Excerpts from the articles published by the Rev. E. W. Bullinger, D.D. in Things To Come (1895-1896).
[Note: Though appearing in separate installments, each will be found to be complete in itself. Here we start with the Third Paper, then with the Fourth and Fifth Papers, which contain the core of the teaching for the Church of God in this Age of Grace that we are living now. After them, you can find the rest of the papers (1,2,6,7).]
One aspect of "The Mystery" that was well written by the Dr. A.E. Wilder-Smith is the next: "The Bible teaches us that we are the living lessons that God uses to demonstrate His divine wisdom to the angelic beings as He works in us. How God deals with us in this world demonstrates His character to the angels!".
Introductory thoughts taken from the end of the Fifth Paper:
Have we not here a practical subject for our own hearts? What is our condition before God? Are we taken up with “bodies” and divisions, which men have made, and called by their own names, or the names which man has given them? If so, we too are not, spiritually, in a proper condition to hear or receive “the Mystery of God.”
No wonder the blessed truth so early dropped out of the creed of the Church of God! No wonder, when, in our day, it has been revived, so few care to know it. No wonder that many resent its revival; for it judges our Ecclesiastical position to the very core. It makes nothing of the sects and denominations, which the majority are contending for; it writes folly upon our most cherished idols. No wonder Christians are torn and divided and scattered, when they “discern not the Body” (1 Cor. 11:29). No wonder the air is filled with false schemes for re-uniting the scattered sects when such gross darkness prevails as to what is, subjectively, “the unity” of the Spirit, and objectively, the union of the members with the one Head of the Body in the glory which is about to be revealed.
Oh, to get back to this primitive truth! Here, and here alone, is the secret of Re-union; for though scattered amongst the sects, and regarded by men as totally separated, the members of this Body are already and really “One in Christ.” This is the only real union that exists in the world, and the more truly believers can now realize their position as “dead with Christ,” “risen with Christ,” and thus “One with Christ,” and “in Christ,” the more real unity will there be amongst the members themselves, one with another.
(Third Paper, Things to Come, Nov. 1895, 2(5):90-92))
2) THE GREAT SECRET.
There are three important Scriptures in which the “great” secret is specially and formally revealed. And there are others which contain definite teaching concerning it, receiving light from it, and throwing light upon it. We will consider each in due order.
(a) Passages which formally reveal the secret.
Col. 1:24-28a (KJV with R.V.)
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for your shake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking (behind) of the afflictions of Christ (i.e., the Christ, of whom the body is composed by the Ecclesia, not the personal) in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: Whereof I was (am) made a minister, according to the dispensation (marg. stewardship) of God which is given to me for you (to you-ward), to fulfill (A.V. marg. fully preach) the Word of God; even the mystery (i.e., the secret) which hath been hid from all ages and from generations: but now is made manifest (hath it been manifested) to His saints, to whom God was pleased to (would) make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery (or secret) among the Gentiles; which is Christ in (A.V. marg. among) you, the hope of glory, whom we proclaim (preach), warning (admonishing) every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom.”
In chap. 2:2 The Apostle strives “that they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding that they may know (or have full knowledge of) the mystery (or secret) of God, even Christ [Note – The Greek here is very confused by different Scribes, owing to their ignorance of the Mystery. All Textual critics agree in rejecting the words “and of the Father and of Christ.” See R.V margin.], in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.”
Here, we learn that this secret had never before been made known, and that to make it known was to “fully preach the Word of God.” Hence, to-day, the Word of God is not “fully preached” unless the Secret be proclaimed.
Rom. 16:25, 26 (KJV with R.V.)
[Notice that the structure of the epistle to the Romans is an Epanodos, i.e. the end corresponds with the beginning; and the opening words are to be compared with the closing words. A remarkable contrast is thus observed: -
At the beginning, we have “The Gospel of God,” promised before by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.
At the end, “The Mystery”, which had been kept secret since the world began.]
“Now to Him that is of power (is
able) to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus
Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery (i.e., the secret),
which was (had been) kept secret (in silence) since the world began (through times eternal), but
now is made manifest (manifested), and by
(margin, through) the scriptures of the prophets, according to the
commandment of the everlasting (eternal) God, is made known (un)to
all nations for the (unto) obedience of faith”
(i.e. on the principle of faith-obedience).
Here, observe, that the same secret is referred to as being made known by a special revelation, and as having been kept in eternal silence, not a word having been breathed concerning it before.
We get here an additional fact: In Col. 1, it was revealed in the first instance to the Apostle Paul. Here it is made known also by “prophetic writings.”
There is no article used with either “writings” or “prophets.” These were not the Old Testament writings, because they are only “now… made known.” They are not the Old Testament prophets, because the word is not propheetōn, but propheetikōn; not the noun but the adjective, and should be rendered “by means of prophetic writings.”
These writings were given through the prophets in the early days of the Church.
The Lord Jesus had said, “Behold I send unto you prophets” (Matt. 23:34); “I will send them prophets and apostles” (Luke 11:49). This promise was duly fulfilled, for we read in Ephesians 4:8, 11, “When He ascended up on high He lead captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men,… and He gave some apostles, and some prophets…”
[It would take us too far from our subject to go into this question as it deserves. We give the following points as suggestive of further study –
(1) The existence of such an order of ministry, Barnabas, Acts 4:36; Stephen, Acts 6:10, 15; Agabus, Acts 11:28; 21:10; Silvanus, Silas, and Judas, acts 15:32; Manaen and Lucius of Cyrene, Acts 13:1; Thymothy, a “Man of God,” 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:17 (compare Deut. 33:1, and 2 Kings 4:7, &c.); the daughters of Philip the Evangelist, Acts 21:8; others, Acts 8:17; 10:44-46; 19:6.
(2) The exhortations addressed to and respecting these prophets, “Quench not the spirit; despise not prophesying” (1 Thess. 5:20), i.e., Do not suppress or stifle the workings of the spirit in these prophets. “Prophesy according to the proportion of faith,” (Rom. 12:6. Note also the abuse of prophetic gifts at Corinth (1 Cor. 14).
(3) The examples of prophetic power: Acts 5:4; 1 Tim. 1:18; Acts 13:2; 1 Cor. 14:24, 25; Acts 21:10-14; 1 Tim. 4:1.
(4) Like Old Testament prophets their great trials were the false prophets (Jer. 5:31). See 1 Cor. 12:3; Col. 2:18; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3.]
In 2 Peter 1:19, we have a reference to “the prophetic word” of these prophets, and a contrast also with the Old Testament prophecy in verse 21. In 3:16, also, it may be these writings which are referred to.
Ephesians 3:1-11 (KJV with R.V.)
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus (Jesus Christ) for (in behalf of) you Gentiles, -If
so be that ye have heard of the dispensation
(marg. stewardship) of the (that) grace
of God, which is (was)
given me to you-ward: How that by
revelation he (was) made known unto me the
mystery (i.e., the secret); (as I wrote afore, in few words, whereby,
when ye read, ye can (may) understand (perceive) my knowledge (understanding)
in the mystery (or secret) of (or concerning) Christ);
Which in other generations (ages) was not made
known unto the sons of men, as it is (hath) now
(been) revealed unto His
holy apostles and prophets by (as A. V., rather than in)
the Spirit(: to wit,); That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and (fellow-members)
of the same body (i.e., a joint-body), and (fellow-)partakers of his (the)
promise in Christ (Jesus) by the Gospel:
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the (that) grace of God(, which
was) given unto me (through the Gospel)
by the (according to
the) effectual working of His power.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is (was) this grace given, that I should (to) preach among (unto) the Gentiles the unsearchable (the untrackable) riches of Christ; And to make all men see (Greek, to enlighten all as to) what is the dispensation (marg. stewardship) (fellowship) of the mystery (the secret), which from the beginning of the world (all ages) hath been hid in God, who created all things, [by Jesus Christ]:
To the intent that now unto the principalities and (the) powers in (the) heavenly places might be (made) known through (by) the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose (marg., purpose of the ages) which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is the scripture which more fully than any other gives the particulars concerning the revelation of the Great Secret.
“As it is (hath) now (been) revealed.” This cannot possibly mean, as some have thought, that it had been revealed before in a certain manner, but not in the same manner as it is now. Because it is distinctly and emphatically declared again and again, here and elsewhere, that it had not been revealed at all.
“That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and (fellow-members) of the same body (i.e., a joint-body).” “Fellow members of the body – sussōmos.” This is a peculiar ecclesiastical word which occurs only here. It does not mean that there was a body already previously in existence and that others became afterwards in due time members of it. But that these, with Jewish believers (2:13-15), should form a joint-body, being made in Christ – “Of twain, one new man.” (Eph.2:15).
There can be no doubt form this scripture that we have not a mere reference to the Gospel. The Gospel was never kept a secret. The good news of salvation through Christ alone, the seed of the woman, was revealed from the earliest times (Gen. 3:15), and it was preached unto Abraham (Gal. 3:8).
Neither could it have been the mere fact that Gentiles were to be blessed with Israel: for this was never kept secret. The very first blessing that was promised to Israel through Abraham, contained the promise of blessing for the Gentiles also. “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Again, speaking of Abraham (Gen. 18:18), Jehovah says: “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” Over and over again is this promise repeated (See Gen. 22:18; 26:4, etc.).
The prophets of Israel constantly had this as the burden of their message. They told of the time when “all nations shall call Him blessed” (Psalm 72:14).
“God be merciful unto us and bless us :
And cause His face to shine upon us,
That Thy way may be known upon earth
Thy saving health among all nations” (Psalm 67:1, 2).
In Romans 15:8, &c. (R.V.), it is distinctly declared that “Christ hath been made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that He might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” : as it is written (not as it hath been kept secret !)
“Pss 18:49: Therefore will I give thanks (praise) unto thee, O LORD, among the Gentiles (the heathen), and sing praises unto thy name.”
