The Manifestation of the Glory of God
As the first thing in this meditation upon Christ, we have been occupied with the ever-growing conception of Him that marked the life of the Apostle Paul. We saw first how that Paul as a Jew had himself shared the very earthly and narrow conception of Messiah so common to his race, with all its thought of a temporal kingdom, privilege, and position, and how for him this conception which he had of the Lord Jesus while journeying on the road to Damascus.
This crisis marked the beginning of an ever-growing knowledge of Christ. There Paul had learned, not only that Jesus of Nazareth was Himself the long-expected Messiah, but that He was also the Son of God, Who from before times eternal had been in the bosom of the Father. Christ was thenceforth to him no longer just a figure of time; and we marked how that by further revelation this fact came to be related to what Paul frequently calls purpose; the purpose of God, the Divine counsels - "... Who worked all things after the counsel of His will ..." That is related to the "before times eternal," and in that purpose, in those Divine counsels from eternity, very many things are found to which Paul refers. We saw that these Divine counsels (this eternal purpose) concern the universe, and an in particular, and that both the universe and man are gathered up into His Son: "according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth." That led us to consider a point which requires perhaps stating afresh, or at least a reiteration, to which therefore we now proceed.
The Purpose of the Ages
These eternal counsels (this eternal purpose of God) represent the straight line of God through the ages, and as we are considering them have nothing to do with redemption. That is another line, an emergency line. We were saying that this fullness of the times, of the ages or seasons, represents God's eternal method of unfolding His fullness, and of bringing men into that fullness. They are stages of growth, of progress, of development concerning His Son, and, as we have said, all this was intended to be a straight line through the ages. These other ages of which we read, the ages of this world according to present conditions, are quite another line and introduce another expression of purpose. They were brought in, if we may put it figuratively or imaginatively, in this way: the Godhead in counsel laid the plan for all the future ages of the ages from eternity to eternity, and in that plan everything was clear and straight forward. There would be a progressive unveiling of God in the Son, and a progressive bringing of the universe into that fullness. But then God reached a point where He had to say, because of His foreknowledge (we speak imaginatively): But we know what will happen. We know that at a certain point the man whom We create will fail, will break down. That will mean a long period of disorder, disruption, chaos, an We must provide for that. There the whole plan of redemption was introduced, and the Lamb was slain from before the foundation of the world. That is another line of purpose. Thus the ages of this present world had to be introduced; the age before Law, from Adam after the fall to Moses, an age governed by certain things; then the age of Law up to Christ; then the age or the dispensation of the Church. These were not in the original plan. It is necessary to say that, because, were it otherwise, it would make God responsible for sin, and you might say: Well, if God had planned all that, the fall was bound to be; God had to bring about the fall! But that is NOT true. None of us would lay it to God's charge that He had planned the fall in order to make redemption necessary. That is another line of purpose, of planning according to the foreknowledge of God. The first line of purpose was not that, and, as we said, you start on a level and then reach a point where, because of failure and sin, there is a dip in the line, and in that dip, in that gap the whole story of redemption is seen. Christ bridges it and links up the first purpose, and its realization, from eternity past to eternity to be. Coming in the likeness of sinful flesh, but without sin, the Redeemer stands in the gap and carries the purpose of the ages straight on in Himself. The present dispensations are, shall we say, subsidiary in their nature, and were brought in because of an emergency. God never intended it to be like that. Let us be quite clear on that point.
(continued with # 9)