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The Law is not Earthy
One reason why this is the case is simple. It is God's law and God is a Spirit, and spirituality takes its name, source and recourse to Him. A second one is that He says so. Thus in Romans 7:14, one reads this: "For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin." At first sight, this may seem a strange profession from an apostle who declares openly and clearly, "Daily I die, I protest by the rejoicing in you which I have in Christ Jesus" - I Corinthians 15:31.
He there makes it clear that "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable", proceeding to trace the exertions, the labours, the losses, the punishments undeserved, the self-control, the self-discipline which is his practice, as more also in places such as I Cor. 4:10ff. -
are fools for Christ's sake..." and on with a procession of deprivations
and endurances for the Lord), and II Cor. 4:10-11
bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus
that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body,
for we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake,
that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh...",
and with this, those preliminary verses of such dramatic weight in II Cor. 4:6-10!
It is apparent therefore that in essence, in Romans 7 Paul is tracing the pre-conversion empathy which he has with those downtrodden by the purity of the law in powerless lives without Christ, who have not found the reality of His power and grace. Thus in Romans 7:24-25, he declares of this autobiographical preliminary (which certainly reminds one strongly of Luther's experience, and not a little of Bunyan's!), the issue of the matter: "O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death ?" The reply follows: " I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." He then sums up the situation before, in Ch. 8, proceeding to show the utter transformation to be wrought, so that
| "to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritual
minded is life and peace;
because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God,
neither indeed can be. So then those who are in the flesh cannot please God;
but you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit";
|"that if you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live."|
There you have it both in principle and practice. It is not sinlessness but a condition of victory in Christ which Paul traces as the natural correlate of salvation, in however many trials and purgings one may be involved in sanctification, trial or demonstration of the power of God (as in II Cor.1 for Paul, and differently in Job - SMR p. 95, and again in Acts 14:19-20).
Accordingly, we find that the LAW IS SPIRITUAL and Christ's people are not under carnal control, not "in the flesh," however many trials, tribulations and purgings may be needed, but in the Spirit.
It is then the case that the law from the mouth of God (cf. Acts 4:25, Psalm 119, I Cor. 2:9-13, Isaiah 34:16) is spiritual. When it is surrounded by pageantry, as we sometimes have in national affairs, it is not in the Bible that it is carnal: but it is exemplified, shown in patterns (Hebrews 10:1-2), given illustrative power to enforce and stimulate the mind in its divagations, to find the truth. It was much the same in the parables, but in the law there is nothing extraneous, as parts of a story might be to the main point: it is LAW and it is SPIRITUAL in all its concepts.
In L.E. Maxwell's excellent book, Born Crucified, we see something of the spiritual stature of this remarkable teacher, famed for the Prairie Bible Institute's growth in days past. In his work, Crowded to Christ, again there is much of great value. There is however one point which needs clarification.
In his treatment in the last Appendix, of the Sunday rest day, it is magnificent in aura and in most matters; and it is delightful to see this hearty Christian so clear on an issue which has sapped the strength of many in our day, as if Isaiah 58:13-14 had never been written, here exhibit something of the spiritual lustre and point in Isaiah on the day of rest; for in that place, God inspired the prophet to bring out the point in a way most apparent and incisive. In this world, REST on the day of the Lord's appointment is integral with life in Him, for this is founded on HIS creative method for us, and it is necessary for us, as surely as this is how He created. This is quite explicit and nothing can remove it (Exodus 20:10-11). It is not for ceremonial reasons that it is instituted, but because of the mode of God's creation, He being the interpreter, He the One to apply the matter expressly.
Maxwell sees all this, cites from some of the most famous Bible teachers to the same effect, and is stringent on the point, not of course in any ceremonial way, but in the spirit and nature of the thing, affirming constantly that this day, it is NOT for pleasure, it is for the LORD! It is not a working day, it is a day for development, learning and movement expressly and conscientiously in the things of the Lord, His people and His own work, with rest its criterion.
This is most delightful to see, and the reader may wish to ponder this area in former treatments available on this site, in places such as Biblical Blessings, Appendix 2 and 3, with Questions and Answers 9 and 11, Barbs, Arrows and Balms 20 and Little Things Ch. 9. However, we now proceed to our current interest in this context. It is in the field of baptism. The law is spiritual. Its spiritual content is not dismissible. Thus Christ quite explicitly came NOT to destroy the law or the prophets, but to FULFIL (Matthew 5:17ff.). What however is the law on circumcision ? First we see the work of God on Moses, one of the most amazing leaders in the Old Testament, so close to God, his face shining so that a veil had to be put over it when he had been formally communing with God, his words equipped with power to perform in the Red Sea, in the water from rock, in the food from above ... who faced, fought a spiritual battle with the Pharaoh of one of the mightiest of nations at that time, and won in the name and power of the Lord!
