Reading: Ezra 6.
Christianity has many
aspects and Christian people are occupied with those
various aspects; such as evangelism, teaching, building
up of believers, or contending for the faith. There are
movements entirely devoted to the study of prophetical
matters related to the coming again of Christ, and so on.
All these are right. But they can, and often do, become
things in themselves and, while being so good and right,
have the effect of dividing Christians into sections,
circling round some interpretation or some teaching or
some specific object. The inclusive and supreme object of
God, in and through and over all, is thereby very often
lost sight of.
It is the purpose of
these pages to seek to bring that object more definitely
into view. Our concern is with God's
inclusive object and purpose. I am sure you will agree
that the value of any one aspect or side of teaching or
work will be governed, very largely, by its relationship
to the whole purpose of God. The value will be more
immediate if that whole purpose is seen, and kept all the
time in view. God does not commit Himself wholly or
exclusively to any one part of His purpose; He only
commits Himself wholly to the all of His
intention. If we desire to find God committing Himself,
it becomes very necessary for us to know what are the
conditions and ground for His commital.
The inclusive object to
which we refer is inherent in the few simple words which
we have taken for our general title, from the sixth
chapter of the book of Ezra: "Let the house be
builded" (Ezra 6:3). That is God's all-inclusive
object. You notice that Ezra traced this decree back
through and beyond the instrument, the ruler who made it.
He traced it back to God. He recognized that this decree,
while made by an earthly ruler, originated with God
(v.22). He said: 'God put it into the heart of the king.'
(7:27) This came from God. And, having shown that it
originated with God, in the rest of the story he shows how
God, in sovereign ways, committed Himself to it. God
instigated this; God supported this; and, in spite of
numerous and great difficulties, God consummated this.
If that was true then,
we want to discover how it can be true in our time. I
believe that all the people of God, all true
Christians, are deeply desirous of knowing, in our time,
what it is that God has instigated, what it is
that God takes upon Himself to support and see
through, what it is that, in spite of everything - a
great, vast everything - God will finish. We want to
discover how God will commit Himself.
Eternity of God
That brings us to a
vital and fundamental principle of Biblical
interpretation. It is a thing that everybody who handles
the Word of God ought to recognize, and when we take up
our Bibles it ought always to be present . It is simply
the eternity of God. That bare statement perhaps
does not convey very much to you at first. But the
great fact is that there is no time with God. All 'time',
as it is with us, is 'present' with God; with Him there
is no past, present, future. He is the Eternal God -
"from eternity to eternity Thou art God" (Ps
90:2). God may accommodate Himself to the time-periods of
men and this earth, but He Himself dwells in Eternity:
His thoughts are eternal thoughts; His purpose is an
eternal purpose. The architect has the whole plan before
him; the builder only has the day-to-day part or
parts. Those who only see the parts may be confused; they
may not understand; they may even begin to take the part
for the whole. A writer of one of the New Testament
documents introduced his thesis in these words:
"God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in
the prophets... in diverse manners..." (Heb 1:1).
God did speak in time, at different times, in different
manners and different portions; but, with God, the whole,
from eternity, was present, and every part that came from
Him had the whole in it.
We must ever remember
that when we are handling the Bible; otherwise we shall
"wrongly divide" the Word of Truth. The full
design of God governs every part, as far as He is
concerned. God's mind does not grow. There is no progress
with God; He is full and complete and final at all
times. God has brought His thoughts into time by
means of models and figures, but they are only models and
figures of spiritual and eternal realities. And the
principle is this, that whatever comes from God, at any time
from our standpoint, from this world's standpoint -
whatever comes from God, however partial it may seem to
be, has in it the eternal and complete thought of God. It
contains within itself the whole of the spiritual mind of
God. We have to look through the immediate form
of presentation, to discover the spiritual and eternal
thought that lies there.
This house - "Let
the house be builded" - is only an earthly,
temporary, limited representation of the vast
eternal, spiritual thought of God. It is but a poor
representation, and it will pass; but God's thought will
never pass. What lies behind it will have no end: it has
come out of Eternity; it will go on to Eternity. And the
whole Bible is just a manifold expression of this
principle. From beginning to end, in its numerous forms
of presentation and representation, in its types, symbols
and figures, the whole Bible is one comprehensive and
many-sided expression of this one idea, that lies here
inherent in this word 'House'.
Coming Out From Eternity
Let us get behind the
figures, behind the representation, to the great
spiritual truth and reality. Here it is. Out from
eternity, out from unknowableness, out from
incomprehensibility, out from inaccessibility, God
resolved to presence Himself in a special, unique
creation, a spiritual organism, of His own devising; in
something which, amongst many other titles and
designations, is called in the Scriptures a house.
