The Last Adam
It is the first epistle to the Corinthians alone, and in the same passage, which gives us the two important terms, so closely related as they are to one another, of “Second Man” and “Last Adam” (15:45, 47). The one looks backward; the other forward. The “Second Man” implies that before Him we have only the first man, repeated and multiplied, in his descendents; now a new type has appeared; and that this, which is the full and final thought of man, may become the true heir of the inheritance, the “Second Man” is the “Last Adam.” He is the “last” not “second,” because plainly there is no other to succeed Him. “The Last Adam” (in opposition to “the first man Adam,” (who “became a living soul”) becomes “a Spirit giving life.”
The apostle does not say that the Second Man became a Spirit giving life, for an obvious reason. The Second Man, as such, brings before us the new humanity, in the likeness of which every one of the new race will be ultimately found; but the Last Adam is the Head of the new race, and to be a “Spirit giving life” is peculiar to Himself. Man as man, and not merely the first man, has the mysterious power imparted to him of propagating his kind; but the new humanity is of too high a nature to permit this to the men of it. Only the Last Adam can communicate the new “life” which is its characteristic; and He, inasmuch as He is, what they are not, above man altogether. We cannot think of the Last Adam aright without explicitly taking into account His Deity,—that He is the “Word made flesh.”
Noticeable it is in this way that we who are Christ’s, and to whom Christ is life, are yet never spoken of as the children of Christ. Of the first Adam we are naturally children; of the last Adam, and as implied by that very relationship, we should be children also, in a higher and so a fuller way: yet we are never taught to call Christ “Father.” For this there must be reason, and therefore that in it as to which we may rightly and reverently inquire why it is.
In the Old Testament, and not the New, we come nearest to the thought of children of Christ. In the fifty-third of Isaiah, the abundant seed field of New Testament truth, we find first of all Messiah come and cut off, without posterity “Who shall declare His generation?” asks the prophet: “for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken” (ver. 8). Thus there seems utter failure of blessing: cut off Himself, He has none who spring from Him,—who perpetuate His name and character.
So it naturally would appear; but the question has other answer before the prophecy ends; and in that very death in which for the sins of others He has been cut off, there is at last found the secret of a blessing such as seemed to be gone without remedy: “When Thou shalt make His soul a sacrifice for sin, He shall see a seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand” (ver. 10). This “seed” and prolonging of His days are the double answer to the question which His death had raised.
Christ really then has a seed; the Last Adam as a quickening Spirit points to nothing else: but this only makes it more certain that there is a reason for the avoidance of such expressions as we naturally look for. We are taught by Christ Himself to speak of His Father as our Father (John 20:17), though this, of course, is not inconsistent with His relation to us as Last Adam. Of the first Adam it could be said also, as has been before remarked, that he was a “First-born among many brethren,” without prejudice to his relationship to these as father.
In the Gospel of John it is that the Lord is seen as the Eternal Life, the Son, to whom “the Father hath given to have life in Himself,” just as the Father hath life in Himself (ch. 5:26). The words show that it is as Man He is speaking, and that thus in manhood He becomes a Source of life: “as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will” (ver. 21). Thus it is in John’s Gospel also that we find Him, after His resurrection, in character as Last Adam, (so much the more as in contrast with the first,) “He breathed on. them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (20:22). John’s is the Gospel of His Deity, and yet this remarkable characteristic action is reserved for it.
So, too, in his epistle John links them: “This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
“As the Father...quickeneth, so the Son quickeneth.” “The Spirit” also “is life” (Rom. 8:10). It is a divine inspiration, of which the breathing into the first Adam (Gen. 2:7) was but a significant type. Even by that, man became the “offspring of God” (Acts 17:28), and thus by creation (not position) in His “image” (Gen. 1:27), as the son is in the father’s image (Gen. 5:3). Man received thus (what the beast has not) a spirit; and God is the “Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). But this is only what is natural, and what has been debased by the fall; we need, therefore, a new begetting of God, a new communication of life: “that which is born of the flesh is flesh”—not merely human nature, but human nature degraded, as it were, to its lowest point, “flesh”: as if the spirit had left it, “dead,” therefore, while living.
So, with a sad harmony, Scripture everywhere asserts: man must be born again.
