May we have a further word of prayer: "Lord, when we pray, it is our way of saying we cannot do without Thee. There is nothing that we can do without Thee. We are wholly dependent on Thee, Lord, and we acknowledge it, and we are very conscious of it. If there is to be anything of eternal value in this time, it must be Thyself Who is doing it. We also lift our hearts to Thee in a humble, earnest dependence; and, we say to Thee, Lord, You speak and give us to hear Thee, deeper than the voice that Thou dost use as Thine instrument, for Thy Name's sake, Amen."
Before we come to the actual message which I feel the Lord has given, there are one or two preliminary things that I would like to say. I think you will agree with me if you know anything about conditions today inside Christianity and outside it, the greatest need of our time is a reappraisal of Christianity, a new apprehension of what we come into when we come to Christ. There has been much lost, very much lost, of the true nature and essence of Christianity, and there has been much distortion, resulting in confusion. I repeat, the need of our time is a re-presentation and understanding of what it is we have come into when we come into Christ.
This is an age of cheapness. Get it as cheaply and as quickly as you can, with just as little cost and tiresomeness. "Get it quickly: get it easily." That thought governs the whole world system. Everything is now aligned to getting it done easily and getting it done quickly. It is that way in your kitchen, your scurrying, your household affairs, and in every other realm. What is true in the secular has now become very largely true in the spiritual. The standards have been terribly lowered. Bigness has substituted greatness. Greatness, the true meaning of the word is no longer considered. Oh, how we hear, "Big, oh yes, the bigger, then assuredly that is the most successful," but this is absolutely contrary to the Bible, to all gospel. It is like that.
Ease and easiness, lightness, glamorousness, excitement, emotion: this is the order of our day. This hurrying that we are speaking of comes so largely into Christianity: and the result is that we have quite a poor type of Christian.
Now, you may despise the Puritans, but the devil, someone has said, has made great capital out of using that word, "puritan," by way of discrediting something that was very vital and deep, strong and foundational, for the foundations were well laid in those days. Perhaps it is a good sign that today such people as the Moody Press are reproducing the writings of the Puritans. A very good sign! There is a bringing back of that substantial teaching of past generations. Reproducing, that is a good sign, perhaps indicating a direction at least.
I am very glad that there is a manifest outreach, especially on the part of young people, for reality. They are tired and sick of unreality. That is a very good thing indeed if only they find reality and do not go in for the substitutes that are today being retailed so lavishly, the substitutes which seem to be real and are an illusion.
Well, you have, therefore, today a superficial kind of Christianity: it is shallow. There is very little stamina about it. As soon as things become difficult, contrary, and seem not to be what was expected, people begin to back off. Their expectation was a false one. Things are not what they expected and are getting rather hot and rather tiresome and rather exacting; and then, as the Scripture says, "in the last time many shall fall away." The stamina is not there: there is no power of endurance. The public looks very good and very pleasant where, for a little while, it is address that seems to attract, but it easily wears out. It does not last. That is a condition of our time, a lot of noise and a lot of show.
There is a fear of seriousness and a fear of death. The slogan today is "Are you happy?" Even amongst Christians, the question is one of "Are you happy?" Well, perhaps there are two ways of thinking about that; but let me say at once, and I have young Christians very much in mind as I am speaking, that if you are going on with the Lord, you are going to have some unhappy days. Is that too bad to say right at the beginning of a conference?
I was at a conference once, and a large number of Christian ministers was there. We had a week on the Cross, and it was a devastating week. In the end, an appeal was made for testimonies as to what the week had meant to these men, and one very excitable man got up. Everything for him was wonderful, marvelous, terrific. It was tremendous. He sat down. Presently, a man got up onto the platform, and he said, "Wonderful? Happy? Why, I have just been shattered, smashed to pieces. My whole life has been taken down to be made all over again." That man counted for God after that. You understand what I mean?
