In connection with the truth of “the mystery” the thought of the oneness of all the saints in Christ is strikingly prominent. In Ephesians 3 it is specially conspicuous, for we are told there, that the mystery which was previously hidden, but now made known, reveals that all are “(1) joint heirs and (2) a joint body and (3) joint partakers of God’s promise in Christ Jesus by the glad tidings” (v. 6). This verse shows that all the saints, according to the mind of God, are one collectively as “joint heirs,” one corporately as “a joint body,” and one vitally as “joint partakers of His promise in Christ Jesus.” In all three aspects oneness is insisted upon by the Spirit of God in relation to the mystery concerning Christ and the assembly.
In our papers on this most important subject, we spoke of the central fact of the mystery,—the corporate aspect, and of the riches of the glory of it. We then considered the primary part of this great truth,—that of joint heirship. The third and final fact now remains to come before us. May God graciously help us in our meditation upon it. His promise in Christ Jesus, of which the beloved saints of God are joint partakers by means of the gospel of His grace, must be exceedingly blessed, for it is hall-marked by divine permanence and perfection, as everything in this relation connected with Christ and the assembly is, for it is according to His eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The dewy loveliness of it must abide in all the freshness of youth eternally. The bud, the blossom, the beauty, the bloom and the fruitful benefits may disclose their varied treasures, yet all develops and enlarges from the same vitality already participated in from the beginning. That handsome Prince of noble mien and generous mind, has still the life-blood flowing in his veins of which he partook when a babe. Right and admirable growth there has been, but potentially all was there from the first. It has but found the suitable and essential means of expressing itself by proper stages of growth. Fundamentally the original principle remains the same however, and without it the development were impossible. Of our blessed Lord, the King of glory, the Originator of life, it is said, “In the beauty of holiness from the womb of the morning, Thou hast the dew of Thy youth.” In Him it abides in eternal perfection; and of His bride, the assembly, it is said, after sharing in His Kingdom glory for a thousand years,—she comes “as a bride adorned for her husband.” In lasting freshness and responsive love she is still beautiful and pleasing to Him whose glory she is. Like her beloved Bridegroom she retains eternally the dewy loveliness of youth, along with all that she has gained since He first made her His.
The “Joint Partakers”
The redeemed from amongst the Jews and from amongst the nations are the joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus, and the gospel is the means by which they are called into it. Unlike Israel of old, who partook of special privileges through their natural birth as belonging to that nation, the rich blessings of the mystery are ours now through the call of God in the glad tidings of His grace; for the “preaching” is “according to the revelation of the mystery, as to which silence was kept in the times of the ages” (Rom. 16:25). It is in Christ Jesus we jointly partake of the precious promise of God. This involves a new standing for us altogether outside of Judaism and the distant ground on which the nations stood, having “become nigh” in Christ Jesus by His blood. A new state is also ours, for “if any one be in Christ there is a new creation, the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new: and all things are of God Who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ.” The old standing and the old state have no place there, “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
We are told in Ephesians 2 that Christ has broken down the middle wall of enclosure between Jews and Gentiles, making both one, and becoming Himself the bond and peace of the joint partakers. The old enmity which had existed between them He has annulled in His flesh, reconciling both to God in one body by the cross, where the enmity was slain when He died for all. The Jew spirit however still asserts itself where this truth has not been learned experimentally. Where new creation in Christ Jesus is not known in power, religious pride, pettiness and rancour appear. So also does the Gentile love of lawlessness with impatient and impetuous energy show itself insubject to God’s order. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the truth should be known in experimental power by the joint partakers of the promise of God; for it is said in regard to the new creation in Christ, “As many as walk by this rule, peace upon them and mercy” (Gal. 6:16). They are created into one new man in Him where He is our peace, therefore oneness is to be known by the joint partakers in gracious reality: unity will necessarily be sought in a practical way, according to the instincts of the new nature which is ours, and the one Spirit who indwells all, for none of us are independent of the other joint partakers. In Ephesians 4:3 we are exhorted, because of contrary influences which are not of the Spirit nor of the new man, to use diligence to keep “the unity of the Spirit,”—in a practical manner,—“in the uniting bond of peace.” Only the real are embraced in this unity, and only the true joint partakers can respond truly to the exhortation. Others may appear to do so, but it is in the very nature of the joint partakers to ever seek practical unity according to the truth. Nor will their desires remain unanswered, for at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ all will be completely assembled to Him.
Judah and Israel were held together in practical oneness under David, the anointed of God, as joint partakers of the blessings secured in Him for the nation; but even in His days the divisive spirit showed itself in “a man of Belial.” “He blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel” (2 Sam. 20:1). The seed was sown that day: and though the evil work was stayed there and then, nevertheless it bore its bad fruit long after, for we read in Rehoboam’s reign that the people answered the king, saying “What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David” (1 Kings 12:16). So Israel departed, and the break between Judah and Israel was made. In contrast to this, the true joint-heirs surely say, All our portion is in Christ Jesus as also is our inheritance eternally, let us abide in Him! We are all joint partakers of God’s promise in Christ Jesus by the gospel.
