PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE NATURE
WHAT is the Gospel? What are the "tidings of great joy" to be proclaimed to all as the substance or result of Christ's coming? Several answers might be given, differing somewhat in form, yet true. Some perhaps would say, This is the Gospel:—"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15): others, that "through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38, 39). Others again would give the fuller statement in our Lord's own words, namely, that "God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). These words surely are the Gospel, and implicitly contain all the "good news" which God, who spake at sundry times and divers manners unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by Him who is the Son. But is this, as men generally understand it at least, the Gospel according to the Four Evangelists? What is the substance of what we rightly call the Four Gospels? Is it not, that, by the coming of the Eternal Word, a New Man has been brought forth out of our divided nature, who is truly Son of God and Son of Man, the witness that the breach which sin has made is healed, and that God has come to dwell in man, so that man may do the works of God, and that man has come to dwell in God? Is not this the fact revealed in Christ? But did the "Only-begotten of the Father" become Man that He should dwell alone as Son of God? Was it not rather that He should be the "Firstborn among many brethren," who through Him should be sons of God, and do His works, and manifest and minister the same spirit? (Note: The Early Church saw clearly the distinction between the two apparently contradictory titles, "Only-begotten," and "Firstborn." The "Only-begotten" is the Son, prior to all division: the "Firstborn" is "the male that first openeth the womb," (Exod. 13:12,) that is, the first delivered out of the fall or separation. So Athanasius, Discourses against the Arians, ii. c. 21, § 9; also Theodoret, on Col. 1:15; and others.) This is the good news which makes the angels glad, even if men as yet only dimly apprehend it. We are called with this calling, "that Christ should be formed in us" (Gal. 4:19; Col. 1:27), that thus we should be "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). In and by Him even now are we the sons of God. It is not yet made manifest what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; and even here, "as He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17).
As a conclusion, therefore, to our meditations on the Names of God, which revealed to men of old, as they could bear it, His varied fulness, let us turn to see how all this fulness has been declared and seen in Christ, and may and shall be manifested in His living members, as they grow up in Him to bear His image.
First as to Christ. Every virtue and relationship in God, revealed piecemeal in the Names which Holy Scripture gives us, comes into perfect manifestation in the life and death of the Only-begotten of the Father, of whose fulness we have received, and grace for grace (John 1:16). Let us take the Names in order. Even a glance at them will shew that "Christ is all, and in all."
"Elohim" comes first, One whose name and ways declare a covenant-relation; One therefore whose love can never change, because He loves in virtue of relationship. Is not this name declared in Christ? Does He only love us if we are lovely; or does He not rather, as "Elohim," spite of all failings on our part, love us with unforsaking love, in virtue of a relationship which is not changed by our condition? What does not Christ's life witness? The world was lost and helpless. Men were all gone out of the way. Jews and Gentiles all were under sin. But all were His, for "all things were created by Him and for Him" (Col. 1:16), and as a "faithful Creator" (1 Pet. 4:19) He can never leave them nor forsake them. "All that the Father hath," He says, "are mine" (John 16:15; 17:10). Some indeed are His by a special bond, even those whom the Father has given Him as "first fruits," out of the world (James 1:18; Rev. 14:4), to be "members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (Eph. 5:30). These are His "chosen" (Rev. 17:14), whom He calls "His sheep, who hear His voice, and follow Him" (John 10:27, 28). And having loved these, He loves them to the end. But "other sheep He has, which are not of this fold. Them also He must bring, and they shall hear His voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd" (John 10:16). For they are His, not by creation only, but bought with His precious blood (1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. 1:19); and "the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb. 13:20) is the witness that man is loved with an unchanging love, though for a season lost and fallen. Therefore Christ came; and ever since His coming He has been shewing how He loves, bringing light out of darkness, and order out of confusion; nor will He cease working until, as at the creation, God's image again is seen in man, and "all things are made new" (Rev. 21:5).
