Christian Friend vol. 19, 1892, p. 68.
The truth of the mystery includes four things:
1st, the revelation of God's counsel concerning Christ as the second Man;
2nd, the relation of the Church to Him as His body and bride;
3rd, the nature of this union;
4th, what the Head is to the body, and to each individual member.
In other words, it is the unfolding of the glory of the Head, the grace which has set the Church in relation to Him in that glory, and what the Head is to the body for its present maintenance while on earth.
In the end of the Epistle to the Romans the apostle first mentions the mystery, but does not unfold it. In that epistle the Spirit of God has given that which must precede the knowledge of the mystery - that is, the gospel. Until the gospel is known in its fulness, a soul cannot truly appreciate the truth of the mystery. Paul was a minister of the gospel, and also a minister of the mystery. (Col. 1:23-29.) In the former ministry we get that which meets the need of a sinner, and reveals what God is in grace for man. When it is apprehended by faith, the soul is brought to God in peace and liberty, assured that every question as to sin was settled once and for ever to the satisfaction of God at the cross. The believer is reconciled to God, and is brought into the relationship of a son, knowing God as Father. Being accepted in the Beloved, and having the Spirit of adoption, he enjoys this relationship, crying, Abba, Father. Thus the conscience and heart are perfectly set free, the soul is at home in the presence of God, and needs no more to be occupied with itself and its needs. Such an one is free indeed, and being thus delivered from all his fears and cares, is in a condition to be occupied with what is outside the range of his own necessities. He can now be engaged with the glories of Christ, and God's counsels and purposes concerning Christ, and for His glory. So then, when the truth in the Epistle to the Romans is really known, the saint is prepared to go on to the apprehension of the mystery. This we get developed in the epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians.
First of all, we get in Ephesians 1 the purpose of God concerning Christ as the second Man, the man of God's purpose (Psalm 8), and the power which has already wrought in Him. In Ephesians 1:10 we learn that God, according to His own good pleasure, has purposed, in the administration of the fulness of the times (that is, in the millennial age), to bring everything in heaven and upon earth under the headship of Christ as the second Man. If the question be asked, "What is man?" the Spirit of God at once turns, not to the first man, not to one of Adam's race, but to Him who is the second Man, the One in whom all the purposes of God centre. It is wonderful to see that God's purpose gives man, this place of universal headship over all creation, and puts everything in heaven as well as on the earth under His dominion. And Christ will take this place, not simply in His divine right as Son of God, but in His acquired glory as Son of man; for God's purpose was that the church should co-inherit with Him, which would have been impossible if He did not take the place as man. We get in verse 11, "In whom we have obtained an inheritance." We do not yet see the full accomplishment of this purpose of God, but we do see the earnest and guarantee of it in the power which has already wrought in Christ, in raising Him from the dead, and setting Him even now at God's right hand in the heavenly places, far above every principality and authority and power and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come, "and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body." We do not yet see all things put under Him, but we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, exalted to His place, and crowned with glory and honour. He is manifestly the One whom God delights to honour. How should the knowledge of this preserve us from all we find in the world around us, where Christ is rejected, and where we see man exalting himself in every way, man glorying in man! The principle of the world is, "Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself." We know that this exaltation of man will find its full development in the manifestation of "the man of sin," who will exalt himself above all that is called God, and will be destroyed in the judgment of that day, when all the pride of man will be brought low, and when the Lord alone will be exalted.
2. In the next place we learn in the revelation of the mystery how God, in His most wonderful purpose and grace, has associated believers of the present dispensation with Christ, in this place of honour and glory, as His body and His bride. In this place, when risen and exalted, He is given to be head over all things to the church, which is His body. It does not say head over the church, but head over all things to the church. Surely nothing could more fully display the riches of God's grace than that He should be pleased to associate the church (that is, all saints from Pentecost until the Lord comes) with Christ, the Man of His purpose, His own blessed Son, the One in whom is all His pleasure. Yet so it is. Every believer indwelt by the Spirit is united to Christ, the living Head, as a member of His body, and is regarded by the Lord as a part of Himself. The church is thus the fulness of Him who filleth all in all, the fulness of the mystic Man, the subject of God's purpose - that is, Christ the Head and the church His body making the Christ, as it says in 1 Cor. 12:12, one perfect man according to God's counsel, which will be manifested as such in the day of glory. This is the force of the expression, "His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."
