We have opened our meeting with
the singing of a very old hymn - "Tell me the old, old
story". And when we have sung "Tell me the old, old
story" so heartily, we are confronted with the most
difficult thing that has ever been called for by angels and men.
To put the story of Jesus and His love to music is to employ the
whole range and compass of every note of every octave, and then
to want more notes. It reaches the highest; it goes down to the
deepest. It is the very range and compass of His Person and His
work that show how great He is; so much greater greatness than
all others. It is the universality of the Lord Jesus that is His
supremacy. There is no language or tongue in all human speech
into which that story cannot be interpreted, which cannot grasp
something of its meaning. That has been proved, and is being
proved continually - it compasses all language and all languages.
Although it has taxed and over-taxed the greatest intellects of
all the ages, it is enjoyed, appreciated and loved by the
simplest and the most unlearned. It meets the problems and
difficulties of the mature and the aged, and yet it is the
delight of little children. Of all the various temperaments into
which the human race is classified, there is no temperament that
does not find in Him something to meet its own peculiar problems
and demands. Jesus and His love are an ocean of the profoundest
mysteries and treasures. He is a mine of inexhaustible wealth. In
a word, it is going to take all eternity to reveal His fulness.
That is what we are up against when we so easily sing: "Tell
me the old, old story." It just cannot be told!
But it may be that in these
hours of our fellowship together a little more of the light of
that story will break upon our hearts. There is a phrase in the
Word: "Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty;
they shall behold the land of far distances", and that
two-fold statement can quite truly, and rightly, be applied to
Him. He is the King in His beauty; and He is also the Land of Far
Now, to come into a living
relationship with the Lord Jesus is to come, sooner or later, to
the impasse of the incomprehensible, and we just have to say:
"Lord, You are beyond me! Lord, I cannot comprehend; You are
too much for me!" That, of course, on the one side, means
difficulties, for it puts us into a difficult position in that we
cannot trace Him, follow Him, and understand Him. But, on the
other side, we would not have it otherwise; we would not
have a 'little' Christ whom we could comprehend and altogether
understand with our little minds. No, He is beyond us altogether,
and what you and I, as His people, are destined to come to if we
go on with Him, is just this: that He is ever reaching farther
and farther beyond us, and drawing us out beyond ourselves,
beyond our resources of mind and will, yet drawing us on, and
making us know that we have got to go on. We just cannot stand
still; we have to go on.
Now, dear friends, the Bible
rests upon one tremendous affirmation, upon a truth which it
affirms in a thousand different ways, and that truth is this:
that everything related to the great destiny for which man was
created is bound up inseparably with the knowledge of Christ. You
have two tremendous things there: the greatness of the destiny
for which man was created - and the Bible has a very great deal
to say about that. That destiny, that great Divine purpose
in creation, demands for its realization the knowledge of Jesus
Christ; it is bound up with the knowledge of God's Son. Within
that compass of Divine purpose we have man's creation, man's
redemption and salvation, man's transformation, man's
glorification, and then man's eternal vocation. These are all
features of the great purpose of man's creation and I repeat
them: salvation, transformation, glorification, and eternal
vocation, and all that rests upon the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
None of it is possible without knowing Him.
We look at a little child from
the day that it comes into this world, and the one thing the
parents are watching for continually, and waiting for, is the
sign of intelligence. For the normal development of a human life
is marked by growing intelligence, that is, in the first place,
the ability to identify objects. It is very simple, but very
real, when, first of all, the parent is able to recognize that
the child knows him or her - the child identifies. And so its
development of its very life is marked by this growing
intelligence, this ability to identify objects, and then to
interpret and grasp their meaning. It comes so slowly, and yet it
is there. To apply those recognized, identified objects to
practical value, to turn them to account, to know that they mean
this, and that they are meant for this or that; the application
of their intelligence to practical needs or situations - I say
these are the indications of normal development and it is along
the line of growing intelligence.
If that is true in the natural,
it is equally true in the spiritual. The mark of spiritual
growth, the growth of the spiritual life, is this power to
recognize the meaning of Christ; to identify Him in things; to
interpret Him - the power to interpret Him and to explain Him;
and then to apply Him to practical situations, our own and
others. That is 'knowing' the Lord. And I say again, that is the
way of spiritual growth to full manhood, to the fulfillment of
the ultimate vocation. And let it be recognized at once that what
is true in the natural is true in the spiritual in this sense -
God created man with an object. A life has missed its way and
purpose if it fulfils no vocation and if it becomes an end in
itself. Vocation is the object, the end, of all life and all
development. That is true in the spiritual life. The Bible
reveals progress toward eternal vocation, and essentially along
the line of spiritual intelligence, or the knowing of Christ.
