The Cross - God's Purpose and Eternal Order
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Cross in Relation to God's Eternal Order

The letter to the Colossians sets forth God's eternal order, and it sets it forth over against the work of the Evil One in the direction of disorder and disruption, and significantly enough, that work of the enemy all focused upon one thing which betrays it at once, and that one thing was to get Christ out of His place as Head where Christians are concerned. We can, of course, easily trace the trail of the serpent when that is the thing which is in view. The apostle is meeting this terrible thing. It would take too long and be far too wearisome to you if I were to enter upon what this thing was that the apostle was meeting, a mixture of religion and philosophy that had been developed among the Greeks as to spiritual orders, their system of principalities and powers and rulers in the unseen, the orders, the ranges of spiritual intelligences, and the whole issue of it was that, whoever Jesus might be, He was, after all, only one of those orders, perhaps of a superior kind. He was a created being in the same sense as the others, and He had to take His place as a created being even if it were in the unseen realm. He was only one, even if occupying a rank above many. That is, in very short, the situation and thus the enemy brought this thing along to the Greeks whose very temperament was to be interested in these profound, abstruse matters; brought that along to Christians, the church, and was gradually working that in, undermining the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus - His aloneness. So Paul says that these very dominions, things invisible, thrones and powers, were all created by Him. The undermining of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus was the thing that the apostle was meeting and undercutting; that there is a Divine order beginning at the Throne of absolute sovereignty, and that is the Son, and then through Him and unto Him other thrones and dominions and principalities and powers created by Him; things visible and things invisible, all created by Him. That is God's order.

The Divine Eternal Order is Organic

There is an eternal order that is according to God's mind in this vast universe, an order of spiritual intelligences, but there is a disorder which has been introduced by the rebel, by the other one whose one business it is to disintegrate, break up the Divine order to bring about disorder, and in the light of that you can read this letter. To me, that opens up this letter, and makes it something more than fascinating. You find that this Divine eternal order is organic, resultant from Christ's Headship. It is as of a body in perfect organic order by reason of the Head being in His place, and being accorded complete sovereignty. The apostle speaks about holding fast the Head, from Whom all the Body is fitly framed; an organic order, not created by man, but spontaneously resultant from Christ being in His place.

"He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence" (Col. 1:18).

"...having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and He hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:14).

The cross and the Divine order as to the heavenly orders: "for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through Him, and unto Him" (Col. 1:16).

They are the heavenly orders, and then this is where we link up again with believers. The church is brought in as the instrument and sphere for the manifestation of that eternal order of God, through the cross, "through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens. And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before Him" (Col. 1:20-22).

The Church the Instrument of the Recovered Spiritual Order

So the church comes in as the instrument of a recovered spiritual order, but - and here again is the crucial and vital point - the church, in order to be that instrument, that sphere of the manifested recovered eternal order has to come by the way of the cross where its own separate position is abandoned. That is what we have in words like these:

"If ye died with Christ..." (Col 2:20).

"If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:1-3).

In that very connection, go back to Chapter 1:27.

"...to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory; whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ" (Col. 1:27-28).

The Church and the Cross

You see where we have arrived. There is a Divine eternal order. That order is summed up in Christ as Head, to be expressed and manifested in His Body corporately. Unto that, that Body has to have passed by the way of the cross unto all that - the separate, independent life has been completely yielded up - and in which that which was another, making two, has been merged into Him. Paul's figure is "planted together with Him" (Rom. 6:5), merged into Him in His death, in His resurrection; not two; not Christ and you, me; not Christ and a body as apart, but one, just one. And the apostle is arguing that it is only by means of that church on those grounds that God can be satisfied as to the order which He eternally intended to exist in this universe, and you will find that, as in the second part of the letter to the Ephesians, so in the second part of the letter to the Colossians, this matter is brought down to the practical affairs of everyday life, and those affairs are the affairs, as you will notice, of relationships. You are not dealing with an external system of things. You are dealing with deeply-rooted spiritual principles. So relationships are taken up - husbands, wives; wives, husbands; children, parents; parents, children; masters, servants; mistresses and handmaids; relationships - domestic, business, social; all those spheres in which there can be such independent activity, such divided life, such a clash or such a separateness - this whole matter of Christ's Headship of the Body is brought down there.

