“I Knew a man in Christ.” - 2 Corinthians 12:2.
You have heard the chapter already read whence my text is taken. I have selected these few words, because they either contain or suggest as much as we shall be able to get through in the time allotted to us. The apostle’s words in this chapter are very closely connected with the latter part of the preceding one. He had spoken of glorying; “If I must needs glory, I will glory in the things which concern mine infirmities.” Then he says in the opening of this chapter; “It is not expedient doubtless for me to glory;” but then he says that no one should rob him of this privilege under the circumstances: “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” The apostle had had both. He had a vision, and a very remarkable one, when he was on his way to Damascus Syria; and then it was that the Lord was pleased to reveal Himself, not only to him but in him.
“Visions and revelations.” Here we might enlarge, but we forbear. Then he introduces the words of my text, “I knew a man in Christ,” and a very remarkable man he was. He does not tell us in these words that he refers to himself, yet we gather from the connection that he does. The time when he knew him was fourteen years ago, or more; he could not tell whether this man was in or out of the body, so great was the glory. This man was caught up into the third heaven, and we are told that this third heaven was Paradise, the place of the departed blessed, to place whither the thief was taken on the day of his departure. The Lord promised Paradise to him. “I knew such a man;” whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell. God knows all about the man; how that this man was caught up into Paradise, and heard words unspeakable, or words that he could not utter upon earth. Now he says, “Of such an one would I glory; yet of myself I will not glory, but in my infirmities.” The man that he would glory of was the man in Christ, for a man has really nothing to glory of out of Christ. “For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forebear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.” Then he relates a circumstance which he felt by sad experience to be a very trying one: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.”
There are various opinions about this “thorn in the flesh,” and hence it is well for us not to go far from the general teaching of God’s Word in forming an opinion about it. Some have thought that Paul suffered from headache; some, an impediment in his speech; some, that he was blind or suffered partly from blindness. All sorts of ideas respecting this thorn in the flesh have been propounded, and it is not for us to say whether these ideas are right or wrong. We venture to mention one thorn in the flesh that no saint on earth has ever got rid of yet – that is, the corruption that remains in him. This thorn is spoken of in Romans 7: “In my flesh dwelleth no good thing.” And yet these was something good in him, even the new spirit of holiness, but in his flesh there was no good thing. He never boasted of that corrupt man – never!
Now it strikes me, without going into particularities, that a common-sense view of this passage is that the thorn is the corruption of nature, and that Satan is the messenger that operates upon this corruption, making it prick and sting, and often bringing a person into captivity by it. Hence he says, “The messenger, Satan, was given to buffet me.” God does give Satan sometimes great power to annoy the saints; as, for instance, in the case of Job. And often he intrudes himself into the company of the servants of God. You remember how he accused Joshua, the High Priest, but the Lord was there to stand by the side of His servant. He buffeted our Lord in the wilderness. Now we are told why Paul should have this thorn, and Satan to work upon it: “Lest he should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of the revelations which he had;” and he prayed to God three times that it might depart from him. Well, now, the Lord did not take away this thorn, this corruption of nature, nor Satan who operated upon it, for He had something else to magnify in this servant of God: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” As to say, “Hence, Paul, there shall be a battle in thee as long as thou livest. There shall be the old man and the new man in constant conflict. I will show thee that the new man, strong in the strength which God supplies, shall conquer and overcome the old man of the flesh.” This satisfied Paul; he had nothing more to say except this: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ, the love of Christ, the grace of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for “when I am weak then am I strong.” When I am made to feel my weakness in deed and in truth, it is by the power of Christ; and then it is that I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Now, without enlarging any further, I shall direct your attention more specifically to the words of my text. Paul is the man, the man in Christ, that we are about to speak of; but it is equally true of any man that is in Christ. Therefore, the first thing that I must touch upon is the union that is brought out, or manifested in our text: “In Christ.” What a wonderful expression! And then, secondly, what are the blessings and privileges of being united to Christ, or having a standing in Christ. And then, in the third place, what are the evidences to my own soul that I am standing in Christ.
Paul says, “I knew a man in Christ.” He had got some proof on this point that the man was in Christ. Now, with regard to this union, or being in Christ, I hardly need say that it is one of the deepest doctrines in God’s blessed Word. I do not propose to enter into it fully, as it would take too much time; however, there are some few things respecting this union, or being in Christ, that we must touch upon, and that we cannot possibly pass over.
Union! Well, there are many earthly illustrations of union. I speak now of earthly union. Persons may be share-holders in a company, and sometimes they find out to their sorrow that they are in union with those whose burdens they have to bear. This I admit is a very imperfect definition of union. I need not, however, go on with these earthly unions.
