by Theodore Austin-Sparks
The value of these messages will be greatly increased if the Scriptures at the head of each chapter are read first. Also it will help the reader if it is remembered that the spoken form has been retained, and to that form literary conciseness and precision have been surrendered; you are listening to a speaker rather than reading a book.
Read: 1 Chronicles 28 and 29
These chapters bring into view something which, in its realization, is the solution to all our problems and the deliverance from all our difficulties. In a word, that ‘something’ is spiritual enlargement. Most of our troubles are due to our smallness. Paul recognized that enlargement was the solution to those very great problems at Corinth, and you know what the problems were and the difficulties which confronted him. At length he gathered all up in one full-hearted outburst: “Our mouth is open unto you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections. Now for a recompense in like kind... be ye also enlarged” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). That was only an inclusive and comprehensive way of saying: ‘All these things which are such troubles amongst you, such problems, such difficulties, are due to your smallness; if only you were bigger people so many of these things would disappear altogether. The way out is enlargement!’ It is true so often that the collapse of things in different realms has been because there was no one big enough to cope with them. If only there had been someone of adequate measure to grapple with it, the situation would have been saved. This is a day when all sorts of maladies are troubling the Church and upsetting Christianity. We need not mention them, for we are conscious of them, but they are mainly due to a lack of spiritual greatness, or, to put it again the other way, they are due to pettiness and smallness. The only way out is enlargement, a new horizon, and a new sense of the greatness of that into which we, as Christians, are brought. But unfortunately today, in so many directions, the only bigness amongst Christians is that which is according to the world’s standards of bigness, and not the Lord’s standards.
Now, in these Scriptures there are four great things. We might call them: ‘The Four Pillars of the Faith,’ ‘The Four Greatnesses,’ and we have covered them all in the two chapters which we have just read. In type and principle they are:
* the Greatness of Christ, David’s greater Son;
* the Greatness of the Cross, as suggested by the altar and the immensity of the collective sacrifice;
* the Greatness of the Church, the House of God; and
* the Greatness of the Word of God, indicated in these chapters at two points.
Firstly, Solomon’s greatness was said to depend entirely upon his faithfulness to the Word of God; and, secondly, David, in committing the pattern of the House to Solomon, said that he had received it all in writing from the Lord - it was the Word of God governing.
Those are the four great things of the Scriptures.
We begin now with the first - the Greatness of Christ. He is brought into view by the foreshadowing in Solomon, whose name, as you know, was alternatively Jedidiah: ‘Beloved of God’ (2 Samuel 12:25). How Solomon was chosen is a very remarkable and very wonderful thing, and we shall say something about that presently. But you remember the statement made at Solomon’s birth: “David comforted Bathsheba his wife... and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him; and He sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and He called his name Jedidiah, for the Lord’s sake” (2 Samuel 12:24, 25; ASV). Just store that up for a little while.
But as we approach Christ through Solomon, there are several fairly general things which lead us on. Solomon, in the first place, was the one in whom the full thought of kingship according to God’s mind is set forth, in principle and type. We know that his reign was the peak of Israel’s history. Although David is always referred to as Israel’s greatest king, and rightly so, nevertheless Solomon brings out all the glory of David; he is the full, ripe fruit of David’s kingship, and he comes into his place as at the very top of all kingship in Israel on one spiritual principle, and that principle is sonship. Sonship is the full, ripe fruit of Divine thought. There is no higher thought in the Divine mind, and no possibility greater and higher for any being, than that of sonship in the Divine sense. The calling to sonship is the greatest thing that ever God has extended to anyone. In Christ sonship is full, and Solomon represents that truth and principle of sonship. “Solomon... shall be My son, and I will be his father” (1 Chronicles 22:10). “Of all my sons, (for the Lord hath given me many sons,) He hath chosen Solomon” (1 Chronicles 28:5). It is the gathering up of sonship in a full sense and full measure in him, and that is a pointer to Christ. That gives us a very full indication of what kingship is according to the Divine mind; it is sonship.
All that is true of Solomon and is recorded of him is just a shadow of what Christ is spiritually. You begin at the top stone in the fullest sense, the full and the final revelation of God, God’s speech. “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1, 2), or, literally, “hath spoken Son-wise.” You cannot go further than that. He has reached the end of all parts, and found inclusiveness and finality in His Son. That, then, is why Solomon occupies the place that he does occupy as at the very peak of kingship; it is the principle of sonship embodied. He, then, is the ripe fruit, or full expression, of the Divine idea - kingship. For kingship is a Divine idea, a thought in the mind of God.
But now, in relation to what we have just said about sonship, that Divine thought concerning kingship is not just of an office nor of a position. Kingship, in God’s mind, is a matter of a kind of person - but not any person. God does not make anybody a king; it is a kind of person. It is moral and spiritual. Moral and spiritual factors support the Divine Throne, and God’s king must be the full expression of moral and spiritual features. With God, a king is only a king when he is of kingly character, and not because he comes in a line of succession, nor on any other ground of choice and selection at all. With God, kingship is kingly character, and Solomon, marvellous to say, is brought, in the sovereignty of God, to that place where kingship reaches its full expression, so far as the type is concerned, though that, of course, always falls short of reality.
When you pass from Solomon to Christ, then you have this very thing in pre-eminence. “I have set My king upon My holy hill” (Psalm 2:6). Why? Because He is kingly. In the fullest, most complete sense, He is the embodiment of all those high thoughts of God, both morally and spiritually. When we speak about Jesus Christ as being Lord, and when we think of Him in terms of kingship, lordship, rulership, and of His kingdom, we are not thinking of temporal things. We are thinking of spiritual things. He holds His position in virtue of His character, and what He is in person. There is none like Him.
But then note another thing. Here is this Divine thought and idea about kingship which is represented by Solomon in such a full way, but where you have a Divine thought carrying a Divine intention, you will always have another thought, something which is intended to take the place of the Divine thought. So in the matter of kingship you have to go back in the history of Israel, and you find the Divine thought subverted. The first of the line of actual, temporal kings was Saul, and Saul was not God’s thought, but the embodiment of man’s thought. At a point when the spiritual life of Israel was very low, and spiritual matters were not dominant, Satan found his opportunity - as he always does when the spiritual life gets low. He rushed in, took advantage of the spiritual condition, and suggested the idea of kingship to men of low and poor spirituality, which meant that, not having God’s thoughts and God’s mind (because they were not men of the Spirit) they accepted the suggestion and found a king after their own mind. Thus they precipitated this matter, forestalled God’s thought, and pushed Saul in.
Do you notice how that has happened again and again - a Divine thought carrying a Divine intention, and then the enemy seeking to forestall and putting in something on the same principle, but of a different kind? It nearly happened with Solomon himself. Solomon was chosen and David had given his word about him; then Adonijah, his brother, worked subtly and gathered leaders around himself. He made a feast and was proclaimed king, in order to carry away the throne from Solomon. Thank God, it did not work, but you can see what took place, and how exactly this is in keeping with something that commonly happens. It is going to happen in the supreme way. God is about to bring in, finally and fully, His King - His Son - and Satan will have Anti-christ, the embodiment of all human thoughts about kingship, pushed to the fore to try and anticipate God.
Let us note that, not only in these great ways, but in every way, a low state of spiritual life is always Satan’s opportunity for giving something on a Divine principle, but which is itself false. The only safety is in a fulness of spiritual life. That is what came out in Solomon - safety when things were at fulness in Israel. There was no chance for anything else to come in. Safety is not along the line of suspicion, watching like dogs for every bit of heresy, and seeing whether things are sound. Safety is in the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ, and all that that means. If the people of God get there, they need not worry about the success of these other things at all. I said at the beginning that there are all kinds of maladies afflicting the Church which are due to this smallness of spiritual life, and these maladies are suspicions, prejudices, fears, all this which is going about and which is deadening and crippling and paralysing the life of the Church. If we were only in the full flood of spiritual life and all that Christ in His place means, we would be delivered from all these things and would be getting on with the work of building the House, instead of all the time being taken up with the question: ‘Is this quite safe, quite sound?’ Well, Saul was the embodiment of man’s idea, not God’s, and he was the attempted fore-stalling of that Divine thought, as Antichrist will be; but it is doomed, as are all man’s ideas when they get in the way of God’s. Ultimately, they are doomed.
One further thing about Solomon: he came to his place, and held it, by Divine sovereignty because he was beloved of God. Those two things must always be kept together. Sovereignty, yes, but because he was beloved of God. There is the mystery of Solomon’s birth. We know who Bathsheba was and what happened, the tragedy and the breakdown in relation to Solomon’s birth, and if we begin to ask questions we get into difficulties; but we have to see a sovereignty at work behind this. And, while we do not link that with the Lord Jesus, there is a line, even in His case, which carries this wonderful principle. It is sovereign grace. Oh, if anybody is the embodiment of sovereign grace in full expression, it is Solomon. Do you remember the genealogy of the Lord Jesus at the opening of the Gospels and some of the people mentioned in it? Rahab the harlot - and Christ came of her. And Ruth the Moabitess: you say that these are dark steps leading up to Christ. But are they? It depends upon how you look at it. They lead right up to Him Who is the embodiment of sovereign grace, and that is all you have to say about it. Grace to Rahab! Ought she to be in the Divine line? And ought Ruth to be here? A Moabitess, concerning which people and nation the word had been uttered: “A Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of the Lord for ever” (Deuteronomy 23:3)! What has gone wrong? Grace has triumphed over law - that is all! “Where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly” (Romans 5:20), and in Christ that is gathered up. And, mark you, it was at that place where in type He had fulfilled all the work of grace for us in death, burial and resurrection - at Jordan - that the heavens were cleft, and the voice was heard: “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17) - beloved of God. On the other hand, belovedness is all on the ground of grace: “He hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6); “Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). So Solomon has his place in sovereignty, but only because he is beloved of the Lord. Of course, I am not touching upon the Divine rights of the Lord Jesus as equal with God, on His rights to reign, or to be Lord; for what I see is that the Bible is not, in the first place, occupied with what God and Christ are in Themselves, outside of this universe and remote from us. The Bible is concerned with how They have come into our life, into our world, and the ground upon which They have adopted this world, this creation - and that is grace. And sonship, so far as the New Testament is concerned, is always linked with Divine grace. You find sonship in redemption, reconciliation, justification. It is a spiritual, not an official, matter, through the grace of God.
Why did God act so lavishly and unrestrainedly with Solomon? It takes a lot of room in the books of Samuel, the Kings and the Chronicles, far more than I shall be able to give you as a background even for what I have to say, but it seems, as you read, that the Lord was just falling over Himself where Solomon was concerned to lavish good things upon him - give, give, give! The Lord gave him riches and honour (2 Chronicles 1:12), and it seems that He found no restraint whatever in just letting go to Solomon. Why? Because He was seeing through Solomon to the One Whom He intended Solomon to represent as fully as ever one can be a representation of the Lord Jesus. God was saying, in effect: ‘If we are going to have a representation of the real thing, we will have a real representation and do it thoroughly.’ He went as far as He could go with a man who was not His Son in reality in this spiritual sense, because He saw the other Son all the time.
Dear friends, does that not come right back to us with this: that a true apprehension and appreciation of the Lord Jesus is the way right into the countenance of God? Do you want spiritual fulness? Do you want to know all this wealth of which we shall speak as possessed by, and given to, Solomon? Do you want to know where God’s smile can rest upon you, and He be without restraint in your spiritual enlargement? How can it be? Not by straining, nor searching, nor any kind of inward scrutiny, struggle, or effort, but by appreciating His Son rightly, being occupied with Christ, seeing and apprehending God’s Son in reality by the Holy Spirit. The way to walk in the light of the Divine countenance where God can give to you, can lead and teach, and can enrich and enlarge you, is an adequate apprehension of the Lord Jesus. Be occupied with Him and the strain goes out. You notice that in those days when Solomon was in his place there was rest round about (1 Kings 4:24); the land had rest and the people had rest - they found rest unto their souls. It is just like that when the Lord Jesus has His place and we, by the Spirit, are seeing Him. The strain goes out, rest enters in, and the inward civil war stops. Yes, it is all bound up with God’s Son having His full place, with our being occupied with Him and seeing Him by the Spirit.
This is only a glimpse, a fragment, of the greatness of Christ, but, oh! it is so true that if conditions spiritually are to be in the Church again as they were typically in Israel in the days of Solomon, we shall have to get away from the littleness of our apprehension of truth and have a great enlargement of heart. May the Lord grant us eyes to see a larger Christ than ever we had imagined, a larger Cross, a larger Church, and a larger Word of God!
Read: 1 Kings 10
In this chapter Solomon sets forth the greatness of Christ in three respects - in his riches, his food and his wisdom. Again we are brought back to this governing consideration: why all this detail and elaboration? Why is all this space in the three books - Samuel, Kings and Chronicles - occupied with setting out in a very minute and thorough way the greatness of Solomon, and especially in these three directions? There is a double answer. The first part is that which we have already suggested: that he was sovereignly chosen to bring into view Divine thoughts concerning the greater Son of David, and the real meaning of sonship according to God’s heart. The second is not another, but only a part of the first: that the purpose was to bring the glory of God into view; in other words, to glorify God.
You remember how David led up to this. He gathered together all the wealth, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, the metals and the precious stones, and then he added his own great treasure - and great treasure it was! - and passed it over to the Lord for His house (1 Chronicles 28 and 29). It is a great description, very full and almost overwhelming. But then David suddenly seems to collapse before it all, and as you read you feel something of an anticlimax. After having risen in eloquence about the dedicating of it all to the Lord and the joy in doing it, suddenly, in another voice, soft, hushed, subdued, he says: ‘But, after all, what have we done? Of Thine own have we given Thee. It is all Thine own; it is not our wealth, it is Thine.’ “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine.” After all, it is the Lord’s glory, not ours. And David passed that all on to Solomon his son; the son took it all up and brought that glory of God, that wealth of God, into an embodiment of expression - the house of God for the glory of God; for the house “is not for man, but for the Lord God,” and “it must be exceeding magnifical” (1 Chronicles 29:1, and 22:5).
The thing which is governing all this description, and explains the care taken to give every detail in fulness, is the glory of God. So the riches are the riches of His glory. Solomon’s riches and glory have passed and are gone; but with the greater Son, the Only-begotten of the Father, the true riches - the imperishable wealth that never passes - are stored up and brought over, as we shall see later, for setting forth in the Church. But for the present we note that they are firstly gathered up into Christ.
So the answer to our opening enquiry is this, finally and supremely: this great, full presentation of Solomon’s wealth is to lead us to glorify God, to lead on to a worshipping people. For that is exactly what happened - the revelation of the glory of God in a man (but what a man!) resulted in a worshipping people.
The Queen of Sheba came to see because of the Name of the Lord (1 Kings 10:1); and the Name of the Lord is that which is involved in this. The Name of the Lord is bound up with the fulness of Christ, and the glory of God depends upon how Christ is seen and known as the Divine fulness. It must come to this - we cannot keep away from it - that the Lord is only glorified as His real fulness is brought into practical revelation in Christ in the house of God. While the first and all-governing thing is this glorifying of God - and it all traces back to God, for God gave Solomon riches and power and wisdom - the thing which immediately issues is the enrichment of God’s people. The Divine bounty was never intended to be limited to Solomon as a solitary individual, for there to be this one man walking by himself as an isolated unit in his kingdom, spending all his wealth upon himself, and, like one of his peacocks, strutting about in his own glory, turned in upon himself - like Nebuchadnezzar: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built...” (Daniel 4:30). There is nothing like that here! You notice that immediately it turns out to the people of God and it is for them, for their enrichment. It is not for personal and self-centred interests but for Israel; and the Queen of Sheba puts her finger upon that: “Because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king” (1 Kings 10:9).
When we turn to the Letter to the Ephesians we have that remarkable and mysterious little phrase in Paul’s prayer for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ - “that ye may know... the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). What does that mean? Well, in the mystery of God it may mean that Christ has something in the saints which is His inheritance, something which He - and He alone knows how it can be - regards as worth having, something for His own satisfaction, by which He Himself is enriched. I do not know how that can be, but I do see this: that Christ’s inheritance is received from the Father, all the fulness of God is lavished upon Him and stored up in Him, and He brings it into the Church - His inheritance is brought into the saints. Whether that is a true exegesis or not I do not know absolutely; but I believe that there is truth in this - that Christ brings into the Church the wealth which He has inherited as the Son, just as Solomon brought into the house of God and into Israel this great wealth which had been given by God. It was Christ’s inheritance in the saints, not for Himself. He had it without ever coming here: “...the glory which I had with Thee before the world was...” (John 17:5). He had it all, for He created all things, but now He has brought His fulness here, and “of His fulness we all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16); “In Him ye are made full” (Colossians 2:10). It is wealth for His people. So the glory of God works round that way.
