Every believer who has carefully read the New Testament must have been struck with the fact that it is only Paul who speaks of “the mystery of Christ.” In Ephesians 3:6 he tells is what this mystery is: “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel.” The mystery of the Christ, then, is Jew and Gentile formed into one body, and that body the body of Christ. Another way in which he presents the same mystery is as the bride of Christ, and these two thoughts are so closely connected that in the end of Ephesians 5 the apostle passes from one to the other as if the ideas were interchangeable.
I need hardly say to the reader that there is a great distinction to be drawn between the mystery and the gospel. Peter never speaks of the mystery, yet a dispensation of the gospel was committed to him as to Paul; the former was sent to the circumcision and the latter to the Gentiles, and no one can rightly question the fact that Peter preached the gospel for the salvation of men as faithfully and as purely as Paul did. He was a minister of the gospel but not of the mystery. Therefore, if we are to have the truth of God in the order in which He has given it to us, and it is the only right way to have it, we must not confound the gospel with the mystery.
Indeed, we are supposed to be grounded in the truth of the gospel before we are ready for the teaching regarding the mystery. The epistle to the Romans unfolds to us in the most complete way the grace of God which brings salvation to all men, and the way by which men are brought into the benefit of it. In the beginning of the epistle it is said to be the power of God unto salvation to all them that believe, and in the first eight chapters the way in which it is this is delineated; then the epistle closes with an ascription of glory to “Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but is now made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith,” thus indicating that when we have learned Romans we are ready for the mystery.
If we have learned the way of salvation as it is brought before us in the epistle to the Romans, we will have seen, not only how God has dealt with our sins, but the way in which He has dealt with the man who committed the sins; and we will have found how very slow we are to learn this lesson. I do not intend to go into this at present, but would remark that in the cross of Christ the blessed God has brought to an end both our sins and the flesh in which sin had its seat, and that deliverance for us is found in the life of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, who brings God revealed in love before our hearts in such light that He becomes the all-controlling Object of our souls, and we thankfully and gladly reckon ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ (Rom. 6).
If we understand the gospel as thus set before us we will have less difficulty in taking in the truth of the mystery. As the church is said to be composed of Jews and Gentiles, there might be the tendency in our minds to think that it was a kind of association of both in the flesh. But we have already learned in Romans that no man can be in relationship with God in the flesh, that it is all over with that order of man, and that it is only as “after the Spirit” (born of the Spirit), and “in Christ” that anyone can be in relationship with God (Rom. 8). Chapter 7 witnesses that there is no good in the flesh, and chapter 8 that it is enmity against God, and neither is, nor can be, subject to His law, but that believers, who are indwelt by the Spirit, “are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.”
Now, in Ephesians, Jew and Gentile are both viewed as dead in sins, and God, rich in mercy, and great in love, comes in by His quickening power to cause both Jew and Gentile to live in the life in which Christ lives, for we are quickened together with Him. It is not in the life of flesh we have been caused to live to God, but in His own blessed life. Everything is lost as regards the old creation, and we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” It is no mending of Adam and his race, but it is the last Adam, and a race in His life which we are called to contemplate. This is the way in which both Jew and Gentile have been made one, not in the flesh, which would have been impossible, but in Christ. As to the flesh both classes still abide, and now we have what never was until the beginning of this dispensation—Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God; in the past there were none but Jews and Gentiles.
Christ has made in Himself of both Jew and Gentile one new man, and reconciled both unto God in one body. Therefore, while the mystery is composed of both it is wholly new creation, for, in the new man, there is neither Greek nor Jew; that is to say, in the mystery these distinctions do not exist, for all are in Christ and in His life. This is so true that those who compose it are already said to be raised up and seated in Him in the heavenly places. They are quickened with Him, for they live in His life as an actual fact; but they cannot be said to be raised up and seated with Him, but in Him, for we have not actually gone there yet. But He being our Life and the One to whom we are united, we can be said to be there in Him.
It is of this body that Christ is said to be Head: “Head over all things to the Church which is His body.” The place given to Him as Head and Centre of the vast universe of glory comes not fully to light in the Old Testament scriptures. All things are surely said to be placed under the feet of the Son of Man. This is stated in Psalm 8, and is often quoted by the writers of the New Testament, but in the Psalm it seems to be a little obscured by the reference to sheep and oxen and the beasts of the field and the fowl of the air and the fish of the sea; in the New there are no such limitations, “All things” are said to be all things without qualification; the only exception is God Himself, and He cannot be classed among the “all things” (1 Cor. 15). Everything in heaven and upon earth, visible and invisible, must come under His sway for blessing. He will be manifested as the supreme Ruler, Director, Administrator, and Support of the universe. In all things He must have the pre-eminence, and all shall honour Him as they honour the Father. His name will be excellent in all the earth, and it will be as ointment poured forth upon the whole creation. This will not be confined to the world to come, but will be continued throughout all eternity, for by Him all things subsist.
