“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you” (1 Cor. 15:1,2).
With these words the greatest apostle that Jesus Christ ever had draws his mantle together over his shoulders and sets himself to gather everything that he has been saying into a climax and a consummation. We can almost hear him breathe a sigh of relief that he has got through all the unpleasant business that was imposed upon him in the writing of this letter, and, having got through it, he says: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you.”
The Conditions at Corinth
He had been compelled to write about a whole lot of unpleasant and difficult matters. He was at the time in Ephesus, about to conclude a very wonderful time of ministry there. Then his fellow-labourer, Apollos, had arrived and told him of the state of things at Corinth, and three other people, probably slaves of the household of Chloe in Corinth, had also arrived and had poured out the story of a very deplorable state of things in the church there. It was a sad story of divisions, schisms, quarrels, disorders, moral evils, social wrongs, spiritual immaturity, of Christian unkindness one to another, and so on; it is all here. By either Apollos or these others they had sent a letter to Paul, asking him to answer a number of questions on a lot of matters about which they were troubled, and, as you know, this letter is his answer to that whole situation and of all those aspects of it.
A laborious thing! You cannot read it without feeling how the apostle was labouring with this situation. Well he might be! Troubled, heartbroken, deeply moved, he passed on from point to point, covering the whole, and then, with what is the end of chapter fourteen, he finished it, and finished it gladly. And he said in effect, “Having dealt with all that, I am not prepared just to leave it there. Let me take you back, brethren, right to the beginning of your life and history as a company of the people of God, and remind you of that basis upon which you came to be a church and a company of God’s people; what I preached unto you and you then believed, and upon which you stand, the basis of your very existence and by which you are saved.” Having written all the rest, with a sick heart, he concluded that he must restate the ‘gospel’, as he called it, which he had preached and which was the ground of their existence as a church.
Now, while all the conditions at Corinth may not obtain today in many churches — thank God! — there are some things that persist and are, at least, the abiding peril of companies of God’s people. In any case, there is something that comes out of this final resolve of the apostle which is of inestimable value to the church, and the church in all ages. We are not glad that the Corinthians were what they were, but here is the wonderful sovereignty of God: He takes hold of a most deplorable situation and makes it the means of drawing out some of the most sublime things in divine revelation. And who would be without what we call the fifteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians? Thank God for His power to use the darkest background to bring forward the most glorious revelation!
Well, you notice that this chapter, or this section, is a summary, and is a consummate restatement and a climax. Paul uses this word ‘preach’, as you see, several times, in verses 1, 11, 12, 14; the thing ‘preached’. And if you look to see what was the heart, the essence of that preaching, you have only got to underline one word: ‘Christ’. You will find yourselves right at the beginning, in the presence of a mention of Christ no fewer than thirteen times! I say ‘at the beginning’ to show what the foundation really is, what the preaching really is. Now into this consummate restatement the apostle gathers a revelation which is well-nigh unparalleled in Holy Scripture.
(If I may make this parenthesis: you read through this long chapter and you are amazed. You hold your breath and you say, ‘Where did the apostle get that? How did he come by that?’ The things that he is telling you here about glory, and the differences in glory, and the resurrection body, and what it will be like, and so on! You say: ‘Well, this is something that no man ever concocted. This never arose in a man’s brain. There is something here of unparalleled revelation.’)
Christ, the Second Man — the Last Adam
The apostle gathers up all this wonderful unveiling and unfolding into a designation of Christ. It is summed up by him in a title, a double title: “So also it is written, The first man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). “The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47). There is your title, your designation: “The second Man… the last Adam”.
And in itself that double title of the Lord Jesus is a summary of human history from the beginning. In the immediate context it is a summary of human history on both sides: that of the first Adam, the human history of tragedy, and that of the last Adam, the story of human history in recovery and glory. Christ Jesus, the second Man, the last Adam! Always be correct in how you put that. Even such a scholar as John Henry Newman has slipped up on it in his hymn. It is not a second Adam; it is a last Adam. It may be a second Man, but it is a last Adam. Finality is reached in Christ in human history.
In the first place, that is an explanation of Jesus. And it is quite right to say that the whole of the New Testament is a combined operation to declare and explain Jesus Christ and it should never be used, in part or as a whole, for any other purpose. Because it has been used for all sorts of things — for anyone who has some particular bee in his bonnet will quote something in the New Testament to support his view — it has lost its mighty authority. The New Testament may be used for one thing and one thing alone, and that is to explain Jesus Christ: to explain why there ever was a Jesus Christ; why Jesus Christ ever came into this world; why He lived, thought and worked; why He died and rose again and why He is in heaven. One question should always govern our reading, in part or in whole, whenever or wherever we read in this Book, and that question should be: ‘What has this to say about Jesus Christ? What light does this throw upon Him, either by direct statement or by right and true implication or inference? What does it say about Him?’
