TEN SERMONS on the SECOND ADVENT
V. THE CALLING AND HOPE OF "THE CHURCH OF GOD."
"Unto me who am less than the least of all the saints
is this grace given,that i should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable
riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the
mystery, which from the beginning has been hid in God." - Eph. iii. 8, 9.
Few words are used in as many different senses as the word "CHURCH," and therefore it behoves us to be careful as to our employment of it. It is used for example:-
(1) Of a particular Church; as the Church of Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch or the Church of England.
(2) It is often wrongly used of the Ministry, and people speak of this as "entering the Church."
(3) It is used of a separate Assembly meeting for worship in any given building or room: as the Church of England defines it (in her 19th "Article of Religion") "a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered."
(4) It is used of the Building in which such a congregation meets for worship.
(5) It is used of the Church Episcopal, as distinguished from the non-Episcopal (Chapel).
(6) It is used of the great body of Nominal Christians, bad and good alike, tares and wheat, professors and possessors.
(7) It is used of "the blessed company of all faithful people." I need hardly say that this last is the sense in which it is viewed in this chapter, and in which we are now to consider it.
Now this Eph. iii. contains a somewhat difficult construction. The Apostle concludes chapter ii. by showing how Jew and Gentile are "one body in Christ." (ii. 16), and are "builded together for an habitation of God through Spirit" (ii. 22). Then chapter iii. begins, "For this cause I Paul the prisoner of Christ for you Gentiles." Then follows a long parentheses, beginning with verse 2 and not ending till the end of verse 13. He then takes up the thread at verse 14 by repeating the expression of verse 1, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family* in Heaven and Earth is named."
* It cannot be "every family" as in the R.V. (1) Simply because it is not true; for Eph. iv. 6, declares that this is only "one body," one family of the saved in Jesus Christ. The families of the ungodly, the children of the Devil are certainly not the subjects of this blessing and honour, which is peculiarly and distinctly the possession of the family of the redeemed. And (2) Because the exactly corresponding structure of the Greek in other passages is not so translated by the revisers themselves; e.g.- Rom. i. 29, and, John v. 17, i. 9, "all unrighteousness," not "every": Matt. xxiii. 35, "all the righteous blood," not "every": Matt. ii. 3 "all Jerusalem": Acts vii. 22 "all the wisdom."
"For this cause," because Jew and Gentile are one body in Christ. "I bow my knees," in prayer for "the whole family."
Now this parenthesis (Eph. iii. 2-13) flows naturally from the proposition of chapter ii. These Ephesian saints had been idolators of the Gentiles, and the Apostle has shown how (in ii. 1 &c.) they had been quickened, and builded together in Christ. As the instrument in the hands of the Spirit the Apostle had been used to preach the Gospel to them, and in doing this he had suffered, and for their sakes was now a "prisoner of Jesus Christ." Then, before continuing his subject and praying for the strengthening and growth of that Body (iii. 16-21), he breaks off, and in this parenthesis (verses 2-13) he stops to dwell on the grace shown to the Gentiles. In our text he calls it "the unsearchable riches of Christ."
Now these words are generally separated from their context, and taken in some undefined sense to express the resources treasured up for us in Christ. The fact, of course, is true, and we rightly sing:-
"How vast the treasure we possess In thee O Lord, our Righteousness; All things are ours in Christ, Thy Son, With whom Thy love hath made us one."
While this as a fact is blessedly true, the question is, Is this the mind of the Spirit here? I think not. There are riches in Christ which we may call the searchable riches, such as the revealed prophecies and promises concerning Him, which could be searched and understood by the Prophets who wrote them. But there were others which they could not search. They were "unsearchable."
The Greek word here rendered "unsearchable" occurs twice, (here and Rom. xi. 33), and each time it is translated differently. It means, that which cannot be traced or tracked, untrackable. Here it is rendered "unsearchable," and in Roman xi. 33 "past finding out." There is another word translated "unsearchable" in the same verse (Rom. xi. 33), but that denotes, that which cannot be understood even if found, inscrutable. "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how inscrutable are His judgments and His ways untrackable". So here in our text, the word does not mean that which cannot be understood, if found; but that which cannot be traced, or followed out.