But as the full glory of the place given to Christ is not clearly brought to light in the Old Testament, so is the one who is destined to share all with Him kept in obscurity. The Church comes to light when the glory of her Head is declared. To have spoken of her before would have been unseasonable, because her place hangs upon His, as her very existence is consequent upon His rejection, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. There could have been no Church apart from a dead, risen, and glorified Christ. He loved her and gave Himself for her. Adam had to go into a deep sleep, the figure of death, that he might have a companion who would be bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh; and He, of whom Adam was the figure, had to go into death itself in all its darkness and horror that He might have His bride with Him in glory.
Now that the truth is clearly out, we see that Adam was a figure of Christ (Rom. 5), and Eve a figure of the Church. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and therefore did He make provision for his loneliness. He needed a companion, one with whom he could hold converse, and who would be able to enter into all his thoughts, and in whom his heart would find repose and satisfaction, and such a companion was given him in the goodness of God. And she was not only to be a companion to him, dispelling all the loneliness of his position, but she was to be a helpmeet for him; she was to render service to him which could not be rendered by any other. He was placed in a very exalted position, everything being put under him, and he needed one to help him in his place of headship and authority. He was head over every earthly thing, and head to her. He was not to receive direction from her, as though she was head to him; but she was to receive direction from him, for he was head to her. When he gave up this place, even for a moment, allowing her to lead, he fell into transgression.
But the One of whom Adam is the figure is the Son of the Father’s love, and everything has been made both by Him and for Him. He is also the Object of divine counsel. Creation was in view of the Son becoming Man, and taking the supreme place as Head over all things; He the Centre, Light, and Life of the whole universe. This is shadowed forth in the place the first Adam had given to him as set over everything upon earth, But as he had his bride, and needed her in the place of exaltation in which he was set, so will Christ, the last Adam, have His bride with Him in the day of His exaltation and glory.
No other could have shared this exalted and close relationship with Adam. The whole creation, which had been placed under him, was subjected to his scrutiny, and he gave names to all, but associates nothing with himself. When Eve is brought before him he acknowledges her at once as his bone and flesh. She was taken out of him, and they are both one, and God called their name “Adam.” Christ and His assembly are one, “The Christ.” We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Eph. 5). No wonder the apostle, when speaking of this, says, “This is a great mystery.”
I have suggested above that the two ideas, body and bride, seem to be mingled in the mind of the apostle (Eph. 5). When speaking of husband and wife the thought uppermost in his mind is Christ and the Church; but he says: “So aught men to love their wives as their own bodies,” and that he who loves his wife loves himself, that no one hates his own flesh, and that we are members of His body. There is, therefore, a very intimate connection between the thought of the bride and that of the body. Yet they bring very different ideas before the mind. In the bride there is the thought of companionship, and also reciprocity of affection, neither of which is conveyed to the mind when we speak of the body. The body is for the carrying out of the will of the One whose body it is. Christ came to do the will of God, and that He might do this a body was prepared Him. I need not say this was His own personal, not His mystical, body. I refer to it only to get the idea of the object of the body; it is for the accomplishing of the will of Christ. The mind of a person is expressed through his body. It moves as it is directed by the one whose body it is. It is directed by the head, and the spirit of him whose body it is resides in that body. Therefore Christ could be said to be among the Gentiles (Col. 1): “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
In Ephesians 3 there is a remarkable expression regarding the Church. It is said to have been “Hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” To have said it was hid in God would not have conveyed to us anything more than that it was His secret, undivulged to any other; but when it connects the secret with Him as Creator, the impression is conveyed to the mind that the church was destined to hold a very important place in that creation and that the full purpose of God in creation could not come to light until the secret was out. The all-various wisdom of Him who created all things could not be known until that which lay hidden in the heart of the Creator was brought to light. Now this is made known to principalities and powers. In the unfallen principalities this awakens interest in the unfoldings of the mind of God, and in those that are fallen hostility to His counsels is intensified. The object of the ceaseless activities of the latter is to defeat those counsels. I need not tell the reader how futile they are.