And again He saith:
“Deut 32:43a: Rejoice, O ye Gentiles (nations), with his people”;
and again :
“Pss 57:9: I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations (Gentiles)”;
and again Isaiah saith :
“Isa 11:10: And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people (He that ariseth to rule over the Gentiles); to it shall the Gentiles seek (hope): and his rest shall be glorious.”
Such passages might be multiplied, but there is one (Is. 49:6) which very solemnly connects Gentile blessing with the atoning work of Christ : -
“Isa 49:6: And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the ends of the earth.”
No wonder Simeon said (Luke 2:29-32) : -
“Lk 2:29: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, According
to Thy word:
Lk 2:30: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Lk 2:31: Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
Lk 2:32: (To be) a light to lighten the Gentiles (R.V. for the revelation of the Gentiles. (marg., the unveiling of the Gentiles)), and the glory of Thy people Israel.”
Gentile blessing was no more a secret than Israel’s blessing. The same word that revealed the one, revealed the other also. It is impossible, therefore, for us to believe that the great secret, specially revealed with so much solemnity, and so formally in the New Testament, referred merely to Gentile blessing, as such. This was not “hid in God”: this was not “hid from ages and from generations”: this was not “kept in silence through times eternal”: it could not be said of this, that “in other ages it was not made known.”
Language is useless if such expressions can possibly refer to that which was never hidden; never kept in silence; but was “made known” from the earliest times.
No ! this was the secret : that a people should be taken out from among both Jews and Gentiles, who should with Christ be made (sussōmos) a joint-body in Christ (Eph. 3:9) a Body of which Christ should be the glorious head in heaven, and His people – the members of that body on the earth – “one new man.”
This was the secret which was revealed to God’s “holy apostles and prophets by the spirit,” and which had never entered into the heart or mind of mortal mind, - CHRIST’S BODY.
(Fourth Paper, Things to Come, Dec. 1895, 2(6):102-105))
(IV). THE BODY OF CHRIST
This brings us to consider the “great” secret – “The Body of Christ,” “Christ and the Chruch” – Christ, the glorious Head of the Body in heaven, and His people the members of it on the earth.
Twice it is called “great” – the “great” secret. In Eph. 5:32 and 1 Tim. 3:16. Not a word was heard of this until it was specially revealed to and through the Apostle Paul. We have considered the three great Scriptures wherein this special revelation is contained.
(1) THE CONSTITUTION OF THE BODY.
There are two other scriptures which further develop the special figure under which the secret is presented, viz., a Body. These are 1 Cor. 12 and Rom. 12. In the former of these the subject is most completely set forth, in the following manner :-
A/ 12:1-11. THE CHURCH and the nine spiritual evidences (manifestation) given to it.
B/ 12:18-27. THE BODY. Its members.
A/ 12:28-31. THE CHURCH and nine spiritual matters exemplified.
Here in A and A we have the Church – while in B and B we have the Body – to illustrate the blessed unity which exists betwixt Christ and His people.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ” (or lit. “The Christ”) verse 12. This cannot of course be Christ Personal; it can be only the Body of Christ.
And how do saved sinners become members of this wondrous Body? Not according to the tenets of a Semi-Pelagian and Arminian Gospel, but according to the Free Grace of God: “for in one spirit are we all (i.e., the writer, and the “saints” to whom he wrote, and all of whom it can be said that they are) baptized into one Body,… and have all been made to drink into one spirit.” This is the source whence the unity and oneness of the Body springs.
The members of the Body of Christ are those who have believed God’s testimony (as Abraham believed it), as to their lost condition as sinners, as to the great salvation which is in Christ the Savior; and who have reckoned themselves as having died when He died, and risen again when He rose; thus identified with Christ (not in His incarnation, which is the modern heresy, but) in His death and resurrection. This is the truth which is bound up with the meaning of “the Body of Christ.” One part of a body cannot die, and the rest of the body go on living: one member cannot be amputated, and yet the body be a complete body. Hence, the expression “in Christ’ means to be in Christ’s Body. There is no other way of being “in Christ.” We cannot be in Christ personal, we can be “in Christ” only by being members of His Body. Therefore, if we are “in Him” – when He, the Head, died; then we, the members, must, in the eternal purpose and judgment of God, have died in Him. When He, the Head, rose again; then we, the members, must be risen in Him. If He, the Head, is in Heaven; then we, the members, are seated in the heavenlies in Him.
We must not stop to follow out this wondrous truth, but we must surely be arrested by the thought, and ask, Are all who “profess and call themselves Christians” really members of Christ’s Body? Have they by faith reckoned themselves to be dead and risen with Christ? Do they all know that having died with Christ they need not die at all? Do you rejoice in the fact that death and judgment are past and over for the members of Christ’s Body? Are they aware that the end of the Body of Christ is that the body will be “received up in glory” – to meet the descending Lord? Is this the hope of the great multitude of professors? It is not for us to judge individuals, but this we know as a fact, that the “gathering together with Christ on the clouds” (the, so called “Rapture”) is a truth which concerns only the Body of Christ! and therefore whether all Christians will be taken up when Christ comes forth into the air; or whether any will be left, becomes a most solemn question, demands a searching consideration, and calls for a serious answer.
The day is drawing near when the Body will be completed, and the members gathered together as one. But now they are in tribulation. Oh what grief and bitterness and murmuring and discontent is manifested as to the position which the members occupy in the Body! They forget that it does not say, they have been placed “as it hath pleased them,” but it is written “God hath set the members, every one of them in the Body, as it hath pleased Him” (verse 18).
Now, the members judge one another, some they “think to be less honorable” than others. Ah! Foolish thinkers. It matters not what “we think,” but what they are in God’s esteem.
And then, what a precious lesson we lose through our selfishness. We read (verse 26) “if one member suffer all the members suffer with it,” and we restrict this to the mutual sympathy of the members, to the exclusion of the Head. The truth is, He suffered, and we suffered with Him. He is honoured, and we are honoured in Him. “It is a faithful saying: for if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:11, 12). And what is more – there is that precious truth in 1 Cor. 12:21. The Head cannot say to the feet, “I have no need of you.” How wonderful that the great and glorious Head in heaven cannot say to the weakest, feeblest, humblest, member upon earth, “I have no need of you.” It is too wonderful for us to comprehend; but so it is, and we can only bow our heads, and worship.
(2) THE GROWTH OF THE BODY.
We read in Eph. 1:22, 23, that this all comes from the Head in heaven. He has been exalted by God who “gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all,” i.e., all [the members of His Body] with all [spiritual gifts and graces]. This is exactly what is expressed in 2 Cor. 12:6 “There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all [these gifts] in all [the members of His Body].” There is not force in the expression “all in all” unless we supply the necessary words of this elliptical term from the immediate context.
The Head of the natural body is physiologically the source of all feeling and influence to the whole natural body. The brain is not confined to the head. The nerves (though slightly different in structure, the chief difference being that the nerve fibers are insulated by a sheath in the members, but not in the brain) are the continuation of the brain, and they keep up a mysterious connection between the head and all the members of the body. And when a member is injured or in pain, a message is at once sent up to the brain, and succor and sympathy are immediately given. It is probably this connection that is referred in those physiological verses which, whatever be their meaning, we believe to be in advance of human science. IT is this which causes the present renderings to be so unintelligible, and which renders their correct translations so difficult. We will try and make it clear by giving our own version. The first is
The subject is “the building up of the Body of Christ” (verse 12), “unto a perfect man” (verse 13), that the members “may grow up into Him in all things which is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body continually fitted together and compacted by every sensation of the supply, according to a working corresponding to the measure of each individual part, brings about the growth of the body with a view to the building up of itself in love.”
“Fitted together and compacted by every sensation”. The Greek word haphee, a touching, Lat. Junctura, occurs only here and in the other passage (Col. 2:19). It is not a “joint,” but a nexus, or connection, by which supply is passed on from one organ to another! And not so much the parts in contact, not so much the actual touching of the parts as the mutual relation between them. Galen (second century, B.C.) says the body “owes its compactness partly to the articulation (arthron), and partly to the attachment (sumphusis, symphosis).” Aristotle (A.D. 356) speaks of two kinds of union, contact and (symphusis) cohesion. So that it is the contact between the various parts which conveys the necessary supply, with special reference to the adaptation and mutual sympathy and influence of the parts in contact. Aristotle speaks of this as patheetika (full of feeling, or sensitive), and we have tried to express it all by the word “sensation.”
The other passage is
“The Head, from which (or from Whom) all the body through the junctures and ligaments being bountifully supplied, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God,” i.e., the increase wrought by God.
“Ligaments”. Galen uses the word generally to denote any connecting muscles, or tendons, and of ligaments properly so-called.
It is not merely unity which is taught here, but growth. This is the ultimate result of the intermediate processes. The origin of al is God, who hath given Christ to be the Head over all things to this wondrous Body. Christ, the Head, is the source of all, but the members of the Body are made and used as deliverers of communication in their mutual relation to Him and to one another.
The discoveries of modern physiology both give and receive light from the marvelous accuracy of these divine words. But the words of the holy spirit here are connected directly with spiritual truth. He goes on at once to teach the important truth and to draw the practical conclusion in the next chapter (Col. 3).
“If ye died with Christ,” why are ye subject to the ordinances of man? Why do you allow men to bind you with vows and pledges and badges, saying to you, “Touch not, taste not, and handle not”? All these things perish, as man’s commandments and doctrines perish. And if this be so, if ye died jointly with Christ from the elements of the world; if ye were raised (not have been raised) jointly with Christ, what follows? Why then, as the Head of the Body is in heaven, the members of the Body are there “in Christ.” Our aims, and mind, and thoughts, will be heavenly not earthly. For (I say it again) “ye died” and you are now, as to your standing before God, living in another sphere, and on another plane where all is spiritual. Carnal rules and ordinances do not enter into the growth of this Body at all. All is spiritual, heavenly, and eternal.