Now, that is where we are caught at once. We are in the net. We do not start from the other end. We start right from heaven, right from God, right from eternity. This great eternal order which has been disrupted right through the universe, in the unseen as well as in the seen, is all recovered in Christ personally by the cross, and then recognised in the church His Body in vital relationship with Himself. But the existence of the church presupposes that it has been to the cross.

Oh, are you interested in the cross, are you interested in the church, are you interested in the Body of Christ? Do you not see what the Holy Spirit does? He brings it right down here and says, "Look here, that vast eternal range of things impinge right upon your domestic relationships and to believe in the Body, the cross, the Headship of Christ and profess to be in accordance with that teaching, and to hold that truth, and for there to be amongst believers in the same home schism, division, is a contradiction of the whole". And amongst those in business relationships who are the Lord's, for there to be a pulling apart, a working against, an independence, is a violation of the whole eternal order. It is not a little local thing, a little family affair, a little business affair where you make your business one thing and your Christianity another. This is a thing which touches that vast range of God's eternal order. It comes right down there, we cannot get away with it. If we violate the Life, if we work against the Holy Spirit, if we set aside the sovereign Headship of Christ, if all that we find in the first two and a half chapters of the Colossian letter is still for us wonderful objective truth, marvellous revelation; it is the mystery which has been hid from all ages and generations but now made known unto us - and right there in the home two children of God who are not one - the whole order is violated. That is what the enemy is after. It is not just incompatibility. If they are responsible Christians in their senses, walking together, and not finding a place of oneness (maybe not oneness right through to perfection but a place of oneness where they go on together and there is no fighting) well, so far as all this is concerned, it goes for nothing. This matter of God's eternal order is tremendously practical.

It all comes back to this after all. What do we know about the cross? If as masters we can be drivers, intolerant, not understanding, unsympathetic; if as relations we can allow strain which puts us apart to go on and on and never clear it up, what do we know about the cross? The cross touches God's eternal order right to the fringe of the universe, through all hierarchies, and then brings it down to immediate local, domestic, business matters where Christians are concerned. Is not the point usually, if not invariably, a matter of yieldedness? That is why the little Philippian letter is sandwiched in between Ephesians and Colossians. Euodia and Syntyche are not of one mind and there is strain being brought into the church in Philippi because there is not one mind; two dear believing Christian women, but it is making difficulties in the church, and the apostle, with wisdom from heaven, says, "Look here, the Lord Jesus let go all His rights and all His possessions and all His positions, and emptied Himself of all in order to destroy this disruption, completely destroy this divisive, disintegrating work of the evil forces, to bring about oneness; let that mind be in you, let go. You have fears as to what will happen if you let go. That is not faith. Nothing will happen if it is on the basis of fears. Faith is the vital link". Consequences are with God when you have let go. Oh, the vast revelation of the mystery of Ephesians, all the marvellous revelation of the Headship in Colossians - it depends upon this in between for its practical outworking - He emptied Himself, you do the same. That is what the apostle says really. He emptied Himself, you do the same; otherwise what are you doing? - violating all that is in Ephesians and all that is in Colossians. This little letter to the Philippians takes Ephesians and Colossians in either hand, so to speak, and makes them vitally one in expression. Let go, empty yourself. Oh yes, it is getting down.

I can only hope that what we have been saying indicates something that you are able, if you have seen it before, to see in some fresh way, with some clearer perception, that the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has the ultimate things of God's universe bound up with it. Those ultimate things are brought right into the church, the Body of Christ, and that church is not the church when it is met in some building; it is still the church when it is at home or in the office, still the church in the social circle when you are visiting one another. How much of the Lord and the Lord's things occupy conversation in social visits? You are, if you are Christians, still the church wherever you are, and church principles have to operate in every sphere, in every place. Do not let us leave our church ground when we go home to be something else. Remember that there were no special ecclesiastical meeting places at the beginning. The church was everywhere and anywhere where believers were, and these principles apply there. The Lord give us grace to receive and respond to His word.


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