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"PUT AWAY ALL FILTHINESS" [SM388]
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in fear of God."--2 Cor. 7:1.
Although the words of our text were not addressed by St. Paul to the worldly, they would, nevertheless, be excellent advice and very profitable to all. In a general way all civilized people recognize that "cleanliness is next to godliness." In a general way the pure, the clean, are recognized as the beautiful; and impurity and filthiness are detested even by the impure and the filthy. Outwardly at least we are in a time when water is plentiful, when soap is cheap, and when filthiness of the flesh is almost inexcusable as respects the outward man. But filthiness of the spirit cannot be cleansed with ordinary soap and water; and this is undoubtedly the reason why the Lord and the Apostles have not addressed these words to the world.--Psa. 119:9.
"HAVING THESE PROMISES"
Our text tells the difference between the well-intentioned worldly person and the thoroughly consecrated Christian. The latter has heard through the Word of God certain "exceeding great and precious promises," which the well-meaning worldly class have not yet heard in the true sense of hearing--in the sense of appreciating, understanding. The whole civilized world, in one sense, has the same Bible, the same Word of God, the same precious promises; but it has not appreciated these. It has not understood them, accepted them and made them its own by a surrender to the Lord. The Church, on the contrary, is composed of those who have heard the Lord's promises intelligently and accepted those promises upon
[SM389] God's conditions. Those promises of God constitute the power of God, which works in the heart of each of the Church, first to will aright and, secondly, to do to the extent of ability the Lord's good pleasure.--Phil. 2:13.
This is the class addressed in our text--the followers of Jesus. These have heard of the grace of God--that it is the Divine purpose to bless Adam and his race through the great Mediator--The Messiah, The Christ. They have heard that Jesus left the glory which He had with the Father and humbled Himself to human nature, in order that He might redeem the human race. They have heard that the application of the merit of His sacrifice, when made in due time, will be sufficient for the sins of the whole world; and that then the Heavenly Father will turn over the world to the Redeemer. They have learned that the Redeemer, backed by Divine authority, will put all things into subjection under His feet, will institute a Heavenly Kingdom in the earth, and for a thousand years reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. They have heard that when He shall thus reign, His Kingdom shall be "under the whole heavens," although the King Himself will be the King of Glory on the spirit plane, "far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named."--Eph. 1:21; Dan. 7:27.
They have heard that His Kingdom will prevail from sea to sea and unto the ends of the earth, and that eventually unto Him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess allegiance and obedience, and that all refusing thus to submit to that Reign of Righteousness will be destroyed from amongst the people in the Second Death. (Acts 3:22,23.) They have heard that this great Kingdom will not only lift up, raise up, resurrect humanity from its fallen condition, from sin and death, but that it will also bring the whole earth to the condition foreshown in the Garden of Eden, making God's footstool glorious and every way fit to be the eternal habitation of such of the human race as will be saved by that glorious Kingdom
[SM390] for which we pray, "Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven." "BELOVED, LET US CLEANSE OURSELVES"
But these have heard something more--something that belongs to the present time. They have heard that it is the Divine purpose to select from amongst mankind a Royal Priesthood, to be associated with the great Redeemer in His Mediatorial Kingdom. They have heard that a call went forth to this effect eighteen centuries ago, inviting, first of all, the Jews who were ready and willing to accept this very highest favor of God--joint-heirship with His Son in the spiritual Kingdom which is to bless mankind in general by and by. They have heard that to attain membership in this Royal Priesthood means the attainment of the character likeness of Jesus, to become copies of God's dear Son. (Rom. 8:29.) This implies, as its cost, the sacrifice of earthly interests. They have heard the Lord's Message, not only inviting to the glories of the Kingdom, but also informing them that the way to that crown of glory is a narrow and difficult one. They have heard the voice of the Master, saying, "Sit down first and count the cost," before you undertake such a consecration of your life, such a sacrifice of your earthly interests. "No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back would be fit for the Kingdom"--fit for a place on the Throne as a joint-heir with Christ. (Luke 9:62.) They heard the further expression of St. Paul to all who would become joint-heirs with Christ in His Kingdom assuring them that if they suffer with Christ, they shall reign with Him.--Rom. 8:17.
