Four Greatnesses of Divine Revelation
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Greatness of the Death of Christ

“The bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto the world... I am the bread of life... I am come down from heaven... I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; yea and the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have not life in yourselves... My flesh is true meat, and My blood is true drink... This is the bread which came down out of heaven”  (John 6:33,35,38,51,53,55,58).

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God”  (Ephesians 3:17–19).

As the Lord enables, we shall now seek to recognize the link and the transition from Christ through the Cross to ourselves—that is, to the Lord’s people.  As we have been thinking of the greatness of Christ there have been some things which have come out as to His Person. Firstly, in connection with sonship, we thought about His eternity—the eternal Sonship; then, at the other end, we thought of Him as the Son of Man.  Son of God eternal, Son of Man in time; Son of God in heaven, Son of Man on earth; and we have been trying to understand the greatness contained in those capacities.  We have thought about the greatness of the Cross.  One thing we have said about Christ is that He does not stand in solitary isolation outside our universe, but the revelation of Him—even in His eternal Sonship, as well as in every other capacity—is intended to show that He stands closely associated with us, with man.  You will remember that we have said that the eternal Sonship of Christ is no matter of concern to us if it is something in itself; we are not very interested if it is not going to affect us in any way.  Therefore the fact that it is the very substance of revelation to man shows that God is interested that man should know, and that with a great purpose.  God does not show us these things just for the sake of letting us have a look at something very wonderful.  He reveals with an object in view, a big, but very practical object, and He says, in effect: ‘Now, this concerns you.  You are bound up with this and related to it.’  So that the greatness of Christ as Son, both of God and of man, is brought by the New Testament down to a practical living relationship with us. He, the Son, is going to bring many sons to glory.  He, the Son of Man, is the firstborn of a new creation, and in His manhood, after His likeness, a new creation is coming back to God, to be presented to God in Him.  Well, that is all common ground, but we must get to the inner, practical meaning of it all.

God’s Eternal Thought of Sonship Secured in Christ

We have spoken about the eternity of the Son and of our participation in the eternal life which is His.  What does that mean really?  Does it just convey to your minds the idea of endless duration, something without beginning and without end?  That is vague, and hardly helpful.  What is the real, practical meaning and value of that as a revelation, as something brought to us?  Well, what it means is that sonship is a thought, a conception, in the mind of God before we were made, that which was to be transferred to a creation.  That is, it goes before time, and for us, time simply means this present material world order.  Time for us begins when God made a material creation and put the heavenly bodies in their place to govern years and months and days and the seasons of the year, and so on.  That is time for us, and it belongs, therefore, to the material creation; but get back behind time and you come to God's thought, which is outside of time.  Call it timeless, if you like, or eternal.  It is outside of time, before time was, and it was to give character to time, give nature to creation.  That which He would make would, in His intention, take its character from this and would, therefore, in its conception, in its idea, as well as in its nature, be something related to the timeless thought of God.  Now, Christ is that.

But what, again, is the practical meaning of that to us now?  It is that Christ has perfected that eternal pre-time thought of God; Christ stands to govern everything created, and to see that time has no power to destroy it. Nothing which can come into time can eventually dismiss that, because that is eternal and stands there governing all time.  Eventually things are bound, with the timelessness of God, to come back to that original idea.  The creation in time may go leagues and leagues further from God’s idea and may move completely out of its orbit, but time shall be no more; time has no power finally to dismiss that.  In Christ it is secured before ever time was, and eventually it is bound to be realized.  The creation will come back to the timeless thought of God, and it will be shown that nothing that has ever entered into time has had power finally to change that.  That is tremendous—and that is the practical value of sonship. Sonship is an eternal idea, and eventually the creation will come to sonship.  There will be that eventually which will be sonship embodied in creation, in a people, and that will be what God ever thought and determined.