[There is nothing that so exposes the awful design of satan that the blasphemous assumption of the Church of Rome. He has indeed travestied this great Mystery in making the Pope the visible head of a visible body, of which the “faithful” are the visible members. Thus completely nullifying and perverting this precious truth. At the Annual Conference of the “Catholic Truth Society” held at Bristol, September 9th, 1895, and reported in the Daily Press the following day, Cardinal Vaughan spoke on the subject of Reunion, of which so much has of late been said. His point was that there was no such thing as Reunion short of “Corporate Union” which that Church of which the Pope is the head. It would not do, he showed, merely to agree in so many points of doctrine, but “it is simply a question of the fundamental and essential constitution of the Church.” He further defined the matter when he said, “It was a constitutional, “Corporate Union” of the head and the members. Re-union, then, must mean a return to the visible union which formerly existed, when there was but one united body under one visible head.” Any thing short of this he declared to be only “confusion of thought.” “It is best to be perfectly frank and definite.” He added. Yes, but how awful is he subtle nature of this blasphemous travesty. See more details of this Roman faked Re-union in the last Paper.]
THE END OF THE BODY.
And if this be the growth of the Body, what of its end? What will be “the perfect man?” When will this Body be completed and what will happen? The natural end of the natural body is dissolution: Will that be the end of this Body? What is its revealed end? It is all a matter of Revelation.
The secret of the Body has so far been revealed, as to its place in the purposes of God, as to its constitution, and as to its growth. And now, as to its end, another special revelation is needed; and it is given. It flows naturally from its relation to Christ as shown in Col. 3.
Seeing that the members died jointly in Christ, and rose in Christ, our life is in Christ. Though we may fall asleep our “life is hid with Christ in God.” Therefore, the next thing is “when Christ who is our life shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
It were impossible to be otherwise, inasmuch as the Head and members cannot be separated. Hence, the secret is revealed in 1 Cor. 15:51: “Behold, I show you a Mystery,” i.e.,
“BEHOLD, I TELL YOU A SECRET!”
What is it? “We shall not all sleep.” What? Not though it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27)? Must we not die? No! blessed be God. It is not necessary! The members of the Body were judged with the Head, and were “crucified with Christ,” and therefore there is no reason why they should ever die at all, and no reason why they should ever come into judgment (Rom. 8:1). They may “fall asleep,” but “not all.” But whether alive or asleep, “we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-57).
“I would not have you ignorant concerning them which are asleep.”… For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so we are to believe that them also which have fallen asleep, will God, through Jesus, bring again with Him from the dead (i.e., as He brought Jesus again from the dead. Heb. 13:20). “For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we, which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not get before them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with an assembling shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first (i.e., before the living are changed), and then we, which are alive and remain. Shall be caught up together (i.e., at one and the same time) with them in clouds for the purpose of meeting the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Oh! What a blessed truth to be initiated into. Well, may He say, “Behold I tell you a secret.” “I would not have you ignorant” of it.
This, then, is the end of the Body of Christ on earth. “The perfect man” is formed; the Body is complete, and when it becomes completed, it is received up in glory!
We have already considered the three great passages which reveal it. But there is a fourth, and it sums up the whole round of doctrine contained in the revelation of it, with special reference to the end of the Body of Christ.
1 TIMOTHY 3:16
GREAT IS THE MYSTERY!
of godliness, i.e., of the true Faith, which [Mystery] was manifested in the flesh.
The R.V. gives “He who” in the text, and rightly says in the margin, “The word God, in place of He who, rests on no sufficient ancient evidence. Some ancient authorities read which. This is our belief. We believe that the original word was Ho, which, neuter, to agree with the word musterion, which is also neuter. Then some scribe, not understanding the sense added, an “S,” thus turning it into hos, which made it masculine, who, or He who, though the sense is thus made more obscure. Finally, some later scribe put a little mark in the “O,” thus making it into Th, and making the two letters ThS and abbreviation of the word Theos, God. A microscope reveals the fact that the little mark in the “O,” in the Alexandrine MS. Is in different ink, and was evidently added by a later hand. This, we believe, to be the evolution of the reading, and that originally it was simply “O,” which.
This passage is generally taken of Christ personal. But if read, as we submit it ought to be read, of Christ mystical, then in the six sentences we have the whole truth, concerning the Body, revealed.
The place occupied by the Revelation of the Mystery in 1 Tim. 3:16 will be best understood by the important position it occupies in contrast with the “Mystery of Iniquity.” When viewed in the position given to it in the Epistle, the two central numbers, E and E, the two Mysteries or Secrets of God and Satan, are seen to stand in solemn and awful opposition.
THE STRUCTURE OF 1 TIMOTHY
A/ 1:1-2. Benediction.
B/ 1:3-20. Doctrine.
C/ 2-3:13. Discipline.
D/ 3:14-15. Intended visit and interval.
E/ 3:16. The Mystery of Godliness.
E/ 4:1-2. The Mystery of Iniquity.
D/ 4:13-16. Intended visit and interval.
C/ 5-6:2. Discipline.
B/ 6:3-21-. Doctrine.
A/ 6:-21. Benediction.
We have what is true of Christ personally, of course; but we have more; we include what is true of the members as well, if we take it as referring to the Body of Christ – the Head and the members.
What is it?
1. “MANIFESTED IN FLESH.” True of the members, and true of the Head (Rom. 1:3).
2. “JUSTIFIED IN SPIRIT.” True of Head, and members as set forth in Rom. 5:12-8:39.
3. “APPEARED TO ANGELS.” This is explained by Eph. 3:10, where we are told that now unto principalities and powers in the heavenlies, God is making known His manifold wisdom by means of the Church.
4. “PROCLAIMED AMONG THE GENTILES,” not merely Christ personal, but the Body of Christ, is now proclaimed, “made known to all nations” (Rom. 16:26), “made known among the Gentiles” (Col. 1:27), preached “among the Gentiles” (Eph. 3:8).
5. “BELIEVED IN THE WORLD.” It is made known “for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26) [i.e., faith-obedience].
6. “RECEIVED UP IN GLORY.” If so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be glorified together, also with Him” (Rom. 8:17). “For whom He justified, them HE also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).
This then is the end of the Body of Christ, as it was of Christ personal. The members are waiting to be “Received up in Glory,” as the Head was. This is our hope, our “blessed hope.”
So that waiting for God’s Son from heaven is part of our Christian position. It enters into the very foundation of our standing in Christ.
It is not the mere study of prophecy, which may, or may not, be taken up by Christians as an “extra subject,” but it is the warp and woof of our Christian standing in Christ.
The three pairs of statements may be thus contrasted: Nos. 1 and 2. Though manifested in the “flesh,” we know what it is to be “justified” as to the spirit.
Nos. 3 and 4. It is being made known to angelic beings in heaven above; ant it is being proclaimed to men on earth beneath.
Nos. 5 and 6. By grace, we believe the wondrous testimony now while in the world, and we are waiting to be
“RECEIVED UP IN GLORY.”
(Fifth Paper, Things to Come, Jan. 1896, 2(7):116-117))
V.- OTHER PASSAGES RELATING TO THE SECRET.
We have now considered the four important passages which contain the revelation of the great secret, viz., Rom. 16:25, 26; Eph. 3:1-11; Col. 1: 24-27, and 1 Tim. 3:16.
But there are other passages which refer to it and throw light upon it. Some writers treat these as all referring to so many different mysteries; buy we shall see that they all refer to and throw light upon that which is called THE GREAT MYSTERY (except of course those we have already considered, connected with the Present interval, the Kingdom, Israel’s blindness, and the Mystery of Iniquity.)
(1) EPHESIANS 1:9-11.
Here we read how the same grace which was wrought redemption and forgiveness for His people, has also caused us to abound “in all wisdom and knowledge.”
What is this wisdom? – “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will.” These words convey no sense to the English reader, unless we translate (instead of transliterate) the word mystery, viz., His secret purpose, i.e., the secret which He hath willed of His good pleasure. God has now caused us to abound in all wisdom because He has revealed to us His secret purpose which He purposed in Him (i.e. in Christ – so R.V.); that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one (re-unite under one Head) all things in Christ; both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in Him, in Whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.
Here we have the great secret and its purpose referred to, and in verse 22 we are told how “” the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory… hath put all things under His feet and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all [the members of that Body] with all [spiritual blessings]” (verse 3).
(2) EPHESIANS 6:19.
Here the Apostle prays “that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the secret of the gospel,” i.e., the doctrine of the Body of Christ, which is the great secret and the great subject of the gospel. It was specially the good news revealed to and made known by Paul according to what he calls “my gospel” (Rom. 16:25). It was in a very special manner his gospel.
The gospel – the good news of a Saviour for lost sinners – was (as we have already seen) never a secret. It was “preached before unto Abraham” (Gal. 3:8), and all the saints of God rejoiced in it. But the good news concerning the Body of Christ was kept secret, and then became, and could be called, Paul’s special gospel to be made known among all nations. It is the good news of the Body of Christ. Hence, in 2 Cor. 4:4, it is called “the gospel of the glory of Christ,” i.e., the gospel of Christ’s glory. God highly exalted Him and gave Him to be the Head of the Body. This is now “the secret of the gospel.”
(3) COLOSSIANS 2:2.
Here it is called “God’s secret,” i.e., the secret which God purposed, and kept in silence through times eternal and in His own good time made known. He prays for these Colossian Saints that they “might be comforted and knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God (i.e. God’s secret) even the Christ* in whom (marg. wherein) are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” That is to say, all the treasures of divine wisdom are contained in the Mystery – i.e., the Body of Christ.
[* Note: According to the R.V. and the Ancient Text, the words “and of the Father” go out. They were doubtless added by a later hand for some purpose, and by someone ignorant of the Mystery. Indeed that ignorance is manifested by the Revisers’ note: “The ancient authorities vary much in the text of this passage.”]
This is the secret, which, according to
(4) 1 TIMOTHY 3:9,
We are to hold, as the essence of “the Faith.” “Holding the Mystery (the secret) of the faith in a pure conscience.” Here again the great secret of Christ’s Body is the central object of the Christian Faith.
