The Church of the Firstborn

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - A Full Knowledge of Christ

Reading: Eph. 1:17-23; Colossians 1 and 2.

We want to point out how the letter to the Ephesians and the letter to the Colossians are all of a piece with the great truth that is contained in the fact of the church of the firstborn, especially underlining the words in Ephesians 1:17:

"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (that is, our Lord Jesus Christ)".

The word in the original is "the full knowledge of Him". It is important to note that, because there is a knowledge of the Lord Jesus which is not an Ephesian knowledge, so to speak; which is not the knowledge of the Lord Jesus that is brought into view in these later letters of the apostle. When we come to Ephesians and Colossians we come to something very much fuller to the Lord Jesus, and what the apostle is desiring as he writes, is that the believers may come to this full knowledge of the Lord Jesus which he is seeking to set forth. So that what we have in these letters is the full, or the fuller knowledge of the Lord Jesus for the saints, and unto that full knowledge he prays that the Father of glory may give a spirit of wisdom and revelation.

"Having the eyes of your heart enlightened..."

It is not just the case of the eyes of the heart being opened. The eyes of the heart are opened when we first see the Lord. That is a part of the work of our conversion; we see the Lord. But here is enlightenment for those opened eyes; enlightened unto full knowledge.

"...that ye may know..."

That you may know, not only that you are saved, not only that you are accepted, in that your sins are forgiven. All that is taken for granted, is taken as established when we reach this point. This is something more...

"...what is the hope of his calling..."

It is not that we may know His calling, for we know that, but that we may know the hope of His calling, what the calling is unto.

"...what the riches of the glory of his (Christ's) inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe..."

Here again, it is not the exceeding greatness of His power unto our salvation, with a view to save us, but it is the exceeding greatness of His power unto us who believe in relation to the full knowledge of Christ. The full knowledge of Christ demands the operation of the exceeding greatness of God's power.

"...according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at his own right hand in the heavenlies... and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all".

We have hinted that the church referred to here is all of a piece with the "church of the firstborn". The church comes specially into view in the letter to the Ephesians, which is, as we understand, of all letters the church letter. It is the church of the firstborn, linked with the Levites in a typical way. These words in Ephesians 1 will help us to understand what the Levites were for; what their calling was, and their vocation, as we read backward

What is Meant by God's Full Thought

The Levites stood to represent God's full mind and thought as to His people as a whole, and their vocation was to hold everything in relation to that full thought of God. This first clause sums up the very life and nature and vocation of the Levites, "the full knowledge of Him".

What is God's full thought? No one would ever say that God's full thought is realised in His people when He has got them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, into the wilderness. It is quite impossible to read the Word of God with reference to Israel's history during the forty years and to say that is God's full thought, that is all that God intended, and God has reached His end. Everything contradicts that, and no one would suggest that it was so.

Yet they were redeemed with precious blood; they were saved by a mighty hand; they were brought out of the world typically, out of the authority of darkness, and were made a people for God's own possession. But withal the full thought of God lies far beyond that. God's full thought was in the direction of the land, with all its typical meaning as representing the fulness of Christ and what that fulness is.

God's full thought for the saints is never realised in their salvation from sin, from the world, and from the power of Satan. That is a great part of the Lord's thought, but it is not the full thought. That is only the beginning of His thought. That is the foundation. What is the full thought of God? Firstly, it is "the hope of His calling" to know which requires that He, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, shall give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation unto the knowledge of the hope of His calling.

Israel in the wilderness were living - inadequately, it is true, all too weakly - with a hope. Every step that they took in their march was a step with a hope. Whenever they were caused to tarry, they only did so in the thought that it would not be long before they were on the march again. They were governed by a hope of their calling. What was the hope? A sphere in which there would be fullness: fulness of life, fulness of power; a realm in which they would have all that God could give them, and all that God in His grace and covenant had promised them; a realm in which they would be in the place of government, dominion, power, and much more than that. That was the hope of their calling.

