The Mystery of God: No. 3

 •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 13
J. Alfred Trench
3rd Chapter
Having seen then the mystery, which had been hidden in God from ages and generations, now revealed to Paul and committed to him as minister thereof, we must pass on to his epistle to the Ephesians, in order to trace the full unfolding of this precious truth.
The Development of God’s Counsels
But before the apostle can go into the orderly presentation to us of what was filling his heart, he finds relief in worship (for worship is simply the overflow to God of a heart too full to contain itself): — “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ.” May this be the effect produced upon us as the fullness of the blessing opens out to us.
The stand-point to which the Spirit conducts us, is that of the eternal nature of God; for we read “according as He hath chosen us in Him (Christ Jesus) before the foundation of the world.” For “choice” is simply the expression of what perfectly suits him who chooses.
It is not the activity of counsel yet, but just the expression of God’s own nature; and how astonishing the thought: ‘He chose us in Christ!’ But if in Christ, it will be found to be in all that He ever was to God; and so we read “that we should be holy and without blame,” and “before Him” — before His own satisfied gaze-and “in love,” as the object of God’s delight: just what Christ is, and was manifested to be when here (see Matt. 3:16, 716And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (Matthew 3:16)
7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Matthew 3:7)
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True, Christ was alone then in the place He had before God; and only by redemption could He bring us into it. But it is not our being brought into it that is in question in these opening verses: it is how God saw us in Him in His own thoughts about us, before ever the foundation of the world was laid.
But in what relationship will divine and sovereign love be pleased to set us who are the objects of that love? Would angelic relationship have ever been conceived possible by us? It would not do for God. He had myriads of angels that excelled in strength, and ever did His pleasure: but they were only servants. He wanted sons — sons to surround Him in His home of light and love with the cry of Abba Father: accordingly we read “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children [or sonship’] by Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph. 1:55Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Ephesians 1:5)). Sweet thought: He had counseled this for His own ineffable satisfaction: not merely for our blessing, but according to the good pleasure of His will. And this relationship was set forth in Christ when the voice from heaven (Matt. 3:1717And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17))1 addressed Him as the Son. Nor is even what was there connected with the place the Son had in his Father’s heart — “this is My beloved Son” — reserved from us; for to the praise of the Flory of His grace “He has taken us into favor in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:66To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:6), New Translation: where see note).
Then once more His grace is brought out, not in the glory of it in this case, as in verse 6, but in its riches to meet us in the poverty of our need — “In whom, we have redemption through His blood... according to the riches of His grace.” For this was the righteous ground of the accomplishment of all that was thus projected upon the page of revelation, of what had been in His heart for us from eternity.
Now it is only when the revelation of the individual Christian position according to these wonderful counsels of God is thus complete, and revealed by the Holy Spirit for faith to enter into and enjoy by the power of the same Spirit, that God counts upon our being free, so to speak, to enter into His interests for Christ. His grace is then seen abounding in all wisdom and prudence in bringing out to us these counsels. “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one [or head up’, as it really should read] all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth.” This is the mystery then in its widest range: for what could go beyond not only all things being put into subjection to Him (which had been announced before, and will be fulfilled in the last of earth’s times, that is, the kingdom), but the whole universe being brought into relationship with Him as its Head; which, when the times have reached their fullness, is now revealed to be the end and object of God in instituting them? What an expanse of glory opens up to our souls as we are enabled to delight in the place which God had purposed in Himself for Christ, and which He in unspeakable grace is now pleased to make known to us.
But that is not all. For in the very next words we learn that in Him we have been made heirs of that whole inheritance of glory, having been predestined even to this “according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will: that we should be to the praise of His glory.” The opening verses presented to us His calling in what is, beyond all thought, above us: here we have what is below us, in the inheritance that answers to such a calling — “ the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (vs. 18). Only it is to be carefully observed that this expression does not mean that the saints are His inheritance, as is constantly said of Israel. We are heirs of the inheritance which is Christ’s, and which has been presented in the whole extent of it in verse 10. But if it is in Him we enter into it, it is in us He takes possession of it. Daniel 7 helps to explain the thought. In verse 14 of that chapter we read, “there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom;” in verse 18 we read that “the saints of the high places” (margin) take it and possess it forever. The sign of His taking up the inheritance is that He puts them into possession. So here in Ephesians it is “the riches of the glory of His inheritance,” but taken up before the universe by putting the saints into it, and hence it is “in the saints.”
That this is the force of the expression is greatly confirmed to us when we find that, because we do not enter upon any part of the inheritance till Christ does (when it will be time enough for us), we have meantime been given an earnest of it (Eph. 1:13-1413In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13‑14)). In Him we have been sealed for God with the Holy Spirit, when we believed the glad tidings of our salvation. But the Holy Spirit is also the earnest for us of our inheritance, until the day when redemption is put forth in power, and the inheritance is actually taken up. Could anything give a greater conception of the extent and glory of it than to have such an earnest?