God’s Eternal Thought Secured in the Cross

But how can that be?  There is the eternal fact—and here is time; here are conditions of time; and here are we as found in this creation.  We are far from that eternal thought, so how can that be realized?  Between the eternal thought as perfected in that Son and the ultimate realization of that thought stands the Cross.  The Cross with one arm reaches back to eternity, to that thought, to that purpose of God; with the other arm it reaches on to eternity yet to be, the consummation of that thought.  The Cross is the bridge through all time between the eternities, to take up the purpose on the one hand, and to secure it as a realization on the other hand.  It is in the Cross that the eternal thought of God concerning the Son and the sons is made possible and is secured, and here is the greatness of the Cross in the sense of the eternity of the Cross.  That is the meaning of such a phrase as “the Lamb... slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).  Time is anticipated, and all that could and would come in with time which is so contrary to that eternal thought, is anticipated in the Lamb slain in the thought of God from the foundation of the world.  The Cross bridges it all.  So, when we come into a faith union with Christ as crucified to all that has come in with time—the change of man’s nature and character, the change of the world, and the change of the character of creation; when we stand on the one side of that Cross in a faith identification with Him in death to that change, to all that disruption and denial and contradiction of the Divine conception, and we stand on the other side in a faith identification with Him as risen triumphant over all that has come in with time, we receive the gift of timeless life, eternal life, in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Or, to put it this way, we are then found in Christ, that Christ, from eternity.  We have been lifted out of time and what time means now—for time now means disruption, disorder, corruption, and is only another word for the reign of death which puts a limit to life and begins at once to say: ‘So far, and no farther.’  That is death, and that is time.  In His death He has destroyed all the conditions which time represents, He has taken it all away, and we are linked with Him in His eternity.  Sonship—received potentially through the Holy Spirit in new birth, and realized through the Holy Spirit’s continual operation in our maturing—is something which is the fulfilment of an eternal thought of God, the realization of all that God ever thought about us; and the Cross is the point at which all that is made possible—nay, is already secured in Christ.  How great is the Cross!

God’s Heavenly Man

Following that (and it is only saying the same thing again, putting the emphasis on another word), we have here in this Gospel by John: “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven”: “I am come down from heaven.”  Here is a phrase reiterated almost monotonously.  Eternal, yes—that is the reach backward.  Now “from heaven”— that is the reach upward.  But what does: “I am come down from heaven” mean?  Christ said things which are completely mysterious until the Holy Spirit interprets them to the heart!  He speaks about the Son of Man Who is in heaven (John 3:13).  While He is saying the very words He is on the earth, yet He says: “The Son of man, Who is in heaven.”  What does He mean?  He simply means, as the later New Testament shows us, that He is not of this creation, He is not produced by the ordinary racial means on this earth and does not come into being along the ordinary line of generation in Adam.  “I am come down from heaven.”  The essential and deepest reality about Christ is that He is of a different order. Yes, He is born of Mary, but He is born of the Holy Spirit, in a unique way.  Something has operated so that it can be said of Him before His birth: “The holy Thing Which is begotton of Thee...” (Luke 1:35)—a completeness of holiness which is the product of the intervention of God the Holy Spirit, cutting off from the inheritance of this fallen creation.  So it is true that, by the Holy Spirit come down from heaven, He has come down from heaven. In a word, He is of another order of human beings; there is that about Him which is unique and different from all other men; there is not another like Him.  “I am come down from heaven.”

That, again, is God’s thought—a certain kind of humanity which is not found in time and on this earth as we know it, a mankind which is not the one familiar to us; a different order, something outside of this realm and this race of mankind altogether.  We are “foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  You and I are to be of a different order altogether from the one to which we belong by nature.  This order to which we belong now in this creation is not God’s thought at all.  It has gone wrong, and has fallen right out of the Divine recognition and acceptance.  It is something other, it is confused, contaminated, tangled and poisoned.