Now these words in verses 45 and 47 are a very important instance of this very thing, the explanation of Jesus Christ. How is He explained by the words, “the second Man… the last Adam”?
It does not require profound scholarship or great intellectual ability to see that such a title puts the One referred to into a position of unique relationship to the whole human race. A “second” implies a first. A “last” implies an original. And by the two everything in human life and history is compassed. You cannot get before the first. There is no such thing as ‘before the first’ in anything, anywhere. And you certainly cannot get behind the last. There is nothing beyond the last. And so, here we have human history, for that is the subject compassed by this title.
But what does it imply? Clearly, the conclusion is that two different humanities stem from two different racial heads. One humanity stems from the first man, Adam. Another, and quite another — and that is the theme of the New Testament — stems from the second Man, the last Adam. Two distinct lines, two distinct kinds. But mark again in this very connection, the teaching of Scripture is that the second Man, the last Adam, stepped into humanity in order to supplant and displace the first and the original; to set aside all the damage which the first had brought into humanity by his sin, by his wrongdoing. The second, and the last, was a necessity because of the utter breakdown of the first and the original.
Paul has, as you know, a corresponding paragraph on this very thing in his letter to the Romans, in chapter five, from verse twelve to verse twenty-one. He dwells on this: “Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin… For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:12,17). It is a good, strong section on the function of the two racial heads. You can read it. But in that chapter Paul, in referring to the first Adam, says, “Adam was a type of Him that was to come.” Adam’s typological position was just this: in his being the first and the progenitor of a kind. And I think that is where it ended. Before his fall he was the first of a race; he was the progenitor of a race. And in that sense he was a type of Him that was to come. There may be other features of that type, but that is the significance of Adam being a type.
But there was a gap in his history, the gap of probation and testing. He was placed with the intention to become all that he was meant for, made for, but between the placing and the fulfilment there was this gap of probation when he was put to the test. Oh, the immense potentialities which were crammed into that gap, that probation! That is what we are going to see, I trust, now: the immense potentialities that were there in the balances of that gap, that probation. What tremendous things hung upon one thing… how he would use the great trust of free will!
On the one side, all that God meant, intended and hoped for in the creation of man demanded that man should be a free agent; not compelled, not forced, not just a piece of machinery going without its own volition, desire or thought. You would never be satisfied with anyone giving you anything on those terms! You would only be satisfied if by the choice of their own heart, reason and desire, they gave it to you. So God made this great trust in the man and gave him — at the same time — the trust and responsibility of free will. Everything was in the balance as to how he would use that trust. There was a law governing. Not the law of compulsion at all, but the law of dependence upon God: whether he would use that trust of free will in dependence upon God, or whether he would use it in independence of God. What immense things, unspeakably great things were bound up with that test! All heaven might have been holding its breath at that time. We know all too well what happened. We will now see what is involved for us in this.
We know the story, how he used that trust, how he broke that line of dependence upon God. He severed that link and took his trust into his own hands, to realise all his potentialities out of relation to God, in independence of God. And because of that and all the terrible consequences of that, a second Man, a last Adam became necessary if the world and humanity were to be saved.
Now, look at some of the essential facts about this last, this final Adam, this second Man. In order really to undo all the tragic consequences (which we have not yet touched upon), He himself must be the negation of the violated law. If the law was everything by dependence upon God, and that law was broken (and Adam said, ‘Everything without dependence upon God’, for that was the issue and the upshot), the Redeemer must Himself be the embodiment of that law of absolute dependence upon God and upon nothing else. Nothing to help, in himself humanly or in the world; anywhere, of any kind… nothing but God. To the very last breath… only God.
The First of a New Type
Do you tell me that that is the Adam race? Not a bit of it! Not as you know yourself and I know myself. It is not like that, is it? This is another order of being, which is like that, and will go that way, even unto death — and the most ignominious death — where, by deliberate choice, He refuses any kind of deliverance that could come to Him, because He is a committed Man to the will of God. He, then, as such a last one, such a second one, is the progenitor of a race which is to be like Himself in this very respect. It is a race of people who, on this very principle of His life, will be constituted on the basis that everything, to the last fraction, is by dependence upon God.
Does not that in itself open up the first letter to the Corinthians? Read from the beginning again and see these Corinthians and all their self-sufficiency, self-strength, self-glorying, glorying in worldly wisdom, and what not. That is an aspect of the whole that we must leave for the moment. I just mention it to let in light on why Paul preached Christ and said, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). What does that mean? Does it not mean crucifixion of all that independence of God which came in through the first Adam, all that taking into his own hands, all that seeking for himself, drawing to himself, that acquisitiveness, that possessiveness, that assertiveness, that pride, that is characteristic of all who have come from that first one? But there is none of it in Him. And as the second, in this new movement of God, He must reproduce after His own kind.
