The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures
BOTH Ephesians and Colossians confirm us in the appropriation of the truth contained in the two epistles to the Thessalonians, and Philippians crowns it with glory. In Ephesians Paul confines this grace to those who were in a prior state of expectancy, that is, who looked for a coming of Christ which precedes that promised to the Circumcision. The reading “who first trusted in Christ” lacks any foundation in fact and is an exceedingly loose rendering.
In contrast with the other apostles, Paul was the last to trust in Christ, and the saints to whom he wrote were later even than he. It refers, not to the past, but to the future. In the future their expectation will be the first to find fulfillment. This points us back to Paul’s earliest epistles, and binds them all together with a golden girdle of grace. The favor which frees them from the fearful indignation which ushers in the day of Yahweh finds its full fruition in the elysian fields of Ephesians. The Thessalonian ecclesia was given the promise of a place with the Lord in the air, and so to be ever with the Lord. The later revelation raises Him to the heights of heaven and, since they are to be with Him, they too are exalted to celestial bliss.
The Colossians, too, are reminded of this precious promise (Col.1:5). The apostle speaks of “the expectation reserved for you in the heavens, which you hear before in the word of truth of the evangel.”
In Philippians, God’s calling above in Christ Jesus is brought to its culminating point (Phil.3:21). “For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour, also, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him to subject all to Himself.”
It is marvelous to trace God’s method in revealing His grace. Using the severe trials of the Thessalonians as a background and their fears as a foil, He assures them that they will not be involved in the terrible time when His indignation shall be poured out on the earth. The faithful among the Circumcision will be saved through it, but these will be caught away before it comes. They are not assigned to indignation but to the procuring of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. This salvation is not based on their faithfulness, as in the case of the Circumcision, but on the fact that Christ died for them, that, whether watching or drowsing, they should live together with Him (1 Thess.5:9,10).
The two great arguments in these promise epistles are these: The dead are at no disadvantage, for they shall rise first; the drowsy will not be left behind, for it is a matter of pure grace, dependent on Christ’s death. All will be caught away from the earth before the indignation of God is manifested.
Thus is the future aspect of our salvation revealed in Paul’s earliest epistles. And we submit that the opening words are a key and clue to the character and abundance of its grace, when the Thessalonians are placed in God the Father. That those who had so lately bowed down to idols, who still lacked all covenant relations with the God of Israel, should be so described is hint enough of unique and inexhaustible stores of grace which must flow from it. Indeed, the very absence of any covenant leaves the Father’s heart free to deal with them untrammeled by their disabilities and failures.
To understand the gradual development of present truth, these epistles should be studied first, their contrast with the teaching of the Circumcision noted, and their subjects traced through the later letters to the final revelation in the Perfection epistles.
Both Timothy and Titus are called children by Paul in his letters to them. He is their spiritual father. He deals with them as a father with his sons, charging and encouraging them in their career as men of God. In his first letter to each he adds the epithet “genuine,” or “legitimate.” Just as the actual child cannot but resemble his parents, so we find in Timothy and Titus many of the features of their spiritual father. Like wine, these letters, especially the second one to Timothy, have increased in value with age. In these last days it blazes a path through the perplexities of the great apostasy. Timothy and Titus, in their individual responsibility as servants of God, received the very instructions His servants need today, however they may remain unheeded.
The first injunction in second Timothy is of principal importance today. “Have a pattern of sound words, which you hear from me” (2 Tim.1:13). So prevalent is the use of unscriptural words, and so loose are the translations of Paul’s words that it is no marvel that the Bible is supposed to buttress the babel which pretends to the dignity of “Christian doctrine.” The “atonement,” a word which Paul never used, is generally conceded to define his doctrine. Paul taught justification and conciliation and reconciliation, but never atonement, which falls so far below his conception of God’s grace that he never so much as mentions it. “Have a pattern of sound words, which you hear from me.”
The corresponding injunction, “Herald the word, stand by it” (2 Tim.4:2), is nearly as vital. After having the proper words it is necessary to proclaim them, and not the multitudinous substitutes which today have supplanted the preaching of the Scriptures.
