(The first few sentences in square brackets are from the magazine version of this message, they are missing from the audio.)
[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's 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's 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's 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 I think rightly, be applied to Him. He is the King in His beauty; and He is also the Land of Far Distances.
Now, to come into relationship, 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're too much for me!" That, of course, on the one side means difficulties. It puts us into a difficult position 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, 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.
I say that 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 realisation 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. I'll repeat them: salvation, transformation, glorification, and eternal vocation. 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, and waiting for, is the sign of intelligence. For the normal development of a human life is marked by growing intelligence, that is, the ability in the first place, to identify objects. It is very simple, but very real, when first of all, the parent is able to recognise that the child knows him or her - 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's there. It's there. To apply those recognised, identified objects to practical value, to turn them to account, to know that they mean this, and 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, it is along the line of growing intelligence.
Dear friends, if that is true in the natural, it is at least equally true in the spiritual. The mark of spiritual growth, the growth of the spiritual life, is this power to recognise 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 other's. 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 recognised at once that what is true in the natural is true in the spiritual in this sense - that no creature is born into this world without an object. No human being, if any other, is brought into this world without an end in view. And the end is vocation. A life has altogether missed its way and purpose if it fulfils no vocation, if it becomes an end in itself, if it does nothing in this world that makes a contribution of some kind to the whole course of things and to benefit. Vocation is the object, the end, of all life and all development. That is true in the spiritual life - progress toward eternal vocation - that is what the Bible reveals, and essentially along the line of spiritual intelligence, or the knowing of Christ.
Now, 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". Above all other things in which men do or may glory, God puts this, with this tremendous emphasis: thus saith the Lord: the supreme thing with Him is to understand and to know Him.
This morning 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. It's the key to the Bible, in one sense. Eternal Life: "And this is life eternal: that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Him whom Thou didst send, Jesus Christ". Life eternal with the Lord Jesus is placed upon this basis: 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, "that I may know Him". 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". 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. The one question that should always be in our hearts, is not "Why?" as to His dealings with us in a general sense, or 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: our education as to Christ, the knowledge of Christ.
And dear friends, the very essence of glory will be the knowledge of Christ. Perhaps that sounds a strange word, but it's 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. That will be glory! It is now in the smallest ways, isn't it? If, after a very difficult time we have been brought to deep and terrible suffering, we have our eyes opened to see something of Christ which meets our need, that's glory; that's glory! He becomes our glory.
Glory is not just something of an external, shining radiance - it's a state of heart, full satisfaction, full gratification, and possession of a full explanation and understanding. That will be wonderful! So that the knowledge of Christ will be the very essence of glory.
But having said all that, mark you dear friends, that this is not, in the first place, a knowledge in the reason; this is not the satisfying of the natural mind and intelligence and reason. This knowledge of Christ is essentially, in the first place, spiritual knowledge. It is what we might call: Life knowledge. 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 to explain it, but we have come into a knowledge of the Lord which has brought Life, which is Life! "This is Life... that they might know."
This kind of knowing is Life-knowledge, it 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 we know because that meets my heart need, because something has happened in me through that. It has brought us into Life, it is spiritual knowledge.
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 up and memorise and say: "We know now!" This is not a manual education at all. It's the education, it's 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 mind. That's the way in which we learn Christ. It is very practical - deeply practical.
Now, that is all by way of leading up to our present particular consideration. You will realise, 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, we can only look at Him from time to time from particular standpoints.
There is one thing that has been very much on my heart for some time, growingly. I have put it aside but it comes back; it will not be put aside. So I feel to be the Lord's word for us concerning Him at this time, 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 - but we could say that of every way in which He is to be known. What 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 back of everything in the Bible, which means, in the history. 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, His key to that heavenly and eternal order is Christ. The Person of Christ is the very embodiment of all the principles of a universal order. If we could comprehend Christ, if we could discern Christ, if we could understand Christ, if we could 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, 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 co-ordinated forces and objects in a wonderful relatedness and harmony. Everything in its own place, everything in its own time and everything with its own function. You could go on, but I say 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.
The Holy Spirit, who is the custodian of God's purpose concerning His Son, is occupied with this this pre-eminently: a heavenly order, the will of God as it is done in Heaven to be done on this earth in like manner. If you want to know the meaning of the Holy Spirit (and this will be perhaps a suggestion to you if you turn again to the Word) the answer is here. The Holy Spirit is meticulous about order, 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. The Holy Spirit is supremely concerned with this matter.
Now, this is a thing which divides up as it goes on. And so we come at once face to face with the fourfold opening up of this whole matter of the heavenly and eternal order in Christ.
