"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians v. 17
The language is of course figurative, and means the union of one mind with another. Now two minds may very properly be said to be within each other when they are united in affection and confidence. When minds are thus united, we speak of them as being one; and morally they are one; they are not physically one substance, but morally they are so united as to be in their interests and feelings identical. We have a fine illustration of this in the matrimonial connection. Husbands and wives by being united in affection, in interest, and sympathy, become one flesh. And believers are united with Christ in a much higher sense, they are one in the high sense in which persons are one who are agreed in their views, their sympathy, their affections, and in the end for which they live. There is a perfect unity in the end for which they live, in the great objects in which they sympathize. In this sense, believers are said to be united to Christ, to be in him. This is what is meant by believers being united to him, he being in us and we in him, as the Bible elsewhere expresses it. When the mind is united to Christ, it has perfect confidence in him, sympathizes with him in all he does, yields itself up in affectionate confidence.
We as Christians are in Christ in this sense. Again, the text doubtless means more than this, it implies that to be in Christ is to be in him as a covenant head. Christ is the representative of his people before the throne of his Father; those who have been given to him he represents before the judgment seat. He is the Covenant Head of those who are united to him by a living faith. They are his own people; he claims them for they were given to him, they were redeemed by him, regenerated by him, saved by him, and considered as parts of himself. Let us consider
First, they are not new in respect to their personal identity. They have no new attributes of body or mind, they have the same bodies as they had before, and they have the same minds, so far as the substance of the mind is concerned, as they had before; in short, they are the same persons in body, mind, constitution and nature, as they were before there has been no change of the substance either of the body or soul. Of this, everyone is conscious. Again: those who are in Christ are not necessarily new creatures in respect to all their outward actions; for it may be that many of their outward actions were in perfect harmony with the requirements of the gospel, and they may not need to renew their lives therefore in many respects, when they come to be new creatures in Christ Jesus. It may be, and will frequently happen, that they will do many things afterwards that they did before so far as their outward life is concerned.
But before I enter directly upon this, I shall pause to make a single remark upon the marginal reading of this verse. The text as we have it in our Bibles reads thus: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." Now in the margin, instead of "he is a new creature," it reads thus, "made him to be new." In this instance the text is preferable but in general, the marginal reading is the best. In the present case it manifestly is not. It is true the original will allow of this rendering; but the meaning of the Apostle is obviously fully brought out in the reading of the text. The Apostle says, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature," and then to tell you more plainly what he means, he says, "old things are passed away; behold all things are become new."
I observe then, that we are new creatures in this sense if we have a new end in life, one radically different from what we had before. Before a man becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus, the spring of his acting is self, and the end for which he works is self. Self-seeking is the beginning and end of his acting, and all that he does is for a selfish end, either for himself personally, or for those who are regarded as parts of himself. Self pleasing is the end they have in view who are not in Christ. The whole race of mankind acts upon this principle at the very beginning of life as soon as they start into existence in this world, as soon as they act at all. The first voluntary act of the child is to seek for something to gratify its appetite for food; and this principle of self-seeking "grows with its growth, and strengthens with its strength." Its end and aim is self.
Now everyone that is in Christ Jesus is a new creature in this sense he denies himself to please God. Before, his inquiry was, how can I please myself; now it is, how shall I please God? He now lives for the glory of God: this is the great end for which he lives. "He is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." But let me say again: when a man has some great end in view, he will act in a manner which to himself appears the most likely to secure it. A selfish man's efforts are directed to a selfish end, therefore, all his acting is selfish. Now when individuals have a different end in view, the character of their efforts are changed also. Before they were in Christ Jesus, they were in the flesh and had a selfish reason for everything they did; the great end which they had in view, and which they purposed to secure was some interest of their own.
