The Stewardship of the Mystery

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Mystery

NOTE. In a number of issues of this paper we have been occupied with two aspects of the Divine Horizon, viz: -

1. All things horizoned by Christ.
2. All things horizoned by Purpose.

There are other aspects of Horizon yet to be considered, but when we come to "The Stewardship of the Mystery", we find the above two major aspects converging or coming together. And so, we move on from those aspects as two, and take them up in their oneness in the "Mystery".

1. An Additional Word About the Vessel

We have, in our last chapter, given some particular consideration to Paul as the specially chosen 'vessel' for this stewardship, and while we do not want to allow him to eclipse other chosen vessels, we feel how necessary it is to recognize that we cannot really understand the peculiar nature of the dispensation in which we live unless we recognize the peculiar and special, nature of this vessel and its deposit.

We dare therefore to add this brief word in that connection in order to link up with what has already been said, and to lead on to the message.

Perhaps the most impressive and forceful way in which we can do this is to quote some words in a book just published by Dr. F. F. Bruce (whose spiritual scholarship will not find much dispute).

Under the heading "Paul's World Significance" Dr. Bruce writes: -
'Paul is one of the most significant figures in the history of civilization. To him, far more than to any other man, Christianity owes the direction which it took in the first generation after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is interesting at times to speculate on the might-have-beens of history. What might have been the course of Christianity had Paul never become a Christian? Would it have remained one among 5 several movements within the frontiers of Judaism? Would it have remained a predominantly Asian religion, like other movements which originated in the same continent? So we might go on, asking questions whose only value is to emphasize the significance of the life and work of Paul... if it is asked how a faith which arose in Asia should have come to be so universally associated with European civilization (for this purpose 'European' includes 'American'), the answer to the question must be sought in the life and activity of Paul... Since Christianity began as a movement within the commonwealth of Israel, how is it that, less than a century after its inception, it presented the appearance of a mainly Gentile faith? The answer to this question too lies in the effectiveness of the ministry of Paul...' and so on.
If all this, and much more, as to Paul's significance is right, then an inclusive question arises; to what does this particular significance relate? The answer that Paul would give, and his writings provide, is found in the phrase in which he embodied the purpose of his calling - "the stewardship of the mystery". We must therefore proceed at once to the consideration of what is meant by

"The Mystery".

It is not sufficient to say that 'mystery' means 'secret', something hidden, and later disclosed. We must explain what that mystery was, and is.

There are two main aspects of this Divine mystery.

One, and the first, relates to the Eternal Purpose; i.e., that which lay at the heart of the counsels of the Godhead before time and before creation.

The other relates to the fore-knowledge which took in all the contingencies of time and human history, and stored up in secret how that history and those contingencies would be met, and their problems resolved.

We have dealt with the former of these two aspects in 'Horizoned by Christ' and in Vol. 1 of the original Stewardship of the Mystery. It is with the latter that we are mainly concerned now, although it will embrace the former.

Within the compass of the contingencies of history we are confronted with the great disruptive movement revealed in the Bible and so apparent in experience. This is shown to have had two phases; one before creation (of this present world), the other after.

The First Disruption

There is enough in the Bible to inform us that things were not always as they are now. Scripture indicates that there was an undefined period in which a state of perfect accord and harmony existed in the universe. Heaven and earth were in holy happy and joyous symphony. Job speaks of a time "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). This is said to have followed the "fastening of the foundations and the laying of the cornerstone of the earth".

In the Book of Proverbs - the book so largely the fruit of a special Divine gift of wisdom and knowledge - Wisdom is personified, as of a He eternally existent, and that He is spoken of as "rejoicing in his habitable earth", and saying, "my delights were with the sons of men" (Prov. 8:31).

There is a little - but immensely significant - prefix to the great activities of God in the reverting to the blessed and holy state;- it is the prefix Re. Its meaning is 'again'. It has numerous compounds, as any dictionary will show, but the greatest words in God's reactions have this prefix:- Re-demption; re-conciliation; re-storation; re-cover; re-generation; re-new; re-plenish; re-turn, etc. All this means a re-turn to a state which has been lost.