Thus does Christ reveal "Elohim." But He no less manifests "Jehovah," who loves in virtue of quality, and "will by no means clear the guilty" (Exod. 34:7). The prophet who foresees that "He shall deliver the needy, when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper" (Psalm 72:12); no less declares that He "loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity" (Psalm 45:5, 7; Heb. 1:9), and that "He cometh to judge the world with equity and the people with His truth" (Psalm 96:13). Some of His elect may think, that, because they are elect, He will not judge them. But because He is the Truth, He must judge all wrong, and judge it even more in those who know and are near Him, than in those who know Him not. For He reveals Him who said of old, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). He is indeed perfect love to those, who by confession shew, that, though ruined, they are true; but He is no less unswerving truth and justice to such as would appear what they are not, and cover sin by a cloak of religiousness. Need I give examples from His words to Pharisees and Scribes (Matt. 23:13-33), and still more to the Churches, to whom He says, "I will give to every one of you according to your works" (Rev. 2:23)? To all He is the faithful and true witness, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and out of whose mouth goeth the sharp two-edged sword, to smite the nations (Rev. 2:11, 12, 18; 3:14; 19:15). And yet, with all this, His people's sin and judgment pain Him. Like "Jehovah," He suffers with, and grieves for, them. Again and again "He sighed" (Mark 7:34; 8:12), and "groaned in spirit" (John 11:33, 38), and "wept over Jerusalem, saying, If thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace" (Luke 19:41, 42); and again, "How often would I have gathered you, but ye would not" (Matt. 23:37). Still more did He suffer, when "He himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24), thus making atonement for sinners by giving Himself to be their righteousness. In all such acts, He was revealing "Jehovah," who, if there is evil, must judge and take it away, even if He Himself is pained and suffers through the judgment.
Nor does our Lord less reveal "El Shaddai," the Almighty "Pourer-forth," who by the communication of His Spirit makes His servants fruitful through self-judgment. This was the name which Abram learnt "when he was ninety years old and nine" (Gen. 17:1), when, having failed to obtain the seed of promise in his own strength or by his fleshly energy, "El Shaddai" appeared, and by the communication of His own out-breath changed him from Abram into Abraham, and then, through circumcision—that is the judgment of his flesh—gave him the promised seed, with the assurance of still greater fruitfulness. But Christ fulfils this also. Surely He does this when He says, "He that eateth me shall live by me;" when He gives us "His flesh and blood, that He may abide in us and we in Him" (John 6:56, 57); that so abiding, as branches in the vine, we may, "being purged by Him, bring forth much fruit" (John 15:2, 5, 16). Still more He gives us of His own powers, when having known Him for a season only in the flesh, like the disciples of old before the day of Pentecost, we are brought through the "little while" of "sorrow" (John 16:19-23), to know Him in the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:16; Rom. 1:3-5), when He "pours out His Spirit" (Acts 2:17, 33), for which He bids us "tarry" (Luke 24:49), and when by it we "receive power to be witnesses for Him" (Acts 1:8), and to do His works and minister His Spirit. Then, even as "He by the eternal Spirit offered Himself to God" (Heb. 9:14), pouring out His very life-blood that we should live through Him, they who drink into the same Spirit are willing, even as He, to be poured out even to death to bless and strengthen others (Acts 21:13; 2 Tim. 4:6). All this Christ gives us as partakers of His flesh and of His blood. But both these precious gifts involve self-judgment or God's judgment. They who receive them unworthily "eat and drink their own damnation" (1 Cor. 11:29; Heb. 10:29). Therefore He calls us to "judge ourselves that we be not judged of the Lord." But what is all this but the revelation of "El Shaddai," who says, "Walk before me, and be thou perfect, and I will multiply thee exceedingly, and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant" (Gen. 17:1, 2, 11, 13).
And does not our Lord equally reveal "El Elyon" or the "Most High," who has a "priesthood after the order of Melchisedek," and is thus linked, not with the elect only, but with all men? Was not this the message of the Angel at His birth?—"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10). Was not this the vision which made old Simeon glad, when he said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29-31)? Christ, as the revealer of God, fills many relationships, but none grander than that He is Man, and as Man is related, not to the elect only, but to all men. For indeed God is related to all men, for "Adam was son of God." Therefore the Gospel, which specially reveals our Lord as Son of Man, with distinct purpose traces His descent from God through Adam (Luke 3:22-38). Man is son of God, though he knows it not, and in and through Christ inherits a priesthood, which, like that of Melchisedek, rests not on law, but on relationship. Still more does our Lord reveal the "Most High," "Possessor of heaven and earth," in that, having humbled Himself, God hath greatly exalted Him, and made Him "Prince of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5), King as well as Priest, "Head of all principality and power" (Col. 2:10), and "Head of every man" (1 Cor. 11:3). "All things are put under Him," and yet "He is not ashamed to call us brethren; for both He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one" (Heb. 2:8-11). What is all this but the revelation of the "Most High," who has acknowledged man as partaker of His nature, saying, "Israel is my son, my firstborn" (Exod. 4:22); and again, "Ye are gods, and all of you children of the Most High"?