Dear friends, it is not to the glory of God that any child of His should be in spiritual poverty, or that His Church should be lacking in spiritual wealth. God’s thought, and what He is anxious to do, is to make His Church wealthy beyond its own dreams in the riches of Christ. Paul saw and knew something of this: “O the depth of the riches...” (Romans 11:33); and again: “The riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). It would take a long time to dwell upon the separate riches of Christ, on all the riches of grace. We can only make the statement. My difficulty is to keep these things apart. I see that the greatness of the Church is something which has to be dealt with by itself, but here we overlap at once. The fulness, the riches, the bounty of Christ, all that is stored up in Christ, is Churchwise, not individualwise; it is corporate, collective. It will take the whole Body to be the adequate vessel of the fulness of Christ. Having said that, let us come back here. The glory of God is to be found in a people who have come into, and are daily living in, the good of the riches of Christ.
That wealth is for their stewardship and distribution - that they have enough, and plenty to give away. Have you plenty to give away? What about your stewardship? Is it a hard, hard labour of collecting enough to meet demand, or have you a margin for others? We are thinking in the realm of the Letter to the Ephesians - the “stewardship of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9), something committed to us. But we have to see, ‘the eyes of our heart must be enlightened, that we may know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe’ (Ephesians 1:18,19). We have to see and know, for in order to fulfil a stewardship it has to come from the inside. All this was in Solomon for his household and for the nation, and the fulness of Christ is for His people, for the Church, as a stewardship. I trust that this is not something that is strange to you and you do not understand, but, even if it is, let it be stated with great emphasis that this is God’s thought and intention for us: that we should fulfil a stewardship of the riches of Christ. And that will be our vindication, our justification for existence, the Divine certificate for our ministry. There is no other ground. Have we got the goods? Can we meet spiritual need? Will what we have solve the problem of spiritual weakness and limitation? The test of our stewardship is when people are in desperation, and when people become conscious of their need, then should be the vindication of all our claims. Have we what is needed? This is the will of God concerning us, for it is all for us in Christ, the greater than Solomon.
We touch on this matter of food - Solomon’s provision for one day. Living daily in an apprehension, a consciousness, a realization, of how full Christ is - that is where God’s glory is. This is not just a statement of fact, but God’s thought and will. Those who have really come to the place where Christ occupies the position which God has appointed for Him - have come there individually and in relationship with other believers - know very well that they have been delivered from spiritual limitation, and there is plenty, there is wealth, there is abundance, there is an open heaven, and the Lord is not restrained. He is giving and giving and giving. These things of Christ are all of a piece and cannot really be isolated. You have to have the greatness of the Cross in order to know the wealth of Christ. You have to have the greatness of the Church in order to express the wealth of Christ. But, given that the Cross has a large enough place objectively and subjectively, the heavens are open. Jordan is accomplished, and the heavens are opened upon Him Who is the beloved of God, this greater Jedidiah, “Beloved of the Lord,” and the attestation is made: “My beloved...” (Matthew 3:17). And “He hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). It is all of a piece. Jordan, the Cross, is very necessary; but, given that, the Lord’s thought for you and for all is that you should be in the land of plenty, not struggling to make ends meet spiritually and worrying about where the next bit is coming from. One thing that the Lord would teach us is that we can count upon His supplies. It is wonderful! We may seem to have come to an end very often, but that is just the Lord’s way of telling us that it is a new beginning and there is more yet. These are not just statements: they are facts. I do not know how much you really know of this. Those of us who minister considerably do know something about it. There seems to be nothing left; then comes a new demand and a new fulness; and it goes on. The Lord would have it like that in His Church. Oh, the spiritual starvation! There are people going about saying: ‘I cannot find any spiritual food. There is no meat and everything is so poor!’ Oh, how dishonouring that is to the Lord, and how contrary to His mind! How it sets Christ at nought! What a little Christ that implies! No! God is glorified when the experience of His people is Christ in His fulness, just as Israel were experiencing the wealth of Solomon.
Food is intended to result in a satisfied people. Solomon’s food was for the satisfaction, not only of himself, but of those dependent upon him. And this wealth of Christ, this fulness of Christ, this food that is in Christ, is firstly to make us satisfied people. I suppose that, in the days of Solomon’s glory, to have walked up and down the land would have been to see people who were well content; and God is glorified when He has a people content with Himself and with His Son. Is that true of us? If it is not so, there is something wrong. We have no testimony and no challenge whatever unless that is true. We have no power and no authority. When others look upon our faces as Christians, what do they see? Starvation? Or do they see satisfied people? Are we talking to people out of doctrine and out of Scripture, or out of our own hearts and experience? Dear friends, this is one practical challenge of the Word of God to us. Are you contented deep down in your heart with the Lord? Are you satisfied? Is He all that you want, and more? That is simple, but it is testing. The glory of God is bound up with our being satisfied.
Secondly, food is for growth unto maturity. Are you growing? The proof of growth is this: that the fulness to you is something inexhaustible, and beyond your present immediate need. It has met you here, but you realize that there is something very much more. You have come into the realm where you need not go and glean in any other field, for you have all you want here and you are appropriating it and growing thereby. Is that true? A people growing is a people that glorifies God, for they are attaining unto all the fulness and the stature of a man in Christ.
There are several passages that speak of the wisdom of Solomon. There is that one which tells us that “he spake of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall” (1 Kings 4:33). How did he speak of trees? Was he just a naturalist, describing trees and flowers, their beauty and so on? No, he showed that trees were symbols. It was not just botany. Certain men of education will make anybody wise in that respect, but not in the sense that Solomon was wise. God gave him wisdom, and he saw Divine principles through the trees. What is the cedar which is in Lebanon? It is the very symbol of nobility, of spiritual greatness. In the Old Testament, trees are types of men, and here in the trees there are characteristics hidden and Divine thoughts embodied. Solomon was getting through the outer structure to the inner meaning and was unveiling the wisdom of God in the creation. In a word, Solomon was showing that everything that God makes is not just something made and something in itself, but that it embodies a Divine thought. All the ordinances of the heavens, all the heavenly bodies and all the forms of nature embody some Divine thought and principle, and the wisdom of Solomon was in disclosing the Divine principles in nature.
“He spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five” (1 Kings 4:32). What are proverbs? Well, they are statements with a hidden meaning. The same word is used of the speech of the Lord Jesus. Our word ‘parable’ is only another word for ‘proverb.’ “He spake... in parables” (Matthew 13:3, etc.), that is, statements with hidden meanings; and the wisdom of Solomon was in bringing out hidden meanings. And songs - instruments of worshipping and exaltation. You remember what the Apostle says about the Lord Jesus: “...in Whom are hid...” (Colossians 2:3). The Lord Jesus does not talk to us merely about trees and nature in parables, but He says: “It is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:11). In the Lord Jesus there is, by the Holy Spirit, the disclosing of Divine secrets by which the very creation will realize its destiny. Do you see that the way to the realization of God’s eternal purpose is the way of discovering the secrets of the Lord? Take the inclusive thing, the Church. The word “mystery” relates to it (Ephesians 3:3, etc.). It is God’s mystery, His secret. Before the world was, God conceived it and projected its eternal vocation to serve Him in high purpose through the ages of the ages. It is the deep secret of God.
How, then, will you and I realize our very destiny according to God’s eternal choosing and appointing? Only as the Holy Spirit reveals to us the secrets of God. “Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10). What I am getting at is this: it is not good enough just to read the Bible and take it as it stands on the surface. It is necessary for the Holy Spirit to disclose to us God’s hidden things as they are summed up in Christ. Christ is the wisdom of God, the fulness of Divine knowledge, the embodiment of all that by which we are coming to the realization of that great destiny and purpose for which we are chosen in Christ, but there has to be a work of the Holy Spirit to disclose what is in Christ to our hearts. It has to be along this line and after this kind - that the Spirit shows us something in Christ and we say: ‘I have never seen that before!’ It comes with the power of a revelation which changes us from that time and makes all the difference to us. There is something more in that than just reading a passage of Scripture. You may read a passage a thousand times and know it by heart, and then the Spirit says something and that old familiar portion lights up, and you are brought to a new place in consequence.
But remember that all this must be practically expressed. I know that it is said that the Queen of Sheba heard of the wisdom of Solomon, and the Lord Jesus said that she came to hear his wisdom, but it also says that she saw the wisdom of Solomon: “And when the Queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, and the house that he had built, and the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and the ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord...” (1 Kings 10:4, 5). This was wisdom to be seen, and not only to be heard. The greatness of Christ is not just something to be listened to; it is something to be seen, to be manifested, in those who circle round Him. The Church is to show forth the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9); to show forth the wisdom, and to make the wealth to be seen. We have already spoken of the need for manifesting the satisfaction which we have in Christ. Let us see to it also that our apprehension of the Divine thoughts does not remain only in the realm of our understanding. And even if, after all that we have been saying about the greatness of Christ, you do not really grasp its significance and have nothing more than just the impression that Christ is much greater than ever you thought He was, that will do to begin with. But ask for something more than that: that this may become an inward reality and a working factor in your life. “Oh, what a Christ have I!”
We shall now consider more fully this one particular thing at the heart of this whole matter of the greatness of Christ, lying beneath the choice of Solomon and summing up his significance, and this one thing is his sonship. We are passing as quickly as we can from Solomon to Christ, and perhaps we might remind ourselves of the words said about him in this connection. The Lord said to David: “Solomon thy son, he shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be My son, and I will be his father” (1 Chronicles 28:6).
Now that, as the first fragment in that connection, gives us the key to the basis of this matter of sonship. Let me say again this general word - before we come to the particular - that the significance of Solomon lies in that word ‘sonship,’ for, while Solomon’s kingship did represent the very peak of Israel’s history in the matter of the monarchy, David is always, in the Word of God, kept to the fore as the greatest of Israel’s kings. David certainly was a very much greater man than Solomon when it comes to personalities; and it might be wondered at that things did not end with David, seeing that he was what he was in the Divine thought and was going for ever after to be kept by God in the first place of Israel’s kings. Why did the history not stop with David? For this reason: that a spiritual principle is being held to by God in a sovereign way, and the principle is that everything is gathered up in sonship. Ultimately, it is sonship which represents and embodies all God’s thought. So the one thing that is constantly reiterated about Solomon is sonship. “Thy son... my son.” David said: “Of all my sons (for the Lord hath given me many sons,) He hath chosen Solomon my son” (1 Chronicles 28:5) - the inclusiveness of sonship, and in a certain sense, the exclusiveness also. It is this word ‘son’ that rules where Solomon is concerned. And when we come over to Christ, to the greater Son of David, we find that everything heads up to, and takes its character and its meaning from, His Sonship. Well, that is a general statement of fact which you will do well to remember and to ponder, for reasons which will become apparent as we go on.
We find that John and Paul are the great exponents in this matter. John presents Christ pre-eminently as the Son. He sums up all his Gospel in a statement that everything written therein was with one object: that the readers might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing they might have life in His Name (John 20:31). John, then, presents Christ as the Son; it is the Person that he has in view.
Paul also represents Christ as the Son, but he goes further. I have just said that there was nothing further, but what I mean is this: that Paul goes on to open up the content of sonship, and to show that there is an aspect of it which is a related matter. By the Holy Spirit we are sons. Christ is a first one, the Firstborn; and (leaving out the factor of deity) sonship as a relationship is something into which we are called. And the meaning of sonship is Paul’s great theme; the content, the explanation, the relatedness and the inclusiveness of it.
Now it is with these two things that we shall be occupied for a little while at this time, and here we must make some links in the Word:
“Moreover the Lord telleth thee that the Lord will make thee a house. When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kindgom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be My son” (2 Samuel 7:11–14).
“He shall build a house for My name; and he shall be My son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever” (1 Chronicles 22:10).
“Solomon thy son, he shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be My son, and I will be his father. And I will establish his kindgom for ever” (1 Chronicles 28:6,7).
“And we bring you good tidings of the promise made unto the fathers, that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that He raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. And as concerning that He raised Him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, He hath spoken on this wise, I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David” (Acts 13:32–34).
“Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee? and again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son? ...But of the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; and the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom” (Hebrews 1:5,8).
I think it is quite patent that the things said by God to and concerning Solomon were not meant to be fulfilled in their entirety and fulness in him. The Lord was speaking with a further thought, with a mind beyond Solomon. He was really, in His own mind, speaking about the Lord Jesus. Solomon would be but a temporary, partial fulfilment of what God said about sonship, and about the kingdom and the house. God was thinking further on. (That is our manner of speaking as men. God does not speak in past, present and future; everything is present with Him, an eternal Now, and, when He spoke, Christ was present in mind and intention with Him. But so far as we are concerned, as children of time, the completeness of the statement related to the future, to the Lord Jesus.) “I will be to Him a Father, and he shall be to Me a Son;” “I will establish his kingdom” - these words were spoken of Solomon, but it is not difficult to see that, in the case of the Lord Jesus, there is an infinite transcendence. There is something here in connection with Him which goes far beyond anything that was possible in the case of Solomon, and the one thing which proves that is the very language that the Lord uses: "I will establish his throne for ever.” That was not true of Solomon, nor of Israel, but it is true of the Lord Jesus.
What I am stressing in the first place is this: that John and Paul bring Christ into view as Son on the principle of eternity. You know how John seeks to press that home in his Gospel in a number of very impressive ways. He opens: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” clearly intending to emphasize the eternity of this sonship, for He very soon comes into time: “And the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us;” that is the time aspect, the Now; the other is timeless. He seeks to emphasize the eternity of the Son in other ways, but there is one way which is tremendously impressive throughout John’s Gospel, and that is his use of the title “I am.” That title comes out specifically, and I think supremely, in John 18, in the narrative of the guard, led by Judas, coming to take Jesus. There He was with His disciples, and the band with lanterns and torches and weapons arrived. He quietly said: “Whom seek ye?” They said: “Jesus of Nazareth.” He said: “I am,” and they went backward, and fell to the ground. And He said again: “Whom seek ye?” “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I told you that I am.” (There is no ‘He’ there, as you know. ‘I am He’ is not in the text at all.) “I AM!” You are at once taken right back to Moses. “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:13, 14). You remember the other occasion when the Lord Jesus used that title for Himself: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). What a mix-up of tenses! “Before Abraham was, I am.” That takes us outside of our language altogether, right out of time and of natural sense, into God’s realm. I AM is not time at all. I AM is not this world at all. I AM is from everlasting to everlasting. John brings in Christ as Son on that basis of eternity.
But Paul not only brings Christ in in His eternity: he begins to build the Church upon that eternity. In the Letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, which are in my mind just now, we have Christ in His eternity, and then: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). From that eternal election and foreordination and predestination Paul builds the Church. He says: ‘This is nothing of time or of earth. This is a thing which has its roots and its foundation away back in eternity, and it goes on unto the ages of the ages. Time is a mere fragment in this thing.’ Paul is building upon the eternity of Christ. What has that to say to us? Well, of course, it bears out our first and all-governing point - the transcendence of Christ over Solomon. This greater than Solomon that is here, this Son - how infinitely more He is than that son!
What is sonship? In accordance with God’s full thought (not His partial thought in Solomon - that is only representation and type and figure and shadow), it is something which takes its rise out of eternity and goes on when time shall be no more. That is sonship in God’s thought. But what more does it say to us? Chosen in Him before the world was, foreknown, foreordained, predestinated before time was - what does it convey? Well, I AM is the synonym for stability: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” - the stability of Christ, the stability of the Church, and the stability of saints. Oh, what an assurance, what a strength and what an immense thing for faith is this matter of the sovereign grace of God! Grace working hand in hand with sovereignty! As we have pointed out before, there is no accounting for Solomon, seeing what happened in relation to his birth, except for the sovereign grace of God, and that is the message of sonship. Yes, sovereignty and grace: how vast! how great!