Now persons who are in Christ Jesus are new creatures in this sense, that they are endeavoring to realize a different end and have different reasons for their activity in their endeavoring to secure it. Before they had a selfish end, and selfish reasons for seeking it, now they are living to secure the interests and glory of God. Again: those who are in Christ Jesus are new in respect to the relations they sustain. They are now God's children instead of being rebels against him; they are obedient subjects of his government instead of being the enemies of his kingdom. Instead of being criminals, they are pardoned and justified and accepted in Christ. Again: they are new in this respect, that they regard everything in an opposite light from what they did before. Before they judged of everything in view of their relations to the end they had in view. When they were pursuing a selfish end, they viewed everything in a selfish light, but now there is a radical change in this respect. The great end they have proposed to themselves being different, their views of things must necessarily be changed also. Now they regard things in the relations to God, and to the great end which they now propose to secure.
The Apostle Paul speaks of having known Christ after the flesh, yet says he, "Now know we him no more." The fact is, before conversion, men regard everything after the flesh, they see everything with unconverted eyes, with the unregenerated and unsanctified heart. Everything is estimated on account of its selfish relation: even religion itself is looked at in a selfish light; even Christ himself is regarded in a selfish point of view. Unconverted men care nothing about religion unless they can make something out of it; care nothing about God and Christ only as they can make something of it. So supreme is the selfishness of the human heart that it cares not for anything in the universe, in heaven, or on earth, only as it will promote selfish ends.
Now when persons become new in Christ Jesus, there is a radical change in this respect; things are no longer regarded for selfish reasons, and looked at in a selfish light. These considerations give way to those of an entirely opposite class of reasons. They come to regard no man after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Instead of seeking self, they seek the glory of God, the interests of his kingdom, and the salvation of souls. Again: when a man comes to be in Christ, he is new in his sympathies, entirely new. Before, his sympathies were turned in a selfish direction. Watch him, and you will see that his sympathies are alive to all selfish considerations.
Only propose to him to make money, and you will find his sympathies all alive: he will go anywhere and at all seasons to get money: his thoughts and sympathies are all turned in that direction. But when a man becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus, his sympathies are entirely changed; instead of finding that he is easily excited with merely selfish considerations and prospects of worldly gain, you will find that these things have but little effect upon him while he is quiveringly alive to the extension of the kingdom of Christ and the conversion of souls. Now everyone that is in Christ knows that this is true: it must be true.
If our union with Christ has not this effect, why should we be in Christ at all? What would religion be good for if it had no effect upon its possessor? If any man be in Christ, he must be a new creature; and if any man suppose he is in Christ, and is not a new creature, he is under a mistake. What do you suppose I should care about being in Christ Jesus if I must remain the old creature still? Nothing. But because a man when he is in Christ Jesus is to become a new creature, I see that there is excellency in being in Christ, and it is a change to be intensely desired. Again: those who are in Christ Jesus are new in this respect new in temper and spirit: instead of being crusty, ill-tempered, easily provoked, ready to fly into a passion at everything, they become the reverse of all this, manifesting a new temper and a new spirit. This must be so by a natural law. I have shown you what it is to be a new creature in Christ Jesus, that it is to be united to Christ in affection and confidence, and be one with him in end and aim, and how, let me ask, can a man be thus united to Christ, whose temper and spirit are unrenewed? And, what says the Bible" If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his!"
Those who are in Christ Jesus will be new in this respect, they will thirst after spiritual things. Before they thirsted for the world, its honours, wealth, and pleasures, but now they hunger and thirst after righteousness; their language will frequently be" My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God." But let me say again: those who are new creatures in Christ Jesus are new in the sense that they have new hopes. Instead of their hopes being worldly hopes, they are heavenly; instead of being endeavoring in earth, they are all universally swallowed up in Christ; their sole hope is, that when he appears they may be like him. Again: they have new fears. Before, their fears related to the world; they found the loss of their worldly character, the respect of the world, the comforts and honours of the world more than the loss of their souls.
