The Deep Things of God
One Great Question
Through thirty-five years as a missionary in Africa and Missionary Secretary at the home base, I have been increasingly concerned with one great question: at is the Gospel in its fullness? Do I know it? Do I live it? Can I transmit it? Many hundreds of hours have I spent searching the Scriptures and absorbing the writings of those who have asked and answered the same questions; many hundreds of times have I spoken on this subject, and each talk, with the exercise of mind and heart in preparation and delivery, has pushed the preacher a little further into his own message.
I am glad that Paul said it was legitimate to repeat: "to write the same things to you, to me is not grievous, but for you it is safe!" We must progress or atrophy, and the progression I have now made is to underline with the thickest possible line the main emphases of my previous writings; but at the same time I want to bring some points into yet sharper focus, and to tie the main threads a bit tighter and more completely together.
I wish I had the teacher’s gifts of compressing what he wants to say into separate and easily grasped paragraphs, also of good illustrations. I haven’t either: but I want to make this attempt to outline these "mysteries" of the Spirit, which bum in me, in a shortened form, and hope that it may open windows to some into "heavenly things."
The Key to the Meaning of Life
We start at the fountain-head. There is only one Person in the end–God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All came from Him. His one and only Word, the first and final expression of Himself, is still Himself–God the Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. In Him is the beginning, "the first born of all creation" In Him is the church which is His body. In Him is the end, "that He might gather together in one all things in Christ," Alpha and Omega. He is Life. He is light. He is love. He is the wisdom and power of God.
Does this sound mere theology? No, it is the key to the meaning of life, and to the great delusion which we mistakenly call life. For the first essential truth for us to grasp is that no created being has the life in himself. Creatures are created to contain the life, not to be it in themselves: the essence of idolatry is to claim to be what only God is. God is God, and there are no gods beside Him. God can never give His own godhead to another, His own nature, His own attributes. That would be making other gods. What God has done in the beauty and wonder of His creation is to make creatures of infinite variety which each in their own measure can contain God in them, and manifest His glory. Containers are not the thing in itself. The cup is useful, and needs to be clean, but it is not the same as the water it contains. The electric bulb is needful
likewise, but it is not the light that shines through it.
All creatures are on the receiving end of life. It is the one simple faculty all exercise. They receive air and sun-light and rain and food; and as a consequence of their receiving we who have eyes to see are ravished by the glory of God in the beauty of the flowers and the song of the birds, the form and colour of wing and leaf.
Man, the crown of His creation, is exactly the same. He is created a recipient. The miracle of his creation, both in its exaltedness, and responsibility, is that he is made like God Himself in his faculties; but not in his attributes. He is a thinking, feeling, willing being, a spirit, clothed in soul and body. In that sense he is like God, made in the image of God. But he is not God. The true life, light, love, wisdom, power, meekness, humility, selflessness, holiness, is God Himself and none other. These attributes, these characteristics He could never give to another as though they were their own possessions, for that would make them gods. But just as the vegetable and animal creation live by what they receive from God in the natural realm, so man can live this other quality of life, eternal life, God’s type of life, only by receiving God to live His life in him. In the marvel of His creation man can freely, intelligently, delightedly contain the living God, so that God lives His own divine life out through the living agency and co-operation of a human personality: but the human being never advances one iota beyond being a mere container of God for time and eternity. Never is there, nor will there be, one atom of godliness, wisdom, love, eternal life, divine power which he can call his own, so that he could say I am holy, I am wise, I am mighty. That is the deadly sin of all history–idolatry.
This does not mean that God’s creatures on every level have not their own capacity for action, and are created to act. They have. But even in its highest form, in humanity, the creature can never rise above self-activity. The human self is compounded of three elemental forces: contraction (drawing to oneself, covetousness), expansion (moving out from oneself, creativeness), and rotation (the consequent whirling wheel of restless selfhood, resulting from the tug-of-war of these two equal but contrary forces). The heavenly life, the life that God lives, the life of perfect love, which stills the human tempest and unites the warring elements, is from without, not within, the created self. It is of an "infinite qualitative distinction." The human created personality can only find its meaning, and slip into gear, when it is immersed in the Divine–His Spirit in our spirit; His mind, His will, His feelings expressed through the powers of our soul; His actions through our body: then only is the human self released from itself in spirit, soul and body to manifest the fullness of the Divine Self, the wisdom, the power, the beauty of Him who is Love. For real life, eternal life, is love–self-giving, others-serving, self-ignoring love: and that love one is wisdom, light, power: and God one is that love. God’s power is love power. That is the unique eternal life of God, and that is something completely other than the self-seeking selfhood of the creature. In that sense, the creature is the nothing, and He the all: and the human self is forever a container, a co-operator, a manifestor, but never the One in Himself.