THIS ONE from heaven is the representation, the embodiment and the inclusiveness of what God intended man to be.  There is this creation at one end, and at the other end—“conformed to the image of His Son,” made like Him in resurrection, made different, spiritually, within.  Yes, but only in embryo now.  You know what an embryo is: something that has life, but undeveloped and not fully conscious life.  Development will take place and consciousness will grow, but it is not there to begin with. That is what we are when we are born again.  We have life, but how much consciousness and understanding of the meaning of that life is there?  Very little!  How many of the Lord’s people, of all the millions on this earth, are conscious of what they are saved unto, of what the great object is that God has in view in saving them?  They have life because they are born again, but the life is only embryonic life in the sense that the consciousness of the meaning of it is very limited.  But as that life develops, so there grows the consciousness of the object for which we have been born again.  There may be a good deal of enthusiasm, activity and energy about young Christians, but if they stay in that place of having only energy and not understanding, they are not growing.  Any little babe will wear you out in the course of a few hours!  Try and do what a child does and see how long you can keep it up!  There is plenty of life and energy, but not much intelligence.  The real mark of growth is not energy alone, but intelligence.  So the true course of the development of spiritual life is in seeing and knowing more and more what we are called unto, what we are saved for, and what is the Divine meaning in that which has taken place in us.  There are comparatively few who are growing up like that!

Well, in the end there will be the full-grown man, the fulness of the stature of Christ, and sonship fully attained, for it is secure in Christ, and was secured in Him away back in the Cross.

But between what God has eternally secured and projected in His Son, and that ultimate realization, there is what we are by nature.  We are not that which is God’s thought, and, what is more, it is not in us to be that, whatever the humanists may say, and whatever may be the widespread false doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and the power of man to be his own saviour if only he is cultivated and educated, and all the rest.  In spite of all that, it is not in us to become what God eternally intended us to be.  How blind men are, in the light of recent history, to hold to the belief that, after thousands of years, we are nearer to God!  We are no nearer to God than we were in the beginning. God is surely spoiling all that sort of thing, but men are blind and still cling to it; they are die-hards in this realm of total depravity.  However, where is the hope?  There, between the two, stands the Cross, and the Cross takes up not only the eternal, but the heavenly, the altogether ‘other.’  With one hand it possesses what we are, and with the other hand it secures the realization of the Divine intention and brings them both together in that Man crucified—a Man Who in resurrection becomes the first of the kind of man that is to be. There He is in the Cross.  The Cross of the Lord Jesus, Christ crucified, secures another kind of man, and (as we were saying) when we are born again we receive the embryonic life of that new order.  If only we will be obedient to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus we shall be changed into the same image, we shall be transformed, we shall grow up into Him in all things, we shall become progressively like Him, and then, in the great day of His final intervention for us, “we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).  We shall all be changed, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and death shall be swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:53,54).  The Cross accomplishes that.  How great it is!

Christ the Broken Bread

You see, that is why the Lord Jesus speaks in this symbolic way about Himself: “I am the bread of life... I came down from heaven.”  “He that eateth Me...”; “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have not life in yourselves.”  Clearly that means that the bread must be broken.  He speaks those words, not just to individuals, but to the whole company of believers: “He that believeth on Me.”  The bread has to be distributed.  You notice that, leading up to this, was the feeding of the multitude, and it was out of the breaking of the bread for the feeding of the multitude that this wonderful revelation of Himself as the bread of life took its rise.  Where was the broken bread to be distributed?  It was at the Cross.  The Cross is the breaking of the loaf, so that we might receive Christ.  Paul explains it all, getting right into the mystery of it, in this matchless passage in Ephesians 3:17 and 18: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  How does Christ dwell in our hearts?  He has been broken and given to faith; faith has reached out, and the broken, distributed Christ, Who still remains whole while yet broken, is come to dwell in our hearts.  “...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints...”; “we, who are many, are one loaf, one body” (1 Corinthians 10:17), made so by Christ dwelling in all our hearts through faith.  “...may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”  That is simply gathering up what we have been saying in one comprehensive statement.

The Greatness of the Love of God

We close with a fresh emphasis upon the fourfold dimensions of the love of Christ.  Love, in Ephesians, goes hand in hand with the great word ‘grace.’  Grace and love in Ephesians are twins—or shall I put it this way: grace is love in action.  When we come to grace in Ephesians, it is not just the grace of God towards us to save us from hell and to give us some assurance of heaven.  It is the grace of God to save us unto that high and full and perfect thought of His.  It is all this that is in view—this vast, eternal thing, all brought into relation to the Church.  That is the grace of God in this Letter.  Then grace is shown to be because of the love of God: “Christ... loved the church, and gave Himself up for it” (Ephesians 5:25)—the broken bread.  That love springs out of the Cross.  The Cross is first brought into view here.  “In Whom we have redemption” (Ephesians 1:7).  “You did He make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest: but God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1–5; ASV).  There is the great love of God, as shown in the Cross, raising us from that awful death through the Cross.