The breath of a new life enters into him, and he lives. This is no mere moral renewal. If “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,”—flesh has produced flesh; there has been a real communication of nature, as shown in the being brought forth. So also “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” partakes of the nature of that from which it is derived. Divine parentage is shown in participation in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), and we are become true children of God, with His likeness. “Passed from death unto life” (John 5:24), the life we have received is eternal lie: which means, not that it will always last, for so will the wicked always live—if you call it “life”—but that it has always been also, not in us, but in God. This is the life that deserves to be called eternal; and this is the life in which we have begun to live. In us it has its beginning, its growth, its practical expression: this imperfect at the best, and varying from that in the infant to the young man and the father, it is nevertheless eternal life all through, whether it be as yet undiscernible by man or making a possessor of it a shining light amid the darkness of the world.
Much of what I am here saying is in contention by many; and there are perhaps few things of equal importance that are held more variously than what new birth is, and its connection with or disconnection from eternal life. It would carry us too far to discuss these variations: it is enough, perhaps, to say that, on the one hand, the signs of it given in John’s first epistle show plainly that righteousness, love to God and to the brethren, and faith in Christ, characterize all who are born (or begotten) of God; and on the other, that he writes to all that “believe on the name of the Son of God” that they may know that they have eternal life. I may be told indeed by some that these things are quite different; that faith in the Son is more and later than faith in Christ; but the gospel of John assures us that he that believeth not on the Son is one still under condemnation and the wrath of God. It is not the saint but the sinner who passes from death unto life; and that change, momentous as it is, cannot be a long process.
Thus, then, the “quickening Spirit” acts in every one born of God. As the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, just so the Son quickens; and none the less it is of the Spirit we are born again. It is a divine work, and Father, Son and Spirit all partake in it. Thus it is manifest that we are by this birth children of God; and while the Son as Mediator is He in whom life is for us, and the Spirit is the positive Agent in communicating it, the Father it is whose blessed will the Son and Spirit alike work, and “of whom every family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:15, Gk.). “To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:6).
Thus, although we have been very recently told that there is no new communication of a new nature in new birth, yet the Lord Himself has taught us, on the contrary, that “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,”—that it partakes of the nature of Him who has brought it forth. And He says, “that which is born,” (not “he who is born,”) because the new life communicated does not as yet (as we have already seen) pervade the whole man. The body is still, in this respect, “dead, because of sin” (Rom. 8:10), even “if Christ be in you;” and the “flesh” also thus (it must still be asserted) “because of sin,” remains, even in the man delivered from its dominion, a cause for constant watchfulness and self-judgment.10 But the youngest babe born of God has nevertheless the nature of its Parent: even though here there be as much difference between the new born babe and the man, as there is in the physical prototype. Abundant room for development must be admitted, while the development itself proves but the essential sameness of the nature in these wide extremes.
The Second Man, then, is also the Last Adam; but in the latter term much more is implied than in the former, and that the result of that union of the divine and human which faith can joyfully accept while it acknowledges the inscrutability of it. “No one knoweth the Son, but the Father.” No human mind can think out the divine-human Person who is here before us; but to seek to have the value of scripture statements is another matter, and is the part of faith. It would be wronging the love which has enriched us with them, not to seek to appropriate our riches.
The connection of truth in this chapter in Corinthians which furnishes us with our present text is noteworthy. The apostle is writing to us of the resurrection, and has been contrasting the natural body as sown in the grave with the body of the saint in resurrection. “It is sown a natural body,” he says; “it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, the first man, Adam, was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit.”
The connection here is very much obscured by the translation: what connection could one suppose between “a living soul” and “a natural body”? None at least that one could argue, from the language used; and in fact, as elsewhere said, we have in English no clear way of making apparent the connection. If we were at liberty to use the word “soulual,” (which is not in the dictionary,) we should be able to do this: we should then read, “There is a soulual body,” ...“the first man Adam was made a living soul;” as, on the other hand, “There is a spiritual body,” and “the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit.”
The first Adam had a soulual body, a body characterized by the soul its tenant: for he was himself a living soul. It is remarkable, while quite intelligible, that, though a man’s spirit is his highest part, and it is by this is a good boy “knows the things of man” (1 Cor. 2:11), and is in relation to God, yet while here in the body he is never called a “spirit,” but only what the beast is, a “soul.” On the other hand, as soon as he has left the body, he rises to the measure of his distinctly human part, and is now a “spirit.” Common usage recognizes the same difference. In some sense the connection of soul and body is a shrouding of his higher nature. The same word psychical or soulual, is translated in our common version “sensual” (Jas. 3:15; Jude 19), though this, of course, is a use of it which is not due to man’s condition as created but to the sin which has entered in. It is similar to the use of “flesh” for a condition in which fallen man, as if the spirit had departed from him, is characterized as “dead.” Yet the psychical or “soulual” body, as in contrast with a “spiritual” one, is easily understood as that which hems in and disguises necessarily man’s spiritual nature. In the babe this is sunk entirely at first in its fleshly wrappings. By degrees it emerges, with slow and painful labor freeing itself from the bonds of the material, the humbling discipline which God has ordained for it, but still “seeing as through a glass, in a riddle” (1 Cor. 13:12). In the future only is to be its “face to face” knowledge.