There are many promises of God, and we are told that they are all confirmed and established in Christ, the Son of God;—“for whatever promises of God there are, in Him is the yea, and in Him is the amen, for glory to God by us” (2 Cor. 1:20); but it is a special promise which is in view in the truth of the mystery, not “promises,” but a specific, distinct “promise.” It is not plural, but singular. Just as in Ephesians 3:11 we read of “the purpose” which centres in Christ, so this is also something distinctive. It has the stamp of eternity upon it as all the essentials of the mystery have. The inheritance of the joint heirs is eternal, the body of which we are joint members is eternal, and the promise in Christ Jesus is likewise. It was given before the ages of time: it will endure beyond the ages of time: but it is ours in Christ Jesus now, the “Spirit of promise” being already given to us; and He is the power by which divine realities are experimentally enjoyed.
The law proposed life for man, but it was unable either to give life or secure righteousness from man in the flesh. We are told, “It was weak through the flesh” though in itself “holy, just and good.” Do and live, it said to the sinner of Adam’s race; but the sinner could not do, therefore the holy law of God could only condemn him, and “the commandment which was for life, was found,” says the apostle, as to himself, “to be unto death” (Rom. 7:10). Had there been a law which was able to give life, “then indeed righteousness were on the principle of law” (Gal. 3:21); but before the law, yea, “before the ages of time” God had promised life for man. That promise is in Christ Jesus, therefore He must come where we were to free us from sin and death, that we might have life in Him. The law, as we have seen, said, Do and live. The Lord Jesus, when we could do nothing, died that we might live,—died that the promise might be ours actually,—died that we might be joint-partakers of it in Him. How great the grace of God to give such a promise! How wonderful the love that brought His beloved Son to die to secure it for us! How marvellous the wisdom that devised the plan! All glory to God.
It is of promise, therefore it is not of law; and yet the fact of it being mentioned in connection with the law indicates what was in the thoughts of God for us; so also did the first tree which is named distinctively in Scripture—“the tree of life!” This was not forbidden like the other tree, but after man fell he was governmentally placed beyond its reach, and the giving of the law, rightly understood, brought home to man, his sinfulness and his own incapability to obtain eternal life. He was shut up to God, and He found a way for us to “partake” of that which was in His heart for us before the world was, through the death of His Son; so that He could say, of the one who appropriated His death in faith, life was his,—“He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood has eternal life.”
This life in all its infinite preciousness knows no decay or ending. Promised before the ages of time, it abides beyond the glorious days of the Kingdom and dominion of the Son of Man; far beyond the days of millennial magnificence, right on through the ineffable blessedness of the eternal state when God is all in all. Yet even now it is ours in Christ Jesus. It is ours by the grace of God. It is ours by the gift of God: If “the wages of sin is death”—rightly and justly—nevertheless, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). That gift cannot be measured; it is beyond every human estimate or definition, but thanks be to God, it is ours through the act of divine favour.
We are told in Ephesians 4:17-19 of those who are alienated from it all,—“estranged from the life of God.” What a contrast they are to the joint partakers of God’s promise! They walk in the vanity of their mind,—and what foolish vanity it is! The seat of all true balance in man is submerged in darkness,—“being darkened in understanding.” Ignorance of all that is right before God and man enslaves them, although they may profess to be wise. Grossness and hardness of heart leads them to “cast off” every refined and even proper natural feeling; and as a result they abandon themselves to lasciviousness, while unsatisfied lust leads them more eagerly to work all manner of uncleanness and greed, for such are still joint partakers of the life of “the old man which corrupts itself according to the deceitful lusts.” The joint partakers of the mystery have put off the old man and put on the new, and in contrast to the other, it is created in “truthful righteousness and holiness.” Life according to God is known here. His promise is realized here. His gift is enjoyed here. The life which is in Christ Jesus is partaken of by the saints of God. Therefore to abide in Christ is all important for us, and to let the word of the glad tidings which called us into it abide unspoiled in us; for “if that which ye have heard from the beginning abides in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which He promised us, eternal life” (1 John 2:25).
“In Christ Jesus”
In two other passages the Spirit of God speaks through Paul of this promise in Christ Jesus besides that which we have considered in Ephesians 3:6. The eternal character and nature of it are shown in both (2 Tim. 1; Titus 1); and in each scripture the glad tidings are also mentioned as the means of its being made known to us, according to the commandment of our Saviour God. In the first, when failure was spreading widely amongst those who professed the faith of Christ, the apostle falls back upon the changeless promise of life, and holds even his service “according to the promise of life, the life which is in Christ Jesus.” Other things may alter and men may fail, but this abides, for it is ours in Christ Jesus, as God Himself promised. It is termed, “The promise.”