We doubt not that as the Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus so loved the world as to provide the great Sacrifice for sin, so St. Paul loved the world--and all others of God's people must have a sympathetic love for the world. But when we think of those who are dearly beloved by the Father, by the Son, by the Apostles and by each other, we think of the special class of consecrated
[SM391] saints who Scripturally are described as of no earthly sect or party, but as "The Church of the First-borns, whose names are written in Heaven."
These are "dearly beloved" because they have the mind of Christ, which is also the mind of the Father. According to the flesh they are not all lovely or beautiful. St. Paul elsewhere admonishes us that amongst these "dearly beloved" are not many great, not many wise, not many noble, not many rich, but chiefly the ignoble and the poor of this world. Their riches and their nobility are not of the flesh, but of the spirit, of the heart, of the new will, to which they have been begotten of God by the Holy Spirit. This is surely the Apostle's thought, for in the preceding verse he speaks of these "dearly beloved" ones as "sons and daughters" of the Lord, children of the Almighty--hence begotten again of the Holy Spirit--"New Creatures in Christ Jesus." (2 Cor. 5:17.) Ah, how wonderful it seems that there should be such a class as this in the world, yet not separated from the world, except by their new spirit! These are in the world but not of the world, as the Master declared. These have died to worldly aims and objects, and have become alive toward God through the Holy Spirit and through the quickening influences of God's exceeding great and precious promises given unto them. God's purpose respecting them is that they may be transformed from human nature to spirit nature--from participation with the world in the blessings coming to it to receive instead the Divine nature, with the glory, honor and immortality attaching thereto, as New Creatures, sons of the Highest.
CHRISTIAN "FILTHINESS OF THE FLESH"
Having located definitely the class addressed by the Apostle, "the saints" (2 Cor. 1:1), let us note why it is necessary that saints should receive such an exhortation. Why should the Apostle write to saints respecting the cleansing of their flesh from filthiness? Could one be a saint and yet have filthiness of the flesh?
We reply that these saints, begotten of the Holy Spirit, will not be perfected as New Creatures until they experience the "change" of the "First Resurrection." Meantime they have the treasure of the Divine nature, the Holy Spirit, the first-fruits of their inheritance, in imperfect human bodies. It is not the flesh that is begotten again by the Holy Spirit, but a new mind, a new will. The will of the flesh they sacrifice. They give up all earthly rights and ambitions and accept instead the will of God, the will of Christ, the Holy Spirit, that they may walk in newness of life. However, from the very beginning of their Christian experience all of these members of the Royal Priesthood, in the present life, pass through difficulties which arise from three different sources:
(1) The Adversary is in opposition to them, and will do them all the harm the Lord will permit. Their protection is the Divine promise that they shall not be tempted above what they will be able to bear--that the Lord will so supervise their interests that with every temptation there will be provided a way of escape.--1 Cor. 10:13.
(2) They are in a world that is dark with sin and selfishness, superstition and ignorance of God and out of harmony with His righteousness. The world and its spirit surge about them every day, from morning until night. Its tides and currents seek to sweep them away from their resolutions of self-sacrifice and loyalty to God and righteousness. In various ways it holds out to them enchanting prospects, pleasures and riches, ease and affluence. These have their weight, even though it be known that comparatively few who follow the world's beckoning and allurements ever receive the fulfilment of the promises held out to them.--1 Cor. 2:12-14.
(3) The New Creature's closest and most persistent adversary is his own flesh. The longings of his depraved nature cry out against restraints, and insist that he is taking an unreasonable course in that he undertakes to follow the Lord Jesus, and thus to go in an opposite direction
[SM393] from the course of the world and at the cost of the crucifixion, the mortification, of his own flesh and his natural preferences.--Rom. 8:13.
