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The Mystery

By J.B. Stoney

      For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:1-10.

      THE subject I desire to bring before you this evening is the mystery -- Christ the head of the body. Those who were present on the last evening will remember it was the assembly in its house aspect, as a vessel of testimony here on the earth. As I said then, they conjoin. What one has to look at now is the assembly as the body of Christ.

      In the previous chapter, you will find how the apostle distinguishes the ministry of the assembly from the ministry of the gospel. He says in verse 23, "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven, whereof I Paul am made a minister " -- that is, he was a minister of the gospel -- " who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake which is the church; whereof I am made a minister." It was not that the Colossians had not heard of this second ministry, but they were not in the power of it. They had the ministry of the gospel, and very interesting they seemed to be from the way the apostle writes to them in the early part of the first chapter; "Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints." Now they had the ministry of the gospel, and they were exemplary too -- " faith in Christ Jesus, and love to all the saints."

      I desire to convey this, that they did understand the blessedness of the gospel; because what he prays for them is that they might know that they were saved for heaven; and that was part of the gospel, that was not part of the mystery. We are saved for heaven, not for earth; in one sense God could not save a people for earth now. How could He save a people for earth where His Son was rejected? He saves them for heaven. "Faith in the Lord Jesus," or "faith in Christ Jesus," gives us a very different idea from faith in God. And I think many are defective in this. They have not entered into the right understanding of the gospel, if it could not be said of them, "Faith in Christ Jesus, and love to all the saints." That is not the mystery; it is the gospel. It is not that they did not hear of the mystery; just as in Romans, the mystery is not spoken of till the last three verses; but the mystery is a distinct doctrine, though it is not easy to point where the gospel ends and the mystery begins. And I am confirmed in this by another, who says that you could not really understand the gospel ministry aright if you did not understand the ministry of the assembly. Still, there are two ministries; that is all I want now to make clear.

      Those who knew the ministry of the gospel, the apostle tells, in this chapter I have read, that he would they knew what great conflict he had for them. Now a man would not have a great conflict if there was not a great opposition; and you remember the apostle was in prison; it was not fighting with flesh and blood at any rate. He said, "I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." What for? That they might know the mystery; that they might be in the enjoyment of the mystery. But what were they in danger of? They were in danger of being carried away -- and he introduces this truth to preserve them from the danger -- that when a man gets clear in the gospel, and that he is settled and sure for heaven, that then, as it was with the Colossians, he tries to make the flesh religious. It is hard to explain, but I will try to explain it to you. It is to try to make the flesh an actual contributor to the Christian. For instance, I get such a term as this, which is common -- " a Christian man." Now what does that mean? Why do you bring in the man? Why do you not say a Christian? I say, no; you want to bring in something; you are going to give the flesh a place; and the flesh, as it were, craves to get a religious place. It came out very early. in the church; it was a compound of mind and body; and therefore, in the present day, it is rationalism and ritualism; it is a combination which gives the flesh a place.

      I press it with great earnestness upon you, that nothing will ever preserve you from this intrusion of the flesh, but the mystery. You will never get out of what you may call religiousness in the flesh, but by the mystery; that is the only truth to do it. And we do not look enough at truth; we do not value it enough. I think every truth has what I may call a speciality; that is, it has a power to supplant its contrary. I may state that the Lord in His miracles here never cured two maladies in the same way; He had a different way of dealing with everything. A person says sometimes, "That truth is not necessary." That is all you know about it. It is not necessary until you require it; but then every truth is necessary. Now nothing but the mystery can prevent religiousness. You may find a person very happy in the gospel, who perhaps will sing excitedly. I say, What is that? That is the flesh. That is religious flesh. You may find a man very clear in the gospel preaching a very eloquent sermon. I want to know what that is. Oh, he is naturally eloquent! But the more you are really in divine things, the less ability you have to express them. As someone has said, the more we deal with divine things, the less we make of ourselves. I know very well how often I have wished that I were eloquent, when I had a vista of a divine beauty before my soul. Well, I should have spoilt it if I had brought human eloquence into it. And therefore, the more advanced Paul was, the less able was he to communicate, because the power must be of God. He was crippled on purpose that the power might be of God, and he had the immense comfort in his heart. Well, I did not express that very well, but, thank God, I expressed it by the power of God, and it did good to souls, though I got no credit for it. And a man of God is happy in the fact that he is serving a soul, and has pleased the Lord.

      I think it is an important thing for the soul to understand this, because I do not think the mystery is sufficiently valued. How rarely can it be said of one, he understands the mystery! The ministry of the gospel is appreciated -- thank God, it is. But it is the ministry of the gospel. As I have heard a person before now say, Preach justification by faith, and you will be heard; but preach the body of Christ, and see how few will listen to you. Why? Because they do not understand the immense blessedness connected with this truth. Here the apostle writes, "I would ye knew what great conflict I have for you." That shows he had great opposition. And there is great opposition to it now; and I trust you will see plainly presently why there is such great opposition to the ministry of the church.