These untrackable riches of Christ which the Prophets could not trace out, are not merely the blessing of the Gentiles as such, as might be inferred from verse 6. That was never any secret. It was revealed from the beginning to Abraham that "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. xii. 3): "All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through him" (Abraham) (Gen. xviii. 18). Many prophecies reveal this truth of which aged Simeon testified when he spoke of Christ as "a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel" (Luke ii. 32).
These untrackable riches of Christ, therefore, were not merely the blessing of Gentiles, as such, by and by, but the taking out of a people from among them now (Acts xv. 14) to form the one body in Christ, the mystery of the Church. This is what had, until now, been hidden, and what had now been specially revealed to St. Paul. In testimony of this, note the following Scriptures: Rom. xvi. 25, 26, "Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery* which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets,** according to the commandment of the everlasting God made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." Col. i. 24-27, speaking of Christ's body, "the Church (the Apostle says) whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to the Saints: to whom God would make known what is the RICHES of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory whom we preach," &c. (margin, "Christ among you," i.e. among you Gentiles was well as among the Jews).
Again, Eph. iii. 2-11, "Ye have heard of the dispensation of the Grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy Apostles and Prophets** by the Spirit: that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by His Gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power: unto me, who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by (R.V. by means of) the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose (R.V. margin "the purpose of the ages") which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
* The Greek word means, not that which cannot be understood, but a secret revealed or communicated to one initiated.
** i.e.- The New Testament prophets referred to in Eph. iv. 11, "And He gave some apostles, and some prophets," &c. See also I Cor. xii. 28; Eph. ii. 20; Acts xi. 27, xiii. 1, xv. 32; Rom. xii. 6.
Now the Old Testament Prophets knew nothing of all this. They looked as it has been said from the one hill-top of Christ's "sufferings" to the other hill-top of His "glory," but the valley that lay between was unknown. They could not track it, and all its mines of wealth were unexplored. The Spirit, by Peter, refers to this when he says (I Pet. i. 10-12) "of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, which things the angels desire to look into."
But when Christ had been rejected, when atonement had been made, then the message of reconciliation could be sent forth. Then and not till then was that which had been "hid in God" and "kept secret from the beginning of the world" made known. Then "the eternal purpose of God" was revealed, and the riches of the valley (this present interval between the sufferings and the glory) were laid bare, that "pilgrims and strangers," who now are passing through it, may trace and search them out.
And who are these pilgrims and strangers? They are those who once were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. ii. 1), but who have been "quickened together with Christ" (ii. 5), and saved by grace (ii. 8), and made fellow-heirs with Christ (iii. 6), "members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (30-32). This is the great mystery concerning Christ and His Church.
Notice how this (Eph. v. 31) is quoted from Gen. ii. 24, where the words are spoken of the First Adam; and how true they are in Christ, the second man, the last Adam. While He (as the world thinks) sleeps in death; while He is absent in the Heavenlies, the Lord God takes from His pierced side an Eve, "all living," to be His bride! And when she fell, in the first Eve, He, like the first Adam "was not deceived" (I Tim. ii. 14), but unlike the first Adam He did not charge His bride with transgression! No! He charged Himself with it. He followed her to the depths of her fall, and knowing all the consequences, He took her sins upon Himself, bore all the judgment of God's wrath due to her sins, and cleared her from every spot and every stain. Thus "Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it... that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. v. 25, 27). Oh what love! How wondrous in itself, but how blessed to know the truth of all this in our own selves, each one individually before God. How blessed to know that the heavy debt has been paid, not only when we had "nothing to pay," but before we even knew that we had contracted the debt! This is good news dear brethren. This is the Gospel, the glorious Gospel of the grace of God. This is the burden of the Angelic definition of the Gospel in Luke ii. 11, as revealed in the Divine titles "A Saviour, Christ, the Lord." "A SAVIOUR," and not a helper. A Saviour for the lost, and not a helper of those who can help themselves. "CHRIST," i.e. God's ANOINTED Saviour, the Saviour whom God had anointed, provided, given and sent, not some Saviour we have made for ourselves.
