"The fulness of time" and "The fulness of times"

Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:10.

1886 156 The believer is assured that all truth and blessing centre in Christ, and that it is consequent upon what He is and has done, that the Christian is what the word of God plainly declares Him to be. No less is it so as to the glorious future of blessing yet to be manifested, both as to the heavens and the earth. The present privilege of the family of faith, and the coming reconciliation and gathering together of all things above and below, are the subjects heading this paper. One has to do with the first coming of the Lord Jesus, and the other with His exaltation, coming kingdom, and glory. It may be profitable to look at both these points with the state of man and things as they were, are, and will be.

In "the fulness of the time," and that to which it refers, does it not imply clearly certain times or periods which had run out, so that the time had come for God to bring forth His promised resource in the person of His own beloved Son? To touch upon one or two periods before this moment, there was that of innocence, when God created and blessed man, and set him in paradise. Sin soon entered, and then for the first time is mentioned "The Seed of the woman," One who should bruise the serpent's head.

After this promise there was the period from Adam to Moses, as stated in Romans v., when death reigned, although no actual law was given. It was during that time God called out Abram, who became the chosen vessel of promise, both as to the inheritance, and the blessing of the families of the earth in him. This was confirmed to his Seed in Gen. xxii., when Isaac was figuratively raised from the dead. Thus there was the Seed of the woman, and the Seed of promise; but before the answer to both came, it was necessary for another period to come — that of the law which raised the question of man's righteousness and actual state. This period is referred to in the Epistle to the Galatians, where the state of the believer then is contrasted with the state of the believer now. Then the liberty of grace was not known, seeing that the flesh was being tested, the law applying to man in that condition. Bondage to the law, with the fear of death, marked their state as a principle, even though brighter things and heavenly hopes may from time to time have been given. The believer during the law-age is spoken of as being under tutors and governors until the time appointed, yea, children under age treated as servants as to the thoughts and ways of the Father, even though they were called children. All this marked the closing period before God was about to send forth His very best gift in the Person of His Son, when the promise both of the woman's Seed, and also of Abraham was about to be fulfilled. This therefore is "the fulness of the time" when, after all else had failed on the one hand, and God had spoken according to promise on the other, it is written, "God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law."

Christ incarnate therefore is the time referred to, when the day of innocence, the reign of death from Adam to Moses, and finally age of the law, were all superseded by God sending forth His Son. This of necessity was a new era in the ways of God, being a further, yea, a full, revelation of Himself in love by giving His Son, together with His blessed purpose toward man in redemption. If God had pledged Himself by promise both as to the woman's Seed to bruise the serpent's head, and to bless the nations of the earth in Abraham's Seed: if too, law had come between promise and fulfilment, God's love had anticipated and provided for all this in Him Who came in the fulness of the time, the One in Whom alone promise could be made good, as well as the people fitted in state and title for the inheritance.

The Son of God was made of a woman, and made under the law. Thus the place in grace taken as to His manhood embraced the whole of Adam's race, as well as that of those under law. Infinite grace indeed for the Son of God to come of a woman, conceived of the Holy Ghost, but born truly of the Virgin Mary, yea, further to take His place under law, and this in view of redemption. To accomplish redemption was the grand and blessed object of God in sending His Son. Though made of a woman, and under the law, nothing short of His death could meet the case of man fallen and ruined, or of a people under law which they had fully broken, and hence were guilty and condemned. There could be no room therefore for boasting, much less insisting that Gentiles must be circumcised, seeing the one needed to be redeemed as much as the other. The solemn question of sin must be settled by Jesus, Who in the fulness of time came for that end. The love of God the Father in sending, and the love of the Son in coming, are alike seen; although it rested wholly with the Son to die for the ruined sinner, and no less take the curse and exhaust the judgment of a broken law. Thus, and thus only, was justice satisfied, holiness met, and a glorious salvation secured, giving the unmistakable proof that at Calvary alone was the work done as to sin, for the glory of God, and the need of the guilty.

