By Horatius Bonar, 1867
"If any man (one) be in Christ, he is a new creature (there is a new creation to him); old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Cor. 5:17
It is usual to make this affirmation of the apostle refer merely to the change of nature which takes place in conversion. For then the renewal of man's whole being is effected; the "inner man" undergoes a total transformation; the old man passes away, and the new man comes in his place. In all parts of being we experience a change, save in these "vile bodies," whose renewal is not to be looked for until the appearing of the Lord.
That the words include and imply all this there can be no doubt. For all that is excellent in the matter of restoration must begin with the individual man, and must begin, too, with the innermost region of the individual man. Hence it is written, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God," intimating that all true connection with the coming kingdom must begin with personal renewal.
"In Christ," "a new creature," how much do these words imply! How complete the inward transformation which they describe! What condemnation do they pronounce upon the shallow, meager religion so common among us, making us feel that hardly any description of its professors could be more exaggerated or unreal than that of being "in Christ," and "new creatures." Take yon member of the Church. He wears the garb and bears the name of Christ. He is a fair average specimen of a large class. He has the reputation of being a Christian; yet he is fond of the world; he grasps at its gold; he loves its fashionable gaiety; he reads its novels; he frequents its haunts of amusement; he enjoys its company; he relishes its foolish talking and jesting—is he "a new creature," is he "in Christ Jesus?" Is it possible that, with so much worldliness, so much selfishness, so much self-indulgence, so much pleasing of the flesh, he can have been "begotten again," whatever his profession may be?
"In Christ!" How mighty the expression! How singular, yet how exact the description! "In Christ," then, out of the world. "In Christ," then, out of self! "In Christ," then, no more in the flesh, no more in sin, no more in vanity, no more in darkness, no more in the crooked paths of the god of this world.
"A new creature!"—then, from the very root of being, upward throughout all its branches, a marvelous change has taken place, a change which nothing can fitly describe, save the creating of all things out of nothing at the beginning, or the new-creating of this corrupted world into a glorious earth and heaven, when the Lord returns to take possession of it as his kingdom forever.
"A new creature!"—then old feelings, old habits, old tastes, old hopes, old joys, old sorrows, old haunts, old companionships—all are gone! Old things have passed away, all things have become new. Christ in us, and we in Christ—how thorough and profound, the change must have been! "Christ formed in us," no, "in us the hope of glory;" and we created in Christ unto good works after the very likeness of incarnate Godhead—how inconceivably glorious the renewal—the transfiguration wrought in us—for nothing short of transfiguration is it, considered even in its general and most common aspect.
But the expression is a peculiar one, and worthy of our careful notice. It is not, "If any man be a new creature, he is in Christ Jesus;" as if the being in Christ were merely a result of his being a new creature; but it is, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;" implying that it is his indwelling in Christ that makes him a new creature, and that this newness of being springs from his being in Christ. It is the soil of paradise alone, that can produce the trees of righteousness, so it is our being "rooted in Christ" that gives birth and growth to the new creation. It is not the tree that makes the soil—but the soil the tree. What would even the vine, or the fig, or the pomegranate, be, if planted on the bare rock, or the salt, grey sand? Let us then mark the words—"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." It is his grafting into Christ that has made him what he is. Christ himself is the soil in which the Holy Spirit plants, with his own hand, the trees that grow up and flourish in the courts of our God.
But the words are even more peculiar than our translation shows. Literally rendered, they give this sense, "If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation,"—that is, a new creation is the result; a creation not less perfect or majestic than that which the prophet announces, "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;" or than that which Christ himself proclaims, when it is said, "He who sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new." Thus, then, in the case of the man who is in Christ Jesus, there is "a new creation,"—a new creation within, a new creation without—a new creation already in part accomplished—but waiting its blessed consummation when the great Creator returns in glory to complete his handiwork within and without, in soul and in body, in heaven and in earth.
Let us look, then, at this new creation, first, as it is within us; and secondly, as it is without us.
I. The new creation within us.This I do not confine to the mere renewing of our moral nature. It seems to take a wider range.
(1.) First of all, it points to our new standing before God.If I am a new creature in Christ, then I stand before God, not in myself—but in Christ. He sees no longer me—but only him in whom I am—him who represents me, Christ Jesus, my substitute and surety. In believing, I have become so identified with the Son of his love, that the favor with which he regards him passes over to me, and rests, like the sunshine of the new heavens, upon me. In Christ, and through Christ, I have acquired a new standing before the Father. I am "accepted in the beloved." My old standing, that is, that of distance, and disfavor, and condemnation, is wholly removed, and I am brought into one of nearness, and acceptance, and pardon—I am made to occupy a new footing, just as if my old one had never been. Old guilt, heavy as the mountain, vanishes; old dread, gloomy as midnight, passes off; old fear, dark as hell, gives place to the joyful confidence arising from forgiveness and reconciliation, and the complete blotting out of sin. All things are made new. I have changed my standing before God; and that simply in consequence of that oneness between me and Christ, which has been established, through my believing the record given concerning him. I come to him on a new footing, for I am "in Christ," and in me there has been a new creation.