We have said before that emancipation from all our difficulties and problems will be along the line of spiritual enlargement, and spiritual enlargement will be by way of a new and a far greater apprehension of Christ; and here it is. Look at Him! What is the object of telling us all this about Christ? Do we just want information that Christ is God’s Son, and that He was one with the Father in eternity, and will be for ever and ever? I am quite reverent in asking that question, and in saying that, as a purely objective matter somewhere out in God’s universe, it does not matter to me very much. But when you say that God has revealed this to men, then I want to know why. What is in the Divine mind in revealing it? And the answer is here - you and I are concerned in it, we were chosen in relation to it before the world was, and in Him we are bound up with it. Oh, then, what an immense thing it is to be receiving eternal life, age-abiding life, and being linked with the eternal Son of God! Sonship goes beyond anything that is merely temporary and transient. Our union with Christ brings us right into the roots of His eternity, not only in duration but in character, in nature; for eternal life is not merely endless duration, it is the glory of God in nature, in essence. So Paul builds everything upon this fact of eternity, and brings us in. What a wonderful revelation! As a mere presentation of truth it is fascinating, captivating, bewildering. But brought home by the Holy Spirit, how transforming it can be, how establishing and how emancipating! Oh, if only the Church lived in the good of that, how all these petty, temporary factors would go out! After all, what does this and that matter? It is only for a time, and for this world at most, but the thing that matters is what God is doing above and beyond this world altogether.
Well, that is the first thing which comes in here through John and through Paul: Christ as the Son, and then the content and nature of sonship.
Then John brings in Christ as Son as Sovereign King. He brings Him in in a strange way, but how deep and terrific is its significance:
“Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and called Jesus, and said unto Him, Art Thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered, Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it concerning Me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests delivered Thee unto me: what hast Thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto Him, Art Thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice” (John 18:33–37; ASV).
A strange way of bringing in the Son in terms of sovereignty! There is a statement here: “My kingdom is not of this world.” It is just a naked statement, made in the presence of none who could understand it, but it is recorded by John with a purpose, for it links sonship and kingship. But Paul not only takes up the fact; he explains and opens out the statement.
“My kingdom is not of this world.” What has Paul to say about that?
“...He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things...” (Ephesians 1:20–22).
There we stop, for the next words take us to the greatness of the Church, and we are dealing with the greatness of Christ. That is Paul’s explanation of Christ’s statement: “My kingdom is not of this world”; “...at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule, and authority.” You cannot say that of Solomon! Great as Solomon was - and the statement about Solomon is that he was vastly superior in every sense to every other king that was known - here is One Who leaves Solomon altogether in the shade! He is far above all rule and authority, not only on this earth, but in every realm. He is over all things. That is the greatness of Christ the Son in terms of kingship.
But then what about His kingdom? “I will establish his kingdom for ever” (1 Chronicles 28:7). Oh, that has its full fulfilment in Christ, in His kingdom. Paul takes this up in Colossians:
“...Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).
How I would like to stop there, by way of parenthesis, to try and disentangle the situation into which Christianity has got today through mixing up the idea of the Kingdom and the Church - a tangle which is entirely the cause of its weakness and defeat. What I mean is this: that today the Lord’s people - yes, even evangelical Christianity - are trying to run the Church on the Solomon-kingdom line, that is, an earthly thing, something of this world, to be seen, known, heard of, taken account of by and in this world; bigness to impress, to write up; to gain place and influence by names, titles and all the things that belong to this world; and they call it: ‘Extending the Kingdom.’ They have a false idea of the Kingdom. Here Paul links these two things for this dispensation - Church and Kingdom - and says it is heavenly and not of this world at all. Immediately after this he goes on:
“If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:1, 2; ASV).
No, not even in a religious way. “My kingdom is not of this world,” said the Lord, and Paul explains it. The Church in this dispensation is the embodiment of the Kingship and Kingdom principles of Christ in a spiritual way, and they lift the Church clean out of this world and make it a heavenly thing. Immediately we begin to get a church with its own orders and forms and means which belong to this earth, in architecture, vestments and all that sort of thing, we are back on a Solomon basis of the Kingdom, and we have left the heavenly basis of the Church.
“My kingdom is not of this world,” said John as to this Son, and Paul explains: “...seated at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule,” “all things in subjection under His feet,” “Head over all things.” But where is it? Go over the world and see where you can find it, and the only thing you will find is that ghastly caricature of it, the Pope and the Roman Church - a false presentation of this “Head over all things to the church,” a temporal thing. With Paul it is a spiritual thing. In union with Christ we are not only lifted out of time into eternity, but out of earth into the heavens; and all now is of a spiritual and heavenly order in this dispensation. “My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight.” That is the statement, putting it in one way. Put it the other way: ‘Because My Kingdom is not of this world, My servants do not fight with flesh and blood for its establishment.’ Paul tells us what that means: “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 6:12). That is what Christ meant! Here it is Christ speaking and explaining Himself through Paul, explaining what He said to Pilate when there was no one who could understand. Now it is possible to explain. The Spirit has come and formed a company of people who, by the Spirit, are capable of understanding things the Lord said when no one did understand and He had to say: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12,13); and here it is. Not with flesh and blood, for it is spiritual. It has gone out into a vast realm, so much greater than the realm of Solomon, and it is in and from that realm that everything is being governed. Do not make any mistake about it! This world, and the kingdoms of this world, are not taking their own course, and they are not ultimately taking the devil’s course. Yes, the world-rulers of this darkness - that is the immediate scene, the devil’s work, but behind there is One Who is using the devil and his work, Whose servant Satan is, Who is Sovereign Lord, far above all rule and dominion, authority and name, whatever that name may be, man or devil. He is over all. Either the Scripture is not true, or that is a fact.
How tremendous is this sovereignty of the Lord Jesus! So many of our problems will begin to dissolve when we get a true conception of the greatness of Christ! Why this? Why that? Why the other? Why does Satan seem to have it all his own way? Why does Satan score and win? Are you sure he does? Look beyond, and see if that very work of Satan is not going to be taken up into the sovereignty of our Lord and made eventually to serve Divine ends. “I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). The sufferings of the Church at the hands of devils and men have, in the end, resulted in the furtherance of the work of God.
John, then, presents Him as King; yes, in humiliation and in suffering, but King. Oh, there is a marvellous secret and mystery there which it would take me too long to deal with now. I see it there but dimly, but I see it in that outstanding incident in the life of Solomon, selected as an isolated example of his wisdom. No doubt there were many others, but this was taken out of them all and recorded as an example - the two women and the two babes. They were living and sleeping together, and in the night one of the babes was overlaid and died. The woman, whose babe that was, quietly put her dead child over by the other mother, and took the living baby to herself. In the morning the rightful mother saw that her child was gone and this dead one was not hers, and she went to Solomon about it. The two women were arraigned before Solomon and the whole problem was presented to him. Solomon, with that insight, discernment and wisdom which God had given - and remember, wisdom is always the means by which problems are solved - decided on a very radical course. He called for a sword and said: ‘Divide the living child in two, and give half to each of the women.’ That settled it! The false mother stood as a spectator, coldly unmoved by this procedure. The rightful mother let go; she let go herself, let go her own rights, for the life of that child. “Oh,” she said, “give her the living child, and in no wise slay it.” In effect: ‘Do not kill my child, even if I must part with it. I let go all that is dear to me. If it costs me everything, let the child live!’ Solomon said: ‘That is the mother. Give her the child.’
Do you remember the Lord Jesus saying: “He that is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf snatcheth them, and scattereth them: he fleeth because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; ...and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:12–14)? Have you got the principle in the two things? You have to solve this problem of life and death. How is it going to be solved? By yielding up your own life. This is true of Christ. He could only solve this problem and establish His right, His claim and His ownership by letting go. “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). It would take much longer than that to investigate the matter properly, but I see dimly a kingship here. A greater than Solomon is here, and He is dealing with a much greater problem and situation.
His right and His ownership have to be established. How will He do it? By grasping, or by fighting in the flesh, or by asserting Himself? No, by giving His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). There He deals with the whole problem of life and death, and that is what John brings out.
What I am seeing here is this: John records what the Lord Jesus says - “Father... glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee: even as Thou gavest Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He should give eternal life” (John 17:1,2). “As the Father hath life in Himself, even so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself: and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is a Son of man” (John 5:26, 27). Here is sonship brought out in a third aspect, and in this He comes immediately into vital relationship with mankind. The Son of Man is a racial title: it speaks of relatedness to man. But how does He find man? In death. How is He to redeem man? As the Redeeming Kinsman, the Son of Man. How is He to exercise the authority which He has been given to raise man from the dead? He will lay down His life, He will let go His own right, He will yield up His own claims, He will set His own personal interests aside, He will die for that which He has come to redeem. “I am the good shepherd... I lay down My life for the sheep.” The Son of Man redeems. How? In that infinite wisdom of the Cross; “Christ crucified... the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23, 24); that infinite wisdom of laying down the life, of letting go. That woman let go what was her right. The Lord Jesus, “existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even into death, yea, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5–8). In that letting go He redeemed us unto God, He saved the flock. Solomon was very wise, and that story is very impressive and beautiful, but he could not do this. He could not go right out into that vast realm of redeeming kinship with a whole race, and, on the principle of becoming obedient unto death, redeem the race.
That is the greatness of Christ. Son, Eternal Son in Sovereign Kingship, Son as Redeeming Kinsman. Paul opens that up to bring the Church right into the full stature of a man in Christ - but that is another subject.
Read: 1 Chronicles 29:21, 22; 1 Kings 8:62, 63; 2 Chronicles 4:1; 7:1, 4, 5, 9; Ephesians 1:6–8; 3:17–19; 5:27
In those chapters of the Book of Chronicles we have already seen Solomon so lavishly and overflowingly dealt with by God because He had in view One greater than Solomon whom He was seeking to interpret to men by way of illustration; so also in the different records of Solomon’s reign we find the intimation of the greatness of the Cross given by God by the same means of illustration. The great altar, pointing to the Cross, is brought into view, and then in the double connection - the exaltation of the king and the consecration of the house of God - the greatness of the significance of that altar is intimated by the immensity of the sacrifice.
We but glance, in passing, at that double connection of the Cross. Its greatness is seen firstly related to the enthronement of the king. There is a good deal about that in the New Testament - that enthronement, that exaltation being because of that immense work which was accomplished in the Cross.
“... obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:8–10).
Then secondly we see how the house of God is established upon the greatness of the Cross, and how the Church takes its significance from the Cross. We have read something about that in the Ephesian Letter, which has more to do with the Church than any other letter or any other part of the Bible. You find that the very foundations of the Church are in the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
We leave that for the moment, and seek to speak for this time solely about the greatness of the Cross.
We are impressed when we read of this sacrifice which was made by Solomon. It is almost bewildering to think of it - battalions upon battalions of oxen! The highways must have been thronged with cattle and with sheep during those days, for there were thousands upon thousands! It does not do to let our imagination dwell upon that! And there must have been literally rivers of blood. It is a terrible picture, and but for the moral support which was found in the meaning and spiritual value of it, I am quite sure the priests, during those days, must have been overwhelmed by the ghastliness of it. They could only have gone through the slaying of those thousands and thousands of oxen, sheep and lambs, with the support given by the realization of what it meant. All that which is beyond our imagination - and we do not want to dwell upon it too much - is indicative in the type of how great is the Cross of the Lord Jesus. It should lead us to think again. If that is a type of the Cross, a type of Christ the Offering for sin, and if it is true that types are always far less than that which they typify, how great must the Cross be! By mere logical deduction, the Cross in the Divine mind must be immense. And yet we are distinctly and definitely told that all that offering in Solomon’s day, both at his enthronement and at the dedication of the temple, and all that had led up to it through many generations from the first recorded sacrifice (the offering of Abel), and every subsequent sacrifice, aggregating millions in number, was unavailing in any sense of finality.
It was unavailing in two ways. First, because it never reached a final end; it had to be repeated again and again. There was no end to this thing. Yes, this morning the sacrifice has been offered, and perhaps for the moment it has secured a kind of ceremonial adjustment to God, an acknowledgment of God which is taken account of by Him; but it has to be repeated this evening, and again tomorrow, and every morning and evening throughout all life; and when life at its longest is finished the thing is not concluded; the next generation must take it up and go on, and then the next.
And in this second and included sense it was unavailing, in that it never really dealt with conscience; that is, it never rolled the burden of sin from the conscience. It was merely external and ceremonial; it was religion which, though very thorough going, had really no relatedness to the inner life. “...gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect” (Hebrews 9:9). Positively and definitely it was unavailing.
And look at the immensity of it! I say again that it is overpowering to contemplate all that tremendous offering made by Solomon. But then gather up the generations! Then come to these simple but marvellous statements: “...once at the end of the ages hath He been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26); “...the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10); “...when He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). One offering, and only one! What a work that must be if in one single act it does what all this other, in its immensity through generations, has never been able to accomplish! “By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). All the other, it says, could never make the worshippers perfect; but He, by one offering, perfected for ever. What a sacrifice! What a Cross! Twenty and two thousand oxen, and all the thousands of sheep and lambs, yes; but one single offering did it once for all! There is no harm in reiteration, in dwelling upon it, that we may really register the significance of this. One single offering, just one, and all that other is swallowed up!
Why one, and once and for all? Well, surely there is present in the one thing that which was absent in all the others. What was that? Simply the full satisfaction of God in the matter of a perfect nature. Although these animal sacrifices were ceremonially perfect, typically without spot or blemish, actually that related only to the physical side. They were selected sacrifices which were of a special breed and pedigree, and from which there were absent certain flaws of mixture, but this was merely external. If you got right into the bloodstream you would find the old creation there. Those oxen could fight as well as any others! It was there in the blood, for it was nature, the old creation. Only in a sort of ceremonial way were they perfect. But He - not ceremonially, but actually, intrinsically perfect - offered Himself - not ceremonially, but actually - without spot unto God. In His blood there was no corruption. Somewhere, in the mystery of God, there was a clean cutting in between His inheritance from His earthly mother, and His own Divine nature; the tainted thing was cut off, and in Him there was none of the Adam corruption. “The prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in Me” (John 14:30). It was the essential, intrinsic perfection of nature in the one offering which was not found in all the others. That was what God was looking for: a perfect being, a perfect human being, a perfect specimen of creation, one who in essential nature fully satisfied the thought of God in making man. God found that in Him; and that being offered unto God, there need be no more offering. It was once and for all and for ever. It is finished, for God is satisfied. That is the great foundation of our faith; the greatness of the Cross in the light of Who it is that is on that Cross; for it is the greatness of Christ which gives the greatness to the Cross.
The greatness of the Cross in such terms is the basis of our salvation, our hope, our justification, our righteousness. Then let us once and for all cease to look for perfection anywhere else, in ourselves or in others, and keep our eyes on the object which satisfies God - the sole and final object of His satisfaction.
We have to see the Cross, then, in those Divine terms, in its four dimensions - breadth and length and height and depth - and until we have so seen it our salvation is still lacking in essential qualities, and we, as saved people, will not be the people that God means us to be.
The next thing that I want to say is that the Cross of our Lord Jesus is different from all that foreshadowing and typifying in the Old Testament, and different from this immense representation in the days of Solomon, in this second respect - that it is super-historical. That sounds technical, but what I mean is that it is something bigger than time, and time is only another word for history. I wonder if you have noticed that in the earliest Christian literature, that is, the epistles of the New Testament (not the Gospels, for they were written after the epistles - bear that clearly in mind, for it will make a lot of difference!) Calvary is never once mentioned. The story of the crucifixion, of the Cross, is never referred to in the earliest Christian literature. Reference is always made to the death of Christ; not to the crucifixion, nor Calvary, but to the death. There is a vast deal of difference. One is just historical, a fact, something that took place at a certain time in a certain place in the history of this world; that is the crucifixion, and it is historical.
The death of Christ is not that. The Apostles, when they wrote their epistles, were occupied with something spiritual and not historical; universal and not local; eternal and not just in time; they dealt with the death of Christ, and it is set in an immense setting, against an immense background. The death is referred to a very great deal, and yet the story of the death is never once told in the epistles. That is not without significance, and is because in the epistles we have got away into the real realm of the meaning of the Cross. The crucifixion was less than forty years old when the epistles were written. I venture to think that if something like that had happened in our lifetime and we were writing within forty years of the event, we should tell the story, giving all the details and saying what had happened, and where, and who was present. We should give the details that we have in the Gospels. And yet the Apostles, when they wrote their epistles, left all that out, although they were writing on what happened. But with them it was spiritual, it was in another realm altogether, for it was inner. The Cross of the Lord Jesus was to them something infinitely greater than an historical happening on a hill outside Jerusalem. The way in which the death of Christ is introduced is simply: “Once at the end of the ages hath He been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Simple, but, you see, it goes far beyond anything of time and anything local. Is it not remarkable that, in their writings, they never make it a date in the calendar? It never was a date in their calendar naturally, and yet it was the thing that had changed all calendars. To them it was not just something historical; it was spiritual and much bigger than an event to be marked upon the calendar.
