Having spoken of the fact of the spiritual edifice which God is building in this age; of the specific endowment of Divine wisdom essential to all His "Fellow-workers"; and of the first expression of that wisdom in the matter of the Foundation, we now go on to speak of the means used by the Holy Spirit for the effecting of this purpose of God. Just a word on the method which leads to the means. It is perfectly clear in the Word that the divinely appointed method in the first place is the preaching which is a proclaiming and an announcement. There are many other contributing ministries not less important, as they are all interdependent, but the first in order - not necessarily to large audiences - (there are instances in Scripture of preaching to one) is the proclamation and announcement of a certain comprehensive and all-inclusive fact. This being the case it is of very great importance that we should know that fact and its inclusions. Many inquiries have been set up as to the unsatisfactory situation which exists for so great an area in relation to the gospel and Christian life. Questions concerning wide-spread indifference, gospel-hardening, wholesale backsliding, disappointing "converts," ineffective Christians, low level of spiritual life, worldliness in the "Church," the misleading of believers by false doctrine and deceiving spirits, spiritual immaturity, etc. etc.. To some extent such conditions existed from the beginning, even in the great apostolic days, but it was then much more the exception than now. It was then something in the midst of the greater and better conditions which made the apostolic Church so mighty in the world. Now it would seem to be the other way round. The genuine thing is the smaller company in the midst, of the more general failure.
Far be it from us to join in the tirade against that which bears "His" name, but we are so constantly confronted with the heart-breaking story of the difficulties of service, the disappointment of workers, the despair of Christians, that we must enter the inquiry and seek to help. Now without pressing it as our conviction - which certainly it is - we would present it as a question: may not this state be largely due to an inadequate gospel? Is the means used such as is calculated to achieve the tremendous end in view? Have we an adequate conception of what that end is? May it not be that such an inadequate conception has resulted in the eliminating or neglecting of essentials on the one hand and the labouring of certain unworthy factors on the other? With regard to the latter; is fear of hell and gain of heaven really worthy of the "so great salvation"? Is the horrors of being doomed to eternal punishment, giving rise to all the sensational means and methods by which fear is meant to be produced, really a sufficient motive? Is the personal going to heaven with all the personal gains and pleasures associated therewith, producing all the sentimental appeals intended to capture by pathos, emotion, excitement, pleasure, etc., really mighty enough to bring through the eternal purpose? Are souls ever born without travail somewhere, and will they ever get through without that travail becoming experimental in themselves to some extent? May it not be the gospel of "escape from hell and going to heaven," with all the cheap elements of its proclamation which has nauseated so many, turning them away in disgust; which prejudices the true; and which has become played out in the emotions of many who can no longer be appealed to along these lines, setting up a gospel deadlock?
Perhaps, after all, the best method of dealing with such questions is the positive one, that is considering:
The Nature of the Gospel of the Wise Master-Builder
It is not that gospel itself in terms of doctrine that we propose to consider. That is dealt with elsewhere in the general teaching through this paper. But some essentials of that gospel.
In the first place there must be:
An Adequate Setting and Motive
It is absolutely essential that if all the great purpose of God with its vast inclusions is to be entered into; and if there is to be an adequate impact upon men, there must be the sufficient background of the New Testament evangel. It would be very salutary if every "Christian worker" were to sit down or kneel down and prayerfully consider the background of New Testament preaching, exhortation, admonition, entreaty, appeal, instruction. It will be discovered that that background begins in eternity past, before times eternal, in the eternal counsels of God. It will reveal a conception and design with which every movement and gesture of God throughout the ages is related. It will explain the existence of the universe and the purpose of the whole creation. It will set the sovereignty of the Son at the centre and make it also the circumference. It will reveal that each soul saved is a vindication of the wisdom of God in plan and creation, and the justification of the existence of the world. (See articles on "The Unveiling of Jesus Christ.") Salvation, conversion, is never something in itself. An ultra individualism in being saved or in seeking the salvation of others is contrary to the Scriptures; and is baneful. The "therefores" and the "wherefores" of the New Testament are pegs upon which hang vast ranges and mighty weights of spiritual significance and reason.
Why should men be saved? Why should I be utterly abandoned to Christ? Why should I accept the Cross of Christ in its total application to all the elements of my natural life? Why should I leave all for the Gospel's sake? These and many other such questions must be answered in the light of that infinite background of "the eternal purpose" in the first place.