This great and wonderful secret of the Creator has now come to light. In the past ages it was not made known to the sons of men. God kept it, as it were, under lock and key in His own heart of love; but it is now made known to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. And of this marvellous mystery Paul was made minister. The other apostles knew it equally as well as Paul, but it was not given them to make it known, and they say nothing about it. By it the unsearchable riches of Christ came to light among the Gentiles. And all was according to eternal purpose. In every other dispensation God took up either an individual or a nation, and placed them in relationship with Himself as men in the flesh, surrounding them with outward signs of His favours and giving them inheritance, or promise of inheritance in the earth; but in the present dispensation He gathers out of the world by the preaching of the gospel, drawing men to Christ and setting them in relationship with Himself in Him; giving them nothing here, but blessing them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, and all according to His eternal counsel, the dispensation having nothing to do with the world one way or another. Jew and Gentile remain in the world undisturbed, but out of each people He draws the elements of Christ’s assembly that He may fit them for union with Him.
Adam had only to go to sleep, and when he awoke his bride was ready for companionship with him. He had nothing to do but receive her as a gift from the hand of God. But Christ had everything to do for His Bride. He had to give Himself for her. The judgment which lay upon those who were destined to become members of His Body He must bear, if He is to take them up and bring them into such place of nearness. He is said to have gone down into the lower parts of the earth, and there He broke the power of him who held captive those elements which were to compose His Bride. Then when He has gone up far above all heavens the work goes on by His almighty power; the work of separating the gold from the dross, the precious from the vile, those who were to be members of this mystical Body from the beggarly traditions of Judaism, from the idolatry of the nations, and from the whole fleshly order, so that He might be able to present His Church to Himself glorious, having neither spot nor wrinkle nor any such thing.
And in this comes out His unsearchable love. Adam had not such a way of expressing his love for his bride. She was his own flesh, and he loved her as himself, until sin came in and weakened his God-given affection, and then he does not seem to have cared what came of her if he could only shelter himself. But Christ loved the Church, and in order that He might have her as His own took all blame upon Himself even when that blame meant the judgment of a righteous and holy God. We are to know that love, though it is said to surpass knowledge, as surely it does, for it is infinite. But though it be infinite, and therefore beyond our finite grasp, it has been all lavished upon us, and is, and shall be, ours to enjoy throughout all eternity. It is a fathomless and shoreless ocean, as measureless as is the fountain from which it flows in everlasting volume, encircling its beloved object. No human mind can understand it, nor can the finite heart contain it; no mortal tongue can tell its depths and sweetness, nor can song celebrate its glorious achievements. It surpasses knowledge and baffles all description. There is but one spot in the universe in which it has shone out in all its heavenly power, and but one act in which it has fully declared itself; that place is Calvary, and that act is the death of Jesus. It is an inexhaustible fountain of blissfulness, from which His Bride draws a plentiful supply upon her journey through this desert world, which shall cause her cup of happiness to overflow for ever, and which shall not be diminished by her eternal demand upon it.
In the redeemed creation everything will be good in the highest degree. But as in the old creation it was not good for man to be alone, so in the new the last Adam must have His Bride, and the Head over all things must have His Body. The Body is the fullness of Him who fills all in all; that is to say, it completes Him. It is not that He is not complete in Himself, for personally nothing can be added to Him, but because of the position in which He is placed as Head over all things He must have His Body—the Body completes the Head.
He will fill all things. He has gone to the bottom of everything. The Greater than Jonah could say: “The floods compassed me about; all Thy waves and Thy billows passed over me . . . I am cast out of thy sight . . . The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottom of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever” (Jon. 2). He went down into the lower parts of the earth, touched, as it were, the very bottom of creation, and now He has ascended up far above all heavens. In His humiliation nothing was left below Him; He went below everything in creation; and in His exaltation nothing is above Him, He has gone up “far above all heavens.” In the first place He created all things; that is, all things were by Him; in the second place, they were for Him; in the third place, He is before all things; in the fourth place, all things subsist together by Him; in the fifth place, He has the pre-eminence in all things; in the sixth place, He tasted death for all things; in the seventh place, all things are put under Him; and in the eighth place, He will fill all things. By Him all things will be filled with the glory of redemption, but the glory of redemption is the revelation of God, and God is love. Therefore, when He has filled all things, the love of God will be the light of every eye, the joy of every heart, and the theme of every tongue.