Thus does our Lord reveal "Elohim," "Jehovah," the "Almighty," and the "Most High." Need I shew how He no less reveals "Adonai," "Master and Husband," and the "God of Ages," and the "Lord of Hosts"? Is not our universal use of the title "Lord," as applied to Christ, the witness how deeply the truth of His Lordship has penetrated men's hearts? To us He is indeed "Adonai," our "Lord." We "call Him Master, for so He is" (John 13:13). His we are, and Him we serve (Acts 27:23). He commits to each their varied talents, for which they must give an account, for every gift brings its special responsibility. But He is more than "Master." He is "Husband." The marriage of the Lamb is coming, when His Bride will make herself ready (Rev. 19:7); and even now, as the Apostle says, we are "espoused to Christ as to a husband" (2 Cor. 11:3). Thus does He reveal "Adonai." But He is no less "El Olam," "Age-working God." Christ is witness how God works, and that by stages and degrees He speaks the word and gives His Spirit as men can bear it. He has many things to say, which disciples, while they are carnal, cannot bear (John 16:12). Therefore He comes in the flesh and in fleshly forms, and speaks by parables and signs, till men can know Him in the Spirit. Thus too He accepts circumcision, and the temple-service, and the baptism of John, as stages to opened heavens, and transfiguration, and resurrection; shewing that "there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Eccl. 3:1), and that God in Christ is still "El Olam," while He is no less "Lord of Hosts," even of angels, who serve Him first and last; for, as the Apostle says, "When the Father bringeth the First-begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him" (Heb. 1:5, 6).
All this is generally seen. As Christians we all confess, that "the Son" is "the image of the invisible God," and that "the Only-begotten of the Father hath revealed Him." What is less clearly seen is, that Christ's members must likewise reveal Him, like their Lord and Head, in all His virtues and relationships. Let us note what the Scripture shews us of the saints, that we may better understand what it is to be "imitators of God as dear children" (Eph. 5:1).
And, first, must not Christ's members, like their Head, reveal "Elohim"? Are we not to love and work for all, however ruined they may be, not in virtue of their deserts, but because as God's creatures they are related to us? "Doth not nature teach us" (1 Cor. 11:14) to love our own, though deformed, or lame, or blind, and even to love them more because of their infirmities? Much more are God's elect set in the world to love as they have been loved, and to forgive even as they have been forgiven. Therefore we see the Apostle, blessing though reviled, intreating though defamed, to the very end labouring for the lost, and saying, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved" (1 Cor. 4:12, 13; 2 Cor. 12:15). As Christ had toiled for him, he toiled for others, in the faith that by a loving will and a true word all things can and shall be "made new" (Rev. 21:5). But all this is the revelation of "Elohim," who worked unforsakingly on a ruined world, till in the place of darkness and confusion all was very good.
Nor do the saints less reveal "Jehovah," who loves righteousness. Look at the Apostles Peter and Paul. "Great grace was upon the Church, neither was there any among them that lacked, for as many as were possessors of lands and houses sold them, and distribution was made to every man according as he had need." But two, professing to give all, "kept back a part," and thus "lied to the Holy Ghost." At once Peter judges the falsehood, saying, "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord: thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." And Ananias and his wife, hearing these words, fell down and died (Acts 4:33-35; 5:1-11). So again with Paul, when he was come to Paphos, and a certain false prophet withstood him, seeking to turn away the Deputy from the faith, the Apostle, filled with the Holy Ghost, said, "O full of all subtilty and malice, thou child of the devil, thou enemy to all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season." And immediately the wrongdoer was smitten with blindness (Acts 13:6-11). So again at Corinth, while, as we have seen, there is the most unwearying love in the Apostle, so that he is willing to be "as the filth of the earth, and the offscouring of all things," if only thus he may serve his weak brethren (1 Cor. 4:9-13), there is no less the unswerving righteousness of the Lord, in the delivery of the fornicator to Satan, "for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:1-5). It is so all through his course. He is loving, but he is righteous also. Witness such words as, "Shall I come to you with a rod?" (1 Cor. 4:21). "Put away from yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor. 5:13). "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness? Wherefore come out and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing" (2 Cor. 6:14-17). In all this, and in other like words of the Apostle, we see "Jehovah," who "will by no means clear the guilty."