Now their fears are of a different kind they are afraid of sin because it will grieve Christ and dishonour God. Yet this is not a slavish fear, but a filial fear, a fear of offending one that is greatly loved. Again: those who are in Christ are new in this respect they have new joys. Before, their joys were earthly, but they were not lasting; they were only experienced for a moment, and then they passed away forever. Now, when a man is in Christ, his joys are entirely new. This joy is the joy of faith, the joy of love, the joy of communion with God, and the joy of sympathy with heaven all his joys are derived from spiritual things. Again: there is a new sorrow for sin. There is now none of that worldly sorrow that worketh death, but their sorrow is of a godly sort; their language is, "Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because men keep not thy law." Sorrow, joys, hopes, and fears, are all new, they all cluster around one great end, and are relative to one object. I cannot dwell upon this: but proceed to say, that those who are in Christ have new habits of life. Before, they were selfish and self-indulgent. To be sure, they might have denied themselves in some things, but it was only that they might indulge in something else, but now all self-indulgent habits are given up. The question to the renewed man will be in connection to all his actions what relation do these habits sustain to God's glory? This will be the great end he has in view; and if any habit that he may have indulged in seems to him likely to defeat this end, it will be at once given up, and the man will have new habits of life. Again: those who are in Christ are new in this respect they have new reasons for those actions of their lives which before, were according to the letter of God's word and requirements.
Suppose that before they were converted, they went to meeting, read their Bibles, and prayed; suppose they gave alms to the poor or did any of these things, they were all done from a selfish motive: self was the ultimate end they had in view in everything. Now they have a different end for everyone of these things. Do they pray, they do not pray for the same reason they did before: they have a much higher end in view. Do they read their Bibles or go to meeting, they have new reasons for their conduct. Although the same things outwardly, they now do them from an entirely different reason. They now aim to please God instead of self in all that they do. I do not mean to say that in no instance does a Christian sin under the force of temptation, but this I do mean to say, that a man who is in Christ Jesus has a new reason for even the most trifling things of his life.
I might illustrate this in a great many ways: for example, I go into a shop and I see a young man at work: I ask what he is doing? Labouring. What for? Wages. What do you propose to do with your wages? Buy books. Why do you want books? Why I am going to college to get an education. But why do you propose to get an education? To prepare myself for the ministry. Now with all these questions, I should learn nothing of the young man's character. He may desire an education and to become a minister and yet be the D man in the world. His character must be seen in the ultimate reason for all this. Supposing he says, I want to be a minister that I may get a living, or I want to be popular as a speaker, or I want to get an easy life, or I want to be respected. Selfishness would be the beginning and end of such a character. All his labour has been from a selfish reason, and for a selfish end. But one who was a new creature in Christ Jesus would give you quite a radically different reason for his actions. He would be doing it all that he might glorify God and save souls; for to be a new creature in Christ Jesus is to be devoted to everything to which Christ is devoted: to be one in sympathy, in heart, in spirit, in love, in confidence, and in thorough devotion to the end for which Christ lives.
But I must pass rapidly over these things. The next remark that I have to make is this those who are in Christ have new habits in business. Business properly conducted is a noble thing. A man may, if he choose, make it consistent with the highest end of being. But the man who is ungodly has only a selfish end in view in his business, and he does not inquire into the relations of his business and the kingdom and glory of God. He never inquires whether the business is in accordance with the laws of God, if so be that it is in accordance with human laws and is a money making business.
Now let me say that the man who is in Christ Jesus would as soon engage in a business tending to immorality, the results of which would endanger the salvation of souls, and bring dishonour upon God, as he would leap into hell! He would as soon do one as the other. I say that the man who is a new creature in Christ Jesus, the man who has given himself up to Christ would no sooner engage in a business without inquiring what relation that business has to God and religion, than he would leap into hell! Why, he is in Christ Jesus, a new creature, which renders it naturally impossible that he should give himself up to anything which was not in perfect harmony with the mind of Christ. He is living for a certain end, and is it possible that he would leave this end out of view when he entered into business? Impossible! It could not be!