Of the redeemed there are various families, and all named of the Father, and every family will be instinct with the life of Christ. A pulse of spiritual and divine life will beat in the bosom of each, and that life will be derived from the life-giving Head. But no other family can occupy the peculiar place of the family which is being gathered out of the world in this dispensation. Every family will be formed by the revelation which they had or will have of God, for as there have been various families in the past dispensations, so are there families yet to be formed after the Church has left this scene. But no family has had the full revelation of God as the church has had; therefore the family which is formed in this dispensation is formed by the perfect revelation of God: “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1). This is peculiar to the present family. Those given to Christ in the day of His rejection are given to Him of the Father, and are His Body and Bride, and have a peculiar place in the counsels of the Father. Of no other family do we read that He had chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, and predestinated them to sonship (Eph. 1) and to be conformed to His image (Rom. 8). They have a peculiar place in the affections of the Father (John 17), and also in the order of creation, as I have already pointed out from Ephesians 3. It maybe that “every family” takes in the thought of angelic beings as well as men. The Son having declared the Father, and the revelation of the Father having been brought into creation, I do not see how anything can be hid from the light and heat of this wonderful revelation. But with this I am not at present concerned, but with the great fact that the Church has the central place along with Christ in the mind and thought of God. It is derived from Christ, and as my body and head make one man, so does this mystical Body and Head make one Christ. It is a wonderful organism, the conception of the wisdom of God, and worthy of Him.
It is also nourished by the Head: “From which all the Body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increases with the increase of God” (Col. 2). Just as our natural bodies are nourished from our head, so is the Body of Christ nourished from its Head, so that we have no need to go outside of Christ for any supply. The enemy may seek to entice us to draw from other sources, his object being to draw us away from Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and to lead us to the recognition of the flesh either religiously or philosophically, but our safety lies in our holding fast to the Head, in whom there is everything for our growth in the divine nature, and outside of whom there is nothing for our souls. The Head feeds the Body.
But while the Body derives all nourishment from the Head there is a way by which the nourishment is distributed throughout the members. It is said that the Body builds up itself. In Ephesians 4 there are gifts given from the ascended Christ which are said to be for the building up of the Body. These gifts gather together those who, in the counsels of God, are to compose this wonderful structure, and the object of the Head in bestowing these gifts is the edifying of the Body, and the Body is built up according to the fullness which resides in the Head. These gifts remain in the power of the Spirit: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. And, as I have said, there is also the self-building up of the Body by the grace which resides in each member, and which is derived directly from the Head in heaven. Adam called his wife’s name Eve because she was taken out of man, and the Church is derived from the last Adam as Eve was derived from the first.
The Spirit of Christ permeates the Body, for He dwells in every member, and therefore is the Body instinct with the life derived from the Head, and every member answers to the Head, as every member of the human organism answers to the human head. Quicker than a flash of lightning the most distant member receives impulse from the head, and at once the will is done. Such is Christ’s assembly in the day when it shall be perfected. What it is now in testimony for Him I leave to the consideration of the reader.
But in this way the members of the Body are servants to the Head. I may have servants who do my will faithfully and well, but they cannot serve me as my members can. When these serve me I am serving myself. We commiserate a man who from weakness of body can do, as we say, nothing for himself. He may have many devoted friends, but they cannot make up for the service which, were his body in health, he would be able to render to himself. At best it is but very inadequate service a paralytic receives at the hands of others. My members serve one another, and in the service they render to one another I am served. All the servants of Christ, be they angels or men, shall serve Him, but none of them will ever be able to render to Him the service which shall be rendered to Him by His members.
The rays of light which proceed from the sun may serve as an illustration of this service. They dart from their glorious centre to the most distant parts of the solar system, and carry light and heat and comfort to everything which lives, and having accomplished their mission they return again to the bosom of their life-giving source. They are ever going and returning. They do not loiter upon their errands of mercy, but run like bearers of glad tidings to the utmost limits of their allotted sphere, carrying light and healing and blessing and gladness and joy and comfort to all hearts, asking nothing in return, content if the wail of the mourner is turned by their means into the song of thanksgiving and praise. This, I think, is a figure of the way in which the Body of Christ will serve Him in the day when we all have come to the fullness of His stature. What else can be the meaning of the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing on His wings? or the spared nations walking in the light of the City? To Jerusalem it will be said in that day: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Isa. 60). The City has that glory, and its light is like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. All healing and light are there, it is radiant with the glory of God, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof. And what is all this but the ministry of the heavenly company to a world which has just been swept clean by the desolating judgments of God? Each member of the Body of Christ becomes, as it were, a good Samaritan to the nations of the earth, for all shall come out in the grace of the Head.
