ONE BODY -- this is the first of the spiritual unities which we are exhorted to keep,
as the basis of a walk pleasing to God, in that great charter of our faith, the epistle to
the Ephesians. Along with this we read of one expectation, and one faith.
Childlike faith accepts this as a very simple matter, but one with an inquiring and
skeptical mind, such as I possessed in the earlier days of my career, will find faith
confronted by apparent facts which give rise to doubts and difficulties of a very grave
and disturbing nature, whose practical tendency is to destroy these fundamental unities.
Hence it may be well to face these facts so that we will not be hindered in giving a
practical expression to the unities of the faith.
The difficulties arise from the undoubted fact
that, in the course of God's operations, He has more bodies than the one body here
spoken of. On the earth, before this, there were Israel and the nations in flesh. There
was a "body" which was composed of saints in Israel, as well as another, mostly
of believers among the nations. These, I reasoned, must have been present when Ephesians
was written. Why are they ignored in this statement? Why does Paul say "there is
one body," when Peter and the Circumcision saints were still alive and formed
another, a second distinct body? Can it not be equally true today that another body
exists, as well as the "one body?"
|The Futility of Assigning
Exact Dates to the Epistles
The immediate answer I found to be very simple. Paul did not say "there
is one body." There is no verb, and no note of time in the statement of the
spiritual unities which form the basis of our conduct in this secret administration of
God's grace. In fact the abruptness of the statement is not only striking, but most
translators consider it a defect, and add the words there is, to give it finish.
Can we not see superhuman wisdom in the omission? It may not have been strictly true, when
Ephesians was written, to say "there is [now] one body." But why
embarrass and cloud a great rubric of our faith with temporary and evanescent details,
true only for a few years at the commencement of the administration, which do not belong
to it at all, and which would hinder its apprehension? There is a "no man's
land" between economies which it is well to ignore when sketching their grand
THE DATES OF THE EPISTLES
I have spent altogether too much time over
matters which are not revealed. It is difficult to learn the lesson that such things
are not vital, and should have no influence on our faith. One of these is the question
of when the various epistles were written, and why the Circumcision letters were written
so late. I have purposely refrained from assigning any dates to the epistles in my notes
in the Version, for I did not wish to give any ground for the speculations in which I had
indulged to no profit. The notes of time in Paul's epistles are important, and they can
easily be fitted into his career. But I am satisfied that it is a mistake to reason from
the alleged lateness of the epistles of Peter and John. We do not know when they were
written, nor should we give it any weight.
The fact that we are not given the dates
of Peter's epistles is more important than to fix the exact year. Had we been told, our
proneness to illogical reasoning would lead us to conclusions calculated to disturb our
faith. My inferences were as follows: John wrote very late, long after Paul. Therefore one
of two things must have been true. Either John's epistles are for the one body, or there
were still two bodies when he wrote. The first cannot be true. Therefore Ephesians is not
exact(!) and there were two bodies at that time. The question seemed open whether this
condition does not still exist. Can it be that there are two bodies today? Can it be that
those who believe Paul are in one and those who believe John are in the other? In this
case Ephesians was not true when it was written and never will be true!
Such is the dilemma into which my reasoning led
me, until I saw that it was all based on the time element, which was a mistake, for it is
noticeably absent from the inspired records. I do not know, but I still imagine that John
wrote very late, perhaps after Paul, but this no longer disturbs me, for, though written
in the past, their message is clearly for the future, after Paul's writings have become
history. In this case it is most fitting that they should have been written so, with Paul
inserted as a parenthesis, for this is the relative position of the truth which they
contain. Now, however, no amount of reasoning, based on non-existent premises, will
convince me that they indicate the presence of two bodies in this economy, and thus
destroy my belief in the spiritual unities which are vital to my faith and conduct in
this era of God's grace.
I might have protested to Paul, if Peter were
yet alive, and said, "But surely there are two bodies, for the chief of the
apostles is not with us." But Paul could have replied: In pointing out the
great unities of the faith I have ignored the minute, transient, vanishing details which
accompany the change of administration, which are self-evident and inconsequent, and which
have no bearing on the character of the economy as a whole. The spiritual unities
which characterize this economy are in contrast to the previous one, which was
based on flesh. These unities are within the administration itself. They are not the joint
which unites it to other eras, which may have overlapped it in the beginning. In
this economy there is one body, and only one.
ADMINISTRATION AND DISPENSATION
Charts are helpful, but they sometimes give
a wrong impression of the true nature of dispensations and administrations. Each
administration involves a dispensation. This is a gift given by God in each case, to carry
His economies into effect. As a result the administration and the dispensation usually
coincide. Thus God's grace given to Paul for us (Eph.3:2) is the gift which
empowers the present secret administration (Eph.3:9) just as, in the coming era of judgment,
God's wrath will be the force which will carry His will into execution. But, in our
endeavor to clarify all these great acts of the divine drama in our minds, we must never
confuse the dispensations with the administrations. The latter cannot cross their given
boundaries. Thus this secret administration "which will close, so far as this earth
is concerned, before the coming judgment period -- this secret administration does not in
any sense continue through or beyond that period, into the future, for from there on all
was long ago foretold and is no secret. But grace, the dispensation which is given,
will be seen again in other manifestations and surroundings.
As the word "dispensation" is so
commonly misused, let us seek to clarify our minds by a more particular study of the term.
