And so he immediately, in writing this letter, immediately in what we call the first chapter (there were no chapters when he wrote it, it was just one continuous outflow) but here right at the commencement, he plunges into the eternity past. "We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world... predestinated, foreordained..." he's right back there in the past eternity. And before he has got through, he will have leapt right over into "the age of the ages", that's his phrase in this letter: from eternity to eternity. He is comprehending all that lies between the two eternities of what he calls the eternal, the timeless purpose of God in Christ.
It's important for us and helpful to recognise that standpoint. Helpful in this way: while you have got to face all that is in these other letters, the problems of the letter to the Romans - tremendous effort on the part of the apostle to solve some of the fundamental problems of life, and the whole question of sin and death and justification, it's a tremendous letter and the problems in Corinth... terrible problems - might well have made him despair and give up everything and say, "It's useless. Look at this, look at these people, look at these professing Christians! What's the good of anything, or what's the good of it all?" And just goes down on it in despair. The problems in Galatia, what problems... and so on. But, well, you've got to take notice of those things, they are; they are facts, they're realities and terrible realities calculated to take all the heart and all the hope out of you. But we need not think back into those days, we've only got to look into the state of things amongst Christians today in what is called the church, and we could easily give it all up and say, "Well, what is the good of it, as we know it?" You have to face it, take account of it, know it is real; it's not all imaginary - very real. What are we going to do with it? Well, just look back into the past eternity to see what was intended, and look into the future eternity and see it realised. God, from eternity to eternity - through all these vicissitudes, all these difficulties and problems, at last is shown here to have exactly what He planned to have a way back there. It is going to be. The consummation of all things will be as God intended before time was.
Does that help you? It ought to
help us, for here it is positively stated not far on in the
letter: "In the fulness of the times... a dispensation of the
fulness of the time to sum up all things in Christ, the things
in the heavens and the things upon the earth". Let us stay for a
moment, just to get clear about this word "dispensation". The
margin says, "stewardship". The root of the word means, "a house
order" or "the household order": the order, the system, which
obtains. But the word grows and is enlarged and comes to mean
something more than just that. It comes to mean the carrying
out, and putting into effect of the purpose. Dispensation or
stewardship means the carrying out, the carrying into effect of
the purpose of everything. In the fulness of time the whole
purpose will be carried out and put into effect. When the
apostle said that there was given to him a stewardship of the
mystery, he meant that he was called to have something to do
with the putting into effect of what was in the mind of God. So much, for the moment, for the word here:
"dispensation," as it's translated.
What is this putting into effect?
Well, it says, "to sum up all things in Christ". And that is not
satisfactory, it's not adequate, it means: to gather
together, to reunite all things in heaven and in
earth in Christ. And the emphasis is upon that word "together".
Together! That's a thrilling thought, that in the fulness of the
times putting into effect of the purpose means everything will
be at last together. Together. Not just outwardly, we are
together in this place, but I wonder if it could be said of us
all in an inward way that we are absolutely together here. It's
a grand thing, isn't it, when we really are in spirit, in heart,
in an inward way, in object, in purpose, in outlook together.
That's a mighty thing. That's a grand thing. That's a fruitful
thing. That's a joyous thing. It's everything we desire. When
you think of the opposite, the opposite, when you are not
together, when two people who have to live under the same roof
are not together, it's a miserable... not life, but existence - a
company of people who have to meet outwardly together, but are
really not inwardly together - it is not a happy state.
There's a strain, there's an atmosphere, there is a lack. But it
says that the putting into effect of God's purpose will be found
at last in togetherness universally; that is the riches
of His Grace. The riches of His Grace. But see the setting of
that... what a history stands over against that.
The Bible, from one standpoint, is a record of the opposite to that togetherness. The effect: the result of an interference with God's purpose. It began, apparently outside of this world, what we could call the cosmic disruption in this universe. Various hints of it are given to us, one apostle speaks about the "angels which kept not their first estate... now bound in everlasting chains". Angels which "kept not their first estate". What a hint as to Lucifer's primeval position. And then coveting, just the next step up; the place of the Son of God, equality with God. And through that pride and ambition, bringing about that terrible disruption in the very realm of God Himself. There, a disruption in the heavenlies and that is not something that happened and was concluded in some undated period called, "before the world was" or "before times eternal". That very realm today, called "the heavenlies", the very atmospheric realm occupied by principalities and powers, world rulers of this darkness, hosts of wicked spirits, is a realm of utter confusion and conflict. And sensitive believers know it, that it's an atmosphere of conflict, strife and disruption.
It began there, and then its
repercussions came down to this created earth when God had made
all things to His own pleasure and satisfaction and said, "It's
very good", put man into it and gave man his "helpmeet" - the
one meet to help him. It was not long before that thing which
had happened above broke in and disrupted the first human
family. And Cain murdered his brother; family life is broken.
And you move on to the race, which has grown, multiplied and expanded, and you come to Babel and the disruption of the human race, and the breakout into conflicting nations with the strife and confusion of tongues. The whole earth is full of confusion: Babel. On you go, and there arises the story of Israel, a family, tribes, and then that's broken. The ten and the two divided, fighting each other - schism in Israel. On further, and the awful disintegration, disruption of the exile; a long story of everything being contrary to what God intended in the breakdown of human relationships, the state of confusion. Confusion! It didn't stop with the Old Testament, and with the exile, it's there when you come into the New Testament. It's there. A terrible atmosphere of conflict you meet immediately you open your gospels. And God brings in something very beautiful at Pentecost, they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching, the breaking of bread and prayers. Now we said it before, this touch of schism breaks in again, to divide it all, to spoil it all and the rest of the New Testament is the story of battling with this, this thing: division, division, division. Schism, strife, disintegration. The great appeal is for fellowship and oneness.