Union with Christ is illustrated in God’s Word. You have the vine and the branches; the husband and the wife; the human body, the head and the members; and there is one which is a perfect illustration of real, vital union between Christ and His church which we shall have to touch upon, but this is not an earthly, but a heavenly union. The illustration of the vine and the branches, you will remember, is in John 15. Judas went out, and then our Lord delivered this parable: “I am the Vine, and ye are the branches. Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. But if a branch abides not in Me, it is taken away, and cast into the fire and burned.” Now it strikes me that this parable refers to Judas and to the rest of the disciples. There is such a thing as being professionally in Him. Now you will see at once that this parable deals with the question of union. The branch, Judas, was professionally in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many Judases in the professing church; there always have been, there are now, and there always will be, wheat and tares in the visible kingdom of heaven to the very end of this dispensation. This merely professional man is to be taken away. Here you see that this illustration is imperfect. A branch may be taken away from the vine and burned, but not from Christ and burned. But the illustration answers the purpose of our Lord, which is this, that those really united to Him do bring forth fruit to the glory of God the Father; and hereby His disciples are proved and made known.
The second illustration is that of marriage – that the husband loves his wife, and the wife is to be obedient to her husband. This is to set forth the union, the mystical union which is betwixt Christ and His church. Now this illustration is imperfect; but it does show this, that as a husband loves his wife and as a wife obeys her husband, so Christ loves the church and the true church obeys her Husband. Now you know that there may be a separation between husband and wife – either the one or the other may die – but this can never happen between Christ and His church; therefore there is imperfection in this illustration. Everything taken from the earth to illustrate spiritual and eternal things will fall short to some extent, and consequently an illustration must never be pressed beyond that which is designedly intended on the face of God’s Word.
Notice another illustration (I Cor. 12:27): Christ is here spoken of as the Head. Then Paul says to the Corinthians, “And ye are members of His body, and ye are members also one of another.” Well, the members of the body and of the Head are needed to make up one perfect man – the one perfect man, the one Christ mystical. There is one feature we must notice in this illustration before we point out its imperfection. It is intended to set forth the sympathy and feeling between Christ and believers. Now, if you will look at it rightly, you will see that it is in the head that you have all the senses. The head feels, sees, hears, tastes, and smells. The body does not. The body only has one sense in common with the head,- that is, feeling; and hence you will see at once the design of the writer in this illustration. It is to bring out the feeling, the sympathy, and the oneness of the members with the Head. They cannot see without Christ the Head; they cannot hear and understand without Christ the Head; they cannot “taste that the Lord is gracious,” – the things that be of the Spirit of God without Christ the Head; and they cannot scent the good things of God without Christ the Head. Now this illustration also fails in another respect, because a member from the human body may be cut off, and yet the human body may live. There is a failure in all earthly illustrations in setting forth the union, the inseparable union which eternally exists between Christ and His church.
I will now give you an illustration without a failure, but we shall have to go to heaven for it. Turn to John 17, and as we shall read our hearts will be moved to feel that we are with Him in heaven. He prays that His disciples may be one, even as He and the Father are one. Can there be any separation between the Father and the Son? Only here, then, you have perfection of illustration. “I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me.” Here is perfection of love – here is the perfection of union; and hence it is that Christ prays to His Father, saying, “I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory, the glory which Thou gavest Me, for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.” And when Thou lovedst Me, Thou lovedst them in Me. They and I are one; one in nature, one in spirit, one in Life, one in union, to appear before Thee. See this point more fully brought out in Hebrews 2. Now I have given you one perfect illustration to show you the eternal union which exists between Christ and His church. Paul said, “I knew a man in Christ.” God grant that we may have such a blessed evidence.
Secondly, consider some of the blessings and privileges of being in Christ. Now, what would you call some of the blessings of being in Christ? I will mention some that the apostle himself gives us; and this, I think, is the best way of knowing what he meant. He tells us in Ephesians 1:6, “Accepted in the Beloved.” Is not this a blessing? The Beloved is the Lord Jesus Christ, and my standing ground before my God in heaven is in Him. Now this is a blessing, for he tells us so in the very chapter, that it is one of the “many blessings” which we are blessed “in heavenly places in Jesus.”
There is another blessing also connected with being in Christ. Do you know that all who are standing in Christ before God are as He is? Isaiah says (45:25), “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” You have been singing about it this evening, and a glorious theme it is, not only to have it in one’s head and one’s mouth, but in one’s heart also. Those taught of the Spirit of God know these things for themselves. Then, as Christ is righteous so are all in Him, for they are one with Him.
There is another glorious truth in connection with this: “There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” The standing ground of believers is in Christ, and to them there is no condemnation. To those not in Him, they “are condemned already,” (John 3:18). God will not condemn His elect; Christ will not condemn them; the Spirit will not condemn them; the law cannot condemn them, for it has been fully satisfied. The world may try and Satan may try to condemn them, but God has said by His servant, “There is no condemnation.” Is not this, then, a blessing to the man in Christ?