So, while we are going to be joyful in the Lord, sometimes there is a large gap between being happy and joyful. "Happy" depends upon "hap": "Joy" goes on whatever "happens." Well, this is something that I must say at the beginning: there is a need of a recovery or reappraisal of the true nature of that into which we have come when we have come into Christ.
Now, we are going to begin and take a brief statement in the Scripture as the basis of these considerations. You will find it in the First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 9: "God is faithful, through Whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord." "CALLED," underline the word, "called," into "fellowship with His (God's) Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
The line that we may follow will be: The Person of the Fellowship, Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord; The People of the Fellowship, "ye were called" The Purpose of the Fellowship; The Process of the Fellowship; The Prospect of the Fellowship; and The Peril of the Fellowship.
The Person of the Fellowship, His Son
Now we begin with The Person of the Fellowship, His Son, Jesus, Christ, Lord. A new appraisal and apprehension of the Person is basic to everything else. Until we have an adequate apprehension of Christ, we have not got a sound and sure foundation for our Christian life. Everything begins with and flows from our understanding of Jesus Christ. What do we know about Jesus Christ? Well, let us look at Him from several different angles, in several different collections.
First of all, we shall look at His Eternity, the Eternal Sonship, the Eternal Anointing, which the word, "Christ," means. Let us look at the Eternal Lordship of Jesus Christ: let us look at the Eternity of this One into Whom we have come if we have rightly come into Christianity.
There are two beginnings in the Bible. The Bible begins with one: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Yet, there is a beginning before that beginning. In John's gospel, chapter 1, verse 1, it says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This in Genesis 1:1 follows the beginning of John's gospel. "All things were created by Him."
A beginning before the beginning of this creation - this Jesus, this Christ, was away back there before time, before all things. Look at this matchless, I mean, matchless statement in the Letter to the Colossians. Will you look at it? You have heard it often perhaps, but you can never read this without taking a deep breath or even holding your breath. The Colossian letter, chapter 1, at verse 15-19:
"...He is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of ALL creation; for in Him ALL things were created, in the heavens, and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: ALL things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before ALL things, and in Him ALL things hold together. 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. For it pleased the Father that in Him should ALL fullness dwell..."
One little word there compasses everything, and you cannot get outside of it, "all," - ALL. It is putting everything around it every time. You cannot add to that because that ALL comprehends the universe; and He is over all and through all and all things are unto Him.
John 17, that great prayer, begins as the Lord is lifting up His eyes to heaven and says, "Father, glorify Thou Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." "The glory that I had with Thee before the world was." - And then Paul opens a window and just gives us a glimpse in that letter to the Philippians when he says, "...Who, existing in the form of God..." A long way back before anything else was this One, to Whom we have come; and in the terms of fellowship, we are "called into the fellowship" of this One. Later, we shall bring that down to our own selves and how we are related to that; but for the moment, our object right at the beginning is to see how great this One is Whom we call "Lord, Jesus, Christ," and Whom we believe to be God's Son, Master of the Ages, greater than time, the Master of all things in the universe, the Creator of all - the One active in creation, and yet the One to Whom all the creation belongs.
Now, you may not think in the light of many happenings and much history and the world conditions that such statements are true; but even though that is difficult to understand, it is true. All I have to say to you is that if you have come into true Christianity and a true relationship with this One, Jesus Christ, then you have come to the Bible. You have come to the Bible, and you have got to take the Bible and take it as it stands; and what I have given to you is a fragment of the Bible, but it is the Bible.
I really do not understand. Something is wrong with me, I think, I do not understand how people, anybody or any system, can claim to be Christian and not believe the Bible. Where did they get it from if they did not get it from the Bible? Where did it come from? What do they know at all about anything in this realm of Christianity apart from the Bible? Really, their attitude simply means that they have got the Bible, and they have taken a name which is the name in the Bible, the dominating name, and they do not believe it. They do not accept it.