But even if we have the proper expressions and proclaim the Scriptures, there is yet one other injunction which is vital to the truth. Without it there is confusion and error in its most subtle and destructive form. Without it the Scriptures themselves become the exponent and champion of error. With it they are clear and unconfused, upholding the truth. Paul exhorts Timothy to present himself an unashamed worker correctly cutting the word of truth (2 Tim.2:15). An example follows which leaves us in no doubt as to its meaning. Some said that the resurrection had already occurred. They misplaced the truth. They did not deny it, or corrupt it. They put it in the past, when it was still future. Thus it is with the great bulk of Scripture today. It is misplaced. That which is truth at one time is destructive error at another. So, today, many things in the Bible are vehemently maintained in all good conscience, when a correct apportionment of truth would leave them for another time.
It is the special object of this treatise to point out God’s waymarks to enable us to obey this injunction. In conclusion we submit a brief statement of the broad outlines which should guide us in the correct partitioning of the truth, with the special purpose of determining what body of revelation is distinctly and definitely for us today.
Eliminate Paul’s epistles from the Greek Scriptures and we have a complete complement of the Hebrew revelation. All the predictions of the prophets concerning the suffering and glories of Messiah and His people are fulfilled. It is all as much for the Circumcision as ever. The promised blessing of the nations through Israel sees its accomplishment. But Paul’s epistles set forth that secret grace which was unrevealed, and comes notwithstanding Israel’s failure, rather than through their salvation? There is no inkling of such grace in the Hebrew Scriptures. If, then, we consider the bulk of the Greek writings as a continuation of the Hebrew we may look upon Paul’s epistles as a separate parenthesis or addition.
It is astonishing what a veil is lifted from the sacred records when we apprehend the great fact that all is concerned with the Circumcision except Paul’s epistles. The Lord’s earthly ministry, the preaching of the twelve apostles in the Acts, the epistle to the Hebrews, and the letters of James, Peter, Jude and John, including the book of The Unveiling–all bear unmistakable signs of being written to and for the same people who were addressed by the prophets of old. Paul insists, however, that he is the minister of Christ Jesus to the nations (Rom.15:16).
But there is a great gap, a long period of time, between our Lord’s proclamation of the kingdom and its final and still future realization. Peter tells us that Paul explains this long-suffering of the Lord. And so he does. The eleventh chapter of Romans is the complete solution. There we learn that the program proposed for the establishment of the kingdom is in complete abeyance now, and God is dealing with the world without the mediacy of the nation He has chosen.
A further study of his epistles will reveal the notable differences between his writings and the rest. He is the apostle of the nations, the Uncircumcision; the twelve ministered to the Circumcision, the nation of Israel. They brought mercy to the other nations, conditioned on Israel’s blessing; his ministry follows the defection of Israel. They were confined to earth; he includes the heavens. They are confined within the eons; Paul propounds a purpose which preceded the eons and which will not be accomplished until after they have run their course.
The evidence for this division abounds in all of the writings concerned. It will help the student much to read these writings with this in view. Note how the kingdom is proclaimed by our Lord, how the same kingdom continues to be the subject of the Acts, how the fact of its postponement is explained in the book of Hebrews, how Peter explains its sufferings and John its principles and, finally, how it is established with power in The Unveiling. All is concerned with the kingdom of the heavens on earth and the people who will rule it.
But the greatest profit will come to us if we perceive the further fact that the application of all, except Paul’s epistles, is to the time before and after the present grace. Paul alone gives us present truth. All truth is profitable in that it teaches us the ways of God; but only that truth is applicable which was written for the present economy. This explains why it is that Paul seems to repeat, on a higher plane, many of the exhortations of Peter. Even the simplest exhortation has been adapted to the times. The new wine could not be put into the old wine skins.
By thus limiting ourselves to the writings of Paul we are not by any means depriving ourselves of any good thing. He is entirely adequate for every need whatever in conduct or faith. The system of doctrine developed by Paul is complete in itself and so unique that it refuses to mix with the teaching of the rest. It would be absolutely false if applied during the impending judgment period when Peter’s epistles are in place. Just so Peter’s epistles cannot be applied now without adulterating and debasing the present grace.
Let this sink deeply into our minds and hearts: Paul’s epistles present present truth: they cannot be applied to the past: they will not fit the future. The corollary of this is equally important. All outside Paul’s epistles has no place in the present: it is for the future. May the application of this great principle bring as much blessing to each reader of these lines as it has brought to the writer!
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