What was that work, for our present interest ?
It is that found in Exodus 4:24ff.. Here just after his divinely wrought commission, when in the intensity of the grace and calling, the immensity of the communion and its consequences which Moses had been having with the Lord, as being sent to confront Pharaoh in order to demand in the Lord's own name, the release of His people from the land and their servitude in it, a sudden episode intrudes.
What is this event ? It is this.
Moses is met by God. On pain of death, he is to circumcise the child, though it is evident his wife felt the physical side of it, on her son's behalf! We read that the Lord "sought to kill him", the result being an action to obviate this - namely immediate circumcision of the child. Does God "seek to kill" someone who is chosen for one of the epochal and pivotal works of all time among men, for a non-spiritual trifle ?
It is apparent that this is not so, that the matter even before the formal giving of the law, was quintessential. It was a sine qua non: NOT in terms of the salvation of the child (a point often not realised), but in terms of the obedience and formal declaration implicit on the part of the parent. It was HIS life and not that of the child which was challenged!
What however was required ? that he should offer up the child in dedication ? that he should tell God that it was a good idea to receive this voluntary offering of the child ? was it a work of sanctified reasonableness in devotion ?
Not at all does this cover the case: it is far more than this. Its milieu is far more drastic. GOD INSISTED that the rite be performed, a spiritual point at issue. What then does it signify ? It is apparent that not least it is the FACT (as in Psalm 51) that man is BORN in sin, and that God HATES sin, and to deal benignantly and covenantally with man is a matter requiring salvation, or else with infants, a consecration expressive of this fact in formal terms, so that the very organ of generation is declared in need of an act telling of the position, acknowledging the situation between God and man, be the human being young or old, a thinking being or one too early in life for that process to be analytical at all!
10:16 you see the cry of the Lord to the people:
"Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts!" and
this with many other scriptures,
shows the sense of it.
It is an admission of guilt, of sinfulness, of this being generated with one's very birth,
of the need of regeneration, of another birth, of union with the Lord.
|From Jeremiah 4:4,
we find this:
"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart,
ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire,
and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings."
30:6, we see the premise that the Lord will
"circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed,
to love the LORD your God with all your heart, that you may live".
This is in a setting where on the basis of coming estrangements and follies,
there would eventually come in Israel a turning to the Lord, so that this spiritually felicitous relationship would be one result of it.
Hence it is apparent, as Maxwell also makes clear, that this is a spiritual phenomenon. The term 'circumcision" has a crucially spiritual connotation.
This spiritual aspect however is not limited to one phase, as if the rest should be dismissible. Like the case of the rest day, on which Maxwell correctly teaches, there is an entire genre and communication, orientation and perspective given; and this remains being spiritual. So here, It is also clear, however, that one aspect is markedly applicable to babes. That is so not only from the challenge to his very life, which Moses experienced, when he had omitted this admission in symbolic form, but in the direct commandment wrought with and for the covenant which he was given for the people, as in Leviticus 12.
Here we find these words:
"And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak to the
children of Israel, saying,
'If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days;
she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary,
until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bear a maid child,
then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation:
and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days."
It proceeds to indicate what atonement for sinfulness must be made, with blood.
Hence it is clear that circumcision was required for children, was a matter of sinfulness and atonement and was implicit in the environment of terms to which it related. "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity," King David declared, "and in sin did my mother conceive me." SIN MUST BE PURGED.
To HAVE a child when one is a sinner is no small matter, even if one is godly. Its purgation must be depicted and it must be made applicable to the child, and not only so, the application should be demonstrated in the most public and clear of fashions on the child itself. This has nothing to do with its actual salvation (Jeremiah 9:23-26), those circumcised and those not so, being subject through their lack of faith, where this occurs in the very face of His word to them, to divine wrath of special depth (John 3:36).
Is it however for man to prescribe to God what is the result of His ministrations, laws and requirements, or for God to tell man what he is to do, and to interpret as He will! Thus the spiritual law makes the announcement that there is a matter of atonement for sin involved in the very reception of a child into the house of the Lord, NOT as saved forever, but as symbolically clad in the textured clothing of truth. Sinner the child is and without some appearance in symbolic form of a cover in the Lord, there is an improper nakedness. It is not some mere offering of oneself or one's child, but of the testimony of the Saviour in terms of oversight and sole relevance if this child is to be acceptable: otherwise, the situation is in this, unclean.
