A Message Not To Be Delayed

Leslie M. Grant

“These things I write to thee, hoping to come to thee more quickly; but if I delay, in order that thou mayest know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth.” 1 Tim. 3:15 (New Trans.)

The importance of Paul’s subject in this epistle was such that, though expecting to see Timothy, he must not think of delaying his message as long as he himself might be delayed. It is with similar urgency that John writes his second epistle to the elect lady (2 John 12), for she must be warned of the danger of receiving false teachers into her home. Does this not teach us that we too must allow ourselves no delay in obeying such vital truths as are here expressed? The chief reason for the writing of this epistle is that the individual may know how to conduct himself in connection with the house of God, the assembly. Is this a matter of real concern to every child of God? How little, sadly, is this the actual case! The unity, prosperity, strength, growth of the assembly is too often completely ignored, while we think only of personal interests, blessings, testimony, or perhaps of a few others who are special friends. If God’s interests are truly ours, then let us remember that the house of God is “the assembly of the Living God, the pillar and base of the truth.” This surely involves all of the beloved saints of God, though all as united together in one by the power of the Spirit of God. It is only in this today that the truth is properly displayed. Ignoring God’s assembly is ignoring the truth. And the assembly remains “the pillar and base of the truth,” though she has been guilty of too greatly compromising her place in practice, so that the truth does not shine out in the clearness with which it should. All true believers form that assembly in which God delights, though in 2 Timothy 2 “a great house” is found, which involves a mixture of falsehood with the true, which is itself foreign to truth; so that individual saints, in order to rightly behave in the house of God, must purge themselves from the vessels to dishonor, and “follow righteousness, faith, love, and peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” 2 Tim. 2:21,22.

In the first epistle this had not yet appeared, of course, and if every individual had rightly conducted himself in the house of God, this disorder would not have appeared. Nevertheless, the responsibility of every saint does not change as to his proper conduct: the failure of the mass does not give the individual liberty to also disobey. It becomes imperative that he have sober exercise to discern the mind of God as to his proper behaviour, and have fullest purpose of heart to obey. What incentive is found now, and what power, in the succeeding verse, for the carrying out of this, if only we should well consider the significance of this sublime declaration: “And confessedly the mystery of piety is great. God has been manifested in flesh, has been justified in the Spirit, has appeared to angels, has been preached among the nations, has been believed on in the world, has been received up in glory.” (v. 16, New Trans.)

Such is the marvellous truth which the assembly is here to bear as a precious witness before all creation. There is no question as to the greatness of the mystery of piety. This does not mean that we have any excuse for remaining ignorant of it. Speaking of this word, “mystery” (or in the Greek, “musterion), Vine’s dictionary says, “In the New Testament it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, those only who are illuminated by His Spirit.” Therefore it is not only difficult, but impossible for unbelief to understand. Yet for faith it is made known in its grandeur and greatness such as draws out the marvelling adoration of the heart.

“God was manifest in flesh.” It is impossible to overestimate the wonder of this matchless revelation. Very possibly the proper translation here may be “He who was manifest in flesh;” but the truth remains the same; for this was certainly not an angel so manifested, and of man this form of speech could never be used, for man is flesh. But Phil. 2:6,7 and Col. 2:9 are as clear as can be that this One existed first “in the form of God,” and that now “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Precious, wonderful revelation of infinite love and grace! What natural mind could conceive a miracle so great as that of the incarnation of the Eternal Deity, the Creator, in lowly Human form—indeed as a dependent Babe in His mother’s arms? How this could be is beyond the reasoning of our minds; but the fact is proven abundantly in the Word of God.

Many things in the history of the Lord Jesus can be attributed only to the fact that He is God;--His “knowing all things” (John 18:4; 21:17); His answering the unspoken thoughts of men’s minds (Mark 2:6-8); His calming of the sea (Mark 4:39); His walking on the sea (Matt. 14:25); His word causing the soldiers to go backward and fall to the ground (John 18:5,6); His raising the dead (Ro. 1:4); and His many other miracles of grace.

On the other hand, many things about Him can be traced only to the fact that He is truly Man;--His weariness at the well of Sychar (John 4:6); His fourteen prayers of lowly dependence in the Gospel of Luke, and perhaps specially that in the garden of Gethsemane, where He was prostrate in agony “with strong crying and tears” (Lu. 22:41-44; Heb.5:7); His actual death (the spirit leaving the body); His literal resurrection in bodily form (Luke 23:46,47; Lu. 24:36-43). All of these are unspeakably precious to the believer, filling the heart with thanksgiving for the amazing truth that He is indeed manifested in flesh.