In the Greek it is connected with service. Indeed, it is the work of a deacon, for
the word is diakonia, THRU-SERVICE. Of course this is true only of the CONCORDANT
VERSION, for the Authorized Version has used the word "dispensation" only of oikonomia,
which means stewardship, or administration. Since this version confuses these two, the
almost universal lack of clarity is easily understood, even among those who are zealous
for "dispensational truth," by which they mean the truth for each
administration, but think of it as that for the time in which it operates. We have
found the word "stewardship," when used in this connection, liable to be
confused with "dispensation," so will change it to "administration" in
future editions of the CONCORDANT VERSION.
A dispensation is always in agreement with the administration to which it belongs, so
that one merges into the other. Paul speaks of "the eccelesia of which I became the
dispenser (or servant), in accord with the stewardship (or administration) of God,
which was granted to me for you, to complete the word of God -- the secret which
has been concealed from the eons..." (Col.1:25,26). Here we have the present secret
administration and Paul, with his evangel of grace, as its servant or dispenser. We may
express it thus: an administration and its dispensation cannot be separated, but they can
We might have learned much about serving
or dispensing had we visited Bethany and entered the house of Martha and Mary.
Martha was the one who served (John 12:2). Mary left her to do it alone (Luke 10:40). So
also, Peter's mother-in-law, healed of her fever, dispensed to our Lord (Matt.8:15;
Mark 1:31; Luke 4:39). Other women were His servitors (Matt.27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 8:3).
These all dispensed to Him out of their possessions. They set before Him the food
He needed, and provided for His welfare. This we can understand. It is serving, yet
often more than service, for they gave freely of their own. Hence it is best to render it dispense
where this is called for by the context. Paul went to Jerusalem, not to stay there and serve
so much as to dispense the bounty which he had collected for them (Rom.15:25).
Among the early Circumcision believers there
was a daily dispensing or "dispensation" (Acts 6:1). Of course this was
not a "change of dispensation" every day! It consisted in providing them with
food and the necessities of life. It seems that even the twelve apostles took part in this
dispensing, for they served at tables. It is striking to note the change, for, while they
did not stop dispensing, they gave out spiritual, in place of material, sustenance. They
persevered in "the dispensing of the word" (Acts 6:4).
It is helpful to note what is served out at various times, especially spiritual
commodities. We have a whole group of these presented to us when Paul is driven to commend
his own service, in 2 Corinthians (3:7-9). The law dispensed death. Today spirit
is dispensed. At the same time the law was a dispensing of condemnation, while the
evangel is a dispensing of righteousness. In another aspect it is the dispensing of
conciliation (2 Cor.5:18). There is no one word which covers all that God is
dispensing now, but all have one precious character. They are gracious, hence we
speak of the present administration of grace as a dispensation of grace.
The word oikonomia brings before us
quite a different picture, which may be illustrated by the fact that the Authorized
Version once translates oikonomos by governor (Gal.4:2). There is almost a
contrast, for a servant may be the lowest in the house, and the administrator the highest
official, next to the family. Our English word "steward" leans too much toward
service, with its application to the attendant on a steamer, and its suggestion of food.
The most extended example we have of such a character is the unjust steward of our Lord's
parable (Luke 16:1-8). He was no servant, and was not accustomed to work. He had
dissipated his lord's possessions. His business was not to serve, but to administer. He
did the planning and the ordering, not the serving.
An even better example is brought before us by
Paul, in his closing greetings in the Roman epistle. There we read of Erastus, the
steward, or administrator, or "chamberlain" of the city (16:23). He had
an official position, far above the rank of a servant. His duty was to attend to the
business of the municipality and to see that its resources were not wasted but properly
Minor children were committed to the care of
administrators as well as escorts. One accompanied their persons, the other attended to
their affairs (Gal.4:2). We are familiar with this aspect, for the estates of minors are
still administered by administrators.
The chief virtue of an administrator is
faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:2). In a servant this is not so important, for strength and ability
to perform the tasks to which he is set are more necessary. One works with his head, the
other with his hands. These distinctions, which are so easily discernable in the ordinary
affairs of life, and in the persons who perform them, should help us to intelligently
grasp the exact significance of the two important terms, dispensation and administration.
They are God-given thought-containers, but our discordant versions and the most
unfortunate misuse of the term "dispensation" instead of
"administration," had led to deductions unwarranted by the Word.
The special character of the present
administration emerges from Paul's characterization of himself as an administrator of
God's secrets (1 Cor.4:1). It is not that all of God's secrets become ours, but rather
that all of the characteristic grace which is now being dispensed was hidden before. We
must distinguish Paul's two relations to the truth for today. He served it out (2
Cor.3:6). That is, he was a servitor or "deacon," who set it on the table, as it
were, before the saints. That was his real "dispensational" duty! But, more than
that, he was entrusted with an evangel and it was his business to see that it was properly
administered (1 Cor.9:17). He had to see that God's grace was distributed in an
orderly way, so as to gain those for whom it was intended.
|The Present Administration
and some of Its Factors
It is manifest from this that every era in which God's spirit operates is an
administration, accompanied by one or more dispensations, though only a few are actually
called by this name. Thus the complement of the eras is the administration in which Christ
will be the Head of all. He will be the last and greatest Steward, or Administrator, Who
will do what all others have failed to accomplish (Eph.1:10).