The apostle seeks to strengthen Timothy in his trying path by this truth. Seven times he speaks of what is “in Christ Jesus” in this second letter. The truth of Ephesians is specially indicated. All is secure eternally in Him he seems to say, therefore be encouraged,—“be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Even the glad tidings which call us into these rich blessings were getting into disrepute, but Paul exhorts him to “suffer evil along with the gospel according to the power of God” and then with gracious and tender thoughtfulness he reminds him that He “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages of time, but has been made manifest now by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has annulled death, and brought to light life and incorruptibility by the glad tidings.” How cheering and stimulating is all this! In Christ Jesus all is ours and all is secure eternally, and the gospel of divine grace makes known the triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ over death and corruption for man, so that life and incorruptibility might be now his through faith in Him.
In Titus 1 the Holy Spirit adds, in regard to the promise of eternal life, that the One who made the promise could not fail of its accomplishment in regard to the elect, for He says, God “cannot lie.”
What a comforting limitation of holy perfection is this! and then the eternal life for which we have the sure and certain hope to enter upon in all its fullness at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ is already manifested in the word of the proclamation of the gospel, and that, as we are told in Titus 1 and Romans 16:26, “according to the commandment of the everlasting God.”
The life therefore is ours now in Christ Jesus. It is “the gift of God” in Him to us (Rom. 6:23). There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, and there is no separation from the love of God which is in Him (Rom. 8:1-28). Divine grace and power have set us, through Christ’s death and resurrection, where the eternal promise is already the portion of the joint partakers. In view of all that God has done for them in and through Him they have good reason to “boast in Christ Jesus,” and to join with the apostle when he says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). It is of God that we are in Christ Jesus for His everlasting glory and our present and eternal blessing.
“By the Gospel”
The means by which we have been called into this is the gospel. It is the instrument which God has used. He has called us in His grace by the glad tidings, and He has saved us. Our works had no place in the matter, for the very best works done by man out of Christ are called by the Spirit “dead works.” No deeds of ours could have given us a new standing in Christ Jesus before God, in a new and living state; but having heard the Word of the glad tidings, and received it in faith, we “passed out of death into life.” Aaron’s family might enjoy a place of special nearness to Jehovah through their natural birth, but this has no place in connection with the mystery of Christ and the assembly. Not by natural birth or family privileges but by the gospel are we brought into these vital realities. “In Christ Jesus ye who were once afar off are become nigh by the blood of Christ.”
The gospel is that which God uses in the power of the Spirit. Of old, God’s earthly people entered into possession of the land by conquest, but that of which we speak is ours through no prowess of our own. It is by the divine and effectual call of the glad tidings which we have believed. Truly the experimental and practical enjoyment of our rich possession involves energy on our side, but that is another matter. Official appointments gave men under the old covenant great advantages, but this does not count here. The apostle of life, John, it is striking to notice, does not speak of these things. He does not even call himself “an apostle.”
How wonderful indeed are the glad tidings of the grace of God today! They call us into blessings of the most exalted character—blessings that are abiding—eternal!
They call us into a fellowship which is above every other known in heaven or earth by the favoured of God,—“the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” They give us a hope which is greater than any other,—conformity to the image of God’s Son in heavenly glory, “the hope of the gospel.” Little wonder then, when failure abounds on all hands, that these glad tidings are attacked so severely. Nevertheless, God’s Spirit is here, and will maintain the preaching of the word in divine power till the end,—“the Word of God is not bound;” with royal grace it hastens onward to complete its glorious mission; nor will it cease to do so until the last of the joint partakers of God’s promise in Christ Jesus according to the mystery receives its glorious message. We may well therefore, like the Philippians of old, as fellow partakers of the benefits of the glad tidings, be found “labouring together in the same conflict with faith of the gospel”; “standing firm” in “one spirit” and with “one soul”; watching at the same time that we conduct ourselves “worthy of the glad tidings of the Christ;” and showing practical fellowship with those who faithfully proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Soon the message of grace will have accomplished its task, and all who share in the eternal riches of the mystery will be glorified with the Head of the assembly. His fellow heirs and brethren, the fellow members of His body, the assembly, and the fellow partakers of the promise in Him will be all together then as one with Himself where He is! The promise given before the ages of time will be known in all its actual fullness; the life manifested in Him when here on earth will be enjoyed in suitable and glorious surroundings then; the eternal life for which we hope, but which is ours now by God’s gift, will be entered upon unhinderedly; the oneness of those who are joint partakers now will be seen in a glorious unity; and then “when Christ who is our life shall appear,” we also shall shine forth with Him in splendour and glory. Lord Jesus, hasten that day! We long for its brightness and beauty, and above all, to see Thee, its Centre, and its Sun.
“Lord, haste that day of cloudless ray,—
That prospect bright unfailing;
When all shall shine in light divine
And glory never fading.”