      Let me try to explain this about the intrusion of the flesh a little better. You see there are three great intrusions of the flesh; two of them are referred to in connection with the gospel, and one in connection with the assembly. There is the intrusion in the Corinthians, which is self -- indulgence. There they were so full of their own intellectuality, their wisdom ruined them:they said, We can do as we will, we will reign as kings, we are saved, and we have great gifts. Therefore the Lord's supper was brought in to correct them. You, self -- indulgent man, do you know how you got all your blessing? By the death of Christ.

      And are you going to indulge the man for whom Christ died? That is what you get in Corinthians; and therefore, "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say." How can you have communion with Christ's death, and allow the man for whom Christ died? Impossible. The sense in my soul is that Christ died for me, and I am thinking of His death, and I am without a shade before Him, it is not only that His death cleared me, but He bore the judgment for me -- then how can I minister to that man? Not I; I cannot minister to him. That is Corinthian. Therefore the apostle tells us practically, that he was always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus.

      Now with the Galatians is the other snare. They were led away by legalism; "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" That is what you very often get with conscientious people; they are trying to improve themselves, and they put themselves under restriction; that is legalism.

      Now the Colossians is neither one nor the other. Very likely a Colossian would say to you, I know that man is not to be indulged -- because in Colossians we are looked at as risen with Christ. And hence the very same word is used in Colossians 2 as in Romans, "Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world." The doctrine that you have in Romans is only enlarged. In Romans it is, "If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him." Here it goes a step further, "If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world." It is not only I am clear of the man, as in Romans, because I am dead with Christ, and therefore "he that is dead is freed from sin"; but here I am clear of where the man is, "the rudiments of the world"; you cannot get lower than rudiments. I am dead with Him, and as some have said, you have a complete deliverance. I do not know whether practically you have a complete deliverance till you are sensibly over Jordan. Still, I have no doubt that when a man rejoices in the fact, I am dead with Christ, and in His life I am free from the old man here, that soul is very near enjoying the fact, I am dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world; I am not only free from the man that was under judgment in the death of Christ, having died with Christ, but I am free from where the man is.

      Still, I think if you look at it now, you will find that what is brought in here is both mind and body. "This, I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words." But then you see in the end of the chapter there was restriction, "Touch not; taste not; handle not." You do not restrict a thing that is not there. The moment I restrict it, I admit it is there. Hence the apostle opens out in chapter 3, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above." You are entirely upon a new course; in that sense old things are passed away, and all are become new, and all are of God.

      May the Lord open it to your own hearts better. I do not believe anyone can ever learn a thing by listening to it; I must be exercised about it, and thus I learn the value of it. I make it a rule to myself that I never attempt to expound a truth that I have not weighed how much I know of it myself. It is only

      then I have really learnt it. I have often heard things that I could not make much of; but when I have learnt them I have proved them for myself. That is deriving; there is a great difference between copying and deriving. Deriving is making it your own, and, as one has said, He that speaks from the conscience speaks to the conscience.

      I turn now to explain the mystery. Look at Matthew 22:44, "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." It is consequent on the rejection of the Lord that He first intimated about the assembly.

      "I will build my church," as you get it in Matthew 16. But that was not the mystery; though of course what is Christ's building is of the body. But it was not until Christ was completely rejected that there could be a disclosure of the great secret of God, that is, that He had a body for His Son on this earth. I must guard what I am stating; because that wonderful thing had been kept secret from the foundation of the world. I think we are not enough affected by it; I wish my heart were more affected by it. That wonderful disclosure has been made, that Christ, when He was completely rejected by Jew and Gentile, not by one only, but by both Jew and Gentile, was called to sit down at God's right hand. That is why I turn to this first. God says to Him, Sit down at My right hand. Now a wonderful thing is connected with this point, as I have already intimated to you. When God's Son has been rejected from this place, this place could not be a place for God's people. If the brightest, the greatest, and the best could get no place here, it is no place for the weakest. Nothing can be plainer to anyone. Christendom has got out of the difficulty by refusing to admit that the Gentiles have rejected Christ. Well, they show simple ignorance of Scripture, because it was the Gentiles who actually did the deed, the Roman governor and his soldiers. I need not go into it. I am addressing those who have no question that Christ has been rejected from this world. Thus we read in John 15, "Now they have no cloke for their sin." The first sin of man was turning from God in the garden of Eden. The completeness of sin -- there is no cloke for it -- was when Christ came into this world, and "men loved darkness rather than light." The Lord says, "they have both seen and hated both me and my Father"; and the world is now under judgement. You may say, I do not see the judgement. If I am not sailing through this world under the shelter of Christ's death, as Noah in the ark, I am under the judgement. I need to be saved now going through the world; it is as much under judgement now as to God's sentence, as when the waters were over it. "Now is the judgement of this world," said the Lord.

