"If then ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God (Colossians 3.1)."
Before we can with certainty determine that we are the people of whom this apostolic admonition is applied, it is important that we should know something experimentally of Christ, and of the power of his resurrection, and of the fellowship of his sufferings, and be conformed to his death. We presume that no one of all the saints will dispute the necessity of a saving acquaintance with the crucified and risen Christ, before any sinner is competent even to seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. In the depravity of our polluted nature we cannot see the kingdom of God, nor receive the things of the Spirit, which can only be spiritually discerned. Two questions are here involved. First, Has Christ risen? Second, Have we risen with him?
On the first question, we think there can be no doubt that allusion is made to his resurrection from the dead, and in that resurrection from under the law, to meet and cancel the demands of which, he was crucified and slain. When he was made flesh, we are told that he was made of a woman, made under the law. And being made under the law, he learned obedience, and in obedience to that law which he humbled himself to come under, he laid down his life, that is, he was put to death in the flesh, bearing our (all his people's) sins in his own body on the tree. This body in which he suffered was a body which was prepared for the sufferings of death, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man; for every one whose sins were laid on him. For this mediatorial sacrifice he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Not that seed which is merely the natural progeny of Abraham; for we are told that the children of the flesh are not the children of God; but in Isaac his seed should be called. "So then, if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." "We, then, as Isaac was, are the children of promise." These, then, which are Christ's as the seed of Abraham, were under the law, involved in transgression and guilt, and required to be redeemed. These were the people of whom it was said, "He was made under the law to redeem them that were under the law, that they might receive the adoption of sons." In taking them on him he must needs take on him their sins; but this was done that he might put away their sins by the sacrifice of himself. It was for this "The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all." And for this great and gracious end, "It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief," that with his stripes they might be healed. In this body then in which he was put to death, we see was embraced all those who by virtue of being Christ's are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise; and the death which was inflicted on him in that body was inflicted on him as the seed of Abraham. How could it possibly have been otherwise? For what else could he have suffered? Had he not taken that seed on him, no sin could have been found on him; only in his relation to and identity with them could the sword of justice smite him, nor could his sufferings and death have effected their redemption on any other conceivable ground. In this body "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death (Hebrews 2:9)." For this very purpose, for the nature of angels was not quite low enough to reach our case, he must needs take on him the seed of Abraham, that the grace of God to usward might abound.
In speaking of his ascension to glory it is said, In that he ascended, what is it but that he first descended into the lowest parts of the earth? So in that he has risen from the dead, what is it, or how could it be, except he had first bowed his sacred head in death?
The resurrection of Christ with which the apostle in our text connects the children of God, as having risen with him, must be his resurrection from the dead. He says in the preceding chapter, "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Colossians 2:10-14)." This same apostle, in writing on the same subject to the Romans, says, "How can we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God (Romans 6:2-10)."
Now, in the light of these Scriptures, shall we inquire, first, Was Christ buried (or immersed) into death when he died on the cross for the redemption of his people? Second, Were all the seed of Abraham which he took him, and for whose sins he was delivered up, buried with him by that baptism into his death? Both questions seem to us to be clearly met and settled in what we have copied from the apostle in the foregoing quotations. But in addition, let us accept what further light is given in the Scriptures on this subject.
First. That Christ's baptism into death was accomplished by his death on the cross is still more fully confirmed by his own application of the figure of baptism. "But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished (Luke 12:50)." This baptism was prospective, and could not mean his baptism in Jordan by John, for that had been accomplished at the beginning of his public ministry. It was still to come, and he was pained until its fulfillment. It must have been that baptism described by the Psalmist, when he said, "Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts; all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me (Psalm 42:7)." Also in the sign of the prophet Jonah 2:3, "For thou hast cast me into the deep, into the midst of the seas, and the floods compassed me about; all thy billows and thy waves passed over me." The ordinance of Christian baptism figuratively sets forth the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, together with the doctrine of salvation, the experience of the saints, and their final resurrection from the dead. All these strikingly impressive figures would be rendered unmeaning to us if inapplicable to the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Second. Were the seed of Abraham, embracing all who are Christ's, baptized with him into this death? No person of common intelligence, we think, will understand us to inquire if we were all literally and personally put to death with Christ when he suffered on the cross. What we mean is, Were we as the seed of Abraham, which he took on him, embodied in him, so that the sins which he bore were our sins; the flesh in which he suffered the just penalty of our guilt was our flesh, or, in other words, was that our flesh against which the wrath of the divine law was poured out? If this question be answered negatively, how shall we understand the express declarations of the Scriptures already quoted? How, on any other ground, were we buried with him by baptism into his death? Jesus said of the sons of Zebudee, "Ye shall drink of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with (Matthew 20:22; Mark 10:38; and Luke 12:5)." Paul says, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." What! Dead; Paul? When did you die to the law? "I am crucified with Christ." Paul did not mean that his earthly body was defunct; for he adds, "Nevertheless I live." But does he mean that his fleshly body is, or was at the time when he made this declaration, animated by the resurrection life and immortality of Christ? Certainly he did not; for lest he should be so understood, he says, "Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh" (not the life of the flesh, but that living Christ which was in him) "I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." This death with Christ for him was indispensable to his salvation, that he might live unto God; being redeemed from the body of the sins of his flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, and his relationship to the law of sin and death annulled, and he "dead to the law by the body of Christ," that he might be married to him that is risen from the dead, and partaker of his immortal resurrection life; that in this new, regenerated state he might bring forth fruit unto God. "If one died for all, then were all dead." And henceforth it is said of all who are buried with Christ by baptism into death, that the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness.