(2.) It points to our new relationship to God.If I am a new creature, then I no longer bear the same relationship to God. My old connection has been dissolved, and a new one established. I was an alien once, I am now a son; and as a son, have the privilege of closest fellowship. Every vestige of estrangement between us is gone. At every point, instead of barriers rising up to separate and repel; there are links, knitting us together in happiest, closest union. Enmity is gone on my part, displeasure on his. He calls me son, I call him Father. Paternal love comes down on his part, filial love goes up on mine. The most entire mutual confidence has been established between us. No more a stranger and a foreigner, I am become a fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God, every cloud being withdrawn that could cast a single shadow upon the simple gladness of our happy communion. There has been truly a new creation; "old things have passed away, all things have become new." Our new relationship is for eternity. He is eternally my Father; and I am eternally his son.
(3.) It points to the spiritual renewal of the whole inner man.In this respect the new creation has done wonders indeed. It has not only broken my chains, and given me the liberty of the heavenly adoption—but it has altered the whole frame and bent of my being, so that, as formerly, by the law of my old nature, I sought the things of this world, so now, by the necessity of my new nature, I seek the things above. Sin has become hateful, holiness supremely attractive. The flesh has lost its power, the Spirit has gotten dominion. The vision has been purged, so that now I see everything as with a new eye; the evil, with an eye that loathes it; the good, with an eye that loves it. I approach everything with new feelings, new tastes, new sympathies and antipathies. I behold everything in a new light, and from a new position and point of view. Myself, this world, the world to come, God and Christ, and the everlasting joys—all these are to me now what they have never been before. My whole inner man has changed respecting them. There has been a new creation.
Oh, the unimaginable blessedness of those on whom this new creation has taken place! Oh, the unutterable, the endless misery of those on whom no change has passed, in whom old things still remain, and who shall be left forever to the dominion of that old nature, in which there is the love of sin and the hatred of Christ, and the enmity to God—and all that can fill the soul with woe and darkness; all that can create a hell to man or devil—a hell within and a hell without; a hell, with its consuming fire and its everlasting curse; a hell, with its despair and darkness, and incurable remorse; a hell, with all the memories of quickened conscience, and the stings of its undying worm; a hell, with its separation from heaven and all holy beings; a hell, with its weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth!
II. The new creation without.What we have already said regarding the new creation is certainly contained in the apostle's words; but it does not exhaust them. There is more behind; and in reading the passage in its whole connection, we are made to feel as if its special reference were to the new creation without—the new creation which we look for at the coming of the Lord. In this, the words find their complete fulfillment. This only exhausts or fills up the expression, "There is a new creation." This only rightly satisfies the description, "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
And this is truly the manner of Scripture. It makes use of an expression whose vast compass includes a great range of kindred objects. It takes up a figure which will apply to the whole of a particular process, or series of steps, and which, according to the circumstances, we may use to denote the beginning or the end, the first small unfolding or the perfect consummation, of which that first unfolding was the germ, or root, or seed.
Thus the word "redemption" is used; sometimes referring to the first step of that process—the plucking us out of the prison of the strong one—and sometimes to the glorious summing-up, in the resurrection of the body and the installation into the kingdom. In like manner "salvation" is used, so that in one place we are said to be already saved, in believing; at another time, we are said to be waiting for a salvation which the mighty Savior is to bestow on us when he "appears the second time, without sin, unto salvation."
Thus the new creation comprehends everything which that word can denote—the renewal of the inner man at conversion, the restoration of the outer man at the resurrection of the just, the introduction into that kingdom of glory which is to consist of "new heavens and a new earth." The apostle's words would thus signify, not merely that if any man be in Christ he is made new within—but if any man be in Christ he is made an inheritor of the new creation, an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ Jesus. There has been a new creation within, and its counterpart, the new creation without, is as certainly his inheritance. The one is the beginning and pledge of the other. The indwelling Spirit, who is the author of the new creation, is the pledge of the inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, and by him we are sealed unto the day of redemption.