Now, says the apostle, that is the hope of the church's calling, not just to be saved from the old state and realm, but to be saved right through unto all the fulness of God in Christ; "...the church which is his body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all". The hope of His calling is a tremendous thing.

Then there are "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints". I am quite sure we shall never get to the bottom of that, but it is something to dwell upon. It will grow as we dwell upon it. The time was, no doubt, when every one of us in reading that clause wondered what in the thought of God it meant. It was far beyond us. We have been getting just a little glimpse of light. It has been growing, and is still growing, and it will grow as we contemplate it: "the riches of the glory of His (Christ's) inheritance in the saints". If we understood it, and if it gripped us, as such a thing should grip us, it would be a tremendous factor in our pressing on to make our calling and our election sure. We will come to that in a moment, and say a little more about it.

His full thought - the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints! Next there follows, "The exceeding greatness of His power". We note that it is power in accordance with the strength of His might which He energised first in raising Christ from the dead. That is no small matter when you consider all that had to be met of the power of death spiritually. Then the second step is the setting of Him at His own right hand, the getting back there through all principalities and power, and upon that giving Him dominion far above all other rule, and authority, and power, and every name in all ages, putting all under His feet (His enemies); and then giving Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body.

All this is said to be the working of the exceeding greatness of God's power, and the full knowledge of Christ is to know that. To know the full knowledge of Christ, is to be taken through exactly the same course in the power of resurrection, ascension, exaltation, enthronement, dominion, fulness of Him. That is the full knowledge of Christ. These are not small matters. We are not straining, not exaggerating. We are simply dwelling upon what it says, and that is the content of the single phrase "in the full knowledge of Him". That is God's full thought for His own.

We are called to hold everything in relation to God's full thought, and if the Levites are in type the church of the firstborn ones, and we are the antitype, the church, which is His body, then the church, which is His body, is called into being to become the embodiment of, and to hold all things in relation to, the full thought of God.

If you look back and study the history of the Levites from every standpoint - and their life and activity was many-sided, from the receiving and slaying of the sacrifice, and the receiving and taking of the blood, to ministry in the sanctuary, in the maintaining of the light, and the bread, and the incense; and when in transit through the wilderness in the carrying of the sanctuary, the tabernacle (its various parts apportioned to three families) and so much more - you will see that every part of it was linked with this full thought of God, that they were there to hold everything in relation to God's full thought for His people. That is all summed up in this, "the hope of his calling". The hope of His calling was there in the shed blood, in the receiving and sprinkling of the blood, and in every other part of their life. Further it was the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power toward them. It was, in the comprehensive phrase, "the full knowledge of Him".

The church which is His body steps into the place of the Levites spiritually for that same work, ministry, life, vocation in a spiritual way, to hold everything and to function in every way, in relation to the full thought of God, that the saints may come unto the hope of His calling, and the realisation of that hope, the fulfilment of that hope; that the church may come to provide Him with the riches of the glory of His inheritance in it; that the church may be that in which there is the operation of His exceeding great power to translate it from death to the place where it is the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

Perhaps you say, "That is all wonderful, but it is not of very much practical value!" Well, to contemplate a thought of God ought to be an inspiration, even if it overawes us, even if it makes us draw a breath in amazement, even if we are staggered by it. None the less, these are the great thoughts of God, and you and I will not make much progress unless we are apprised of the thoughts of God, because we have got to set our hearts upon God having His thoughts realised. It is a matter of cooperation with Him, and so, says the apostle, "give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure". How can you do that unless you know what your calling and election is? This is it.

The Fulness of God in Christ as Man

Now we come back and gather all this up as far as we can. The great revelation which has come out eventually and called (until disclosed) "the mystery", and represented in a typical way by the Levites, the church of the firstborn, is firstly this: Christ personally, as Man, made the heir of all things, so that in Him, as Man, all God's fulness dwells.

Now you turn to the letter to the Colossians, and when you do so, and read the first chapter, and then the second, you will ask: Now what is the object in view? What is the apostle intending, or what does the Holy Spirit mean by what is written there? The first answer would be that it is to set forth, to declare, the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot get away from that. You take such words as those in verse 19 of chapter 1 and verse 9 of chapter 2. There, surely, is Deity.