Now, young people, you take it from me, you take it from an old man; and do not take it as from an old man but as from one who was your age once and who began the Christian life at your age and has gone on and on all these... shall I say, centuries? What I mean is I have had plenty of time, plenty of time and opportunity and occasion for testing the Bible. I took dogmatic theology under a prince of modernists. If you understand what that means for a young man, you know I have had opportunity to test the Bible.
Well, I would not be here today if I had not taken the Bible and come to know at least something of the truth of it. I have gone through all the problems, theological problems, doctrinal problems, through all the controversies, I know it all or think I do, a lot of it; and I have come to prove that it is a safe thing to believe what this Bible says and to act accordingly. You will find God behind that in marvelous ways.
Well, I could say a lot more about that, but, you see, you begin here by saying, "The Bible says these things...." You begin with the things that the Bible says about this One, and it says, "Jesus Christ our Lord." The Bible says that. "Lord." You say it does not mean just that. All right, do what you like about that; but you will have to come back - sooner or later, God grant it sooner - to believe and to know that these things are true: that in spite of everything, He is this One before all time, the Creator of all things, the Eternal Son of God. I could quote so much more Scripture in this very connection, as you know.
You make such a lot of Christmas, do you? Well, Christianity does make a lot of Christmas; but, after all, what is Christmas? Christmas is only, after all, a fragment, a mighty fragment, within this compass of the Eternal Son of God. He did not begin at Bethlehem. There are some people who think that Jesus began His existence at Bethlehem. That was an incident in the course of the ages; a mighty, significant, and necessary incident. We all know what for; but, true, you do not begin with Him at Bethlehem. We will come to that later on and what the story really does mean for us, but remember that long, long, long before there was ever such a place or name as Bethlehem, He was there. No, He did not begin there.
Well, let us go on. What is His Eternity? Then we come through that eternity to His Divine appointment. The fragment which introduces us to this appointment and to which many, many other statements have been linked, the fragment is the statement in the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1, right at the beginning. "God has at the end of all former times, all former methods, all former economies, all former ways of speaking and working, in the end of all those times, He has spoken to us in His Son." We are back at our Corinthian text - "called into the fellowship of His Son."
Heir Of All Things
God has spoken at last fully and finally in His Son, "Whom He appointed the Heir of all things." When was that? We do not know. It is a statement again, way back somewhere, undated, that there was this appointment made: this designation was decided upon that He, the Son of the Father, was made "Heir of all things," and it goes on to say, "...through Whom He made the ages."
Then the passage continues in a great and marvelous, sevenfold description of Him that you can read, but first we see that He was appointed Heir of all things, the rightful Heir, the destined Lord of the universe. Heir, God's Heir! The title to "all things" is His by Divine determination and decree from all eternity. He is to possess, to have all things. He knew it Himself. This was the mystery of His knowledge when He was here: He was God's Heir.
He wrote it: He said it when He gave the parable of the man who planted a vineyard. He let it out to husbandmen and went into a far country. The time of the fruit drew near, and he sent his servant to claim his rights, to possess what was his. They cast him out, and he sent another (these are the prophets). He sent another, and they maltreated him. They cast him out, and so he went on until he had no more prophets or servants of that kind to send. He said, "I will send my beloved son:... they will reverence him." But when they saw the son coming, they said, "This is the heir."
The knowledge of Jesus about Himself is that He was the eternally designated Heir of all things Who was sent by God to claim God's rights, to which we shall refer again. "This is the Heir": this is Jesus' consciousness and knowledge; and John, you know, says, "He came unto His own things and the people who were His own received Him not." In the parable, they cast him out. "Let us kill him," they said. "Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours." Oh, the profundity of that parable, embracing all time and eternity. He was the Heir, appointed and destined for all things.
"Called into the fellowship of His Son" may mean a fellowship with being cast out and being slain, simply because you are related to the One Who is the Heir; and there is another who says, "not if I can prevent it." Relationship with this One, fellowship with this One, involves being in His Own rejection if you are in right relationship with Him.