Go on... and what about today? What about today? Well, the world has grown so much bigger than it was in those days. It's a much bigger world altogether, new countries have been discovered and populated. A far greater world, and with the literal, historical expansion and growth, what has happened? Was there ever a time when there was more conflict, more confusion, more strain in relationships than there is now? Truly the prince of the power of the air is very busy. Today this world holds more of this confusion, divisiveness, strain in relationships than ever before. Despite every effort of every counsel, and every union and every effort of man to bring the nations together, it all breaks down every time. Isn't it true? Well, alright, that's how it is, and it isn't, of course, all right, it's very wrong. But you see what the apostle is telling us here by revelation to him from the Lord Himself, that the great work of God in Christ through grace is going to see that whole historic system of disruption brought to a complete end. And the things in the heavens, and the things of the earth are reunited in Christ - together again in Christ in the fulness of the times. That is what the apostle says, what the Holy Spirit says is the consummation of it all. What a tremendous phrase this is: "in Christ"! In Christ! Mark you, it's in Christ, we are not talking about that popular theory of universalism, we are talking about what is in Christ. There will be a lot afterward that is not in Christ. Not in Christ, but it's altogether outside of His domain, of His Kingdom, of His realm - outside, completely. But the realm of this creation, and of this cosmos, heaven and earth, will be His realm, "the kingdoms (plural) of this world shall be the (singular) kingdom of our God and His Christ". One kingdom, and that within Christ is a one united, together, state of things; in Christ. Of course this really doesn't need arguing. We know quite well that if there is any hope at all for anything like this now, it will only be as we really are in Christ and stay there. If we get out of Christ into ourselves, we get into disruption and confusion. If we abide in Him, if all of us abide in Him, then we are together in an inmost way.
Hence, the necessity in the first
place for position; position in Christ. And then:
abiding in Christ. And then: growing in Christ. And then:
perfected in Christ. It's a process; it's a work of grace to
abide in Christ. The trouble is, dear friends, that we do meet
one another so much; you meet me and I meet you, and you have to
say so often, "that's him", and I have to say, "that's you".
That's you; that's just you. You know what I mean? It's just
ourselves: our way of thinking, our way of talking, our way of
expressing ourselves - the outcoming of ourselves, or the
forthgoing of ourselves in some way. It's there. And it's a real
joy and relief and pleasure to meet a person and not meet them,
but meet the Lord! Isn't it? Just to say, when we've been with
them, "Well, I wasn't struck and impressed by them, but
I was with the Lord in them and about them. What impressed me
was the grace of God in them". Grace... bringing Christ
out, making Christ the impression; grace doing it. Now, that is exactly what Peter means by
growing in grace. It means the diminishing of all that is outside
of grace, of ourselves. Growing in grace. When we do come
into contact with one another, it's more Christ as the effect and
result than ourselves - what we want, what we
think, how we think things ought to be and all that whole
gamut of self-interest and self-life. Christ... unto the
consummation the Spirit of Grace is seeking to displace
that which is not gracious, and bring Christ Who is
gracious, more fully into being where we are concerned. For the
consummation is that all things will be united in Him and He will
fill all things; it will just be Christ. You've heard that so
often; it will just be Christ.
Oh, what a grand day it will be when the ten thousand times ten
thousand and thousands of thousands of redeemed individuals are
utterly one person, because it's all Christ, and no more of this
ugly self. It's Christ. Now that, says the Word, is what God
intended from the beginning, that is the eternal purpose of God,
that is the explanation of all the conflict in this universe; to
spoil it, to hinder it, to contradict it. But that is what the
Word says is how it is going to be in spite of everything. In
spite of everything.
Dear friends, we shall agree with
one another then, absolutely agree with one another. We shall.
We shall all be saying the same thing, all be doing the same
thing, it won't be monotonous and uninteresting to be all
occupied with one thing. What will that be? There are various
ways of putting it, but I think it will be: What a lot we owe to
the grace of God! That will be our eternal occupation: the
wonder of His grace, the marvel of His grace. If the apostle was
able to say, in the presence of his large and yet so imperfect
apprehension and knowledge and realisation of the grace of God,
"Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of
God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past
finding out", if he could say, "It was given to me, the least of
all saints to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ", if in
the imperfection even of that knowledge and ministry he could
speak like that, what about when we come into the utter fulness
of it in the ages of the ages? We will be saying all the time,
"Oh the depth of the riches, the unsearchable riches, the riches
of His grace". But do you notice that between the eternities of
the past intention and purpose of God, and the ultimate
consummation and realisation, the apostle just does say, "Walk
worthy of the calling wherewith you are called, in all meekness"
that's selflessness, lowliness. "Walk," he would say, "in
the grace," which is going to lead at last to this oneness.
As far as people will allow us to do so, as far as we can make it possible for them to do so with us, let us ask the Lord that this grace, this grace of fellowship, of oneness, may be found in us increasingly now. Of course, there are a lot of Christians who won't let us, who won't let us, who make it impossible for us to have fellowship, to be together. But, as far as it is in our power, let us seek by the grace of God to live in the light of the day when He will reunite in Christ all things in heaven and on earth.