The present work of God's spirit is also
expressly called an administration. Two key words are given to characterize it, secret
and grace. Two passages deal with it. In Ephesians Paul speaks of "the
stewardship (or administration) of God's grace which is given to me for you, seeing
that the secret is made known to me by revelation..." (Eph.3:2,3). In
Colossians he tells of "the stewardship (or administration) of God, which was granted
to me for you, to complete the word of God -- the secret which has been concealed
from the eons and from the generations..." (Col. 1:25,26). From this it is evident
that the main characteristic of this economy is secrecy, for this is repeated. Yet
it is no less evident that God's grace is that which has been hitherto hidden. Now
secrecy cannot be served out. It merely describes the administration. But grace is the
commodity which is ours to serve out to mankind in the conciliation and to the saints, by
the spirit, in justification, reconciliation and glorification.
THEIR RELATION TO TIME
Another matter is of the greatest moment if
we wish to avoid confusion. Neither of these terms -- administration or dispensation --
denotes a period of time. It is true that they characterize certain periods, so that
on charts we separate them by definite lines just as if, in every case, at a given
instant, one "dispensation" ceased and the next began. The time
boundaries between adjacent economies are seldom instantaneous. Take that between
Conscience and Government, the deluge. When did one leave off and the next begin? Did
Conscience end when the flood came? In which was the flood itself? If Government did not
commence until God gave Noah his new charge, then the flood was not the exact boundary
between the two, for the new order was not instituted until after the deluge was over. And
so forth. If we seek to make these a mere matter of time we will never be clear
ourselves, or be able to instruct others.
When once we have rid our minds of the idea
that a "dispensation" is a period of time, we will be open to consider the fact
that some of them, though characterizing special administrations, are not by any means
confined to them. The curse which came to Adam continues right along until the last two
administrations, and underlies not only Conscience, but Government, Promise, Law, and on
to the coming of the Messiah. It is a prime ingredient of all these administrations, but
it is not the characteristic gift of any of them except that of Conscience. So
also, the authority delegated to Noah, which characterizes the administration of human
government, is not confined to that economy, but continues as a factor of all
administrations until Christ begins to reign.
The promise given to Abraham also continues to
be a prime part of every administration, not excepting the judgment era of the end. So too
the law remains with the people to whom it was given. But it is not directly incorporated
into this economy of grace. Yet the fact that it was given and that it has exposed the
utter failure of the flesh is almost as important as the curse, as a basis for the present
A REVOLUTIONARY ADMINISTRATION
Not all of God's administrations are
evolutionary, growing out of the preceding, and derived from them.
Just as in nature there may be normal development for a time, but this is interrupted
by catastrophes, so it is in God's spiritual course. For example, the present dispensation
of undiluted grace has no place whatever in the next economy of wrath. Even the kingdom
and the new earth fail to have so large a share of this most precious of God's gifts. Being
a secret economy, not included in God's previous revelation, and arising out of the
failure of the kingdom to develop, it is revolutionary, cataclysmic, rather than
evolutionary. Some object to using the terms dispensation and administration except
where Scripture uses them. But such a course would restrict our intercourse to quotations
from the Bible. Many of the characters in the Scriptures are not called "men,"
but, as they have all the characteristics of human beings, we may well call them by this
name. When we find God dealing with His creatures under a variety of arrangements, and He
names one of them Himself, it will be our wisdom to use this name for the rest, rather
than invent one of our own, when we are compelled to use a term to describe and
There is a "no man's land" between
different administrations in the Scriptures which it is necessary to ignore when dealing
with each as a distinct epoch. Even the boundaries between the eons are not instantaneous.
When does this eon end and the next begin? How silly it would have seemed in the war if
the newspapers had wasted words defining the fronts on either side of "no man's
land" as if the battle lines never made actual contact! Ephesians is very careful to
draw the broad boundary between this administration and the previous era, and
distinguishes between the two previous bodies. In the first part of the first chapter some
of the believing Israelites are incorporated. Then some from the nations are included
(v.13). The time element for the nations is clearly presented later. "In that
era," Paul says to them, "you were apart from Christ, being alienated from the
citizenship of Israel, and guests of the promise covenants..." (Eph.2:12).
We cannot make a rule and say that
dispensations are cumulative, that is, that each succeeding dispensation incorporates and
includes what has gone before. That is true to some extent. The curse will continue until
the coming eon, but then it will not remain. Human government likewise goes on to
the great crisis, but then it gives way to the sway of Christ. Promise is different, for
it is fulfilled in the last two eons. Law is like it, but, in contrast with promise, has
no place in the administrations which deal directly with the nations. So with the kingdom
and the presence of Christ. The crisis is the circumcision of Abraham. Since then, Law,
the Kingdom, the Presence of Christ, all these are exclusive and based on physical
priority, hence cannot come into the present. But they emerge again when Israel is once
more in view. Can we not see that our celestial blessings cannot be incorporated into the
time of Wrath or the Kingdom? These matters cannot be dealt with as a whole. In some cases
dispensations continue. In others they withdraw. There is no basis for any reasoning.
Intelligence and faith are the only safe resorts.