I do not think very much of a type of Christian who does not suffer for his or her Christianity. Well, I do not want to discourage you; but make no mistake about it, this word FELLOWSHIP covers a lot of ground and a lot of things. In eternity past, there was His appointment to the right of all things as Heir. This has been the ground of dispute, of course, through the ages, but we are not at the end of the story yet.
The Significance Of Christ In The Universe
The next thing is His significance in the universe. Shall we have a look at one or two passages in this connection? May we go to the well-known Ephesian letter, chapter 1, at verse 9: "Having made known, (because God has done it) having made known unto us the mystery of His Will, according to His good pleasure (we are to weigh every fragment) having made known unto us the mystery of His Will, the hidden secret of His Will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him, that is, in Christ, until a dispensation of the fulness of times, to sum up all things in Christ - to sum up all things in Christ - the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, in Him, I say, in Whom we were made a heritage, joint-heirs, having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His Will: to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory. "
The significance of Christ in the universe? - that all things are to be summed up or re-gathered into Him eventually. The mystery, the hidden secret of His Will and His working all things after the counsel of that Will, is to at last re-gather all things into this One. This brings us back to that passage that we read earlier in the Colossian Letter.
I hope I am not tiring you with my slowness. That is a part of old age; but, nevertheless, we are not in a hurry to cover a lot of superficial ground. Let us get right inside because we have got to do some "mental sprinting."
Now, Colossians, chapter 1, again at verse 17: "And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist." "In Him all things hold together." I could understand that many of you young people do not understand that, but it is the Scripture; and if you do not grasp some of the truth of it, I will take you to Calvary to the hour when the sun should have been at its strongest, its most powerful, burning and scorching, but there was darkness over the face of the earth till the ninth hour. What has happened? And then it says: "There was a great earthquake." The earth shook: it was rent. What has happened? The One Who holds all things together has been slain: the rightful Heir of all things has been put out of His heritage.
All right, put Him out, and you will go to pieces. That is what happens. Put Him out, and sooner or later you will disintegrate because, as many of us know, the integration of our life is our union with Jesus Christ. He brought us together, we poor, broken, scattered creatures. Oh, how sorry we are.
And, oh, the youth of today - how scattered, disillusioned, disappointed, dissatisfied. We who know Christ know cohesion, but they know no unity in their lives. "The scattered" is the word. He is the One Who integrates, in Whom all things hold together and in Whom the story of the Cross has been written in terms of His holding all things together.
The Sun says, "I have no more purpose for shining." The Earth says, "There is no purpose in my holding together." No wonder the centurion said, "Truly, this was the Son of God." Do not think that was just a mental conclusion from observation. It was something deeper than that. "In Him all things hold together," and, will you believe me, we are moving rapidly toward the disintegration of this creation and race?!
The Exceeding Greatness Of His Position
Next, His Position. Well, we have read His position already, and I guess we might as well have one fragment about this. God raised Him to "exceeding greatness," the "exceeding greatness" of God's power, the power of God, which was in excess of all other powers. It was in excess of death and hell, the grave and sin, and the devil, exceeding all other powers. "...the exceeding greatness of His power, ...which He exercised in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and (not left Him on the earth or even risen, but) set Him at His Own right hand... far above all principality, power, rule and authority." Also, there is another statement which recurs in the New Testament, and it is the place that God has given Him (as in Him is) "the name which is above every name."
"Called into the fellowship of... Jesus Christ our Lord." Every word is full and rich and pregnant with eternal meaning. This is His position - do you believe that? It is stated. The devil will often come and suggest to you, "If that is true, why? Why? Why?" He has whispered that into my ear more than once.
