Brethren Archive

"First the Natural; Then the Spiritual.”

by Edward Elihu Whitfield

ALL has proceeded from the hand of GOD; the opening statement of the Bible was emphatically reaffirmed by the Apostle Paul in the chief academic city of the old heathen world (Acts xvii. 24); and this by way of introduction to his testimony as to the need of repentance on the part of all God's rational creatures, in view of future judgment by One Whom He has raised from among the dead (ver. 30 f.).  For after the Creator brought into being the material universe, this was marred by creature evil, the circumstances of the origin of which God has been pleased to veil, although disclosing enough for us to know that His almighty goodness had been questioned and outraged, and that His glory had to be so far vindicated by the passing of the earth into a state of ruin, described as desolation in the second verse of Genesis.
This cannot have been the primaeval state of things if Isa. xlv. is to guide us (ver. 18).  As it is, Gen. i. 2 is introduced by a particle which serves, in the original text of the Old Testament throughout, to express several English words besides "and."  The critical German Textbibel (1899) represents it by the equivalent for our "but," and in ii. 6, our English Bible begins to show the same word.  Moreover, the "was" of Gen. i. 2 has clearly the force of "became" in iv. 2 twice and is so given in the same German version of that passage.  That i. 2 may be rendered, "But the earth became, &c," could be gathered from a "Treatise on the Hebrew Tenses," by the most distinguished of living British Hebraists.  It is, therefore, practically certain that this verse must be taken, not with ver. 1, but with vv. 3-5; that is, not as connected with the original creation of our earth, but with its re-formation.
The first day of the week which Gen. i.-ii. 4 pictures to us began with evening twilight, in which light and darkness were blended, and the succeeding morning twilight issued in dispersion of the darkness.  "Evening came and morning came, one day" (see Driver's Commentary).
After intermediate steps in the recast of His work, the Creator made man (ver. 27) as upright (Eccl. vii. 29), but the adversary of the All Good appeared on the scene (Gen. iii.) and wrought such havoc that the whole creation fell under "bondage of corruption" (Rom. viii. 21), and God had to enter upon a further scheme to retrieve His glory so outraged; this is revealed to us in Gen. iii. 15.  The foundation laid of His redemptive work is recorded first in the opening book of the New Testament, whilst the doctrinal development of it, "God our Saviour" committed especially to His servant Paul; see, in particular, the first of his Epistles in our Bible.
Writing with inspired authority his second letter to the believers at Corinth, the Apostle has stated that "It is God that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who hath shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (iv. 6).  Until they were separated (sanctified) in Christ and became saints by calling (1 Cor. i. 1), these Greeks, seekers after wisdom although they were (ib. ver. 22), only walked in the night, stumbling, because the light was not in them (John xi. 10); their senseless heart was darkened (Rom. i. 21).  Like their Gentile brethren in Asia, they, heeding the voice of God in His gospel, had risen from spiritual death; Christ had shone upon them (Eph, v. 14).  The good news which Paul preached to the nations, in execution of Christ's commission (Acts xxvi. 17), in due course reached Gentiles of the West; and here in our favoured land, many still confess the Saviour, who, as saints of old, have passed from darkness to light (1 Pet. ii. 9), a large proportion of them, happily, in the days of their youth.  "What wilt thou that I (the Lord Jesus) should do unto thee?"   "O satisfy us in the morning (of life), that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."
If they fail to walk in the light (1 John i. 7), even the most advanced believers stumble (Jas. iii. 2); but God has given us His written Word to be a "lamp to our feet, a light to our path"; and if the Lord "open" this to us, we shall remain superior to the weakness and depravity of our lower nature, and be furnished completely to every good work (Ps. cix. 105-130; ib. 25-45; 2 Tim. iii. 17).  But, as regards intelligence in divine truth, all depends upon our readiness to do God's will (John vii. 17).
The first condition of progress for young believers is that they rightly learn the impossibility of agreement between light and darkness (2 Cor vi. 14).  Until their conversion, they were servants of sin (Rom. vi. 16; cf. xiv. 23); they loved more or less the things of the world (1 John ii. 15); they lived to themselves (2 Cor. v. 15), taking pleasure in much that is contrary to God.  Their conversion was designed to change all this (ibid. ver. 17).  Most of us are slow, however, to realize that works of darkness are entirely unfruitful, and that we are prone, after becoming Christ's disciples indeed, to be dragged down by unguarded associations, whilst deeming ourselves well able to elevate companions, by our influence, to the level at which grace has set ourselves. God has prescribed separation, and it is our wisdom to accept the position to which His Word bears testimony, whatever the reproach this carries with it.