We ask then: How did this disruption take place and what were - and are - the factors accounting for it?

It is fairly generally agreed by Bible students, and it is borne out by the geological strata of the earth's crust, that this world existed long before the recreation account in Genesis. It is also believed that the darkness, chaos, barrenness, and death to which that book introduces itself was the result of some terrible and devastating event. There are not lacking indications that this was a judgment of God upon a regime which had - by its iniquity and rebellion - passed beyond recovery. Not only are there pointers to this as to that dateless past; there are two other things which bear upon it. One is God's attitude toward and commandment concerning such people as the Canaanites. Utter extermination without a remnant or residue was God's edict because of the extremity of their 'abominations'. The other thing is that a time is declared to be coming (probably when the redeemed have been lifted away) when, to quote the actual words, "the day of the Lord will come... in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved... But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:10-13). (We in this atomic age can understand this language better than our fathers, and what a testimony to inspiration it is that the manner of "the end of all things" is so described many hundreds of years before the atomic age.)

In the three connections there is a reflection upon the inclusive cause of the cosmic judgment; it is in Peter's words - "wherein dwelleth righteousness". Unrighteousness carried to its limit means devastation and ruin. Unrighteousness in its essence is, not ceding and giving to God His rights; this is frequently called "iniquity", and the root of that work is rebellion. That last word - rebellion - brings us immediately to the answer to our question above.

Whence This Universal Discord?

For answer we turn to Ezekiel's prophecy (28:1-10). First the prophet speaks of the Lord's judgment upon the King of Tyre. Then he is carried back into a realm and a position which call for language and description which could never be limited to that king. Through the King of Tyre, and through certain characteristics of his there looms into view the greater one who rules and inspires him.

This greater one is spoken of as "the anointed cherub that covereth"; "full of wisdom and perfect in beauty"; dwelling in the garden of God, bedecked and adorned with beautiful and costly gems. As the "anointed cherub which covereth", he seems to have had some position of special privilege, honour, and responsibility in relation to the throne. He "walked up and down amidst the stones of fire". No man ever held such a position. He was Lucifer, the light-bearer.

But he was created and entrusted. He was neither the Creator nor the source, but he held everything by trust and by dependence.

Then the scene changes and a dark shadow enters the realm of glory. "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness". Conceit is always followed by self-assertion. Sooner or later, it will come out and show itself in conduct. It will rebel against authority; it will resent equality; it will move - perhaps sullenly at first, gathering strength - toward an open revolt and rebellion. It will seek followers and supporters, until the "I will" becomes a set course. "I will ascend"; "I will exalt my throne"; "I will sit upon the mount"; "I will be". This then is the source and spring of iniquity, and its essence is pride of heart. "Thy heart was lifted up". Out of this came independent action.

In the meantime many have been defiled and have formed an alliance with this erstwhile beautiful and trusted one. "The angels which kept not their first estate" (Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:4).

Thus we see this rift as having taken place - according to Luke 10:17,18 - in Heaven, and the first great schism having taken place there. There is no place too sacred and holy for the spirit of pride and self-will to invade, corrupt, and hurt. If this could happen there, can we expect that anything here will escape the attack? No, nothing ever has escaped it!

But there is the reaction of God. His answer to "I will ascend" is "thou shalt be brought down to hell". Hell is banishment from the presence of God and loss of all Divine privilege.

The next phase and stage of this course is well known. It may be that in some way Lucifer had a special relationship to this earth, and with his rebellion he infected the previous creation, and was "cast out". This may largely be deducted from certain Scriptures. A judgment follows a rebellion, and out of the death, the God of Resurrection moved to "make all things new". There we have the account in Genesis.