These are all passages which refer to the great secret, but there is one other which is full of instruction for us,
(5) 1 CORINTHIANS 2 AND 3.
True, the word Mystery is not in the Received Text, but according to the R.V. and all the great Critical Greek Texts we must read the word musthrion (musteerion), secret, instead of marturion (marturion), testimony, in 1 Cor. 2:1. It will be seen that there is but little difference between the two words – just one or two letters changed by some scribe who did not understand the Mystery, made the word “Testimony,” instead of “Mystery.”
It is worthy of remark how the ignorance of this Mystery on the part of Scribes has led to so much confusion of the Text in the passages which refer to it.
The condition of the Corinthian saints was such that they were not spiritually fitted to receive instruction in this wondrous truth. When the first epistle was written to them, the apostle explained this to them, and says: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the Mystery of God (i.e., God’s Secret). For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Instead of declaring to them the Mystery, he had to confine himself to the simplest truths of the Gospel. He preached only a crucified Saviour. He could not declare all the great truths involved in a risen and glorified Saviour. He had preached “the Gospel of the grace of God,” but he could not proclaim “the gospel of the glory of Christ.” The reason why he “could not”, he now proceeds to explain.
“My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom,… howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” or that are initiated. This word was the technical term for those who were initiated into the ancient and wrong heathen “mysteries”, or “the wisdom of this world.” I could not speak “wisdom” to you, he says, “howbeit we do speak wisdom to those who are initiated into it,” “yet not the wisdom of this world,… but we speak the wisdom of God in a (concerning the) secret, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory (i.e., with a view to our glory).” Here is again a reference to the great secret, which had been hidden in God, and ordained by Him before the ages. “None of the princes of this world knew” about it, he says, for “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. But God hath revealed it unto us by His spirit.”
These words are usually taken in a general sense, as teaching that the natural man cannot receive spiritual things. This fact is perfectly true, of course, as is definitely stated elsewhere and further on. But it is not what these words say here. these words have a special reference to the “hidden wisdom,” i.e. the Mystery, and what is stated here is, that no human being ever dreamed of it. It never entered the head or heart of mortal man. “BUT GOD HATH REVEALED IT BY HIS SPIRIT.” It will be noted that the word “them” (in verse 10) is in italics, and we are quite at liberty to insert the word “it” as referring to the secret (as indeed the R.V. suggests in the margin).
Then he goes on to explain what is the essence of a secret, in verses 10 and 11, and argues that as no one can tell what a man’s secret was unless He had been pleased to reveal it. And this He has done, as verse 12 states: - “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God, which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the holy spirit teacheth, declaring to spiritual persons spiritual things.” With this the R.V. margin agrees, “interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men.”
Why? Because the next verse goes on to explain that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
“Declaring to spiritual persons spiritual things”: the three words which follow have been variously rendered and interpreted. In the Greek they are pneumatikois pneumatika sunkrinontes. The first word is in the dative case, masc., plural “to spiritual [persons].” The second word is in the accusative case, neuter, plural, “spiritual [things],” and the third word is peculiar. The A.V. and R.V. render it “comparing,” but the R.V. margin suggests “combining” or “interpreting.” It occurs only here and in 2 Cor. 10:12 in New Testament, and means literally to separate and compound anew; hence to explain a thing, as is done when one takes it to pieces and puts it together again; to explain by comparing one thing with another; or to compare with a view to explaining; to expound, make known, declare. It is used in Numbers 15:34 of those who had caught the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day, and it says: “they put him in ward because it was not declared what should be done to him.” The word in this sentence is used to represent the word “declared.” Hence, it means to declare, make known, explain, or expound. The words here mean simply this that we speak the words “which the holy spirit teacheth, declaring spiritual things to spiritual persons.”
Westcott and Hort, in their Greek Text, preserve an ancient reading, but not being supported by the other MSS., they put it in the margin. It is pneumatikos, spiritually; and would read, “declaring spiritual things in a spiritual manner.”
Then chap.3:1 comes in, taking up the thought where it was left in 2:1, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it (or to receive it), neither yet now are ye able, for ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are yet not carnal and walk as men (or marg., according to men). For while one saith, I am of Paul’ and another, I am of Apollos: are ye not carnal?”
The great central truth of the whole argument is that these Corinthian Christians were taken up with “Bodies” of men, as we now call them, and they were therefore totally unfitted to receive the truth of the “one Body” of Christ. While they were putting the members in the place of the Head they were carnal and not spiritual, and therefore not in a position to have the truth concerning “God’s Mystery” declared to them.
Hence, when the Apostle went to Corinth he determined not to go beyond the simplest elementary gospel teaching, to feed them with milk, to proclaim a crucified Saviour; for they were not in a condition to hear about the glorified Saviour – “the gospel of the glory of Christ,” and all the glorious things which are freely given to us of God, and which He has prepared with a view to their glory, the glory of the members of the Body in Christ, their glorified Head in heaven.
[Here was what we put at the beginning as the “Introductory thoughts” for these studies.]
(First Paper, Things to Come, Sept. 1895, 2(3):42-44)
1- THE MEANING OF THE WORD MYSTERY.
There is no subject of greater importance to the Church of God than that which, in the New Testament, is called “The Mystery”: but it is not every Christian who is in a position to receive it. Only those who have “believed God,” and who have thus been justified as Abraham was by faith in His Word concerning the redeeming blood; and who, in “the obedience of faith,” reckon themselves to be dead and risen again in Him, and whose citizenship is now in heaven – only these are the fit recipients of the wondrous revelation of the “Mystery of God and of Christ.”
God’s Gospel concerning His Son Jesus Christ had been promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, as we read in Rom. 1:1-3; but the Mystery of the Body of Christ had never been revealed, and did not therefore form the subject of Old Testament Prophecy.
It was the subject of a special revelation to Apostles, and Prophets, and Saints through St. Paul, to whom and by whom this Mystery was first announced in mortal ears And it was communicated only to the Saints who had been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, who had been justified by faith, and sealed with the holy spirit of promise; only to those whom God, who is rich in mercy, was pleased to make know that which has hitherto been hidden in Himself, and was never previously revealed unto the sons of men.
When Christians left their first love in the earliest days of the history of Christendom, this precious revelation was apparently the first which became obscured and lost sight of. Then the true teaching concerning the holy spirit in the Church became less and less clear, especially while the simple foundation of the truth of justification on the principle of faith alone was also being departed from.
These precious truths – by the Lord’s long-suffering patience and mercy, have been partially recovered in these last days out of the wonderful treasury of His Word, but never, perhaps, in their pristine freshness and clearness.
It is our object now, in dependence on the Lord’s goodness, and reliance on the holy spirit’s guidance, to do something to recover the blessed truth concerning the “Mystery,” and thus endeavour to be a “good scribe,” bringing out of the Mater’s treasures something that is old but yet new, and new but yet old.
It will be well at the outset to define our terms, and to have a clear understanding as to
THE MEANING OF THE WORD.
The word “Mystery” is not an English word at all; it is a Greek word, transliterated. True it has become Anglicized, and is in common use to-day, but its meaning has changed, and is very different from the meaning which the Greek word originally had, and still has of course, in the Scriptures. We use it of something which no one can understand. This is not altogether wrong if we add the thought – until he is initiated!
In the Greek, the word musteerion means simply a secret. It occurs in the Septuagint only nine times as the equivalent of the Hebrew word ratz, which means to conceal hence, a secret. It occurs in Dan. 2: 18, 19, 27, 28, 29, 30, 47 (twice), and in 4:9, and is translated secret.
It was the king’s secret which had gone from king Nebuchadnezzar, and which no one could tell him, until God revealed it to Daniel…
Thus, it is perfectly clear and certain that the word Mystery, as used in the Scripture, is simply a secret. But by the end of the second century after Christ the word musteerion had acquired an additional use. It was used not only of a secret, but of a secret sign or symbol. In this sense the Greek fathers employed it to denote any such sign, whether of words or actions. They spoke of the offering of Isaac as a musteerion, i.e., a sign or symbol of the secret purpose of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ. And they used it interchangeably with the words tupos, type; sumbolon, symbol, and parabolee, parable. It has a sense, therefore, similar to these words.
Justin Martyr (A.D. 148) says that in all false religions the serpent was represented as “a great symbol and musteerion” (Apol. i. 27). So in his reference to the Paschal Lamb, he says, “the musteerion therefore of the Lamb… was a type of Christ.” Speaking of Isaiah 7:14, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” he says, “since this refers to the house of David, Isaiah has explained how that which was spoken by God to David, in a mystery, would actually come to pass. Perhaps” he adds, “you are not aware, my friends, of this – that there were many sayings written obscurely; or in parables; for secret signs; or in symbols, which the prophets who lived after the persons who said or did them, expounded” (Trypho, c. 68).
Mystery was practically synonymous with a symbol, and yet there was a slight difference. Perhaps a secret sign would best express it; and this was the usage of the word when the Revelation was given to John. Hence, in that book, we must give the word this signification. In Rev. 1:20, it is used of “the mystery of the seven stars,” and in chap. 17:5, 7, it is used of “Babylon.” So that in these things we are to see a secret sign of something which they were to represent.
It is remarkable also that soon after this we find the Latin version translating the word mystery (in Eph. 5:32) by the word sacramentum, i.e., sacrament. From this it is positive that at that time the word sacramentum or sacrament meant merely a secret sign or symbol! It had not then acquired its later theological use; but the word “sacrament” had reference merely to a symbol, or a symbolical act, a secret sign, shewing forth the Lord’s death.
The popular etymologies of the word are therefore all wrong and misleading. If the word (according to Tertullian) had any reference to a military oath, it was only because in the administration of that oath some secret sign was given or made which symbolically represented it.
It is certain, therefore, that the modern and ecclesiastical use of the word “sacrament” is not only a gross misrepresentation of the truth, but it is founded on ignorance of the history of the word.
1) The Greek musteerion means a secret; and later a secret sign or symbol.