The object of the letter was to present Christ in His right place, as one with God. Yet when you have acknowledged that, you have to recognise that there is a second thing which the apostle is seeking to enforce by that very means, showing that, although Jesus Christ was one with God, and of the very Godhead, He was also Man. The very words that it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell in bodily form, imply incarnation; that here was a Man in whom the fulness dwelt. He was God, but Man too. He became Man. The great revelation which has now been disclosed concerning Jesus Christ personally is, on the one hand, just this; not that all fulness dwells in God - that is no special revelation, there is no mystery about that. It is not that it pleases God that all the fulness should dwell in one member of the Godhead - there is nothing to be surprised at in that. That does not need a revelation; that can be taken for granted. But the mystery of Christ is that the fulness dwells in Him as

Man by the good pleasure of the Father; that it is in Man that God has made the fulness to dwell, that He is the heir of all things. When we put that stress and emphasis upon the word "Man", we are touching the very heart of mystery and divine counsels, and we are led back to this position, that from eternity in those counsels of the Godhead, God determined to display Himself universally man-wise, not in His naked-Deity, not as unembodied Spirit (for God is a Spirit), not in the abstract movement of the invisible, intangible, spiritual sense. No! it was man-wise, humanity-wise, and the all-inclusive representation of that intention is Jesus Christ. The incarnation is a marvellous, unspeakable, profound thing going back to the eternal counsels of God. It takes us beyond our depth altogether when we begin to think of Christ as the first-begotten, the only begotten Son.

There we step clean out of our understanding, but though we may not be able to trace it and comprehend it, we are able to understand it this far, that the purpose of it, however it was done, whatever its deep mystery, is the purpose of God to express, to manifest Himself in man-form in this universe. The heart of everything for God is man. The devil never attacked God's creation outside of man. He attacked the whole creation through man, focussed upon man, and man is his object. None of us will ever know what the Lord Jesus went through at the hands of the devil during His sojourn here on this earth, and especially in those hours of His cross. If you and I have ever known (and we have in a measure, which to us has been often beyond endurance) what the fury and hatred and the maliciousness of the devil is, the cruelty, the cunning, the iniquity of Satan, have not touched one little fragment of what the Son of Man had to encounter at the hands of Satan, especially in His Cross. Why? Because it is man that is God's thought, and Christ is the Man; the inclusive Man, and the representative Man.

The fact that God has a Man at last in glory, represents such power, such wisdom, and such triumph on the part of God as to have altogether outwitted, out-manoeuvred, and out-powered all the dominion of Satan. Stephen said: "I see the heavens open, and the Son of Man...". Saul of Tarsus hears the words, "I am Jesus".

The mystery hid from all ages and generations is just that, that God's eternal purpose is bound up with Man, and that Jesus Christ is the chosen, inclusive Man, the Firstborn. When we have said all that, we have not said anything, we have not seen anything. To know Him, to see who and what Jesus is, is the greatest revelation that can ever come to us, and so the apostle says that he prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would grant a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him. There is no greater thing that can ever come than the full knowledge of Him.

This is not the full knowledge of God as God, in His Deity; this is the full knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in the appointment, the thought and intention of God as Man. But that is only one side. You may call it the bigger side if you like, but it is only one side of that revelation which has eventually come out.

The Corporate Expression of Christ in the Church

The other side is that this fulness of the Person is to be manifested corporately in the church of the firstborn ones. He is the Firstborn, the church is the firstborn ones. He and we are set forth as one Body. You and I never become incorporated into Deity, we are not one body with Deity; it is the Man with whom we are one. We are incorporated into Christ as the Man. As Paul in this letter to the Ephesians says, making "of the twain one new man".