God determined to come out, from all that vast
unknowable, inaccessible, eternal realm and presence
Himself, make Himself known, make Himself accessible, in
a 'house' or dwelling-place. That is the truth that is
running all the way through the Bible, from beginning to
end; that is the thing that is governing everything,
which we shall see as we proceed.
But as we take hold of
that great truth, and move with it through the Bible, we
begin to make a discovery about it. We begin
to find that, while it is certainly a wonderful idea, an
amazing thought, it is also something much more than just
a thought and an idea. We find, in fact, that it involves
the very heart of God - not only His mind, but His heart;
it is something greatly cherished by God; something with
which God's greatest interests are bound up. Far
from being something objective to God, it turns out (if I
may put it like that) to be a very part of Himself - of
His thought, of His will, of His very heart.
One of the most
staggering statements in the Bible is surely this:
"...The church of God which He purchased with His
own Blood" (Acts 20:28). God purchased this that is
called 'the Church' with His own Blood. That will defeat
and defy every attempt at fathoming and comprehension.
Blood is the very vitality of any organism. This 'thing'
(forgive the term for the moment) has the very life of
God bound up with it. God has given His life for it. That
is something more than a matter of objective interest.
The very heart of God is in this - His own life -
Present With Man
What is this thought,
then, this thing so near to the heart of God, with which
all His interests are bound up? It is God present
amongst men: God related to an organism, as the
Inhabitant, the Occupier, the Indweller of that organism.
The simple, plain meaning of a 'house' is, surely,
something to be dwelt in, to be lived in; it has no
meaning unless it is inhabited. God's thought is to be there,
present, indwelling with the object of making Himself
known and understood, and with the object of having
blessed fellowship with that which comprises the 'house'.
I have said that the
Bible contains the history of that thought, that eternal
and Divine concept through the ages. It begins with a
very simple, primal expression of the thought: the man
and the woman in the garden, and God present, walking in
the garden, talking, communing, making His thoughts and
intentions known. It is a picture of happy fellowship
between God and man, man and God. Man is shown in
relationship with God, in terms of friendship (if I may
use that word), and on a basis of commission to be God's
regent here for the development and fulfilment of His
purposes. Everything speaks of peace and order and
beauty, and all that the human heart longs for. God has
created for Himself a 'house', and is in it, and is
walking in it, and talking in it. It is there in
this simple first representation.
From that point,
the Divine intention has a long and chequered history.
Remember that all the actions of God are related to that
one 'thing', and all the reactions in history, recorded
in the Bible, are against that thing - to drive God out,
to exclude God, to bring about conditions in which God
cannot be present, to which He cannot commit
Himself. It focuses upon this one eternal desire of
the heart of God.
Intention Realized In Christ Personal and Christ
But where does it end?
Yes, it is a long and chequered history, but, in the end,
the intention is realized. And it is realized in two
ways: firstly, it is realized in God Himself, as
incarnate in His Son. We have not recognized the supreme
significance of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, until we
have recognized that in Him this eternal conception finds
its realization; He is Emmanuel - "God with
us"! God has reached His object. He Himself has made
for Himself an abode. "God was in Christ
reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Cor 5:19). In
that first and fundamental way God reaches His end: and
so we discover that the House of God is not an 'it' - it
is a 'Him'; it is a Person. And then He proceeds from the
One to the many, from the individual to the corporate;
and an elect Body is brought into view, in terms of a
dwelling-place for God. The end of the Bible is again in
symbolism as much as the beginning was - a City and a
Garden - and we hear the music of these words: "The
tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with
them and they shall be His peoples, and God Himself shall
be... their God" (Rev 21:3). That is where the Bible
ends. History is consummated.
I have said that this
divine intention explains the Bible from every angle;
that all the action and all the reaction are centered in
this one thing, that God may have a place for Himself
where He may dwell, in these terms of fellowship and
peace. There is, in fact, nothing in the Bible that is
not related to this all-governing purpose and thought of
God. Here is the object of God's concern and of
God's jealousy. If God was jealous over a temple in
Jerusalem, or over Jerusalem or Zion, as the prophets so
strongly said, do you think that His jealousy was
exhausted in such an earthly, temporary representation?
No, it was because of the something
represented that God was jealous.
is the House of God?
What then, is the House
of God? The question is raised by God Himself, through
His servant Isaiah: "Thus saith Jehovah, 'The heaven
is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: what manner
of house will ye build unto Me, and what place shall be
My rest? For all these things hath Mine hand
made...'" (Isaiah 66:1-2 RSV) You remember how
Stephen, in that magnificent message which cost him his
life - so significant in this very connection - quoted
these words from Isaiah. It was almost the culmination of
that great discourse; it all worked up, headed up to
this. He says: "Solomon built himself a house...
