"Having made known unto us the mystery of His will... to
sum up all things in Christ... according to the purpose of Him
Who worketh all things after the counsel of His will... He put
all things in subjection under His (Christ's) feet, and gave Him
to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the
fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:9-11,
There are three main parts to that statement.
1. The eternal will and purpose of God.
2. Christ as the centre of that purpose.
3. The Church, which is His Body, the vessel of the full
expression of the purpose - that is, of Christ.
We are shown God in eternal counsels purposing. In
outlining and devising His intentions to create and
constitute "all things," "in the heavens and upon
the earth" (Eph. 1:10), He was moved and governed by a specific
and definite purpose. This "Purpose" is mentioned
a number of times in the New Testament, and various things are
shown to be related to it. It is most important that we recognise
that, however many phases there may be in Divine activity, the
purpose of God is one. Nothing is an end in itself. The first law
of spiritualfullness (and be it observed
that fullness is what is in view) is to apprehend the fact and
nature of God's all-governing purpose. It is an impressive and
painful fact that there is very, very little of what is associated
here with the Lord that is really marked by spiritual fullness.
Smallness, weakness, limitation, poverty, defeat, ignorance,
immaturity, and disappointment characterise so many of the Lord's
people, and so much of the Lord's work. This is one of the things
that is causing so much distress, inquiry, and effort in some
May not the explanation be that nothing
that is only a part of a whole can reach and realise the whole
purpose? To be in the way of fullness it is
essential that, in the first place, we recognise and realise that
God is not just a Busybody in a large number of good and merciful
activities; but that He is wholly occupied with one all-inclusive,
and all-related purpose! "Who worketh ALL THINGS after the counsel
of His own will." The measure of ultimate attainment and
accomplishment will be according to our initial apprehension of a
single purpose. When that is established, we shall soon move on to
see what the purpose is, and how - and by what means - it will be
realised. If a master-man has a single purpose to which he has
abandoned himself, he will require that all who work for him
are not just doing various things, however good they may be, even
as parts of his whole work, but that they are seeing beyond their
own job and part to the whole end and object, and are working
positively to that. He will be favourable to any who come to work
for him, and to any means employed, only in so far as the full
purpose is in their heart. The measure of his resource and
fullness will be given on this basis alone. So it is with God. But
let it be understood that it is spiritual fullness
that is in view, not personal gratification.
Then the purpose is to sum up all things in
Christ. It is a Person filled full, enlarged, and
all-comprehending. The greatness, the magnificence, the universal
fullness of Christ is God's goal. Again, it is not sufficient that
we see the purpose, basic as that is, but that we see - in an
ever-growing way - the fullness of Christ. There must be an
initial seeing of this greatness, this majesty, this glory, this
universality. It was such a seeing that accounted for the power,
effectiveness, and glory of the Church's first days. That was the
meaning of "Pentecost". It was such a seeing that made the
Apostles the men that they were. Paul owed everything to God's
revealing of His Son in him. But that seeing must go on. It must
become ever fuller. We must not just date our seeing of Christ to
some past experience. It is the Lord's will that we shall so live
in and walk by the Spirit that we are able to say that what we see
of Christ today is infinitely greater and more wonderful than ever
it has been. That is only in line with God's purpose, and
it is so for all who have truly come into a spiritual apprehension
Then in the third place we move to see
God's method and means of fulfilling His eternal purpose. This is
by way of "the church, which is His (Christ's) body". The Church
is definitely stated to be "the fullness of Him that filleth all
in all". That universal fullness of Christ is determined to be
revealed and expressed in and through a vessel called the Church.
What is this Church?
Firstly, it is said to be an elect company
of people. Leaving all theories of election, let us be content,
for the moment, to see that God has eternally determined to have
such a company, and that election is related to purpose, not
primarily - if at all - to salvation. God knows, He cannot help
knowing, the ultimate reactions of people to His presentations,
and according to His foreknowledge He
has foreordained to His purpose. But God has never said to anyunsaved person
that he or she is so foreordained. He only calls. The Church is
the company of the called who obeyed.