In Christ! I would be tempted to stay with that alone. For here, dear friends, here we are given the explanation of that very phrase, in Christ. Because in Christ, who is the sphere of everything of God, we have this eternal order.
But firstly, God as a God of order. God as a God of order!
Secondly, satan as the arch-enemy of that order - in Christ - and the instigator of all disorder and confusion that as the hallmark of God is order, the hallmark of satan is confusion. Those are big things which cover a lot of ground.
Christ in person and work, is the Recoverer of a lost heavenly order.
And fourthly, the church is the elect vessel in which in the ages to come, that heavenly order is to be first expressed, and then administered.
Have you got those four things? Would you like me to go over them again, just to mention them, we'll open them up in a moment.
God is a God of order.
Satan is the instigator of all disorder and the arch-enemy of heavenly order.
Christ, in person and work, is the Recoverer of a disrupted Divine order.
The church is the elect vessel in which, in the first instance, that recovered Divine order is to be manifested in the ages to come, and administered.
Oh, those of you who have any knowledge of the Bible, will see at once how the whole of the Scriptures open up along those four lines. The end of God is glory. And comprehensively the Bible shows that glory is inseparable from order. And order, Divine order, is always the way to glory just as, to the contrary, confusion always results in shame. For that's true enough. So the Bible is supremely, comprehensively, concerned with this one great issue.
Perhaps you are wondering, or asking in your mind, "What does this mean where we simple believers are concerned? It's all very wonderful, very great, but here we are, a little company of Christian people, how is this a message for us?"
Will you be patient, dear friends, this is of the most vital account to you and to me. We are a part of a great whole. We are not just friends which are shut off in this space with an independent and unrelated life. We are called by the grace and sovereign will of God into a great purpose. And what is true of the whole, is true of every part. And you and I are going to learn, if we learn anything about Christ, that we are part of the disruption of the Divine order, and that grace, grace in its deepest and grandest interpretation, is to bring order out of our chaos, to introduce heaven into us, and us into heaven according to that which obtains in heaven.
Oh yes, we're going to learn this, in many, many different ways, that what God is doing with us and Paul has called us into, is just this: to conform us to the image of His Son. But, that is not just conformity to a Person, that is conformity to a Divine order. His Son is an order of God, the order of heaven.
I don't know how you read the four gospels, if you read them as the life of Jesus here on earth, what He did and what He said, purely as a historic record, I suggest to you that you go back to those gospels with this one thought: here is the embodiment of another order of things, in constitution and in behaviour, in ways of life, in laws and principles governing the life. Here is heaven in evidence! Here is heaven in control! Here is another world embodied, "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world". Here's another world come in in this Person. Read the gospels in the light of that and you will begin to see that He does not do as we'd think as the people of this world would, even the wisest. He is getting everything from heaven, every word He is getting from heaven; He is governed by heaven. That is the meaning of the so oft-repeated phrase, "The kingdom of heaven" - the rule of the heavens, the kingdom of God - the rule of God!
As we learn Christ, so we pass from this world in our inward life, more and more, and find ourselves more and more in conflict with it, and incapable of accommodating ourselves to it and being at home and happy in it. It becomes more and more a far country; something to which we do not belong. That is true in the consciousness of the true child of God, but growingly so, growingly so! The true child of God, as he or she goes on in this inner spiritual change of knowing Christ, you often ask the question: "What's happening to me? I used to be able to do this and that, but I can't now. At one time I had no qualms or difficulties, but today I have a question." It's growing, it's like that.
I think if we stayed here long enough we should find this world an utterly impossible place, spiritually, to live in. We can only live, any of us, as heaven came down to help us stay here at all. Well, that's a way of putting things, we're just going home; that's all. All the time, all the time.
Now, to refer to our great interpreter again of these things, the man who had such a full and exact knowledge of the scriptures in the first place, and then added to that, "To whom was given that peculiar and that so great revelation of heavenly things, especially of Christ". To that man, the great issue of all things, was this very thing: the recovery of a lost, Divine order in this universe. He stated that. Here is one fragment of that great statement: "Unto a dispensation, (an order, an economy, a government, a rule) unto a dispensation of fullness of the times to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven, in earth." Now we are faced with a tremendous statement; the implications of it. In the first place there's a word here, almost an unspeakable word in our language. In the Greek it requires no less than nineteen letters, a compound, translated: "to sum up". And in its original meaning it's this: to bring back and centre in one, all things. To bring back! To recover! And centre in one, all things. To gather up all that which has been lost, and focus it and embody it in Christ. Do you see the implications?
First of all, the implication is there was an order, once, there was an order once, obtaining in God's universe. A perfect order.
Secondly, that order has been lost; a great disruption has taken place in the universe.
