The Mystery of God: No. 2

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 13
J. Alfred Trench
2nd Chapter
Taking up again the little company of disciples where we left them in John 20, with the Lord in the midst, we note the significant action with which, as the last Adam, a quickening Spirit, He breathes on them on that resurrection day, saying “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” This was not the Spirit actually given, as we shall see, but rather the Spirit as the power of life, to bring them into the new position of that life as it now existed in a risen Christ, a life past every question of sin, death, and the judgment of God, the power of Satan being wholly broken — “life... more abundantly,” as He had spoken of it.
But they had yet to wait for the promise of the Father, “which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. For... ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” They were already associated individually with Christ as the Risen One, in all His place of life and relationship with His Father and God; but now the Holy Spirit was about to come to form them into corporate relationships, on the one hand with God as His house, as we have seen, and on the other with Christ as His body, of which there had been no word as yet in Scripture.
The One Body
Who can estimate sufficiently the momentous consequences of that wonderful Pentecost, when, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, the building of the Assembly began, and God took up His dwelling-place in it! But at the same moment those who believed were all baptized into one body by the same blessed Spirit given to them. God had thus not only carried into effect His declared purpose to dwell in and amongst His redeemed as His house; but also, all unconsciously to them, had formed them into corporate relationship with Christ. Of this latter no hint had been given in Scripture.
It was one thing that a Divine Person should thus have come down upon earth to fulfill what had been in the counsel of God from eternity: quite another that He should be pleased to reveal what He had done, that we might be brought into the intelligence of it. But it is His desire that we should know this great truth. Of what absorbing interest then it will be if we may be allowed, with bowed hearts before God, and in dependence upon divine teaching, to trace the progress of the revelation.
The martyrdom of Stephen prepared the way for this revelation, for it was the answer of the guilty nation to the last testimony God had to address to it by the Spirit, through Stephen, according to the intercession of Christ for them on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Pending the result of this testimony, the Lord Jesus is seen by His servant, standing at the right hand of God — not yet sat down. But when they stoned Stephen all was over.
It is recorded that they who stoned Stephen laid down their clothes at the feet of the young man, Saul of Tarsus, who thus became the formal witness of the last possible expression of man’s enmity against Christ in the glory of God; but God, in infinite grace, took up this same young man to be the vessel of the testimony of the last and greatest possible expression of the love of God to the man that could only hate Him. Thus it is that he speaks of himself as the chief of sinners, in whom, “chief” as he was, the whole long-suffering of God had been shown forth, “for a delineation of those about to believe on Him to life eternal” (1 Tim. 1:15, 1615This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:15‑16). New Trans.).
We all have been converted on the same principle as Saul of Tarsus: namely, that all God’s ways with the race, putting man to the proof of what was in him, are over, with the result of man’s proved irreconcilable enmity against God. And now if sovereign grace breaks down our proud wills before God in the discovery of it, and subjects our hearts to the Son of God in glory (in whom, in the judgment of the cross, the end of all flesh had been reached for God and for faith), it is that, taken up in Him as our life, righteousness, and acceptance, God may show in us to ages yet to come how far His grace could go.
The Revelation of It
But I am anticipating: Acts 9 gives us the astonishing details. Saul, true to the characteristics of his tribe, ravening as a wolf (Gen. 49:2727Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil. (Genesis 49:27)) against the lowly men and women who dared to confess Jesus the Lord, thought to blot out the very memory of His name from the earth by dragging them to prison and to death; and “being exceedingly mad against them he persecuted them even unto strange cities,” and so was on his way “with authority and commission from the chief priests” to prosecute his deadly work at Damascus, when suddenly the arrest came. A light from heaven above the brightness of the mid-day sun shines round about him, and, fallen to the ground, he hears a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” And to Saul’s immediate question “Who art thou, Lord?” the answer is “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
What a revolution does this effect in his whole being! what a discovery of what man is at his best before God! With all his strict conscientiousness, earnest religiousness, and blameless outward walk, he was yet the most avowed enemy of Christ in glory the world had ever seen. But I do not dwell upon that pattern of every subsequent conversion, but call attention to the marvelous revelation contained in the words by which the Lord convicted Saul, “Why persecutest thou Me?”