Now let us get to something of the meaning of that. In the first place, in the Cross of the Lord Jesus all history is gathered up and transcended, and we are brought into the great realm of the Divine sovereignty. Oh, I find such a tremendous uplift and release and emancipation as I contemplate more and more the sovereignty of God, especially working through grace! Here in the Cross of the Lord Jesus we have the vindication of God in His choice of Israel. The story of Israel is history, but there is something behind that. There is the choice of Israel, for they were chosen from among all the nations and separated unto God, a sovereign act for a sovereign purpose. What was the purpose? Why did God choose Israel and separate them as a people unto Himself? With one object - that by means of them He might reveal Himself to all the nations and make them a blessing to all. That was God’s purpose, and in order that they might fulfil that great elect purpose they must be a separated people, cut off from the nations, and having no communication with them. They must be a holy people, separated, distinguished, completely isolated in their moral and spiritual life from the nations, a people wholly for God’s possession, in order that they might bring God in revelation to all the nations. You see how essential their separation was for that! It is a principle, a law. If you are going to be an instrument, a channel, a vessel of Divine revelation and blessing, you have to be consecrated, sanctified, wholly cut off and separated unto God. Hence Satan’s persistent and continuous effort and labour to break down that distinctiveness and to get Israel mixed up with the other peoples round about.
The whole history of Israel is the history of that effort of Satan to spoil their consecration; and when Israel in decline lost the vision of their elect calling and purpose, and that great Divine intention concerning them faded from their view, then they became mixed up with the nations, they intermarried, and the wall of distinctiveness was broken down. And the prophets came in and proclaimed Israel’s holy and elect calling in order to remind them of how God separated them unto Himself from the beginning, and to bring again into view the great thing which God had done in choosing them, and accordingly appealing to them to separate themselves again unto God and to destroy all this spiritual fornication - a very prominent idea in the language of the prophets - to get rid of it and again be holy. You know that the prophets are full of that! And what did Israel do with the prophets who preached their holy vocation and appealed for their return? They persecuted and killed them; and that is how we find things at the end of the Old Testament. And then He appeared, born of the seed of David, born under the law, a Jew; so far as things here on the earth are concerned, He was a Jew, of Israel; holy, undefiled, separate from sinners. You see the wide setting. He has taken up in Himself all that which Israel was called and chosen to do and to be. He is all that, and in offering that to God, what does He do? He fulfils Israel’s whole destiny and brings God and the blessing to all the world. He is Israel in fulfilment. In this One God is vindicated in the choice of Israel. In the Cross of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the sovereignty of God is vindicated. He has fulfilled all and God has been justified. That is why He came of the seed of Abraham, and of the seed of David - to vindicate God’s choice of Israel, to bring a blessing to all the nations; and in the Cross of Christ, not only Israel but all the peoples of the earth receive the Divine blessing, which was ever God’s thought for them. Nothing like that was possible in Jewish sacrifices. How great is this Cross, and how wonderful is the Divine sovereignty!
I wonder if you are drawing comfort from that wide application of the principle that, in the sovereignty of God, all the tragedy and failure is met and overcome in Jesus Christ, and all the going wrong is accounted for in Him! The Lord has simply swallowed it up; and now, not at this moment to Israel as a nation, but to every member of that race as to other races, God says: ‘The tragedy of Jew and Gentile is taken up in the Cross, and by means of that Cross I am vindicated after all in ever having created man.’ Men reason about this creation and say: ‘Tragedy! God’s defeat! God’s failure! God’s mistake! Look at it! Why did God ever make this world, and man? Did He not know what would happen? Seeing how it has gone, He is not justified in having created this world!’ But as in Israel, so in the whole race, the Cross of the Lord Jesus is the vindication of God, and that is the meaning of such words as: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). It means that God, in the Cross of the Lord Jesus, took the whole history of this world and swallowed it up. For now, while the world is as it is, the sovereignty of God through the Cross of the Lord Jesus would turn the tragedy to good account, the suffering to value; and then afterward He would deliver the whole creation from its present condition.
That leads us to the closing word. The Cross of the Lord Jesus is not only super-historical, it is extra-terrestrial in its range. The Word of God reveals to us that this world is not something in itself, and what is happening on this earth is not limited to the earth. What is revealed is that there is an immense struggle going on over, around and outside this world for the government, the mastery, of the universe. Intimations are given in such passages of Scripture as Ephesians 6:12: “world-rulers of this darkness... spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.” There is a conflict going on. We have intimations of it in the Book of Daniel - spiritual princes withstanding the archangel in relation to the Lord’s interests as wrapped up in this world (Daniel 10:13,20). Over and around this world the struggle goes on for the mastery of the universe. The Cross of the Lord Jesus had its meaning in that realm. In His Cross He moved right out into those circumferences of spiritual conflict and contention when He stripped off from Himself the principalities and the powers and “made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). Yes, right out in that realm the Cross of the Lord Jesus had its ultimate and supreme meaning, and the issue of the lordship of this universe was settled in the Cross. So, in this letter to the Ephesians, which we are holding all the time in the background of our mind, we have it inclusively and comprehensively stated: “...when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Ephesians 1:20–22). That is the triumph of the Cross! That is the range of the meaning and value of the death of Christ! He, in dying, slew death; in being delivered to Satan, He overcame him; in going to the grave, He robbed the grave of its sting for ever. Here is the sovereignty of God! How great it is - super-historical, extra-terrestrial! How great is the Cross of the Lord Jesus! Who can describe it, and who can reach unto it?
But, dear friends, while we contemplate it in that way, let it not remain merely as wonderful language and ideas. Oh, what this Cross says in the language of hope and of certainty for us! Have you despaired of yourself, of others, or of this world? The Cross of the Lord Jesus answers all your despair. There is nothing impossible since Jesus died and rose again. You and I are not so impossible as we may have thought. No, everything is possible since Jesus rose from the dead. In the resurrection the seal of His universal triumph was given by God. Ours is a Gospel of hope since Jesus died. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to His great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).
I have said nothing about the Cross and the redemption of this creation. Between Israel and God’s vindication in relation to Israel on the one hand, and the universe, that extra-terrestrial realm, on the other hand, there comes the earth, and in the Cross the redemption of this very physical creation is secured. The vanity under which it lies, the curse and the corruption which are in it, have all been met in the Cross of the Lord Jesus and overcome, and in Him there will be an incorruptible creation - our bodies as a part thereof, but more than they - a whole creation. What a day that will be when this whole creation is delivered from the bondage of corruption, when the groan that is now in it gives place to a shout of deliverance and emancipation, when it will be glorified! He will make the place of His feet glorious (Isaiah 60:13),and that refers to a new earth under His feet.
And then later there will be “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). That is the hope of the Cross of the Lord Jesus. It is a great Cross, and, with all our struggles to describe it, we cannot compass it. The Lord give us a new heart appreciation of how great was that one offering made once and for all!
“The bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto the world... I am the bread of life... I am come down from heaven... I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; yea and the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have not life in yourselves... My flesh is true meat, and My blood is true drink... This is the bread which came down out of heaven” (John 6:33, 35, 38, 51, 53, 55, 58).
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19).
As the Lord enables, we shall now seek to recognize the link and the transition from Christ through the Cross to ourselves - that is, to the Lord’s people. As we have been thinking of the greatness of Christ there have been some things which have come out as to His Person. Firstly, in connection with sonship, we thought about His eternity - the eternal Sonship; then, at the other end, we thought of Him as the Son of Man. Son of God eternal, Son of Man in time; Son of God in heaven, Son of Man on earth; and we have been trying to understand the greatness contained in those capacities. We have thought about the greatness of the Cross. One thing we have said about Christ is that He does not stand in solitary isolation outside our universe, but the revelation of Him - even in His eternal Sonship, as well as in every other capacity - is intended to show that He stands closely associated with us, with man. You will remember that we have said that the eternal Sonship of Christ is no matter of concern to us if it is something in itself; we are not very interested if it is not going to affect us in any way. Therefore the fact that it is the very substance of revelation to man shows that God is interested that man should know, and that with a great purpose. God does not show us these things just for the sake of letting us have a look at something very wonderful. He reveals with an object in view, a big, but very practical object, and He says, in effect: ‘Now, this concerns you. You are bound up with this and related to it.’ So that the greatness of Christ as Son, both of God and of man, is brought by the New Testament down to a practical living relationship with us. He, the Son, is going to bring many sons to glory. He, the Son of Man, is the firstborn of a new creation, and in His manhood, after His likeness, a new creation is coming back to God, to be presented to God in Him. Well, that is all common ground, but we must get to the inner, practical meaning of it all.
We have spoken about the eternity of the Son and of our participation in the eternal life which is His. What does that mean really? Does it just convey to your minds the idea of endless duration, something without beginning and without end? That is vague, and hardly helpful. What is the real, practical meaning and value of that as a revelation, as something brought to us? Well, what it means is that sonship is a thought, a conception, in the mind of God before we were made, that which was to be transferred to a creation. That is, it goes before time, and for us, time simply means this present material world order. Time for us begins when God made a material creation and put the heavenly bodies in their place to govern years and months and days and the seasons of the year, and so on. That is time for us, and it belongs, therefore, to the material creation; but get back behind time and you come to God's thought, which is outside of time. Call it timeless, if you like, or eternal. It is outside of time, before time was, and it was to give character to time, give nature to creation. That which He would make would, in His intention, take its character from this and would, therefore, in its conception, in its idea, as well as in its nature, be something related to the timeless thought of God. Now, Christ is that.
But what, again, is the practical meaning of that to us now? It is that Christ has perfected that eternal pre-time thought of God; Christ stands to govern everything created, and to see that time has no power to destroy it. Nothing which can come into time can eventually dismiss that, because that is eternal and stands there governing all time. Eventually things are bound, with the timelessness of God, to come back to that original idea. The creation in time may go leagues and leagues further from God’s idea and may move completely out of its orbit, but time shall be no more; time has no power finally to dismiss that. In Christ it is secured before ever time was, and eventually it is bound to be realized. The creation will come back to the timeless thought of God, and it will be shown that nothing that has ever entered into time has had power finally to change that. That is tremendous - and that is the practical value of sonship. Sonship is an eternal idea, and eventually the creation will come to sonship. There will be that eventually which will be sonship embodied in creation, in a people, and that will be what God ever thought and determined.
But how can that be? There is the eternal fact - and here is time; here are conditions of time; and here are we as found in this creation. We are far from that eternal thought, so how can that be realized? Between the eternal thought as perfected in that Son and the ultimate realization of that thought stands the Cross. The Cross with one arm reaches back to eternity, to that thought, to that purpose of God; with the other arm it reaches on to eternity yet to be, the consummation of that thought. The Cross is the bridge through all time between the eternities, to take up the purpose on the one hand, and to secure it as a realization on the other hand. It is in the Cross that the eternal thought of God concerning the Son and the sons is made possible and is secured, and here is the greatness of the Cross in the sense of the eternity of the Cross. That is the meaning of such a phrase as “the Lamb... slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Time is anticipated, and all that could and would come in with time which is so contrary to that eternal thought, is anticipated in the Lamb slain in the thought of God from the foundation of the world. The Cross bridges it all. So, when we come into a faith union with Christ as crucified to all that has come in with time - the change of man’s nature and character, the change of the world, and the change of the character of creation; when we stand on the one side of that Cross in a faith identification with Him in death to that change, to all that disruption and denial and contradiction of the Divine conception, and we stand on the other side in a faith identification with Him as risen triumphant over all that has come in with time, we receive the gift of timeless life, eternal life, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Or, to put it this way, we are then found in Christ, that Christ, from eternity. We have been lifted out of time and what time means now - for time now means disruption, disorder, corruption, and is only another word for the reign of death which puts a limit to life and begins at once to say: ‘So far, and no farther.’ That is death, and that is time. In His death He has destroyed all the conditions which time represents, He has taken it all away, and we are linked with Him in His eternity. Sonship - received potentially through the Holy Spirit in new birth, and realized through the Holy Spirit’s continual operation in our maturing - is something which is the fulfilment of an eternal thought of God, the realization of all that God ever thought about us; and the Cross is the point at which all that is made possible - nay, is already secured in Christ. How great is the Cross!
Following that (and it is only saying the same thing again, putting the emphasis on another word), we have here in this Gospel by John: “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven”: “I am come down from heaven.” Here is a phrase reiterated almost monotonously. Eternal, yes - that is the reach backward. Now “from heaven” - that is the reach upward. But what does: “I am come down from heaven” mean? Christ said things which are completely mysterious until the Holy Spirit interprets them to the heart! He speaks about the Son of Man Who is in heaven (John 3:13). While He is saying the very words He is on the earth, yet He says: “The Son of man, Who is in heaven.” What does He mean? He simply means, as the later New Testament shows us, that He is not of this creation, He is not produced by the ordinary racial means on this earth and does not come into being along the ordinary line of generation in Adam. “I am come down from heaven.” The essential and deepest reality about Christ is that He is of a different order. Yes, He is born of Mary, but He is born of the Holy Spirit, in a unique way. Something has operated so that it can be said of Him before His birth: “The holy Thing Which is begotton of Thee...” (Luke 1:35) - a completeness of holiness which is the product of the intervention of God the Holy Spirit, cutting off from the inheritance of this fallen creation. So it is true that, by the Holy Spirit come down from heaven, He has come down from heaven. In a word, He is of another order of human beings; there is that about Him which is unique and different from all other men; there is not another like Him. “I am come down from heaven.”
That, again, is God’s thought - a certain kind of humanity which is not found in time and on this earth as we know it, a mankind which is not the one familiar to us; a different order, something outside of this realm and this race of mankind altogether. We are “foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). You and I are to be of a different order altogether from the one to which we belong by nature. This order to which we belong now in this creation is not God’s thought at all. It has gone wrong, and has fallen right out of the Divine recognition and acceptance. It is something other, it is confused, contaminated, tangled and poisoned.
THIS ONE from heaven is the representation, the embodiment and the inclusiveness of what God intended man to be. There is this creation at one end, and at the other end - “conformed to the image of His Son,” made like Him in resurrection, made different, spiritually, within. Yes, but only in embryo now. You know what an embryo is: something that has life, but undeveloped and not fully conscious life. Development will take place and consciousness will grow, but it is not there to begin with. That is what we are when we are born again. We have life, but how much consciousness and understanding of the meaning of that life is there? Very little! How many of the Lord’s people, of all the millions on this earth, are conscious of what they are saved unto, of what the great object is that God has in view in saving them? They have life because they are born again, but the life is only embryonic life in the sense that the consciousness of the meaning of it is very limited. But as that life develops, so there grows the consciousness of the object for which we have been born again. There may be a good deal of enthusiasm, activity and energy about young Christians, but if they stay in that place of having only energy and not understanding, they are not growing. Any little babe will wear you out in the course of a few hours! Try and do what a child does and see how long you can keep it up! There is plenty of life and energy, but not much intelligence. The real mark of growth is not energy alone, but intelligence. So the true course of the development of spiritual life is in seeing and knowing more and more what we are called unto, what we are saved for, and what is the Divine meaning in that which has taken place in us. There are comparatively few who are growing up like that!
Well, in the end there will be the full-grown man, the fulness of the stature of Christ, and sonship fully attained, for it is secure in Christ, and was secured in Him away back in the Cross.
