Will you please open your New Testaments at the first letter to the Corinthians. The first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, the first verse: "Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved. I make known, I say, in what words I preached it unto you."
With these words the greatest apostle that Jesus Christ ever had, draws his mantle together over his shoulders and sets himself to gather up 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 unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you."
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. And his fellow labourer Apollos had arrived and told him the state of things in Corinth and sent three other people, probably slaves of the household of Chloe in Corinth, who had also arrived and they had poured out a very deplorable story of things in the church in Corinth. Sad stories of divisions, schisms, quarrels, and disorders, moral evils, social wrongs, of spiritual immaturity, of Christian unkindness one to another, and so on. It's all here.
By either Apollos, or these others, they had sent a letter to Paul asking him to answer a number 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 all those aspects of it. A labourious thing... you can't read it without feeling how the apostle was labouring with this situation, as 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 14 in the dividing up of men of this long letter into sixteen pieces, he finishes that. And I think, as I have said, gladly finishes that. You might very gladly finish that as far as the job is concerned, and he, in effect, says, "Having dealt with all that I'm 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, that is, you have your very existence and by which you're saved". Having written all the rest with a sick heart, he concludes that he must restate the gospel, he calls it, which he had preached and which was the ground of their existence as a church.
Now, while all the conditions at Corinth, all of them 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's something that comes out of this final resolve of the apostle which is of inestimable value to the church and the churches in all ages. We are not glad that the Corinthians were what they were, were like that, but here is the wonderful sovereignty of God - that He takes hold of the 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? Who would be without it? Thank God for His power to use the darkest black background to bring forward the most glorious revelation!
And you notice that this chapter, or this section, is a summary and is a consummate restatement and a climax. Paul uses this word preach, you see, several times in verse 1, verse 11, verse 14: "The thing preached".
The Thing Preached
So you look to see what was the heart and the essence of that preaching. Well, you've only got to underline one word: Christ. You find yourselves right at the beginning in the presence of a mention of Christ no fewer than thirteen times, I say, at the beginning, showing 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. (For, if I may make this parenthesis, if you read through this long chapter, you are amazed and you hold your breath and you say, "Where did the apostle get that? Where did he get that? How did he come by that?" Things that he's 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's something here of unparalleled revelation!")
Into a designation of Christ he gathers all this wonderful unveiling and unfolding. It is summed up by him in a title, a double title. Verse 45: "It is written, the first man, Adam, became a living soul; the Last Adam, a Life-giving Spirit." [Verse] 47, "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the Second Man is of Heaven."
There's your title or designation: the Second Man, the Last Adam. And in itself, dear friends, that double title of the Lord Jesus is a summary of human history from the beginning. And in the immediate context, it is a summary of human history on both sides: that of the first Adam, the human history of tragedy; 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. As we've just sung, and you sang it so beautifully, no He's not a second Adam it's a Last Adam; maybe a Second Man, but it's a Last Adam. Finality is reached in Christ in human history.
Now, in the first place, that is an explanation of Jesus, and it is quite right to say, dear friends, that the whole of the New Testament is a combined operation to declare and explain Jesus Christ. Do get hold of 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 all sorts of things! For everybody who has some particular bee in their bonnet, will quote something in the New Testament to support their view, and because it has been used for so many things, 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; explain why ever there was a Jesus Christ, why ever Jesus Christ came into this world, why He lived, taught, and worked, why He died, why He rose again, and why He is in Heaven. The New Testament, I say, is all gathered into the business of explaining Jesus Christ. 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 these words? The Second Man! The Last Adam! Dear friends, it does not require profound scholarship or great intellectual ability to see that such a title, such a double designation, 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 encompassed. 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's nothing beyond the last. And so here we have human history - for that is the subject encompassed 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's 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 chapter 5, at verse 12, from verse 12 to verse 21, he dwells upon this: "As by one man sin entered, and death through sin." "As by one man sin... so by one Man's righteousness." It's a good, strong section on the function of the two racial heads. You can read it. But there in that chapter, Paul, in referring to the first Adam, says, "Adam was a type of Him that was to come" but all, all too briefly so, all too briefly so. Adam's typological position was just this: in his being the first and the progenitor of a kind, and I think that's 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 have been other features at that time, but that is the significance of Adam being a type. But there was a gap, you see, in his history.