Assuredly, salvation is DEPICTED for the child, not conferred; and it is just the same with the adult. NOT the cleansing of the flesh, but the work of a clear conscience before God in terms of faith and the resurrection of Christ is the issue there (I Peter 3:21): that is the salvation, not the ceremony, not the symbol. The symbols do not save, never did, never will; but it is a requirement of obedience to PLACE them where they belong, and this is where a person is one of God's people, and where the child of such was to be found, in the law, this was after 8 days, in terms of the symbolism of Christ.
Maxwell here makes one excellent point. The 8th day after the birth symbolises one after the seventh day of rest, relative to the creation, and mirrors the 8th day after the creation coming to its pivotal completion for man, to the resurrection, the Lord's day, the first day of the week, that something for which the fathers had to wait, that something better, the New Covenant in Christ made manifest.
It is of course just the same in Leviticus 23:9ff., where it is the day after the Sabbath that the sheaf of harvest is waved (cf. I Corinthians 15:20), and again, even once more, it is from that day to the Pentecostal day not just seven more sabbaths which were to be counted, but this and one more day, to the DAY AFTER IT, again signifying the first day of the new week after rest. It is this one more which moved from the death to the resurrection of Christ, so completing the program of salvation; and in this is the harbinger of the new creation and its ground of eternal rest, associated in application with the outpouring of the Spirit as happened at Pentecost in the book of Acts.
It signifies this ONCE ONLY and ONE MORE action of the Lamb following the crucifixion and completing its program (Romans 4:25, 1:4 cf. SMR Ch. 6 pp. 472ff.): to be raised, so consummating the totality and signifying that new rest in the prophet beyond Moses, foretold in Deuteronomy 18, His work clear in Isaiah 49-55 (cf. With Heart and Soul..., No Thanks for Angst!... Ch. 3, and Christ Jesus: the Wisdom and the Power of God Ch. 4).
Integral indeed in the message of that spiritual law is this spiritual fact that there is a Christ to come, that HIS is the atonement that will possess intrinsic efficacy and that symbolically, it is REQUIRED to recognise one's sinfulnessness making it quite impossible to satisfy God without the proclaimed Prince of Peace with His atoning blood, Christ, and to symbolise this signification on one's child as a voluntary humbling before the full truth of God's dealings with man, and indeed acknowledgement of it.
Not for some darling of curls, without sin, as even some who call themselves Christians may imagine, is the child to be conceived: but as a sinner in need of the atoning blood of Christ from the first. It is NOT a matter of mere human decision (John 1:12, 15, Romans 9:16), but of God's action. As shown in our preceding volume, "Marvels of Predestination and the Ways of Will", this by no means limits the emphatically declared love of God toward man as shown in Colossians 1, Titus and I Timothy 2, for example; but it DOES make it clear that man is neither autonomous in himself, nor the final operator in his rebirth.
Thus humanistic insult to the word of God may be intended to protect the true operation of His love, but it is rejecting what He Himself declares, who needs no protection. It is nothing to do with decisions that one becomes a Christian, though the effect is no less; for it is wrought in the Lord. NO age determines the matter, for it is of God who works and who wills, Himself knowing His own.
Perhaps such astray considerations, as if to bolster the word of God which as shown in this field in the last volume cited, is itself in perfect harmony where nothing else in the field is, and is perfected love: perhaps these help to make the error into which Maxwell, only fleetingly to be sure, appears to fall here. It is NOT merely one spiritual meaning in the circumcision which is preserved. IT IS this; but that is not all of it. The symbolism is SPIRITUAL, and the meaning is not single.
First, there is the declaration of sinfulness from the Lord's part, concerning all flesh, young or old. Second, there is the insistence on the acknowledgement of that fact, for infant or for adult. Third, it is necessary to acknowledge that the ONLY and operative way for that to be dealt with lies in terms of the atonement, at each and every age and level. Fourthly, it is demanded that the impact and imprint of this thing be public, be applied to all at every age in the way depicted, no imagination of irrelevance or of lesser or other kind being allowable in substitution. It is necessary for the glory of God that all this be acknowledged and nothing less.
Hence when in Colossians 2:12ff., we read that having been baptised, one is ipso facto circumcised, one realises that this spiritual equivalence is not limited. We cannot arbitrarily remove some of the major portent of the one in referring to the other, but the spiritual signification and the spiritual content must be maintained; for Christ did not in the least degree or measure, as His words in Matthew 5:27ff. make so clear, come to destroy, to abolish, to cancel the law or the prophets. On the contrary, it was to fulfil. Not the least jot or tittle will fail. Obedience to and teaching of the LEAST of these commandments, He makes clear, is a great thing in the kingdom: and mushy slushiness of concept is not apt or appropriate when relating to the spiritual thing, that gift from God, the word of His mouth, His law.
