The Deep Things of God
J. S. Blackburn
(Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Colossians 1:24-27; Ephesians 3:1-7, 14-21)
The theme that lies before us is the theme of the mystery, which is most economically stated by saying that it is Christ and the church. The mystery is announced in the last verses of Romans (Rom. 16:25) where we have all the wonderful actings of the love and mercy of God for the relief of those who were suffering under the guilt of their sins and under the slavery of sin. When the wonderful sacrifice of the Lord Jesus has been applied to those needs and it has been explained by the Spirit of God how completely those needs are met, then we come to the theme of the purpose of God. In Romans 8 verse 28 we just touch the theme of God's acting, not to meet our need, but His acting out of the fullness of the counsels and thoughts of His own heart, centred on Christ. "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Therefore the last verses of the epistle tell us what is the great theme that ultimately lies before us as the end of these things that God has done in and through Christ. We read of "the scriptures of the prophets" (Rom. 16:26) and that by the context is quite plainly the New Testament prophets. It is an ascription of glory to the God only wise and it is an ascription of glory "according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ," which is what has occupied the apostle in this epistle. Then there is reference to the full end of God's revelation of His thoughts of blessing, that is, "the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest... by the scriptures of the prophets." Now it is very plain that the apostle Paul is saying that if you really want to get to the end of this wonderful story of blessing then you must go on to read about the mystery. It is the full end of the story, it is that to which the counsels of God, the purposes of God and the heart of God are going to lead us.
Reading in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 we have a very striking situation because in the first place the theme of the mystery is developed just a little. It is developed in this sense that it is shown to be something which God has brought in when the wisdom of man has borne its flower and its fruit in the Greek cities to which he was writing. The wisdom of man had done its best in the four centuries before Christ came (and it has never been surpassed so far as human wisdom is concerned), and had proved its more than bankruptcy in that the princes of this world, the leaders of every avenue of thought and action, had conspired together to crucify the Lord of glory. That is the emphasis of verse 6. We perhaps should introduce the emphatic "do" to understand the meaning rightly according to the context. He says, don't imagine that we have not a wisdom to speak about. "We do speak wisdom," but this speaking is to those who are full grown in spiritual stature. It is not the wisdom of this world but (v. 7) it is "the wisdom of God in a mystery." Now at that point I stop because the fact that the matter is not developed further here is of great significance for us. There is something that hinders in very many cases. It is not sufficient to teach the high things of divine truth. Why? Because we are so often not in a condition to receive it. Our perceptions of spiritual truth are dimmed by the world around us and by the flesh within us. We need not only to be taught the great themes and conclusions of divine truth, the majesty of the blessing that God has conceived and brought about for His people according to His promises, and the glory which will ensue for God in Christ, but we need also to deal mercilessly with the things in our hearts and lives that tend to block the reception of the truth. I won't develop it at this moment but this is the theme which is most strikingly before us here in the second chapter of 1 Corinthians. There is the most elevated truth, truth which is outside every avenue by which knowledge and wisdom reach the natural mind and heart of man. All those channels are bankrupt so far as the wisdom of God reaching us is concerned, but after the wisdom of man has done its worst and its best, then God has revealed to us the mystery, His heart's secret, and He has done this by the Holy Spirit.
I refer to the passage in Colossians for one particular purpose. When we think about what is rightly to be expected of teaching we dwell a good deal upon John chapter 16. If we want to enquire what teaching in divine things should do for us then surely this must have a high place, the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ announced the purposes for which He was about to give the Holy Spirit-"He will guide you into all truth," "He shall glorify Me," "He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you." It is quite plain that teaching which does not lead us to this, to the finality of what God has revealed of Himself and His thoughts of blessing, and a vast amount of teaching in Christendom does not lead us to this, then such teaching is not really the teaching of God at all. It must go to these themes in which finality is found and in that verse in John chapter 16 there is finality as to one of the great lines of divine truth and revelation and that is the revelation of God Himself. In the Name, "the Father," we have a relationship between God and ourselves, which I would very advisedly say is a secondary matter. The primary matter is that the very heart of God has been finally disclosed with no secrets left and that the nature of God is a relationship of love. God partially revealed Himself to the patriarchs as El Shaddai, Almighty God, and that revelation was in the highest degree strengthening and comforting to those who received it. Then we read in the beginning of Exodus that a greater Name was to be disclosed which they did not know and that Name was Jehovah, the Name for His people Israel and His covenants with them. But figurative language and the teaching of events could not say more strongly that this in itself was not final. "Thou canst not see My face," He said to Moses, "thou shalt see My back parts; but My face shall not be seen" (Ex. 33:20, 23). Why? Because it was reserved to no lesser an event than the coming of the eternally blessed Son Himself, before the very face of God in final revelation could be seen by those who received it. And we have received it through the coming and the words and the actions of the blessed Son Himself. So when it says, "He will guide you into all truth," the central idea behind the word "truth" in that passage is finality.