And then that love is seen in its four dimensions—breadth, length, height and depth.  What is that?  It is the Cross reaching out in its expansiveness.  The breadth of the Cross—and, oh! how broad the Cross is!  How broad the love of God is!  You can afford to be a whole­hearted ‘Broad Churchman’ in the love of God!  Oh, the love of God is much bigger, much broader than our conception of it, and, oh! for more of this love that will broaden us!  We are so small, so contemptible, so petty.  Do not let us be afraid of thinking of the love of God in broad terms.  The Lord will surprise some of us with what His love has done, and whom His love has saved.  Oh, the breadth of His love!  It brings us back to the exhortation of Paul to the Corinthians: “Be ye also enlarged.”

That is the breadth, the outward reach; and now the length of His love—the backward and forward reach, going back beyond time, beyond the Fall, beyond all that has happened.  The love of the Cross reaches beyond that and outstrips it.  Thank God, it outstrips all that has come in with this creation through Satan and through Adam, and it goes on when time shall be no more.  The Cross, the love of God, extends backward and forward over the eternities.

“...What is the breadth and length and height”—Oh, the height of the love of God, of the Cross of our Lord Jesus!  To what heights it can bring us!  “...and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6).  The heights of the power of the Cross!  The reach of the Cross to lift us!  We have no conception of what we are going to be.  John says: “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.  We know that, if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).  Look at Him on the Mount of Transfiguration!  Look at Him in the brightness above that of the noon day sun over the road to Damascus!  Look at Him as John saw Him, as recorded at the beginning of the Book of the Revelation: “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as one dead” (Revelation 1:17; ASV).  We shall be like Him!  We cannot describe it, but that is the height of the Cross, the height of the love of God.  Oh, what an uplift there is in the Cross!  What an uplift in the love of God!  This is practical, and not just doctrine.  When the love of God really does get hold of a life, it lifts.  There is lift in the love of God.  Oh, if only God Almighty were to come alongside you now in a personal form, and you knew Him to be God Almighty, the Eternal, and He said to you: ‘I do love you!’, you would be lifted clean off the earth at once.  The Cross is the great revelation that God loves us.  “God so loved... that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).  Oh, for that love to be in us so that the effect of our being here would be to lift others!  I am afraid it is the other way so often—we cast down, we oppress, and our effect is not lifting.  Oh, God save us into more of His love that lifts!

And the depth of the love of God, of the Cross!  We sing:

“Oh, teach me what it meaneth:
Thy love beyond compare,
The love that reacheth deeper
Than depths of self-despair!”

That is one depth some of us know—the depth of self-despair.  He took all the despair of all men, that abyss of hopelessness, of shame, of sin, right down to the bottom; and the Cross, the love of God, reaches down there to lift up.  What is the depth?  Well might the Apostle go back upon himself when he comes into touch with that love and talk nonsense: “ know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  You are outside of human language!  Ephesians is the Letter of superlatives.  Paul just cannot cope with language in that Letter, because he has got altogether outside of this life, this world, this creation.  He has got into touch with eternity, heaven, God, with the magnitudes, and human language falls over itself in trying to describe that!  “The exceeding greatness of His power” (Ephesians 1:19).  “ to do exceeding abundantly above all...” (Ephesians 3:20).  Language cannot describe it.  Here is love in its four dimensions, but it passes knowledge.  That may sound like mere words.  It is; but, oh, what I trust is that through the words there will be a registration in our hearts of the Spirit of God to tell us that “the love of God is broader than the measures of man’s mind.”  IT is deeper than the depths of the world’s despair and shame and sin.  IT is higher than the highest thoughts of which we are capable as to what it can do, and IT anchors us outside of time and in eternity.

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