"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26).
"God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, has at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son... who being the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:1-3).
"For not unto angels did He subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet... But we behold Him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:5-9).
"A line shall be stretched forth over Jerusalem" (Zech. 1:16).
"And I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof" (Zech. 2:1-2).
"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and one said, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein" (Rev. 11:1).
"But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ... till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:7,13)
This word is somewhat in the nature of a parenthesis in the series, and therefore I need not take time to retrace our steps over the ground already covered, nor to prospect what lies ahead.
The Central Object of God's Activities
This word will be of a very simple character, and yet it sets before us the central object of all God's interests and of His activities. I feel the value and importance of it will be in what you see rather than in what I am able to say, for I am very conscious of the difficulty of setting this matter forth in words, of drawing this picture so that you see it, and you must prayerfully seek all the time to see through the thing said. I am sure if we could see what is here it would be quite revolutionary in our lives in every way.
When we have surveyed all the ground of Holy Writ with its numerous phases and aspects and its apparently numerous themes and subjects and truths, what does it all amount to in the main? Is there one thing in it in which it can all be gathered up? After all, is it one thing and not a thousand things, but so far as God's main concern goes, is it but one thing? Yes, it is true that God is doing more than one thing and in the end there will be a number of things accomplished, but right at the heart of every Divine activity there will be one thing. It will be the hub of all else and out from it everything will move; one central, inclusive, supreme thing which God has had in mind from eternity and toward which He has ever been moving and is still moving. What is that thing? The answer is very simple. It is a Man; not firstly a system of things, not an organization, not any one of a great number of things in which men and even Christians are interested. It is a thing which lies beyond and through many forms of Divine activity, but one thing is always the object. God is after a Man, He seeks for a Man, and when God's end is reached, it will be a Man, a corporate Man, a collective Man at the heart of things, from which all else derives its values. That Man is Christ as Head and the church as Body and members - not two separate entities and not in any way distinguishable, but identical - a Man, a kind and type of being, a new creation.
If we could really resolve everything into that, it would make everything very much more positive. We are concerned with a great many things for the Lord. We can catalogue those things: movements, projects, organizations, lots of things for the Lord, but it is of some great importance that we see beyond the thing to what God is after. For God is not interested in, neither does He commit Himself to, anything for Him which does not attain that one end. And we are likely to reach the Divine end and therefore have God more fully committed to us if we have that end consciously and intelligently in view all the time.
For instance, you can look at the New Testament, the book of the Acts, for instance, and you can see there the apostles given very earnestly and zealously to moving out for the evangelization of the world and the constituting of churches all over that evangelized world. And you can say, "Now, this is the thing that is being done for God, it is evangelizing the world and setting up churches everywhere. Therefore the thing to do according to the New Testament is to evangelize the world and bring into being local churches wherever you come!" That is one way of looking at it, but that is the short view - quite right as far as it goes, but if that were all, it really would not get very far so far as what God is after is concerned.
What is the meaning of this evangelization and of these churches? What does God mean by this? It means to have Christ, the corporate Man, filling all things; it is the bringing in of Christ in a corporate way into this world and He is coming here and here and here. And these churches, which are not organized bodies of a system, not ecclesiastical matters at all, but vital parts of an organic Body, are intended to be in themselves a living presentation of the one Christ. And God, in planting them, is planting His Son, and what He is doing in chastening, disciplining and putting them through the fires of trial is that there might be more of His Son, more of this Man, this heavenly Man.
There are two ways of looking at it, and unfortunately so many Christians have become occupied with the ways and the means as an end, wholly taken up with the things and not seeing sufficiently the end that God has in view. It is all a matter of the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. That is the end - "Till we all attain..." - that is the goal: the stature of the fulness of Christ, or the full stature of Christ.
So God is not after things. If the mind does not grasp this, if the heart does not really become affected with this, everything becomes so objective and can be so unrelated to our own inner spiritual being. You can become an evangelist, an earnest Christian worker, and in yourself not be spiritually growing at all. And there may be a very great deal that needs to be done in you while you are trying to do an enormous amount for the Lord, and that is never done because it is the thing that you are in. That may be extended over a very great deal of ground that things of the Lord become objective and out of relation to our own inner life, and that is the tragedy of so many Christians, so many servants of the Lord, so many workers. They are in the work and they say the great business is soul-winning, winning people for Christ, leading people to Christ, and it is a thing for many of them and they are in the thing and they themselves are not growing, are not being conformed to the image of God's Son. There is a gap between the two, and that is not what God is after at all.