I say all this because what we have before us is finality on a parallel line of God's revelation. His heart of blessing, His heart of love in His eternal relationship with the Son and in the ministry of Paul which culminates in the passage that we have read in Colossians, reach finality. There is something that was hidden to previous ages but which will never be surpassed. God's thoughts of glory to Christ, the satisfaction of His sacrificing love, and the blessing to His own by reason of this, can never, never get beyond His secret which is the mystery.
In Colossians chapter 1 verse 25 I come to the point which I am thinking of particularly in this passage. The theme of Christ's body, which is the church, is introduced in the latter half of verse 24 and that is put in contrast in the previous verses with the gospel, the ministry of reconciliation. Paul has said about the gospel that, "I. am made. minister," (Col. 1:23) but he said this also of this theme that has been introduced in verse 24 (Col. 1:25). It was the dispensation of God that he should be the one to receive and to be responsible for the spreading abroad of all the wonders that are contained in this truth concerning Christ's body which is the church. In the end of verse 25 he says, "according to the dispensation of God which is given me towards you to complete the word of God" (J.N.D. Trans.). Now it is perfectly plain that the apostle Paul was not the author of the last New Testament book to be written. In what sense therefore was he the one to whom it was given to complete the Word of God? In this sense, that the last stone was laid in the edifice of revelation when the apostle Paul had revealed to him and laid in his teaching the stone of the mystery. Christ's body which is the church and the mystery which in this place is stated to be, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," is the ne plus ultra. There is absolutely nothing beyond it. It is never to be superseded in regard to God's blessing through Christ and glory and satisfaction for Christ.
What we should expect to be taught and what teachers should equip themselves to teach are those facts about God and His heart and His wisdom and His power in which finality is reached. The Spirit is here to lead us into all the truth. The Spirit has revealed the things the apostle speaks of and it is a great and marvellous wonder for us that we have been in the New Testament days let into finality on these matters.
What the mystery is receives its fullest description in Ephesians chapter 3. In verse 4 of that chapter it speaks of, "the mystery of Christ," and then it gives certain parallel facts about that, "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." There is the finality I was speaking of and this is what it is: "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel." Now it seems very plain that needs a considerable amount of amplification before it attains the heart-moving quality that is bound to belong to the mystery. That is where the prayer at the end of the chapter comes in because the apostle's heart in this matter is really poured out when he speaks to God in prayer. But we must dwell upon verse 6 that tells us, and let me use the words here which emphasise the fact that there is a syllable in them which is the same, "That the Gentiles should be joint heirs, and of a joint body, and joint partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel." Now every one of these things, if it is amplified as the context amplifies it, brings in Christ-that the Gentiles should be joint heirs, that is joint heirs together with Christ; and of a joint body, that is the body of Christ. It becomes explicit when it says joint partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel. The word "joint" in all these cases indicates that in this final blessing for the people of God the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles are extinguished. They will come back in the future dispensation of the Millennium, which is God's finality regarding government and blessing where this earth is concerned and the glory of Christ in the world where He was rejected. But in the full finality of the spiritual realm to which these truths belong, then, for the individuals who now receive the gospel of Christ, the distinction between Jew and Gentile is extinguished and they are made joint heirs of a joint body and joint partakers of the promise.
