by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
“Life” and “death,” “death” and “life,” sum up the Christian's history: the former terms his standing and state in Adam; the latter, his standing and state in Christ. First he had life in Adam, and then he died in him. Second, he died with Christ, and is now alive in Him. His “death” in Adam affected first his standing before God—he became “alienated from His life” (Eph. 4:18) and fell under His wrath (Eph. 2:3). Second, his state was made to correspond with his standing: he became depraved and corrupt, devoid of any spiritual life in his soul. Third, the outcome of this is that his body returns to the dust. Contrariwise, having died to sin with Christ, the believer is now “alive unto God in Him” (Rom. 6:11). The Christian has first a legal resurrection, which concerns his standing: he is reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10), instated into His favour and blessing (Gal. 3:13, 14). Second, and because of the former, the Christian's state is brought into accord with his standing—a new nature, spiritual life is communicated to his soul—previously he was in Christ, now Christ is in him. The outcome of this is that his body will yet be raised in glory.
Above we have employed the expression “legal resurrection.” As this will be a term new to most of our readers, a word or two by way of definition and explanation are called for. Legal resurrection is the pronouncement of the Law, “life” being its reward to those who have fulfilled its requirements. Legal death is the Law's capital-sentence. A man becomes legally dead the moment punishment is pronounced by the judge, though usually there is an interval of a few weeks before actual execution takes place. During that interval he could not marry, nor cast a vote, or be sued for any new debt he then contracted; any will made by him in that period would be invalid, because in the sight of the law he no longer exists. Legal death is a falling under the curse. Contrariwise, the “life” which the Law pronounces and bestows upon those whom it rewards is one of unmixed blessing—“the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psa. 133:3). Now just as the murderer is legally “dead” for some weeks before he is hanged or electrocuted, so the people of God received legal or primal “life” in Christ long before they are regenerated.
The Christian has “life” in Christ before he has life from Him. In Christ His people have met every claim of Divine justice, consequently there is now “no condemnation to them” (Rom. 8:1). Or, to state the same in its positive form: they are “made (legally constituted, as in the former clause) the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). As the inexorable doom of sin followed and rested upon all who were in Adam when he fell, so the inevitable reward of righteousness followed and rests upon all who are in Christ (Rom. 5:21). The atonement of the Lord Jesus was no mere expedient for getting rid of the doom of sin, but a satisfaction made unto God which met every requirement of His Law, entitling Him to its reward, and as a consequence thereof believers are made sharers of that “life” in which their Head came up from the grave, where all their sins were buried. For if it is true that Christ was “delivered for our offenses” it is no less a fact that He was “raised” again for our justification (Rom. 4:25).
It is most important that we should be quite clear as to the ground of our justification, for Socinians present justification in the risen Christ in such a way as to repudiate the very foundation of our faith and hope. Denying as they do the imputation of Christ's perfect obedience to the account of all who believe in Him, they advance the conceit that it is the life of Christ after His resurrection and our participation of the same by the new birth which constitutes us righteous before God. It is true that it is in the risen Christ believers are justified, because they are in Him and He is risen; but He is risen because “life” was what His righteousness, His perfect obedience to the Law entitled Him to, and believers are justified solely on the ground of His righteousness being reckoned to their account. “For if by one man's offense death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17): the “gift of righteousness” entitled them to “reign in life” for as the wages of sin is death, so the reward of righteousness is life.
It remains for us now to point out that the relation between Christ and His people is more than a legal one: it is one of vital union and communion of nature, too. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead (in sins) shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:25, 26). That is said of Christ not in connection with His original place in the Godhead, but of Him as Mediator and in relation to His people. It is in that relation only that the Father has “given to the Son to have life in Himself.” It was not life for Himself alone, but life to share with and give to His people, as He Himself affirmed: “as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him” (John 17:2). It is similar to, in fact parallel with, that other word of the Saviour's, “the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them” (John 17:22). Life communicated from Christ at the new birth, when they are vitally “joined” to Him and become “one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17).
Regeneration is the spiritual resurrection of the Christian. The new birth is no mere development of a spiritual germ with which each one is born. It is a lie of evolutionists that man is born with a spark of Divine life which needs only to be educated and cultivated for its fanning into a flame. Refutation of such an error is found in Christ's declaration, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). Conversely, those who appropriate to themselves the sacrifice of Christ give evidence of spiritual life and that life is imparted to them at the new birth: “you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses” (Eph. 2:1). This Divine quickening is spoken of as a passing “from death unto life” (John 5:24). It is a miracle: a miracle of Divine grace and power. Clearly so, for resurrection, be it spiritual or corporeal is outside of man's providence. No corpse can quicken itself, nor can all the doctors and scientists of the world re-animate one. Only the living God can speak the word which will call forth a Lazarus from the tomb and He alone can regenerate.