But the City, however wonderful a vessel of divine glory it be, is not the highest way in which the Church can be viewed. It is not the way in which Paul speaks of it; indeed, he has no name as an apostle in it, though the twelve have. The City is said to have twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. That such a City was not unknown to the saints of God in past dispensations is witnessed by the fact that Abraham looked for it. It is the Church as seen in relation to the government of the world, and as established upon the ministry of the twelve apostles. It is the Bride of the Lamb, as the earthly Jerusalem will be the Bride of Jehovah. It is not presented as the eternal thought and secret of God, but the way in which God and the Lamb will take up the government of the earth. It could hardly be said to have been “Kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16), seeing that saints looked for it from the beginning. It is always presented, though heavenly in its origin, as in relation to earth; and though the marriage of the Lamb takes place in heaven it is only just as He is about to be manifested that it takes place. I doubt if we could speak that way of the Bride in the way in which she is presented by Paul. To Paul only was committed the ministry of the Church as the Body and Bride of Christ, His bone and flesh; but in the holy City he has no name at all.
At the same time we must keep in mind that it is the same company of saints which compose the City as those which form the Body and Bride. It is also well to keep in mind that the things predicted of the City are also true of the Body, though in the description of the City the language used is, of course, symbolic. It has the glory of God; that is to say, all that God is in His approach to man shines out there. And this is true of the Body, for Christ is the revelation of God, and all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him, and we are to come to the measure of the stature of His fullness, we increase with the increase of God (Col. 2). Then we have the wall great and high, separating the City from the sphere in which it shines in the light of God, and making it impossible for defiling influences to enter; and the Body is wholly derived from Christ and entirely for Him, and as completely beyond the reach of defilement as He was when He passed through this evil world uncontaminated by it. Then we have the gates of pearl, through which the goodness of God is poured into the lap of earth, answering to the service in which the members of Christ will be employed by Him in the day of His glory. Then it is “The measure of a man,” the Man Christ Jesus, the Head of the Body, which is His fullness. It will give light to the nations, and there will be no night there, like Him who is its Builder and Maker, with whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning (Jas. 1). The river of life is there; also the tree of life with fruit in abundance, and shedding its leaves for the healing of the nations. The throne of God and the Lamb are in it, but no curse issues from that throne, but from it the river of the water of life issues clear as crystal. The inhabitants shall serve Him and they shall see His face and have His name engraven on their foreheads.
But white all this is true of the Church as the secret which dwelt in the heart of the Creator, it comes far short of the full unfolding of the dignity and blessedness of this wonderful mystery. The description in Revelation gives it to us in its metropolitan character in connection with the world to come, and in symbolic language, so that even the term “Bride” has to be taken in a symbolic way. Rule, light, refreshment, and healing are there. They are in all the light of God fully revealed, and they see His unveiled face, and no heart can conceive the infinite blessedness of such a sanctuary. The nations shall not see this, but shall walk in the light which the saints give. At night when the moon shines we walk in her light, but she herself walks in the light of the sun. It will be so in the world to come, the saints who give light to the nations will themselves be in the uncurtained glory of Him whose name is LOVE.
It is thus they will be enabled to shed forth blessings upon the earth. All the light of the solar system is derived from the sun. The planets have no light in themselves. Whatever light they shed upon the earth is derived from the source of all light, their glorious centre. It is so with believers; we are light in the Lord. Our light is all derived from our radiant Centre, the Lord of glory. No mortal eye could gaze upon His face, upon whom the Church shall look with enraptured vision. The light of the sun is too powerful for the eye, if one desires to gaze upon his face. It is sufficient for us, and not too powerful, if we desire only to walk in the light it gives us without attempting to contemplate the orb itself. We do not look upon its face, but walk in the light which it freely sheds upon our path. But there is a light above the brightness of the sun (Acts 26:13) which would blind the strongest eye upon which one of its rays fell, and in the glory of that light the glorified saints of God shall walk for ever. We shall see His face. It is not merely material light such as the sun gives, though we must remember that there was a burst of glory from the heavens which blinded Saul of Tarsus; and this light came from the place where Jesus was enthroned. Still, to see His face is to see God perfectly revealed. This will be toned down and softened for the nations by coming to them through the medium of the Church.
But after all, the city was not the secret of God, nor the highest way in which it is presented in Scripture. Moreover, as I have said, it is not Paul’s way of speaking of the Church; it is not the Mystery, that heavenly thing which was in the counsels of God before the world was, and which kept coming out in type and figure in everything which God made. This is why we can use everything in the creation to set forth the wondrous character of this masterpiece of God. It is because that which filled the mind of the Creator leaked out in all His works. The very order of the heavens is replete with type, shadow, and representation of Christ and the Church. We can contemplate these outlines of this great mystery now that the secret is out, and it is with adoring wonder that we do so. At the same time it is only in Scripture that we can learn anything of it, and not only in Scripture but in the portions which refer to this mystery. If we allow our natural minds to revel in things which are outside their proper sphere, and which are matters of direct revelation from God, we are certain to wander into error. Still, if I did not know what a human body was, I would be very little able to take in the thought of the Body of Christ. And it would be the same as to the Bride; I require to know something of the relationship of wife and husband to be able to take in the truth of union with Christ. When I have learned the truth itself I may find many things in nature which illustrate the great things of God, and serve to bring them more vividly before the soul. And this is so in a very special way regarding Christ and the Church. We are only safe in holding fast to the very words in which the truth is conveyed to us, for the words are the words of the Spirit of God. Not only was the truth itself given to the apostles but the words in which that truth was to be set forth were also communicated by the same Spirit.