Secondly, the Church is something greater
than the churches. Whatever we may mean by the latter, the Church
may be in them all, or it may not be in many of them at all. The
Church is essentially a spiritual thing; not sectarian,
denominational, "ecclesiastical", traditional, etc. It is the
spiritual relatedness as of a living organism; a body
possessing one life; it is a single entity, an
"all one in Christ." The measure of light does not make for a more
or less membership of that Body, although that may affect
functioning. The apprehension of "Church Truth" does not
constitute Church membership, although it will greatly affect the
matter of fullness. Vital relatedness to Christ is the basis of
But when we have said that, we must point out how important the
recognition of the Church is. Next to the revelation of Christ
personally in His greatness, the revelation of the Church is bound
up with our practical progress toward fullness. Paul has a far
greater fullness in his writings than any other Apostle, and this
is mainly due to the specific revelation of the Church which was
given to him. What arises from this revelation is that Christ and
the Church are one, as Head and members of one Body.
There are one or two things which arise for
our apprehension in this matter. Firstly there is the fact - so
clearly and fully given in the Scriptures - that God has just as
definitely chosen and appointed the Church for the realisation of
His eternal purpose as He has chosen and appointed His Son. He has
just as positively bound Himself and His fullness to the one as to
the other. While one is subject to the other, and the medium and
vessel of the other - as the wife to the husband (Eph. 5:22-24),
they are one in the matter of purpose. This carries with it the
jealousy of God for His Church, and means that for fullness there
can be no allowing of an ignoring, belittling, or injuring.
Further; God will keep strictly - in the
matter of spiritual fullness - to working Bodywise. That is, it is not possible for
any units as such to know fullness. Fullness is a related matter.
"The church is the fullness of Him." No individual can be that.
Therefore spiritual oneness, inter-relatedness, fellowship,
mutuality, and interdependence are basic and indispensable to
spiritual attainment of full-growth. "Till we all attain unto... a full
grown man, unto... the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
In the Old Testament, when things were
constituted according to the heavenly pattern, God spoke out of
the Tent of Meeting. So it is in the New Testament. For the answer
to his inquiry on the Damascus Road, Paul had to go into the city
and get it as out from the Church. For the entering upon his great
life-work he had to abide in the Church at Antioch and get his
commission confirmed there (Acts 13). All this does not mean that
God has never sovereignly and in grace moved without the
recognition of this law by those concerned for His interests, but
we are speaking of spiritual fullness, and our ministry is
concerned withthat. It is not a committee, "General",
"Executive", or "Advisory", but the "Body" in representation and
spiritual functioning that is God's ordained way.
It would take much more space than we have
at our disposal to set forth all the values and implications of an
apprehension of God's place and purpose for His Church in all
things. This is one of the matters which has had a considerable
place in our spoken and written ministry through these past years.
This leads on to the churches; that is, the
local companies of God's people. Times and conditions have changed
greatly since New Testament days; that is, so far as the Western
world is concerned. It was simple and straightforward to gather
together believers in Christ in those times; there were only
believers and non-believers. Today numerous other questions arise;
such as "Connection", "Order", "Practice", "Belief", etc. But
there are one or two things which must still govern this matter:
1. The local church or assembly is intended
to be locally all that the Church as a whole is universally. It
must not be smaller in its vision, its vocation, its relatedness.
Though locally placed, it is universal in nature, outreach,
concern, and function. If it lives unto itself it will die.
Fullness is dependent upon its spiritual length
and breadth, and height and depth.
2. The local church is the spiritual
training-ground for all usefulness to the Lord. There all the
essential lessons are learned, not by teaching alone, but by
spiritual discipline. The very vital lesson of subjection to the
Lord - which means so much in the matter of spiritual growth - is
learned in a very practical way in a true assembly and fellowship
life. All independent, unrelated, and merely personal life is
impossible when the "Body" is truly recognised.