And yet, like the same "Jehovah," Paul's heart is grieved by the sin of those whom he thus rebukes. So he says, "Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. For if I make you sorry, who is he that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?" (2 Cor. 2:2-4). So again, in his parting address to the Elders of Ephesus, he refers to his "many tears," and to his service among them "night and day with tears" (Acts 20:19, 31). For the faithful servant, like his Lord, while he must judge all disobedience, suffers even with the judged. Who is weak, and he is not weak? Who is offended, and he burns not? (2 Cor. 10:6; 11:29).
Nor is "El Shaddai," the "Pourer-forth," less seen in God's true saints, who, "being enriched in everything to all bountifulness" (2 Cor. 9:11), pour out to others that which they have first received from the Almighty Giver. This view of God's elect meets us at every turn throughout the New Testament. "I have fed you," says St. Paul, "with milk and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it" (1 Cor. 3:2). "We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear to us" (1 Thess. 2:7, 8). As themselves filled with the Spirit, the Apostles ministered it to those, who through self-judgment were prepared to receive what the "Almighty" still gives to those who "walk before Him." Thus, sometimes by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17), sometimes by preaching (Acts 10:44), sometimes by prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:2-4), they were the channels by which God's fulness was poured out, on such as by the experience of their own helplessness had been prepared for it. The "manifestation of the Spirit" was given to them, and they "ministered the Spirit" (Gal. 3:5), that the Church might be built up, not by the works of the flesh, but by the fruits of God's Spirit. It is so yet. Now and to the end the true elect must be "pourers-forth," and "minister the Spirit," though now as of old it is the empty only who are filled, while the rich are sent empty away.
The next name, "Most High," as we might expect from its special connexion with the non-elect, has as yet been less apprehended by the Church and by believers generally than those other names of God, which, as they were earlier revealed in Scripture, are even now more easily learnt and received by God's people. But in every age, there have been saints, who, though of the election, have known this name, and, like Abram, have witnessed to the world that the "Most High" is indeed "Possessor of heaven and earth." This was very specially the calling of the Apostle Paul, "to whom was committed the Gospel of the uncircumcision" (Gal. 2:7, 8), and who, though rejected for it, testified to his brethren (Acts 22:21, 22), that God had a purpose far wider than the election, and that "in Abraham's seed, all nations should be blessed." For he had learnt, that there was a "priesthood after the order of Melchisedek," differing from and greater than that of the elect. Therefore he said, "I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise" (Rom. 1:14); for "there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him; for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:12, 13). Therefore with heathen Athenians he could adopt the words of their own poet, and tell them that they were "God's offspring," for "God had made of one blood all nations of men that dwell on the face of the earth, that they should seek the Lord, and find Him, who is not far from any one of us" (Acts 17:26-28). Even the Apostle of the circumcision had learnt this truth:—"God hath shewed me," he said to Cornelius, "that I should call no man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28). And from that day to this there have been believers, who have learnt the same, and who, though judged as Paul was for his Gospel, can yet, like him, "give thanks for all men" (1 Tim. 2:1), in the faith that the "Most High" is the "Possessor both of heaven and earth," and that, "of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things" (Rom. 11:36).