To set forth earthly things, the things which belong to the earthly order, one needs no more than the gift of speech and ordinary intelligence; but to set forth the things which belong to the heavenly Man, the Father’s things which have been given to the Son, requires in the first place, the Holy Spirit of God to be given to those who are the stewards of those mysteries in order that they may know them, for none know the things of God but the Spirit of God; and in the second place, no one could speak such things except in words supplied by the Spirit; and in the third place, no one could receive and understand those things unless by the Spirit’s power. But if we have the Spirit it will not be hard for us to see that the God of the Gospel is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
The Church is destined to fill the most wonderful place in the universe, except the place which Christ Himself holds; but the Head and the Body cannot be separated, and neither can the Husband and the Wife. The place it has in the world to come does not alter when the thousand years have expired, though of course its service will be different in the eternal state. But it is ever the Body and the Bride of Christ; ever His own bone and flesh, and ever His Companion, the object of the knowledge-surpassing love of His heart. It will be at the centre of God’s universe of glory. The supreme Centre will be God revealed in all His love—the Father, but the Father will be in the Son, and the Son in the hearts of the saints. “I in them, and Thou in Me” (John 17). To be in the blessedness of this now in the power of the Father’s Spirit is what Paul desires for the saints in his second prayer for the Ephesians. The Father, who is the Author of all this sphere of glory, is appealed to by the Apostle that He might strengthen the saints by His Spirit in the inner man. It is only the Spirit of Him who is Source of this vast universe of blessing who can make us able to view it in all its glorious extent. And what is really wanted is that Christ should dwell in our hearts. It is this which enables us to grasp the magnitude of this sphere which shall be radiant with the light of God. “Rooted and founded in love” is having our souls well established in the knowledge of God; but the whole point of the prayer is: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” The Father is the Source of all this glory, and Christ is the Centre of it, but He who is the Centre of it dwells in the heart of His Church. This is the power by which we grasp, in the vision of our souls, that whole system of glory which is the Father’s, but which He has given to the Son, and which we share with Him. But to view this vast field of infinite and eternal blessedness we must take all saints into our thought, for there can be no display of this until all are glorified. But Christ dwelling in the heart of His glorious Bride enables her to look abroad upon all that which is the Father’s and the Son’s; and when she has contemplated it all, viewed it in its length and breadth, and depth and height, there is something upon which she falls back and knows to be better to her than all she has contemplated, and that is the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.
I need hardly say the Church would be nothing without Christ. It is His, made for Him. The man was not made for the woman, but the woman for the man (1 Cor. 11). The Church was for Christ; He loved her and gave Himself for her. It is the spirit which animates the body, and it is Christ who animates the Church. The body without the spirit is dead. Christ is the life of His Body; it lives by its connection with its living Head; it moves at His direction, and without Him it would be motionless. Each member has its own place in the Body and its own service to perform, and no one member can rightly do the work of another, but all as directed by the Head who gives impulse to it in all its service for God.
It is also heavenly in its origin and nature. It could not otherwise occupy the place given to it in divine counsel, for the heavenly must always take precedence of the earthly. It could not be earthly and occupy any place of supremacy; neither could it have been united to Christ; and it is the fact that it is His Body and Bride which gives it this exalted place in the rank of creature superiority. Eve was taken out of Adam therefore she was fit to be united to him; and Rebekah was of the kindred of Abraham, and it was from that people the servant was to take the bride for Isaac. And the Church is of God, every member begotten by His word, partaker of His life and nature, of heavenly origin, and therefore suitable for union with the heavenly Man. She is His companion now in the day of His rejection, and in the day of His glory she shall be glorified along with Him. Whether in reproach or honour she shares with Him. A true wife is content to be with her husband in whatever circumstances he may be found. She will be a comfort to him in his rejection and poverty, as she will crown the splendour of his position in the day of his exaltation. The Church has therefore an inheritance upon earth, as she has all things in heaven, and her inheritance on earth is suffering rejection and reproach for His name. This she counts an unspeakable privilege.