The spiritual support, upholding,
encompassing, and covering of the Lord's people in something more
than a general way is of tremendous value and consequence. Far
from the local church being but a "congregation" or a preaching
place, it is intended to be a local expression of the family of
God, and to fulfil all the functions and provide all the values of
a true family life and relationship.
3. The matter of pre-eminent importance in
the local church, as in the universal, is the absolute sovereign
headship of Christ. Anything which usurps this, or in any way
conflicts with it, will most certainly result in spiritual
limitation and proportionate retarding of growth. Is this not why,
in the New Testament churches, no one man exercised headship, but
elders - not an elder - were appointed. The "Body" principle is
upheld in the corporate, and individual sovereignty is prevented.
At Antioch the "Holy Ghost said" to a company of representative
men, who were together in spiritual
responsibility. Eldership is representation - spiritual measure,
not ecclesiastical. The New Testament plurality of Eldership means
that the church is brought - as in and by its representatives -
under the complete sovereignty of Christ through the Holy Ghost.
4. We must then see that the Apostles never
set out with the plan to form churches. That was the spontaneous
and necessitated result of the Holy Spirit's work in every place.
Christ was preached and accepted, and relatedness spontaneously
followed (see Acts 2:42). That which decides churches is Christ.
This is the solution of and the answer to many of the problems and
questions which arise, especially in this Western world in these
peculiarly complicated times. What is to be our guiding and
deciding principle in gathering together? It is to be Christ! We
meet on that ground alone. Where God's end is most fully in view,
and what provides most fully for its attainment - the fullness of
Christ - decides where we ought to be, and no one ought to quarrel
with that. It is because of a devotion to and jealousy for some
"thing"; a "Mission", "Denomination", "Tradition", "Fellowship,"
"Movement", etc., that rivalries, and bad feelings spring up. All
the talk about "sheep stealing" and "dividing the Lord's people,"
or a great deal of it, arises out of a concern for - not spiritual
growth - but something here on the earth. How very much of this
talk would be impossible if everyone concerned took the attitude
that it does not matter what survives or ceases to exist so long
as Christ is being increased in a spiritual way. This involves the
necessity that all the Lord's people, and particularly those in
"official" positions, and positions of influence, should be
utterly and only devoted to the increase of Christ. Christ is not
divided, therefore Christ is the ground of unity, not the things
as mentioned above.
Whose sheep are they? Are they ours? Can
Christ's sheep be stolen by those who are devoted to Him? If they
are sheep of this or that, then things are in another realm. No,
all this sort of thing is the cause of spiritual weakness and
smallness, and a new mind as to Christ Himself is needed for
Finally, in this connection, and for the
moment; everything appointed by the Lord is intended to be for the
direct and positive "building up of the body". That marks its
object and direction, and its unifying law. Evangelism, Teaching,
Gifts, personal and spiritual, etc., are all said definitely to be
to this one end. The evangelist and evangelism are not an end in
themselves, nor something apart. The New Testament overwhelms such
an idea or procedure most completely. All these functions are
"Body" functions, and for a well-balanced Body they must be kept
together; neither emphasised to the detriment of the other;
neither left out. A teaching ministry must go hand-in-hand with an
evangelistic ministry; and the other way round. Everyone who
functions as a member of Christ's Body - and all members should function - should
have in view - not souls being saved, not saints being instructed,
but - through these, and all other means, the increase of Christ.
Let us remember that the Church is not large or small; our work is
not more or less successful according to the number of
people represented, but according to the positive measure of
I cannot close this review without a brief
reference to one or two other matters which are vital to this
There is the matter of the Cross. It will
not be saying anything fresh or unusual when we say that the Cross
of Christ is deeply bound up with the question of Divine fullness.
But how this is so demands a continuous re-emphasis and growing
unfolding. The Scriptures make it quite clear that right to the
very end the Adversary will seek with all his might and by every
means to revive the question of acceptance and standing with God.