If a man loves Christ supremely, can he serve the devil in his business? The man who professes to serve Christ on the Sunday and serve the devil in his business, is a hypocrite. There can be no doubt of it. "No man can serve two masters;" he "cannot serve God and mammon." If he has been in the devil's business before his conversion, he will wash his hands of it. His language will be, "I will sooner die than lift my hand against society by engaging in a business that will injure my fellow men and ruin their souls." Again: not only is he a new creature in respect to the kind of business, but in the manner of conducting a business otherwise lawful. He is keeping shop for Christ, and he knows that his Master does not want him to lie, cheat, and play the knave in his dealings with men; and, therefore, he will act as he knows his Master desires that he should. He will seek to act like Christ to represent Christ. The Spirit of Christ will be seen in all his dealings. If a man comes to his store, he will not try and cheat him: he will not speculate out of a brother for he is a new creature in Christ, and Christ will have all his servants honest; therefore, he will not cheat a brother or anyone else. Let this then be understood. Lastly, under this head: He is new in the sense of depending upon Christ.To call attention to several important mistakes into which many persons fall upon this subject.
Many people say they are depending upon Christ while they neglect their duties. Now I say and let it sink down into your hearts that no man who depends on Christ does or can neglect his duty. Any man who is resting, leaning upon Christ, will without hesitation do what Christ tells him. Keep this fact in view, my hearers: I cannot dwell upon it, but pass in the next place
First, they fancy that their relations are changed, that Christ sustains to them the relation of a covenant head, that they are represented by him and therefore, are Christians while everybody knows that they are not new creatures. Now when the Apostle says" If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new" he undoubtedly means what he says: and means, of course, that if old things have not passed away and all things have not become new, they are not new creatures. And observe, the Apostle says, "If any man be in Christ" not was once in Christ, but is so now, "old things are passed away; all things are become new." Let me say in the next place that a radical change of character such as I have mentioned is not a ground but a universal and unalterable condition of being in Christ. That we shall repent and believe is not a ground of our acceptance, but it is a condition; and those who suppose that they are in Christ and shall be saved by him, while they are not new creatures, are guilty of most dreadful wickedness, and are under a most awful delusion. Again: another mistake is this many persons depend on what they call their "experience," at the time of their supposed conversion while their subsequent lives prove that they were never converted at all.
I have ofttimes, I may say thousands of times, since I have been in the ministry, conversed with people about their spiritual state, and when I have asked them what hope they have of salvation, they would refer back to their experience at the time of their supposed conversion. But ask them about their present experience and they have nothing to say. They depend entirely upon their experience years back: they suppose that they were once converted and they look back to that.
This reminds me of a circumstance I once heard of concerning a man whose hope of heaven was based on a very remote experience. Whenever he felt any doubts of his safety, he would go back in memory and think of his experience; and this was the only way he could obtain any degree of peace. As he increased in years, his memory somewhat failed him and so he wrote down his experience on a sheet of paper and put it by in a drawer, that if he should ever forget it, he might be able to read it and find comfort. One day he was taken sick and being greatly in doubt of his life, he requested an attendant to go to the drawer and get his experience and read it; he went to fetch it but horrible to relate, a mouse had been there and eaten it nearly all up! Whether this is true or false I cannot say, but it is as I had it, and will do very well to illustrate what I am now saying that there are a great many people living on what they can remember of their past experience.
Now the text does not say, if any man be in Christ, he was a new creature once, but that he is a new creature. Now if a man is not in his own soul conscious of being a new creature, it is vain for him to talk about being in Christ. Have they really changed the great end for which they live, and have they come into full sympathy with Christ? If not, they are not owned by the Saviour as his children. Again: another delusion into which a good many persons fall is what they call "the perseverance of the saints." Their idea is, that persons once in Christ are sure to be saved, live how they may.
