Essential Christianity

1. THE MYSTERY

surely no one could read the opening verses of the Ephesians and be indifferent to what follows. Could anyone say I am eternally enfolded in those wonderful statements; I am one of those who have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; chosen in Him before the foundation of the world; made holy and without blame before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in love; predestinated to the adoption of children; made accepted in the beloved One; redeemed and forgiven according to the riches of God's grace, and yet I am not interested in God's purpose and thoughts?

The exceeding riches of God's grace thus made known to us must command our earnest attention and awaken reverent enquiry. Especially as He treats us now, not as servants, but friends, and proposes to let us into His eternal secret, that which lies nearer than all to His heart, what He is going to do for His own Son.

It is as though He said to us, "I have forgiven you and set you free from all anxiety about your sins, and redeemed you from the power of the great enemy, and now I want you to enter into My thoughts; I want to unfold to you My purpose for the glory and joy of My own Son, and according to this purpose I have also given to you a part; you are necessary to the carrying out of it. So I have taken you up according to the riches of My grace, setting you free to contemplate the mystery of My will; having abounded towards you in all "wisdom and prudence," giving you the capacity for understanding and enjoying it all by the power of the Holy Ghost."

This is so exceeding abundantly above all that we could have asked or thought, that if we do but see with the eyes of our hearts the glory of it, all indifference as to it will perish for ever; and in self-forgetting and adoring service, we shall seek to comprehend with all saints the blessedness of it, and to labour in prayer and word and doctrine that the truth of it may not remain a dead letter to us, or to any of the saints.

His Church

Before the lips of our Lord first uttered those two words, "My church," words which impress us with the preciousness of the church to Him as being His own peculiar possession, He asked His disciples. "Whom do ye say that I am?" Peter answered at once "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The truth as to His Person must come out, for there could be no church apart from that, for it is formed upon and will be filled with what He is. But in this connection it is important that we should rightly grasp the significance of this episode in the revelation of the truth. Peter had not arrived at the truth by the exercise of his natural wits, or through any education he had received in the schools of men; nor can any other man; the scribes and Pharisees were far more intellectual and educated than he, and they neither discerned nor confessed the truth as to the Son of God. Nor had he gathered it from his study of the Old Testament prophets, though they all spoke of Christ; nor from the preaching of John the Baptist, though he was a faithful messenger, going before the face of the Lord's Anointed. He had received it from the Father — name of perfect grace, unknown to saints and sages of dispensations past, however exalted their privileges; hidden even now from the wise and prudent of the earth, but revealed unto babes. And it was from Heaven that the Father had revealed it. It was a heavenly revelation, the fruit of unmeasured grace which the name Father implies. This great revelation upon which so much hangs, was not made because of any merit in those who were chosen to receive it; and it connects itself, not with prophecies regarding the kingdom which are earthly in character, but with heaven and the counsel of God's will, by which all who were to receive it were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.

We cannot pass over this passage of Scripture lightly; it arrests us by its blessedness, and certainly we must learn what lies under the simple statements here given if we are to have any true understanding of the truth of the church. We begin with the Person of Christ, this is fundamental, there could be no church apart from Him; but what we would at this point emphasize is, that it is His Father in heaven who reveals what He is that the church might be. It is not what He will be as Son of David, that is set forth in the Old Testament; or even as Son of man, His glory in this position is also spoken of in those indispensable prophecies; but, Who is this Son of Man? He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is upon this revelation of Him that the church is brought into being, built up and completed and every other glory which is His will manifest itself fully in relation to what He, the Christ, is personally with the Father. It is the Father's work to make this known, indeed we might, speaking with reverence, call it His own special and chief activity, but does not this show what a world of ineffable love is here opened up to us, that had never been opened before, where the counsels of the Father for the glory of the Son are unfolded, and into which none can intrude? Only those chosen for it by surpassing grace may enter here.

Our deep conviction is, that we shall make no progress in the knowledge of the truth of the church if we fail to understand this, so that we make no apology for seeming repetition. It was not as Elohim — the strong One (Gen. 1:1) that God made this revelation to Peter, or as Jehovah — the self-existent One, (Gen. 2:7) or as El-Shaddai (Gen. 17:1) the Almighty, all-sufficient One, but as the Father of our Lord Jesus Chris, — "My Father," as He said. All that had come out in former days He is and will ever be; but it is not here a question of His attributes, His power, faithfulness or sufficiency, but what He is in His very nature. This could not he known to us by any work of His hand in creation, but only by the revelation of Himself by the only begotten Son that dwelt eternally in His bosom. So that we have first — the Father revealed in and by the only begotten Son, Jesus our Lord; and then the truth as to this glorious Person revealed to our faith by the Father; one can easily see that this must eventuate in fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ for all who respond to this revelation. Thus all truth hangs together.