But the Adversary has not given up. The renewed earth has been placed under the 'dominion' of the 'First Adam'. Into this domain Satan intrudes and - was it to regain his own lost dominion - he makes a bid for it and succeeds. He has found his accomplice and has captured the power of human reproduction with the constituent of rebellion introduced into it. Even Jesus, the rightful Lord will - before His Cross - call Satan, "the prince of this world" and will not - at the time - dispute the Devil's statement that "the kingdoms of the world... and the glory of them... hath been delivered unto me". The Cross will settle that, but that comes later.

So, we have the repercussion of the heavenly discord in this world.

All division, confusion, disruption, conflicting elements, derive from this twofold primal disruption and disorder. There is now only one legitimate antagonism; it is between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death, righteousness and unrighteousness. It is impressive that at the beginning of the Bible we have this unlawful bid for pre-eminence resulting in division and discord, and so near the end - in John's third letter - the man who has more to say about love than anyone else, turns with vehement wrath and fiery threatening against "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence", and thereby is causing divisions.

Here is the point at which, for the moment, we must break off, for it is here that God's 'secret', His 'mystery', is kept in reserve, firstly, to be revealed; secondly, to call for alliance; and finally, to settle the whole issue.

The Particular Mystery

The word 'mystery' is found twenty-seven times in the received text of the New Testament and is related to several matters. The Lord Jesus said to the twelve disciples that it was given to them to know the mysteries of the Kingdom. Paul, as we have seen, claimed to have a special revelation of the mystery; not the mysteries, but the particular mystery. This revelation constituted his particular stewardship, and we have tried to show how very vital and important that stewardship is for this dispensation. So it becomes us to define that particular "mystery". The farthest that most teachers have gone is to make it to mean the uniting of Jew and Gentile in the Church. "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs" (Eph. 3:6). This view or conclusion seems to have a great deal of support especially when chapters 9 to 15 of Romans are read. The imperfection of this conclusion or deduction is not in the simple statement that Jews and Gentiles are united in Christ, but in retention of the names in Christ. The fact is that in Christ there are no Jews and there are no Gentiles. As such they disappear in the grave of Christ, i.e., baptism as a testimony to union with Christ in death and burial. There is no such thing as a baptized Jew or a baptized Gentile. The 'mystery' is that "of the twain (he makes) one new man" (Eph. 2:15), and the point is "in himself".

So, the 'mystery' is that Christ in resurrection is the firstborn of a new humanity in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, etc. Every dividing distinction of nationality, culture, language, colour, country, etc., etc., is removed in the Cross of Christ because these things are the entail of a curse and the evil brood of the disruption to which we have referred earlier.

In the realm of Christ; in the realm of the Holy Spirit; in the realm of the One Body and the One Life they have no standing. They are great realities in the natural realm and may constitute difficulties, but the Spirit of Christ forbids that they govern attitudes and prejudices.

In Christ there is a common basis which makes fellowship a real and blessed thing even where in the natural all these things exist - even in one place. This is one of the most powerful testimonies to the reality of Christ and the work of His Cross. It is indeed "the mystery of Christ". Paul refers to this when he says that "Christ in you (is) the hope of glory". It is literally "Christ in the midst of you". It is in this connection that he says, "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh". The "henceforth" refers back to "Christ-died for (in the place of) all, therefore all died (in Him)" "Wherefore, if any man be in Christ there is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:16,17).

It is just here that the great need is to recognize

The Significance of Christ.

In the natural world all the effects of the great schism in the universe to which we have referred will govern relationships and attitudes. Indeed, they are the very nature and constitution of things, postulating a control, a strangle-hold by forces inimical, hostile, and viciously antagonistic to harmony, concord, and peace. Racial discriminations and prejudices; 'colour bars'; class distinctions; race superiorities; and everything else of its kind and spirit emanate from a curse upon creation due to Satanic interference. It is all the disruption that is in the very nature of man and things. To change this, man has to be changed in constitution. Christ is different; He is of another order of humanity. In Christ there is "neither... nor", but only one new man. In Christ there is a new creation, where there cannot be this and that of inimical differences and conflicting natures. There is no way through this situation, the only way is above it, ascendency over it. The Church is viewed as "seated with Christ in the heavenlies", and the sooner we realise that this is no abstract, idealistic, unreal, and theoretical position - to say nothing of it being a geographical position - the sooner will our Christianity regain its power and impact. That position is a spiritual one. That is, it is a position of the spirit in the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. Where Heaven is we do not know, but the "heavenlies" are right here around us, pressing upon us and seeking to elevate us in our inward life as "in Christ".