And then "THE LORD," the Lord of all power and might, able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. Yes, this is good news, that God has anointed a Saviour, and not a helper, who is able to save. The will of God is the source of it all (Heb. x. 7). The work of Christ is the channel of it (verse 10), and the witness of it in our hearts is the Holy Spirit of God (verse 15). This is the work of the Holy Ghost in the world now; and in Gen. xxiv. we have a beautiful illustration of His work in the mission of Eliezer to seek a bride for the only and beloved Son of his master. Like Eliezer He comes to us now with the tokens of the Father's wealth, and the pledges of the Son's great love (verse 22) "the earnest of the Spirit." He seeks out the predestined bride; He "espouses her to one husband that he may present her as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. xi. 2); He takes of the things of Christ and reveals them unto her (John xvi. 14, 15); He shews her "things to come" (John xvi. 13); He teaches her and guides her unto into all truth (John xiv. 26, xvi. 13). By nature she was buried in idolatry, and now she is led out, and led on, as a "pilgrim and a stranger" through this world to meet her Beloved. What attraction has the world for her as she journeys on to meet her Lord? This meeting, and union with Him, is the very object for which she was called, and for which she lives. And as she approaches the end of her journey, and her long day* draws to its close - presently - "at the eventide" (Gen. xxiv. 63) her Isaac will come forth to meet her, and receive her unto Himself and present her to Himself in glory. Her Bridegroom has now gone to prepare a place for her (John xiv. 1-3), and meanwhile he "cleaves" to her, and supports her (Gen. ii. 24).
Oh how much higher than our poor thoughts are His ways! Our thoughts do not rise higher than trying to cleave to Him: Man represents her as some poor drowning one trying to cleave to a rock! No, dear brethren this is not the truth! It is not the weaker one trying to cleave to the stronger one, but it is the strong one cleaving to the weak one, as it is written:- "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall CLEAVE unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. ii. 24). "This is the great mystery but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Eph. v. 32). Yes! and He will cleave unto His poor bride until He perfects in glory what He has begun in grace; until caught up to meet Him in the air, she shall be for ever with the Lord.
* I Thess. v. 5-8
This is the calling of the Church, and this is her hope. She has turned from idols to her beloved Lord. She tries to serve Him, "the living and true God," while she "waits for His Son from heaven" (I Thess. i. 9-10). This is the work of the Holy Ghost, in this the dispensation of the Spirit, "To make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke i. 17); to "save some" (I Cor. ix. 22); to "take out of the nations a people for His name" (Acts xv. 14); and "a remnant from Israel according to the election of grace" (Rom. xi. 5); baptizing them all into "one body," bestowing on them "one calling," and giving them all "one hope" (Eph. iv. 4-6).
Now, we are waiting for the fruition of this hope, and looking for His appearing. Having been betrothed unto Him we long for the marriage-day to come. The scene of that marriage is to be in the glory. It is called "the marriage of the Lamb" (not of the Bride), for His is the greater joy, in glory as well as in grace.*
* In Luke xv. it is the Father's joy to save, the Spirit's to seek, and the Son's to find, and the joy is not the joy of the Angels, as is generally and erroneously represented, but it is joy "in the presense of the Angels of God."
It is His pleasure, His honour, and His glory to do all this for poor vile sinners. And when He shall have assayed their service (2 Cor. v. 10, I Cor. iii. 12-15), and awarded their crowns (2 Tim. iv. 7-8), Heaven shall ring with the marriage song, while yet She is with Him in the Heavenlies, before the Heaven opens (Rev. xix. 11), and she appears with Him in glory. The words of the marriage song are:- "Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready" (Rev. xix. 6,7).
