Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Priority of the Promise

Insight # 06, November 5, 2011
Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Priority of the Promise”
For the week of  October 30-November 5, 2011
Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing (John  5:30).  If we understand and truly believe this one statement, it will clear away the confusion relating to the law, the promise, and righteousness by faith.  Christ could do nothing of Himself, yet He toppled the kingdom of evil.  How can this be?  It is because He knew and received and rested in the promise.  He believed the Father.  Read it in His own words:  “…The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.  Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (Philippians 4:10-13).   
Galatians  2:16-20 clarifies further:  “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified….I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” 
When speaking to the Jews, Jesus used Abraham as an example of one who received the faith, the life of God, and rested in the Promise.  
E. J. Waggoner says it well in The Glad Tidings beginning on page 69.
[Abraham] is the one to whom the Gospel of world-wide salvation was preached.  He believed, and received the blessing, even the blessing of righteousness.  All who believe are blessed with believing Abraham.  They who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.  Christ hath redeemed us from the curse, in order that the blessing of Abraham might come on us.  "To Abraham and his seed were the promises made."  "If the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise."  Thus it is clear that the promise to us is the promise that was made to Abraham,--the promise of an inheritance,--and in which we share as his children.  Christ hath redeemed us from the curse, that we might receive the inheritance of righteousness.  Christ through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, to purge our consciences from dead works to serve the living God; because "He is the Mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death . . . they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:14,15). 

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.  He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one; and to thy Seed, which is Christ."  There is
here no play upon words; the issue is a vital one.  The controversy is over the way of salvation, whether it is by Christ alone, or by something else, or by Christ and something or somebody else.  Many people imagine that it is by them,--that they must save themselves by making themselves good.  Many others think that Christ is a valuable adjunct, a good assistant to their efforts; while others still are willing to give Him the first place, but not the only place.  They regard themselves as good seconds.  It is the Lord and they who do the work.  But our text shuts off all this assumption and self-assertion.  Not seeds, but the seed.  Not many, but one. "And to thy Seed, which is Christ."  Christ is the One.  

We hear much about the "spiritual seed" and the "literal seed" of Abraham.  If that contrast meant anything at all, it would mean a fanciful seed as opposed to a real seed.  The opposite of spiritual is fleshly, and the fleshly seed, as we shall see later on, is not the real seed, but only a bond-servant, to be cast out, having no share whatever in the inheritance.  So there is no fleshly seed of Abraham. The spiritual seed, however, is a literal, or real, seed, even as Christ is "a quickening Spirit," and yet most real.  It is possible for men walking about in the body, in this world, to be wholly spiritual, and such they must be, or else they are not children of Abraham.  "They that are in the flesh can not please God."  "Flesh and blood doth not inherit the kingdom of God.  "There is only one line of descendants from Abraham, only one set of real children, and they are those who are of faith,--those who, by receiving Christ by faith, receive power to become sons of God.  

But while the Seed is singular, the promises are plural.  It is not merely one specific promise that was made to Abraham and his Seed, but promises.  God has nothing for any man that was not promised to Abraham; and all the promises of God are conveyed in Christ, in whom Abraham believed.  "For how many soever be the promises of God, in Him is the yea; wherefore also through Him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

That the thing promised, and the sum of all the promises, is an inheritance, is clearly seen from Galatians 3:15-18.  The sixteenth verse has just been noted, and the seventeenth verse tells us that the law, coming in four hundred and thirty years after the promise was made and confirmed, can not make it of none effect; "for if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (verse 18).  What this promised inheritance is may be seen by comparing the verse just quoted with Romans 4:13: "For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith."  And so, although the heavens and the earth which are now are "reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men," when "the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat," we, "according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:7, 12, 13).  This is the heavenly country for which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob looked.

"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse; . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."  This "promise of the Spirit" we have seen to be the possession of the whole earth made new--redeemed from the curse; for "the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God."  The earth, fresh and new from the hand of God, perfect in every respect, was given to man for a possession (Genesis 1:27, 28, 31).  Man sinned, and brought the curse upon himself.  Christ has taken the whole curse, both of man and of all creation, upon Himself.  He redeems the earth from the curse that it may be the everlasting possession that God originally designed it to be, and He also redeems man from the curse, that he may be fitted for the possession of such an inheritance.  This is the sum of the Gospel.  "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  This gift of eternal life is included in the promise of the inheritance, for God promised the land to Abraham and to his seed for "an everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:7, 8)  It is an inheritance of righteousness, because the promise that Abraham should be heir of the world was through the righteousness of faith. Righteousness, eternal life, and a place in which to live eternally,--these are all in the promise, and they are all that could possibly be desired or given.  To redeem man, but to give him no place in which to live, would be an incomplete work; the two things are parts of one whole, for the power by which we are redeemed is the power of creation,--the power by which the heavens and the earth are made new.  When all is accomplished, "there shall be no more curse" (Revelation 22:3). 

That the covenant and promise of God are one and the same thing, is clearly seen from Galatians 3:17, where it appears that to disannul the covenant would be to make void the promise.  In Genesis 17 we read that God made a covenant with Abraham to give him the land of Canaan--and with it the whole world--for an everlasting possession; but Galatians 3:18 says that God gave it to him by promise.  God's covenants with men can be nothing else than promises to them: "Who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?  For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things" (Romans 11:35, 36).  It is so rare for men to do anything without expecting an equivalent, that theologians have taken it for granted that it is the same with God.  So they begin their dissertations on God's covenant with the statement that a covenant is "a mutual agreement between two or more persons, to do or refrain from doing certain things."  But God does not make bargains with men, because He knows that they could not fulfil their part.  After the flood God made a covenant with every beast of the earth, and with every fowl; but the beasts and the birds did not promise anything in return (Genesis 9:9-16).  They simply received the favor at the hand of God.  That is all we can do.  God promises us everything that we need, and more than we can ask or think, as a gift.  We give Him ourselves, that is, nothing, and He gives us Himself, that is, everything.  That which makes all the trouble is that even when men are willing to recognize the Lord at all, they want to make bargains with Him.  They want it to be a "mutual" affair--a transaction in which they will be considered as on a par with God.  But whoever deals with God must deal with Him on His own terms, that is, on a basis of fact--that we have nothing and are nothing, and He has everything and is everything, and gives everything.
(The material quoted above is also found in the “Words of the Pioneers” section on the Research Edition of the E. G. White CD.  Reference:  EJW, GTI 128.1 -132.1.)