained free and the power to call it into action. But the God nature was restrained or bound as far as the will was concerned. It is understood, of course, that the word 'will' has here its popular meaning, and refers only to the power of choice. Throughout the preceding volume we used the word in this sense, and we continue to so use it.
This is not saying that our Lord laid aside His divine nature, or any part of it. A bondslave possesses exactly the same nature that he had before becoming a slave, but within certain limits the native abilities have been rendered inactive. So the Lord, in His new form, was in full possession of the divine nature, but to the extent specified it was bound within Him, as we may conveniently say. This much is clearly revealed under teh rays of this second great light. Nothing less than such a binding of His will could justify the statement that our Lord became a bond-slave.
The Vision Becoming Clearer. In this passage from Philiappians, the initial step is described as an emptying. Thus we say it at the beginning of our study. As the first great light flashed finally in full brilliancy, and our eyes became adjustment to the scene before us, it was apparent that in this emptying the thing poured out was equality with God. Now a second light has shone and been restored to its original brightness. Under this added illumination, new truth has come into view. The nature of our Lord's emptying is seen to have been limitation of Himself along the line of His power to act as God. It was in this sense that the second person of the Trinity poured out equality with the first person of the Trinity.
How much clearer the truth is becoming -- the truth concerning this pouring out of equality that may have troubled us as we caught our first vision of it. We begin to see how unnecessary it is to be concerned about something that may be new to us. Oh let us learn to really put aside prejudice and trust the Word! We must of course have our experience of seeing "through a glass, darkly," but continuing in the Spirit and with the Word, we may wait in hope for truth that will surely build itself into our vision and cause us to see clearly.
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