Her position is in the heavenlies. She never was nor shall be a denizen of earth; it is no place for her. If we could see the order of the heavenly bodies, the arrangement of the worlds, we would discover, if divinely instructed, that there is something lacking, and that is a power to unite them together under one common head, so that the wonderful works of God should be known by every intelligence. I do not mean to imply that the order of the creation is not what it ought to be, as far as the systems of the worlds are concerned. It is not necessary at the present moment that we should occupy ourselves with the science of astronomy as men understand it, but yet a very illiterate man who knows the Scriptures may have a better knowledge of the universe than the man who depends upon the telescope. He will see that God had thoughts about the heavens and the earth which meant the complete change of everything; and that though all was very good as He made it, and could not be improved upon, His eternal counsels involved another order of things altogether. It may be replied that this change is to be moral, and I do not question that it shall be moral; but we must keep in mind that the earth and its heavens are to be burned up, and this is something more than moral. And when we see that the Church was in the mind of the Creator, His great secret, we cannot refuse the inference that it was destined by Him whose secret it was to fill a most important—the most important place in the creation along with Christ who is its Head, and who in all things must have the pre-eminence.
As to the order of the nations upon the earth, they were set at the beginning in relation to His earthly people Israel, and that before that nation had any existence. Moses says in his song: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deut. 32). They were to be the centre of the earth in the way of government and blessing. It was half a millennium before He called Israel out of Egypt, that he “divided to the nations their inheritance” (Gen. 10:25), but however long it might be God had before Him a day in which He would take up the government of the earth, and in which He would set aside the power of evil, and all in view of the blessing of man; and Israel was before Him, as the people of His choice, and by whom He would secure the earth for Himself. Israel was brought out of Egypt and placed in the land for this purpose, but the people failed Him most miserably. They corrupted themselves with the idols of the nations around them, so that the Lord abhorred them, hid His face from them, heaped mischiefs upon them and scattered them in His anger among the nations; and this goes on until His arrows are drunk with blood, and His sword has devoured flesh. But when judgment has been executed upon them and the nations, and when the storm is over, and the time to favour Zion has come, the nations are called to rejoice with His people (Deut. 32). Israel will be once again established in their own land, this time under the reign of the Son of David, who is also David’s Lord, and they shall be the centre of rule and blessing for the whole earth.
But is the order of the heavens of less importance than that of earth? If in the distribution of the sons of Adam God had Israel before Him, and if all the nations were set in their places with reference to the nation which, under Christ, would be the centre of blessing, how much more shall not the whole creation be laid out according to the great secret of the heart of the Creator? He has made known to us that in the dispensation of the fullness of times, which is the world to come, He will gather together all things under one Head, and that Head Christ. He will take hold of everything for God, the solar systems, the countless worlds which, as far as we see, lie scattered throughout the wide borders of the domain of God, the stars which seem crowded in a galaxy of glory above our heads, will all bend before the last Adam, and own His universal sway. He will take the earthly inheritance in Israel, but not without Christ, for in Him is vested all the might of God; still, it will be by His earthly people that He will possess the land, but by the Church He will take up all things. And the Apostle would have us know the “Riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” It is not the saints which are the inheritance here, but the inheritance is that which is possessed by God through the medium of the saints. His Body comes in for this service, for He has gone far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and God has given Him to be Head over all things to the Church, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1). Everything will be taken by Christ, but the Head and the Body are one. Everything visible and invisible must come under His sway, but under Christ and the Church Israel will be the head of the nations.
This is what we are at the present moment being fitted for, and this is the point in both prayers in Ephesians. In the first the Apostle prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Himself, and in the second he prays that the Father would give them to be strengthened with power by His Spirit in the inner man. In the first prayer it is the wisdom of God that is before the mind of the Apostle for them, and in the second it is the love of God. In the first he desires that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened, and in the second that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. In the first it is calling, inheritance, and power; in the second it is the breadth, length, depth, and height, of redeemed creation, which stands in relationship with the Father and in which He displays Himself. Every family is named of the Father, He is the source of all. The Father is God revealed in love, and in relationship with the Son of His love, and all that sphere of glory is but the outcome of His eternal love. The first circle around the living Centre Christ, in whom the Father dwells, is the Church, and it is part of Himself; but stretching far as the finite but glorified and Spirit-strengthened eye can reach shines each family, according to its own capacity and in its respective place in relation to that Centre, radiant in the glory of redemption. This by the Spirit’s power, with Christ dwelling in our hearts, and we rooted and founded in love, we may even now be able to grasp, and thus be filled into all the fullness of God. Immersed in that ocean of divine love and light, and our souls satiated with that which, as it were, swallows us up, we give glory to God by Christ both now and throughout all eternity.