Notice, again, another blessing, for it is in connection with these. A man that is in Christ is a sanctified man. I do not undertake to speak of all the phases of sanctification now, but of that sanctification in which a man stands and appears holy before his God. And hence in the opening of the first epistle to the Corinthians you will see that they are “sanctified” by God the Father “in Christ Jesus.” They are holy, or set apart in Him. Now, when a man knows and realizes this for himself, is he not the very man to live holily and godlily and righteously in this present world?
The, again, we are told in this very epistle (verse 17), that “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature,” or “new creation.” He then shows us in what sense he is so; “Old things are passed away;” old ceremonialism, old formalism, old doings, and everything of the creature that he relied on for acceptance before God has passed away, and “behold, all things are become new,” - new in Christ Jesus, a new creation, new thoughts, a new righteousness, having done with the old rags of self, and now clothed upon with the beautiful garments of Jehovah-Jesus. “Behold,” says God, speaking to His servant John, “Behold, I make all things new.” Now those who have thus passed from death unto life, and who know that their standing is in the Lord Jesus Christ only, know also that this is the truth of God as revealed in their souls, and as it was experienced and made manifest in the life and conduct of the great apostle.
There is another blessing, which is this, that a man in Christ Jesus is preserved in Him, and underneath him are the everlasting arms of Jehovah. Yes, indeed; the child of God is safe and cannot slip out of the arms of Jesus; and this Jude sang long ago when he wrote the first verse of his epistle: “Preserved in Christ Jesus.” Is not this a blessing? Preserved in Christ, carried in Christ, and thus everlastingly blessed in Christ.
Again, this union with Christ can never be dissolved; no, never. I shall give you one or two verses of the apostle, from Romans 8, to illustrate his own meaning. Verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of God?” Who can? He then names seven things: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things” – the bitterest things - “we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” The he seems to gather strength and mount higher still, saying, “I am persuaded.” Who persuaded him? The Holy Ghost, to be sure. “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor heights, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I have here mentioned a multitude of blessings bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus. No wonder that the apostle should glory of the man in Christ: “I knew a man in Christ.”
Now, look again. I used two words in the second division of my subject, “blessings” and “privileges.” What are the privileges? Privilege will very nearly cover the same ground as the blessings, yet the illustrations will be different,
One privilege is that we are made near to God in Christ Jesus. This is a great privilege. Hence the apostle says, “Ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh to God.” By what means? By the meritorious means: “By the blood of Christ.” This is Christ’s own glorious work. A person brought near to God has this glorious privilege, - he enters into the most holy place by the blood of the Lamb. He speaks to his Father in heaven, and his Father speaks again to him through the Son of His love. What a privilege is this, to be able to draw near to God in Christ Jesus.
Notice another privilege. What is it? Do your know that a man that is standing in Christ has the privilege of forgiveness of sins, and of the redemption of body and soul - his earthen vessel? “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7). What a privilege! We have not to wait until we get to the other side of the grave to know the fact whether our sins are gone or not. God has already told us in His precious Word, saying, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” They shall never be remembered against thee – no, never!
Again; it is a great privilege to have so many promises as the children of God have in Christ. You will remember what this same apostle says in his second epistle to the Corinthians: “All the promises of God are in Him,”- in the Lord Jesus Christ. What? “Yea.” There is no changing of them on God’s part. They are promises made over and sealed to you in Christ. How important is union with and in Christ! When a man is brought into the conscious realization of God’s promises, he can say “Amen” to them all, that they are his. Is not this a privilege? We might gather up many promises, but we forbear; if you want to see them, see them in Christ. Many persons look into themselves more than into Christ. Many professors of religion- I mean Christians- never seem to get on at all. Why? Because they are always looking into the sink of iniquity which is a vital part of themselves; they like the flesh-pots of Egypt. O for God the Holy Spirit to give them a lift out of themselves, that they may see the beauty and the perfection which is in Christ Jesus.
Again, it is in Christ that we have victory and strength, - strength to battle with the world, strength to battle with self, strength to battle with sin and Satan, and strength also to battle with the grave. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I shall not enlarge upon the second head of my subject; but try and gather up for yourselves what I have said. I have only mentioned a few of the privileges and blessings of being in union in Christ.
Our third head is this: the evidences to our own souls of being in Christ. Paul says, “I knew a man.” He had the evidence, and this evidence of knowledge arose from experience. One of the first evidences of a man being in union in Christ is this, that he has the mind of Christ. I now speak experimentally. “The same mind in you which was in Christ Jesus.” When this is the case, then my mind is brought into harmony with the mind of Christ. It is, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” Humility and submission are difficult lessons to learn sometimes. Have you ever thought carefully over the words in Matthew’s Gospel, where Christ speaks of the revelation of Himself and of His Father to the believing soul? “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man to Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” Now look and see what follows, for He has power to reveal His Father, and He has power to reveal Himself; hence He says to the weary, leavy-laden, broken-hearted, and contrite spirit, “Come unto Me, and ye shall have rest.” I am the Son of God, I am the Mighty One, I know My Father’s will. “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.” “Learn of Me,” and I will teach you. “Take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” What a blessed state of mind to be brought into! Now read the passage of Scripture which I have referred to, and see whether I have given a correct idea of its meaning and beauty.