2) The Latin sacramentum is used in the Vulgate as the equivalent of musteerion in Eph. 5:32, therefore sacramentum meant, and means, a secret sign or symbol.
This gives us the true meaning of the word as used by the Reformers in one of their prayers. When they say “these holy mysteries,” they mean “the special commemoratives of bread and wine,” i.e., these signs and symbols which are used to “show forth the Lord’s death.”
Thus, in our search for truth, two great errors are, at the outset, corrected: - The true meaning of the word Mystery in the Scriptures is not something that cannot be understood, but something kept secret – a secret truth or sign, revealed to those who are initiated. And the theological word Sacrament is not some act of ecclesiastical jugglery, but a simple symbolical act, by which the Lord’s people show forth their Lord’s death.
We are now prepared to apply the meaning of the word mystery, thus ascertained, to the various passages in the New Testament where it is used.
(Second Paper, Things to Come, Oct. 1895, 2(4):64-66))
II. THE SECRET OF THE INTERVAL.
There are several secrets which are there spoken of; and there is one that is called the “great secret.“
They are all of them connected with the present interval between the first and second Advents of the Lord Jesus.
That there was to be an interval at all between “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow” (Luke 24:26) was not revealed in the Old Testament.
The “sufferings” themselves were not secret; neither was the “glory that should follow.” Both were subjects of Old Testament prophecy. Both are there fully and plainly revealed. And what is very remarkable about those prophecies is this, that while we have many prophecies of the glory without any reference to the sufferings; we never have a prophecy of the sufferings without finding, in the immediate context, a reference to the coming glory.
The prophets who prophesied, and all who heard or read their words, were perfectly well acquainted with these two great facts; but they were wholly ignorant as to what interval, if any, should separate them. They knew not whether the “glory” would follow immediately upon the “sufferings” or whether there would be an interval of one year, or then years, or a hundred, or a thousand years between them. There was nothing to tell them. Hence, they were doubtless perplexed. We are, indeed, told by the holy spirit (1 Pet. 1:10-11) that they “enquired and searched diligently as to what, or what manner of time, the spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which should follow.” But there was nothing that could throw any light on the “manner of time” which should elapse, between the sufferings and the glory. It was clear that they could not be simultaneous. But “what manner of time” could there be between them?…
The “manner of time” was untrackable. That is the meaning of the word “unsearchable” in Eph. 3:8, where we read of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” True, the riches or Christ are “unsearchable.” No one can estimate what riches have been laid up in Christ for those who are the members of His body.
“How vast the riches we possess
In Christ the Lord our Righteousness”
But this is not what is meant in Eph. 3:8. The word here rendered “unsearchable” occurs only in one other place, Rom. 11:33, and there it is rendered “past finding out.” It is anexichniastos (Gr.), and means that which cannot be explored.
The word rendered “unsearchable” in Rom. 11:33, is a different word altogether anexereuneetos (Gr.) and means, past comprehension.
No one could find out “what, or what manner of time” should elapse between “the sufferings and the glory.” It was past finding out.
There were riches which could be explored. Many promises and prophecies connected with Christ could be understood, searched out, traced, and enjoyed by the faithful. The prophets conveyed their readers from hill-top to hill-top, but the valley that lay between could not be explored. Its mines of wealth could not be discovered. Its riches could not be searched. We, who by grace, have been initiated into the secret, and who have the key to unlock those treasures, can know something about these riches of (or pertaining to) Christ; but there were other riches connected with Christ that were untrackable – past finding out.
Connected with this secret of the present interval, and, indeed, forming part of it, there were, as we have said, several other secrets: -
3) THE DURATION OF ISRAEL’S BLINDNESS (Rom. 11:25).
That blindness was to happen to Israel was no secret. It was plainly revealed in the Old Testament. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had a glorious vision of Israel’s King preparatory to the solemn mission which he received : -
“Go and tell this people,
Hear ye indeed,
but understand not;
and see ye indeed,
but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat,
and make their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and be healed.”
“Then said I, ‘Lord, how long!’”
“How long?” Yes, that was the great and anxious question of Isaiah. The prophet “searched and inquired diligently as to what manner of time” was signified.
“How long?” he asked, shall this blindness happen to Israel?
That decree of judicial blindness was pronounced under most impressive circumstances. There was everything which could add solemnity and importance to the occasion. And when we come to the New Testament we find the prophecy there times referred to: Matthew 13:14 (the prophetic Word of Jehovah), 15; John 12:40 (Isaiah saw Christ’s glory); and Acts 28:26 (“well spake the Holy Ghost, by Isaiah”).
So that this blindness itself was the subject of special revelation, and was no secret. It was there revealed that it was to last as long as the land remained desolate. But there was one thing connected with it which was kept secret, ant that was afterwards revealed in Rom. 11:25, where, speaking of this blindness, it is written, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, or this secret, that blindness in part hath happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” Here the secret was revealed, and the answer is at length given to the question “How long?” We are no longer “ignorant” as to the duration of this “blindness in part”; we know its decree was announced, and we know when it will come to an end.
4) “THE SECRETS OF THE KINGDOM” (Matt. 13:11, 35).
It was no secret that the kingdom, so long prophesied, should be rejected; that the King should not be received; that Messiah should be “cut off,” and not then receive the kingdom. All this was a plain matter of Divine revelation. Many prophecies declare this.
But what was to happen to the kingdom during the rejection of the King was not revealed; this was kept secret. There can be no kingdom without a king, therefore, while he is away, the kingdom must be in abeyance.
In the Old Testament we have the kingdom prophesied. In the Gospels and Acts we have the kingdom rejected. In the Epistles we have the interval between this rejection, and the future setting up of the kingdom in Divine power, judgment, and glory, which is foreshewn in the Apocalypse.
In this Epistles we have the interval, but chiefly in its relation to the Church. We do not learn in them what was to happen to the kingdom; the secrets concerning this are not there revealed. It is in Matt. 13 that the Lord Jesus, in seven parables, describes the course of the kingdom from the first sowing of its seed by the Son of Man, to the final setting up of the throne of His glory; and this without any reference whatever to the Church.
The Church, as we shall presently see, is not the subject of these parables, being itself another secret, emphatically called “the great secret.”
These parables concern the kingdom, and we are clearly told why they were spoken, and what was their subject as well as their object.
In verse 10, the disciples came and said unto Him, “Why speakest Thou unto them in parables” He answered and said unto them, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries” (i.e., of course, the secrets) “of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given,” etc. Then in verse 34, we read “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet (Ps. 88:2), saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”
Hence, in these seven parables, we have the revelation of the secrets concerning the kingdom of heaven; i.e., what would happen in consequence of and after its rejection, and we are told that these things had been kept secret all through the ages. And further, that when the Lord Jesus spake in parables, He spake, not to reveal the secrets to the multitudes, but to hide them; and also that His disciples and we might afterwards understand.
It is clear, therefore, that we are not to look for the Church in these parables, but that, whatever we may learn from them, we must distinguish between these “secrets of the kingdom” and the “great secret” concerning Christ and the Church.
[see The Kingdom and the Church, by the same Author and Published by Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode, Great New Street. Price (in 1895), one penny.]
5) “THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY” (2 Thess. 2:7).
The rejection of the kingdom would, we are taught, lead up, at the time of the end, to the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), when the Man of Sin will be revealed. He will be manifested in his own appointed season. But we are told also that even now, yea, even when the revelation was given in 2 Thess. 2:7, that the secret of lawlessness was already at work.
[see The Structure of the Epistles to the Thessalonians, by the same Author. Published by Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode, Great New Street, London, E.C. Price (in 1895), Sixpence.]
Even now we see this secret purpose working. Lawlessness is already being developed. We see it in the Family, in Society, in the church, and in the State. If we were asked to describe the one great feature which characterizes our times, we must say it is lawlessness. Ant this is the working of the secret counsel and purpose of the coming Antichrist, whose open manifestation will be the signal for the closing of this present interval, and whose final destruction will usher in the kingdom of Heaven. For then (i.e., in the days of the seventh angel when he is about to sound), “then is finished the mystery (or secret counsel) which God purposed to fulfill according to the good tidings which He declared to His servants the prophets” (Rev. 10:7).
(Sixth Paper, Things to Come, Feb. 1896, 2(8):142-144))
VI. – PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS.
When once we have grasped the great secret of God, we have a key to open several other difficult subjects, which have been made difficult and dark through the shutting out of the only light that could explain them.
Many false notions have sprung up, as the necessary consequence of having lost the truth of the Mystery.
(I) WHY WAS THE SECRET KEPT?.
But first let us ask, why was the great doctrine of the “Mystery” ever kept secret at all? Why did God hide it in Himself, so that no one could possibly discover it till He chose to reveal it?
The reason is clear. Had it not been kept secret, the Jews would have had a reason for their rejection of Christ again in the Acts of the Apostles! They could have pleaded that they were only fulfilling the prophecies, and would have lost at once all their responsibility.
True, the rejection of Christ was foretold, but there was not a word about their rejection of the renewed offer of the King and the Kingdom, which was made authoritatively after the Ascension.
In Acts 3:18 (R.V.) the holy spirit, by Peter reminds the nation how “the things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets that His Christ should suffer, He hath thus fulfilled.” There was an end of the matter, so far as Old Testament prophecies were concerned. Christ had suffered, but now, as to His entering into His glory, and fulfilling all the prophecies concerning that glory which was to follow, - what of these? What hindered their fulfillment? Why should there be delay in their accomplishment? The condition had been laid down in Lev. And Deut. And reiterated all through the Prophets that “Repentance” – that National Repentance must precede National Blessing. The call goes forth therefore in the very next verse (19). “Repent ye, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ which hath been appointed for you, even Jesus; whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, whereof God spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began, etc.” (R.V.).
