us the mystery of His will... to sum up all things in Christ...
to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of
His will... He put all things in subjection under His (Christ's) feet,
and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church,
which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph.
There are three main
to that statement.
1. The eternal will
purpose of God.
2. Christ as the
of that purpose.
3. The Church, which
His Body, the vessel of the full expression of the purpose - that
is, of Christ.
We are shown God in
counsels purposing. In outlining and devising His intentions to create
and constitute "all things," "in the heavens and upon the
earth" (Eph. 1:10), He was moved and governed by a specific
and definite purpose. This "Purpose" is mentioned a
number of times in the New Testament, and various things are shown
to be related to it. It is most important that we recognize that,
however many phases there may be in Divine activity, the purpose of God
is one. Nothing is an end in itself. The first law of spiritual fullness
(and be it observed that fullness is
what is in view) is to apprehend the fact and nature of God's
purpose. It is an impressive and painful fact that there is very,
very little of what is associated here with the Lord that is really
marked by spiritual fullness. Smallness, weakness, limitation,
poverty, defeat, ignorance, immaturity, and disappointment characterize
so many of the Lord's people, and so much of the Lord's work. This
is one of the things that is causing so much distress, inquiry, and
effort in some quarters.
be that nothing that is only a part of a whole can reach and
the whole purpose? To be in the way of fullness it is
essential that, in the first place, we recognize and realize
that God is not just a Busybody in a large number of good and merciful
activities; but that He is wholly occupied with one all-inclusive,
and all-related purpose! "Who worketh ALL THINGS after the counsel
of His own will." The measure of ultimate attainment and accomplishment
will be according to our initial apprehension of a
single purpose. When that is established, we shall soon move on to
see what the purpose is, and how - and by what means - it will be
realized. If a master-man has a single purpose to which he
has abandoned himself, he will require that all who work for him
are not just doing various things, however good they may be, even
as parts of his whole work, but that they are seeing beyond their
own job and part to the whole end and object, and are working
positively to that. He will be favourable to any who come to
work for him and to any means employed, only in so far as the full
purpose is in their heart. The measure of his resource and fullness
will be given on this basis alone. So it is with God. But let it
be understood that it is spiritual fullness that is in view,
not personal gratification.
the purpose is
to sum up all things in Christ. It is a Person filled full, enlarged,
and all-comprehending. The greatness, the magnificence, the universal
fullness of Christ is God's goal. Again, it is not sufficient
that we see the purpose, basic as that is, but that we see - in an
ever-growing way - the fullness of Christ. There must be an initial
seeing of this greatness, this majesty, this glory, this universality.
It was such a seeing that accounted for the power, effectiveness,
and glory of the Church's first days. That was the meaning of
It was such a seeing that made the Apostles the men that they were.
Paul owed everything to God's revealing of His Son in him.
But that seeing must go on. It must become ever fuller. We must not
just date our seeing of Christ to some past experience. It is the
Lord's will that we shall so live in and walk by the Spirit that
we are able to say that what we see of Christ today is infinitely
greater and more wonderful than ever it has been. That is only in line
with God's purpose, and it is so for all who have truly come
into a spiritual apprehension thereof.
the third place
we move to see God's method and means of fulfilling His eternal
purpose. This is by way of "the church, which is His (Christ's) body".
The Church is definitely stated to be "the fullness of Him that filleth
all in all". That universal fullness of Christ is determined
to be revealed and expressed in and through a vessel called the Church.
What is this Church?
it is said
to be an elect company of people. Leaving all theories of election,
let us be content, for the moment, to see that God has eternally
determined to have such a company, and that election is related
to purpose, not primarily - if at all - to salvation. God knows,
He cannot help knowing, the ultimate reactions of people to His
and according to His foreknowledge He has foreordained to
His purpose. But God has never said to any unsaved person that
he or she is so foreordained. He only calls. The Church
is the company of the called who obeyed.
is something greater than the churches. Whatever we may mean by the
latter, the Church may be in them all, or it may not be in many of them
at all. The Church is essentially a spiritual thing;
not sectarian, denominational, "ecclesiastical," traditional, etc.
It is the spiritual relatedness as of a living organism; a body
possessing one life; it is a single entity, an "all
one in Christ". The measure of light does not make for a more or
less membership of that Body, although that may affect functioning.
The apprehension of "Church Truth" does not constitute Church
membership, although it will greatly affect the matter of fullness.
Vital relatedness to Christ is the basis of Body actuality.
when we have said
that, we must point out how important the recognition of the Church
is. Next to the revelation of Christ personally in His greatness, the
revelation of the Church is bound up with our practical
progress toward fullness. Paul has a far greater fullness in his
writings than any other Apostle, and this is mainly due to the specific
revelation of the Church which was given to him. What arises from
this revelation is that Christ and the Church are one, as Head and
members of one Body.
are one or two
things which arise for our apprehension in this matter. Firstly there
is the fact - so clearly and fully given in the Scriptures - that God
has just as definitely chosen and appointed the Church
for the realization of His eternal purpose as He has chosen and
His Son. He has just as positively bound Himself and His fullness
to the one as to the other. While one is subject to the other, and
the medium and vessel of the other - as the wife to the husband
(Eph. 5:22-24), they are one in the matter of purpose. This carries
with it the jealousy of God for His Church, and means that for fullness
there can be no allowing of an ignoring, belittling, or injuring.
God will keep
strictly - in the matter of spiritual fullness - to working Bodywise.
That is, it is not possible for any units as such to know
fullness. Fullness is a related matter. "The Church is the
fullness of Him." No individual can be that. Therefore spiritual
oneness, inter-relatedness, fellowship, mutuality, and interdependence
are basic and indispensable to spiritual attainment of full-growth.
"Till we all attain unto... a full grown man, unto... the
fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
when things were constituted according to the heavenly pattern, God
spoke out of the Tent of Meeting. So it is in the New Testament.
For the answer to his inquiry on the Damascus Road, Paul had to go
into the city and get it as out from the Church. For the entering
upon his great life-work he had to abide in the Church at Antioch
and get his commission confirmed there (Acts 13). All this does not
mean that God has never sovereignly and in grace moved without
the recognition of this law by those concerned for His interests,
but we are speaking of spiritual fullness, and our ministry is
with that. It is not a committee, "General," "Executive,"
or "Advisory," but the "Body" in representation and spiritual
functioning that is God's ordained way.
would take much
more space than we have at our disposal to set forth all the values
and implications of an apprehension of God's place and purpose
for His Church in all things. This is one of the matters which has
had a considerable place in our spoken and written ministry through
these past years.
leads on to the
churches; that is, the local companies of God's people. Times and
conditions have changed greatly since New Testament days; that is, so
far as the Western world is concerned. It was simple and
straightforward to gather together believers in Christ in those times;
there were only believers and non-believers. Today numerous other
questions arise; such as "Connection," "Order," "Practice,"
"Belief," etc. But there are one or two things which must still govern
this matter: they are
The local church
or assembly is intended to be locally all that the Church as a whole
is universally. It must not be smaller in its vision, its vocation, its
relatedness. Though locally placed, it is universal
in nature, outreach, concern, and function. If it lives unto itself
it will die. Fullness is dependent upon its spiritual length
and breadth, and height and depth.
The local church
is the spiritual training-ground for all usefulness to the Lord.
There all the essential lessons are learned, not by teaching alone, but
by spiritual discipline. The very vital lesson of subjection
to the Lord - which means so much in the matter of spiritual growth
- is learned in a very practical way in a true assembly and fellowship
life. All independent, unrelated, and merely personal life is
impossible when the "Body" is truly recognized.
upholding, encompassing, and covering of the Lord's people in something
more than a general way is of tremendous value and
consequence. Far from the local church being but a "congregation"
or a preaching place, it is intended to be a local expression of
the family of God, and to fulfil all the functions and provide all
the values of a true family life and relationship.
The matter of
pre-eminent importance in the local church, as in the universal,
is the absolute sovereign headship of Christ. Anything which usurps
this, or in any way conflicts with it, will most certainly result in
spiritual limitation and proportionate retarding of growth.
Is this not why, in the New Testament churches, no one man exercised
headship, but elders - not an elder - were appointed. The "Body"
principle is upheld in the corporate, and individual sovereignty
is prevented. At Antioch the "Holy Spirit said" to a company of
representative men, who were together in spiritual
responsibility. Eldership is representation - spiritual measure,
not ecclesiastical. The New Testament plurality of eldership means
that the church is brought - as in and by its representatives - under
the complete sovereignty of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
4. - We
must then see
that the Apostles never set out with the plan to form churches. That
was the spontaneous and necessitated result of the Holy Spirit's
work in every place. Christ was preached and accepted, and relatedness
spontaneously followed (see Acts 2:42). That which decides churches
is Christ. This is the solution of and the answer to many of the
problems and questions which arise, especially in this Western world in
these peculiarly complicated times. What is to be
our guiding and deciding principle in gathering together? It is to
be Christ! We meet on that ground alone. Where God's end is most
fully in view, and what provides most fully for its attainment -
the fullness of Christ - decides where we ought to be, and no one
ought to quarrel with that. It is because of a devotion to and jealousy
for some "thing"; a "Mission," "Denomination," "Tradition,"
"Fellowship," "Movement," etc., that rivalries,
and bad feelings spring up. All the talk about "sheep stealing"
and "dividing the Lord's people," or a great deal of it, arises out
of a concern for - not spiritual growth - but something here on the
earth. How very much of this talk would be impossible
if everyone concerned took the attitude that it does not matter what
survives or ceases to exist so long as Christ is being increased
in a spiritual way. This involves the necessity that all the Lord's
people, and particularly those in "official" positions, and
positions of influence, should be utterly and only devoted to the
increase of Christ. Christ is not divided, therefore Christ is the
ground of unity, not the things as mentioned above.
sheep are they?
Are they ours? Can Christ's sheep be stolen by those who are devoted
to Him? If they are sheep of this or that, then things are in another
realm. No, all this sort of thing is the cause of spiritual
weakness and smallness, and a new mind as to Christ Himself is needed
in this connection,
and for the moment; everything appointed by the Lord is intended
to be for the direct and positive "building up of the body".
That marks its object and direction, and its unifying law. Evangelism,
Teaching, Gifts, personal and spiritual, etc., are all said definitely
to be to this one end. The evangelist and evangelism are not an end
in themselves, nor something apart. The New Testament overwhelms
such an idea or procedure most completely. All these functions are
"Body" functions, and for a well-balanced Body they must be kept
together; neither emphasized to the detriment of the other; neither
left out. A teaching ministry must go hand-in-hand with an evangelistic
ministry; and the other way round. Everyone who functions
as a member of Christ's Body - and all members should function
- should have in view - not souls being saved, not saints being
but - through these, and all other means, the increase of Christ. Let
us remember that the Church is not large or small; our
work is not more or less successful according to the number of
people represented, but according to the positive measure of Christ.
cannot close this
review without a brief reference to one or two other matters which
are vital to this ministry.
is the matter
of the Cross. It will not be saying anything fresh or unusual when
we say that the Cross of Christ is deeply bound up with the question of
Divine fullness. But how this is so demands a continuous
re-emphasis and growing unfolding. The Scriptures make it quite clear
that right to the very end the Adversary will seek with all his might
and by every means to revive the question of acceptance and standing
with God. He is seen very late in the day (Rev. 12) as the
"accuser of the brethren," and the destruction of assurance is one
of his most determined endeavours. Everything that carries with it
the idea of our doing anything and making ourselves anything to obtain
the mercy of God and attain unto acceptance with Him,
bears the hallmark of the Devil himself. Christ's death for us and
our death with Him is the only, but the sure ground of full acceptance!
Luther said it very utterly when he put it thus-
Christ, I am Thy
sin, Thy curse, Thy wrath of God, Thy hell; and contrariwise, Thou
art my righteousness, my blessing, my life, my grace of God, my
wonder the Devil
hated Martin Luther and assailed him so bitterly.
there is not only
the basic, initial, perfect value of the Cross for our full and
unquestioned acceptance; there is a meaning of the Cross in relation to
spiritual fullness and fruitfulness. It is what Paul calls "Being
made conformable to His death" (Phil. 3:10).
let us emphasize,
must be kept apart from our justification and access to God. How
very much of the tragedy, scandal, defeat, weakness, deadness,
limitation and unloveliness of many Christian people and Christian
institutions, communities and churches is due to uncrucified "flesh"
or natural life! How greatly Christ is hidden from view by men and
things and methods which bring themselves into prominence! The need, if
He is to come to the place of the Divine intention, and
we with Him, is for a continuous and ever-deepening working of the
Cross in us. We really must be in a position to say "I have been
crucified with Christ". Yes, but also to complete the statement "It is
no longer I, but Christ." Is it true - "No longer I?"
"No... I"? That is what Paul meant, but who can know the depth of
that "I". Only Christ knows how deep and thorough His Cross
is, and we must hand ourselves over to Him for the Holy Spirit to
work all His meaning of the Cross in us, if the way is to be clear
for His fullness.
and message of the Cross is a very strong part of this ministry.
There are many who do not like the latter and will not have it. We can
only say that if they represent something far more than
the average in spiritual wealth and their apprehension of Christ,
and if that with which they are connected is free from the common
results of the strength of the natural life; then there is something
in their antagonism to the subjective meaning of the Cross to which we
must give heed. But we have been there ourselves, and
know the difference.
we do so with a reference to one other matter. Many may agree with
much that we have written, but they will react to it by saying that it
is "idealistic"; it is too high; as things are now
it is not possible; we cannot hope for such a recovery. Well, there
is one answer to that attitude. The Bible has always recognized and
provided for a position like that. It was but a small number of the
captive nation of Israel who returned voluntarily to rebuild
the city, the wall, the house at Jerusalem, and the word which governed
and characterized them was, "Whoso is of a willing heart, his God
be with him".
Book of the
Revelation it is clear that the majority had left the full thought
of the Lord. The appeal there is to those within who have "an ear to
hear". We find them called "Overcomers," and this clearly
relates to the decadent conditions; a reaction to the Lord's full
and original thought. It is hardly to be expected that all Christians
will respond to the appeal and standard, but it is clear
that they can, the Lord wills it, and what He wills is not out of
the question. It may be a costly way; and the cost will be mainly
acute because of the attitude of other Christians.
we realize that
this ministry will sift the Lord's people, and only those who really
mean business with God and to "go on to full-growth" will
have a place for it. Our message is therefore one which will affect
the "Overcomers," although we do not regard them as an elect of the
elect, a select spiritual aristocracy. They will have a place of
special honour because in them the Lord will have that upon which His
heart has been set from the beginning. The difference will be that
which is seen ultimately between Joseph and his brethren.
ministry as that
of which we have spoken will be the outcome of His very deep and
drastic dealings with us. It is not something studied and worked out
mentally. We shall never be off the wheel as a vessel finished, but
somehow the Lord will combine the moulding and the
using. Surely this is as it should be. "The Lord's messenger in the
Lord's message" contains the vital principle that
the instrument should never be in advance of its spiritual history.
Even prophets who spoke of things to come, and of many things the
meaning of which was not fully clear to them, were made
to have their ministry inwrought by practical experience. But the
drastic handling is ever unto increase and progress. Such a ministry
cannot be "taken up," or adopted. We cannot go into it as we go into
any other kind of work, by technical or intellectual
training or instruction. Indeed, it is something from which to shrink naturally,
as did Moses, Jeremiah, and others. It
is helpful and interesting or enlightening to see that, when the
Lord spoke through Jeremiah to Israel about the potter's house, and the
potter, and then Himself took the place of the potter,
the moulding, shaping, correcting, adjusting, purging, unto usefulness
was by means of the assaults and inflictings of enemy activity. There
was a connection between the Potter's hands and a foreign ruler's
opposition and besieging. So for fuller usefulness the Lord
uses the enemy and his work, and we are not for long free from this
These, then, are the
things to which we are called and committed. "Here we stand, we can
do no other, God help us."
The Lord give you
a heart to "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth," and to reach
unto His fullness.