Now regeneration or spiritual resurrection is the consequence of Christ's death and resurrection and His peoples' interest therein. This is clear from John 3:3-16, though few perceive the coherence of the passage. The “Son of man must be lifted up” of verse 14 looks back to the, “Ye must be born again” of verse 7, the pressure of which made Nicodemus to say, “How can these things be?” Christ made him a twofold answer, consisting of recrimination (vv. 10-13) and explanation (vv. 14-17). That which Christ here pressed on Nicodemus was: No one could be born again or have eternal life but as the result of full satisfaction having been made to the claims of a holy and righteous God. The Holy Spirit could not regenerate except on the ground of Christ's atoning death. It is not sufficiently realized that the work of the Spirit in God's people is based directly upon the work of Christ for them. The Old Testament types make this plain: the “oil” (symbol of the Spirit's work) was always placed upon the blood (Lev. 14:14-17). The Spirit comes to us from Christ (Acts 2:33).
“According to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour: that being justified by His grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7)—our regeneration and being “made heirs” is founded upon our justification. Again—the Father “according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The meaning of our being begotten “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” is most explicitly brought out by Paul in his prayer that the saints may know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Eph. 1:19, 20). The words we have italicized are the key to the deeper meaning of this passage: that which was “wrought” by God to usward nearly two thousand years ago has been steadily manifesting itself ever since, and will continue to until the whole of the “usward” are “quickened” (2:1).
One other word on John 3:14-16. If these verses be interpreted in the light of their context and in harmony with other passages they cannot signify (as commonly supposed) that sinners are born again because they believe. Those dead in sin do not savingly believe in Christ crucified. In all things God must act on the sinner before the sinner will act toward God. To “believe on” Christ and to “come to” Him are essentially the same thing (John 6:35) and none can come to Him without the Father “drawing” (John 6:44), and that “drawing” is accomplished by regeneration. In John 3:14-16 our Lord was completing His answer to Nicodemus' “How?” by showing that the way in which God's regenerating power takes effect and acts upon and in the sinner is that of faith. Being “born of the Spirit” the sinner “believes on the Son”—the “believe” of John 1:12 is explained by the “which were born of God” in verse 13. So, too, the “believeth” in John 5:24 is accounted for by “is passed” (Greek “hath passed”) from death unto life. Faith does not procure life but evidences its presence—see further 1 John 5:1.
At his spiritual resurrection or regeneration the Christian is made partaker of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) so that new desires and affections are awakened within him. Those spiritual longings were expressed by the Apostle when he said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death: if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:10, 11). It is strange that so many miss the meaning of verse 11: surely Paul was not referring to the resurrection of his body, for no “if” is attached to that nor is it in anywise a matter of “attainment.” The whole context shows it was a present experience and not something future on which his heart was here set—that he had no doubt about the future of his body is clear from 2 Corinthians 4:14, etc. Paul was already “risen with Christ” legally (Col. 3:1) and what he now yearned for was to experience more of the power of this in his soul and the transforming effects thereof in his daily walk.
The Greek of Philippians 3:11 is, “If by any means I might attain unto the out-resurrection from among the dead,” the dead here being the unregenerate. A similar allusion is made in Ephesians 5:14, “awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead,” which is addressed be it noted to believers: bestir yourselves, put on the new man, make evident your spiritual life, distinguish yourselves from the unregenerate. Go back to verse 10: “that I may know Him,” more intimately, “and the power of His resurrection,” that His life may be communicated more freely to my soul. True, every increase of that life would bring him into sharper collision with the opposing powers of this world, yet so far from shrinking from that he desired further to know “the fellowship of His sufferings.” Though judicially “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) Paul longed to be still more “made conformable unto his death” and thereby “attain unto” the out-resurrection from among the dead, that is, he might stand forth in sharp contrast and manifest distinction from the surrounding mass of spiritual corruption and decay—a living man in the midst of spiritual corpses, a light in the midst of dense darkness.
The above interpretation of Philippians 3:11 is obviously borne out by the verses which immediately follow. “Not as though I had already attained (the goal of my spiritual aspiration) either were already perfect (in my experience of the power of Christ's resurrection), but I follow after (ever seeking a fuller manifestation), if I may apprehend (lay hold of ) that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 12-14). Paul was still conscious that in his flesh dwelt no good thing. He was still in weakness and nothingness, with the feeblest believer, struggling on in the strength of the Lord toward the prize which was not yet in his actual possession. But though not yet within his grasp, there was no uncertainty as to the issue, for he had been laid hold of by Jesus Christ for this very end and eventually He would change his vile body and make it “like unto His glorious body” (v. 21).
As in Adam the doom of sin is advancing by a slow but sure process unto the “second death” (Rev. 21:8), so in Christ the reward of righteousness is advancing surely to its consummation. Even now believers are the sons of God and if sons then heirs, but “it doth not yet appear what we shall be” (1 John 3:2). Christians have already received the “first fruits of the Spirit” the earnests and foretastes of what is coming, yet they are “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body” (Rom. 8:23). The new Life which they have received shall yet be clothed with a body suited to it and since Christ Himself is our Life (in every sense and application of that term), it must be a body fashioned like unto His glorious body, for “as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49). It is on the Resurrection morning that there will be “the (full) manifestation of the sons of God” and then shall appear their “glorious liberty” (Rom. 8:19, 21)—freed from every vestige of sin in spirit and soul and body!