Pre-eminent Factor in Life
God has placed supreme
importance upon this very basis. Hear His Word: "Thus saith
the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let
the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in
his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he
understandeth and knoweth Me" (Jer. 9:23). Above all other
things in which men do or may glory, God puts this, with His
tremendous emphasis: Thus saith the Lord. The supreme
thing with Him is to understand and to know Him.
We have read how the Lord Jesus
put this matter in relation to the most vital thing, even that of
eternal life, and there is no more vital thing than that. In one
sense eternal life is the key to the Bible. "And this is
life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him
whom thou didst send, Jesus Christ" (John 17:3). Life
eternal, with the Lord Jesus, is placed upon this basis of knowing
Him. That man Paul, Paul the aged, with a long life of learning
Christ, and of perhaps incomparable revelation of Jesus Christ,
is now standing at the gate of eternity and crying, "…that
I may know Him…" You might say that that was the
cry with which Paul entered into heaven. And alongside of that,
you remember, he said: "I count all things to be loss for
the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord"
(Philippians 3:8). Not to be learning, dear friends, is
to stop growing, for growing, is along that line. The knowledge
of Christ is the beginning of salvation; the knowledge of Christ
is the whole meaning of the Christian life; the knowledge of
Christ is God's motive in all discipline and training. You and I
find ourselves in those hands of the "Father of our
spirits", who is putting us through a hard school, and on a
difficult way. And the one question which should always be in our
hearts is not 'Why?' as to His dealings with us in a general
sense, nor any murmuring, but: 'What do You want me to learn by
this? What is there of Christ that I am to understand by this
means?' For, I repeat, all the dealings of God with us have but
this one thing in view: our education as to Christ, the knowledge
of Christ. The very essence of glory will be the knowledge of
Christ. Perhaps that sounds a strange word, but it is not so
difficult to understand. When at last we see in Him the answer to
all our questions and our problems, and He becomes the answer to
every cry of our need and heart, we see Him as He is, and He
fills all the vacuum of our longing, that will be glory. It is so
now in the smallest ways, is it not? If, after a very difficult
time when we have been brought through deep and terrible
suffering, we have our eyes open to see something of Christ that
meets our need, that is glory! He becomes our glory.
Glory is not just something of an external, shining radiance - it
is a state of heart, it is full satisfaction, full gratification,
and possession of a full explanation and understanding. That will
be wonderful! So the knowledge of Christ will be the very essence
But having said all that, mark
you, this is not, in the first place, a knowledge in the reason,
nor the satisfying of the natural mind and intelligence. This
knowledge of Christ is essentially, in the first place, spiritual
knowledge. It is what we might call "life-knowledge".
It means life; it brings life; it is life; we know by life. We
may not yet be able to interpret it in human language, even to
our own satisfaction, or be able to explain it, but we have come
into a knowledge of the Lord which has brought life and which is
life. "This is life... that they may know." This kind
of knowing is life-knowledge and is altogether deeper than
natural intelligence. We do not say, in the first place, that now
we know because the thing has been explained. We say: 'I know
because that meets my heart need, because something has happened
in me through that. It has brought me into life.' That is
And it is by way of experience.
The Lord's school of instruction, training, teaching, is not to
tell us things, or to write them in a book for us to study and
memorize, and then say: 'We know now!' This is not a manual
education at all. It is the education, the knowledge, that comes
by experience, and experience simply means that something has
been done in us by a certain process. We know in that way.
We know the Lord in our constitution, and how much better it is
to know Him constitutionally - that is, in our being. He
has become a part of our being, and not just something explained
to our minds.
That is the way in which we learn
Christ. It is very practical - deeply practical.
Embodiment of Heavenly Order
That is all by way of leading up
to our present particular consideration. You will realize, in the
light of this little that has been said, that Christ is
many-sided, vari-sided. He is far too great to be comprehended,
though we spent all our days trying to do so. And we can only
look at Him from time to time from particular standpoints.
In the light of the situation in
the world, and in the Church, and churches, I have been very
greatly exercised about one thing. I have put it aside as being
too difficult, but I am compelled to face it. It is concerning
Divine order. Of all the ways in which Christ is to be known unto
life and unto growth, there is one way in the Word of God which,
we might be tempted to say, is supremely important - though we
could say that of every way in which He is to be known. However,
that one way is this: To rightly understand Christ is to see that
He relates to a heavenly and eternal order of things.