The first intimation of this great truth came out in connection with Saul's conversion. The Lord, speaking from heaven, said to Saul, who was persecuting His saints, "Said, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Though the Lord was in heaven, His body was on earth. The words he addressed to Saul expressed the perfect oneness, the union which existed between the Lord in heaven and the saints on earth. Saul learnt that in persecuting the saints he was persecuting the body of Christ, that the Lord regards every saint, however feeble he may be, as a member of Himself. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is the Christ, for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body . . . and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:12, 13.) The Christ in this passage includes Christ and the church, making the one mystic man. Nothing like the figure of the body could express the most intimate union which exists between Christ and His people, and the character of the love and interest and care the Lord has toward and in His people. No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as also Christ the assembly, for we are members of His body. (Eph. 5:29, 30.) As a member of the body of Christ, every saint is a partaker of the joy and blessing and glory of the Head. "We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ," i.e., we are blessed in being made partakers with Christ in all that God the Father has given to Him - our hope, therefore, is the full realization of this with Him in glory.
The Spirit is the bond and power of this union. "We have all been made to drink of the one Spirit." As we walk in the Spirit this union becomes a practical reality; thus we have the mind of the Head, we are governed by the will of the Head, we are sustained by the power of the Head, we are nourished from the Head. Those thus walking keep the unity of the Spirit, and so become visibly one company, thinking the same thing, having the same love, joined in soul, and thus giving forth one united testimony to Christ.
3. It is of the first importance to consider the nature of this union. Some have taught that Christ by incarnation united Himself with men, that is, men in the flesh, and so exalted and dignified the human race. Others have supposed that man such as he is by nature could be united to Christ in resurrection. Both of these things would be utterly impossible; it would involve the union of holiness and sin, it would be an incongruous union. The true nature of our union with Christ comes out in the epistle to the Colossians, where we see that we must be of His life and nature in order to be united to Him. As natural men alive in this world we have died with Christ; in the status and condition of the natural man we have ceased to exist. "Ye are dead." Circumcised with the circumcision, not done with hands, we have put off the body of the flesh. It was impossible for Christ to take sinful flesh into union with Himself, and it was impossible to change the flesh; therefore there was nothing else to be done but to put it off as that which God has repudiated and judged in the cross. In Colossians it is not only sin in the flesh which is judged, but the flesh itself, with all its pretensions to wisdom and religiousness and natural powers and will. All that man naturally glories in, all is set aside in the death of Christ as being utterly unprofitable to God. In Christ risen we see man according to God. He is the only man whom God acknowledges - in resurrection He is the beginning of a new race, of a new creation. The believer is alive now in the life of the risen Man. "Christ is our life," and in this life he is identified with Christ as risen. Being risen with Christ, I have left behind the life and condition of the first man; and being identified with Christ risen, I am of that new race, of the new creation of which He is the beginning and Head, and I belong to His place above.
The soul accepting this, the truth as it is in Jesus has put off the old man (Adam) and put on the new man (Christ); he has repudiated what is of himself as a natural man, he finds his all in Christ. "Christ is all and in all." It is, therefore, in the new man and, on resurrection ground, that I am united to Christ; I am quickened together with Him and risen with Him. The figure which exemplifies the nature of this union is Adam and Eve. Adam fell into a deep sleep, the figure of Christ's death, and God took out of his side a rib, out of which he formed the woman, and when Adam awoke presented her to him as his wife. Adam said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." She was fit to be his wife because she was of his own nature; she was taken out of himself, she was his own flesh. No one can understand the mystery who does not see that the saint is a part of Christ - that what he is before God as a saint he has entirely derived from the second man, the last Adam; he is bone of His bones, and flesh of His flesh. What was derived from the first Adam, the sinful man, could not be united to Christ. It was not until Christ had borne the judgment of the first man - and so terminated that man as far as His saints are concerned - and had taken His place in resurrection that He became the Head of the body. (Eph. 1:19-23; Col. 1:18.)