He is seen very late in the day (Rev. 12) as the "accuser of the
brethren", and the destruction of assurance is one of his most
determined endeavours. Everything that carries with it the idea of
our doing anything and making ourselves anything to obtain the
mercy of God and attain unto acceptance with Him, bears the
hallmark of the Devil himself. Christ's death for us and our death
with Him is the only, but the sure ground of full acceptance!
Luther said it very utterly when he put it thus -
"O Christ, I am Thy sin, Thy curse, Thy
wrath of God, Thy hell; and contrariwise, Thou art my
righteousness, my blessing, my life, my grace of God, my heaven."
No wonder the Devil hated Martin Luther and
assailed him so bitterly.
But there is not only the basic, initial,
perfect value of the Cross for our full and unquestioned
acceptance; there is a meaning of the Cross in relation to
spiritual fullness and fruitfulness. It is what Paul
calls "Being made conformable to His death" (Phil.
This, let us emphasise, must be kept apart
from our justification and access to God. How very much of the
tragedy, scandal, defeat, weakness, deadness, limitation and
unloveliness of many Christian people and Christian institutions,
communities and churches is due to uncrucified "flesh" or natural
life! How greatly Christ is hidden from view by men and things and
methods which bring themselves into prominence! The need, if He is
to come to the place of the Divine intention, and we with Him, is
for a continuous and ever-deepening working of the Cross in us. We
really must be in a position to say "I have been crucified with
Christ". Yes, but also to complete the statement "It is no longer
I, but Christ." Is it true - "No longer I?" No... I? That is
what Paul meant, but who can know the depth of that "I". Only
Christ knows how deep and thorough His Cross is, and we must hand
ourselves over to Him for the Holy Spirit to work all His meaning of the Cross
in us, if the way is to be clear for His fullness.
So the twofold meaning and message of the
Cross is a very strong part of this ministry. There are many who
do not like the latter and will not have it. We can only say that
if they represent something far more than the average in spiritual
wealth and their apprehension of Christ, and if that with which
they are connected is free from the common results of the strength
of the natural life; then there is something in their antagonism
to the subjective meaning of the Cross to which we must give heed.
But we have been there ourselves, and know the difference.
We must close, and we do so with a
reference to one other matter. Many may agree with much that we
have written, but they will react to it by saying that it is
"idealistic"; it is too high; as things are now it is not
possible; we cannot hope for such a recovery. Well, there is one
answer to that attitude. The Bible has always recognised and
provided for a position like that. It was but a small number of
the captive nation of Israel who returned voluntarily to rebuild
the city, the wall, the house at Jerusalem, and the word which
governed and characterised them was, "Whoso is of a willing heart,
his God be with him".
In the Book of the Revelation it is clear
that the majority had left the full thought of the Lord. The
appeal there is to those within who have "an ear to hear". We find
them called "Overcomers", and this clearly relates to the decadent
conditions; a reaction to the Lord's full and original thought. It
is hardly to be expected that all Christians will respond to the
appeal and standard, but it is clear that they can, the
Lord wills it, and what He wills is not out of the question. It
may be a costly way; and the cost will be mainly acute because of
the attitude of other Christians.
Hence, we realise that this ministry will
sift the Lord's people, and only those who really mean business
with God and to "go on to full-growth" will have a place for it.
Our message is therefore one which will affect the "Overcomers",
although we do not regard them as an elect of the elect, a select
spiritual aristocracy. They will have a place of special honour
because in them the Lord will have that upon which His heart has
been set from the beginning. The difference will be that which is
seen ultimately between Joseph and his brethren.
These, then, are the main things to which we are called and
committed. "Here we stand, we can do no other, God help us."
The Lord give you all a heart to "follow the Lamb
whithersoever He goeth," and to reach unto His fullness.
Extract from the Editor's Letter published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Jan-Feb 1944, Vol 22-1