My own difficulties were settled many years
ago, but the matter has been before me continually. I find that some of the sects of the
Brethren held that they alone were the "one body." The later issues of Things
to Come were inclined to make a special class of those believers who had "body
truth." Long articles were written on the "Prize," and other topics which
are really concerned with our "conduct," but were diverted to our position in
Christ, but these contained no definite assertions. They only raised questions, and on
these the teaching has been resting, especially in England, where the term "body
truth" usually indicates those believers who consider themselves specially favored by
inclusion in the one body, while other believers are -- but where they come in has never
been made clear. Now this is spreading among a small group in Germany. To keep my friends
from being deceived by this rather inviting, exclusive, yet divisive line of thought, I
will tell of some features which have thrust themselves on my attention.
Not Found in Scripture
The most striking thing is the fact that no definite passages of Scripture are
presented for our faith, but we are exhorted to be "spiritual" enough to see
these things without such aid. Against Eph.4:4,5 (one body, one expectation,
one faith) no definite declaration is presented, only it is tacitly implied that
whoever believes this passage is still lacking in the higher light. Another characteristic
feature is the lack of clarity as to the number of bodies and their members, and as to the
Scriptures which belong to them. Some say there are only two, those who know "body
truth" and those who do not. Others seem to imply that ordinary believers are in the
kingdom and have John's writings especially for them, while more advanced saints have
Paul's earlier epistles, while "body saints" have the Prison epistles. These
things vary from time to time, according as one position after another becomes untenable.
This teaching tosses saints hither and thither, according to the prevailing wind. It never
seems to be really settled.
Another prominent feature is the evident
uncertainty with which this theory clothes many very practical problems. The question of
who is in the one body is not clearly answered, nor are we supplied with the exact
conditions necessary for entrance. If asked when the saints enter the body and how, if not
at the time when they first believe, no satisfactory answer is forthcoming. So far as I
know, there is no explanation as to whether those in the "one body" must all go
through the previous stage or stages or not. If they do, their destiny will depend on
their maturity, and very few, I fear, will go to heaven, as they fondly hoped, but the
millennial earth will be overcrowded with the vast mass of saints from this
administration, and heaven will be a very lonely place. Yet this, again, clashes with the
basic idea of this theory, that all are rewarded according to their "faith," for
almost all saints today "believe" that they will go to heaven. But what
"body" of believers has a celestial allotment except the one body?
There are many passages which seem to indicate
that our Lord's ministry would be carried right through into the kingdom. The present
administration is absolutely ignored. Since this was a secret at the time, how could it
well be otherwise? Yet the remarkable point is that, while the continuance of the kingdom
ministry seems everywhere implied it is nowhere clearly stated. There are expressions,
such as "let both grow together until the harvest," which, were they literal,
would call for serious consideration. But they are figurative. If we make them literal,
then the kingdom should have come that very year, for a grain crop matures in a few
months. But we must not press a figure in this fashion. The point remains. At the
harvest, and not till then, will the hypocrites be severed from the just. The
difficulty lies in the time. But it is just as great if the kingdom does not come
in one year as in a thousand.
Many deductions may be made from such a figure
which are unwarranted. We might say that all present when the Lord spoke must live until
the harvest, for there is no succession in the figure. How can the hypocrites, be weeded
out at the end if they are dead? What cannot be done with figures if we insist on
literalizing every detail! Here the meaning seems clear enough. So long as the kingdom is
heralded, before it is set up, the hypocrites will be allowed to remain. But then they
will be culled out and destroyed. They will not be allowed in the kingdom. The case of
Ananias and Sapphira was a foretaste of this.
|God's Choice, Not Ours,
Determines Our Destiny
For the nations who accepted the teaching of Paul there is no uncertainty in the
Scriptures. But for the Jews, who had a definite expectation, and who once took it for
granted that they would be blessed with Israel in the land, some explanation is necessary.
And is this not exactly what is offered in the first twelve verses of Ephesians? These
deal first of all with Paul and his Circumcisionist companions, as the emphatic you
in verse thirteen clearly shows. And is there not a continual contrast with the kingdom --
spiritual blessing in place of material, among the celestials in place of the terrestrials,
before the disruption instead of from it, the forgiveness of offenses in
place of sins, according to the riches of His grace, not as we
forgive others, and so on -- and all this is justified only on the ground that it is done
by One Who is operating the universe according to the counsel of His will. But no
such explanation is needed when the nations are introduced.
The two body teaching need only be put into
practice to lead to most embarrassing situations. Let us say that we are called upon to
minister God's truth to a mixed meeting of believers, some knowing "body truth"
and some in ignorance of it. Under such circumstances, what shall we say? Are we, unlike
Paul or Peter, ministers to both Circumcision and Uncircumcision? Shall we call
upon all body believers to go upstairs into the gallery? But even then we dare not speak
to both at one and the same time. Indeed, if we are in "body truth," how can we
speak to the others at all, without the utmost confusion? Shall we say, unlike Paul in
Corinth, "You are of Peter," and "You are of Paul?" If we divide on
the line of going to heaven, all will go into the gallery and the auditorium will be
nearly empty. If we divide on the line of the bride many will be in both, and probably go
away to escape mutilation. It is a very serious problem if we consider it practically. We
have no partitioning wall today, as in the temple. Is not this teaching an attempt to rear
it up again in still another place?