May that not be why God is very slow in coming in on all the appeals to Him to do a big thing in revival, in evangelisation, because so often the thing is unrelated to the spiritual state of the church itself? You find the necessity arises for God to do something in the instrument, the church, before He can do anything much through it. Well, let us see what God's object is, and while I would not say anything at all that would draw back from evangelization, from zeal in soul-winning, I want to say this, that the real measure of satisfaction to God is found in the measure of Christ that is in the one who is doing the work and therefore capable of being imparted. For one of the great troubles is this, that so many who have been brought to Christ have been led on such a slim basis with such a poor measure of Christ that they are rather poor specimens of Christianity and they never seem to grow up very much, to amount to very much. I mean that it is a poor calibre that is about today in numerous cases of Christians, so that there is something basic lacking in their very spiritual birth. You can have people born again upon a very rich basis and they will begin to move very truly and very much more fully.
I will give you an illustration of what I mean. There was a time when I used to baptize people just solely upon the basis of it being a commandment. Jesus was baptized and He commanded baptism and they came because it was a commandment, because Jesus did it, and they were going to follow His example and obey His commandment, and in the background it was that it was a tenet of the church and you could not be a member of the church unless you were baptized. That was the basis, and we did not get very much quality on that basis at all; they did not grow very much spiritually. The time came when I came to see as the Lord opened my eyes, the far greater significance of baptism - identification with Christ in death, the going out in His death and by union with Him in His death of the whole life of nature, the setting aside of the entire natural man, clearing the ground and making the way for a new man, Christ Himself indwelling, with all that that meant. I saw that, and then in giving that fuller word of the Cross, that far greater message of identification with Christ in death, burial and resurrection, people came on the strength of that. We got altogether a different type of Christians; you could draw a broad line between the two companies. One of my problems was that people came and said, "I never saw that when I was baptized, cannot I be baptized again?" And I have been meeting that ever since. I am not talking now about baptism, I am talking of this matter of the end that God has in view to get a large measure of His Son. It is the Man that has ever been in God's thought from the beginning. "Let us make man after our own image" (Gen. 1:26) - that is the crown of creation, and the final crowning will be that new creation Man in Christ.
The End of the Old Man and the Beginning of the New
Well then, I have said what follows the recognition of the main object. The death of Christ was the death of a man, that is, it was the end of one man who could never be that Man that God is after. The Adam, corporate man, had got into such a state that God was not going to dissect and rebuild that man, He was not going to improve or reform Adam. That man had gone beyond the possibility of ever answering to God's original thought and so he must go out, and the Lord Jesus, in His death, died on that side as representative of a whole corporate man to get him out of the way.
To be in Christ, to be a Christian, is not to reform, is not to bring the old man over and put him at the disposal of God, is not to transfer your old man activities to Divine activities, it is not to bring over anything of the Adam creation and to place it there at God's disposal. It is the end altogether, and in Christ all things are new, not out from Adam, not out from ourselves; they are out from God (2 Cor. 5:17-18). Our energies and activities and all our capacities are now Holy Spirit energies and capacities and not ours at all. Our enthusiasm will never really reach God's end. Nothing that we can provide can reach that end. "Oh," you say, "then are we to be without zeal, without enthusiasm?" No! I say, what is the motive power? Is it the Spirit of God or is it our own motive power? If it is our own motive power, the Cross forms a barrier right across the road, placed by God, and He says, "No, you cannot get past this, you end there. From this point it is all of Myself or it is nothing at all; all out from Me or nothing at all!"
Now, that is God's fact. We learn God's fact sometimes over a long series of years, but what is happening is that we are simply being brought back all the time. God has not moved on at all, God has not gone on years. No, we are being brought back and if we did know the real meaning of consecration after years of Christian life, if we did know the meaning of it, the Holy Spirit's interpretation is simply this: "I am only bringing you right back to what obtained at the very beginning where I was concerned, making real the foundation of things."
Well, the death of Christ, so far as God is concerned, was the removing of a man by death, a man that could not and cannot now stand before God as acceptable to be that man that God is seeking, clearing the ground of one man in order to make room for the other Man. New birth is only upon that basis. "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). Well, that pre-supposes that you are making a beginning all over again as though you had no existence before. You have come into being. That is new birth. It therefore does pre-suppose that there has been an end, and an absolutely new beginning is necessary. "Ye must be born again." If God says, "You must be born again", with all that problem that Nicodemus has about it, the answer is, "You can be born again if God says that you must". Nicodemus says, "How?" The Lord's answer is, in effect, "Do not bother about the how; you must and you can; if I say you must, you can". Most of us here know that it can be; we can be born again.