The world's attitude to the Son of God, Who suffered for our sins, was expressed by His crucifixion.  Men and women of which the system known as "the world" is composed—society alienated from God—suffer themselves still to be reminded of that "tragedy," but not so that their moral being is stirred, and largely so as to awaken active opposition to Christ's claims upon them. That He has bought them, Scripture is clear (2 Pet. ii. 1); the settlement of their destiny is in His hands, of all alike, He is Master (Despot, ibid).  The sense of this produces either hardening of heart or breaking down.  It is well for all for whom it has the latter effect.  How the Lord must delight "to heal the broken hearted" (Ch. v. 18)!  But most "judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life"; such was an Apostle's satire upon Pisidian unbelief (Acts xiii. 46).  It is as if the death of Christ either closed the chapter of man's dealings with God, and was matter alone of ancient history, or, at the worst, something one has just to make the best of, in what way he knows not.
How different are the thoughts of a believer, who sees that the Cross goes to the root of everything!  For him it has made the same severance from the world as that between the Israelite and the Egyptian, produced by the blood of the Passover lamb, so that an apostle can speak of the world being crucified to him and he to it (Gal. vi. 14); and practical separation from it is the natural result (2 Cor. vi. 17).  Grace has given to every believer a spiritual vision of JESUS on the Throne of God, so as to look away to the Author and Perfecter of his faith, for security and for power (Rom. v. 10; Heb. ii. 9, xii. 2).
The evening twilight of Genesis reverted into darkness.  We must not be content with dim light but should heed the warning of Luke xi. 35.  In judging of others, we have to take account of their ways (Matt. vii. 20).  No believer, under the plea of a "charitable spirit," is to be colour-blind, mistaking grey for white in things pertaining to God.  SIN we dare not describe as "weakness" or "indiscretion"; it is "darkness," which affects mind and body alike; and from its infectious influence, isolation alone protects.  That which, according to Gen. i. 4, God pronounced "good" corresponds spiritually to the fruit of repentance towards Him; and but for His "goodness", none of us would undergo the process (Rom. ii. 4); but as we do, it is unto life, and we leave behind that sorrow which worketh death (2 Cor. vii. 10).  The affinity of the Christian is for the light, which the worldling hates (John iii. 20 f.).  Such is the cleavage between them.
In the work of the second day (Gen. i. 6-8), the division between the waters, may be seen a symbol of discrimination between flesh and spirit, following that between the world and God.  The young believer has to discover that SELF must be disowned as powerless for good (Rom. vii. 18); there must be the application of the death of Christ to it; God's Word brings to light the contrariety of the old and the new man.  We do not get beyond the second day of our Christian experience without some sense of this.
Our third day (vv. 9-13) will bring further reminder that we have to go on increasing in grace and the knowledge of the Saviour as Lord (last ver. of 2 Peter).  Some will say, "Lord, Lord," but not have done the will of Christ's Father in Heaven (Matt. vii. 21).  A believer learns that for him is no excuse, in whom God works (Phil. ii. 13), for his life is no longer self-directed.  The Spirit of God is given to him in part to serve as energy of that life.  Our Blessed Lord enabled Paul, who bore a strain that none of us ever experience, to write, "I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me" (ibid. iv. 13; cf. 2 Cor. xii. 9).
"The dry land appeared"; what is that spiritually, but Christ risen from among the dead?"  On Christ, the solid rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand." He assures His own of the after fruits of justification, not only peace with God, but the peace of God, the Lord's own peace, bequeathed to His people (John xiv. 27), guarding their hearts and thoughts (Phil. iv. 7), without which nothing in their course is steadfast, whether purpose or effect.  Our life, if in the Spirit, must needs be troublous.  Constant care must be exercised over each step of one's way.  In the maze and turmoil that surrounds us, we are like mariners on a tempestuous sea; do we keep our eye on the harbour light?  As we may, but only so, our course is clear, and as for holiness, there is none for us apart from Christ (1 Cor. vi. 11; 2 Cor. vii. 1).
Not three days of the new life will have passed before the young believer becomes sensible of the claim of God upon him as fruit-bearer (see John xv. 18; Gal. v. 22 f.; and Eph. v. 9 f.), the fruit of the Spirit and of the Light respectively.  And here observe in Genesis, the progression: first the low-lying, thin and tender "grass," succeeded by the herb with uplifted head, and that by the yet taller tree.  We must begin with attention to the little things of life, not neglecting these for higher aims; it is from small beginnings that mighty issues proceed, whether of good or evil.  It is well to remember 1 Cor. x. 31 in this connection, "Whatsoever ye do, &c." (cf. Mark iv. 20).