The heart of the whole matter is in Ephesians 1:9,10 - "having made known... the mystery of his will... which he purposed in him, unto a dispensation (stewardship, or outworking) of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ..." To 'sum up' means literally 'to reunite'; to reunite all things in Christ.

Three phases are indicated: The eternal, purpose that "all things" were the Son's heritage, to be in Him: the universal rift by reason of a bid for the Son's place and heritage: the secret hid in God as to how to realise the purpose and destroy the rift, through the Cross to 'reunite all things in Christ'. This represents the essential sphere of unity - "In Christ"; and a power working through the Cross to a resurrection position - "the exceeding greatness of his power" (Ephes. 1:19).

In the first edition of The Stewardship of the Mystery Vol. 2 (now out of print), we said some things which were taken up in two ways and given a meaning different from and beyond what was intended. The construction put upon them was - in both cases - that of our seeking to be divisive among the Lord's people.

The extremists of 'come-out'ism used what we said to support their position and they gave occasion to others for opposing us on the ground of being divisive in our teaching and influence. The fact is that both were wrong. Ours was a wholly constructive object, positive and not negative.

The following is what we wrote then and we can only ask that it will now be viewed as an attempt to show how great and how different Christ is as the all-uniting person and nature.

Seeing that "the mystery" which was revealed to the Apostle Paul in a particular and fuller way is shown to be Christ personal and Christ corporate, it is necessary for us to look more earnestly into

The Peculiar Significance of the Definition "The Body".

We have to get nearer to the special definition of the Church as the Body of Christ. It has been said by some that the term is only a metaphor. But when we look at all that is said about it in Paul's letters we have to say that if any man's body is only a metaphor, then this is. Can we regard our own bodies as of merely metaphorical significance, or are they of literal and practical meaning or reality? There surely cannot be any doubt as to the practical reality of the Church as Christ's Body! However, we shall see. To understand the significance of this definition it is first of all necessary to recognize the significance of Christ Himself. There is first the personal and then the related significance.

In Himself Christ took up all the eternal interests of God as bound up with the Elect. God had an inheritance or "heritage" in that corporate company. God's heritage was "alienated" from Him. God's heritage was marred. God's heritage was turned to serve purposes which were contrary to Him and His intention. God's heritage was taken possession of by powers inimical to His interests. In relation to this, God's Son undertook a full recovery and restoration to God of His rights, His purposes, and His instrument.

The point is that this Son of God as Son of Man did not undertake this work in an independent and detached way, but Himself became the representative and embodiment of all this. Because moral factors were involved requiring judgment and death a position had to be accepted. This could be nothing merely official, it had to be moral and spiritual. So, in order to effect a full recovery to a position in keeping with God's holiness for holy purposes, the Son of God was "made sin" (in the hour of His atoning work), entered into the alienation because of that accepted position ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"); became marred ("marred more than any man"); fought out the battle of God's rights, and destroyed the inimical powers and works; redeemed the heritage "unto God"; secured the Elect in "the blood of the everlasting covenant"; and ratified the eternal purpose.

(We must ever keep the broad line between that which Christ was inherently as sinless, and that which He took upon Himself representatively. A guiltless One took the place and judgment of the guilty.)

We repeat, this was all done in no merely official capacity, but He and the heritage and the Elect became one in experience. Finality rested with Christ. God had no other in reserve if He failed. He was not the Second Adam, but the Last Adam. God has "at the end... spoken in his Son". Well, then; Christ as risen and exalted is the personal embodiment of everything which relates in God's eternal thought to the Church.