But how is it, then, that the apostle speaks of this new creation as past already, whereas it is yet to come? For the same reason, and in the same way, that he speaks of our "having received a kingdom," whereas the kingdom is yet future; of our being made kings and priests, whereas our kingship and priesthood are not yet realized; of our having "come to mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," whereas we are only on our way to these; of our being seated with Christ in heavenly places, whereas we are still sojourners on earth. In these passages we are represented as actually having that, which will, before long, be ours; we are spoken of as actually in the midst of scenes, which are shortly to compass us about. We are said and supposed to be where faith places us—faith, which "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." So powerful and so intense is the anticipation of faith, that what is future becomes present, no, past; what is invisible becomes visible, what is far off becomes near.
In the passage before us, then, the apostle at once carries us forward into the midst of promised glory. If we are in Christ, then are we not only where he is just now, at the Father's right hand—but where he shall be hereafter, when he comes to make all things new. To be in Christ is to be in the midst of that new creation, which is to come forth from the ruins of these old heavens and this worn-out earth. If any be in Christ, then to him the new creation has come—"Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." He is not so much one dwelling in this valley of tears, or even one looking from the hills of Moab, to survey the land of his inheritance; he is like one who has already reached his glorious home—who sees around him the perfections of the new creation—to whom old things have passed away, and all things have been made new, and who is looking back upon this land of the storm and the curse, as one who has escaped its evils, and on the wings of a dove has found his way to the city of peace, and laid himself down upon the banks of the pure river, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. Thus faith is taught to anticipate the glory, and to dwell in the midst of it, as if it had actually arrived; so that if any man be in Christ, to him the new creation has already come; "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
If these things be so, then how differently, from what we too often do, should we read such chapters as the two closing ones of Revelation. It is not imagination, dwelling upon pictures, as some speak; it is faith conducting us into the very midst of the reality. It is not a prying curiosity, craving after excitement, that incites us to conjecture or speculation as to what we shall be hereafter; it is faith leading us into the many mansions, and bidding us dwell there even now. It is not visions or dreams, giving us pictures of the unreal; it is faith transporting us at once into the midst of the real, so that in reading God's revelation respecting the new creation, we feel as if we were more truly and sensibly surrounded by its unseen glories than by all that we here touch, and taste, and hear, and see.
If these things are so, then what manner of people ought we to be in all holy living and godliness? For our dwellings are not now outside the courts of God, or merely within view of a far-off glory. They are within the sanctuary, no, within the holy of holies. Beside the mercy-seat, within the veil, under the very brightness of Jehovah's presence—there faith places us; there we pitch our tents; there we spend our days. And surely, by beholding this glory, not afar off—but near, we ought to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
To be in Christ Jesus! How much may be expected from us, in all holiness, and truth, and conformity to the will of God. To be seated with him in heavenly places, partakers of his love and throne—what ought this elevation to do for us, in bringing us into the resemblance of him at whose side we are seated! To see and feel ourselves so surrounded with the purity and glory of the new creation, as that the new heavens and earth seem nearer us, and more closely in contact with us, than this present evil world—what a purifying influence ought such a thought to exert upon us! What manner of people ought we to be in all holy living and godliness? How entire should be the separation between us and a world such as this—a world whose influences are all unholy, whose tendencies are all downward, and whose friendship is enmity with God. If we be in Christ, then its old things have passed away, passed out of sight, and are to us among the things that were—but now are not. If we be in Christ, then the new things of "the world to come" have taken their room, and are to us the great realities which occupy both eye and ear. What, then, have we to do with sin, with the flesh, with the vanities of so vain a life as the men of earth are leading? Our life, our "citizenship," is in heaven. How consistent, then, ought we to be, how watchful, how circumspect in word and deed—that men may know how completely we have broken our connection with this present evil world. Our relationship to the new creation, "the inheritance of the saints in light," is close and sure! How thoroughly conformed to this "world to come" ought we to be!
Again, if these things be so, how little ought we to be moved by the tribulations which attend us. Offences will come, sorrows will come, burdens, cares, annoyances, thorns in the flesh, will come. We shall be tempted; we shall suffer; we shall be shot at by the archers; we shall groan, being burdened; we shall be weary and faint, and sometimes heavy-hearted. But let us not be shaken. Let none of these things move us, or occasion anything of dismay and darkness, as if all were going wrong with us. Let us call to mind the new creation into which we have been introduced. Let us look on its glories, and go upon our way rejoicing. Why should we be cast down with the changes of the changing earth, seeing the unchangeable is already ours? Why should we be fretted, and vexed, and tossed too and fro, when old things have passed away, and all things have become new? Why should we sigh, and weep, and bow down the head, seeing the lines have fallen unto us in such pleasant places—and so goodly a heritage is ours?