I once thought that I could reason from the
statement, "According to your faith be it unto you." If you believe Paul, then
you go to heaven. If you believe Peter, then you stay on earth. But, in practice, this
proved exceedingly puzzling. Saints who insisted on being "a holy nation" and
clung to Peter's epistles, also insisted on going to heaven with Paul. And they proposed
to drag Peter along with them, so that he will have to turn his back on the throne which
has been prepared for him, and some one else will have to take his place ruling one of the
tribes of Israel! No wonder he has been degraded to the place of a porter at the portal
celestial! But it does not seem possible that he will be able to hold both positions at
the same time. He has the keys to the kingdom of the heavens, which is to be on earth.
Lately I have been informed that one group teaches that Paul has no place in the one body.
The Jews are "we," and the body is "ye." But few will ever go so far
DIVERSITY BY "FAITH"
We urge all who are inclined to make a
distinction between various grades of saints on the ground of their faith to carefully
examine their own reasoning. First, such a distinction itself is not faith, but a
deduction based on non-existent premises. The Scriptures take the only reasonable ground
that, if all believe God, it will not make any division between them, but the opposite.
There is one faith. One of the premises in this reasoning is that there are many.
It imagines that, if we appropriate God's Word to others, then He will change it to suit
us. A saint in Germany insisted that she belonged to the bride. The teacher replied
"According to your faith be it unto you." This is false. Believing a lie does
not make it true. "Faith" which rests on ignorance is credulity. This divides.
Real faith unites. If we all believe exactly what God has spoken to us, we will all agree.
There is no unity possible on any other basis.
|God's Undeserved Favor
Makes All Equal Now
The fact that the saints have so many different "beliefs," some receiving
water baptism and some refusing it, some, keeping the sabbath and others observing no day,
some holding "body truth" and some quite unaware of its existence, has no effect
on the essential constitution of this administration. Our unbelief does not make God's
faithfulness of none effect. "Beliefs" are with us in endless variety, but they
are largely unbeliefs.It is a pity that we call them "beliefs." Almost all
"believe" that God will torment the most of mankind forever. Thank God that this
does not make it true! Almost all think they are in the "kingdom" which God has
promised to Israel. This does not give them a place in it. Very few know of their present
place in grace. This does not affect the fact. Man has made many beliefs, but God has for
us only one faith. Let us not reason about it, but believe it.
Were all in Corinth members of the body? Did
not Paul say, "in one spirit we all baptized into one body" (1
Cor.12:13)? Yet there were some there who said "I [am] of Cephas" (1 Cor.1:12).
Should not that have made two bodies in Corinth?
Those who wish us to believe that there is more
than one body now do not give us any clear notion of this other body. For decades the idea
has been floating in the air, and seems afraid to come to earth, lest, like a bubble, it
should collapse. And so it would, it seems to me, if only a clear outline should be
attempted of the other "body." In what way does it differ from the ecclesia
which is His body? Are we all "born again" at first into the kingdom, and later
transferred into the church? If so, when and why? What do you have to do to get out of one
into the other? What do you need to believe, if that is the way in which the change comes?
If the destiny of saints is to be fixed by
their "faith," most of them will have to stand with one foot on the earth and
the other in the heavens. It makes me dizzy even to try to visualize what this would
involve for the majority of believers. Instead of being one body, the ecclesia will
more nearly resemble the remains of that planet whose shattered particles are now flying
through space as millions of separate meteors. Their destiny would depend on the time of
their death, or rather the dimensions of their ignorance when they leave this scene, for
many are continually changing their creed. Hardly anyone fully believes Paul, so the
"one body" might consist, very simply, of Paul himself! God pity us if our
destiny is determined by our ignorance and unbelief, and not by the great gift of grace,
"that which the eye perceived not, and the ear hears not, and to which
the heart of man ascended not -- whatever God makes ready for those loving
Him" (1 Cor. 2:9).
FLESH AND SPIRIT
Some matters should be made clear. This
other body, to have any scriptural warrant at all, must have the same position as the
nations before the truth of the secret was revealed. That position depended entirely on
flesh. Because the believers among the nations were inferior to Israel in flesh,
they were guests, and far off. Is the distinction between an ordinary believer and one who
knows "body truth" a physical one? If not, then this mythical body to which he
belongs is quite unknown to the Scriptures.
In this there is a lesson for us. We should
never proclaim any truth which we have not "thought through," as the Greek puts
it, or which will give rise to questions which we cannot answer. I have written articles
for publication which were nearly satisfactory, yet there were points which were not clear
to me. They were never published. And thankful I am that they were not, for invariably the
position was not tenable. In such cases let us first find a positive passage on which our
faith can anchor, and then our position will be steadfast, and no questions will be able
to shift us from our moorings. This has been my experience with this teaching. Those who
have sought to spread it have been tossed hither and thither, so that I could never be
sure just where they would be, but I have not budged from the rock -- one body.