Redemption being accomplished by the Son of God, privileges corresponding to it are made known, such as distinguish the believer from those before Christ came. This is the important and decided reasoning of the apostle in relation to believers under law. Indeed, none knew what is now revealed and established. They were in bondage, with no indwelling power, either as to liberty or relationship. Promises as to the inheritance were theirs, given as they were to Abraham, and confirmed to his risen son Isaac; but as is shown in Gal. iii., Christ is the true Seed in whom all centres. Whereas now, faith in connection with Christ (Who has made good by His death that which established the promises in Himself) has come, whilst the believer in the past was shut up, kept under the law. It is no longer the tutor or schoolmaster, but Christ; and those believing in Him are, not only delivered and in holy liberty, but children of God. These two privileges were not known till Christ came, neither could it be said, there was neither Jew nor Greek, for these distinctions existed even with believers who were of Abraham's seed, hence of the promises. They were children, that is to say, in infancy, as to the inheritance, and the Father's mind about it, with no real fellowship with Him respecting it, although heirs. Now, on the contrary the Jew, under law, and the Gentile without law, when believing in Jesus, have equally received the adoption of sons, a precious gift freely given of God, in virtue of an accomplished redemption.

The believing Jews, now having Christ, are no longer in the place of servants, but in the knowledge and happy liberty of "sons of God;" moreover as to the believing Gentiles the apostle adds, "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Life, liberty, and relationship in the power of the Spirit of God mark the present period, rather than what marked the past. They are Abraham's seed, therefore, on the principle of like faith (but faith as now revealed in connection with Christ and redemption accomplished) yea, sons and heirs of God. Is not this wondrous vantage ground, though in true character with the result of promise, relationship, and heirship, being made good in Christ risen from the dead? He it is Who is the sole and worthy cause of the believer's present state, being a contrast to those before He came, even though the principle of faith as to promise and blessing is ever the same.

How sad to find many true believers not knowing or enjoying their true privilege of adoption and heirship in conscious association with Christ risen. If free from law-righteousness by owning Christ, yet are they often following some good forms of the flesh so termed, with works in character with such a state. They either excuse, or teach, a condition of bondage and doubt, confirming it by turning to the experience in the Psalms and other portions, to the cost of receiving and standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ makes free. Such a state of life and grace is not according to the gospel of the grace of God, and is most dishonouring to the finished work of Christ, the holy and righteous basis of it. Let the reader ponder this, and if under bondage in the mingled experience of doubts and fears, may he see that abiding peace with God, and complete deliverance from the Adam state of sin, crowned with the Spirit of adoption, begetting the happy cry of Abba, Father, are alone true Christian liberty. (To be continued.)

1886 172 The apostle Paul unfolded to the Galatians the nature and result of the "Fulness of the time." Their state in returning to the immature era of bondage demanded that they should know, not only that God had sent His Son, but that He by purchase had brought liberty for the believer, with the privilege of present sonship, and heirship of the future inheritance. This rich blessing is declared to be the common ground of grace, open to Jew and Gentile apart from all former questions of law, circumcision, etc. Beyond this the Galatians are not carried; whereas in Ephesians there is that which is altogether special and heavenly. There the full truth and character of the divine family, and the nature of the church as God's habitation and the body of Christ, are fully brought out according to the counsels of God in Christ. He, the Son, Who when on earth revealed the Father, came no less to do all His blessed will. This He did perfectly, crowned with the blessed fact of having vindicated at Calvary's cross every attribute of the divine nature and majesty in presence of and by sin. Therefore, it is written of Him respecting that moment: "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." Such a work could have but the immediate result of Christ exalted on high in the highest heaven. There He was placed as the glorified Man, the head and centre of all God's purpose and action, which is the basis and spring of the Epistle, giving out God's counsels of present and future blessing.

Thus the believer has only to take the attitude of David, when he went in and sat before the Lord, worshipping at the extent and fulness of blessing which passed before him. It is the action of God in the known estimate of His beloved Son and His work; and the blessing must follow in full character with it. Therefore here it is the question of what is being done, and will be done for Christ and those in Him. It is no wonder, therefore, that the "fulness of times" should be found in Ephesians, seeing that it refers to the setting of Christ as head over all things; in established exaltation and glory, with an unbounded sphere both in the heavens and on the earth. Such being the revealed truth, those so deeply concerned may well learn, before entering into a measure of detail as to the coining event, what is said of such as are then fully and intimately associated with the destined head and heir of all things. If the Epistle to the Galatians establishes life, and relationship in holy liberty in Christ for believers, that of Ephesians blessedly starts with the fact that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. This therefore precedes the naming of the persons as to their life and relationship of children. Choice, as to a nature of holiness, without possibility of blame before God, then, children before the Father, or unto Himself, according to His own delight and pleasure: language of love and purpose, worthy of Him who utters it, nevertheless found only here, and not in the Galatians where the Father's good pleasure is omitted, and the point of sonship and heirship is finally reached, consequent upon the Son having been sent in "the fulness of the time" to buy us out.