But between what God has eternally secured and projected in His Son, and that ultimate realization, there is what we are by nature. We are not that which is God’s thought, and, what is more, it is not in us to be that, whatever the humanists may say, and whatever may be the widespread false doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and the power of man to be his own saviour if only he is cultivated and educated, and all the rest. In spite of all that, it is not in us to become what God eternally intended us to be. How blind men are, in the light of recent history, to hold to the belief that, after thousands of years, we are nearer to God! We are no nearer to God than we were in the beginning. God is surely spoiling all that sort of thing, but men are blind and still cling to it; they are die-hards in this realm of total depravity. However, where is the hope? There, between the two, stands the Cross, and the Cross takes up not only the eternal, but the heavenly, the altogether ‘other.’ With one hand it possesses what we are, and with the other hand it secures the realization of the Divine intention and brings them both together in that Man crucified - a Man Who in resurrection becomes the first of the kind of man that is to be. There He is in the Cross. The Cross of the Lord Jesus, Christ crucified, secures another kind of man, and (as we were saying) when we are born again we receive the embryonic life of that new order. If only we will be obedient to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus we shall be changed into the same image, we shall be transformed, we shall grow up into Him in all things, we shall become progressively like Him, and then, in the great day of His final intervention for us, “we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). We shall all be changed, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and death shall be swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:53,54). The Cross accomplishes that. How great it is!
You see, that is why the Lord Jesus speaks in this symbolic way about Himself: “I am the bread of life... I came down from heaven.” “He that eateth Me...”; “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have not life in yourselves.” Clearly that means that the bread must be broken. He speaks those words, not just to individuals, but to the whole company of believers: “He that believeth on Me.” The bread has to be distributed. You notice that, leading up to this, was the feeding of the multitude, and it was out of the breaking of the bread for the feeding of the multitude that this wonderful revelation of Himself as the bread of life took its rise. Where was the broken bread to be distributed? It was at the Cross. The Cross is the breaking of the loaf, so that we might receive Christ. Paul explains it all, getting right into the mystery of it, in this matchless passage in Ephesians 3:17 and 18: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” How does Christ dwell in our hearts? He has been broken and given to faith; faith has reached out, and the broken, distributed Christ, Who still remains whole while yet broken, is come to dwell in our hearts. “...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints...”; “we, who are many, are one loaf, one body” (1 Corinthians 10:17), made so by Christ dwelling in all our hearts through faith. “...may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.” That is simply gathering up what we have been saying in one comprehensive statement.
We close with a fresh emphasis upon the fourfold dimensions of the love of Christ. Love, in Ephesians, goes hand in hand with the great word ‘grace.’ Grace and love in Ephesians are twins - or shall I put it this way: grace is love in action. When we come to grace in Ephesians, it is not just the grace of God towards us to save us from hell and to give us some assurance of heaven. It is the grace of God to save us unto that high and full and perfect thought of His. It is all this that is in view - this vast, eternal thing, all brought into relation to the Church. That is the grace of God in this Letter. Then grace is shown to be because of the love of God: “Christ... loved the church, and gave Himself up for it” (Ephesians 5:25) - the broken bread. That love springs out of the Cross. The Cross is first brought into view here. “In Whom we have redemption” (Ephesians 1:7). “You did He make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest: but God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1–5; ASV). There is the great love of God, as shown in the Cross, raising us from that awful death through the Cross.
And then that love is seen in its four dimensions - breadth, length, height and depth. What is that? It is the Cross reaching out in its expansiveness. The breadth of the Cross - and, oh! how broad the Cross is! How broad the love of God is! You can afford to be a whole-hearted ‘Broad Churchman’ in the love of God! Oh, the love of God is much bigger, much broader than our conception of it, and, oh! for more of this love that will broaden us! We are so small, so contemptible, so petty. Do not let us be afraid of thinking of the love of God in broad terms. The Lord will surprise some of us with what His love has done, and whom His love has saved. Oh, the breadth of His love! It brings us back to the exhortation of Paul to the Corinthians: “Be ye also enlarged.”
That is the breadth, the outward reach; and now the length of His love - the backward and forward reach, going back beyond time, beyond the Fall, beyond all that has happened. The love of the Cross reaches beyond that and outstrips it. Thank God, it outstrips all that has come in with this creation through Satan and through Adam, and it goes on when time shall be no more. The Cross, the love of God, extends backward and forward over the eternities.
“...What is the breadth and length and height” - Oh, the height of the love of God, of the Cross of our Lord Jesus! To what heights it can bring us! “...and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). The heights of the power of the Cross! The reach of the Cross to lift us! We have no conception of what we are going to be. John says: “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). Look at Him on the Mount of Transfiguration! Look at Him in the brightness above that of the noon day sun over the road to Damascus! Look at Him as John saw Him, as recorded at the beginning of the Book of the Revelation: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as one dead” (Revelation 1:17; ASV). We shall be like Him! We cannot describe it, but that is the height of the Cross, the height of the love of God. Oh, what an uplift there is in the Cross! What an uplift in the love of God! This is practical, and not just doctrine. When the love of God really does get hold of a life, it lifts. There is lift in the love of God. Oh, if only God Almighty were to come alongside you now in a personal form, and you knew Him to be God Almighty, the Eternal, and He said to you: ‘I do love you!’, you would be lifted clean off the earth at once. The Cross is the great revelation that God loves us. “God so loved... that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Oh, for that love to be in us so that the effect of our being here would be to lift others! I am afraid it is the other way so often - we cast down, we oppress, and our effect is not lifting. Oh, God save us into more of His love that lifts!
And the depth of the love of God, of the Cross! We sing:
“Oh, teach me what it meaneth:
Thy love beyond compare,
The love that reacheth deeper
Than depths of self-despair!”
That is one depth some of us know - the depth of self-despair. He took all the despair of all men, that abyss of hopelessness, of shame, of sin, right down to the bottom; and the Cross, the love of God, reaches down there to lift up. What is the depth? Well might the Apostle go back upon himself when he comes into touch with that love and talk nonsense: “...to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). You are outside of human language! Ephesians is the Letter of superlatives. Paul just cannot cope with language in that Letter, because he has got altogether outside of this life, this world, this creation. He has got into touch with eternity, heaven, God, with the magnitudes, and human language falls over itself in trying to describe that! “The exceeding greatness of His power” (Ephesians 1:19). “...able to do exceeding abundantly above all...” (Ephesians 3:20). Language cannot describe it. Here is love in its four dimensions, but it passes knowledge. That may sound like mere words. It is; but, oh, what I trust is that through the words there will be a registration in our hearts of the Spirit of God to tell us that “the love of God is broader than the measures of man’s mind.” IT is deeper than the depths of the world’s despair and shame and sin. IT is higher than the highest thoughts of which we are capable as to what it can do, and IT anchors us outside of time and in eternity.
“...the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:19–21; ASV).
Our object now, for the attaining of which we are so completely dependent upon the Lord, is to get inside those words and see and feel something of what they mean. If you read the whole passage thoughtfully, it will be recognized that this setting of Christ at God’s right hand was with the object of installing Him as the inclusive representative of all of us who believe - “to us-ward who believe.” It is a related thing. He “made Him to sit at His right hand,” which was the final step in the exercise of that exceeding great power in raising Him from the dead: and it is said at the end of the statement that He “gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body.” He was not set there as one by Himself - as the exalted but isolated Christ, the honoured Lord - but, in the thought and intention of God, in a related way to us-ward who believe, to the Church which is His Body. The all-governing presentation of Christ in the Word of God is of Him in the position and capacity of representative Man.
That is the thing which governs supremely in the full revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the incarnation of the Divine idea of humanity, but, strangely enough, that representation is ultimately projected into a region altogether beyond human experience. He is placed where no other man has ever been. Christ is set forth fully and finally as representative in an experience and position through and beyond death. I say that no other man has ever been there in all the history of men. At the first view, that very fact would seem to shatter the conception of Him as representative. If He is representative in a realm and on a ground that no other man has ever known, how can He be representative of all men? And yet, when you come to think about it more carefully, it is just the opposite. That is why and how He can be the representative, because perfect representation in any realm or connection demands the perfect realization of all the intentions and possibilities of that realm. If you take a flower and say: ‘That is the perfect specimen of its own kind!’, then it is requisite that that flower should embody all that ever that species was intended to be and all the possibilities that were within it in its creation. It cannot be a perfect specimen until it has gone right through unto the full end of its own inherent and Divinely-appointed destiny. And Christ risen is - may I use the word? - the perfect specimen of all the Divine thought in man’s creation, so He must have gone through into that realm which is beyond anything that any other man has known. He must be in a position and in a fulness which fully answers to the original thought of God for man.
But we must get down to that! In the Bible we have other people who were raised from the dead, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Lazarus is an outstanding example. But we know, without much discussion, that there is a very great difference between Lazarus after his resurrection and Christ after His. Lazarus, although raised from the dead, was still the same man. There is nothing to indicate that he was changed in any way, and he came back just as he was before. His was not, in this Divine sense, a resurrection, but a resuscitation, and there is a vast difference between resuscitation and resurrection. In the Lord Jesus we find that which is unique in this matter. The uniqueness of Christ is found in His nature, in what He was after His resurrection. There are so many differences, and they are so real that you find that even those who had had the closest association with Him and companied with Him in the most intimate way were not able to recognize Him except by a special, Divinely-given enablement. He was not accepting them on the old basis. He would allow none of the old affectionate human caresses and touches - “Touch Me not” (John 20:17) - for those were the gestures of the old level of natural life. On the other hand, He did allow Himself to be touched, but it was to be the touch of faith. He invited one who was doubting to touch Him - “Reach hither thy hand, and put it into My side” (John 20:27; ASV) - but this was the invitation to faith to overcome doubt and unbelief. It is a different kind of relationship, for He has gone out of one realm and into another.
Now the old limitations and ties obtain no more. Space has gone, and time has gone; He does not depart - He disappears; He does not come - He is there. There are new powers, new capacities and new abilities now. Everything is in a different realm, and yet so real. He is enforcing the reality of it, and necessarily so, because they are between two worlds - the world of what has been and the world which now is - and they have to learn the difference. It is the revelation of a new kind of life and a new order of things altogether. There is no pandering on His part to curiosity about the other world and the unseen, but just the mighty impress of spiritual reality, and that is what He is seeking to bring home. And if we can see Christ risen and perceive the nature of this Man on the resurrection side, we see in Him the end for which man was made, the representative of God’s full thought for man - altogether outside and beyond the mere limitations of life as we know it, outside of the control of space and time, with powers of which we know very little and capacities for which we all long but discern very dimly.
What has Christ done? He has got rid of all that which led to death and which death involved. Death is that which puts a limit upon everything, which comes in between heaven and earth, which brings man into bondage, which places a mighty ‘No!’ over man’s development, and spells vanity - vanity to all his struggles and efforts. Christ has dealt with that and put it out of the way, making possible that mighty fulfilment of all that God ever intended for man. He has reversed the course of death and removed it as a barrier in the way of man’s fulness, and in His resurrection He has brought life and incorruption - incorruptibility - to light.
Hence, one of the first things that He did after His resurrection was to take up the Scriptures and indicate Himself in them all, from Moses, the beginning of the Scriptures, right to the end of them as they existed at that time. All the Scriptures - what is that? That is history. The Scriptures are human history with God ever in view, and human history is the history of failure where God’s thought is concerned; but now in resurrection Christ can take up the whole history of failure and impossibility and show how right through it there has been present that which was saying: ‘This failure, this impossibility, is not for ever, is not inevitable, and is not the final factor. I am here!’ We know from the record of the raising of Lazarus just how the Lord used that particular truth. “Thy brother shall rise again.” “Yes,” said Martha, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” He broke in: ‘The last day! When I am present the last day is here. Time is gone and there is no yesterday, today and tomorrow’ - “I am the resurrection and the life.” ‘All time is encompassed and embraced and dismissed when I am here.’ “I am” - we have heard that before! The Eternal One is the resurrection and the life because time goes out when eternity comes in. And all the Scriptures, having Him in view, have that which says: ‘Yes, history on the earth may be what it is, but I am here, and in the end it will all change.’ That is, in effect, what He said on the day of His resurrection: ‘I am alive, I have fulfilled all the Scriptures. I have gathered up all the Scriptures, all the history of man in his relationship with God, and have fulfilled it. Here I am, the realization of all that God intended, and all that history has seemed to say is impossible.’
Now the New Testament shows us two things in relation to Christ risen and seated at the right hand of God. It shows us - and this is what is here particularly in this passage in Ephesians, as we have indicated - that the Church, which is His Body in the Spirit now corresponds to Christ risen. “...gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body.” This is not a Body without a Head, and this is not a Head without a Body; it is one. In the same letter it is said that we, in the thought of God, are seated together with Him in the heavenlies. The Church, when on spiritual ground, corresponds to Christ risen. That is the first great thing that the New Testament teaches us, and that came particularly through Paul by revelation of the Spirit; and, even if the Church is only represented by a small company in one place on the earth, and that company is truly on the ground of Christ, time and space and all limitations are dismissed, and the uttermost bounds of the earth are touched in one moment. If there is a little company here on the ground of Christ risen, by regeneration, by the mighty operation of that same Spirit Which raised Him from the dead, in their innermost being most truly risen together with Christ on new creation ground and being governed by the Spirit, as that company functions in the Holy Spirit, space is dismissed, all geography goes out, the ends of the earth are touched from that point, and in a moment anything, anywhere, can happen. It is not a matter of having to wait for weeks or months or years. If the Lord wills it, the Church can effect it in a moment, for time does not govern at all. You are outside that realm when you are in the Spirit. Praying in the Holy Spirit is simply bringing into operation what Christ is at the right hand of God; it is the risen Christ functioning. So He says: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” “All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18–20).
But who is to go? It is the Church, and His irreducible nucleus of the Church is two. It is a corporate thing, the bringing of the significance of the Body into view. When there is a functioning in the Spirit, it is nothing less than Christ risen, ascended and exalted, going on with His work through His Body, with all those limitations dismissed. That is tremendous! Of course, it does not sound so extraordinary to us because we have heard it before and know something about it in terms of teaching, but take that sort of thing out into a world that has never heard it, and it sounds ridiculous, fantastic, presumptuous. But that is where we have a Christianity that makes such tremendous demands upon faith. It is either true, or it is not true. If it is true, it is an immense thing. If it is not, well, what fools we are! But here it is, and, oh! that the Church might learn more of what it means to be in living union with a risen Christ! That there should be a company, two or three or more, though limited physically here on this earth by time and space, yet really functioning in the Holy Spirit, so that the universal Christ - all that it means that He is there at God’s right hand - is having some expression! I would to God that this could come home to you by the Spirit and that you could grasp it, for what differences it would make! We have a long way to go yet before this is appreciated adequately. But it is true!
We have said that Christ in resurrection at God’s right hand is the representation of man collectively, according to God’s mind. What does His presence there imply? What do the forty days after His resurrection say? They say that He is in another realm and on other ground altogether. The old human, natural things have passed out, and He does not allow them. Everything is new - new powers, relationships, capacity, understanding. There is a whole new state of things which transcends the old and goes far beyond it; and what is possible now is beyond our ability to comprehend. This is the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “...in Christ, there is a new creation: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new” (ASV).
When you touch these things, human language is a vain instrument for expression. “The exceeding greatness of His power” - the superlatives in this realm! Oh, for this enlargement by a new apprehension of the greatness of Christ in His Person, in His death, in His resurrection!
Well, then, the supreme thing the New Testament shows is that the Church on its true, spiritual basis corresponds to Christ risen. Not ‘the Church’ that we know here on earth, for it does not. But God’s thought about the Church is not an impossible and merely idealistic one. It is a practical thing. Two saints, simple, humble and unimportant in this world, but really meeting together in the Spirit, can be a functioning instrument of Him to whom has been committed all authority in heaven and on earth. With them all these old limitations can be dismissed and they can at one moment touch all the ends of the earth. Do you believe that? That is really the meaning of our glorying in Christ risen. It has to be something more than emotion, and more than glorious doctrine; yes, more than a truth to which we give some assent. It has to be very practical. Christ risen is the most practical proposition for the Church. When He was risen He said: “All authority” - and the literal is - “has just been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore...” - spoken to the Church - “and lo, I am with you” - with all authority in heaven and on earth - “even unto the consummation of the age.” We have not grasped the real meaning and value of that! We have simply selected fragments of it and made it a basis of worldwide evangelization or missionary enterprise. We have not gathered into it the mighty implications of Christ risen.