The Origin of Evil
Go back to the beginning, and we find that the Scripture reveals the rejection of this relationship to be original sin. Twice the prophets had unveiled to them a backward glimpse at the original anti-Christ (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-19), even as they had so many forward glimpses of the coming Christ. And both times original sin is seen to be independent selfhood. "I will be like the most High;" said Lucifer. Egoism, self-centredness, self-seeking, self-sufficiency, is original sin. All other sins are mere expressions, manifestations of this original sin. A creature who in all his exaltedness as a seraph could never, never be more than a container, would make himself the thing-in-itself (the Person-in-Himself). The nothing would be something. Man would be God. That is why pride is the first of all sins. It is sin.
There is only one difference between the sin of Lucifer and the sin of Adam and Eve, a difference indeed of quantity, not of quality, but still very important. Lucifer went all the way in the sin of egoism. He set his will to displace God with man, the Creator-self with the created-self, the selfless-self with the selfish-self; and thus he opened the kingdom of the self-in-reverse, the kingdom of God’s No, the kingdom of darkness, devil and hell. It is still God’s kingdom, and we shall see the significance of that later, but it is the kingdom of God’s wrath; he is still God’s devil, but an angel of God’s hell instead of God’s heaven. Everything is in reverse to him; evil is good to him, and good evil; he loves what should be hated and hates what should be loved. God who is the eternal Yes to all goodness, love, mercy, and selflessness, is equally the eternal No to their opposites. If He loves the one, He equally hates the other; If He blesses the one, He equally curses the other; for it is the nature of things that to say yes to one point of view is equally to say no to its opposite. So Lucifer, the first egoist, with his hosts, who was the first to enter the for-bidden realm of selfish selfhood, of self-filled rather than self-emptied self hood, of independence rather than dependence, and thus became the spirit of sin, the essence of sin, found Himself in God’s darkness, hate, anger, consuming fire.
Adam and Eve’s Sin
Eve, on the other hand, was deceived (1 Tim.2:14) by the Tempter and listened to his lies about God, not because she consciously opposed God, but because she was tricked into thinking that to disobey God would be to her advantage. Adam sinned deliberately (1 Tim. 2:14), but again, not so much in direct antagonism against God as under fleshly bondage to his wife. Both were more concerned with satisfying their fleshly lusts than with rebellion against God. They wanted the best of both worlds. They had not sinned that unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, the "willful" sin which "tramples under foot the Son of God." Theirs was the sin of flesh rather than spirit, Satan of spirit more than flesh. As a consequence, though now children of the devil, infected with his spirit (Eph. 2:2), partaking of his rebellious nature, walking according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind, they were still conscious of right as right; they had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; the thunders of God’s law could still reverberate in their souls, of which God’s word of judgment and mercy to them immediately after their disobedience is evidence. Fallen, separated from God, dead in trespasses and sins, but not yet unredeemable, as are devils: on the devil’s road, under his control, but not finally fixed as devils. And that is why this is a groaning world. Bound by sin, sold under our lusts, slaves to egoism, yet ever conscious of what we ought to be; challenged by highest ideals in personal, social and political life, yet never attaining them; and constantly pointing the finger at other people’s failures as a convenient cloak for our own. God is fixed in good, the devil in evil; but man is in between, on the road of evil but with an ear still open to the good.
God’s Plan and Provision
But the devil did not create us; he stole us. Yet God knew what He was doing from the beginning. He foreknew what would happen, we are told, and had made His preparations. He knew that man was going to fall before He created him (1 Pet. 1:20). We may therefore be equally sure that He who foreknew all things knew that those heavenly beings who lost their first estate and first opened the kingdom of darkness, would do this very thing. And what God foresees, He foreplans (Acts 2:23 and Eph. 1:11).
There is a point here which is probably not reconcilable to the human mind–the fine line between "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" and any implications that God was responsible for the origin of evil. We need not stop to deny anything so obvious as the latter, but we can gain much benefit by grasping the certainty of the former. God foreknew the coming of evil into the universe both by the fall of angels and of man; it all had its place in the plan of Him "who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will," and He had already made full provision for an outcome a million times more glorious than if there had never been a Satan and sin. Indeed, the Scripture plainly stated that He deliberately subjected His creation to its bondage of corruption, to its groaning and travailing, to "nature red in tooth and claw," in view of the overwhelming glory of the outcome (Rom. 8:20,21). Strong words. And this much we can see: there would be no means of demonstrating the true character of love which lays down its life for its enemies, which overcomes evil with good, which blesses those who curse it, if there were no enemies, no evil, no curses. And in our own lives we know, by Scripture and by experience, that it is our temptations which drive us into the cleft of our Rock; it is our sufferings which divorce us from the world and stabilize us in Christ: it is our frustrations and oppositions which give Him the opportunity to manifest His patience and love through us. If we were not harassed by temptation, we should not learn the lessons of abiding: if we were not faced with difficult situations, we should not practice the faith that overcomes them. So of this we are certain–that Satan never has had power or opportunity to take God by surprise, and to interfere in the smooth running of His creative plan and compel Him to change it. One day we shall find that Satan has been but an agent in God’s unchanged, eternal purpose to crown His Son Lord of all and surround Him with the glorious inheritance of a redeemed humanity.
But if only One is to be glorified from eternity to eternity, only One must be the doer of all. If man has slipped into the quagmire of self-deceit, imagining himself to be somewhat by him-self, deluding himself that he is a king, not a slave; then man must relearn that only One is King of kings and Lord of lords, and that at His name every knee must bow. He who, as Love, was Creator of all must now, as Love, be Re-Creator of lost mankind, and must bring him back by regeneration and re-education to the only relationship in which humanity can be true humanity.
Restoration in Its First Stage
Let us watch carefully how God has done this, so that ignorance of the ways of God may not rob us of our inheritance. First, it is God Himself who has done it: God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, "God our Savior," as Paul loved to call Him; God alone, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. Not one grain of our recreation in Christ is attributable to man, any more than our creation was. Man must learn, and re-learn, his eternal condition–the nothing over against the All. And what a relief! Not my past righteousness (non-existent), not my pre-sent works (wood, hay, and stubble unless His works in me), not my future suitability (equally non-existent). All is His. His past planning, His completed redemption, His endless mercy and love.
First, God’s righteousness must be satisfied. None but a righteous God could be God, nothing but righteousness could be the foundation of His throne. The broken law upon which His creation is based must have its penalties, if it is a law. If His eternal nature is to reward the good, He must also inevitably punish the evil. In no other way could He be righteous. No mere forgiveness, then could be a just forgiveness, unless it was grounded on full satisfaction for the wrongdoing. What a Redeemer we have, who provided a salvation with no loopholes in it! Man’s reasoning might and often does suggest some easier way, which is always, when traced to its roots, a subtle refusal to face the stark reality of lawlessness in a law-based universe. Abel knew it, when he first approached God with a blood sacrifice, the life of another symbolically shed for him. Cain, in the blindness of religious self-righteousness, offered his own good works, so much more pleasant and self-gratifying. But which touched reality? Which had the witness from God? The tragic end tells us, when Cain hated Abel for his glowing testimony to acceptance with God. And why did he hate him? John tells us (1 John 3:12) because Abel struck at the roots of self-righteousness and exposed it as sin, which could only be expiated by God’s appointed sacrifice, to which God bears faithful witness in the believer.
Here is salvation in its first stage, God’s great salvation. The Judge became the condemned criminal. God the Son disguised His deity in human flesh, and "tasted death for every man" The Author and Sustainer of life yielded up His own life to receive in Himself the wages of the world’s sin. As Mrs. Cousins put it in her great hymn:
Jehovah lifted up his rod
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God; There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.
Jehovah bade His sword awake,
Oh, Christ, it woke ‘gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thy heart its sheath must be
All for my sake, my peace to make; Now sleeps that sword for me.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 11 No 3
- The Deep Things of God
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- Annual Business Meeting
- The Single Eye
- Prayer Without Works
- The Letter to the Romans
- Birmingham Fellowship Weekend
- British Easter Conference
- Questions & Answers
- My Dark Hidden Secret
- New Light on the Twelve Steps
- God’s Promises
- A Look at a Book
- The Mailbox
- Tape Talk
- Words to Live By