Then the next phase is that - while He remains a living person and a distinct member of Godhead - He is given "to be head over all things to the church which is his body, the fulness of him..." All this fulness is now - in the first instance - not embodied in a separate person as one by Himself, but in a Head as one with the Body. The Head holds all in relation to the Body. The Body gets all in relation to the Head. The full statement of this is in Ephesians 1, leading up to verses 18-22. No individual or number of individuals as such can obtain the inheritance; it requires the Body. Two things, amongst others, postulate this fact.

Firstly, the use of the article in the Greek in this connection. A classic instance is in 1 Cor. 12:12:
"...As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ" (Greek, "the Christ").

This is not an isolated case. It is a form used when Christ and His members as one Body are in view. Its force is that the members and the Head -  for all purposes of God here - are "the Christ". The whole subject or truth of identification with Christ is bound up with this. Let us be most explicit and emphatic that we are not touching the personal existence of the Son, as a member of the Godhead. This term "the Christ" is His official, not His personal designation.

Then there is that other fact to which reference has been - and yet will be - made. That which springs out of or issues from Christ's resurrection as in God's eye and Heaven's mind is a "one new man". If you carefully read the various passages dealing with this One New Man you will find that you cannot discriminate between Christ and His members. Take, for instance, the following:
"...the building up of the body of Christ; till we all attain unto... a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ... may grow up in all things into him, which is the head even Christ [Gk., "the Christ"]; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together... maketh the increase of the body..." (Ephesians 4:12,13,15,16).
"...holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth... and have put on the new man, which is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 2:19; 3:10).

This brings us to see that what our members are to our heads, the Body of Christ is to Him. It is for the expression of what He is and has done in Himself.

But there is another aspect of this which need only be mentioned, for all know it. As Christ personally was the shrine of God on earth, so the Body is the shrine of the Trinity.

"Ye are the temple of God", "A habitation of God through the Spirit", "Christ in you the hope of glory", etc.

As to the practical values and outworkings of this corporate nature of the Church we have much to say yet, but let it be seen that, not in an institution, an organization, but as a personal living presence in a spiritual organism Christ is present in the whole spiritual cosmic realm.

We must take account of some of the implications of this definition - the Body.

Some Implications of "The Body"

Firstly these implications are corrective.

There are many either false or imperfectly considered ideas about the Church, and a real revelation to the heart by the Holy Spirit of the truth will result in considerable adjustment.

If there is any real Divine mind behind the definition of the Church as the Body of Christ, and the One New Man, then the Church cannot be five things which obtain in 'Church History', or 'Ecclesiastical Polity'. It cannot be national. It cannot be international. It cannot be denominational. It cannot be interdenominational. It cannot be undenominational.

What sort of a man is this One New Man? What kind of a body is this Body of Christ? Is he a National man? Then there cannot be "one Body"! Is he an international man? Then he must be a composite man, embodying the features and characteristics of all nations. We will not carry the question further. All these designations which we have mentioned represent something, as apart from something else, to the Church. They distinguish Christians; they put some here and some there; some in this and others not in this. Even the last-named - undenominational - as a good-intentioned measure to get over sectarian barriers or distinguishing marks, but sets up another boundary, and misses the positive truth of the Body of Christ; it is at least negative.

Before we proceed let us pause a moment. We are anxious to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding. We are not saying that because many believers are in the various denominations they are not in the Body of Christ. Rather would we say that the Body of Christ comprises those who are truly joined to Himself wherever they may be found. So that no one must imagine that we suggest that in order to be in some thing called "the Body of Christ" they must leave their denomination. We should say that denominations are not an expression - in themselves - of the Body, and can be either a definite limitation or a real hindrance to the full thought of God. We recognize that there may be a fine difference between denominations and denominationalism; the one being more or less passive, the other positive. The latter would certainly be a menace to the truth of the Body of Christ. What we mean by denominationalism is the definite pursuance of denominational interests. There are many people of God in denominations who are not denominational in any positive and aggressive way, but who are rather where they are because that is where they have met the Lord. They love the Lord and desire to go on with Him.