But... but... what manner of house will ye build Me,
saith the Lord?" (Acts 7:47-49) "The Heaven of
heavens cannot contain Him" (2 Chron 2:6)
The Infinite Greatness of the House
What manner of house?
There are some things there to take note of. Firstly, it
is an intimation of the infinite, infinite greatness of
God requiring something infinitely great. No magnificent
temple, whether of Solomon or of any other builder,
can answer to this demand. It requires something
infinitely great to show forth the greatness of God. The
apostle Paul, more than anyone else in the Bible, saw the
meaning of this House; and, in spite of the wonderful
richness, comprehensiveness and flexibility of the Greek
tongue, he exhausted all the language at his command in
trying tp speak about it. With all his knowledge of words
and language, Paul was hard put to it to find words in
which to express the reality of this House - the
breadth and the length and the height and the depth, and
so on. He wrestles with human language, but it all
fails to express how great this is.
But note - and here is
the wonderful thing, where we are getting very near to
it, or it is getting very near to us - there are some
things that the apostle Paul does make clear as defining
the nature and purpose of this house.
The Place of the "Knowledge-Surpassing Love"
Firstly, that it is that
in which the "knowledge-surpassing love"
of God is manifested (Eph 3:19). God conceived this
objective order, in order to demonstrate in it something
of the knowledge-surpassing love of His heart. And
then Paul speaks of grace - the "riches of
His grace" (1:7, 2:7), the "glory of His
grace" (1:6) and he brings that all into
relationship with this House, that "in the ages to
come" (2:7) in that House, Body (call it what you
will), there should be displayed to a wondering universe
the infinite grace of God . But Paul does not stop there:
he passes to wisdom (3:10) The infinite wisdom
of God is to be shown to 'principalities and powers' - in
this House! It requires a big House to comprehend the
greatness of His love, and the greatness of His grace,
and the greatness of His wisdom - God present in such
terms of Self-manifestation!
But there is another
thing implied here. It is the implied misapprehension of
man. When it is a matter of 'big ideas', wonderful
conceptions, man has a way, as we know, of 'catching on'
and taking hold of them. Man has got hold of this idea of
a 'house for God', a 'dwelling for God', and has given it
a twist and brought into it a false interpretation. Man
has tried to capture God and put Him into a house of
man's own making. By so doing, he has tried to limit God,
confine God, possess God, make God exclusive to some
particular 'house' made by man - a building or an
institution on earth. This inveterate propensity of
man to make God his property, and the property of his
particular kind of house, leads to the uprise of a
terrible exclusivism: saying, in effect, that, if you do
not belong here, go this way, then you are outside
the pale. It is the effect of an idea taken hold of, but
misapplied - a false interpretation.
That was Israel's tragic
blunder, against which the prophets raged and stormed. It
was that into which Jesus came. Like new wine in
old wineskins, His coming burst the whole thing; but it
cost Him His life. They had made God's house an exclusive
thing, their own - they 'possessed' God. That was
their blunder. And, as Jesus was walking away into the
eternal, spiritual reality, He said, "Your house is
left unto you desolate" (Matt 23:38) - your
house, your house! That is an awful indictment -
We must take this all
very seriously, because, from one point of view, it was
this misapprehension, this false interpretation, this
caricature, that Jesus came to correct. He did so in two
ways. As we have pointed out, He corrected it, firstly,
in His own Person. Do you want to see the House of God,
what it is? - look at Him! Secondly, He did it in His
teaching. The gospel by John, if we did but recognize it,
stands, in the whole Biblical purpose, to show how Jesus
supplants and transcends all earthly and material
representations. It makes perfectly clear that He
supplants and takes the place of the temple in Jerusalem.
He supplanted and took the place of the priesthood,
Himself became the High Priest and offered Himself a
sacrifice acceptable to God, thus not only fulfilling all
types, but showing that until Christ offered Himself God
had never been satisfied. He supplanted and transcended
all the Jewish feasts: you notice how in John's gospel
the feasts of the Jews are constantly referred to, and
Jesus figures in them, over against them, in contrast.
Jesus takes the place of
the manna in the wilderness: He is the 'bread of God come
down from Heaven' (John 6:33). Jesus takes the place of
the water from the smitten rock and says: "Whosoever
drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never
thirst." (John 4:14). "He that believeth
on Me, out of Him shall flow rivers of living water"
(John 7:38). He takes the place of the lights in the
temple, and says: "I am the light of the world"
(John 8:12). He takes the place of all the old shepherds
of Israel, and says: "I am the good Shepherd."