Now, I believe in the perseverance of the saints, but not in that sense. I believe the saints will persevere in holiness, as the Apostle John teaches in the third chapter of his first epistle, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed is in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God." Now, who does not know that this is the true "perseverance of the saints?" Those persons to whom I refer, say they believe in the perseverance of the saints, and yet argue that the saints will be saved whether they persevere or not! Now, what an outrageous idea is this! I believe in the perseverance of the saints, but I say they will be saved because they persevered. I do not affirm that saints will never fall into sin, but they will not live in it. This is universally true, that the people of God hate sin.
Again: there is another delusion into which many people fall about the Divine Sovereignty. They depend for salvation on election and the Divine Sovereignty. Now let me say, I believe in election and the Divine Sovereignty. I believe that men are saved by Divine Sovereignty; but I believe those who are elected will give God their confidence like the elect, and live like the elect, will be holy like the elect, will persevere in holiness like the elect, will serve God like the elect, and not be content to live a sinful, self-indulgent life in the service of the devil, and talk about being saved by election! This is monstrous! It is blasphemous nonsense! Who cannot see that this must be so. When I see persons flying to God's Sovereignty, I know that the Spirit of Christ is not in them. If the Spirit of Christ was in them, they would seek to be saved by the sanctification of the Spirit through the belief of the truth. Those who are saved are to be saved by "faith, which works by love and purifies the heart." "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith." Again: many persons, when the truth comes home to them, seek to put it away from their minds. How many times have I known an individual do this. When the truth is presented, they will often say" Well, I certainly am not in Christ, if what the minister says is true; I have not that sympathy with God that he speaks of; this is not my character." When they have got thus far, the devil will suggest some text of Scripture to delude them and prevent their thoughts running on in the right direction of self examination. How many times have I known the devil to quote Scripture to persons under such circumstances. Whenever the truth is presented to your minds and you begin to think that you certainly are not a true Christian, if any passage of Scripture is suggested to your mind to make you believe that you are, you may be sure that it is the devil who suggested it to you; and if you suffer yourself to be so comforted, you will in all probability lose your soul. Take care, for the devil will deceive you if he can.
A few remarks must close what I have to say. First, true religion always gives peace of mind. There is "joy and peace in believing." This is universally true. Again: if you find by your consciousness that you are new creatures in Christ Jesus, you are bound to take the promises and consolations of the gospel to your own souls, for they are all yours you may take them all and write your name on every promise, to every declaration that is made to "God's dear children," and rejoice in all the great and glorious things that God has spoken to his redeemed family.
Again: if you are not God's children, beware that you do not appropriate these promises, laying them as a flattering unction to your souls, for they are not for you. You have "neither part nor lot in the matter" until you repent of sin, renounce it, and come into sympathy with Christ. Again: it is absurd to build your hopes of heaven upon an old experience. It is only the backslider who is living in sin that relies on hopes and experiences; but he only who "is a new creature" can obtain comfort and eternal life.
Again: I have often thought that the great reason why professors of religion do not have more comfort is, because they are not in a state of mind that deserves comfort. If they were, God would not leave them without it. Unless we have faith, we have no business to have comfort: unless we have that "faith which works by love and purifies the heart; "but if we have that faith, we shall be sure to realize the promises. Once more: what a different standard of religion the apostles held up from that which is now common to hold up. The ministers are afraid of cutting themselves off from all hope of salvation by making the standard too high and so they bring it down to their own level; they are not in a position to hold up the gospel as the apostles did. This is a common but awful delusion! It is the curse of the land. The standard is brought down to the level of the church instead of the church being elevated to it! This is not universally the case, and I praise God that it is not; but I have very often found it true, and my soul has been deeply grieved on account of it. But I cannot enlarge.
I must now close: you and I will have to meet at the judgment seat of Christ and I call heaven and earth to witness that I have again set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. If you are not a new creature in Christ, you will never be saved! If you take hold of any hope short of this, you will find it to be a hope of sand, and when you are swung out over the vast abyss of eternity, it will suddenly fail you and your soul will be eternally lost! May God have mercy on us all for his name's sake. Amen.