Now that is only introductory. But it is very important that we get our foundation well laid.
That brings us right to our present point. There are some things that every seriously-minded person will be concerned with (and sooner or later everyone will be seriously-minded about life), but Christians are supposed to be seriously-minded people who are really concerned about this matter of Life. And there are four things that comprise that concern.
One is the meaning of human history. (Have you ever sat down with your Bible to seek from it the explanation of human history?) The second is the meaning of Christianity. The third is the meaning of spiritual experience. And the fourth is the meaning of the Christian life.
The meaning of those four things is gathered into one Person, Jesus Christ, and He as the second Man, the last Adam. As such, He explains human history. As such, He explains spiritual experience. As such, He explains Christianity, and as such, He explains the church.
Now I don’t propose to try and cover all that ground! But I am tremendously concerned and burdened. This is no mere subject that I am interested in or occupied with. If you are a seriously-minded person, this really does concern you. And are you not, are we not, being forced in our time to have a serious question about human history? The human race, mankind, and all the history of mankind — what does it all mean? You know, we are being confronted with that question today.
Leave that for the moment. As a Christian, are you not increasingly confronted with the question as to the meaning of Christianity? After all, what is this thing? As we view it in general or in particular, what does it mean?
Further, if that is too objective, are we not being forced more and more to face the question of the meaning of spiritual experience? Is there not in our hearts a recurrent question, ‘Why?’ ‘Why are we going the way we are going? Why is God taking us this way and through this? Why is this being allowed? Why is this happening to the children of God?’ If that is not a really pressing question in your heart, I am not giving very much for your spiritual life, dear friends. Anyone who is really alive to ultimate things is very concerned about what our spiritual experience in the hands of God really means. What is God after? What is God explaining? What is He doing?
Now, on the one side, then, human history. We must see that God has taken all time — human history embraces ten thousand years, at least — to demonstrate the meaning of the results of the wrong use that man made of his trust of free will, when he took that trust into his own hands and it became self-will instead of God’s will.
It is here that we come to a point which is very full of the most important instruction. What was God left to do? You say: ‘Why, when man did that, broke that law of dependence, took his will into his own hands and out of God’s hands and violated his trust, why did God not destroy him once for all and start again there and then?’ Of course, it is easy to talk like that. Perhaps that is what you would do. Perhaps that is what you think He ought to have done in view of all that we know. Do you not see that if God had done that, it would have been to have simply said that He never did give man free will? It would have nullified the whole principle of option. He would have destroyed at once the primary thing — free will. It is never free will if, when you use it, you are destroyed for doing so. That is not free will. But what did God do? Ah, that is history.
The Lord’s way has been, and still is to let the choice have full course and destroy itself, bring its own judgment upon itself. It is a long-term business, and long-drawn-out business. And now let me just say a very intimate thing to you and to my own heart. There are some prayers that God answers which we wish He had never answered! It is because man would not take a ‘no’ or an alternative. There is a little fragment about Israel when, after much stiff-neckedness and hardness of heart, “He gave them their request, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Ps. 106:15). Have you ever prayed, and insisted, and refused to take a ‘no’ or an alternative, and then wished He had never answered your prayer? That is possible, it depends upon where your will is, on your own side or on His side. There is a lot of spiritual history bound up with that.
We were saying that the Lord has taken all time to demonstrate the folly, the madness, the iniquity of a wrong use of a sacred trust. Note, then, the development of this. All the immense potentialities to which we have referred in man have been allowed to express themselves, have been drawn out by history, and today we are amazed and marvel at the potentialities of man! Make no mistake about it. In five hundred years we have moved from the making of iron cannon balls to the atomic bomb. You call that progress, do you? But look at what has happened, what man can do, what is in man to do! We are all wondering what he is going to do next. If things go on for another fifty years as they have gone for the last fifty, where shall we be? This is no Jules Verne imagination, is it? These things are realities. And all this is in the man that God made.
But do you recognise that, with the acceleration and intensification of this process, man has never yet either made a discovery or made an invention but what there has come along a parallel curse with it and a new problem that almost, if not altogether, bedevils the discovery? It is true in any realm you like. Oh, that we were here long enough to survey the ground adequately! These potentialities which were in the man that God created have been given full play by God through all time to express themselves, but always with a curse. What is a curse? I could put the curse into one word — fear! The further man goes the more fearful he becomes. It is fear that is alive to the greatest discoveries and inventions of man. It is fear that is ruling men’s hearts today. They are conscious of insecurity. They are striving for some kind of security in order to overcome this fear. The Bible is right, you know. It always is, but it is right on this — that a mark of the end time will be “men fainting from fear” (Luke 21:26).
