The Mystery of God: Introductory

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 11
J. Alfred Trench
What a complete revolution was involved in the ways of God, when, by divine inspiration, the prophecy of Caiaphas was recorded, “that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:51, 5251And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 52And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. (John 11:51‑52)). Nothing of the kind had ever been intimated in Old Testament scriptures. It announced the close of the special exclusive relationship of the nation of Israel to God which had been maintained for long centuries. Of them He could say, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:22You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:2)).
The accomplishment of the purposes of God as to that nation was most surely before the Lord Jesus as one object of His death, even as Caiaphas (not of himself) had prophesied. But there was another object nearer and dearer to His heart; and I desire to raise the question as to how far this object has been laid hold of by us in the faith of our souls. If we have rested on His death for our sins, and know anything of the deliverance He has wrought for us by that death, from sin, and from the law which was the strength of sin, and from the world, there is nothing that should touch our hearts more deeply than the knowledge that the blessed Lord died that the children of God, hitherto scattered, with no consciousness of their relationship to Him, or to one another, should be in that condition no longer, but gathered together in one on earth.
“One Flock”
There were children of God then, owned in their relationship by God, but awaiting the revelation of this great fact, for any enjoyment of it. They were of the Jews and of the Gentiles, but had no sense of the family bond. Nay, by God’s own institutions they of the Jews were separated from those of the Gentiles by a middle wall of partition — the law of commandments contained in ordinances — that acted both to keep them at a distance from God and from each other. We learn how real the barrier was, and how impossible for even those that were of God to be one while it existed, from the very remarkable steps that were taken by God to induce Peter to carry to the Gentile, Cornelius, words whereby he might be saved, so that he might be consciously brought on to the ground of accomplished redemption, albeit he had already evidently been born again, and manifested many a fruit of the work of grace in him.
But there were divine forces preparing the way for such a drawing together of those who had been the subjects of God’s mighty operation in grace. John 10 teaches us that the Lord Jesus had entered into the sheepfold of Judaism as the Shepherd of the sheep; not to shepherd them more directly than heretofore amid the mass of the people, but that they might hear His voice calling His own sheep by name, to lead them all out of the fold, Himself going before them as their guarantee for the path, and forming the attractive object for their hearts as they followed Him.
But not only so, in verse 16 He says: “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice: and there shall be one flock (no longer fold), one Shepherd” (N.T.). By His own voice heard in the inmost soul of Gentile as well as Jew, a precious link was formed between each sheep and Christ Himself; and thus His flock was constituted in all the blessing that He had been opening out for those who entered in by Christ as the door (vss. 9-15), which blessing is founded on His laying down His life for the sheep.
If there was no actual relationship between the sheep, there was between each of them and Christ in the most real way. They had heard, and hear His voice as it still speaks through His word; He knew them each one, as none other could; He had loved them with a love that gave Himself for them, and they had but to follow Him. He would impart to them eternal life, and none should ever catch them from His hand; they were the Father’s gift to Him, and His Father’s hand was also laid upon them to secure them to Him: there could be no perishing of the life within, and no force without could separate them from that all-powerful grasp, for the Father and Son are one. What a Shepherd! and how blessed to be of His flock. But “the mystery” was not yet.
One Family
But more than this was involved in the relationship of children. There was a family that God had formed for Himself. When the Creator of the world came into it, it knew Him not; when He came to His own special circle of Israel, it received Him not; but to as many as received Him God gave the right to become children of God, “even to them that believed on His name; which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12, 1312But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12‑13)). By the death of Christ, as one cherished object of it to Him, these were to be gathered together in one, in relationship with each other, as with Him.
John 17 helps us to enter a little into the deep place this oneness of the family of God had in the heart of the Son; there we are allowed to draw near, and hear Him pour out all His hitherto untold desires for them, into His Father’s ear. This oneness comes out in three aspects of it. (1) The Son had kept those whom the Father had given Him out of the world in the Father’s name, while He was with them: in leaving them He commits them to the Father to keep in that same blessed name of Father, of which He had been the full revelation — “Holy Father keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me (as it must be read), that they may be one as We” (vss. 11-12). What a thought! They were to be one among themselves, in heart and mind and object, even as the Father and the Son were one, in an identity of interest He had just expressed in the words” All mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine.”
We may see how, for a brief moment, in the power of the Spirit and of the grace that was upon them all in the early chapters of Acts, this oneness was realized, when “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things he possessed was his own” (vs. 32). It was a lovely expression of what grace by the power of God could produce. But it did not last.
(2) The Lord then gives another character to the oneness that He sought for us.
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they may also be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me “ (verses 20, 21).
Here we all are expressly brought in, as those who have believed through the apostolic word. “One in Us “ — this oneness then was to be brought about as we each one abode in the Son and in the Father, enjoying fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, which is the essential privilege of the life we have been brought into (see 1 John 1:3; 2:243That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
24Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)
). For what is fellowship with the Father but to have common thoughts with Him about His beloved Son, as He presents Him to us as the object of His own delight; and what is fellowship with the Son, but having communion of thought ‘With Him about the Father, whom He has made known to us? Oh, if we knew and had but walked in the power of such communion, we should then have had no other thoughts but what we shared in this communion, and so have been kept in oneness with each other; then the world might have seen and believed that the Father sent the Son.