      Now, Christ is called up to this new place; then where will His own be? This is the problem in Christianity. A problem is something that is to be solved. How can you have both the earth and Christ? You cannot; heaven is the hope of the gospel; you are saved for heaven, not for earth. But I am on the earth. True; but then the problem is, how can I be on the earth where He is not, and how can I reach Him in heaven? That is the problem; and if you do not understand the mystery, you will never solve it.

      Now it is definitely stated that Christ is called away from this world, and called to God's right hand. Now if we turn to Acts 7:55, we shall see what comes out in connection with that. Here in the rejection of Stephen is the consummation of His rejection. You see He was rejected first by Jew and Gentile, and then after He went up, He was rejected when in glory. As has often been said, they sent a message after Him, "We will not have this man to reign over us." He is now not only refused in humiliation, but refused in glory; Stephen says, "As your fathers did, so do ye." Then the Holy Spirit opens out the new order of things, "He, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." That is where He is; that is the centre of the new order. It is not Jerusalem any longer; Jerusalem is over, the new centre is the right hand of God. Look at all the places where "the right hand "occurs, and I am sure you will be edified, much will open out to you about the new centre. Hence it says, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God." All here is over, and that is the new centre.

      There was no disclosure of the mystery then; the disclosure to Stephen, which is also true of us (God grant our hearts may know it better), is that in the power of divine life he is outside all, and he sees his Saviour in the place where his Saviour is. There is nothing said about union; he is united, but that is not the point; the secret is not divulged. The proof that Stephen was by the Spirit led up into heaven, is that he comes back into this scene in the power of Christ, and is superior to it all; he fulfils the type, crossing the Jordan. If I have power to rise out of all this scene, to rise to the things above where Christ is, I have His power in this scene. This is no sentimentality. Because, if you are really over Jordan, you have power over all the enemies here. Otherwise you are like a bird with a wounded wing, you would like to fly but you have not the power. "Hereby shall ye know the living God is among you." The power that carries me right over and right up to association with my Saviour up there, is the same power that places me in superiority to all the combined forces of evil down here. That is the practical manifestation of the power. Hence Stephen returns to confront the whole array and force of evil here, and overcomes evil with good. That proves he was over Jordan; and if I am dead with Christ I am over, I am outside of the power of death, and I prove it in detail every day by overcoming evil with good.

      Now I turn to Acts 9:4. "And he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Now for the first time is the secret disclosed; it had been, hitherto, kept secret from the foundation of the world. But it comes out now at the proper time. It could not have been divulged any sooner. Christ was not finally rejected until now. He was here in humiliation, going about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him, and Satan worked upon man, so that man refused. Him a place here; His own would not have Him, cast Him out, and when He had gone to heaven they refused the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the person of Stephen. What then is the secret? The secret is that His body is on the earth; and if His body is not on the earth, there is no other way whatever of solving the problem that we who are His own can be where He is not, and that we can have association with Him in the place where He is. Cavillers say, How can you rise up to heaven until you die? Well, if I am an individual only that would be true, but I am not merely an individual, I am a member of the body of Christ; and a member of the body of Christ united to Him has a title to be where He is. I am not going further in this subject now. Still it is of immense importance, because if you think of it for a moment, you will see that where He was refused, there His body is. Think what a disclosure it is; how little the heart bows to it; you can imagine how Satan was defeated; why, nothing has ever exasperated Satan like it. Look round you, and see how this enmity works. Look at Romanism. Romanism holds that the church is one great whole, but it deprives Christ of His place, and places a man at the head of it, and thus necessarily sets aside the Holy Spirit. They hold, in a way, the unity of the body. Now Romanism sets forth independency, which is the characteristic of every decline in the church. I believe, that no matter what the form of trouble, the first evidence of decline in the church is independency. That is, acting without Christ.

      But I trust your heart will lay hold of the simple fact that He is the Head, and that His body is here. It will have a great effect upon you. I sometimes think to myself what a beautiful service the woman in Luke 7 had; she actually anointed the Lord's feet. Would not you like to have done that? Certainly. But as great an opportunity is open to you. Each Christian is a bit of Christ, and you can minister to Christians. And it is not to the showy one only, but to any one; "more abundant honour to that part which lacked." It has an immense effect on the heart to realise that Christ's body is here, a wonderful impetus to service. As has been said, you cannot separate the body from the Head. It is not a question of equality, but similarity; the same life, the same nature, and the one Spirit.