Another thing - which I will only mention - that is shown to us in the New Testament in this connection is that the consummation of the spiritual will be the literal. This correspondence to Christ now is a spiritual matter. It is a thing of the spiritual life, the Spirit in us, and of our being in the Spirit; but there is the counterpart of that in the literal, in the consummation of the spiritual. The consummation of the spiritual is that this body of humiliation, of corruption, shall be changed to be made like unto His glorious body, both individually and collectively. It will be an individual thing, for that is what 1 Corinthians 15 means. It will also be a collective thing, for the whole Body will be changed; the Church will be a glorious Church, a Church of glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27), no touch of corruption, and no possibility of being corrupted; like unto His body of glory. That is the consummation of the spiritual, and the Apostle says that we have the earnest of that already in the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord give us some fresh glimpse of what His resurrection is intended to mean as a practical thing, and, if the practical meaning is to be pressed to some action, then let us apprehend it first by faith and then begin to act upon it. When we come together, let it not be just to say prayers and make all sorts of petitions, but to give the living Lord by His Spirit an opportunity to function beyond the range of locations and space and time, and Himself from the Throne through the Church be able to touch all realms on earth and in heaven and do the thing He has indicated to be His will. Why not now, seeing He is outside of time? Why accept delays if the Lord wills a thing? We want to be very much more practical. If it is true that we are one with a risen, enthroned Lord, it ought to have tremendous repercussions. May it be so!
“Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king” (1 Chronicles 29:23).
“Then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5:13, 14; ASV).
The words which we have read throw us forward again to our New Testament: “Solomon sat upon the throne of Jehovah as king.” Of course, that can only be said in a typical, limited, sense. The throne of David, the throne of the house of Israel, was indeed rightly God’s throne, but comparatively only in a very limited sense. What we come to concerning the Lord Jesus - again in the Letter to the Ephesians, which has so largely interpreted that part of the Old Testament for us - is that God
“raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him That filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:20–23).
There we have the non-comparative, the absolute, and that of which Solomon’s throne was but a poor shadow. We can say that Jesus sat, in that full sense, upon the throne of Jehovah as King.
The other fragment about the glory of the Lord filling the house is seen in two ways in the New Testament. Here again in Ephesians, after this vast comprehensive survey of Christ and His Church in the heavenlies according to the eternal counsels of God, the great summing up of the Apostle is in these words:
“Now unto Him That is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever” (Ephesians 3:20,21; ASV). “The glory of the Lord filled the house.”
We know that a spiritual beginning of that very thing was made on the Day of Pentecost. The Lord Jesus having been exalted to the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens and having taken His seat on the throne of Jehovah as King, on the Day of Pentecost the glory filled the house. There we have some indication of the Lord’s intention, both for His Son and for His people.
Now I want to bring all that into a small compass of application. The all-governing thing is Christ enthroned. Everything takes its rise and flows out from that - Christ enthroned in the very throne of Jehovah. He comes into the place of God Himself, and there is no room for any other. Even the priests could not minister, because there was no place for them. The glory of the Lord filled the house. When the Lord has His place, there is no place for any other, for He holds it alone. When the Lord Jesus is really Lord, everything else goes out. That is what we shall come to more fully later. That is where we begin, and that is the secret of, and the key to, everything else - Christ in His place, the place of Divine assignment, the place for which God ever intended Him. “That in all things He might have the pre-eminence” (Colossians 1:18). You never have the secret of spiritual fulness until Christ has the place which God has appointed for Him, and there is no room for us or anything else.
That is simple, but it is the sort of thing that lies beneath all our troubles, and in regard to which there is a great deal of difficulty in making it actual, even with the Lord’s own people. It is really all a matter of the Lord having His place. When He does, then we have the secret of the filling of the house of the Lord with the glory of the Lord. We have the secret of fulness.
Now, when you look at Solomon and see him taking his place upon the throne of Jehovah as king, and look to see what the issues, consequences and effects of that were, you find several things quite simply indicated. One is that Israel came into a time of wonderful rest. Solomon sat upon the throne of Jehovah as king, and Israel had rest round about on every side (1 Kings 4:24, 25).
Of course (by way of parenthesis) we are remembering that all this points very largely to the future age, but Scripture always has a double aspect, the dispensational and the spiritual. We have indicated what happened on the day of Pentecost. But the Church, in an outward, earthly way, did not have rest from the day of Pentecost. It had anything but rest outwardly - but a wonderful rest entered into the Church. You cannot fail to see how things changed even for the Apostles, from that time, for there was a wonderful assurance, a wonderful confidence, a wonderful courage and boldness, and wonderful effectiveness in witness, and all because they had come to rest, inward rest, born of the knowledge that Christ was Lord. ‘Whatever happens, Christ is Lord!’ is their message, their note. ‘Whatever rulers and people do, Christ is Lord! However things go, favourably or contrarily, Christ is Lord!’ You see them moving through the Book of the Acts on that basis, and they met not a little difficulty, opposition and trial; but their message all the time was: ‘Christ is Lord!’ And as they affirmed it, so it worked out. The very things which were against them worked out to prove it; not Satan, not man, not circumstances, not forces, but Christ was Lord! And there was a deep, quiet assurance and confidence and rest.
We know by numerous small experiences, as well as in the great crises of controversy with the will of God, that it is only when we yield to His absolute Lordship, when our wills, our desires, our preferences, our likes have been subjected and submitted to Him and we bow - not rebelliously, not under compulsion, but gladly, willingly, responsively - to His Lordship, then a wonderful rest comes into our hearts; and there can be no glory until there is rest. That is the word that governs this house. “Arise, O Jehovah God, into Thy resting-place, Thou, and the ark of Thy strength” (2 Chronicles 6:41). ‘Enter into Thy rest in the house.’ Until there is rest in the house, there is no glory. They brought the ark in, and they drew out the staves - the staves which always suggested movement, progress, restless going on - and said: ‘This is the end. We have come to the end of the journey.’ And the glory of the Lord filled the house.
It is all a picture of the rest of faith, of which the Letter to the Hebrews speaks so much; and that rest of faith comes from a real heart apprehension of Him as in the throne, both as King and High Priest.
We must not stay too long with each fragment. The first thing, then, resultant from Solomon’s exaltation was rest unto the people of God.
The next thing - and a part of the former - was that all the enemies who had been asserting themselves for so long, and whom David had been continuously fighting, were helpless. It seems that this exaltation of Solomon set up a mighty, paralyzing awe over all those enemies so that they were helpless, and that also has a spiritual counterpart. The New Testament shows perfectly well that the enemies were actively working, and doing all in their power to assail and destroy, but what was the result? Well, they were helpless in bringing this thing to a standstill, and absolutely incapable of destroying the glory. They were helpless in a very real sense. That is the story of the Book of the Acts. There were plenty of enemies, and they did not cease to exist, but how helpless they were against this Name and this testimony, and against this Christ! What they did not only turned upon themselves, but was made to serve the Lord’s purpose, so in that double sense they were helpless. When Christ really is in His place there may be enemies and they may be active and seem to be doing a lot of harm, and having much their own way; but when Christ is Lord His sovereignty opposes them and renders them incapable of accomplishing their purpose and carrying through their designs. “...to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28; ASV), and the “all things” cover very largely the enemy’s activities - they are turned to good by the sovereign activity of the Lord and the enemy is unable to triumph.
The next thing which resulted from Solomon’s enthronement was the abundance of wealth for God’s people. We have said in earlier chapters that the wealth of Solomon given to him by God was great. “Jehovah magnified Solomon exceedingly in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed upon him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1 Chronicles 29:25). We have said that it was not for himself, and not to be spent on himself for his own gratification. It was for Israel, and Israel came into the good of Solomon’s wealth when he was enthroned.
We are told here in this Ephesian letter, and its companion letter to the Colossians, that God has filled the Lord Jesus; God has caused that in Him all fulness should dwell. “It was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell” (Colossians 1:19). There is a favourite passage of ours in Philippians - “My God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Well, He is filled full, and the wealth is for you. Israel came into the good of God’s lavish hand upon Solomon, for when Solomon was in his place Israel shared the good. Oh, I am not just using language! I am not trying to be eloquent! I believe it is of such practical moment that we know the riches of Christ, and that the people of God everywhere should know how full Christ is for them. How the people of God today need to be saved from this awful tragedy of going about in starvation, looking for spiritual food and finding none, and, by their weakness, ineffectiveness and the lack of an impact of God through them upon the world, showing that they have not enough and to spare, are not a people with a competence! That is how it is very largely today, and it should not be. It is God’s thought that His people should be in the good of the wealth that He has stored up in His Son for them. When Christ is in His place we begin to know what we inherit in Him.
The next thing resulting from Solomon’s being enthroned was the enlargement of the kingdom. God had promised that, and you find that Solomon began to expand, take in and build. His kingdom increased. And we do not need to argue that out so far as the New Testament is concerned. When the Lord Jesus was enthroned, the enlargement of His kingdom commenced immediately and it was that spiritual kingdom into which we have been translated, the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.
Now my point is this. What is the key to - what shall we call it? - the growth of the Church, the expansion and enlargement of the work of God? What is the key to increase, world increase, of that which is of Christ? It is Christ being apprehended in His glory, in His Lordship, in His enthronement in the throne of Jehovah. It is along these lines: firstly that He is Lord and He is in His place, and then, as the result, that we are a people who have rest. If we go about with haggard faces and worried looks, as people who carry an awful burden of sorrow and trouble and bear it before the world, there will not be much increase, growth or spiritual expansion. When we can carry with us the testimony of a heart that has found rest on the ground that Jesus is Lord, the world watches. Here is a Christian going through deep trial. Things have all gone wrong for that life, for they are hard and difficult, and no one has greater reason to question the love, the power and the sovereignty of God. The world watches, and what do they see and hear? ‘Save, Lord, we perish!’? or: ‘It is all right! The Lord is on the throne, and things are not as they appear. We are coming out, and we are coming out triumphantly. This is not the end!’
A quiet, restful assurance through stress and strain, trial, adversity and contradiction is how the kingdom increases. The rest of faith is a mighty power of testimony unto increase. When others know that we have, not only enough to get on with, but plenty: that we are not all the time having to go down to Egypt - the world - to find something to make up what is lacking in our Christianity, but we have enough: that we have not only as much as the world has, but a very great deal more: that we are completely independent of this world for our satisfaction and have a new source of complete satisfaction: then there is a testimony that counts. I am afraid that so many of us have given the other impression - that to be a Christian is almost to lose everything, and we give that impression not only by our looks and ways and influence, but by what we do. We hunger after this and that and the other: we must have this, and we must have that, because the Lord has not filled everything. But when He is really in His place there is that moving into His wealth which will result in others wanting to know the secret.
I must gather up and close, and for the final word I come to this. How is all this really made possible and brought into experience? We want this rest, we want this wealth, we want this spiritual fulness, we want the enemy to be rendered incapable of finally achieving his end, and we want the enlargement of what is the Lord’s on this earth, but how is it to be? We say - and it is the inclusive truth - it is when Christ is Lord and He is on the Throne. Yes, but how is He to get there? This is not something official and objective - that God has chosen Jesus Christ and put Him on the Throne, and that is the sovereign, official act of God. This is something spiritual, and has an immediate application and meaning inside of us. This enthronement of Christ has to have an inward meaning, and that cannot be until other inward things are dealt with; so that the realization of Christ’s enthronement, with all that it means for us of victory, of rest, of wealth, and of expansion, or enlargement, rests upon the altar, the Cross. We have tried to see how great that Cross is, but here you can see its greatness inasmuch as the practical results of the exaltation of Christ depend upon it. What I mean is this: Christ cannot be Lord, with all the beneficent results thereof, until all other lordships are subdued under Him, and by that I mean the lordships within the kingdom of our own hearts.
You can work that out, and see that is what is being applied in every letter of the New Testament. What is brought into view is the rightful place of Jesus as Lord; and then the Apostle gets down to this business and says, for example to the Corinthians: ‘You are spoiling your testimony. You are not knowing spiritual wealth, and you know nothing about real rest. Everything is limited and marred because you are not a crucified people and your natural life is in the way of Jesus Christ. He cannot be Lord because you, in the strength of your natural life, are lord, and that has to come to the Cross, you Corinthians.’ ‘You Galatians, you are allowing an Old Testament, typical régime to come in again and dominate you; the law has returned and you have got on to another basis altogether. You have put Christ, Who has fulfilled all the law, out of His place, and you have fallen from grace and gone back to the law.’ Galatians 2:20, in its immediate sense, must be an actuality: “I have been crucified with Christ.” You notice the connection. The immediate context is with regard to the law, the reign of the law. Paul is saying how he was under the law, how the law had dominion over him, how it brought him under bondage and limited his whole life. Then he says: ‘I got out of it by being crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ. The law was in the way; I was in the way in the sense of this legalism in my life.’ Any Christian who is bound by legalism is an obstruction to the Lord Jesus, and will limit the expression of His power.
You find the same note in principle in every letter. Something of the old natural life is in the way, and it is limiting, spoiling, and causing everything to come into a state of contradiction; and whatever it is it must all come to the Cross.
You and I, in all that we are by nature, have to come under the power of that Cross. The Cross has to get us out of the way in order that Christ may fill all things. That is the meaning here. I see that the altar, the great altar, was set up by Solomon, and a mighty, all-inclusive sacrifice to God’s satisfaction was offered in type, and then the king had his place and all these blessed results followed.
Dear friends, we are in the way, we are our own plague and our own limitation. It is this natural life that is the real bane - but there is a mighty Cross. It is still possible for us to say: “I have been crucified with Christ.” It is still possible to enter into the meaning of that and to know that fundamental breaking of self-life, self-strength, self-centredness, that real breaking of the very backbone of our natural life - even our religious natural life, our devoted natural life, or whatever it is that is the natural life - so that its strength is gone and there is room for the King and for Him to fill all things. In the practical outworking, we know, by a very little spiritual history, that not until that spiritual life, at some point or other, is dealt with, brought down and broken can we enter upon a life of spiritual rest, spiritual growth and spiritual wealth. The Cross governs it, for it is the Cross that leads to the Throne - from the altar to the Throne, and from the Throne to the glories of Christ.
May the Lord Himself apply the word and speak through it, and may the result be that He gets His full place, His unquestioned place, and we come into all the blessings of Christ in His place.
Read: 1 Chronicles 28:2–7,11–13,19; 29:3–5; 2 Chronicles 2:1, 2; Ephesians 1:4–6, 11, 12, 17–23; 2:7, 19–22; 3:10, 11, 20, 21; 4:1, 4, 5, 13–15; 5:25–27.
So we come to the third of those greatnesses of Divine revelation - the greatness of the Church; a greatness which, it is regrettable to think, so very few of the people of God have seen. There is a painful slowness amongst Christians to apprehend the great purpose and intent of their salvation, to know and to understand the nature of their high calling; and it is in this connection that there is a great divide between the people of God. Christianity at its best has very largely become a general thing, a matter of being saved and of going on in a general way as Christians, but not recognizing that in God’s mind we are saved with a mighty purpose, which is not just to be saved and then to be occupied with getting others saved, and stopping there. Both of those things are good. They are fundamental and essential, but they are only the beginning. From that point something quite different begins - what Paul refers to here when he says: “I... beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called”; and around that phrase: “the calling wherewith ye were called” he gathers all these immense things about the Church which, as to the backward aspect, reach far back over the ages; as to the upward aspect - “in the heavenlies,” with a vocation which is now heavenly; and then the onward aspect - “the ages to come.” These are phrases which indicate the calling wherewith we are called, but how few of us have really apprehended it! We could say very much about the tragedy of the loss of that vision and Divine revelation, and of the building up of something which has made it well nigh impossible for multitudes now to move into that calling, bound hand and foot as they are by a tradition and by a system which leaves responsible people not free and too much involved, for their very livelihood, to move into God’s full thought. We shall not pursue that line. It is better for us to keep to this positive presentation of the thought of God and to use our time in seeking to approach - for it will hardly be more than that - this matter of the greatness of the Church.