Well may we hide our faces in shame as we look upon the scattering of the family of God that began so early and has been ever increasing, and own in sorrow of heart before Him-all the deeper because of the grace of the Son that makes no allusion to it to the Father-how complete our failure has been, and how we have each contributed to it. No wonder the world is skeptical.
(3) But all is not told yet. The Lord passes on in His unfathomable love to present us before the Father in a character of oneness that nothing can disrupt, where no failure is possible, and which He can speak of as “perfect” for the first time. It is the oneness of the given glory of Christ — “And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them, that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them” — Christ to be displayed in us as perfectly as the Father in the Son — “ and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know “ — if too late for it to believe, and enter into the blessing — “ that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me “ (verses 22, 23). Thus in spite of the work of the enemy, and the heartbreaking collapse of faithfulness in us, our blessed Lord will see of the travail of His soul in His heavenly people, as well as His earthly. He will be able to display us perfect in one in His glory to the astonished world. But who could conceive His adding to this that the world should know, when it sees us in that glory, that we have been loved of the Father, even as Jesus was loved when He was here.
One Assembly
But all this was anticipative: “the hour was come” for the heart of the Lord, and He was claiming the consequences of it for Himself and for those given Him out of the world. The full truth of the relationship into which they had been brought would only burst upon the disciples, when, from a Risen Christ, they received that wonderful message through dear Mary of Magdala, “Go to My brethren” (now first owned as such) “and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” It was the wonderful fulfillment of the first clause of Psalm 22:2222I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. (Psalm 22:22), “I will declare Thy name unto my brethren.” The Sanctifier and the sanctified ones were “all of one” (as set forth in the reality of the Lord’s Manhood in resurrection), “for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:1111For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:11)).
And now the second part of Psalm 22:2222I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. (Psalm 22:22), was to be fulfilled — “In the midst of the congregation (or ‘assembly,’ as the Holy Spirit interprets in quoting the verse in Heb. 2) will I sing praise unto Thee.” For the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, came Jesus, and “stood in the midst” of them (John 20:1919Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. (John 20:19)). He had walked alone as man, in blessed relationship with God and the Father. This relationship found its first full expression down here in Him; but now, as the fruit of the work accomplished when the precious seed of corn fell into the ground and died, He was no longer alone; but was able to declare the full association of His own with Himself, in all He was about to enter into as the ascended Man — His Father was their Father, His God was their God — and He Could lead them, too, in the song of praise, a song which was His own first, as He came out of the darkness and sorrow, but which is now also suited to us whom He has brought into the light and joy into which He has entered.
As regards what is individual, nothing could go beyond the blessedness of this present, heavenly association with Christ, which is doctrinally opened out to us in the teaching of the epistles, especially of Paul and John, and of which the Holy Spirit has come to be the power of our enjoyment. And as we have seen, it involves our relationship with one another as brethren, that the divine love wherewith we are loved may be expressed in our ways with one another.
But we have not yet exhausted the fullness of the resources of that love, nor touched upon the subject which forms the heading to this paper, namely, “The Mystery.” That was still “hid in God,” and we must now seek grace, and the power of the Spirit of God, to enter into that which can only be known by revelation.
This is really the force of “mystery.” It does not mean what is mysterious, for there is nothing of this when it is known. But it is that into which we need to be initiated by divine revelation and teaching. There will be no such initiation needed, for instance, when the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. The Kingdom as such does not enter into the mystery, is not the subject of it.
The first intimation of a corporate relationship in which the saints were to be formed (while as to accomplishment it was yet future), is found in Matthew 16, where, in answer to a direct revelation from the Father, Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
This confession involved the complete triumph of the One whose glory Peter thus confessed, over him that had the power of death — a triumph evidenced and proved by His resurrection.
The Lord also revealed to Peter, that upon the rock of the glory of His Person, thus confessed, He would build His assembly, nor could all the power of Satan prevail against this divine work. Peter was proved by his faith to be already a living stone, ready to be put in its place when the building should begin. In 1 Peter 2 this privilege is made good to all, who by faith come to the living Stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious. These are, as living stones, being built up a spiritual house, and are ever growing, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2, by this divine workmanship to a holy temple in the Lord — a structure yet to come out in a new heaven and new earth as the Tabernacle of God, the eternal habitation of the brightest manifestation of the glory of God.
The building began at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon all who were His, and God thus took up His abode even from the first in the dwelling formed for Him.
But this aspect of the assembly formed no part of the mystery. The blessed thought and purpose of the heart of God, to take up His dwelling place among a redeemed people, had not been hid from other ages. He brought it out when He delivered Israel from the power of Pharoah (figure of the prince of this world), who held them captive, and the first full type of redemption is presented not only in the blood on the door posts of their houses for God’s eye in Egypt, but in the death and resurrection of Christ as shadowed forth in the Red Sea.
If it is not certain that it comes so early into the song of Moses and Israel as Exodus 15:22The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2), we find it fully in verse 17, where it becomes a revelation. “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established.” (See also Ex. 29:42,4642This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee. (Exodus 29:42)
46And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:46)
.) This was a material sanctuary; His dwelling place is now a spiritual house, the one the shadowing forth of the other; though a material sanctuary will have its place again on the millennial earth.
But “the mystery” was still unrevealed. Yet it was brought about by that to which we have already referred, namely, the advent of another Divine Person, the Spirit, given from the glory of Christ, to dwell in and with us; but revelation was needed to bring us into heart intelligence of what had taken place.
(To be continued).