The Gap of Probation and Testing
He was placed, and then there was to be in the intention of God all that he was meant for; made for. But between the placing and the fulfillment, there was this gap of probation, when he was put on test. All the immense potentialities which were crammed into that gap, that probation, that is what we are going to see, I trust, today: the immense potentialities that were there in the balances, in the balances of that gap, that probation. What tremendous things hung upon one thing, one thing! And that one thing? How he would use the great trust of free will; 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 anybody giving you anything on those terms that they couldn't help themselves, they've got to do it - you've got it because they had no volition. You would only be satisfied if by choice of their own heart and reason, and desire, they gave it to you. So God made this great trust in the man, gave him at the same time trust and responsibility of free will. Everything was in the balances of how he would use that trust.
There was a law governing, a law governing. Not the law of compulsion at all, but it was the law of dependence upon God, just dependence upon God. Whether he would use that trust of freewill 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 probation, that test, that question! All Heaven might have been holding its breath at that time.
We know... we know, we know all too well what happened. I'd say we know all too well before I am through, God helping me, you will see what is involved for us in this. Well, 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 upon God. And because of that, and all the entail, the terrible, terrible entail of that, a Second Man, a Last Adam became necessary if the world was to be saved and humanity was to be saved.
Now look at some of the essential facts of this last, this final Adam, this Second Man. In order to really undo all that which we've not yet touched upon, but in order to undo all that entail, He Himself must be the negation of the violated law. If the law was "Every thing, 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. That law was broken. The Redeemer must Himself be the embodiment of that law: absolute dependence upon God and nothing else. Nothing else to it. Nothing to help in Himself, humanly, or in the world, anywhere, of any kind. Nothing but God, the God of Faith - to the last, very last gram and breath - God.
The first of a new type, you tell me that that's the Adam race? Not a bit of it, not a bit of it, not as you know yourself and I know myself. It's not like that is it? This is another order of being that 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: a race of people who on this very principle of His life will be constituted: the principle of everything to the last fraction by dependence upon God.
Oh, brethren, doesn't that in itself open up the first message to the Corinthians? Read from the beginning again and see these Corinthians and all their self-sufficiency, self-strength, self-glory, glorying in worldly wisdom and what not. That's an aspect of the whole we must leave for the moment, I just mention it to let in light on this: why Paul preached Christ and said, "when I came to you, I determined to know nothing amongst you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." What does that mean? What does that mean? If it does not mean crucifixion to 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 - it is characteristic of all who have come from that first one - but none of it in Him. And as the first, the Second in this new movement of God, He must reproduce - must reproduce - after His own kind; must reproduce after His own kind.
Now that, dear friends, after all, is only introductory. I hope I'm not wearying you. But it's 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 everybody will be seriously minded about life, sooner or later. But Christians are particularly supposed to be seriously minded people who are really concerned about this matter of life, and there are four things that comprise their concern. One is: the meaning of human history, the meaning of human history. Have you ever really sat down with your Bible to seek from it the explanation of human history? The second is the meaning of Christianity. The third, the meaning of spiritual experience, and the fourth, the meaning of the Christian church. And the meaning of all 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 then, I don't propose to try and cover all that ground so fear not. But I'm tremendously concerned, dear friends, I'm burdened; this is no mere subject that I'm interested in and occupied with. If you are a seriously minded person, this really does concern you. And are you not, are we not being forced, being forced in our time to have a serious question about human history? What's the meaning? What's the meaning of it all - the human race, mankind, and all the history of mankind? What does it all mean? You know, we are being headed right up to that question today. We'll leave it there for the moment.
As a Christian, are you not increasingly confronted with the question as to the meaning - the meaning - of Christianity?
The Meaning of Christianity
After all, what is this thing? What does is it mean? Let's see if we can deal with this in general or in particular. What does it mean? Further, if those are 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 heart a recurrent question: why? Why are we going the way we're going? Why is God taking us this way and through this? Why is this being allowed and that? Why to the children of God, is all this? If that is not a really pressing question in your heart, I'm not giving very much for your spiritual life dear friends, for anybody who's really alive to ultimate things is very concerned about this. What does our spiritual experience in the hands of God really mean? What does it mean? What is God after? What is God explaining? What is He doing?
Now, on the one side again, on the one side human history, on its one side. We must see that God has taken all time - now I'm not going to say how long that is - human history at least embraces 10,000 years. Well, let's leave it at that. Let's leave it at that, if that's all, that's only now. God has taken all time to demonstrate, to demonstrate the meaning and the results of the wrong use that man made of his trust of free will when he took that into his own hands and it became self-will instead of God's will. Can I repeat? God has taken all time to demonstrate the meaning and the results of that act.
It's here that we come to a point which is very full of the most important instruction. What was God left to do? You say, you say, "Why, when man did that, when man did that, broke that law of dependence, and took his will into his own hands and out of God's hands and violated His trust, why didn't God destroy him right away, finish that right away and start again there and then?" Well, it's easy, isn't it, to talk like that? Perhaps that's what you would do. Perhaps that what you think He ought to have done in view of all we know. Do you not see that for God to have done that would have been to have simply said He never did give man free will? To 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're at once destroyed for doing so, that's not free will! No, but what did God do? What did God do? Ah, that's history, that's history!
The Lord's way has been and still is, like it or not, to let the choice have full course and destroy itself - bring its own judgment upon itself. That's history. That's history. It's a long-term business, a long drawn-out business. And just into that, into that, let me say a thing, a very intimate thing to you and to my own heart: there are some prayers that God answers which would to God He'd never answered. Would to God He'd never answered! Because man would not take a no or an alternative.
There's a little fragment about Israel's long stiff neckedness and hardness of heart. This little fragment is: "He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul". Have you ever prayed and insisted and refused to take a no or an alternative and wished to God He'd never answered your prayer? That's possible. It's where your will is: on your own side or on His side. There's a lot of spiritual history bound up with that, isn't there? But here we were saying that the Lord has taken all time to demonstrate the folly, the madness, the iniquity of this wrong use of a sacred term. Note, then, the development of this - all the immense potentialities to which we've referred in man have been allowed to express themselves, have been drawn out by history, and today we're amazed! We marvel at the potentialities in man.
Why, in the last 50 years, what a story of the uncovering, unveiling, and exploiting of the potentialities in man! Make no mistake about it. In five hundred years we've moved from the making of iron cannonballs to the atomic bomb. You call that progress, do you? But look at it, what man can do. What is in man to do. We're all wondering, aren't we, what he's going to do next. If things go on for another fifty years as they've gone on for the last fifty, my, where shall we be? Where shall we be? This is no Jules Verne imagination, is it? These things are realities, reality. It's going apace. And all this is in the man that God made.
But do you recognise, and recognise with the acceleration and the intensification of this process, that man has never yet either made a discovery or an invention, but what there has come along a parallel curse with it? A new problem that almost, almost did not altogether bedevil the discovery. Any realm you like, any realm you like... oh, that we were here long enough to survey the ground adequately. That's all we can do. These potentialities which were in the man that God created, have been given full play by God through all time to express themselves. But! But always with a curse. What is a curse? What is the curse? I could put the curse into one word: fear. Fear!
The further man goes, the more fearful he becomes. It's fear, fear that is alive to the greatest discoveries and inventions of man. It's fear, dear friends, that is ruling men's hearts today. They are conscious of insecurity. Aren't they? Insecurity. They are striving for some kind of security in order to overcome this fear, this fear. The Bible is right, you know. It always is. It is right on this: that a mark of the end time will be men's hearts failing them for fear. Oh, you would only have to read some of the books that have been produced by the discoverers of the nuclear, and they'll tell you. They'll 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 now exploiting. The end of the human race and an awful end, if you've read the story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Spread that over the whole human race.