We never had such a battle to get anywhere as we had getting to this conference. [This was spoken in connection with a conference Brother Sparks was attending in the United States.] We had made our arrangements, booked our passage, and then there was a strike on that line. We had to be switched to another line. Then my wife was taken ill, unable to be moved, laid low for two or three days. Finally, we came back to this changed line, expecting to come away from the airport at nine o'clock in the morning. We got onto the plane and were told "We are very sorry, the plane has engine trouble, and we cannot tell when it will leave." We were put on another line. It was having trouble (not surprised). After waiting a bit longer, we were informed that this plane had broken down.
So we were there at the airport from nine o'clock in the morning until twenty minutes past five in the afternoon. It was a long, long day with weariness and not knowing what was going to happen next. At last, we got on the airplane, and we went out and had to wait its turn to leave. We came away and arrived in New York seven and a half hours late. The system for getting our baggage out of the plane had broken down. We were told it would be an hour before we could get our baggage through customs. After a few more formalities like that, standing in line, awaiting our turn, we finally got to bed at twenty minutes to four in the morning. We had to leave again the next morning. That was not without some difficulties.
We made arrangements to be in Louisville on Monday morning. My wife was ill again. Could I leave her? Could I come? Should I not take her back to London straightway? Not yet! You see, what a battle! Here is all this frustration, complication, seeming confusion and a little demon - I assure you that! The question came: "Is He Lord? Is He Lord? Are these the signs of His Lordship? Is He in control of everything?" You know, when you are up against it, the devil is no myth. He is watching to take advantage.
Well, anyhow, we arrived at our destination. Was all this trouble because Jesus Christ was to be magnified?! Is that not what we have heard? "We should be to the praise of His glory." Well, His position is stated in the Word, and we always have to say to ourselves, "The end is not yet, and the end will be with Him, and not the other one."
Finally, then, we are "called into the fellowship" of this One, His Son, and called into all that the Word says about "in a Son" (Heb. 1:2; Nestle's Greek Interlinear). He is the destined Lord: the One destined to embrace all things, the appointed Heir. He is the very continuity and consistency and integration of all things; and He will, at last, sum up in Himself, or having Himself summed up, gather together - thus, reuniting this broken universe. It is and shall be comprehended by Him, God's Son.
Whose universe? Jesus, the name of His humiliation. Christ, and you know that is only the other word for Messiah. The Messiah - the ever hoped for, looked for, longed for One Who was to restore the kingdom, but not an earthly one. "My kingdom is not of this world" - The Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, our Lord. Our Lord.
You know, dear friends, it does not matter how long you live or how much you may have ministered, meditated, hoped, prayed, or experienced: you will always be defeated when you try to set forth the Lord Jesus in any measure of fullness. We start on an impossible task, do we not? I have just ventured into the impossible of telling you of His greatness.
What I do want, if all the things said are difficult for you, is that an impression will have been made of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want you all, especially you young people (and perhaps many of you have recently come to the Lord Jesus), I want you to go away saying, "I never, never knew how great it was to come to Him! What a great thing it is to be 'called into the fellowship' of God's Son. How great He is!" An impression - the Lord make the impression, or may He come upon us with awesome wonder.
We have not come into some very small, light, frivolous thing. However we may joyfully sing our choruses and so on, but remember, this is no cheap thing. This is no small thing. This is no easy thing. This is a thing which embraces the universe, and we are called into that fellowship.
Well, we have yet to see what the fellowship is and who are in it. This is just the beginning, the magnifying of the Lord Jesus. I pray that you may have a new glimpse of the wonder of the One Whom you love and Whom you call, Saviour AND LORD.
May we pray: "Lord, Thou knowest how helpless and hopeless we feel even approaching this great matter. Lord, we do ask Thee to take up where we have failed, carry on where we leave off. Do leave an impression. When we who know Thee somewhat, perhaps, think we know Thee, yet come to realize far, far greater than ever we have thought, and at the end of a long, full life we may yet be saying, '...that I might know Him.' Give us a sense then of the infinite greatness into which we have come by Thy call. We ask this, this pardon for all our weakness and failure, in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Amen."