The fourth day (vv. 14-19), as the mediaeval Thomas Aquinas noticed, carries us back to the first, to which it is related, as the fifth is to the second, and the sixth to the third.  The believer's life, as Christianity itself, is characterized by obedience, and the sooner this is realized, the happier it is.  In the application of the gospel to our souls, sanctification precedes justification (1 Cor. vi. 11).  To what were we sanctified?  Scripture will reply, To obedience (1 Pet. i. 2); and that primarily to the gospel, but all else is on the same principle (ibid. vi. 16). The Christian soldier's manual of regulations is the written Word of God, and his meditation is in it day and night (Ps. i. 2).  This seems to be set forth by the rule of the sun and of the moon.  If we do not cherish God's Word, we are pretty sure to break down within each cycle of twenty-four hours.  Ps. cxix. 11 tells us that, by laying it up in our heart, we are kept from sin.
Our fifth day (vv. 20-23), will engage us in considering what our special work for the Master is to be; this needs sometimes prolonged deliberation, and we do well to accept the counsel of those who have been in Christ before us, profiting by lessons which they, have derived from their own mistakes.  We are all shaped differently; such is the diversity of gifts (1 Cor. xii. 4), and each of us has one (ibid. ver. 7) for exercise of which he or she is accountable.  The question for every soul is, What is the Lord's will in the matter?  Study of His Word will mainly guide.  Consider further Matt. xiii. 34; Gal. vi. 4; Rev. xxii. 12.
The account of the sixth day's work (vv. 24-31) may lead us anxiously to determine how far any of the present-day solutions, outside Scripture, of fundamental problems of life are to command our acceptance.  Here, we are told, for example, that man came direct from God's hand as a special creation. Not that, as an esteemed Christian friend of the writer has well remarked, God forgot how He had made the lower animals when He formed man.  But this is certain: all mankind have some impress of Him, notwithstanding the Fall.  The Apostle James sounds a solemn warning upon the fact that men still bear this peculiar relation to the Creator (iii. 9), in whom all alike live, move, and have their being (Acts xvii. 28), under the several aspects of spirit, soul and body (1 Thess, v. 23).  Materialism is directed to the subversion of this; and, alas, many professed Christians are now practically in that atmosphere.
Man was designed to be God's representative on earth, and in that, we may see creation in His "image," as moral attributes in His "likeness" (cf. Matt. v. 44; Eph. v. 1); the one being rather abstract, as the other concrete; but Satan has managed to impair the whole.  For the Christian, God's purpose is to be perfectly accomplished, according to 1 Cor. xv. 49 and 1 John iii. 2 (cf. Eph. iv. 13).  God's image resided untouched in the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. iv. 4).  Assimilation to Him as a present process we get in 1 Pet. ii. 21; but it is only the genuine disciple who can so reproduce the "historical Christ."  As for imitation of one another, that is according as the model has reproduced Christ (1 Cor. x. 33; xi. 1).  Most blessed of all, each saved one is to bear God's name on the forehead (Rev. xxii. 4).
With regard to the seventh day (Gen. ii. 1-4) of Christian experience, we are told that God "rested" at the close of that first week of the history of the earth as we know it.  His rest was disturbed by what is recorded in Gen. iii., and He had to go to work in another way (John v. 17).  In His grace, He deigns to account His servants, acknowledged through effective redemption, as "fellow-workmen" (1 Cor. iii. 9 and 2 Cor. vi. 1).
Whatever else may in the season of recompense be their several lots, each of the redeemed is to enter into God's eternal rest (Heb. iv. 1, 3, 9); upon that inheritance, in the dispensation of the fulness of times (Eph. i. 10), as such contrasting with every other, which is to be incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away (1 Pet. i. 5), a Kingdom that cannot "be shaken" (Heb. xii. 28). May we who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, live now in such wise as becomes this destiny, for it has been "the Father's good pleasure to give us that Kingdom" (Luke xii. 32), and His gifts and calling are without repentance (Rom. xi. 29).  The only return we, unprofitable servants at the best (Luke xvii. 10), can make for His "unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. ix. 15), if it is made at all, we must make now!
Does any reader need to be reminded of that calling and election which we have to make sure (2 Pet. i. 10)? 
"Faith and the Flock" 1911

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