This has not given rise to insoluble, interminable interrogations, but, rather, has
Avail Nothing Now
Personally I have had many wonderful advances in connection with new light from the
Scriptures, but my place in Christ has not been altered by them in the least. From the
first I heard of "body truth," and accounted myself a member of Christ's body. I
also considered myself as part of the bride of Christ, but I doubt very much that my
"belief" had the effect of securing me a place in the bride of the Lambkin, and
thus making me an Israelite and giving me a position in the kingdom on earth. Nor do I
think that I lost this place when I found it to be unscriptural. This opens up another
question. If you "believe" two irreconcilable destinies, one on earth and one
among the celestials, which do you get? Is not the answer clear? In one case I did not
believe -- for God had not spoken, as I mistakenly supposed. Surely one cannot
"believe" anything he likes, and expect God to carry it out, even if it is
contrary to His Word! We get only that part of our belief which is genuine, being founded
on God's declaration, plus all that is ours which we have not believed. This removes all
Christ was a Minister of the Circumcision. Let
us never forget that this is a distinction of flesh. The time came when Paul no
longer knew Him in this relationship. That was only a symptom of the great truth for
today, that physical distinctions vanish in Christ. On this account it is disastrous to go
back to the gospels for present truth. For years, among the Brethren, I was taught that
much in the earthly ministry of our Lord refers to us. We did not see that He spoke to His
own according to the flesh, and, had we been present, not only His disciples but He
Himself would have indignantly resented our appropriation of that which He gave to Israel.
The idea that we could have these things apart from Israel according to the flesh
is unthinkable. For long I made an exception of the "mysteries" of the kingdom.
But when I saw that the most notable feature of this administration is that it was a
secret when these "mysteries" were made public, the idea that the kingdom
continued in mystery became utterly untenable. It would certainly destroy the two
characteristic features of this era -- secrecy and grace. What had been made known could
not form a main feature of a secret administration, and the almost utter absence of
grace makes even its "application" darkening and destructive.
The position of some from the nations who had
made contact with Paul's preaching in the era previous to this is seldom clearly
understood. If it were sharply outlined it would help to clarify our thoughts as to the
one body. The important point is this: They were the Uncircumcision. The distinction was
entirely a matter of flesh (Eph.2:11,12). If there are two bodies today, this must not
be based on faith but on flesh. The supremacy of Israel must be restored, and all such
blessing as may come to the nations must be channeled through the literal, physical seed
of Abraham and his grandson, Israel. Such was the place of the nations before the secret
was made known, and such it would be still were another "body" with us today.
When I came to consider more carefully the idea
that God would deal with each one according to his faith, I found that I had confounded
faith with unbelief. If a bookkeeper enters to his own account what is clearly tagged to
go to another, that is not confidence but misapplication of funds. If a saint
"appropriates the promises" given to Israel, that is not believing God, but failing
to do so. For this he will not be rewarded, but will suffer loss. Let me emphasize
this. To take the teaching of the Circumcision in disobedience to God's revelation is unbelief,
not faith. When a thief steals he is not punished by being awarded the stolen goods.
Neither will we get an allotment within the walls of the new Jerusalem, which comes down out
of heaven, if we claim that God has promised it to us, when He has done no such thing.
|The Circumcision Writings
Point to Paul's Epistles
Besides, do any of those who cling to John's gospel and to Peter's epistles really hear
what these have to say? How many of these dear saints realize that, in these portions of
God's Word the first requisite is circumcised flesh, before there can be any true
faith. All the credulity in the world will not make anyone an Israelite. Either he must
become a proselyte to Judaism or take his place under the table with the puppies. If
anyone had gone with Paul in his day he could have had some of Israel's spiritual things
on less humiliating terms, but that era is past. In the Circumcision writings there is
nothing for the nations except blessing through Israel, and with Israel. As
Israel is not blessed at all now, the nations will have to wait until the millennium.
A JEW AND THE "ONE BODY"
But what of a Jew who should believe and
read the Circumcision writings? Can he alone, or with a number of his race, form a
different "body?" Let us suppose, first of all, that he should read Hebrews,
which is written for Jews who believe. There he would find a gentle hint at the end that a
certain brother Timothy wishes to see them (Heb.13:23). They would read Paul's epistles to
him and thus be introduced to present truth. Or perhaps he would read Peter's letters. At
the end of the second epistle he would read, "And be deeming the patience of the Lord
salvation, according as our beloved brother Paul also writes to you, according to the
wisdom given to him..." (2 Peter 3:15). Then he should read the opening paragraphs of
Ephesians, dealing with God's present work and the place of Paul and his compatriots in
it. He would see that he would possess infinitely more with Paul than with Peter. And he
would grasp at the greater gain just as soon as he realized that Israel and the flesh have
now no claim on God's blessing at all.
It is true that, at the inauguration of this
economy, not all Jews joined Paul, or became members of the joint body. That many did is
evident from the mere fact that it is a joint body, made up of both Circumcision
and Uncircumcision. But some, with Peter as the chief example, could neither understand
nor join this new development of God's grace. The great apostle of the Circumcision is an
essential feature of the promised kingdom. There can be no kingdom without the twelve
apostles. Paul, on the other hand, can well be excused. And so can every other Jew who has
come to believe since his day. Let us not make a problem where none really exists. The
prominent partakers in the kingdom, James, John, Jude, Peter, and a few with them, died
in faith, not having received the promises. Yet they will receive them, at the advent
of their Lord. No Jew today is bound as they were.
The question as to which individuals, at the
change to the present grace, went with Paul and who remained with Peter and the kingdom,
we may confidently leave in the hands of God. The fact that there is no provision, no
epistle, for Jews or gentiles in this economy, apart from association with Paul, is
sufficient to show that no such problem existed after the death of the apostles. Moreover,
the fact that such a body of believers cannot exist in this economy is evident from its
characteristic features. It may be that, when Ephesians was written, there were still
believers, such as Peter, who belonged to another body, with another faith and a different
expectation, but there is none such now. Indeed, they are altogether ignored in the
timeless statement of the spiritual unities which are vital to God's present gracious
operations -- one body, one faith, one expectation.
|True Spiritual Unity
in Ephesians Four
In this administration there can be no other body based on flesh, for that is utterly
repugnant to the character of the economy. There can be no different body based on
unbelief, for this does not unite, but divides. If there is another body now, based on
other writings than those of the apostle Paul, then his words are not true at any time,
for in no other time can they be true. The theory of the two bodies cannot but clash with
the unity of the spirit, which it is our duty to keep. And this is confirmed by its
practical effect. It divides. It both flows from and feeds our pride, in direct contrast
to the injunction to walk with humility and meekness, the first injunction for us, and the
only one which precedes the exhortation to keep the unity (Eph.4:1-4).
Apart from that deep heartfelt humility
produced alone by a sickening sense of our own sin and degradation, and an overwhelming
realization of God's grace in Christ Jesus, there can be no true spiritual unity. If
humility does not dash us down, faith fails and reason prevails. It actually twists the
words that cement all saints together, to exalt a few above their fellows. The "one
body" becomes the badge of a privileged class, who arrogate to themselves a place
based on knowledge or attainment, but not on grace. They confuse the position of all in
Christ with the reward of the faithful in the Lord. The result is one of the saddest
sights in this sin-cursed scene. Saints, highly favored and enlightened, play the pitiful
part of the Pharisee. While proud of being on "the ground of the one body," they
effectually deny that there is but one body.
With the body the other unities must also be
discarded. It cannot be allowed that a common saint should have the same expectation as a
"body believer." Where to send them is not clear. They cannot be thrust into
hell, so they must have a place in heaven or on the earth. But these places are already
occupied. So they are merely an excrescence on God's revelation instead of being, by His
boundless grace, members of that joint body in which Christ is All and we are nothing at
For faith the explicit declaration that
there is one faith in this administration, is sufficient to settle the matter.
There is no choice as to what each one, or any "body" may believe. It is not
allowed some to believe that they are the 144,000 and leave others out. If one is in the
"great company class," then all are in it. If it is right for me to be under the
law, then every other saint must be subject to it. If our Lord's teaching as to the
kingdom applies to immature believers it is for me also. Let us hold fast by faith
to the declaration of the apostle that there is one faith, not two. In the kingdom
there is one faith for Israel and one for the nations, but it is a vital feature of
this economy that one faith applies to all wise and otherwise, infantile and mature.
The body of truth for us is one because all is based on grace and the flesh is accorded
THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT,
OR THE DIVERSITY OF THE FLESH
Nothing in connection with the present
secret administration is more emphasized than the spiritual unity which exists, in
contrast with all other administrations, since the circumcision of Abraham and the call of
Israel, in which the flesh causes division and diversity. In this regard the present work
of God is unique, and we must not allow any teaching which admits the ascendancy of
circumcision, or gives the priority of the flesh any place. We may allow a bit of
innocence to come in from Eden, or conscience from the period before the deluge. We may
insist that the covenant with Noah is still in force with all mankind, and men still have
the power of life and death in government, for these are specifically assured to us by
Paul in the Roman epistle.
|Israel's Physical Superiority
Belongs to the Future
Further, we may insist that, by faith, we are children of Abraham, in uncircumcision.
But the moment that circumcision steps in and divides humanity on the basis of flesh
we must call a halt. In this administration circumcision in the flesh is not a
badge of superiority or a basis of division. In the world, indeed, Israel continues
to be a distinct race, and suffers as such, but in the household of faith there is no
Circumcision or Uncircumcision. All are circumcised in Christ. Grace levels all such
distinctions. In fact you cannot have this secret administration at all if you introduce
into it any teaching which involves the distinction between Israel and the nations. It
loses its distinguishing characteristic the moment any member is no longer a joint
member, or is made second or third rate, because of either his flesh or his ignorance.
The coming kingdom is the rule of one people
over the rest. Take away the physical superiority of Israel and the essential
feature of the millennium is gone. In this regard the present work of God is its exact
opposite. It is based on the repudiation of physical distinctions. The three great items
which compose the secret are all impossible in the kingdom and the kingdom is absolutely
incompatible with them. One is based on flesh, the other on spirit. The thrice
emphasized joint -- a joint allotment, a joint body, and a joint partaking -- would
utterly destroy the kingdom, just as the least physical distinction works havoc when
introduced into present truth.
Let us try to "apply" the present
truth to the kingdom and see what comes of it. If the nations have a joint allotment in
that day, Jerusalem and the land will be theirs just as much as Israel's. If there is a
joint body then they also will rule over Israel and be priests to them, or, rather, there
will be no rulers and no priests, no privileged body whatever. If they are joint partakers
then the whole kingdom economy is wiped out. It will profit us all to meditate on this
matter until it is clear to us that, in the kingdom at least, there is no carrying over of
the principles which characterize God's present activities. "Apply" Ephesians
then and the kingdom will vanish. Not a single passage in Ephesians will fit.
The converse is just as true. Alas, how few
realize it! Not a passage dealing with the kingdom can be "appropriated" today
without danger of undermining the whole economy. It is said that, while man and the lower
animals have much in common, yet every single part of them is different. They both have
blood, but it would be death to introduce the blood of some animals into human veins. The
distinctions between kingdom truth and the present may not be visible to our uninstructed
eyes, but I doubt if a single sentence dealing with the kingdom can be "applied"
to the ecclesia which is His body without detriment to both. But we should not discuss
such matters, for real faith never thinks of "applying" any Scripture. This is
only a euphemism for "displacing." It is needless and futile, and a reflection
on the great Author.