Again we insist that it is the Father in Heaven who reveals it. It is made to us upon earth, but it is from heaven, it is heavenly in character, and lifts us above the earth, and carries us into a range of things about which the prophecies that have to do with earth have nothing to say. The great majority of even pious Christians have not grasped the force of this, but the importance of it will be seen as the truth is developed. Then further, the way in which Christ is revealed is as victorious over death — He is "the Son of the living God." This revelation from the Father in heaven looked onward and carried the thought of resurrection with it. Immediately the Lord speaks of His suffering and death and resurrection; the truth is placed upon that platform, outside man in the flesh, with his ambitions, hopes and activities, which all lie shattered and dissolved at the touch of death.

So that we have at the first mention of the church in Scripture, the Father's activity — fullness of grace; the revelation He makes is a heavenly one, and it is of Christ, who would establish His church outside all the schemes and failures of man in the flesh against which all Satan's power and subtlety is directed in vain. It is invincible.

The Glorious Head

The mystery which is unfolded in the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians is Christ and the church, not the church without Christ, nor yet Christ without the church. Christ is the Head and the church His body. Consequently, though the church is in this blessed unity which is formed according to the purpose of God and by the might of His Spirit, its place is the subordinate one, as every body is subordinate to its head. and its blessedness and importance lie in the fact that it is the body of Christ, united to Him, the living Head in heaven.

We begin with Christ, whatever place of favour or testimony the church has now, or of glory it will have hereafter, it has by virtue of the fact that it is united to Christ, hence the necessity of beginning with Him. In doing so, the affections of the heart are brought into activity. One might say, "I am not particularly interested in the truth of the church," but none who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ will say, "I am not interested in Him," and in occupation with Him we are led naturally to be interested in that which He loves and nourishes and cherishes.

The purpose of the mystery is to fill the universe with Christ, and this will be done by the church.
1. Christ — the full revelation of God in manhood, the display.
2. The Churchthe vessel for the display.
3. The Created Universethe sphere of the display.

Yes, God intends that Christ, who fills His own heart, shall fill the universe, and this will be Glory, and one part of the mystery now is that 'Christ is in His members the hope of Glory'(Col. 1:27) — God intends that the One who in the narrow compass of 33 years, in lowliness of life and obscurity, beset with every conceivable hostility of evil, fully declared His name, and revealed His nature in such a way that the world cannot contain the books, shall Himself be revealed in the fullness of His incomparable worth to every intelligence in the vast universe; and His body is the chosen vessel through which He will do it, and this not only in the dispensation of the fullness of times, but, unto the ages of the ages God will have Glory in the church by Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:21).

2. THE WORSHIP OF THE FATHER

It is as the Father, name of infinite grace and love, that God desires to be worshipped, and as neither angels nor men knew Him in this way they could not worship Him. But the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, came to reveal Him in all the fullness of His love, and in Christ we see the Father seeking worshippers, not among angels, but among the sinful, unhappy sons of men.

Three great steps had to be taken by the Lord if God's end had to be reached, and it is interesting to see that these three steps were first revealed to women.
FIRST. He must come into the world.
SECOND. He must go into death.
THIRD. He must ascend again to the Father.

That the first of these great steps had been taken was revealed to the woman of Sychar (John 4). What a need was hers! She was a woman with a sinful past, an empty heart, and a hopeless future; true picture of all who are outside the blessing that Christ has opened up. The Lord met her where she was and revealed Himself as the Giver of the living water, which should not only be in her a well of perennial satisfaction, but should spring up to its Source, the Father, and so yield satisfaction also to Him.

There had to be a probing work to fit her for this, as there must be with us all, and this work the Lord accomplished until He had brought her to the point where she confesses that Christ was her only hope. "I know" said she "that Messias cometh, which is called Christ; when He is come He will tell us all things." The Lord's response, "I that speak unto thee, am He," changed her life, and sent her to witness to the men of the city that Christ had come. "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did, is not this the Christ." He searched the sinner and revealed Himself as the Saviour. So the men of the city say, "We have heard Him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."