We have been thinking about the greatness of Christ and took several chapters over contemplating that greatness; then came the greatness of the Cross - the range and the content of the death and resurrection of Christ. When we come to consider the greatness of the Church, we find that greatness is because the Church takes up those other two greatnesses; that is, the greatness of the Church is the greatness of Christ and the greatness of His Cross. They give the Church its real character. We took the type, with its magnificence and fulness of presentation, its redundance of wealth - Solomon, as bringing Christ into view typically, remembering the Lord’s own word: “a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). But we need to remember also that Solomon came forward and into view in relation to the house of God. That was really what brought him to light, and was the reason, the occasion, of Solomon’s prominence. David had it in his heart that a house should be built, and that was a Divine thought: “Thou didst well that it was in thine heart” (1 Kings 8:18). It was in his heart from the Lord, and so much so that the Lord entrusted him with a revelation, in fulness, completeness and detail, of that house. David made a remarkable statement: “All this have I been made to understand in writing from the hand of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 28:19). You cannot explain that! It was clearly a Divine intention, and it was out of that Divine implanting and unfolding that Solomon came on the scene at all. He was to be the one to whom it was entrusted for fulfilment. His glory was intended to be a related glory, his greatness a related greatness. In other words, the house which he would build would be the embodiment and presentation of his own glory and splendour. What Solomon gathered, and was given by the Lord in every way, would come and find its central embodiment and manifestation in the house which he would build.
Of course, we at once leap over to that superlative utterance of the Apostle: “...unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever” (Ephesians 3:21; ASV). This letter to the Ephesians is the counterpart of this narrative in Chronicles in showing that the Church, as the Body of Christ, is the vessel chosen of God, and appointed and revealed by Him, to be the embodiment of the glory and greatness of Christ. It is the vessel, the vehicle, by which all that Christ is will be made known through the ages of the ages; and there is a true sense in which the revelation of Jesus Christ and the bringing of Him into view by God is a related thing. The reason for it is to get this elect, foreknown and foreordained company in which God in Christ would be made known to a wondering universe. “...now unto the principalities and powers... through the church...” (Ephesians 3:10). So, as the house was the manifestation of Solomon’s greatness, the Church is conceived by God to be the manifestation of the greatness of Christ.
Having said that as giving just a glimpse of this greatness (and, of course, for anything like an adequate appreciation it requires all that we have been saying about the greatness of Christ), we remember also the greatness of the altar and the sacrifice which came into view with Solomon - the immensity of the offering made to God at that time. The greatness of the work of Christ in His Cross indicates how great the Church must be. If Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and if that was a sacrifice, an offering, compared with which the tens of thousands of bullocks and sheep offered by Solomon are as nothing, a sacrifice so great that the type pales in comparison; if the work of the Cross of the Lord Jesus was so great, is not that a further indication of how great the Church must be? It has, by His own parable, been called a “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46), and to secure it He, the Divine Merchantman, let go all that He had - and He had an ‘all’ which no merchantman in the history of this world has ever possessed, a wealth and a fulness, a glory which He had with God before the world was, something indestructible, great and wonderful. Seeking goodly pearls, when He had found one of great price He sold all to get it. We cannot understand that, for it is beyond us, but there it is; it is Divine revelation. And the Cross was the price of the Church. For some unspeakable reason, the Church stands related to God in value like that. Christ loved the Church, “the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” It is evidently a very great and wonderful thing.
Now we must look at some of those features of Christ which are taken up in the Church, in order that we may know what this Church is that we are talking about. What is it? Well, if it takes up the things which are true of Christ, then what is true of Him is, in the mind of God, to be true of the Church; and it is true of the Church which is in God’s eye.
And the first feature of Christ upon which we dwelt when we were considering Him was His eternal being, the eternal conception. We need not go again over the ground of the eternal Sonship of Christ. All we need say about that is that He was before the world was; He was before the order of time was instituted in the establishment of those heavenly bodies by the government of which time exists - years and months, day and night, summer and winter. These are all governed by heavenly bodies, and these are time factors. Before they were, He was, for He created all things. This word ‘eternal’ in our usage simply means that going back and going on beyond time, beyond marked periods, beyond history. That is true of Christ. The letter to the Ephesians says that in the mind of God the Church existed before the foundation of the world. It does not necessarily mean that the Church actually existed as Christ did in eternity past, but it was “foreknown.” “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world... having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself” (Ephesians 1:4,5). As we have pointed out before, this letter to the Ephesians is not set in time; it will have its effect upon time matters, the practical matters of every-day life, of our walk and conduct here on this earth; but it is set in the timeless realm. It goes back, and it goes on; it bridges all time in the Divine conception. That is where this letter is set, and, until we recognize the implications of that, we have no real apprehension of the Church; and when we do recognize that, what nonsense all this ‘churchianity’ becomes, how small and petty, and how we feel that from God’s standpoint we are just playing at some game of churches when we make so much of what has traditionally come to be called ‘the Church!’ If we have one real Divine glimpse of the Church, all that other becomes paltry, petty, foolish, and a mighty emancipation takes place inside us - but it requires illumination.
The Church takes the feature of the absolute stability of Christ. It is something outside of time, chosen in Him before the world was. The stability of the true Church, according to God’s mind, is the stability of Christ Himself. This thing, on God’s basis and in His realm, is an immovable and undestructible thing. That is not true of anything else. Oh, the stability of being there in God’s thought! Survival is certain, and, indeed, more than survival. We sometimes sing the old hymn:
“Crowns and thrones may perish,
Kingdoms rise and wane;
But the Church of Jesus
Constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never
‘Gainst that Church prevail.”
“I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Church embodies the eternity and indestructibility of Christ’s very life.
Next we spoke of Christ in His heavenliness. “I came down from heaven” (John 6:38). Again you need to gather up that constantly reiterated statement which He made about His heavenly origin. Here in this letter the Church is set forth so strongly, with such emphasis, as being like that. “Raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies, in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). We spoke about Christ’s word to Pilate - “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). I was struck by the last few words of 1 Chronicles 28:5: “He hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel.” It was not the kingdom of Israel; it was the Kingdom of God over Israel. “My kingdom is not of this world.” In other words, ‘My Kingdom is God’s Kingdom - much bigger than this and beyond this: not of this world, that is, not merely temporal.’
We sought to point out the perfect ‘otherness’ of Christ from everyone else in this race. How utterly other He was, and is; out from another realm altogether! And that is true of the Church. It is quite other, something altogether different from that with which we are familiar. Our word about Christ is true of the true Church - that He passed through this world unrecognized, unknown, making the positive affirmation that “no one knoweth the Son, save the Father” (Matthew 11:27). There is a mystery here. That word ‘mystery,’ used so much by the Apostle, particularly in this letter, is a most difficult word to explain. We have to resort to a paradox whenever we try to explain it, for mystery - ‘mysterium’ - simply means manifestation in a hidden way. That is a contradiction, a paradox, but that is the essence of the word. God is manifested, but in a hidden way. “No one knoweth the Son, save the Father,” and yet: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” He is manifested as God in Christ, but in such a hidden way that it demands an act of God in specific revelation to see Jesus Christ. You cannot truly see who Jesus Christ is unless God acts sovereignly and opens the eyes of your heart. That has been demonstrated by His whole life here on this earth. When one Apostle was able, in a moment of revelation, to say: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the rejoinder was: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father” (Matthew 16:17). But the moment passed, for not long afterward the man who had had the revelation was found denying that One with oaths and with curses, and that three times. If the revelation had been an abiding one, how could he have done that? It was a moment of Divine, sovereign action when the mystery was disclosed and he saw. God was manifested in a hidden way while that instant lasted; but then the veil fell again, and the mystery continued.
And what is true of Christ is true of the Church. It is heavenly, it is unrecognized and unknown unless God reveals it. I want you really to grasp this. I know in what a realm of helplessness it places us on the one side, and it is well that this should be so; and therefore what it makes necessary on the other side is that God should have a Church which exists on the basis of His own sovereign act of revelation. The purity of it demands that. If everybody could see and understand and comprehend, and the Church could be brought right down to the limited compass of human apprehension, what sort of Church would it be? That is exactly what the devil has sought to do - to bring the Church within the compass of anybody’s range of comprehension, so that anybody can be in it, or think they are in it. What havoc the devil has made by getting rid of this great fact! They have done it with Christ, and made Him the Jesus of history, with unspeakable loss.
Very largely, Christianity is in its appalling state today because of this mishandling of the Person of Christ, this trying to constitute everything upon the basis of the Jesus of history. The cry: ‘Back to Jesus!’ (meaning, away from Paul) is simply to try to bring things down to this earthly, human level which everybody can understand and grasp. ‘We cannot follow Paul. He is so mysterious, otherworldly, remote. Let us get back to the simple Jesus of history, the Jesus of the Gospels!’ This is simply jettisoning the thing which is essential for bringing to God that upon which His heart is set. “No man can come unto Me, except it be given unto him of the Father” (John 6:65), said the Lord Jesus. “No man can come unto Me.” It demands a Divine, a sovereign, act on God’s part to bring any man or woman really to Christ. You cannot just choose or decide to come. It is not with anybody to say that they are going to be a Christian. God has to do something in every case, and it is His own sovereign act. Do not cheapen the Gospel! If we do, we shall open the door so wide that we shall be glad after a time to get rid of that which has come in. The Church, in its heavenly character taken from Christ, is something that can only be entered by revelation, because it can only be known by revelation. “No one knoweth....” We can only state these facts. No teaching can accomplish it, and we are powerless in the matter. All that is given to us is to state Divine facts, and it is for God to reveal. But, thanks be unto God, He has revealed and He does reveal. Some of us can say that He has shined into our hearts in this matter, and the revelation of Christ and of the Church has made an immense difference in every way. Of course, this faculty of ‘seeing’ is inherent in the new birth by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The revelation of God in Christ is carried on in the Church in exactly the same way as with Him, in this sense - that God has revealed Himself Person-wise. The Letter to the Hebrews opens with: “God... hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in a Son” - Son-wise, and that is only another way of saying ‘Person-wise.’ The only adequate revelation of God is personal. God cannot be really known by the things which He says, however many they may be. There is such a difference between a mental, intellectual apprehension and conception of God, and a living, heart-transforming apprehension. God must come to us Himself in a living, personal way if we are to know Him livingly and actually. You may read a biography or an autobiography, and you may afterward say that you thereby know the person concerned; but how often it is true that, when you actually meet that person, there is something that was not there in the book and which makes all the difference. You were not really changed and transformed by reading the book. You had impressions, but they did not make any difference to you actually in your very life and nature; but you meet the person, and the impact of that person makes a deep impression and has a great effect. That is so often the case; but it is a poor illustration. God’s revelation unto life has had to be Person-wise. He has come in the Person of His Son, incarnate, and if you really touch the reality of Christ in the Spirit there is a tremendous result. You know how this is borne out in the accounts in the Gospels. There were times when crowds thronged Him and pressed upon Him in closest touch, but nothing happened to the crowds. But in the crowd there was an individual in deep and desperate need who had faith, and said: “If I do but touch His garment, I shall be made whole” (Matthew 9:21). There was some spiritual link between that one and Him which did not exist between Him and the rest of the crowd thronging Him, and that one by the touch found, not the Jesus of history, but the Christ of God, not merely the Man of Galilee, but the real Divine Person. It is difficult to explain and define, but you can see there is a difference. That is the only sufficient revelation of God - Person-wise.
That is taken up in the Church and is the real meaning of this definition of the Church: “the church, which is His body”; “gave Him to be head over all things” - not: ‘of the church,’ though that is true - but “to the church.” The Church, coming under that Headship, into that vital relationship with Him as Head, comes into the ‘all things’ that are in Christ, and, as His Body, it embodies Him.
Now, the greatness of the Church is here: that God has ordained and appointed that the Church now, in this dispensation, should be where He can be found, where He can be met, where He can be touched, where He makes self-manifestation. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). God can be met, found and touched there. There is the vehicle of His manifestation.
So the Church is called to be here in this dispensation, and in the ages to come to be the very Body through which God in Christ manifests Himself and makes Himself known. Is that the Church that we know, that is commonly called the Church? Oh no! But that is God’s thought.
I have been reading a book by Adolph Keller, a man who travelled all over the world to visit all churches and see what could be done along the line of church union. I came on something like this in his book: “I must admit,” he says, “that ofttimes when I sat in magnificent church buildings, with their stained glass windows and carved organs, I was less conscious of being in the church of Christ than when, for instance, I was in one of those Ukrainian peasant-rooms crowded with men and women who had come barefoot from afar to hear the Word of God. These poor little congregations and churches, widely scattered in the hills of Jugoslavia, in the lonely villages of Wolhynia, in the coal-mining districts of Belgium, in the taverns and barns of Czechoslovakia - these churches truly humble us, because they show us again and again the true poverty and the true riches of Christ, and that in a way impossible in the securely established, self-sufficient church that we know today.” Then he makes this statement: “The entire Church no longer represents its nature as originally intended, neither is it able to do so.” How different from the Church of God’s thought! The true Church is nothing less, in the intention of God, than Christ Himself present and going on with His work without those earthly limitations of His life before His death and resurrection. The Christ risen, ascended and exalted in all the fulness which God has put in is in the true Church. I say that you cannot identify it. You can only see where two or three are gathered. You cannot say of this, or that, or some other thing called ‘the Church’ that is the Church. No, the true Church is still this mysterious thing. It is Christ in active expression. How great is the Church if it is Christ!
I say that we can only state the facts, and there they are. What we have to do next is to pray to the Lord: ‘O Lord, reveal the true Church!’
There is one last word just now. It concerns that always-present and always-governing factor about Christ which is not taken sufficient account of, I think, in its meaning. You notice that when Christ was here His aspect was always the forward one. He was always thinking and talking of a time to come. That is a governing factor and feature of Christ. “In that day...” (Matthew 7:22, etc.). He is looking on to and talking about a coming day. All the time His eyes are upon the distant horizon and He speaks of what will then be: ‘Then you shall know, then you shall see, then all will be manifested, then all that has been so hidden and mysterious will be perfectly clear.’ That related, in the first instance, to the coming Holy Spirit, but when you pass into the Epistles you find the same thing dominant in the case of the Church. There are mighty things now, big possibilities now, big issues and responsibilities now, and the Church is now, even now, unto principalities and powers an instrument of the revelation of the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). But the onward look is prominent and governs everything. “...that we should be unto the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12); “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7); “...unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all the generations of the age of the ages” (Ephesians 3:21).
I am only bringing that in here at this moment with this object: to remind you of the tremendous end to which the Church is called. How great the Church is in the light of the vocation which it is to fulfil! What a great vocation! We might spend much time considering what the calling of the Church is, or is going to be in the coming ages, but we must be satisfied for the present with making this one observation. It is one thing to be a citizen, and a blessed citizen, of a noble country and of a noble king. There may be many blessings in that for which to be grateful, but it is an infinitely greater thing to be a member of the king’s household and family, a member of the reigning house. And that is the calling of the Church: not only to be inhabitants of the land, but to be members of the reigning family. We are called with that calling, to be in that inner circle. “The nations... shall walk in the light of it” (Revelation 21:24) is a way of putting it. The Church is this specific company, elect from all eternity to all eternity, not just to be something in itself and to know satisfaction and gratification, but to be instrumental in the hands of God in serving Him in His universe throughout all the coming ages, in close relationship with His Throne. How great the Church is! Well might the Apostle, in seeing far more than we have ever seen, say: “I... beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness” (Ephesians 4:1,2). Then he brings that walk into touch with common things of every-day life, and says: ‘If you are a true member of the Church and have a true apprehension of it, you will not be a bad father or mother, a bad husband or wife; you will not be a bad master or mistress or servant. All this will be affected by your spiritual apprehension.’ How practical it is! There are so many people who have high doctrine, and they are poor Christians; who have all the truth, but they are bad employers. That is not the Church.
May the Lord Himself open our hearts and give us that touch of sovereign grace, that we may see the truth and be conformed to it.
Read: John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13; John 6:63; John 8:47; 14:10.
We come to the fourth of those four greatnesses of Divine revelation - the greatness of the Word of God. Let me say at once that it is not my intention to argue that the Word of God is great. We might gather all kinds of evidences to build up an argument for the place of the Word of God, but what we are concerned about just now is the nature of the greatness.
By way of introduction, let me say that in this matter, as in the other three which have engaged our hearts, there is tremendous need for a new understanding. I do not think we get very far in real spiritual value when we launch out in arguments for the inspiration of Scripture. To be taken up with a ‘fundamental’ movement simply to seek to prove that the Bible is the Word of God from cover to cover and that it is inspired (whether it be verbal or plenary) does not get us very far spiritually. It does not mean that we make little of that, but the important thing is that by the Word of God we should be brought into all the mind and purpose of God; and that is not done by theories, or interpretations of inspiration. It can only be as we really know what the Word of God is, for the Word of God is much more than something written.