And thirdly, the regathering, the recovering, the restoring of that last order in Christ.
That's what Paul saw to be the significance of Christ. What a range! What an interpretation of everything! What a word, to gather up all the fragments of this shattered vessel, all the parts of this disrupted and confused universe, to repair the damage and to make of all one beautiful expression of heavenly order. That's the work of the person of Christ in redemption.
Oh, there's a word, used so often, to reconcile all things unto Himself, reconciliate, implying that the situation is such as to find God in not a state of conciliation with it, and it not in conciliation with God. Everything has gone to pieces and is under a terrible strain where God is concerned, because things have broken down, the Divine order has been shattered. This One, Jesus Christ, came into this world, in the first place in His own person, embodying that which He is going to recover objectively. He cannot be deflected from that for a moment, on any consideration, on any bribe, or by any suffering; He's going through with what He calls, "the will of God".
And dear friends, while we use that phrase, sometimes glibly, sometimes seriously, we do not always recognise (if we ever recognise) that the will of God is the expression of this perfect order of God. "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven". If only we knew how things are done in heaven, we should see a beautiful harmony, complete accord, the utter absence of any jangling confusion, contradiction or inconsistency - everything - that's God's will. He came for that. For that! It could only be, as we shall see later, by the Cross in which He had got to take hold of this, this enormous force of disruption and confusion and break it forever and produce, or reproduce, that order which we find commencing in the New Testament. We must leave that for the moment.
To rightly understand Christ, to rightly know Christ, is to see that He stands related to this of which we are speaking, this universal, beautiful, order of God in the creation. Christ Himself is the Seed of that order. He is the Seed of that order! You take your seed or your bulbs and if you get the bulb of the hyacinth and place it in the earth, you don't expect a cabbage to appear! Within that small organism there is the order of hyacinths. That's the nature, that's the life, that's the species. That's the kind of thing that is there. And so it is in every organic creation, every seed has its own life, producing after its own kind. That's scripture isn't it, "after its own kind".
Christ is the Seed of a heavenly order. In Him is implicit that order of God, the Life is in Him. The order or the form is in Him. The nature of that is in Him. The nature of that! The order requires a kind of nature (oh, for language, for words, ability to explain...) a disposition, the kind of person that He is, He's so different! We're always crying and praying to be like Christ, yes, in Him is a nature which, when it becomes universal, will be seen in a certain perfect harmony and order. He is the constitution of everything. Paul finds himself beggared for words in this very thing, and he's a master of language and languages. He speaks about Christ filling all things and all things filled into Christ!
We can't grasp that language. It's just this: He's going to be the constitution of everything! And that "everything" is to be an expression of this mind of God: how things should be; what things should be; how they should behave. You and I behave as we do because we have a certain constitution, we are made like that. Make the whole creation like Christ and it will behave like Christ! It's like that. He is the nature of a constitution of a great Divine system (I don't like that word, but we have to use it) a great Divine system or order.
I'm afraid I have to stop at this point, before we come to this first matter. God is a God of order. I think I'll leave that with you until the afternoon, you can be thinking, in the light of your Bible: God as a God of order. For if there's one thing that the Bible reveals about God, it is that! On the other hand, the Bible is a tremendous testimony all the way through against disorder. If you want to see what it is all about, what it means, why this and why that, it's this conflict between a Divine order, and a satanic disorder. It's like that all the way through, and that's the battle.
And I say again, before we are through it has got to come down to our own lives in a very intimate way. But take the great truth, capable of having a tremendous effect upon us, at least this, dear friends, that we must, we must make it our business. If this is the business of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, this is the meaning of the Cross, we must make it our business to come under the rule of Heaven, the rule of Christ, the rule of the Holy Spirit, so that all the discords and conflicts go out of our individual life and of our collective life; that we are more and more an expression of Him, whose life, character, work, and ways have no inconsistencies, no contradictions and no conflicts in Himself. He is the sum of this beautiful harmony.
Do believe this, amongst other things and whatever else it means, when that great song is sung, about which we read in the book of the Revelation, the great multitude of every language, every tongue and nation and kindred and people, singing! Singing! The thing about it will be that there isn't one discordant note! It will be the most marvellous harmony. Why? Because the centre of it all is one Person who pervades all. It's the Lamb. His work is done; He has redeemed by His Blood out of every nation. He has brought together all the broken pieces, all the shattered plan of God, and here it is, redeemed. And the mark of His work is this: that out of all the divided peoples of this earth, divided by language, divided by colour, divided by temperament, divided in a score of different ways, He has made one harmonious whole, singing one song, with no discord. It's the mark of 'order' that is the mark of His redemption!