The question is, Was this most formal offer merely a mockery? Suppose they had obeyed that call and repented, and turned to the Lord, Would not the times of refreshing have come from His presence? Would He not have sent Jesus Christ? And in that case Would not all that He had spoken by His prophets have been fulfilled? True, Christ had suffered; the Heavens had received Him, but not for ever; only “until” Israel should repent, and turn to the Lord. Can we believe that this offer so formally and solemnly made was unreal? We cannot so believe. Israel was responsible before God for the rejection of that offer; but, had the consequence of their rejection of that offer been previously made known, such responsibility would have been impossible. Therefore was the secret purpose of God hidden in Himself: therefore was it kept secret during times eternal; and not until Israel had definitely refused to repent, and thus, rejected the offer to send Jesus Christ from Heaven, not until then, was the secret of God revealed.
We must never adopt any system of interpretation which would have necessitated that rejection of Christ by Israel. Had the secret been revealed before, they would have been compelled to reject Christ, and they could not have been held responsible for that rejection.
[Note: This would not have affected the fulfillment of the Seventy Weeks of Dan. 9. All would have gone forward; and before the actual “times of refreshing” would have come the “time of Jacob’s trouble”; and before the sending of Jesus Christ would have come the revelation of Antichrist, as there foretold; to say nothing of the shortening of the days provided for in Matt. 24:22 and Rom. 9:28.]
Their present dispersion with all its sufferings, is in consequence of that rejection, and God is righteous in all His acts.
(2) A KEY TO OLD TESTAMENT INTERPRETATION
The second consequence which flows from the doctrine of the Mystery is this: Had Israel obeyed the call in Acts 3:19-21, and the Lord Jesus had been sent, there is not a prophecy in the Old Testament or in the Gospels which would not have been fulfilled! This is a great truth and an important principle far-reaching in its results. It tells us that the Gospels are the conclusion of the Old Testament history, and not the commencement of Church teaching; except of course, so far as Christ crucified is the foundation of all blessing, whether for Creation, for Israel, or the Church of God.
The Gospels are a record of the rejection of Christ on the part of Israel, and not a record of the foundation of the Church. This exposes the follies of those who seek to apply the Sermon on the Mount to the Church and the world during this present dispensation; and who would build up “the New Theology” on “the teaching of Jesus,” instead of on the teaching peculiar to this dispensation. It reveals to us the mistakes and errors of those who go back to the historic Gospels to preach the “Come- to-Jesus Gospel,” instead of preaching the Gospel from the Pauline Epistles, which are specially given to the Church for Church teaching and Gospel preaching. Those who adopt the former plan are those who generally more or less ignore the latter.
It explains the cause of the difficulties of those who seek to derive from the Acts of the Apostles a system of “Church Government,” while that book records the history of the transitional period between the rejection of Christ by Israel, the rejection of Israel by God, and closes with the solemn recital of Isa. 6:9, as to Israel’s judicial blindness, and the great declaration, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”
It seems impossible for us to fix the date of the revelation of the Mystery to Paul, or to say in what part of the Acts it should be placed. From 2 Cor. 12:1-7 it would appear that “the abundance of the revelations” was given “fourteen years before.” This was written about A.D. 60, and fourteen years before would bring it to A.D. 46, which would synchronize with the important dispensational chapter, Acts 13, where we have the solemn epoch-marking words pronounced to the Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (verse 46). The Gentiles, as such, had been brought in and blessed long before this. But now, a special work connected with the Mystery was about to be commenced, as is clear from verse 1, where “Barnabas and Saul” had been separated by the Holy Spirit Himself (it is God Himself), for the work “whereunto (He says) I have called them” (verse 2).
There can be no doubt that the Acts of the Apostles (as man calls the book) records the transitional history between the rejection of the Kingdom, and the setting up of the Church.
(3) THE TRUE PLACE OF PENTECOST.
[We depart from E. W. Bullinger and of course, of C. W. Welch views, presenting the building up of Biblical evidence, as Bullinger declared: “unless it can be proved to be so from the Word of God”]
We perceive that the Church of the Body of Christ started at Pentecost, as it was the first time in which unconditionally human beings received the gift of holy spirit and evidenced it by speaking in tongues. Since that time different administrations were running in parallel, as Peter and the rest of the Apostles were leaders in the Early Christian Church (being mentioned as the more notable among them, Jacob (James in English, or Santiago (for Saint Jacob) in Spanish), Peter and John), and the book of Revelation, that deals mainly with the happenings of the Jews in future times, says in Rev 21:14: “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations (the invisible parts of the city, see below), and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Also, for the Jewish people is written in Romans: “Rom 11:5: Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Those Jewish “remnant” is being totally faithful to the part of the Bible that they accept now (the Old Testament only, as when amongst the Samaritans some were faithful only to the five first books of the Old Testament), and also only by God’s grace is that they are preserved as the real Jewish “root” (not the Khazar ones inhabiting now “Israel” by the “will of men”) which will emerge again in the times written in the Book of Revelation (but by the “will of God”), until then this “Remnant” will fully accept all that is written in the New Testament, specially the parts written “to them” there, as their own “letters”.
Paul and the revelation that he received about the Mystery enlightens even more what had been already received in Pentecost, as we read in Ephesians: “Eph 6:18: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” being that “praying in the spirit” the speaking in tongues that originally was received at Pentecost (as 1 Cor. 14:14-15 clearly explains, and of whom a similar expression is found in Jude 20).
Peter quotes and Old Testament prophet (Joel) in the first Sermon to the Church of the Body of Christ, which started only with about 3,000 Jewish. “Acts 2:17a: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy”. The promise of the pouring of holy spirit was plainly known since the Old Testament and was clearly emphasized by Jesus Christ before his Ascension unto Heaven. That the Gentiles will be specially blessed was also well known in the Old Testament prophecies, and even the Speaking in Tongues was known as an evidence of holy spirit within the born again believers, being this last an expression well known by Jesus as we see in his teachings to Nicodemus. Regarding the speaking in tongues Paul wrote “1Cor 14:21: In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord” And Jesus Christ boldly expressed it “Mk 16:17: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues” So the nine manifestations of holy spirit, from which seven were well known and in use since the beginning for the human beings (as the Old Testament and Jesus Christ show to us), and we can see that were known since the prophets the two new ones that were added starting in the day of Pentecost (Speaking in Tongues and its interpretation). All of this manifestations will be available until the very end, “Rom 11:29: For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”
We conclude that the full availability of the nine manifestations of holy spirit for every born again believer was not a part of the Mystery, and that born again believers will re-emerge at the times of Revelation, as Joel prophesied. But since the Jewish Nation rejected to believe after Pentecost, and because of God always giving them an opportunity, the Mystery was fully revealed to Paul, and it is that the Church of the Body of Christ should be integrated by born again Jews and Gentiles equally, until its full completion, being the Head (it is “the brain”) Christ, who knows for sure who are and who are not the genuine members of His Body, and who is in real charge (no matter what the human leadership may say) and who keeps in touch with each one of them for His wise purposes, this was not even known for the angels of God, and now even they are learning of it from us, their masters, as they are at our service.
As we have read before, according to Bullinger’s research, that the Mystery will end with the taking up of the members of the Body of Christ before the beginning of the awful day of the Lord, as the next scriptures clearly declare it: “1Thes 1:10: And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come,” “2Thes 2:1: Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,” “1Thes 4:16: For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 1Thes 4:17: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1Thes 4:18: Wherefore comfort one another with these words,” “1Cor 15:53: For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
Pentecost thus is shown to have been started a new administration of the Grace of God, the Church of the Body of Christ and at the same time to have started the times of the end for the Nation of Israel, which rejected again the offer.
[Now we proceed with some of the things that E. W. Bullinger wrote here]
Had Israel repented in response to the call in Acts 3:18, 19, then, What about Pentecost? What would it have been then? Had Christ come in His glory in “the Day of the Lord,” then, What about Pentecost and the Church? The fact is that then Joel 2 would have been (completely) fulfilled, for there Pentecost is distinctly declared to be the ushering in of the day of the Lord.
In Acts 2 (the first part of) Joel was therefore fulfilled. The preliminary events before the Day of the Lord then took place. Everything was in readiness, and hence in Acts 3, as in Matt. 3 the call went forth, Israel “Repent.” When the King had come it was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” But they refused to repent, and rejected the Kingdom. Now, once again, on the (new) ground of (the) Atonement (already) made, the call goes forth in Acts 3, and it is the same as before – “Repent” – that the King may be sent (back to you, oh rejecters of him!) Again they refuse to repent, and reject the King. Thus the Acts of the Apostles, is (for the Jewish Nation) like the Gospels, a historical record of the rejection of the King and the Kingdom by Israel, and this explains how it was that God rejected Israel for a season, while He revealed and made known His secret purpose concerning the Church.
Don’t neglect or reject the teaching of the holy spirit given in the Pauline Epistles, which are expressly given for the guidance, teaching, blessing, and building up of the Church. All that Christians need of teaching concerning the work and power of the holy spirit is fully contained and revealed in the Epistles, which are written for that purpose.
1) THE SECRET OF THE ECCLESIA.
Before we consider the great secret of the Church, which is the Body of Christ [sometimes E. W. Bullinger calls it “The Christ Mystical”, but this term is not Biblical and the religions had used it to obscure the truth, so we will not use it], let us consider the usage of the word Ecclesia (also transliterated Ekklesia).
Even as our English word “Church” is used in various senses, so also is the word Ecclesia in the Word of God.
We speak of a particular Church (as the Church of Rome or England, Jerusalem or Antioch); we speak of a building as a Church; we use the word of the whole body of professing Christians, and also of the select portion of true believers amongst them.
So, in the Scriptures, the word Church (Ecclesia) is used, not indeed in the same senses of the previous paragraph, but in several different ways.
The Greek word Ecclesia occurs seventy-five times in the Septuagint Translation of the Old Testament, and is used as the rendering of five different Hebrew words. As it is used to represent one of these, seventy times, we need not concern ourselves with the other four words.