I will confess to you that I am by no means satisfied with translations of the beginning of this prayer and although I run clean contrary to others I must explain why and just leave it to you to think it over. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father" (the best manuscripts finish at that point in this particular verse), "of whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth is named." I believe this is how verse 15 should be translated. I deny that the families of earth are all named after the Father. The Father is not the Name for the Jews, the other great family of God. Jehovah is the Name for the Jews. But the very concept of fatherhood, planted in the human heart at creation when man was made in the image of God, was to foreshadow the fact that when the final truth was revealed about God then it would be the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.
The Deep Things of God (2)
(Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Colossians 1:24-27; Ephesians 3:1-7, 14-21)
I want to dwell particularly upon the second chapter of 1 Corinthians and the prayer in Ephesians 3. Let us turn back and pick up the thread where I left it. "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" (v. 9). That is His expression concerning the mystery and it does two things for us. It gives us an unearthly concept of the tremendous grandeur and blessing and fullness that there is in what is being spoken of. It is something great beyond all the best thoughts that men are capable of. But it is also a categorical statement that all the avenues by which the natural man receives knowledge are quite inadequate to deal with the true knowledge of the wisdom of God. Thankfully, there is a "but" in verse 10, "But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."
How that revelation came about is described from verse 10 down to verse 13 and all I have time to say about it now is that it is absolutely perfect and full. The things themselves have been uncovered in the presence of the apostles. To those men was given the gift of the Spirit of God so that they might understand the things of God and the same Spirit imparted to them the very words in which that revelation must be recorded. Everything is flowing on for our full blessing but the theme is not in the slightest degree developed further. Why? Because of what the Corinthians were. This is precisely what the chapter says. You have got the fact and the completeness of the revelation taking you down to verse 13. But there are three kinds of men spoken about here. The natural man can't receive these things, they are all absolutely foreign to his powers and his way of thought-"the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." I can only say of this state that the natural man means the unconverted man. There is the spiritual man (v. 15) and you have that same man mentioned a little lower down (v. 1), "I. could not speak unto you as unto spiritual." The second kind of person therefore that is brought forward is a spiritual man. There is a third kind of person that exists and he is called in verse 3 the "carnal" man and because these Corinthians were carnal the matter cannot be explained further to them.
Do you not think that it is a matter of tremendous necessity for you and me that we should be warned that if we are carnal men and women we might almost say we are wasting our time in talking about the mystery? Look at what is mentioned in verse 3. Envy. Did you ever envy? Of course you did. The question that really arises is, did you judge it in the sight of God as something which God has condemned in the cross of Christ? If I permit unjudged envy in my heart the love of Christ expressed in the mystery will never penetrate me as God desires that it should.
I do hope that you see this is an absolutely central element in the thought that I have before me regarding teaching. The apostle Paul could go no further because of the kind of people they were or to put it more exactly because there was unjudged carnality amongst them. You might think that that teaching which explains the two natures is elementary. It is a sad thing when a young brother explodes into wrath but did you ever hear an old brother speak about serious matters in the flesh? Did I ever do it? Of course I did. It is a lesson that we never get out of learning. Thank God, by practice it may come to us more quickly that this is a case for confession and for judgment of self in the presence of God. I am quite sure that some believers have never gone to God and condemned something that they have done in His sight and therefore they are never really right with God. Regarding the Lord's supper: "Let a man examine himself" (1 Cor. 12:28). This has quite explicit meaning with reference to the loaf and the cup of the Lord's Supper but it goes on to say, "If we would judge ourselves... we should not be condemned with the world." Lots of the troubles that came upon the Corinthians (could it be true of us?), came upon them because there was unjudged flesh amongst them. The carnal man is the one in whom the attitudes and the responses of the flesh predominate and they are allowed to continue unjudged. If we would learn the lessons of 1 Corinthians and exercise this judgment of self in the sight of God then that is the highroad to our becoming spiritual men because the Holy Spirit is only too ready to take the things of Christ and show them to us, to glorify Him in our hearts and lives and to lead us into all the truth.
It has often been pointed out, and I only mention it to emphasise and strengthen what I have said, that in the epistle to the Ephesians there is not one word of rebuke. If you read the first chapter you find that everything there is according to God. There is no need to hold back because there is nothing at all to condemn or correct in these believers. It was so ordained of God so that we could have the epistle to the Ephesians, in which the fullness of the thoughts of God come out. God's thoughts expressed themselves in the fact that He chose us before the foundation of the world. Our blessing predates the whole world-system itself which, with its tremendous achievements and its appalling tragedy, is simply an episode in the course of time. Time began with the thoughts of God in Christ, and time will end with glory to God "in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph. 3:21).