We said that the other side is the fulness of the Person of Christ to be manifested corporately. That leads us to this second petition in the prayer of the apostle: "...what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints". What is Christ's inheritance in the saints? What are the riches of the glory of Christ's inheritance in the saints? It is that the saints are to provide Him with the means of the universal manifestation of Himself as God has purposed Him to be. It is a part of the arrangement in those counsels of the Godhead, that He shall be the central fulness, but that the fulness should not be manifested, displayed in an isolated way. There would be no purpose in that, because He could have done that in Deity without incarnation, He could have possessed the fulness in that way, and that is what the letter to the Philippians says. He was equal with God, and had all the fulness, but He emptied Himself. Why? In order that others might be brought into the fulness, that He might not hold it all for Himself. That is what Satan wants to do.

The Lord Jesus let go in order to bring others in. The apostle says, "Let this mind be in you". If any of you are inclined to stand for your own rights, on your own ground, to hold things for yourself, you are violating the very spirit of Christ who let go His own rights in order that others might come into them and get the benefit. So the inheritance of Christ is this: that He is made heir of all things, but He can have all things only as He has the saints, and He gets those "all things" through and in the saints. It is a part of the arrangement, the agreement. It is not as one isolated unit in God's universe, that He is to have everything, but by appointment man-wise, in a corporate sense, and not only in a personal sense. So that the Lord Jesus cannot come into all that God eternally intended for Him until He has the church, and until the church has come to the full knowledge of Him.

The church is called His bride, and it is to be the bride who shows forth His glory. His glories are to be known through the bride. You remember Abraham's servant, who went to fetch the bride for Isaac, and the last stroke in winning the consent of that bride was the displaying of the riches of his master, and giving of those riches to her. When these things were displayed she gave her answer: "I will go." She became the means by which the riches of her bridegroom were displayed. How did the others in her household know what kind of a man this Isaac was, whether he was a beggar or a prince? The servant having taken of his, showed them these riches, these jewels, and they knew what kind of a man he was.

Typically, the servant represents the Holy Spirit taking of the things of Christ to show them to the bride, in order that the bride might become the vehicle of the display of His princeliness, of His glory, His wealth and His riches; His inheritance in the saints. When you come to the end of the book of the Revelation, to the city coming down from God out of heaven adorned as a bride for her husband having the glory of God, her light is like unto a stone most precious and you see that it is the church, with the fulness of Christ, and it is that church that shows what Christ is universally. That is the church of the firstborn. You and I are called to that; that is our calling, our election.

This has some very practical applications. Why is the Lord today laying such stress and emphasis upon the necessity for His own people to come into a new position? There is no doubt about this, that over a very large area the Lord's own people are growingly conscious of spiritual need, conscious of a lack, and a weakness and disappointment, a sense of failure, and they are coming into a new exercise. The Lord is not allowing that to be countered by great evangelistic movements, but rather it is found that almost every time such a movement is launched it resolves itself into getting the Lord's people right. It is significant.

The Lord is not satisfied with His people just being saved, and the Lord is not satisfied that people should just remain saved. The Lord has fixed this as His goal: the full knowledge of Him. It is indispensable to the Lord. His inheritance is bound up with it. The need today is that the Lord's own people should come into a knowledge of Himself which they do not possess, into a position in relation to Himself which they do not occupy; in a word: into the full knowledge of Him. That is the need, and when the church was in the enjoyment of Christ in His risen, ascended and exalted glory, then the Lord was free to add unto them daily those that were being saved. He had a free course to do that, and He did it.

One is bound to ask in these days as to whether it is safe for the Lord to do that in a wholesale way, to add such as being saved to what is; whether they do not stand to lose very largely. Is it not necessary, in order that men should be saved, that the church should be in life, and that the church should be enjoying the fulnesses of Christ? Is not that the key to the situation? Surely it is. A church throbbing with life, enjoying the Lord, is essential in relation to the unsaved. However that may be, here is the Lord's thought for the church. It is a great thought. The Levites were called in to be such, were the custodians of that divine thought, and held everything in relation to it. In other words, the church of the firstborn is to represent God's full thought, and to hold everything unto God's full thought for all His church.

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