Now that the time has come to tell forth what God is doing, and will do for Christ, those blessed, and in holy relationship, are stated to be brought into favour in the Beloved. Thus, their eternal interest and heavenly blessings may well be wrapped up in His seeing too that it is all to the praise and glory of His grace. Redemption also, even the forgiveness of sins, is said to be according to the richness of His grace, riches providing for the depths of misery into which their sins had plunged them. Yea, it is added, "Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence." This divine goodness meets human badness gloriously, in Christ and in the cross, for the believer. All the good in life relationship, and blessing is everlastingly established in Him, and no less redemption by His blood giving present full forgiveness, setting free those once in their sins, so as to enter into God's wondrous purpose concerning Christ His beloved Son. This purpose was ever in His mind. Scripture everywhere, either in type or promise, sets forth that Christ the second Man and the last Adam was, and is, the great purpose of God; but the revelation of it was reserved until the Son had come. Indeed, not till after He had died, was raised from the dead, and ascended, did God make known the mystery of His will respecting Him by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. God's hidden purpose being now revealed, it behoves us with unshod feet to listen to what this precious secret embraces in Christ the God-appointed centre. Is it not Christ and His church, that spiritual Eve formed out of the womb of death to be His body, companion, and bride? If God has set the Second Man on high, it is, as the same chapter states, to be the head over all things to the church which is His body and fulness.

The secret now revealed therefore is, that Christ has a body on earth, new, heavenly, formed for Himself, which, when completed, will be His "fulness" to share His exalted position as head over all things. Infinite wisdom, and most marvellous fact! — that those brought into favour in the Beloved (formerly hell-deserving sinners) should be destined to such a place of union with Christ by the Holy Ghost; and ere long the body be completed according to eternal purpose, fitted to share the coming blessedness of Christ's rule over all things, both above and below! If the apostle to the Galatian believers speaks of the heirs being sons in liberty, here he speaks of the mystery of God's will connected with His good pleasure and purpose in Himself. The divine side is now unfolded as to how He is acting, and will act, in, by, and for His well-beloved Son. He will, therefore, "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, in Him." This promised purpose awaits "the fulness of times."

Having seen that now is the time, when the body is formed for Christ its Head, and the co-heirs are being gathered out of the world to share the coming glory, it may be well to see from scripture, what the times now are, in contrast to what they will be. When it is understood that the position of Christ decides and defines that of His people, it is important to be clear that whilst He is accepted, and exalted by God at His right hand, He is rejected by Jew and Gentile. Therefore the world as a system is at issue with the heavens, Christ being earth's rejected one but heaven's accepted one. Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, until His enemies are made His footstool, marks this time or hour of rejection, yet will it soon have run its course in due season.

In Luke xxi., the time of Jerusalem being trodden down of the Gentiles is stated, although the limit or end is also given "Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." The world-power that began with Nebuchadnezzar, the first divinely appointed empire under the God of heaven, is still responsible, even though its responsibility was sealed for judgment when Pilate gave up Jesus to be crucified. It was also the time when Israel is cut off, and blinded through unbelief, which will continue until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (see Rom. xi.) The world being condemned for having crucified the Son of God, those that are Christ's are called to share the rejection of Him for whom they are left in it. It is therefore the time of suffering, both for the name of Christ, and for righteousness' sake, a time which must continue until the "fulness of times" comes, when God will introduce and establish His Son as Sovereign Lord and Ruler. Since the cross and rejection of Christ, the great enemy and deceiver has had the solemn title of the "god of this world" ruling in the hour of night-time, his grand object being to blind the minds of unbelievers, lest the light of the gospel of the glory should shine upon them and they should be saved.

Further, creation's state is spoken of in Rom. viii. as one of universal groaning; pain, sorrow, suffering, death being the abiding marks, with blight upon the whole scene, declaring that the heavens and the earth are far from being one, as will be the case when the lower scene will be filled with the glory of Him who sits in the heavens. For this the world waits, according to promise and prophecy, when the sure mercies of David will be made good, by Him who is both David's root and offspring; then will appear the striking contrast to what exists now.