Revelation reveals to faith the fact that there
is one body. Reason reckons on inference to establish the fiction that there are more.
I have yet to see a definite passage which teaches it. But this is the great difficulty
with us in these last days. We cannot believe. I present Colossians 1:20 (reconcile
the universe) to a good and earnest Christian and he is amazed that I should believe it
"as it stands." So I consider his objections and seek to remove them. Another
abuses me because I believe that "all is of God," when the Scriptures themselves
say that some are not of God. All that I can do is to show the difference in the original,
between the two statements, and open the way for faith. Another terms my acceptance of 1
John 3:8 (the Adversary is sinning from the beginning) "speculation," so I have
tried to show that all other Scripture harmonizes with it. Truly the nations are ready to
be hewn out of the olive tree, when the best branches in it contend, not for the
faith, but against it.
PRIDE, OUR GREATEST DANGER
of Selfish Sects
Almost all movements of these last days have been characterized by pride. How many have
not claimed to he the hundred forty-four thousand! And now there are many indications that
those who claim to know "body truth" arrogate to themselves a special
"superheavenly sphere," and an exclusive "out-resurrection,"
etc., not realizing that all such pretensions are the clearest indication possible that
they do not believe the "mystery," and that the humility which is its
fruit is utterly wanting, for they divide the saints into more than one body. Let
us take heed that we humble ourselves under the transcendent grace of our God, and
so take our place in the joint body along with every saint, no matter how lowly his
estate, how ignorant his mind, how deluded his outlook. Grace, unity, secrecy are
the watchwords for today. They are the only cures for pride and division.
The truth of the "mystery" is
suffering from two opposite phases of unbelief. Most of the saints, of course, being bred
in sectarianism, simply cannot accept it. Paul could not teach it to the
bright-minded Corinthians because of their preferences. With all their gifts and high
intelligence, this phase of truth was beyond their range. So that the truth for today is
barred out by sectarianism and finds no response in the denominations into which the
church has been divided. On the other hand, there are a few who have received the vague
idea that it is a "secret." Instead of inquiring as to what the secret
is, they reason that everything revealed before is excluded from it. Finding this
impossible, they still reason that some things are referring principally to our
expectation, not the same as before, even when the statement of the "secret"
distinctly states that it is the same. They have never seen that the secrecy lies in the unity
of the allotment and the body and the expectation, not in these themselves. Hence they are
in constant confusion.
Today sectarianism is so prevalent, so
insidiously residing in almost all saints, especially those who have a measure of
knowledge, like the Corinthians, that they walk as men, grouping themselves under leaders.
To such this revelation is debarred. They may be ever so clear on other matters, but their
conduct leads to division and they simply are incapable of receiving the secret. Even
those who make a specialty of "body truth," and continually refer to the
"mystery," so that it becomes their shibboleth, fail to really find this great
truth, and soon manifest the fact in practice, in their relations to other saints, by
denying the unity which it effects. They cannot acknowledge that all are in the one body
or have the same faith and expectation.
The practical effect of the revelation of
the secret for today is humility. That is the opening exhortation in the fourth of
Ephesians, and is the only ground in which our spiritual unity may be preserved. In other
administrations, where this unity does not exist, there is a strong tendency to pride. The
sons of Israel were inordinately arrogant, and despised the nations because of their
inferior position. Where some saints are given ground superior to others there can be no
unity, and there is place for pride. But if there is a true acceptance and appreciation of
the secret, that our threefold blessing, among the celestials, in the body, and in our
destiny, is all so utterly on the ground of unadulterated grace that no one deserves it,
yet all are granted it, there is no place for pride. Humility leads to unity. Pride
produces division. The fact that the church today is so divided is only the outward
symptom of its inward pride and ignorance of the secret of Ephesians.
A TEST FOR TRUTH
A very simple test will enable each one of us to judge whether we believe the
"mystery," or know God's will in this current administration. Is its foremost
fruit found in our lives and teaching? Do we really endeavor to keep the unity of the
spirit? Have we severed from any saints who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart? Do we
really realize that we are not in some privileged class, but that grace has
overthrown all barriers, and we are one with every saint, even though some seem uncomely
members of the body of Christ? This is true humility, and is the fruit of Ephesians. Let
no one of us claim to know the "mystery" while denying its power in practice. We
will be simply deceiving ourselves.
I feel like apologizing for this whole article.
It is intended as a concession and a courtesy when I allow myself to consider what is said
against the truth. I do not expect to convince anyone by this means. I simply wish to
clear the ground of that which hinders faith. Hence I urge my friends and foes to believe
Ephesians 4:4-6. I will not quote it in any version, not even in the Concordant. I
know how difficult it is to actually believe. I read this many a time and fondly thought
that I believed that there is one God, even though I insisted on three. Some who believe
in two or three bodies of saints have read this passage many a time, but God has not
opened their eyes to its truth. What I hope to do is simply to direct their attention to
it, praying they may accept God's explicit declaration that, in the present secret
administration, because of His overflowing grace, of faiths, of expectations, and of
bodies, there is only one.