My point is this, that it is something entirely other that is born. What is it that is born again? What is the real nature of this new birth? Well, in a word it is this: Christ Himself is brought right into the centre of the being. It is a Bethlehem in our hearts, Christ born there, and that makes a being that never was before, a new kind of species. Christ in you - that is the hope of glory, and it is the only hope of glory, but it is the hope of glory if Christ is in you. There was no hope of glory in this other man, this fallen man, Adam, therefore God closed him down in the death of Calvary. Where is the hope of glory? In Christ; all the hope of glory is centred and fixed in Christ and if Christ is in us, there is hope of glory, "Christ in you the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
The Process of Conformity to Christ
A new Man is brought into being and from the new birth the activity of the Holy Spirit is to progressively conform us to the image of God's Son, steadily making true what is true with God in the Cross. The Holy Spirit is putting away progressively all that which can never be glorified, dealing with it and getting rid of it, and steadily - oh, so slowly it seems, and often so imperceptibly, bringing in more of Himself, of His Son, through suffering and chastening, through all that which God sees fit to allow to come upon us. That is the object in view, bringing more of His Son in, the patience of Jesus Christ, the love of the Spirit, forbearance, selflessness, Christ being enlarged in us. You and I know quite well that the only way in which we really do learn and come to know the Lord is by being put into positions of absolute necessity to know Him, situations where only some fresh proving of the Lord will be our salvation. We are in that way coming more and more to be able to say, "Well, I have proved the Lord in deep places, in much suffering and in perplexities." That proving of the Lord is an increase of Christ in us which is of tremendous value to the Body. It means that the Body is built up with that measure, the whole Body of Christ.
The church has ever made greater spiritual progress, been purer and had a far greater measure of Christ, in times of suffering than in any other times. One of the great triumphs of the devil was to have given the church an easy time. What happened through Constantine, for instance, brought the church into line with the world, gave it favour and delivered it from its great time of persecution, and it lost its spiritual value. It looks like inviting trouble, but there it is. Whether we are tried or not, the fact is that God is after this full measure of His Son and the formation takes place in the fires.
The End of the Process
So we are being brought by the perfecting of this work to a glorious end. The end is suggested by those words in Hebrews 2 - the inhabited world to come subjected to the Son of Man. What is man? "Not unto angels did He subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man...?" "Let us make man after our own image." This man is clearly seen by what follows to be the Man in Christ. It is Christ and all His members. I like that bit in the passage we read about measuring. I did not follow on with the next clause. "Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. And the court which is without the temple leave without, and measure it not; for it hath been given unto the nations", it is left for the nations. That is significant. There will be something beyond this Man, there will be that to be ministered by this Man, there will be the nations to derive all the values that this Man has. He will be at the centre, he will give character to all else, he will govern all else. This is his function, to rule, to govern in Christ in the ages to come. You say, "Christ is going to rule, to reign!" Yes, true, pre-eminently so, but not as an isolated unit, not as one isolated upon His throne; He will rule corporately, it will be Christ corporately reigning; He as Head but all through His members. That is what He is working at, and you and I are, if we did but see it, in that school to learn spiritual government, spiritual ascendancy, spiritual kingliness.
That is the lesson of everyday life - how can I govern, how can I bring this thing into subjection, how can I reign in life? The whole question of victory and defeat is the question of ultimate reigning. This is not going to be some mechanical thing. The Lord is not just going to take up people, even believers, and suddenly transfer them to a throne and say, "Now I put you in this position irrespective of whether you are qualified for it or not, you have to reign over this province and fulfil this function of rulership!" That is contrary to the Lord's way of doing things. He will qualify for vocation, and you and I are being now qualified under the Spirit's hand in all that we are going through. And the thing is very practical, not something up in the air at all. You may not be out of this place many minutes before you find something rising up in yourself that will threaten to eclipse Christ, something somewhere coming along just to set Christ at nought, some self-interest, some bit of self-pity. That is enough - occupation with yourself, your own disadvantages and your own difficulties and your own situations - all these things are there to be subjected to Christ. We think that we could be more like Christ and there would be more of Christ if only we could get out of that situation. The Lord knows better than you do about that and better than I do. The fact is that it does not work. The Lord has put us there and when we have got ascendancy then perhaps He will consider a change of place, not before. "Reign in life" - that is a present reigning. "They that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17). It is the Man coming in again for reigning, and the school now is unto that.
I said this was a parenthesis, but it is not out of relation to all that the Lord is saying in this Conference. I think we shall see that to be if He goes on to lead us as He has, that this is a very important part of the whole, that He makes us priests and kings. That is no merely objective thing, but an inward thing, a spiritual thing; kings and priests unto our God.
The Lord give us to see what He is after and get us free from all those mechanical ideas of the Lord's interest and go right to the heart of things. God is after a Man, and that Man in you and in me and in all His own until at the centre of His universe He has a Man after His own heart.