Thus viewed every spirit-begotten Christian is an object of sympathy from the Divine standpoint, and this should be their standpoint toward each other. But the world has no sympathy. The world sees not, neither does it understand nor appreciate the exceeding great and precious promises which lie behind the consecration of the "saints," "the Church of the First-borns." So much the more each of these brethren, "dearly beloved," should have sympathy for each other, should encourage one another, strengthen one another, build one another up in the most holy faith and, by all means, do nothing to stumble each other in the narrow way.--John 13:34,35.
The "saints" cannot fight Satan. They can merely by their wills resist him and rely upon the promises of grace to help and to protect. The "saints" cannot conquer the world and convert it to God--that is too herculean a task. God, as we have seen, has provided the thousand years of Messiah's Reign for that purpose--to conquer the world, to overthrow sin and to uplift the willing and obedient of humanity. But the "saints" must all overcome the world in the sense of resisting its spirit and keeping their hearts loyal to God, loyal to their covenant of consecration which they have made to Him. The Heavenly promises with the still greater rewards of glories, far above anything that the world has to offer, are the greatest aids in this resistance of the worldly spirit.
The great work for the Church is the good fight of faith manifested in the putting away of the filth of their own flesh and spirit. Some by nature have more filth of the flesh and spirit, more meanness, more selfishness, more natural depravity, etc., than have others. Nevertheless, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; for God's arrangement is that each member of the Royal Priesthood shall be judged according to the
[SM394] spirit or intention, and not according to the flesh. From the time of the Christian's consecration to the Lord he is reckoned dead as a human being and alive as a spirit being. His test or trial is not with a view to seeing whether or not he can do the impossible thing of living an absolutely perfect life in an imperfect body. His trial or test, on the contrary, is to see to what extent his mind, his will, fights a good fight against his natural weaknesses and frailties. "There is none righteous, no, not one." All the trying in the world could not prove this Divine statement an incorrect one. Righteousness of the will, holiness of heart, purity of heart, are the possibilities. For these God seeks; and these He will reward in the "First Resurrection" by granting perfect spirit bodies, in full harmony with their pure hearts, their loyal intentions and purposes.--Rom. 3:10; 1 Tim. 6:12. HOW TO PUT AWAY FILTH OF THE FLESH
If it is impossible for the New Creature to perfect the flesh, what does the Apostle mean by urging the saints to cleanse themselves from the filth of the flesh? He means that we should not, as New Creatures, be discouraged and say that, because we cannot hope to attain perfection in the flesh, therefore we will make no endeavors in that direction. He wishes us to understand that it is the Lord's will that we fight against the weaknesses of the flesh with a twofold purpose.
(2) Additionally, this fight against sin in the flesh will make us stronger and stronger as New Creatures, in the spirit of our minds. It is this firmness, this determination, this positiveness of the New Creature against sin and for righteousness that God desires. Those who develop it are called "overcomers"; and all of their experiences in these trials and battlings against the
[SM395] world, the flesh and the Adversary, are designed to make them "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." Their experiences are so ordered and directed as to lead them to more and more of faith in God and obedience to Him. In order to be acceptable, they must reach the place where they love righteousness and hate iniquity-- in-equity--injustice.--Psa. 45:7; Luke 16:13.
The word spirit in the Bible and in ordinary language is used in a variety of senses. In our text it does not signify that the saints, as spirit beings, are filthy and need cleansing. Quite to the contrary, the New Creature, begotten of the Holy Spirit, is pure. But as the New Creature must use the body of flesh until it receives the New Body, so it must use the brain or mind of the flesh wherewith to do its thinking and reasoning, until that which is perfect shall be attained in the "First Resurrection." The Apostle's meaning, therefore, is not only that the saints should put away filthiness of words and actions, and all sympathy with impurity of every kind, but that their minds (their thoughts) also should be pure, should be cleansed of everything not fully in sympathy and accord with the mind of Christ. Nor are we to suppose that this work is purely God's work in us. It is His to forgive the sins of the past. It is His to cleanse us from all condemnation of the past. It is His to cover through Christ all of our unintentional blemishes. It is His to encourage by His promises. But it is ours to show our loyalty to the principles of His Word and character by putting away, to the extent of our ability, all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.--Phil. 2:12,13; 2 Peter 1:10.