So long as the Bridegroom tarries and is absent, She mourns and fasts, even as He foretold. "The days shall come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days" (Matt. ix. 15; Mark ii. 19, 20; 2 Sam. xix. 24). But at His coming His own words shall be fulfilled:- "And the glory which thou gavest Me I have given them" (John xvii. 22, 23). Ah, then indeed, there shall be "joy in heaven," joy to the Lamb, joy to His Bride, joy to all that are called to partake of this wondrous scene. But "in all things He must have the pre-eminence," and great as must be the joy and gladness of the Bride in Him, His joy in Her must be the greater. This is "the joy that was set before Him," for which He "endured the cross and despised the shame" (Heb. xii. 2). That He might teach us all this, and set it all before us, Marriage was His first institution in Eden: a marriage was the occasion of His first miracle where He turned the water into wine, and "manifested forth His glory:" and He limits the day of grace, with this aspect of the day of glory when He said "I will drink no more of this fruit of the vine, until I drink it new with you in the Kingdom of God" (Matt. xxvi. 29).
His last message to His bride, is "Surely I come quickly" (Rev. xxii. 20), and she cries through her tear-dimmed eyes, "Even so, come Lord Jesus." Each night as she lies down to sleep she prays that He may come before the morning; and each morning as she rises, she prays that He may come before the night. For her Lord has told her thus to "watch." She is to regard each day as it comes, as the day, for what she does not know is, whether He will come "at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning" (Mark xiii. 35). Hence she listens with opened ears for the longed for summons "Come up hither," and waits to enter the door that shall then be opened in heaven (Rev. iv. 1).
Dear brethren, will you be there? These words of grace and glory are not merely words to preach about, they are wondrous realities, and solemn too, for this day of grace will not last for ever. We know not how soon it may end. But we do know this, that your last day will dawn, your last hour will strike, the last warning will be given, the last sermon will be heard, the last prayer will be offered, and then, unless you are "found in Christ," and are clothed with His righteousness, you must be for ever lost. Would you escape that doom? Then listen to Him who "spake as never man spake," and said "all that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and whoso cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out."
Dear brethren, may you prove the truth, and know the blessedness of this promise, and the importance of this precept, "let your loins be girded about and your lights burning...blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching."
Thine the beauty and the glory -
Heir of all things - Son of God,
Shining round me and before me,
Lighting all the desert road.
Camels girded for the journey -
Kneeling, laden, set for home:
Ah, my heart is gone already,
Centred there, no more to roam.
Roll afar, thou proud Euphrates!
Nought can keep me from my bourne,
Where my mighty Guardian came from -
There with me will He return.
Buried in Chaldea's city,
I had perished with my race;
But the Steward came to save me,
Met me in his Master's grace.
Asked me for "a little water" -
Let me quench his camels' thirst,
Saw in me, Bethuel's daughter,
Her he prayed for at the first.
Ah, the errand that he told me,
Of the "Living One" who died -
Of the Father's love and counsel,
Taking unto Him a bride!
Nothing, I remember nothing,
But the sacrifice and choice -
Never music filled my spirit
Like that penetrating voice.
Could I hear Him, "Eliezer,"
And for Isaac not be won?
Ah, the Father loved and sought me -
Sent and claimed me for his Son.
Let the token on my forehead,
Let the bracelet on my hand,
Prove me now the chosen daughter
Of the Lord of all the land.
I will go; I would not tarry;
Object of that heart's delight!
He was unto death obedient;
I would walk with him in white.
Jewels, raiment, gifts, the servant
Brought for me from Isaac's hand:
Precious things, that else had never
Shone in any foreign land.
I shall see Him in His beauty -
He, Himself, His bride will meet;
I shall be with Him for ever -
In companionship complete.
Thoughts of Him are strength and gladness
What man comes there forth our way?
"'Tis my Master!" 'tis the Bridegroom:
Veiled - the bride is caught away.
And the servant telleth Isaac
All the things that he had done:
And Rebekah reigns in Hebron -
Wife of the once offered One.
Home | Links | Writings | Biography