What a wonderful organization the church would be if it were walking in the power of this union - if each member were walking in faith, holding the Head, a company on earth maintained in the power of the Head, and governed by the will of the Head, and expressing the mind of the Head. Were this so, that which was part of the Lord's intention as to the church would have been fulfilled; viz., that His body should represent Him, and exhibit His moral beauties in the place where He has been rejected. And if the church as a whole has failed as to this, this does not diminish our responsibility and privilege. It is in proportion as each one is holding the Head, that he is able in his own sphere to exhibit the mind and maintain the glory of the Head. Holding the Head would imply the acknowledgment of the Lord in this relationship, deferring to Him in everything, seeking His mind, being subject to His will, and being dependent upon His power. This involves the repudiation of all that is of man, the practical application of the truth that we have put off the body of the flesh, and that Christ is all.
4. In Colossians we get what the Head is to the body, as in Ephesians we get what the body is to the Head. "In Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" - all that God is, is revealed and presented to us, and is for us in Christ our living Head. What a wonderful thought for our hearts to be occupied with! In Him, who is our Head, dwells all the fulness of the Godhead! What can we need more, save faith, to draw from these inexhaustible resources? Surely the man of this world, with his intellect, wisdom, or religion, can add nothing to the one who is filled up in Christ! Such an one is independent of philosophy and ritualism, and if holding the Head is proof against its seduction. It is no wonder, when the apostle recognized the dangers that threatened the saints, that he should so earnestly desire that they should be fully assured of the truth of the mystery of God, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Christ we not only have everything which makes us complete as to our standing before God, but also everything which we need for our life and service here. We want to learn more of the fulness we have in the Head, and by faith to draw out of His fulness all we need to live the life of faith, and to represent Him in this world. "We are the circumcision who worship God in [or by] the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." As we learn experimentally the weakness and worthlessness of all that is of the flesh, so we appreciate the fact that we are filled up in Christ, that Christ is all. "From which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." All the supply for the body comes down from the Head. See also Eph. 4:15, 16. Before we can walk as those who are holding the Head, and can practically appropriate the fulness that is in the Head, we must have learnt what it is to put off the body of the flesh by the death of Christ.
It is not here a question of what is in itself evil: there is sin in the flesh, but there is much beside. There is in the flesh, or in the natural man, what we might glory in; certainly no one would glory in sin. In Phil. 3 Paul speaks of what he had in the flesh in which as a man he could glory. There is the will and energy and strength of the flesh; there are the emotions, feelings, and sentiments of the flesh - that which can be acted upon by a natural religion. But all that is of the natural man has been tried and found wanting, and proved to be unprofitable to God, and all has been judged in the cross; and, in receiving the testimony of God to Christ and His death, the believer accepts this judgment of the flesh, and of all that belongs to it, and so puts off the body of the flesh. He repudiates all that springs from the flesh, and lives by faith of the Son of God; he is subject to the will of the Head; he has the mind of the Head; he receives grace and power from the Head; and so the life which is in the Head is exhibited in the members of the body - "Christ lives in me." If this were so with each member, we should all be united together practically, as having one mind, that is, the mind of Christ; we should act in perfect harmony as governed by one will - the will of the Head; we should have common interests as being one body in Christ, and seeking only His interests. In order to this, there must be the daily application to ourselves of the truth of the cross, "Always bearing about in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" - the mortifying of our members on the earth.
We see then in Colossians that the aspect of the mystery presented is not so much what we are in Christ, but Christ in us as life, and the practical results of this: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him: rooted and built up in Him." Philosophy and human religion can only cultivate and develop the flesh; they cannot reveal Christ and what we have in Him, nor form Christ in us, which is the practical object of Christianity. We see too how the church derives everything from Christ, and is thus independent of all that is of man.
May God grant to us not only that we may understand the truth of the mystery, but that we may more fully realize by faith, and in the power of the Spirit, our union with Christ. We know that every believer is united by the Spirit to Christ the Head, but how little we understand and realize this union!