In seeing from scripture how this new and glorious state will be brought about, when the fulness of times shall come, it raises a solemn warning to those living in and for the world, without Christ. Deceived by Satan, as to the pending judgment of the world, together with that which outwardly professes Christ's name, the cry of peace and safety, with the mere form of godliness without the power, will only add to the awfulness of it in its surprising reality. Both 1 Thess. 5 and 2 Thess. ii. with many other scriptures plainly declare what is coming, all being connected with the stated fact, both in Old and New Testament, that judgment is to close the times of the Gentiles, Israel's unbelief, and the apostate professing church. Rev. xviii. records the solemn and sudden fall of religious Babylon and chapter xix. gives that of the nations. The smiting of Nebuchadnezzar's image in Dan. ii., and the smiting of the earth in righteous judgment given in Isaiah xi., also declare what awaits the earth before the blessed time of Christ's universal glory. In this way, and not by the precious gospel now preached, will the earth be cleansed, so as to make way for the gathering together in one all things in Christ. Indeed it is the blessed God Himself who will effect it for His worthy and only beloved Son by judgment.

If Psalm cx. made known the present seated position of Christ as the Royal Priest before the enemies are overthrown for His rule, Psalm ii. likewise declares what Jehovah will blessedly do for His Son, as it is written, "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." Moreover, His only begotten Son shall receive "the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession." Psalm viii. alike declares that the Son of Man is to have universal dominion, when all things shall be under His feet. Who this Son of Man is Heb. ii. plainly answers, while much of it awaits its fulfilment, even though He is on high, "crowned with glory and honour." The King having His throne on the holy hill of Zion is clearly future, and Psalm xlviii. sweetly declares the result, when Jerusalem, now trodden down by the nations, shall be declared, as it shall become, the city of God, having there the mountain of holiness — "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." As Son of Man, His name (now despised and rejected), will be excellent in all the earth, in harmony with what it now is in heaven. Then according to Dan. vii. will the combined title and glory of Christ as Ancient of Days, and Son of Man be fulfilled (as already stated of Him in Rev. i), when the last existing power of the Gentile image in the form of a powerful and terrible beast will be overthrown, and the rejected Jesus will receive His rights. Universal dominion and glory will be His, and all peoples, nations, and languages shall serve Him, who is God's alone centre for the earthly rule in connection with the heavens, and the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ will have come.

The full results of David's song then will be realised, "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice" (Ps. xcvi). The true David's feet will have touched the very Mount of Olives where He once stood as the rejected One; when, in the place of weeping over the city guilty of His death, living waters will, in that day, flow out of Jerusalem, and the blessed truth be established, "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and His Name one" (Zech. xiv. 9). What a glorious contrast to the present groaning creation, with a world, and professing church, ripening for the pronounced judgment! Notwithstanding their boast of advance in outward power and greatness, yet, if tested by the person and work of Christ and the unchanging truth of God, they are "wanting" in a fuller sense than Israel, or Belshazzar of old. Thank God, despite of what exists below, faith can turn upward and know that Christ the centre of all God's purposes is already in heaven, having, as Eph. i. states, been made to sit at God's right hand. There, as the exalted Man He is "Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come." The age to come therefore, when the "fulness of times" shall have arrived, will make manifest the glorious exaltation and universal dominion of Christ. But the church of God in given grace and privilege is called to enter, even now, into God's purpose about the administration of all things above and below, rejoicing too in the already existing truth, as stated in another place concerning Him, "Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God, angels, authorities, and powers being made subject to Him" (1 Peter iii. 32).

Thus, where and what Christ is, together with the approaching future, as to the varied glories, may well create, in the hearts of His loved people, a deepening desire for God's purpose to be made good, so that the heavens and the earth, now separated, may be brought together, under the universal rule of God's beloved Son, Israel's Messiah, and the Son of Man, in the establishment of righteousness, peace, and blessing. Moreover, as co-heirs and companions in the coming inheritance and kingdom, may the true and properly heavenly hope possess and govern those who are called to await the gathering together on the cloud to meet Him in the air, and so be with Him, and like Him, for ever. G. G.