What we are saying is not meant to be a judgment of such, nor in the spirit of criticism, but out of real love for every fellow-member of Christ. If a thing has to be judged as being less or other than the Lord's full or true thought; and if it is seen - in the light of fuller revelation and corresponding experience - to be only good as far as it goes, but not good in relation to a fuller thought of God, then those who are in it will only come under that judgment if and when they fail to have light which God has made available, or disobey light given. This, of course, will touch upon the question of whether the Cross has dealt with the natural life, and whether there is a walk in the Spirit. Let no one think therefore that we are out against Christians because they are in this or that department of the whole company of believers, nor yet that it is our aim to destroy those departments.

We are concerned with positive spiritual reality, and we say with Paul "admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ; whereunto I labour, striving according to his working which worketh in me mightily" (Colossians 1:28, 29).

But we recognize and know that "perfect in Christ" is related to the Body, as the context shows - "I... fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ... for his body's sake, which is the church" etc. (verse 24).

We would never say anything which would raise an issue which is fraught with so much suffering and misunderstanding were it merely a technical question, and were we not convinced that the gain to the Lord and His people far outweighs that cost, and justifies the "afflictions". Our objective is constructive, not destructive; positive, not negative; love, not judgment or criticism.

But to resume where we paused. Have you seen the Son of Man? Of what nation or nationality is He? Into what section of mankind do you fit Him as the Son of Man? What is His category in that capacity? To what people does He belong, or to what temperament, clime, or time? You answer, to all! Yes, and more! He reaches over all time limits, over all earth distinctions, outside of this present order of creation. He is a Man whose like has never been in this earth. He answers to the full and final thought of God as before man was created. He is eternal in conception, heavenly, universal. Yet He is Man.

Now come back to Paul. In this New Man to which he calls attention all the points which distinguish between people here are ruled out. Jews and Gentiles, and all others, as such, cease to be. They have disappeared when the Body of Christ comes into view - 'there can be neither'; not 'there are both'. That principle extended means that in the Church which is His Body there are not British, French, German, Indian, Chinese, etc., all making up the one Church. No! (Here is the fundamental weakness.) If Christ really gets into a man or woman by new birth; that is, if the Holy Spirit really and truly takes up residence as Lord within, the one preeminent reality and fact there is Christ! Let the persons concerned recognize and realise that; let all other responsible workers recognize that and certain things will follow. A new and altogether other Factor will be there to govern that life. That Factor can be trusted to check up. The seeds of another nature are there. We need not all the time be taking account of national disposition, temperament, accountability. It is a shame to see how many Christians despise other Christian 'nationals', especially if those others have come from a 'heathen' nation. It all amounts to whether the fundamental reality is there implanted, and then as to whether we trust the Holy Spirit in one another; or whether we are all the time trying to do the Holy Spirit's work. It is wonderful how the Apostles cast their converts and their churches upon the Lord.

Now it is this other, heavenly, Divine, Factor - "Christ in you" - one indivisible Person - who constitutes the Body. "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh". Why? Because "one died for all, therefore all died in him". We know quite well that the universality of Christ is a reality in every true child of God, for we instantly have something in common with such whatever their nationality, even if we have never met before. It is only when we get on to man's side of things and leave the Lord that dividedness comes in.

In all love, yet in all faithfulness we venture to say that no one who has really had a revelation of the Body of Christ could remain officially or spiritually on positive national, international, racial, denominational, or other ground, if that ground represents a division amongst the people of God. The only possible position for such is that of openness, fellowship, and ministry to "all saints". There are two things here to mention. One is that every matter such as this one should be a living issue in the hearts of those concerned. We realise that what we have said could be taken up legally, and action could be precipitate, and impulsive. Unless a thing is done by the Holy Spirit in the heart it can never be a Holy Spirit matter outwardly. It is therefore unwise and dangerous to tell people to leave this or that, do this thing and do that thing, unless already the Holy Spirit has done something. There are plenty of independent and unrelated movements which are neither fruitful nor living.

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.