You only have to read some of the books that have been produced by the discoverers of nuclear energy, and they will tell you in unvarnished language that it only wants the touch of a finger to end the whole human race by this very thing that they have discovered and are exploiting. It would be the end of the human race — and an awful end! If you have read the story of Hiroshima, spread that over the whole human race! Now, I don’t want to be a sensationalist, but these are facts. We are informed about them by the men who are mostly associated with this very matter. Men are afraid. This fear is accentuated and intensified the further men go in their inventions and discoveries and in the development of the potentialities in their own beings. That is the end. It is coming very near.
God has taken all history — and what a lot that word ‘history’ covers — past, present and future, if it is not a contradiction to speak of the future as history. But there is history that is being made for the future. History is on the one side, demonstrating, beyond any question or doubt, that man has made a mistake somewhere! He has gone wrong somewhere! He has defaulted somewhere — no, worse than that — he has done something infinitely evil, and it has come out of himself by the wrong use of his own will.
Do we not see? Are we blind? Are we not taking account? I said that seriously-minded people are concerned about history. Are you not taking account of this, that where this state of things in development, intensification, discovery, invention, is most pronounced, you have the most awful strength of human will against God? Is that not true? It is soul-strength, a strength of human soul.
And how we fail to see that the one thing that history has revealed is this contradiction, this strange but so patent paradox: the greatness of man and, at the same time, his smallness. The greater he seems to be, the less he seems to be able to cope with his own dreams. Is that true? He has wrought it out, and now he is a mere puppet, a mere plaything of his own greatness. How little he is at his greatest!
Well, that is the way of history, and that is what is happening, dear friends. The greatness of man — yes… as God made him! But now, because of this one thing, a greatness that is cancerous. There is no other word to explain and define it. What is cancer? Well, I cannot answer all the research on that matter, but I will tell you what is known: that cancer exists because of the loss of one central governing and regulating authority. It is something that has broken away from authority and ignores controlling and regulating authority in the organism, and becomes an authority in itself, becomes some thing that is something in itself, and has absolutely refused that central authority regulating and governing within the organism. It has taken things into its own hands. It is cancer, the scourge! This greatness of man is like that. Look at it! It has broken right away from the great controlling authority of God and God’s will. The result is a scourge on humanity!
Now at that point, were it possible, I could put in a tremendous section, by way of illustration. I only have to mention the things without any additional words. What about international relationships? Oh, the tentacles of this cancerous human life, in humanity! Why, you cut one off and half a dozen more spring up at once! Is it not like that in international relationships? Why, you think you have just got the problem nicely settled and it breaks out in more than one other place. You cannot cope with it. You have got all the potential of a prosperous and happy world. It is all there, but in reality there is curse and destruction instead. All the instruments and the institutions for peace, and yet there was never so much loss of peace in human history as there is today. Think of all your gadgets to save work and of all the inventions to make life easier! There were never so many amenities and facilities for rest and leisure — and never in history so much discontent! There is something wrong with this humanity, this world. We might look at industry, we might look at science and we might even look at religion… but I must leave it there for the moment. That is one side.
But we are not talking just objectively. That is you, that is me, by nature. The deepest, truest thing about you and about me naturally is self-will, pride, possessiveness and the desire for power. You don’t agree with me? All right! If you allow the Holy Spirit to take you any way at all, you will discover that that is true. That is the first man. That is the old Adam. And you will see at once how that opens the door for the Second Man and the Last Adam to start things all over again on another basis, to be the racial Firstborn and Head, and progenitor of another kind. And you will see a lot more when once you have seen that.
I am very well aware that all that I have said may be oppressive. It may be the heavy side, but you and I have got to understand what history, and present history mean. What are the forces. and what are the things that are producing this wonderful, startling, terrible world? And where is it leading? Well, God has said: ‘All right, you have made your choice. You have decided this and you would not have it otherwise. Very well! The history of a kind of person or race like that will lead on until the final verdict of sin is wrought out.’ It is sin.
There is something that you will do well to store up. You know, one of the things that is going to amaze us, perhaps more than most other things — and a few things will amaze us when we get to heaven! — will be this: our discovery of how much more, infinitely more, there was in any one statement of God than ever we imagined. Oh, when God speaks, He does not speak just platitudes; He does not speak just observations and make casual remarks. In anything that God says there is the infinitude of His knowledge and His wisdom. And if any life comes into the hands of the Holy Spirit, you will discover that there is an unfathomable depth of meaning in anything that God has said and you will never exhaust it. Preach on the same thing all your long life, and you have not exhausted that same thing if it has come from God. There is still something more. And I say that we are going to be amazed when we get to heaven to see the infinitude that was in some things that were almost commonplace with us. Oh, if God uses the words sin, disobedience, rebellion, self-will, there is all of time gathered into that in tragedy! You will never fathom that… the Last Adam did! He went to the bottom of it, drained it in His cross.
But that is where the other side opens up.