Some seem to imagine that because the term "law" is used, it is not spiritual. Paul says the contrary. It is imaging that you can be SAVED by legal operations that is the revolting ruin to which much flesh comes, asking for judgment, as Paul emphasises (Romans 3, Galatians 3-5, Romans 10 where the swaggering self-importance of trying to save oneself through one's own righteousness, in whole or in part is so denounced relative to a Jewish bent, not one however limited to that group!). It is this which is legalism.
As for being "not under law, but under grace", in the context this is given as the ground and reason for the expectation of VICTORY in KEEPING God's word, not for exempting oneself from His precepts and directions! (Romans 6:14 cf. The Impregnable Tower Ch. 3). Love loves the word of God and delights in His law (Psalm 119, John 14:21-23), so much so indeed, that abiding in the words of Christ is by Himself shown to be evocative of giant blessing to the heart and soul of man. His words do not lack lordship, nor do they evacuate at the thought of law. WHY! He asks, do you call me LORD, LORD and NOT do the things that I say (Luke 6:46). He is of course the Lord of the Old Testament (John 8:58, Philippians 2, Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, Revelation 2:8), to whom every knee shall bow, made manifest in the flesh, the living and eternal word of God.
Let us then summarise the position. It is not only one signification of the circumcision which is spiritual, but all that God emphasises as relevant to His will. It is the AGE of infancy (the NORM!) which is relevant: not the ceremonial and symbolic 8 days, but the substantial infancy where the cardinal admission and public exhibition is made. The resurrection is fulfilled, but the child is not!
It is not the mere dedication, it is the GROUND for ANY dedication which is required, the admission that it is ONLY through the child's coming to that faith and to that Christ for its object and basis, that Christ crucified indeed through whom is the atonement made, that this child will have any standing, any hope and any spiritual health. It is not general, or vague; it is precise and particular. It is not secret or merely verbal, but as express and expressive as the Lord's Supper, not dispensable through penchant but directed by the Lord, whose word stands.
God says what He means and wants; and were He to change His mind, He could say so. It is not for man to pump words into His mouth, like a dental assistant when one is having one's teeth filled and the mouth needs clearing. God's mouth never needs clearing. His word moreover is true from the first and will be to the last: HE IS THE TRUTH. His ways do not change (Habakkuk 3:6, Malachi 3:6). To dare to evacuate these elements of His abiding principles, who changes not, from His regimen is all but too astonishing to believe. To imagine, moreover, that He has fundamentally altered His desire, perspective, evaluation of man made in His image is a conceptual and however unintentionally, a derogatory disaster at the first!
It is necessary of course to avoid what so many so rightly have objected to *1, just as General Booth rightly objected to wine in communion but wrongly excluded the sacrament! NO symbolism saves; only the Saviour; but wise is he, is she who realises that God says what He wants and the symbolic significations are no more changed by a change of symbol that is this world cancelled because Christ is born into it. ALL COMES FROM HIM, IS INTERPRETED BY HIM, AND THE INTERPRETATIONS REMAIN UNLESS AND UNTIL HE DISCLOSES THEM IRRELEVANT OR WRONG. As to Him, however, HE IS NEVER WRONG, and what He has declared right spiritually, remains so for all time. Children are not symbols.
The trifling concept of baptismal regeneration is far more abhorrent than what may be a reaction to it, leading to the omission of the baptism of the child. It is however unnecessary to remedy one error, however foul, by making another. Baptism neither confers nor assures salvation (I Peter 3:21), at ANY age, any more than a wedding ring confers fidelity. If what it signifies is present, then all is well.
Symbolism is not salvation, but neither is salvation extenuation for denudation of the word of God. We must remain, as with Maxwell's case, intensely thankful for the wonderful way in which many godly men are used; but it is necessary always to put what is written before what is written by anyone else, or any group, for that matter. God speaks for Himself and needs neither guidance nor protection. It is to His word the issue must always return.
Let us however look at this offence which may have led many to oust the baptism of the child, so clearly indicated in the Bible.
The error in trying to substitute symbol for salvation, or making it a necessary conveyor of it, is often seen in its ludicrous consequences, as when some ecclesiastical body solemnly assures regeneration (at ANY age or stage) as a resultant of the baptism, and then allows that those concerned may not reach heaven; where I John 3:9, makes it clear that THAT seed, the seed of God, remains in him or her who has it; and whom HE justifies HE glorifies, having called them and appointed them to salvation, whose sheep do not perish (I Thessalonians 5:9-10, John 10:9,27-28, Romans 8:17,29ff.). Nor does the covenantal faith of the parent make the child a Christian then or later: any more than did Isaac fail to have Esau as one of his covenantal children.
This is not to say that a parent given the grace to believe in the coming salvation of a child, will be denied it. Faith can move mountains, but only God can give the faith to cover the case of His specifications. It is NOT included in any generic covenant, far less as a result of some symbolic action.