We become familiar with the great truths that are revealed to us in the Word, and consequently they often lose their greatness in our eyes, yet how wonderful it is that the Son of God should come into the world, and should come as the Saviour. Two things made this necessary, first, that God might be revealed, second, our need of salvation. It was God who sent Him not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. More than thirty times in the Gospel of John the Lord speaks of Himself as being sent into the world by the Father. He glories in it, and so shall we if we understand it. No angel could have fulfilled His mission. He only could make the Father known, and the Father sent Him to do this. The only begotten Son shone as the light in the darkness, He came near to men full of grace and truth, seeking for them in their misery, to take them out of it and lead them to His Father. David cried "O send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me. Then will I go unto the altar of God, my exceeding joy yea, upon the harp will I praise Thee, O God my God." But David could never have imagined that God's light and truth would come forth in the person of God's Son, in order to lead multitudes to the Father Himself. But this has happened, and in it our souls do greatly rejoice.

But the revelation that He made of the Father would have been in vain, if He had taken no other steps than this. He must die. This was the second step. This fact was plain to MARY OF BETHANY. She alone of those who followed the Lord had perceived this. The disciples thought that they were following Him to the throne and kingdom, and to the outward senses it looked like it when multitudes of Jews followed Him because He had raised Lazarus from the dead. They were carried away by the temporary enthusiasm of the Jews which led them so far as to meet the Lord with loud hosannas. But Mary understood, and brought forth her alabaster box and poured its costly contents upon His feet. For His burying she had kept it. How long she had kept it we know not, but there it was to be brought out at the right moment. She honoured Him, owning His kingly glory by her act, but she knew that notwithstanding all that glory, He Himself was going into death. The relationship in which His own were to stand with Him before the Father could not be after the order of natural life, that life was forfeited by every sinner, none could abide in it except Christ who was sinless, and if He had chosen to live He must have lived alone, for "Except a corn of wheat fail into the ground and die it abideth alone." Even Lazarus, who was raised from the dead into the old natural life, must die again. If death were to be removed Christ must die; if those who were under its power were to be delivered from it He must pass into the depths of it, for only by coming where we were could the Lord come into definite contact with us, and this He has done. His love to us, and His Father's will carried Him into death in His search for those whom He would bring forth out of death to be His brethren and worshippers of the Father.

But the third step had to be taken, He must go to the Father; and for this He was constantly preparing His disciples from John 13 onwards.

We come now to our resurrection chapter, in which to Mary Magdalene was revealed the full and glorious truth. When she realized who He was she thought that the old relationship, that of an earthly Messiah in the midst of an earthly people, was to be resumed. Hence His words, "Touch Me not." He must ascend to His Father. The new relationship was to be a heavenly one.

Psalm 22 records for us the path of sorrow that the Lord trod in the fulfilment of the will of God and also of His triumph. And there we learn what was foremost in His mind; for when heard from the horns of the unicorns and brought out of death He exclaims, "I will declare Thy Name amongst My brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto Thee." These very words of the Lord are quoted in Hebrews 2 where we learn that the congregation in the midst of which He sings is the Church, and in the Church His brethren also are. The Church is the dwelling-place for God upon the earth today, in it He can rejoice; those who form it "are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22), and the brethren of Christ are the sons of men in whom He delights. So that at last He has His dwelling-place on the earth, and the sons of men in it.

But the Church is here only for a while, the brethren that form it are partakers of the heavenly calling, but in the fact that it is here, we see the triumph of Christ. Oh, that we understood it better. Consider that wonderful description that is ours — "Holy Brethren." These two words are found in Psalm 22. There, in giving the answer to His own question, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me" the Lord says, "But Thou art holy." This is the very nature of God, and this is the nature that is ours as those who are sanctified and one with the risen Christ, our Sanctifier; and we are His brethren, those of whom He spoke when He said, "I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren." Nature and relationship all according to God. And this is His assembly, His Church, that which is of Himself. Where the Father's name is known, where Christ triumphs in His own, and sings the praises of God. If God of old inhabited the praises of Israel, how much more will He dwell in this higher and perfect praise! How blessedly habitable must that place be to Him in which His Well-beloved, raised up from the dead, sings in the company of His brethren.