In Ephesians the apostle Paul doesn't have to stop by saying "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard..." In the fullest extent he explains to them what is this mystery, and his whole heart in the matter comes out beyond the explanations, in the prayer. If we ask what action is required to deal with the problems raised and what action we might take away as a purpose in our hearts from this passage, I would suggest one above all and that is pray this prayer. Learn every word of it, and pray it again and again, because you can be absolutely certain that the highest expression of the will of God is contained in this prayer. The apostle says he bows his knees unto the Father and it would appear that the requests are rather like the unfolding petals of a flower; the opening of one thing discloses something more wonderful as the disclosure continues.
I would like to draw attention to being, "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man." The inner man or the inward man is an expression pregnant with teaching. In the process of introspection which the apostle describes in Romans chapter 7 he made that wonderful discovery that there was not only a part of him, the flesh, which "is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be," but he discovered there was a part of himself which delighted in the things of God (Rom. 8:7; 7:22). In Romans 7 that inward man is without power. In the context of the blessing of the epistle to the Ephesians, and especially chapter 3, the apostle prays, (it is not a statement of fact that it has occurred) that they might be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. What is lacking is strength and the Spirit of God is there to give that strength. The third reference to the inward man is a very striking one. It is in the closing verses of 2 Corinthians chapter 4. Paul speaks about his troubles and he says, "though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." What a wonderful thing when we think of the troubles of life that take their course through the years of our lives. The outward man is perishing and apart from the Lord's coming the time is going to come when the earthly house of this tabernacle will be destroyed. Well, we have great consolation in that we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And while that process of destruction for the outer man, the body, goes on, the inward man is renewed day by day. Prayer and the Word of God are the means whereby that within us which delights in the things of God can be strengthened. So here is the first element of the prayer and I emphasise, "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man."
I believe that the first phrase of verse 17 is the real summit, the real heart, the real end of the prayer, though subsidiary but equally great things follow. Nothing could be greater than to pray, "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." The Lord Jesus Christ is not to be an occasional visitor in the thoughts of our hearts, He is not to be One who sometimes is heard and seen there and at other times not. The prayer is that it might be increasingly true of us that there is always that beloved Person who is consciously within us and He is dwelling there and living there. He is the Centre of all the glory of heaven. He has in His hand all the power of creation, the first and the new. What a marvellous thing to pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts and it is by faith and you cannot have faith unless you have the Word of God.
Next, that we might be "rooted and grounded in love." Now if we regard chapter 3 as a kind of parenthesis then there is quite a lot about things being grounded in chapter 2. It is about the house of God and a temple that is growing for the praise of God. The foundation has been laid by the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. What he is praying for here is that there might be something corresponding in our hearts to his revealing ministry, that we should have a foundation laid there which is Christ Jesus. And I must say there are few things which rejoice me more than the phrase, "rooted. in love." Everybody knows that a plant cannot exist without a proper root system and a place from which its main sustenance can be drawn. If this prayer is fulfilled then we are rooted in the love of God and everything that comes to us comes to us from the love of God. If we really had this experience it would deal with so very many of the practical problems relative to our own distresses and to the distresses we bring to others.
Next we come to what I suppose to be the central verse, verse 19. I think that verse 17 is a kind of top of the slope, but verse 19 is its amplification. In verse 18 there is breadth and length and depth and height and there is no doubt about who is at the centre of things. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Centre and the Circumference of everything that the heart of God has counselled for man's blessing and His own heart, and if we are in Him we shall be there. And it comes to this, the prayer prays we might know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. It is like the mystery, it is outside the ken of man altogether.
If we know the love of Christ then we shall be filled with all the fullness of God, and what a bulwark, what a strength, there is for the person who is filled. I come myself, more and more, to repeat this verse and the one that follows. "Unto Him" (the Father) of whom we have heard in the finality of the revelation which has come to us, "Unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think..." We are therefore encouraged on in these things so great, so wonderful, so desirable, so necessary for us for our good and for the glory of God. We are led here to ask for them and to think about them, "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."