Again; there is another evidence, which is this, walking in Christ. Hear what the apostle himself has said, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” Helpless as a little child, yet walking in Him. He takes me by the hand, as it were, and leads me and guides me in my every step heavenward. Rooted in Christ, built up in Christ, established in Christ, completed in Christ, and abounding with thanksgiving in Christ. What a privilege!
Again; notice another evidence. Do you know that to be in Christ, and to realize it, hoping in Him, makes a man very bold. Not bold towards God, but for God in a gracious sense. To be in Christ, and to realize it, makes a man very bold towards the ungodly and towards the children of God for Christ’s sake. Hence Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” Why not? “For it is the power of Christ unto salvation to every one that believeth.” “It is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness, and it is with the mouth that confession is made unto salvation.” Now, when a man realizes these things in himself he becomes bold in the Gospel, for he has got the best evidences in his own soul, and he is trying to show other persons that he has the evidences and proofs that his hope is in God. When the Lord gives light it is not to be put under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that persons may see it. Hence, “Let your light so shine before men,” that it may be seen by them. Ye disciples are the light of the world, in Him; therefore let the men of the world see your good works, and see that you glorify your Father which is in heaven, for the world never will. Be bold in letting your light shine, and fear not what man can do.
Then, again, another evidence, is patience, waiting and looking for the Lord Jesus Christ. You know that the Old Testament saints were waiting and looking for a long time - some of them nearly four thousand years before He came in the flesh. You may read that very remarkable chapter (Hebrews 11), in which are mentioned the worthies of the Old Testament dispensation. Their attitude was patient waiting and looking for Jesus. So now, under the Gospel dispensation, the child of God is “looking unto Jesus,” who is “the Author and Finisher” of his faith and of his salvation, “Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame.” But where is He now? “Set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What an encouragement to those who are looking unto Him, and waiting for Him whenever He may call them hence. It may be to-night that He may call some dear soul instantly away. Blessed are all they who are patiently waiting, watching, and looking for the Lord Jesus Christ. Can we rejoicingly say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come, and welcome me into Thine everlasting Kingdom of glory?”
Now there is another evidence which is this - rejoicing in the Lord. You find in Philippians 3:3, “Rejoice in Christ Jesus.” “We are the true circumcision,” says the apostle, “which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Here are three marks: “no confidence in the flesh,” Some persons have a very great deal of confidence, both in their own and in the flesh of others. “Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and that maketh flesh his arm.” But blessed is the man that puts his trust in the Lord, and that worships Him in the spirit, and who rejoices in Christ Jesus, and who has no confidence in the flesh of man.
I will just mention another evidence. You know that Paul, when brought to know and realize the Lord Jesus Christ in His blessed fullness, thought very little of the things of this life, of himself, and of his Judaism; for he tells us that “all these things” he counted “but loss and dung for Christ.” He desires to be found in Him, not having his own legal righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ. This is God’s righteousness. He says, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after.” “I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press forward.” No wonder that he was prepared to go to death, and to give up his life, if need be, for the Lord Jesus Christ. His motto was, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” He was a runner, a wrestler, a fighter, a contender, a conqueror, and an overcomer, and one who entered triumphantly into the kingdom prepared for him from everlasting. He knew this man in Christ. God’s children have known and do know many things. Dear old Job said, “I know that I shall be justified.” (Job 17:13). My friends, can we take up these words and say, “I know that I shall be justified?” Job could say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Can we? He could say also, “I know that the Lord can do everything.” Can we?
The servants of God in the New Testament knew a good deal. Our apostle says, “I know whom I have believed, and I know that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” He knew a great many things, did Paul. John says, “Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know.” What did he know? He knew this, “that when Christ shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” What knowledge! Paul and John knew the same thing. But Paul says again, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). We know; but this knowledge, you must bear in mind, is a revelation from God. “It hath pleased God to reveal His Son in me.” It is a glorious revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost in the sinner’s soul; it is Christ glorified in the sinner, and the sinner glorified in Christ, for they are and shall be glorified together. No wonder Paul said, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be reveal in us.”
Now, what do we know about a man being in Christ, or a woman being in Christ? Paul says, “I knew a man in Christ.” God grant that we may know and realize for ourselves that we are in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior! Amen, and Amen.
Preached in the Church of St. Mary,
Aldermary, Queen Victoria Street,
Wednesday, April 2, 1884.