Having said that, we find ourselves immediately at the point which gives the indication of what is the greatness of the Word of God, and it is found inside that very first statement in the Gospel by John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” As you know, a particular Greek word is used there, while another word is used in the other passage: “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life” (John 6:63; ASV). And in between those two statements we put this: “He that is of God heareth the words of God: for this cause ye hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47) - and yet the Lord was speaking these very words in the hearing of those concerned. They heard just as much as anybody else His actual words and statements, but He said they did not hear - indeed, He said more: “Ye cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). Here we have the identity between the Divine Person and the Divine Word. In that matter, the same is true of the Word of God as we have seen to be true of Christ Himself and of the Church. We have seen that Christ was a complete mystery to the natural man, and to this world as He passed up and down in the midst of men - men of ordinary intelligence and men of unusual intelligence, men of no learning and men of great learning, men who naturally may have had great sagacity and natural understanding, and good judgment and perception. He moved amongst such continually and they knew Him not. As we have said, God passed incognito, unrecognized, through this world. “No one knoweth the Son, save the Father” (Matthew 11:27; ASV). It was the mystery of God incarnate.
In our previous meditation we passed that on to the Church. The true Church, according to God’s mind and according to revelation, is not a thing that you can recognize or identify here on this earth. It is something hidden, something heavenly, a mystery; even while here on the earth it is a mystery. Its true nature and identity are hidden even from the wise and prudent, and from the best faculties and brains and intelligence of men. To try to make the Church to be recognized or bring it within the apprehension and understanding and knowledge of men is to rob it of its essential Divine nature, and to bring it down to a level where it will be stripped and shorn of its power. A great deal of history hangs upon that fact, and it explains much of the weakness and futility today in what is called ‘the Church.’
Now, what is true of Christ and of the Church is true of the Word of God. It is a mystery. God manifest in a hidden way - a contradiction, a paradox; but that is the meaning of mystery.
The Word of God is firstly God’s language, which is not the Hebrew language, nor the Greek language, nor any language known to us on this earth. It is God’s language, a language which no one knows and which no one can learn with any human faculty at all. In what is being said now you are hearing a lot of things which I trust are true - and I trust they are the truths of God - but you will go away and will pass some kind of judgment upon what has been said, and that is all there will be to it, unless something else happens in and through the hearing, and deeper and further back than the mere listening with your natural ears. Something must come to you as from God Himself, and unless that happens, whatever you have heard will remain for just a few hours or a few days, and then it will fail altogether, and leave you with your own verdict and judgment upon what has been said. The Word of God is something very much other than what I am saying about it and about Him, though I trust I am speaking the truth. The Word of God is a mystery; it is God’s language, and you have to have some kind of God-given faculty for understanding His language. It is outside this world and outside all the nations and languages and tongues of this world. It is something different and something other, and you have to receive a heavenly faculty, by a new birth from heaven, and to learn an entirely new language from the very alphabet, the A.B.C. of heaven.
You can know the Bible from cover to cover and not know a word of God’s language. God’s language may be inside the Bible, and it is; but it is not that which is in the actual letters and words. It is something beyond that, and is the deeper language of God. You may read this Book with all its sacredness and preciousness, and not hear God speaking at all. To hear God’s language a sovereign act of God is necessary. As we said before about the recognition and identification of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, it had to be so. “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father” (Matthew 16:17). So He, Who is the Word, demands for identification this sovereign act of Divine revelation as the Word. The perception may be but for an instant, as with Peter on the occasion cited above, and then depart until something permanent has been done inside the recipient. The fact that it is God’s act does not remove man’s responsibility, for we can control our prejudices. Preparedness and eagerness to hear and receive are essential factors in the Divine communication and quickening.
You see, the essence of the Word of God is its spirituality, its spiritual nature, and not its naturalness. The Jesus of history will never save you; only the Christ risen, ascended, and coming in the power of the Holy Spirit, will effect anything. The Word as an historical document will never save you and never accomplish anything. It has to come in the power of the life of the risen Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to effect its purpose. The spiritual is the real Word of God. “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life” (John 6:63). “...not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). They may be spoken, but apart from an act of God you will not hear them; all will be in vain. Hence it is possible to preach Christ and the Cross and make them of none effect because they are preached in the wisdom of men.
Further, we have seen that Christ is the personal impact of God. When Christ really does touch, or is really touched in a spiritual way, God is found. We sought to show this in our previous meditation by indicating that even when the multitude thronged and pressed Him, hemming Him in on every side, they did not register anything; He was to them but as any other man in a crowd. But one woman was in a different realm altogether from the multitude. She had faith, the essential link with God, and said: “If I touch but His garments, I shall be made whole” (Mark 5:28; ASV). And she pressed her way through and touched, and was made whole that very moment, finding that in that One from Whom the multitude were deriving nothing, though in closest proximity, she met God. Hers was a testimony which stood in contrast to that of the whole multitude. They had all seen Him and heard Him, and He had been with them all, but one alone made the discovery, that is, only one met the impact of God.
And what is true of Him personally is true of Him as the Word, and true of the Word of God.
You see, God’s Word is always an act. Do not forget that! The Bible as written is not always an act. How many times do you read your Bible and come away with nothing? Many tell me: ‘I do not know the Bible as really alive. I read it, but I do not seem to get anything.’ Is that not a common experience? Ah, yes. The Word of God is something that is more inward than the framework, than its channel, and the real Word of God is God’s act. “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9; ASV). “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). Did you notice in that fragment from John 14: “The words that I say unto you I speak not from Myself: but the Father abiding in Me doeth His works”? You would expect Him to keep His full statement on the same line and make the second half correspond to the first: ‘The words that I say unto you I speak not from Myself; but the Father abiding in Me speaketh the words.’ But He did not say so. ‘Words . . . works’; and the works of the Lord Jesus were largely done by His Word. There was an utterance and something happened. “I say unto you...” God’s word is an act.
The Bible, if we knew it aright, is not just a book at all. It is a Person. It is not a collection of truths and doctrines, laws, commandments and technicalities. It is just a Person, and the Bible will miss its purpose unless it is all the time bringing us into touch with the Person - and that Person is the Lord Jesus Christ. There is only one system in the whole Bible, and that is a personal one - Christ. You may not quite grasp that, but think about it. The Word of God is creative; something happens, and something results. *
* All that we have said above does not mean that the written Word in itself has no value or purpose. The fact that we have the Bible at all is going to be a basis of judgment. We are responsible to God just by having His written revelation; but its power to effect anything in our lives is through faith, and, apart from a combination of the Spirit’s action upon faith in quickening us to “know,” the Word itself remains but the verbal statement, and not “life.”
Let me try to get at it in this way. What is the object of God’s speaking? What is the object of all Divine revelation? What is the object of the Word of God? There is only one object, and that is to bring back the lost relationship with Himself. From beginning to end, the one object of the Word of God is to recover, to restore, to secure again a relationship with Himself personally which has been lost. How is that done? How can that be done by the human language of words? It can only be done in a personal way, so it is a relationship with a living Person. But how can man have a living relationship with the living God? That is utterly impossible as man is. God is a Spirit, and only spirit can have a vital relationship with God. If, then, the object of the Word of God is to recover relatedness with God, something spiritual has to come about in the persons concerned to link them with God, Who is Spirit; and the Word of God, the Word which Christ has spoken, is spirit and is life. Then the effect of the Word of God should ever and always be to quicken our spirits and make us live by Divine life.
If this is true, I am sure you agree with my opening statement: that a new understanding of the Word of God is very necessary today, and the failure to understand this about the Word of God accounts for so much weakness and loss. We can be fundamental to the utmost limit, arguing for the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, and still be spiritually dead and ineffective. The Word of God is something more than that.
Now you see, in order to destroy the Word of God, you have to destroy the Person of Jesus Christ, and so also the other way round. That is exactly what the devil has sought to do. You cannot separate these two; they go together. If Christ is the Son of God, if He is God incarnate, then the Word of God stands supreme. Now, to get rid of the authority and the supremacy of the Word of God, you have to undermine the Person of Jesus Christ, and you notice that is exactly what is happening in Modernism. Why does the devil seek to take away His essential Deity from Christ and make Him the Jesus of history? It is in order to get rid of His mighty impact as the Word of God for the quickening and making alive of others. So the Word always goes with the Person. Modernism must logically follow up the reducing of Christ to the level of a great man by reducing the Word of God to the word of man. They stand or fall together.
Then if this is true we are led to this further fact: that the Word of God, being God’s language and God’s act, is the very occasion and cause and explanation of our being. “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God.” He commanded and He spoke; it was His act. The existence of the world, or the ages, then, is because God spoke and something happened. Dear friends, as the Lord’s new creation we are attributable to God’s having spoken in this sense of very being. We are begotten again by the Word of God. It is not simply our taking the letter of the Word and trying to give some response to it, and making some decision. Oh, I do not want to be misunderstood or to be thought critical, for God knows how we value and appreciate anything and everything that is of Him and can be used by Him, but we have said before in these meditations that the great peril of our time in evangelical Christianity is the cheapening of everything and making it so easy by flinging open the widest door possible for anyone to come in on the easiest lines. While it is not desired to make things difficult, I do think there is a need in this matter to realize that it requires something altogether beyond the natural to bring someone back into that restored relatedness with God. It requires nothing less than this Word-act of God which brings into being, and without which there is no existence, so far as relationship with God is concerned. We can only have a being as members of the new creation if God has spoken and it is done. Do not let us deceive ourselves. It must be like that. God, Who said: ‘Let light be!’ must shine in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6).
And when it is like that, as we have been saying about Christ and the Church, eternity has broken into time; the advent of eternity has simply swept time out of existence, and we are linked with the eternal God. Something has happened - “I give unto them eternal life” (John 10:28). New birth is the activity of the Word which produces a new creation in which there is a new life linking with eternity. What a tremendous thing the Word of God is! It is a matter of very being!
And it is not only that. The Lord Jesus said things which had to be opened up later on through His Apostles when the Holy Spirit was come. He said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Not only is man’s being to be attributable to this Word of God of which we are speaking, but his very maintenance is on that basis. The maintenance of that imparted spiritual life, and its sustenance throughout, is by the Word of God, and that is something more than reading the Bible. Let me ask you again, and let us be quite honest (and there is room and need for honesty: I know I am open to misunderstanding, but I am taking the risk in order to get right to the heart of things and save people from deception and a false position, and honesty is called for here) - do you find always and continually that your spiritual life is sustained, nourished, built up and maintained by reading the Bible? Do you always find that you go on and grow spiritually by Bible study? The universities can make doctors of law and philosophers, but they cannot make, in the true sense, doctors of the Word of God. Only the Holy Spirit can do that, for it is a spiritual thing. And honesty must face this. There is a difference between reading the Bible as a book - yes, the greatest of all books, and a God-given book - and God coming through it and causing us to say: ‘Oh, I have read that passage many times, but I never saw that in it! God has now spoken to me in a text that I have known from my infancy, in a passage of Scripture with which I am most familiar. God has now spoken in a way in which He never has before through that Scripture!’ That is what I mean. The Word of God lies behind the very maintenance of our life in the sense that something from God is coming from beyond (though it may be coming through this or that channel, or along this or that line). It is coming from behind, from beyond, as something extra, something more, and finding us. And when we pass our conclusion upon the matter, we have to say that we have come, not to some new apprehension of the Scripture, but to some new knowledge of the Lord by means of that Word. There is such a thing as Divine sovereignty operating with the written word and making it His embodiment.
This explains one or two things! In the first place, it explains why you can have a number of different institutions which all contradict and exclude one another, and yet all claim to be founded upon the Bible. There is not a sect or denomination which does not claim the Bible as the warrant for its existence and its order, and yet they are mostly mutually exclusive. How do you explain that? And, mark you, in the fact of the existence of all those things there is spiritual limitation. When the particular order and constitution and ecclesiastical position and all that belongs thereto are forgotten for the time being, and the Lord’s people come together in any one given place, and are there only as the Lord’s people, you will find a great deal more life and fulness and consciousness of the Lord than when all are proceeding along the various lines of their ecclesiastical departmentalism, for the Lord is met. Ought this state of things to be?
If we had the Word of God in the sense in which we have just been speaking of it - God coming through in illumination, in quickening, in His act of new creation - while there would be variety, there would be essential oneness and unity, and no contradiction. Nature is a great parable of this. It is strange how in nature, despite all the God-given colors that there are, you never find any real clash. But if you tried to wear those colors in a garment, there would be a clash. In a garden, where they are all found, there is no clash. In God’s realm there may be endless variety, but there is no contradiction nor clash. The Holy Spirit is One and God is One; and if we get off the ground of human interpretations of the Word of God, of man’s mental handling and apprehension of the Scriptures, and get God’s revelation of His meaning, then there will be an absolute oneness, and contradiction and exclusive expression will go. You have left the earthly ground and come on to heavenly ground.
So what is true of the Church, according to God’s mind, as a heavenly thing, altogether other than of this earth, is true of the Word of God. When you really get on to the ground, not of the letter only, but of the essential nature of the Word of God - the speaking, the breathing, the working of God - you get on to another level which is altogether different from the earthly, and you find that the clash and the contradiction go out. There is tremendous need for the people of God to get on to God’s level of things and away from man’s in all these matters; a need to get right into the heart of God’s thought and mind. It is costly. As we have said before, Christianity is such a tight system now that it is well-nigh impossible for many who are in it - and especially those who are in it officially - to come into God’s full thought, because it means so much in every way to escape from that system. But, oh! where it does happen and there is escape: where the price is paid: where there is obedience: where the heavenly vision is and there is no disobedience to it: where God has spoken, and you cannot but hear and know that it is God, and your heart gives the answer back to Him and at all costs you go on: then you come out into a place of tremendous spiritual enlargement and into a realm of fulness.
To sum up. The essential nature of God’s Word is akin to the essential nature of God Himself, which is spirit. God’s Word is spirit because God is spirit. And God’s Word as a means of communication defines the essential nature of Christ the living Word, for He can only be known after the Spirit. We have said that although He was there before people’s eyes, they saw Him not, they heard Him not and knew Him not. Essentially, it was what He was spiritually that was His real nature. Paul makes that perfectly clear: “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more” (2 Corinthians 5:16; ASV). He does not say so positively, but he clearly indicates that our knowledge of Christ now is not that of the Jesus of history. We know Him now after the Spirit. The real nature of the Word of God is what Christ is essentially, spiritually; so also the essential nature of the Word of God is what the Church is spiritually. God is spirit; the medium or vehicle of God’s speaking is Christ known after the Spirit; the vessel receiving the speaking of God - the Church - is spiritual. As the Church, we are tested by this. Do we hear more than the Bible as something written in words of men? Are we, as the Church, hearing through it the more, the extra, which no man can hear unless it is given him of God? Are we hearing that? Where that is truly found, the Church is something of spiritual power, spiritual life and spiritual growth. What is true of the Church, of course, must be true of every part of it; every member of that Body must be a spiritual person, made so by spiritual birth. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). In order really to hear the Word of God continually (though God may in a sovereign act make an unregenerate man know that he is being spoken to through the Scriptures) something must have been done inside us, and that something must be continually maintained. What lies behind everything with God is spiritual. He has bound Himself more with the spiritual than with the natural. I will not pursue that further.
I wonder if you are able to discern even now, by the Lord’s help, the great difference, and the great need to know what the Word of God really is, what its possibilities and its potentialities are, and what is the nature of its greatness? It is not just a verbal statement. It is the impact of God Himself, and that impact is sovereign. Therein is the place of faith in preaching and in coming to read the Scriptures. It is possible to preach without God coming through, and there is plenty of that, yet God has ordained to come through preaching, and everyone who preaches can only preach in faith, declaring the truth of God. He is cast back upon this: that God must act sovereignly and make this one here and that one there recognize that God is speaking; not a man only, but God. Hundreds may be gathered, and yet only one of them hear God speaking. We are cast upon that sovereignty of God. Blessed be God, it does work like that! People are able to say, and we ourselves are able to say as we look back over our own spiritual history: ‘I knew the Bible well enough. I could quote it, analyze it and set it forth; but one day God came through it and smote me, and from that time the Scriptures which were so familiar to me became the basis of a new life and an entirely new position.’ That is the Word of God coming through.
What is really needed today is a recovery of the Word of God in its essential, intrinsic greatness, and of the fact that the Word is God, with a personal impact upon us.
Originally published by Witness and Testimony Publishers in 1947-48
This selection re-published by: