A Man in Christ

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In Old Testament times God had called a people into a special relationship with Himself. This people was "the commonwealth of Israel"; and to it belonged the knowledge of God, the birth of the Messiah, the covenants of promise, and the outward mark of circumcision. In Old Testament history they had been His favored, though rebellious, people. In Old Testament prophecies they were the center of all His dealings. The glories of the Messiah were to be displayed in their midst, and no promise of blessing was made to the Gentiles save through them.
But in Ephesians we find that God was now performing a work entirely distinct from anything recorded in Old Testament narrative, or predicted in Old Testament prophecies. The Apostle therefore calls upon the Ephesian believers, who were of Gentile origin, to remember that they had no title such as the Jews might claim, not having one of those marks, which the Jews possessed, of relationship with God. They had been "in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands." Moreover, they were at that time "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:11, 1211Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:11‑12)). But though the Gentiles had no title founded on covenant, promise, or national connection, God was now bringing them in by His own sovereign grace.
The Jews, who had a direct interest in the Messiah, had rejected Him and shed His blood. This had caused them, as a nation, to be set aside, and had ended, until their restoration, all those purposes to which the covenants and promises referred. God had therefore turned, as it were to another object. "The blood of Christ," which caused the national rejection of the Jews, was made the means of bringing people nigh. But in this sovereign and wonderful action of grace, God was no longer confined within the channels traced out by prophecy. All the prophetic blessings were postponed, because the nation in whom they centered was rejected. A new class of blessings, richer, higher, and with no restriction of nation or class, was thus brought in.
Hence the Apostle says, "Now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." v. 13. Thus Gentile believers were brought nigh by that very blood, the shedding of which caused the rejection of the Jews and the postponement of their national blessings. And not only was the blessing entirely different from what they as Gentiles could have enjoyed if the covenants of promise to Israel had then been fulfilled. It was of a far higher order than the Jew himself could have enjoyed under those covenants. For these Gentiles were now brought nigh "in Christ Jesus," which is a standing never spoken of in Old Testament prophecy. In this wondrous place the believing Jew and the believing Gentile were blended together, all earthly distinctions disappearing in the new character of blessing into which both were now introduced. Christ not only had made peace for them, but was their peace, and had "made both one," having "broken down the middle wall of partition"; and "having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace." vv. 14, 15.
This passage conclusively shows that Christianity is not the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but something brought in while this awaits its fulfillment. In the fulfillment of the prophecies, the Jew will receive the place of pre-eminence which the covenants of promise assign him; and his blessings will be of a national character. The blessings here named are not national, but individual, and require the setting aside of all national distinctions for their accomplishment. Moreover, the passage speaks of both Jew and Gentile being made in Christ into "one new man." Understood literally, this could have no meaning; but understood figuratively, its sense is at once clear and beautiful. The Church is the body of Christ; and the Church and Christ are the "one new man" here spoken of. Language such as this is wholly foreign to the old prophets. It implies a nearness of relationship which the Old Testament never contemplates, and which indeed would be entirely inconsistent with the character in which the Messiah will be known by His earthly people.
But this nearness of relationship is the blessed portion of the believer, without distinction of Jew or Gentile; for Christ's object was, "that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." v. 16. The cross has not only obtained for us forgiveness of sins, it has ended our standing in the flesh. As "dead with Christ," earthly and fleshly distinctions cease; and in the new creation (that is, in Christ Himself), there is neither Jew nor Gentile, circumcision nor uncircumcision. By the cross we are dead, and the enmities of the flesh are slain with us. Thus both Jew and Gentile are reconciled "unto God in one body." This body is, of course, the body of Christ, the Church, which stands therefore entirely outside all earthly distinctions or covenant relationships. Hence peace can now be preached alike, says the Apostle, "to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh" (v. 17). For those that were nigh having forfeited their claim, and those that were afar off never having had any claim, both are now dealt with on the same footing of sovereign grace. They are brought not into the position which as a nation the Jews had lost by their rejection of the Christ, but into an entirely new position; "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." v. 18. Jehovah is the name and character in which Israel will yet know God. But under the new order of things introduced by grace, the believer, whether Jew or Gentile, knows God as Father.
The result is that old distinctions altogether vanish. "Now therefore ye" (the Gentile believers) "are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints" (that is, believers generally, whether Jewish or Gentile), "and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone." vv. 19, 20. Both Jewish and Gentile believers are transplanted from their old ground and placed in entirely different soil. They are "fellow citizens," but not of an earthly country; for "our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven." They are of the "household of God"-a closer relationship than the Jew will enjoy when his national blessings reach
their highest point. They are built into a new and wonderful structure, of which "Jesus Christ Himself" is the chief corner stone; and "the apostles and prophets" are the foundation course.
In Eph. 3 we read that the mystery of the Church was in other ages "not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." v. 5. This shows that the prophets here spoken of in connection with the apostles were not the Old Testament prophets. In the times of the Old Testament prophets, the mystery was not made known. To the prophets here named, as well as to the apostles, the mystery was made known. In this epistle "prophets" are only named three times, and each time in connection with "apostles." Both apostles and prophets are spoken of as gifts of an ascended Christ. The prophets therefore here mentioned as forming part of the foundation on which we are built are not the Old Testament prophets, but the prophets to whom this mystery was now first imparted.
But the figure of our oneness with Christ is still strikingly continued; for after speaking of Him as "the chief corner stone," the Spirit adds, "In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." vv. 21, 22. Strictly speaking, it is not correct to say that a building grows, or that the various materials added are built together, in the corner stone. But this very departure from strict accuracy only shows with greater vividness the prominence in which the Spirit seeks to set the thought of our standing "in Christ." In another epistle Paul writes, "As the body is one, and hath many members and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." 1 Cor. 12:1212For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12). Here the Church is the body, and Christ is the head; but the two are looked upon as so identified that the body itself, as well as the head, is spoken of as "Christ." It is the same blending together of Christ and the Church that we find in the passage before us. Christ is the corner stone, and believers are the rest of the building; but so bound up are they with each other that the whole is spoken of as in Him, and is said to be builded together in Him "for a habitation of God through the Spirit."
This is God's building, consisting only of real believers, who are built together in Christ, and form, as thus constructed, a suitable dwelling place for Himself. It must be carefully distinguished from the building raised by man on the same foundation-a building in which all sorts of worthless material is brought in, and which will therefore be tried by fire. A confusion between these two buildings has been the source of very much and very lamentable error.
Thus we have two remarkable figures of the Church, in both of which its oneness with Christ is very strikingly set forth. Considered as a body, it is the body of Christ-a thing necessary, as it were, to His own completeness. Considered as a temple, a dwelling place for God, it is "builded together" in Christ, He Himself being the chief corner stone, all believers being reared upon this foundation, and the whole growing up to completeness in Him.
To Paul was especially entrusted this truth concerning the new thing which God was bringing in. For this cause he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles, having had given to him a "dispensation of the grace of God" toward them. He had received "by revelation" a mystery-or secret purpose of God-not disclosed in past times, "That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" (chap. 3:1-6). That the Gentiles should be "fellow heirs" with the Jews was a new thing not only in fact, but in the revealed purposes of God. Still more marvelous was it that they should be "of the same body"; for this was something which neither Jew nor Gentile had ever heard of. They were made "fellow heirs" with each other by being made fellow heirs with Christ; they were made "of the same body" with each other by being made members of the body of Christ. It was thus that the Gentiles became "partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel." According to covenants and prophecy, Christ was the special hope of Israel. But the promises of blessing in Christ went far beyond Israel, and were wide enough to embrace God's present work, in which Jew and Gentile are blended together, as well as that work to which the covenants and prophecies of the Old Testament look forward.
Paul therefore had before him two objects. As a servant of the gospel he had "this grace given" to "preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (vv. 7, 8). And as the one to whom the mystery was revealed, he was "to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." vv. 911. This is a wonderful passage. God, as creator of all things, had shown His wisdom. But there was a still more marvelous display which this wisdom was to receive, a display contemplated in God's counsels from all eternity, but now first brought to light. When all His earthly purposes seemed to be frustrated, when Satan seemed to have succeeded, God's manifold wisdom displays itself by turning this very apparent defeat into the crowning victory of His grace.
The great seeming triumph which Satan achieved at the cross, the temporary setting aside of all the revealed purposes of blessing and glory through Christ, only gave occasion for God to put a higher glory on Christ, and to introduce a richer and more unrestricted blessing than any before revealed. Thus the manifold character of God's wisdom shows itself, and not only to men, but to the principalities and powers in heavenly places. "The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" when they beheld His wisdom in creating the world; but they see its manifold nature and its brightest display in His ways concerning the Church.
This leads the Apostle to a very remarkable prayer, which closes the third chapter. In the prayer which concludes the first chapter, Christ is looked upon as man, as the One who was raised from the dead. The prayer is, therefore, addressed to "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." In the prayer of the third chapter, the subject is not our standing in Christ, but Christ dwelling in our hearts. Christ is looked upon not as the man raised from the dead, but as the One who accomplishes the purposes of God, and manifests His love. It is more as the Son revealing the Father, than as the Man glorifying God and glorified by Him, that He is here presented before us. The prayer is therefore addressed not to "the God," but to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 14). While the earlier prayer, moreover, is that we may understand God's purposes and power, this carries us into a still higher region. The Apostle prays that we may, according to the riches of God's glory, "be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" (vv. 16-19).
Here we have the indwelling of the Holy Ghost as the source of strength, and that "according to the riches of His [God's] glory"; Christ taking His abode in our hearts by faith; the soul, "rooted and grounded in love," able to enter into the vastness of God's ways; "the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of those purposes which His grace has formed for His own glory, as well as for our blessing; and, finally, ourselves taught to know, not indeed in its extent-for in this it passes knowledge-but in its nature, the wondrous love of Christ Himself, that we may "be filled with all the fullness of God." This last expression is beautiful in its very indefiniteness. That we can be filled to God's fullness is, of course, impossible; but this is, as it were, the measure in which God is willing to supply, and the only limit of the Holy Ghost's desire for us. Full as we may be, there is still infinitely more beyond, so that there is no limit to what is placed at our command.
And then, after bringing out all God's wonderful purposes, His power and His grace- after showing His manifold wisdom, as displayed in the Church-the Apostle concludes by an outburst of praise to Him. "Now," he says, "unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." vv. 20, 21. It is surely meet that He who has displayed His wisdom and grace in calling the Church should throughout eternity derive glory from it. Such is the Apostle's desire, and such should be the desire of every believer brought into this marvelous place. It will be fulfilled in the ages to come; but just in proportion as our hearts enter into the spirit of this prayer will it be their desire that, as far as may be, it should be fulfilled now.