This is what it means, as I take it,—or at least it is part of what it means,—for man to be a “living soul.” It implies a life of sense, which may be yet, and should be, even on that account, a life of faith; of struggle which may be defeat or victory. Out of which we do not pass until the body is left behind, or fashioned by the last Adam into a “spiritual body,” fit instrument for and no clog upon the enfranchised spirit. Only with this redemption of the body will the “sons of God” be fully manifested (Rom. 8:19. 23)
As “Last Adam,” the Lord is revealed as in connection with that “new creation” which God is perfecting for Himself out of the ruins of the old. Such a thought as this is not unrepresented in nature. The present world is thus built up out of the ruins of a previous one, which in all features of highest worth it surpasses; according to that law of progress which we have seen written on its grades of life development, and to which its life-history also, on the whole, conforms. But the new creation connected with the Last Adam arises out of a deeper collapse than any that preceded it,—thank God, to assume now a permanence which shall suffer no collapse again. With the first Adam, its head, the old creation fell. With the last Adam, the new creation abides in indefectible blessing.
While the title of “last Adam” is found only in the passage we have been considering, the epistle to the Romans (5:14) fully declares Him to be the Antitype of the first. His relation to the new creation is what Adam’s was to the old. The results are in contrastive parallel: “as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). But here, because the new creation is brought out of the old, it is not enough to say, “shall live,” but “shall be made alive.”11 He who is to be the new Adam of a new creation brought out of the old must for this accomplish redemption.
Thus it is as risen from the dead that the Lord breathes upon His disciples, and the antithesis to “in Adam” is “in Christ;” this being the official title with which His priestly sacrificial work connects itself. Eternal life for us is “in Christ:” that is, in the Last Adam, with His sacrificial work accomplished, and gone up as our Representative Head to God.
The first man was also in a very real way the representative of his race; not, however, by any formal covenant for his posterity, of which Scripture has no trace; but by his being the divinely constituted head of it. His representative character was grounded in what men call “natural law,” and which is nothing but divine law. This is asserted in the plainest possible way in Scripture. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” expresses the law. “What is man that he should be clean? or he that is born of a woman that he should be righteous?” “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And the Lord affirms the principle in the most emphatic way: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” What men now call the principle of “heredity” is thus affirmed by Him, and it is the whole scriptural account of the matter.
Sin came in through Adam. The nature of man was corrupted; by the disobedience of one the many were made sinners; and death introducing to judgment was the stamp of God upon the fallen condition. So, as the apostle says, “in Adam all die.” “In Adam” thus speaks of representation, as the apostle argues as to Levi and Abraham (Heb. 7:9, 10): “And, as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham; for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” Similarly we were in the loins of Adam when he fell and sentence of death was passed upon him. Thank God, we have heard the voice of Another,—Head and Representative too of His race, which says, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).
The last Adam is the head of a new race. And so, “if any man be in Christ”—set over against “in Adam” in the verse already looked at—“he is a new creature” (or “it is new creation” 2 Cor. 5:17). To be “in Christ” is to belong to the new creation and the new Head. The last Adam becomes Head of the race after His work of obedience is accomplished; and that wondrous “obedience unto death” becomes the heritage of the new race. The connection of the Head and race is necessarily by life and nature. A corrupt nature was transmitted from the fallen head. A divine life and nature, free from and incapable of taint, is ours in the new Head, Christ Jesus. Death and judgment lay hold upon the fallen creature: righteousness belongs to the possessor of eternal life.
The life and the place go together, and are never disjoined. “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; and he that believeth not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Eternal life or the wrath of God: these are the alternatives. Solemn and wonderful alternatives they are!
10 10. As the “thorn in the flesh,” needed by a man who had been in the third heaven, and needed on that very account, will surely prove for any who have an ear to hear.
11 11. That the apostle is here speaking only of those “in Christ,” and not, as generally believed, of all mankind, will be evident on due consideration. For the resurrection of the wicked is not an effect of Christ’s redemption, but a “resurrection of judgment” simply (John 5:29); and throughout the chapter it is only of the resurrection of the saints—of those of whom Christ is first-fruits (ver. 20)—that he is speaking. The “all” on both sides (whether “in Adam,” primarily, or “in Christ,” eventually) are only the redeemed. It is from error as to this that some forms of restorationism have originated.
|« Previous chapter||Next chapter »|