This Hebrew word is Cahal, from which we have our English word call. It means to call together, to assemble, or gather together, and is used of any assembly gathered together for any purpose. This Hebrew word Cahal occurs 123 times, and is rendered: “congregation,” 86 times; “assembly,” 17; “company,” 17; and “multitude,” 3 times. Its first occurrence is in Gen. 28:3 – “that thou mayest be a multitude (margin, assembly) of people,” i.e., a called-out people. This is what Israel was, a people called out and assembled from all other peoples.
In Gen. 49:6 we read –
“O my soul, come not thou into their secret (Council or Senate);
Unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.”
Here the word Cahal is used not of all Israel as called out from the nations, but of the assembly of those called out to form the Tribal Council of Simeon and Levi.
Then, it is used of the worshippers or those called out from Israel, and assembled before the Tabernacle and Temple, and in this sense is usually rendered “congregation.’ This is the meaning of the word in Ps. 22:22; “in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee”; and verse 25: “My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation”
This is the usage of the word in the Gospels, and even in the Acts of the Apostles before the new use, which the holy spirit was going to make of the Word, was revealed.
When Christ said, “Upon this rock I will build my Ecclesia,” He did not use the word in the exclusive sense in which it was afterwards to be used, but in the older and larger use of the word, which would embrace the whole assembly of His people, while not excluding the future application and restriction of the word to the Body of Christ when that secret should have been in due season revealed.
When the spirit by Stephen speaks of the Ecclesia in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), he means the congregation of Israel.
When the Lord added to the Ecclesia daily (Acts 2:47), He added to the number of those who assembled themselves together for His worship.
When Saul “persecuted the Ecclesia of God,” he persecuted the assembly of those who feared God, just as Jezebel and others persecuted them in times past.
So when, in 1 Cor. 15:9, the Apostle says that he “persecuted the Church of God,” the word Ecclesia is not used in the sense which it subsequently acquired, after he had received the special revelation concerning it: but in the sense in which it had been used up to that time. It means merely that he persecuted the people of God – the congregation of God. He is speaking of a past act in his life which took place before the revelation of the secret, and his words must be interpreted accordingly. We must not read into any of these passages that which was the subject of a subsequent revelation! And therefore the word Ecclesia in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Acts must be taken in the sense of its earlier usage as meaning simply the congregation or assembly of the Lord’s people, and not in the sense which it acquired, after the later and special signification had been given to it by the holy spirit.
This brings us to consider:
(3) RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF GOD.
We thus have a fourfold Key for the interpretation of the Old Testament, the Four Gospels, the Acts, and the Apocalypse. We are not (when interpreting Scripture) to read into it that which was the subject of subsequent revelation! This principle cannot be over-estimated in its power to clear our understanding of the Word of God. Why is there so much confusion in reading the Word? Why are there so many conflicting opinions? Why so many “schools of thought,” and divergent “views?”
It is because we do not “rightly divide” the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). That Word is, “the Word of Truth,” and this is why we are bidden to “rightly divide” it. If therefore we fail thus to divide it, it is impossible for us to have “truth”; and we cannot fail to have error.
We must “rightly divide” off the Old Testament, Gospels, (some parts within) Acts, and the Apocalypse from the teaching concerning the Church of God. We must not read Church-truth into the Old Testament. We must not read teaching concerning the “Mystery” into the Gospels and Acts.
If teachers had always thus divided the Word, we should never have confused Israel with the Church, or the Kingdom with the Church.
We should never have put the “extension of Christ’s Kingdom (to Israel)” for the spread of the Gospel (by the Church).
We should never have taken “the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven” as being synonymous with “the Gospel of the Grace of God;” or have supposed that the former is being, or could be, preached now, thus perverting Matt. 24:14.
We should never have taken Matt. 24 as referring to the Church of God; or have supposed that the Church would be on the earth during the great Tribulation therein described.
We should not have based our Missionary effort on Ps. 2:8 or Matt. 28:19, 20, for we should have seen that “the great Commission,” as it has been called, was obeyed by those to whom it was first given (see Col. 1:6, 23; Rom. 10:18; Titus 22:11), and will be completely fulfilled in the time of Matt. 24:14. The commission for the Church’s Missionary effort must be drawn from the Epistles which are specially written for the Church’s guidance and instruction, and not from the Gospels or any Scripture prior, at least, to Acts 3.
We are not speaking of Missionary labour in itself, but only as to the Scriptural ground on which it should, or should not be based.
The closing verses of Mark would never have been mutilated by all its various readings (see R.V.) had they not been wrongly taken for Church-teaching (only). It was, we believe, the difficulties created by thus interpreting the verses, that led to the rejection of the passage rather than to the rejection of the false principle of interpretation. The fact being that the Commission in verse 18 was obeyed by those to whom it was given, and the signs predicted did (indeed) follow in those who believed. The Church afterwards took this Commission as specially given to itself to carry out, and not seeing those specific signs following, questioned the genuineness of the Scripture, which predicted them, rather than its own wisdom in thus misapplying it.
Kingdom-Truth in the Sermon on the Mount would never have been taken as Church-teaching, and thus Infidels and the world would have been deprived of one their readiest weapons against the Bible.
The Church would never have been put into the Judgment of Matt. 25, which concerns only Gentile nations; and says nothing at all about resurrection. For even Infidels can plainly see (as the majority of (the blinded-by-religions) Christians cannot) that a judgment based on works can have no connection with a Church whose standing is in grace. The truth, instead of being “rightly divided” dispensationally, is thus made to become a source of error; and things, which differ and are each true in their proper place, are robbed of all their meaning by being confounded together.
We should have had clearer views of the Apocalypse, and have seen that it referred to the setting up of the rejected Kingdom with power and in judgment after the Church shall have been removed; and that the end of the Church being revealed in 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess.4, it could have no part or place on the earth during the events which take place in “the day of the Lord.”
We should not go to the Gospels or Acts for passages concerning the coming of Christ, as “the hope of the Church,” while in the Epistles alone is that coming set forth as the Church’s hope.
We should never have substituted “a happy death” for “that blessed hope.”
We should never have made the death of man our goal, instead of the appearing of “Christ, our Life” (Col. 3).
We should never have taken dissolution (in death) instead of Ascension as our hope (1 Thess. 4), and then we should never have been driven to use Hymn-Books as the source of Christian Epitaphs, instead of the Pauline Epistles.
We should not have confounded the special Revelation of that resurrection which is connected with the Mystery in 1 Thess. 4 and 1 Cor. 15, with what is known as “the First Resurrection.” The first Resurrection was, as we have shown, no secret. The Old Testament clearly reveals it, and it would have taken place just the same (as it will yet take place), had Israel accepted the offer in Acts 3:18, 19, and had there been no Church at all. The one is quite independent of the other, and they would never have been confounded, had the truth of the “Mystery” been discerned.
We should not have taken the “breaking of bread” in the Acts of the Apostles, and exalted into the place of the Lord’s Supper, had we seen that it has nothing to do with a Church ordinance; or had we known that it was and remains till to-day, the common and universal Hebrew idiom for partaking of an ordinary meal together.
We should never have taken John 6, as containing teaching as to the Lord’s Supper, which had not then been instituted, but, seeing that such an interpretation of the Gospels is incompatible with the doctrine of the Mystery, we should have studied that Scripture afresh, and scientifically in the light of figurative language, and have seen that the figures of Metonymy and Enallagé, and their Hebrew idiom as to eating and drinking, clearly explain it as referring to that spiritual receiving, partaking of, and “inwardly digesting” of Christ and His words as the bread or support of spiritual life.
And, as to the Lord’s Supper itself, have we not fallen into many errors, “not discerning the Lord’s Body (i.e., the Church of which Christ is its Head)?.” See 1 Cor. 11:29. For “the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16.) This must refer to the Church “Body of Christ”, as the next verse goes on to explain – “For we being many are one bread (R.V. margin loaf) and one body: for we are all partakers of that one brad (R.V. margin loaf).” That is to say the bread or loaf which we break sets forth our communion not with Christ personal (which is the source of all the errors connected with the Lord’s Supper), but the communion and fellowship of all the members of Christ’s Body.
The one loaf setting forth the fellow-partnership of all the members with one another and with Christ the Head of the Body in glory, with whom we hope shortly to be, and hence “as oft as we break that brad, we “show forth the Lord’s death till He Come.”
This is what is meant by “discerning the Lord’s Body.” Indeed, the words “the Lord’s” ought not to be in the text at all, and are rightly omitted in the R.V. with all the Ancient MSS and Critical Greek Texts (it is so, “discerning the Body”). Moreover, the R.V. margin has discriminating, as the “Greek” for “discerning.” So that this verse does not refer to the body of Christ Personal at all, but simply to the Church of “the Body,” which the members of the Body are to discriminate when they eat of that bread and drink of that cup.
These and many other mistakes would never have been made – had the true doctrine of the Mystery been preserved and held by the Church of God; and had “the Word of the Truth” been consequently rightly divided.
(Seventh Paper (Concluding Chapter), Things to Come, March 1896, 2(9):154-156)
VII. THE BODY AND THE BRIDE.
There is another error which the doctrine of the Mystery corrects, though there is certainly some little excuse for its having been so generally entertained, and that is, the identification of “the Body” with “the Bride.” We have already seen that had Israel repented and turned to the Lord (Acts 3:18, 19), there is not an Old Testament prophecy which would not have been fulfilled (at that time). But the “Bride” is the subject of Old Testament prophecy. Therefore, had Israel repented, and there had been no Church of God, there would still have been the Bride according to the prophetic word. Many are the prophecies of the Bride in the Old Testament, and hence some who cannot ignore this fact and yet cling to the modern idea of the Body being the Bride, believe they are, or will be, Two Brides: the Bride of Jehovah and the Bride of the Lamb… The Bride in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea, is Israel, or at any rate the elect of Israel; those who were “partakers of the heavenly calling” in Israel. We read in –
Isaiah 54:5, 6
“For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.”
See also verses 7, 8.
Isaiah 62:4, 5
“Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah (i.e., My delight is in her), and thy land Beulah (i.e., married): for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.”