Now, I don't want to be a sensationalist, but these are facts. They're in volume form by the very men who are mostly related, associated with this very matter. Men are afraid. There's a fear in their hearts, and all this effort to find some way of security, security. Isn't that a word today? It's because of this fear and, mark you, the point is this: that that 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's the end! We're coming very near.
I repeat: God has taken all history and what a lot that word history covers - past, present, and future (if it's not a contradiction to speak of the future as history), but there is a history that is being made for the future. History is on the one side demonstrating beyond any question or doubt that man, oh, he 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 on himself by the wrong use of his own will, his own will. Do you not see? Are we blind? Are we blind, and are we not taking account? I said seriously minded people are concerned about history. Are you not taking account of this, that where this state of things in development, of uncovering, of intensification, of application, of discovery, of invention, everything is most pronounced, you have the most awful strength of human will against God, against God. Isn't that true? That is beyond any argument. It's a soul strength, a strength of human soul. It's like that.
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 greatness! Is that true? Yes, he's brought it out, but now he's a mere pawn, a mere puppet, a mere plaything of his own "greatness". How little he is at his greatest. Isn't it true? Well, look, that's the way of history and that's what's happening, dear friends. The greatness of man.
The greatness of man; yes, as God made him, but now because of this one thing, a greatness that is cancerous. There's no other word to explain and define it, it is a cancerous weakness. What is cancer? What is cancer? Well, I can't answer all the research on that matter, but I'll tell you what is known: that cancer exists because of the loss of one central, governing, and regulating authority. Got that? 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; has absolutely refused that central authority regulating and governing within the organism - taken things into its own hands. That's cancer. 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 authority of God the answer. What 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? What are you going to do with it? What are you going to do with it? Oh, the tentacles of this cancerous thing in human life, in humanity. Why, you cut one off and half a dozen more spring up at once. Isn't it like that with international relationships? Why, you think that you've just got the thing nicely settled and it breaks out in more than one other place. You cannot cope with this, cannot be on sides with this. International relationships. We've got all the existing potential of a prosperous and happy world, it's all there, but upon it... what? A curse. Destruction instead. All the instruments and the institutions for peace. And there was never so much loss of peace in human history as today.
All the amenities and facilities for rest, for rest! For rest... think of all your gadgets to save work, think of all the inventions to make life easy; never so many amenities and facilities for rest and leisure, and never in history so much discontent! Is that true? Something's wrong with this humanity. This world. And we might look at industry and we might look at science and we might even look at religion, but you want me to stop somewhere! So I must leave it there for the moment. That's one side, one side.
But, dear friends, we're 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, is pride, is possessiveness, is the desire for power. Don't agree with me? All right, all right, if you'll allow the Holy Spirit to take you in anyway at all, you'll discover that is true. That's the first man, that's 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, the Head, the Progenitor of another kind. And you'll see a lot more when once you've seen that.
But I am really well aware that all that I have said may be oppressive, may be the heavy side, but friends, you and I have got to understand history and present history; what it means, what it means. What are the forces? And what are the things that are producing this marvelous, wonderful, amazing, startling, terrible world? And where is it leading? Well, you see, God has said, "All right, all right, all right, you have made your choice. You have decided that you would not have it otherwise. Very well, very well." The history of a kind of person or race like that will lead on and on and on until the final verdict of sin, sin is wrought out. It's sin.
I wonder if you'll still bear with me just this moment, something that you'll be well to just store up. You know, dear friends, one of the things that is going to amaze us, perhaps more than most other things - 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 doesn't speak just platitudes. He does not speak just observations and remarks casually. 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, that's one thing you'll discover; there is an unfathomable depth of meaning in anything that God has said and you'll never exhaust it. Preach, preach, preach on the same thing all your long life and you haven't exhausted that same thing. It's come from God, there's still something more, and I say we're going to be amazed when we get to Heaven to see the infinitude of what was in some things which were almost commonplace things with us.
Oh, if God uses the words: sin, disobedience, rebellion, self-will there's all time gathered into that in tragedy. You never, never will fathom that. The Last Adam did, He went to the bottom of it, drained it in His cross. But that's where the other side opens up. We'll go on later.