      Now I turn to Ephesians 5:29, "For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ the assembly." The assembly therefore is His own flesh. "For we are members of his body." It is a great thing to get the idea of it in one's heart. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the assembly." You all remember that with a rib which the Lord God had taken from Adam He made a woman, and Adam said, "She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man"; or, rather, "She shall be called Isha," which was the Hebrew word for woman, "because she was taken out of Ish," the Hebrew for man. There you get, as far as types go, the most comprehensive one of the mystery of the assembly, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the assembly."

      First I get in Hebrews that we are His companions; we are all of one, the same life, the same nature, His brethren, sons of Aaron. Well, I might be a very small brother, but still I am a companion of Christ. I want you to understand that it is not union which acquires this companionship; this is what grace has made me. This is set forth in Ephesians 1, where I get the greatness of the individual saint before it is declared that he is a member of the body of Christ. And this is very important, because it is not union which has given me my qualification or fitness to be with Christ, I had the fitness and qualification before by grace; and union binds together those who are fit to be together. I say this, because I want to disabuse your minds of the idea that it is union which makes us fit. For instance, Rebekah going to be united to Isaac, is a type. She is related to Isaac, going to be united to him. She does not get any advance as to birth or as to nature by marrying Isaac; she does as to distinction; but she is of the same family, the same stock; and that is the argument in the Hebrews. "Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." And that is the argument of Ephesians 1, that we are really fit to be united to Christ. As you get in the figure, "She was taken out of man"; and "They twain shall be one flesh." Union was declared after the fitness for companionship was assured; otherwise it would be that union makes us companions for Christ. You were fit to be companions first, and as such you are united to Him.

      Now there are two points more, and I turn back to the Colossians. You say, How does all this work? I only quote one passage, "Ye are complete in him." How can I go any higher if I am complete in Him? Hence it says in chapter 3, Christ is everything; "Christ is all and in all." Now the point is that I derive all from Christ. I am entirely of the same order; I belong to Him, a member of His body; and it is as a member of His body that I can now reach -- or rather enjoy -- the place where He is. That is His place, He is called to the right hand of God, and I can enjoy Him there as a member of His body; I enter into it individually, but I have not an individual right, but a corporate right.

      Now I turn to Ephesians 1:19, to show how this position is entirely outside the flesh; and that everything is of Christ. And it is not a question of acquiring any help from science or the natural mind, or bringing in anything; as I am complete in Christ, man's mind or body cannot add to me. In Colossians I am learning the Head; but I get the Christ, the whole structure, before me in Ephesians. I may see the truth of it as it is in Ephesians, and I may accept it; it is beautiful to look at it. Christ's body here on earth, and all the gifts given, "until we all come, in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man." Every one of us? Yes. "Be no longer babes; tossed to and fro." Hence in chapter 2, verse 6, we are all raised up together. Oh, someone might say, I did not know that till long after I was converted! Yes, but that was true when you were born of God though you found it out long afterwards. It is like a feather of a bird's wing; it was in the bird first, and it has come out now, and you are it; thank God you are it.

      What I want you to understand is this. You see we are not united to Christ in humiliation. We are united to the exalted Man; but members of that exalted Man we are here on earth; we are properly heavenly men to exhibit Him according to the measure of His grace to us; every one of us is called to be an expression of the heavenly, exalted Man here, where He was the rejected Man. How could anything exasperate Satan more than that? Satan would not have Him in humiliation, when the smoking flax He would not quench, and the bruised reed He would not break. Now He is the exalted Man over everything, and we are united to that blessed Man, members of His body, and we are to be the expression on this earth, not only of the humbled Man, but of the exalted Man where He was the rejected Man. That is what the church is. And therefore the whole effort of Satan is against such a thing; and therefore all the practice that you get in Ephesians is of a heavenly character; you could not do any of it, even the least, but in heavenly power.

      It is the most marvellous thing that Christ's body should be on the earth; God's great object now on earth is the bride for His Son. The assembly which is His body is in the very place from which He was rejected. I do not believe there is a member wanting to that body; I do not see that they are compacted together; but I believe that His body is here. I admit that it is disorganised, because the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is not kept. But is that a reason for giving it up? Do you believe that this wonderful thing is here? Yes, thank God. In God's eye, not one member wanting? Yes. You play into the hands of Satan, if you give it up or deny it. That has been his great effort since Christ's ascension. I say, Christ's body is here. And because I am a member of that body, I can, by the Holy Spirit, associate with Him in the place where He is. I am not there yet; but as a member of His body I know the power of Christ. I enter this association. The Lord grant we may know it, and understand what a wonderful position it is. I should be found here descriptive of the exalted Man in the very spot where He was the rejected Man. We are called to a marvellous position. The Lord grant that each of our hearts may acknowledge it, however little we know of it practically; but it is ours, and we are not going to stop short at anything less. And what does it produce in us? More earnest looking to the Lord to lead our hearts into full devotedness to Himself, that we may lay aside every hindrance, and be found more thoroughly expressive of what we are called to, here on the earth, for His name's sake.

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