That word 'order' lies right at
the back of everything in the Bible. Everything that the Bible
has to say to us is related to an eternal order that God intended
to obtain in this universe. And His key to that order, without
which nothing of all His glorious purpose is possible, is Christ.
The Person of Christ is the very embodiment of all the principles
of a universal order. If we could comprehend, discern, understand
and know Christ, we should see that in that one universal Person
are gathered up all the laws of a great heavenly order.
We are told that "in Him,
through Him, by Him, and unto Him were all things created".
His creative activity at work is marked by a marvellous order,
and we shall say more about this as we go on. Creation, as it
comes from His hand, as it is projected by Him, is a
marvellous system of coordinated forces and objects in a
wonderful relatedness and harmony. Everything is in its own
place, everything is in its own time and everything has its own
function. And so you could go on, but, I repeat, we will come
back to it.
His redemptive work, the whole
of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus has this one thing in
mind: the recovery of a lost order. He stands in His
Person, in His creative work, and in His redemptive work, related
to this whole matter of an eternal, heavenly order.
Let me pause here with a
parenthesis lest you should be as near despair as I have been in
Everything seems positively to
contradict what I am saying, especially concerning the Holy
Spirit; that is, that the Holy Spirit, who is the custodian of
the whole purpose of God concerning His Son, is occupied with
this matter pre-eminently - a heavenly order; the will of God as
it is done in Heaven to be done eventually on this earth
in like manner. If you want to know the meaning of the Holy
Spirit - and this will perhaps be a suggestion to you if you turn
again to the Word - the answer is here. The Holy Spirit is
meticulous about order, He will not overlook disorder. For Divine
order to be overlooked, violated, ignored or frustrated, is to
perpetuate the loss, the suffering, the disappointment and the
despair of the creation, for the hope of the creation lies in the
direction of God having it according to His order. This is the
matter with which the Holy Spirit is supremely concerned.
You might well interject:
"Is that really true, seeing that things are as they are,
everywhere and in everything?" The answer is twofold.
Firstly, the fact is proved by the condition. Where the Divine
order has been violated, a condition arises which clearly
indicates arrested maturity and a limitation of spiritual
measure. It shows that what could and should have been, and what
God intended, has been missed and lost. There may be the illusion
- the seemingly pleasant illusion - of a false liberty and
freedom to do as you like, but, in truth, things are less
and other than God meant. The New Testament includes for our
instruction for all time a document which is the classic on
immaturity due to disorder. It is the First Letter to the
Corinthians. The situation is summed up in a sentence: "I...
could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal,
as unto babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with
meat; for ye were not yet able" (3:1,2). Then there follows
the explanation of that arrested growth. Twice the apostle uses
the word "for", meaning 'because', 'for these reasons',
and the reasons? disorder. The rest of the whole letter is
occupied with the disorders and the apostle's labour to correct
them. It would be quite difficult to find in the New Testament a
stronger proof of this fact that spiritual maturity is governed
by Divine order.
The second thing to include in
our judgment of things is that eternity is governing this matter.
While the Lord wants as much as can be of Heavenly order in time,
especially in the Church, the churches and the individual, and
there can only be limitation of Christ in each if His order is
ignored, violated and disregarded (undoubtedly this explains the
poor level of Christian life), it will be in eternity that measure
will be the criterion of position and vocation. The Apostle tries
to say something about this eternal difference in glory
and position hereafter in chapter 15.
We may be responsible for the
upsetting or contravening of God's order and seem to get away
with it, but no Christian believes that what we do in this life
is the end. We have always to reckon with Romans 14:10 and 2
Corinthians 5:10. The Apostle includes himself: "we...
So eternity bears down upon
time, and time is revealed in eternity. When God's Kingdom comes,
it will be perfect order!
Now we return to our main line:
God is a God of order. But there is a personal evil intelligence
in this universe who is God's arch-enemy and, as such, is the
instigator of all disorder. He is called "the god of this
world" (or age) and "the spirit that now worketh in the
children of disobedience" (what an enlightening phrase -
"children of disobedience"). The hall-mark of all
satanic rule and influence is disorder. That rule is rapidly
moving to its fullness and final judgment. The test of the
measure of Christ is spiritual order under His government.
Important as a fuller
consideration of this matter is, so as not to overload you at one
time, I will break off for the time being by reiterating the four
1. God is a God of order.
2. Satan is the instigator of all disorder.
3. Christ in Person and work is the embodiment of the Divine
4. The Church is the elect vessel in which and through which
that divine order is to be manifested and administered in the
ages to come.
We might add that God's
disciplinary work with us is with a view to measure and position
in the ultimate order.