We come now to the third resurrection of the Christian. This, too, he owes entirely to Christ: as his legal or representative resurrection was in Christ, as his spiritual or regenerative resurrection is from Christ, so his bodily resurrection is the fruit of His death and resurrection. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:27, 28). Since Christ expiated those sins, the “many” no longer lie under the doom of death and judgment, and therefore verse 28 goes on to assure us, “and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Thus, so far as the original appointment goes, believers stand on the other side of death and condemnation. Accordingly, the Apostle says, “Behold, I show you a mystery: we (Christians) shall not all sleep” (1 Cor. 15:51)—“sleep” being the Scriptural name (cf. 1 Thess. 4:14, etc.), for that in the case of believers, which in the case of unbelievers is termed “death.” In all outward appearance it is the same event to both, but in its doctrinal import it is not the penal result of sin to the saint.
The mortal body of a Christian with its defects, frailties and diseases, is unfit for the glorious destiny of the children of God: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:50). The believer's body in this life is the same as is that of the unregenerate and runs its course exposed to the contingency of ordinary mortality. Should that course be run out before the coming of the Lord, this tabernacle will be dissolved, to await a blessed resurrection at His coming. But the original appointment of Hebrews 9:27 does not hold good against believers and so the Apostle declares, “we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). Thus what is fundamental and necessary here is not death or physical dissolution but change—the latter being incidental only to those whose earthly career is run before the coming of the Saviour to effect the change. In its general character that “change” is a transformation from “mortality to immortality.” More definitely it is a transformation and conformity of our present body to that of Christ's glorious one, for in this respect also we shall be “like Him” (1 John 3:2).
The transformation of this vile body into the likeness of Christ's glorious body is the fitting issue and completion of our regeneration, when our souls were made alive spiritually. The essential difference between the “old man” and the “new man” is brought out in the strongest possible manner in the language of inspiration. There is not only the marked difference of moral characteristics but an essential difference. Paul traces this to their respective origins: “the first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. The first man is of the earth, earthy, the second man is the Lord from Heaven” (1 Cor. 15:45, 47). Men in their natural descent from the first Adam share his nature or life; believers, in their preternatural union with the last Adam, share His nature or life. And it is to the words used to describe these two distinct natures that we direct attention, as showing that the difference is in essence as well as in character.
There is an expressiveness in the Greek which is difficult to transfer to the English: the first Adam was made “a living soul.” The Greek word is “psuche” and the word rendered “natural” in verse 44 is an adjective formed from psuche—soulical, if we may coin a term. The last Adam is “a quickening spirit” and therefore the life derived from Him is “spiritual.” The same two adjectives are found again in 1 Corinthians 2:14 which affirms that a man must be born again ere he can receive and know spiritual things. “There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body” (v. 44): in other words, there is a body suited to the nature or life which we inherit from Adam; and likewise a body suited to the nature or life derived from Christ. In order to perceive the force of this it is necessary to go back a step in the Apostle's exposition of the doctrine of bodily resurrection.
In reply to the cavil of an objector, “How are the dead raised up? with what body do they come?” (1 Cor. 15:35), Paul refers to the established order of nature in the reproduction and perpetuation of vegetable life. When a seed is deposited in the ground in order to the production of a plant, first of all the seed itself must be decomposed before the germ or vital element which it contains can be developed. The seed itself does not come forth—“that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain” (v. 37)—the vital principle which it contained being liberated by the decomposition of the seed, is developed in the new plant. The life contained in every kind of seed is developed in its own appropriate plant; wheat-life or nature, in the wheat plant; barley-life or nature, in the barley plant. “God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body” (v. 38). The same is true regarding the life or nature of animals: each by the wise appointment of the Creator becomes clothed with, or is developed in, its appropriate body. The body is in every case suited to the nature: “one flesh of man, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, another of birds” (v. 39).
According to this Divine law and order, the old Adam nature has its own proper body, and since he was made a living soul (psuche) the body is a natural (psuchical) one. But such a body is unsuited to the new nature derived from Him who is a quickening spirit, though this is not yet made manifest. To all appearances a child of God in this world is like any other man, because he has only the natural body. The new life which is “spirit” (John 3:6) is not only a stranger in a hostile world but is ill-accommodated by the body in which, for the present, it dwells. “We that are in this tabernacle do groan being burdened” (2 Cor. 5:4). We long to be clothed upon with our house which is from Heaven—a spiritual body adapted to the new life. At death, the natural body, so alien and unsuited to the new nature, is laid aside: at resurrection the new life is invested with a spiritual body, though it must be remembered that decay in the grave is not absolutely necessary to this transformation.—A.W.P.