What meant that “Me”? It meant that the persecuted saints were every one of them united to Christ in glory by the Spirit who dwelt in them: they were members of His Body, that which He accounts to be Himself, even as He had become their life. There had been nothing like this before. The assembly had been formed into this relationship at Pentecost, but this was the first intimation of it: the whole truth of it was involved in the words that fell so strangely from heaven upon the ears of Saul. It was, in principle, the mystery, which was ever after to characterize his ministry; even as the Lord had further to say to him, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:12-1612Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. 14And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 15And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 16But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; (Acts 26:12‑16)).
The doctrine of the mystery, till now so carefully kept out of the divine communications, had yet to come fully out through Paul, the vessel raised up to be the minister of it. But when all is told, nothing can surpass what was contained in the precious words of the Lord, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Let us put it to ourselves individually, “Have I entered into the reality of being united to the Lord in glory by the Spirit dwelling in me; and that thus I am a member of the Body of which He is Head, and of which all who are Christ’s are fellow members?” To really believe this will affect the whole current of our lives from the moment it bursts upon the soul: first, in drawing out adoring affections to Him who has taken us into such intimate union with Himself in love so inconceivable; then in all my relations with my fellow Christians, everyone of whom is, with myself, a member of that one Body by one Spirit. Scripture, I need hardly add, knows nothing of any other body.
The Ministry of It
Let us turn then to the ministry of the apostle through whom it has pleased God to bring out this wonderful secret of eternity. It is not the subject of the Epistle to the Romans, wherein we have that which is of primary importance for our souls: how in righteousness God can take up sinners, such as we are, to justify them, and set them in Christ before Him, by His death and resurrection, and the power of the Spirit given to dwell in them. But he cannot close the epistle without letting out what was in his heart:
“Now to him that is of power to establish 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.”
How magnificent the outburst of it, now that it was God’s will that what had had such a deep place in His heart, but which had been hidden there throughout all the ages of earth’s history, should come out, and be made known to all nations: and that, by His commandment! Nor was it to be made known merely to enlighten and establish us, but to produce the very real subjection of our souls to the revelation; for “the obedience of faith” is what God looks for now as the only true answer to His wonderful grace.
To the Corinthians, Paul can only allude to it (1 Cor. 2:6-106Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:6‑10)), the spirit of division was amongst them. They were carnal, walking as men, and making much of their knowledge and gifts. But enough comes out in the apostle’s words to have moved any heart, as to what they were losing by their low state spiritually. There was the wisdom of God, which was not of this world nor of its leaders. Those who were in Christ in the faith of their souls, would recognize it as this. This wisdom was contained in the “mystery”, which is brought in here, not as the subject matter of revelation, but as giving its character to this hidden wisdom of God, which was “ordained before the world unto our glory”, as he does not hesitate to tell us.
And now mark the principle of it. The wisdom of God centered in the Lord of glory, whom the leaders of the world crucified. And, to bring out its characteristic blessedness into the strongest relief, the apostle quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah as to how it had been in his day: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him”. And there the quotation is too often left, whereas the apostle’s design is to contrast the present state of things with what existed in the prophet’s day, and so he adds, “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God”. So that all that had been wrapped up in the heart of God for those that love Him, unseen, unheard of by them, and never for a moment conceived of, had now come out to be the revealed and possessed portion of faith by the power of the Spirit. The inspired revelation of these blessed things of God’s own nature and counsel is alone by the Spirit, the communication of them is in words that He alone could teach, and our reception of them is as equally and absolutely by that same blessed Spirit (verses 10-14).
Oh! how incalculable the loss, if our state is such that the power and the blessedness of such a revelation of God’s wisdom in the mystery is hindered! Yet so intimately does the truth contained in it affect the practical walk of the saints in their relations with one another, that when the apostle comes to this latter subject in Romans, and much more fully in 1 Corinthians, he cannot but bring in what flows from union with Christ by the Holy Spirit according to the mystery. I refer to Romans 12:4, 54For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:4‑5), and 1 Corinthians 12. But he does not there enter into any development of those counsels of God for the glory of Christ, which give the mystery its full blessed character. For this we must go to the Epistle to the Ephesians.
“Look well to your integrity, and leave your prosperity to the Lord.”