What other power but that of the Spirit of the Father could enable us to grasp those wonderful conceptions. The Father is the Author of all those counsels of eternal love, and if we are to know anything about them before the day of display comes we must be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. But He delights to make them known to us, and is ever ready to carry us beyond all that we ask or think. And the more we enter into these things, the better able will we be to come out down here according to His mind. The perfect day has not yet come; we have not all come to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” When that day comes we shall know as we are known, and everything will be in perfect harmony with the mind of God. The Church will be presented to Christ a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, and all our education will be at an end. The present time is the time for learning, and if we are set for getting on in His things we shall be well rewarded, for “the diligent soul shall be made fat.” If we are careless and indifferent as to those deep things of God, and well content to know that our sins are forgiven and our souls saved, letting everything else in the way of spiritual blessing remain as great a secret as if it never had come to light, we will be poverty-stricken in our souls and little able to be here for God.
We are to be “imitators of God.” If we are His imitators we shall be some little light for Him; and light means that we set Him forth in this dark world. If we set Him truly before men in His nature and character we will be a true light for Him, and we are responsible to do this; perhaps I had better say we are privileged to do this. It is not that we are not responsible, for we are, and it is a sad thing to be found misrepresenting Him, but it is a great privilege to be set in the midst of this dark world to shine for Him. The professing Church has failed, and we all have to take the failure seriously to heart, for we all have contributed to it; but we are looking forward to the day when there shall be no failure, and I am sure that, in the measure in which we have that day before us, in that measure shall we be free from the influences of things down here and able to present Him before those who as yet know Him not. In the day that is coming the Church shall shine in His light, and in that day there will be no shadow of turning. May we seek that it be so now.
The higher the truth brought before us in the Scriptures, the greater the responsibility, on the principle that to whom much has been given, much shall be required. In Romans the measure of our responsibility is the law. The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in them who walk after the Spirit. We are justified and delivered from the dominion of sin, and from the condemnation of the law, in order that we may yield our members up to the service of God, and that He may enable us to fulfil our obligations as His people in the midst of a lawless world.
In Colossians we are to be imitators of Christ, who is in us as life, and we are to forgive one another, as Christ forgave us. It is more the Head which is before us in the teaching in Colossians, and the graces of the Head are to be seen in the members of His Body. But in Ephesians it is the Assembly which is prominent, and there the new man is created after God, and we are to come out down here as His imitators: “Kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” We are to be imitators of God. In Colossians we are not to lie to one another, because we have put off the old man; but in Ephesians we are not to lie to one another because we are members one of another. It is the Assembly as the Body and Bride which is prominent in Ephesians.
It is in this way, as I have said, that we are light—as His imitators. But this light has come to us in the person of Christ, hence it is on Him we are to keep our eye. We are to “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” Thus, while it is God we imitate, it is Christ who has brought to us the knowledge of God, and therefore Christ is our pattern. He is our light, because He has faithfully and perfectly presented God before our soul. We are set here in His place to be a light to the world, as He was. We have sadly failed, for we have greatly misrepresented God, but He was ever perfect. He could say, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.”
But if we have failed collectively there is an opportunity for the individual overcomer. In Philippians we get the walk of an Ephesian (one who is instructed in the truth of the Mystery) on earth. There you get one thoroughly taken up with the interests of Christ, the prosperity of that which is of God upon earth is everything to Him. It is largely the experience of the great apostle Paul himself. Still, the Philippians were a great comfort to him, for in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel they were all partakers of his grace. They were absorbed with the interests of Christ. They had fellowship with him in the Gospel, and at a certain period in his history no other Church had cared for him except themselves. We get his labours, conflicts, desires, boastings, aspirations and hopes set before them, and recorded for our benefit, in order that we, as well as they, might follow in the path marked out by him.
This could not be otherwise with one who knew what union with the glorified Head of the Body meant. He was like the faithful wife in Proverbs, the heart of Christ could rest in him. He hid himself in his labour for Christ, and his Master was magnified in his body; and his one great thought was that this should be so whether by life or death. A faithful wife has no interests except those of her husband, and the Church has no interests but those of Christ. Paul has to lament that “All seek their own, and not the things which be Jesus Christ’s.” How sad it is when this is so! May we know what it means to be united to our glorified Head in heaven, that we may be heavenly in all our thoughts and desires, and also that we may be absorbed with His interests, and may we pass through this world as Enoch did, with the light of translation in our souls. This is our hope, and it is a hope which shall be most surely realized: “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.”