And yet what is more precious still for our hearts is the way we enter into the inheritance. When God set Adam at the head of everything in the lower world, He gave him Eve to share with him the fair inheritance, so soon to be dragged down by him into the bondage of corruption. But no thought of God will fail of its accomplishment. Adam was but the type of Him that was to come; whom God will set, according to His counsels for His glory, at the head of everything in heaven and earth. Nor will He be alone in that day of glory: He will have His heavenly Eve to be heir and sharer with Him of it all. And so the wonderful Ephesians 1 of God’s counsels does not close without bringing Christ out as “Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22, 2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23)).
The Divine Masterpiece
Ephesians 1 is then the unfolding to us of the thoughts and counsels of divine love that centered in the Beloved Son of the Father, involving for us not only an individual place before Him in Christ, but a corporate relationship to Christ as His Body, the Assembly. And in this epistle alone, as connected with the counsels of eternity, the Body embraces the aggregate of those who are Christ’s, from Pentecost till He comes again, when the assembly will be complete, and “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” In every other passage the Body of Christ is either the whole company of the saints at any given time on the earth, where the Holy Spirit is to maintain it in its unity: or the local expression of this in all who are His in any given place.
In chapter 2. we come to the wonderful work of God in time, by which the Body is formed out of the material of Jew and Gentile, who were both alike dead in sins, but who are quickened together with Christ, raised up together, and seated together in Him in the heavenlies: that in the ages to come He might skew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (verses 6-7).
In the latter half of the chapter we have the actual subsisting assembly here on earth viewed also as the household of God, and as a building fitly framed together, growing to a holy temple in the Lord, but which even in its present state has become the habitation of God through the Spirit (verses 19-22).
Chapter 3 comes in parenthetically to give us Paul’s part in the work; and there is a further development of the mystery made known to him by revelation, “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 co-heirs and of a co-body and co-partakers (if we could read it in this way to help as to the force of his words) of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (verses 5-6).
Observe how he especially presses the aspect of it as it concerns us Gentiles. For there had been thousands of Jews formed into the body from Pentecost, before one Gentile was brought in.
The apostle had a double ministry, and he himself was greatly affected by what he carried to others, for he felt himself to be less than the least of all saints. Would that we were affected in our little measure in the same way! This double ministry was, 1st: “to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” — what a gospel that was for the preacher! — and, 2nd: “to make all see” — this is the word for the eyes of the heart being “enlightened,” see Ephesians 1:1818The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1:18), — “what is the administration of the mystery.” Fellowship, the word used here by the transcribers, is a very precious part of it: but the apostle really uses the larger word (like the one used in sound, and therefore easily mistaken for it by the copyists) which takes in the whole practical carrying out of the Assembly’s relationship to Christ as His Body on the earth (verses 8, 9).
But oh, if only we had hearts to be more affected by the truth, how well it might move us to have the truth of the mystery, that from the beginning of the ages had been hid in God, thus revealed to us! By the mighty fiat of His word He had called all things into being, and therein displayed His eternal power and Godhead, but He had kept this hid in Himself throughout the lapse of the ages. But now that the Assembly was formed, and united to Christ as His Body by the Holy Spirit come down at Pentecost, — one body out of the most opposed nationalities of the world, — and the administration of it committed to Paul, it was God’s intent that now unto the principalities and powers (the highest created intelligences) in the heavenlies, might be known by the assembly the manifold wisdom of God.
To use an earthly illustration of what is so far beyond our conceptions, it is as if a painter, having produced many works of art, had resolved to concentrate all his resources upon one great masterpiece. This is what God has done in His own divine way: this is what the assembly is to Him; His masterpiece, in which all the varied resources of His wisdom are seen. For if little (alas, how little!) thought of by us, who are of the Assembly, yet the heavenly intelligences can discern the skill and beauty of the divine workmanship; even though through our unfaithfulness to the light and truth of it communicated through the apostle, the Assembly that should have answered to it, has become, on its responsible side, the sport of Satan, and the scene of the worst failure ever manifested in His people here.
Beloved in the Lord, who can read the inspired words, and enter in any measure into the place of the Assembly before God, whether as the fruit of the counsels of His love, or as the effect of His mighty operations in time, or as now made the depository of all He had planned and carried out for the glory of Christ in it, without being filled with shame: not only as to the way the whole truth of it was lost for ages, but as to the feeble impression made upon any of us, when in these last days, by an energy of the Spirit in testimony, God has presented the truth to the hearts and consciences of numbers of His own? What insensibility and indifference and practical unbelief has been manifested by us! May we be humbled in His holy presence, that the highest truth — always the easiest to let slip — may be once more revived in the affections of His saints.