“Justified in the Spirit.” It seems far too little attention is given to the occasion here referred to, for the significance of this is shown in Scripture to be of great importance. This was thirty years after His incarnation, when about to begin His public ministry. Being baptized by John in the river Jordan, He came up out of the water to be greeted by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice from Heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matt. 3:16,17.

 This was a public justification, for every observer, of the truth of every claim of the Lord Jesus; the Spirit of God coming upon Him, the Father’s voice giving His unqualified approval of Him. Perfectly sufficient witness is in this way borne to Him, a witness which was of course continued in the evident fact of the power of the Spirit of God being exercised in every detail of His life. But the initial fact could not be disputed, being observed by many witnesses, of whom John the Baptist is rightly the chief spokesman: “John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him. And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God.” John 1:32-34.

Though chronologically the fact of His being “seen of angels” comes before His being “justified in the Spirit,” yet it was of more importance that God’s own approval of Him by the descent of the Spirit should be first mentioned here: the wondering admiration of angels is secondary. Yet this too is intended to engage our deepest attention. Is this not a marvellous indication of the fact that in the incarnation of the Lord of Glory is the first time that angels have ever truly seen God? In the greatness of His effulgent glory—His omnipotence, His omni-presence, His infinitude,-- there is brightness beyond any creature’s ability to behold; and though for ages existent, angels had never known a true manifestation of the glory of God until the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Little wonder that the very enouncement of His birth to the shepherds was attended by “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Lu. 2:13,14. And before this, what joy it would be to the angel Gabriel to foretell His birth to Mary. Lu. 1:26-35. Later too the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream to confirm this precious message. Matt. 1:18-23. Then observe the sacred privilege of angels to minister to Him following His being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Matt. 4:11. And an angel from Heaven strengthening Him in Gethsemane’s anguish. Lu. 22:43. Then the angel at His tomb, rolling away the stone, announcing His resurrection. Matt. 28:1-6; and the angels within the tomb guarding the place where the Lord had lain. Here then are these creatures of God who “excel in strength,” taking most vital interest and pleasure in having any connection with this One who is God manifest in flesh. How worthy of our consideration and meditation!

“Preached unto the Gentiles” is again a matter of wonderful importance. The Old Testament had no message to be proclaimed to Gentile nations; and four thousand years of history passed by before the message of the grace of God could be sent world-wide. Only the manifestation of the glory of God in the Person of Christ could provide so vital a message. Israel had been given the law of God accompanied by “blackness and darkness and tempest,” with smoke and the sound of a trumpet,--a law cold and hard as the stones upon which it is written, inexorable in its penalties against disobedience, holding no Gospel, no message of grace, nor forgiveness, no justification, no rest. But how different the message concerning Him who has come to “bear our sins in His own body on the tree.” How marvellous the Gospel now preached to all nations; and how marvellous that all nations are invited by it to come to the knowledge of the Son of God. He Himself is preached: He Himself is “the way, the truth, and the life.”     

But it may be objected that all have nor believed. Sadly, this is true; but where does the fault lie? Not with the message! Not with Him who is preached! Nothing but the willing ignorance of the hearers is responsible for this. A message so amazing, so marvellous, at least ought to awaken serious inquiry by men as to its truth; and such inquiry can only confirm it as truth. But the fact worthy of attention here is simply that He has been “believed on in the world.” There are those who, in the face of the world’s concerted unbelief, take a stand of implicit faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: their number is not the important thing, but their acceptance of the pure truth of Him who is God manifest in flesh; and this is a precious witness in the eyes of God.

Last of all mentioned is His being “received up in glory” (though this of course actually preceded His being preached to Gentiles).  Men may shake their heads at so great a miracle; but if it is true that He is God in Human form, then a miracle of this kind is no difficulty whatever. Nor has He merely returned as He was before, but remains true Man, in whom all the glory of the Godhead is manifested, for eternity. Here ends the apostle’s treatment of “the mystery of piety.” Wonderful witness indeed, for which the assembly, the house of God, is fitted to present to all creation. May these things so fill our hearts—the things concerning the glory of God manifested in the Person of the Man Christ Jesus—that there may be both a continual burnt offering of adoration going up to God, and a pure testimony to His glory going out to the world around.