True it is that conversions take place from the preaching of the immediate issues of sin and hell, and salvation from these. But so often such remains for a long time with but the personal salvation and the immediate issue and a single note. Why should maturity be so long delayed, the nursery so long occupied? Why not the full compass of Divine meaning from the beginning? Again we ask, may not the wide-spread failure of a certain evangelism be due to an inadequate motive?
Then in the next place there must be:
An Adequate Dynamic
There is no subject which concerns the servants of the Lord more than that of spiritual power and effectiveness. We have prayed about this until we despaired. We have read books upon it until we were sick. Yes, we have spoken about it ourselves until shame has silenced us.
We see the Apostolic example and demonstration.
We know the Master's promise.
We know the doctrine and teaching basic to power.
But what of the power itself?
Far be it from us to think that we can improve upon, or profitably add to, all that has been written. But if the Lord has taken us through an experience which has made possible an unfolding of His secrets, it will not be conceit on our part if we humbly place such at the service of His children. It is not sufficient that we recognise the need for power and pray for it. Indeed it might be very unsafe for the gospel and for the name of the Lord if it were given. It is of primary importance that we should know the nature and the basis of power. It is equally important that we should recognise that it is that power which has as its object the building of the "House," the "Temple" of God. In the Old Testament whenever there is a need or a desire to give a supreme example of the power of God, reference is always made to Israel's exodus and especially their passage of the Red Sea and Egypt's destruction therein. In the New Testament the paramount demonstration of the power of God of which the Old Testament example is but the type, is the Resurrection of Christ.
From Genesis to Revelation resurrection is invariably the basis upon which the direct purpose of God is carried forward. Every instrument which is used in that direct purpose has to be wrought on to a basis of resurrection. In another place we shall shortly be showing how this is so. Here we just affirm the fact. In order that this truth may be the more apparent God took pains to secure a situation which was utterly hopeless apart from that miracle. The persons concerned were each brought to the place where there was no resource in themselves. The situations into which they were brought also proffered no possible ground of hope. Death reigned! Then God came in.
There is no more desperately hopeless situation than that which naturally existed when Christ died, and the disciples knew it. Sin has triumphed. Satan has triumphed. Hell has triumphed! Unless - unless He can rise again, and then sin, Satan and hell are vanquished. For this in His case and for an abiding demonstration of the fact - this all inclusive fact, there must be the exercise of the exceeding greatness of the power of God. And as in His case so in the case of every one who is to be a living testimony to that power, there must be a background which is hopeless; not theoretically but actually and experimentally hopeless. The death of the Lord Jesus did register the verdict of God concerning the Adam race in every unit. That race was not only incapable of realising the purpose of God, but now had elements in it which were positively inimical to that purpose. God never intended that such beings - such a species - as the fallen Adam race should occupy this world; it was never made for such, and in the end He will literally carry into effect that which He representatively did, in the death of Christ, namely, sweep them away, "cut them off from the land of the living,": even all those, who are not "in Christ Jesus."
In the meantime the "eternal purpose" proceeds, but it proceeds only in those and through those who have firstly recognised the death of Jesus as their death; and then accepted it in one all-inclusive reckoning of faith, and trusted God to make it actual; and then claimed and apprehended by faith their inheritance in the Risen Lord, even resurrection life. The very nature of that life will progressively make clear that it is a thing alone and can tolerate no mixture. It becomes the exclusive basis of all the activities of God within and through His children relative to the eternal purpose. But it is resurrection life, mighty, unconquerable, indestructible, deathless. The Holy Spirit is the seal of the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit's law of operation is Divine Life.
By that life the Holy Spirit constitutes the believer a personal demonstration of the resurrection, and the word of testimony thereto is only a consequence, but it is a consequence. Pentecost was on an eighth day, eight being the resurrection number in the Scriptures. The experimental spiritual ground upon which the Church stood at Pentecost was the Resurrection. The testimony which the Church publicly bore at Pentecost was to the Resurrection. Paul's whole life and work rested upon his own experience of the Resurrection. We have said enough to lead to an enquiry along this line, but let it be understood that the basis of power is Resurrection union with Christ. The principle of the "eternal purpose" is Resurrection Life in Christ. The Holy Spirit comes only upon Resurrection ground. Power is to "know Him and the power of His Resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death."