As we cannot think any of our brethren will dispute the position of the apostle, that the saints were buried with Christ by baptism into death, we will now inquire, Were they also raised with him by baptism into life? We say by baptism, for that word signifies not only immersion, or burial, but resurrection, or rising again. No one will deny that Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day; but did he leave those for whom he suffered still under the law, under the curse, and in the dominion of death? Or did he not rather destroy death, and him that had the power of death? The trump of triumph proclaims a victory over death, hell and sin, and loudly heralds forth the triumph of him who has abolished death, and hath brought immortality to light through the gospel. Hence the words of our text have meaning in them. "If ye then be risen with Christ." And those in the context, "And you being dead in your sins," etc., "hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." This accords with the testimony thus stated, "According to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places;" "and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, and the fullness of him that filleth all in all." This fullness of the body of Christ, we are told, he hath quickened from a state of death in trespasses and sins. And let it be observed, this quickening is given by the apostle as exemplifying the mighty power of God in raising Jesus from the dead. There is a deep meaning in the words of I Peter 1:3, when read in connection with Paul's testimony in the first and second chapters of Ephesians, showing how "God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
We are not disposed to dispute with brethren in regard to the application of the words washing and regeneration, as used in Matthew 19:28, and Titus 3:5. But certainly, whether these passages refer to it or not, baptism, to our mind, not only implies, figuratively, death, burial and resurrection to newness of life, but also a washing, cleansing and purging, by putting away the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, and also a regeneration or begetting of a new, spiritual and immortal life. If in the flesh and nature of the seed of Abraham Christ died, and that seed was buried with him by baptism into death, it was also quickened and raised up in new, resurrection life by his resurrection. Therefore, as Peter affirms, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom this immortal resurrection life proceeds, hath begotten us by his resurrection. That immortality which came from God the Father, and quickened and raised up Jesus from the dead, entered the body, the church, in the resurrection of Christ, just as sin had entered the posterity of Adam by the transgression of one man. Thus the church of God was begotten by the communication of life from God the Father to the body in which Christ had suffered death. The infallible conception of immortality in the body of flesh in which he suffered, it being the flesh of the seed of Abraham, embracing all who are Christ's, secures with unfailing certainty the spiritual birth, and manifestation of all his members into the life and liberty and perfection of the sons of God, in due time, all in their appropriate order; Christ the first fruits, as the First Born among many brethren, and afterwards them that are Christ's at his coming. The descent from God of this life and immortality to the body of Christ, is figuratively presented to John, thus: "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it (the city), and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life," which is quickened and made fruitful by the river of life. See Revelation 22:1,2. "And it shall be in that day that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them towards the former sea, and half of them towards the hinder sea, in summer and in winter it shall be. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth, in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name One (Zechariah 14:8,9)." This resurrection life in Christ, begotten of the Eternal Father, in his resurrection, raises up from the curse and dominion of the law, and from the power of sin and death, all the seed of Abraham, or in other words, all his saints under both dispensations, before and subsequently to his death and resurrection. And his resurrection life is developed alike in going towards the former and the latter or hinder sea.
Resulting from the begetting of the Father, by the resurrection of Christ, and the conception of the same in his mystical body, like leaven hidden in three measures of meal, until all is leavened, this river flows, broad and deep, excluding all gallant ships and galleys with oars, imparting immortal life, first, in the new birth, by which we receive the first fruits, and finally in the resurrection of the bodies of all the saints from natural to spiritual bodies, from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal bodies, from terrestrial to celestial, and from the image of the earthly to the image of the heavenly Adam. "For whom he did foreknow, them he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29)."
We see no cause of strife or contention on this subject. All sound Old School Baptists believe that the children of God, in the regeneration, are begotten of God the Father, quickened and born by his begetting power by the Spirit, and that our new birth seals and secures to us our final deliverance from all corruption and corruptibility, in a glorious resurrection of our bodies, in which they shall be made spiritual, pure, holy and heavenly, and capacitated for the immortal joys of God's right hand.
In a subsequent number, we propose to urge on all the children of God, being the children of the Resurrection, the admonition of our text, "Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God," etc.
Signs of the Times June 1, 1868