I need but glance at the three remaining names of God, to shew how the elect, as they grow up in Christ, reveal them all, and shall yet more reveal them in the coming kingdom. They reveal "Adonai," "Lord;" for though "the elders in the Church, who feed the flock," may not behave themselves "as lords over God's heritage" (1 Pet. 5:1-3), yet are they called to "rule" (Rom. 12:8), and if they "rule well," are "worthy of double honour" (1 Tim. 5:17), and brethren are commanded to "obey and to be subject to them" (Heb. 13:17). Thus they manifest "Adonai," in ruling and directing others. Much more shall they reveal Him when one shall be set "over ten cities," another "over five" (Luke 19:17, 19), because they have "watched for souls, as those that must give an account," and have faithfully cared for and guided those committed to them. And no less do God's true saints reveal "El Olam," the "Everlasting" or "Age-working God," who has dealt with fallen men as they could bear it, first without law, then under law, and then under grace, like a Father meeting His children where they are, and bearing with their infirmities, till they are prepared for better things. Pharisees or Separatists indeed, who "thank God that they are not as other men" (Luke 18:11), may cut away all the rounds of the ladder which are below them, contending that the stage which they have reached is the only one which God accepts, thus wronging those, who, being yet babes, still need the lower forms of truth, which alone can be received while men are carnal. Not so those who are like Christ, who came, and yet comes, in the flesh. Such can "become as Jews to gain the Jews," and as "weak to gain the weak" (1 Cor. 9:20, 22), "feeding them with milk and not with meat" (1 Cor. 3:1, 2), knowing that there is a time even with Christ for "Jewish water-pots," "set after the manner of the purifying of the Jews;" for the "water" can be "turned to wine," when "the hour is come" for the present Lord to "manifest forth His glory" (John 2:5-11). And so with the title "Lord of Hosts." Some of Christ's members may not yet know, that in and with Him they share His place, as "far above all principality and power" (Eph. 1:20, 21), and that even here holy angels wait on them (Heb. 1:14), while in the coming kingdom they shall "judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3). Yet this is the calling of God's sons. The hosts of heaven serve them. It is only "for a little while" that "man is made lower than the angels" (Heb. 2:7).
Thus are the elect, even as their Lord, set here to manifest the virtues, which they possess as "partakers of the divine nature," and which they shall yet more manifest in the coming kingdom, when, delivered from "the bondage of corruption," they shall be "clothed upon" with their incorruptible and perfect "house from heaven." As yet indeed many are babes; some are still unborn, though quickened with God's life: what is seen of them is still nature only, not the Lord. Such can manifest little or nothing of their Father. But there are others, who in their measure, though they do not yet apprehend that for which they are apprehended, are shewing forth something at least of the varied grace and truth, which is theirs as sons and heirs of God. How are they welcomed by the Church and world? Christ and His saints are the answer. They are welcomed as God is welcomed. Who want or care for God, till in some need or trial they find that they are not and cannot be self-sufficient? For God is not known. Some dreadful misrepresentation of Him keeps souls from Him, or men's pride and self-love makes them averse to that which even nature tells them of Him. So with His saints: "the world knoweth them not, even as it knew Him not" (1 John 3:1). They may live and die for others; but their light and love, because even without a word it is ever judging all untruth and self-love, make them an offence; and therefore they are rejected. Let those who live out God's life understand their calling. So long indeed as the life of God, though quickened, is unseen in man, it offends none, for, like an unborn child, it is yet unmanifested. Even when it is first brought forth, and is still a babe, though it may cause trouble to some (Matt. 2:3), yet, like Christ, it grows here for a season, not in wisdom and stature only, but "in favour also with God and man" (Luke 2:52). As yet there is nothing in such a life to judge others. Not so after heaven opens; for then, because the Spirit of the Father rests upon His sons, and His grace and truth, not only are in, but also daily beaming forth from, them, because this light exposes all pretences, and this love condemns all self-love, those in whom it is seen will be counted, as their Master, "breakers of the law" (John 5:10), or "mad" (John 10:20), or "deceivers" (Matt. 27:63; John 7:12), by those, who, with much zeal for God, are yet in self-hood.
For truth is welcome only to the true: love is welcome only to the loving. Thus the "poor of the flock" (Zech. 11:11), who feel their need, are ever readier to welcome and receive God's life, when it appears among them, than the Pharisees and Scribes, who are satisfied with their own supposed attainments. And yet this life, though despised of men, as unknown, yet well known, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, because it is God's own life in flesh and blood, as in Christ the Head, so in His members, must conquer all; not by force, but by the cross, that is by patient suffering, even unto death; "by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God" (2 Cor. 6:6-10), commending God to those who yet are far from Him. Therefore let God's sons rejoice, that as Christ is, so are they in this world. It is but a little while and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear let him hear."
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