“Shall thy sons marry thee”. A slight change in the vowel points, gives the reading thy great or royal Restorer or Builder (by the figure of Enallage, plural for singular) instead of “thy sons.” Sons, moreover, were the builders of families (Gen. 16:2; 30:3; Deut. 25:9; Ruth 4:11, etc.)
“Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.”
Hosea 2:16, 19-20
“And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi (i.e., my husband); and shalt call me no more Baali (i.e, my lord)… And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.”
These and other passages clearly prophesy that an election of Israel shall be the Bride. Had, then, the call in Acts 3:18, 19 been obeyed, these prophecies must have had their fulfillment, quite irrespective of any Church.
Here again we come upon the solution of another great difficulty:
THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS
They are a great burden to Expositors of New Testament Truth. And what to do with them is one of the commonest questions and difficulties which arises in the mind of the Bible-student.
That there has been an elect body all through the Old Testament history we have abundant evidence.
While all the promises to Israel as a nation, were earthly, there were always those who lived “by believing (he wrote “faith”)” and “died in believing (he wrote “faith”),” and were “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 6:1). These looked for no earthly portion, but they looked forward with a heavenly hope to a heavenly blessing. “These all died in believing (he wrote “faith”), not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country… a better country, that is an HEAVENLY: Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them A CITY.” (Heb. 11:13-16) – And of Abraham it is said “he looked for a CITY, which hath FOUNDATIONS, whose builder and maker is God.” (v. 10).
Now when we turn to Rev. 21:9, we read that one of the seven angels said to John: “Come hither, I will shew thee the BRIDE, the Lamb’s wife.” “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great CITY, the holy Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious,” etc. (Rev. 21:9-27).
What are we to understand but that this “CITY,” – which is declared to be the “BRIDE, the Lamb’s wife,” is the city for which all those who were partakers of the Heavenly Calling looked; and that these elect saints of the Old Testament will form the BRIDE.
This “Holy Jerusalem” may contain the Church or Body of Christ, as well as the Bride, inasmuch as “the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb, are the Temple of it” (Rev. 21:22), and “the Lamb is the light thereof.” But it is not necessary on this account that we should identify them.
The “Lamb” is the special title of the Lord Jesus in relation to Israel, and the elect of Israel, and especially to the Bride (see Rev. 19:7-9 and the Parables of Marriage, and the Marriage-Supper in the Gospels).
It will also be noted that the names “ON the GATES of the city (i.e., the visible parts of the city)”, are “the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.” (Rev. 21:12), while the names “IN the FOUNDATONS (the invisible parts of the city) are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (ver. 14).” This again carries us back to the Gospels (Matt. 19:28), to the solemn words of the Lord Jesus in answer to a specific enquiry as to the portion of the Twelve Apostles: “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Here in Rev. 21 we have the Regeneration (the new heaven and the new earth), we have the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. We ask, what has this to do with the Church – the Body of Christ? And has it not to do only and solely with the Holy City and with the BRIDE of the Lamb? The promise of Christ to the Twelve Apostles has never been abrogated; and, we ask, what are we to do with it, if the Apostles form part of the Body of Christ? The Church is part of Christ, the Bridegroom; but the Apostles, by a comparison of Matt. 19:28, with Rev. 21:14, form part of the BRIDE.
This effectually disposes of the figment of “Apostolic Succession,” which would never have been seriously entertained had not the truth connected with the Mystery been lost. And we ought to note that while the Twelve Apostles are thus separated off from the Church, the Apostle Paul was specially raised up to a special and different position altogether, and is identified with the Mystery.
In harmony also with this is the teaching of
Christians in their selfishness, attempt to rob others of their place as the Bride, and thus lose their own still “better” place as part of the Bridegroom. “Verily they have their reward”!
The Bride and the Bridegroom, though in a sense one, are yet surely distinct. Ant it is clear from all the scriptures relating to the Mystery, that the members of Christ’s Body are not the Bride, but part of the Bridegroom Himself. Whereas the elect Old Testament saints will form the Bride. See Isaiah 12:6 “Cry out and shout, thow Inhabitress (marg.) of Zion: For great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.” In Rev. 22:3, we read “The Throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it.” Of the glory of this Holy City other scriptures speak. See Is. 60:3, 14, 19, 20; Rev. 21:23, 24, 27; Is. 54:11-12.
This is referred to again in Is. 4:5, when Jehovah shall have purged away the filth of the daughters of Zion, it is added “beyond all this glory there shall be the Chuppah, or the marriage canopy,” mentioned elsewhere only in Ps. 19:5 and Joel 2:16; and referring to Isa. 62. The Chuppah is the bridal canopy beneath which the nuptial ceremonies are performed to this day.
True, the Apostle might address the saints concerning his desire to present them “As a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). But this no more declares that the Church is the Bride of Christ than that the Apostle himself was their father (1 Cor. 4:15); or that he was their mother (Gal. 4:19). In one case he spoke of the painful anxiety of a mother; in another of the loving care of a father; while, in 2 Cor. 11:2, he spoke of the jealousy of the friend of a bridegroom. The “Mystery” was a totally different thing.
So, in Eph. 5:28, 29, the argument is that husbands “ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church, for we are members of His Body,” i.e., AS Christ loves His own Body, the Church; so ought husbands to love their own selves, because they and their wives are “one flesh.” Thus “the great secret” is employed as an argument as to the reciprocal duties of husbands and wives. In neither case is it said that the Church IS the wife, or that Christ IS the husband. But that AS Christ loves His Body (the Church), SO husbands ought to love their bodies (their wives).
What is clear and certain is that the Church is the Body of Christ Himself, and that the members of that Body being “in Christ” (as members of His Body), are PART OF THE BRIDEGROOM, and cannot possibly, therefore, be the Bride herself.
It is a remarkable example of the perversity of Expositors, who while they hold that the Bride is the Church, persist in interpreting the parable of the ten virgins, as though the Bride’s attendant “Virgins” are also the Church. Though who ever heard of an Eastern Bride going out “to meet” the Bridegroom! The Virgins, “her companions,” went, but not the Bride. So our (wrong) expositors can hold whichever of these two positions they please, but, clearly, they are not entitled to hold them both. The “Bride” must be distinct from “the virgins her companions that follow her.” If we rightly divide the Word of Truth we see that the Church is neither the one nor the other, and that the subsequent revelation of the “Mystery” cannot be read into either Psalm 45 or Matt. 25, which are perfectly clear as they stand, and must have been capable of a plain interpretation to the first hearers or readers of those words, quite apart from the truth subsequently revealed.
The Mystery was “hid in God.” It does not say it was hidden in the Scriptures, but “hid in God” Himself. There can be therefore no types of it in the Old Testament, inasmuch as types teach, and were meant to teach doctrines. But if truths and doctrines, which are elsewhere clearly revealed in the New Testament, can be illustrated from the Old Testament, that is quite another matter. The illustration and application of Old Testament Scripture to the Church is quite lawful and profitable, so long as it is kept distinct from interpretation. It is one thing to see an illustration of the Church in the Old Testament; but it is quite another thing to say that that is there revealed, which God distinctly declares was not revealed!
Has been, for example, widely taken as typical of the Christ and the Church. Isaac is taken as the bridegroom, and Rebekah as the Church or the bride. True, the chapter is illustrative, but not of the Church. The bridegroom and the bride were both “ready” before either was called to the marriage. The bride was found in the house of Abraham’s brother. Very special injunctions were given that she was not to be of “the Canaanites.” “But,” said Abraham to Eliezer, “thou shalt go unto my country and to my kindred and take a wife unto my son Isaac… thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.” Great emphasis is placed on this important conditions in verses 3, 4, 7, 37, 38. Abraham and Nahor were brothers, and by Isaac’s marriage with Rebekah, and Jacob’s marriage with her brother Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, the whole house of Nahor was absorbed into the family of Abraham! Gentiles were expressly shut out when this typical wife was chosen, and Isaac on receiving his bride took her at once “into his mother Sarah’s tent,” thus forming the ground of the type as expounded in Gal. 4:21-31.
Rebekah therefore represents, not the Church or Body of Christ, but that great cloud of witnesses (the Old Testament saints), who in the old dispensation sacrificed, as she did, all worldly advantages for the Lord’s sake. It is for these He is preparing that “city which hath foundations,” and of which He Himself is the divine architect. And truly, it is said of these, “if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out (as Rebekah came) they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:15, 16).
“These all having obtained a good report through faith (believing), received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (verses 39, 40).
Now, we maintain, that this “better thing” cannot be the same as the good thing. The comparative term distinguishes between two things, and necessitates the existence of two. The one, as the Bride, will have a good place, a grand place, a place of honour and glory as the Lamb’s wife in the holy Jerusalem, but the Church, the Body of Christ, will have “some better thing,” a position of greater glory and honour, as part of the Bridegroom Himself.
It is for this consummation that the members of His Body now wait. We are, by the wondrous position which grace has given us, necessarily cut off from all “bodies” which are of human origination, and from all Ecclesiastical organizations. We do not seek to restore corporate testimony, for no such restoration of what man had ruined, was ever promised. The corporate failure is complete. There is no authority in the Word for re-establishing it, and all attempts to do so have ended in disaster, and in a widening of the breach between brethren. The “unity of the spirit” is now only subjective. There is no such thing as an objective unity of the spirit which we can “join.” The real truth of the “Mystery” received into the heart raises the members of the Body far above all human plans and hopes of union or Re-union. It takes us up at once into the heavenlies, seats us there with Christ, so that like Him we are “henceforth expecting.”
Hence, we are not concerned with prophecy as such, as a mere subject of study. To look for Christ’s appearing is the very essence of our Christian standing. It is the very breath of the Christian’s life. We “wait for God’s Son from heaven,” and long for Him to appear so that we may be
“RECEIVED UP IN GLORY.”
May we now conclude in the words of an ancient prayer, and say and confess that:
“We are very members incorporate in the Mystical Body of Thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people, and are also heirs together through hope of Thy everlasting Kingdom by the merits of the most precious death and passion of Thy dear Son, Amen.”
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