(John 10:11,14). He takes the place of Israel, and
builds a new flock out of His own blood: "I lay down
My life for the sheep." (verse 15). Jesus is
the answer to God's eternal quest.
But Jesus, as the New
Testament goes on to show, does not stand alone. Jesus in
corporate, organic expression is the House of God.
Where and what is the House of God? It is where there is
spiritual, organic, vital union with Christ; no more, no
less. Says Paul: "In one Spirit were we all baptized
into one body." (1 Cor 12:13). Jesus fulfils
all the functions and expresses all the features of God's
presence - God's presence in the midst of men.
This is a statement, but
it is a challenge. How great is His House - but how
spiritually definite is His House! It is built upon the
love of God. The very object and purpose of this
House is for the expression of the love of God. And if
that love of God is not present, or is contradicted, the
House ceases to be what God intended it to be. It is the
explanation of why Israel, who were once called 'God's
House' as a nation, were set aside. Here is the infinite
love of God, the infinite grace of God, brought into the
world in the Person of His Son: and what does He meet?
Infinite hate! Love cast out! Very well, then -
"Your house is left unto you desolate".
All this doctrine and
theology - even about justification, not by works but by
faith, and so on - can be so cold, after all; it
can become hard, legalistic, 'righteous'. But
remember that that is all there in the Word of God in
order to magnify the grace of God!
"Not of works..." but the grace of God.
The House of God exists on the basis that men and women
have discovered that their deepest and most terrible need
is for the grace of God, and they have come into the
knowledge of that grace. The one word uppermost in their
vocabulary is the word 'grace' - it is the most wonderful
word in the language of earth and Heaven. Grace, grace,
grace! It is that which constitutes the House of
God. If you and I are living in the meaning of that
wonderful word 'grace', we shall know God very near to
us. God 'beholdeth the proud afar off', because the
proud have no sense of their need of grace. Pride is an
abomination to God, simply because it is such a
contradiction of the grace of God. "To this
man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a
contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word" (Isa
66:2). That is the atmosphere of the House of God.
And so, you see, God's
House is not a 'thing', it is not a 'place' - it is not
anything that man makes; it is something spiritual. On
what ground does it rest? It rests on the ground of the
Cross. God's House in the wilderness - the
Tabernacle - came after the Altar, and stood as the
background to the Altar. In the new dispensation,
the Church is the background to the Cross of Christ, for
it only comes by the Cross. What does the Cross do?
It sets man aside, and makes room for God; it puts man
out, that God may be all and in all. God's intention in
the Cross is to make possible the realization of His
eternal thought to be present, to be there.
Where the Cross is most deeply wrought into the life of a
people, there, most fully, you will meet the
Lord. You will not meet Him in uncrucified men and women;
in the presence of the flesh, God stands back.
Need for Christ-Consciousness
In closing, we will ask
one more question. What is the dominant necessity?
The answer is twofold. The dominant necessity for the
realization of God's desire - the bringing in of this
House, in its beauty, in its love, in its grace, in its
fellowship, in its peace, in its order, in its Divine
manifestation - is a Christ-consciousness. Perhaps
that does not convey much as it is stated. But what
you and I need perhaps more than anything else, is more
of this Christ-consciousness. Are we not ever and always
rebuked when we hear Paul say, "the love of Christ
constraineth us; because we thus judge, that One died for
all, therefore all died... that they which live should no
longer live unto themselves, but unto Him... wherefore we
henceforth know no man after the flesh..." (2 Cor
5:14-16)? Are we not always rebuked by that? Do we
not know one another so much after the flesh? Instead of
laying hold on whatever there may be, even remotely, of
Christ, in one another and making the most of that, we do
the other thing: we make the most of one another's faults
and weaknesses and un-Christlikeness - and there is
plenty of it, God knows!
But oh, for this
Christ-consciousness - that we might give ourselves more
to this laying hold of what there is of Christ, however
small, and making the most of that. The House would be
built, God would find His House and commit Himself if we
would do that. God help us! And Christ-consciousness
means House-consciousness, fellowship-consciousness,
relatedness-consciousness, that we are members one of
another, so that the hand cannot say to the foot, "I
do not need you. I can do without you". It is
this corporate consciousness that is so needed today, to
destroy all that is disintegrating and divisive
God grant that something
of the impact of this may come upon our hearts, and lift
us out of our all-too-small conceptions of the House of
God. May it govern our attitudes in relation to all
- all who rest upon the love of God, all
rest upon the grace of God, all who have come to
see and to acknowledge that it is only by the wisdom of
God, in solving all the human problems, their own and
others, that God will at last find what He is seeking - a
place in which to dwell.