The Stewardship of the Mystery

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - "The Mystery" in the Letter to the Romans

NOTE. The object of these messages is to show:-

1. That, in the eternal counsels of the Godhead, there has been from eternity past, a design, or what is called "The Eternal Purpose". This is what the Apostle Paul in particular calls "The Mystery"; that is - God's secret.

2. That this "Purpose" or "Mystery" was deliberately hidden by God during past ages, although implicit in Old Testament history and writings. These things Prophets sensed, desired to know, but did not understand (as see 1 Peter 1:10-12).

3. That we are now living in the dispensation in which this "Mystery" has been disclosed, revealed, and proclaimed; and it is this which gives to this dispensation its supreme meaning and importance.

4. That, while all Holy Spirit ministry bears definitely upon and is related to this "Eternal Purpose", a special "Stewardship" of the "Mystery" was entrusted to the Apostle Paul both in nature and measure, and that it is this "Stewardship" which explains him in the sovereign choice of God, in his peculiar apprehending, and his deep spiritual history.

5. That around and against the knowledge of and entering into the meaning of this "Mystery" or "Purpose" the full force of the evil powers are most positively and relentlessly set.

6. That the Church as the Body of Christ was - in those eternal counsels - chosen and foreordained to be the vessel in which and through which the "Purpose" should be displayed; this "PURPOSE" being the explanation of "Foreknowledge", "Predestination", "Fore-ordination".

7. That "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation" prayed for for believers particularly connects with and relates to the knowledge of this "Eternal Purpose" or the understanding of the "Mystery" - God's disclosed secret. This is the supreme ministry of the Holy Spirit.

8. That the knowledge, apprehension, and understanding of this "Revelation" will determine the measure of significance, power, and effectiveness of believers, and give vital meaning to the corporate life of the Lord's people. But, as we have been trying to show, it is not a mental apprehension of the great truth, but the illumination of the heart; "the eyes of your heart being enlightened". It is too tragically and pathetically true, both in the New Testament and up to date that many who have received a wealth of teaching and have declared themselves as having believed it, can subsequently lay it aside and part with it quite cheaply. "All they in Asia be turned from me", said the Apostle, after having given Asia his fullest and his best.

As we proceed to the next step in our consideration we would say that the synopsis given above must be the essential content of all that has preceded and all that follows, and that nothing should be taken out of that context.

We are going to look at the "Mystery" or Divine Purpose as embodied in some of the New Testament books.

Firstly, a general word. It is the custom now to take a book of the Bible and break it up into its parts with a view to obtaining its particular lines of teaching. We owe a great debt to the Bible teachers who have provided us with the 'content' of the books by analysis, synthesis, outline, and design: by telescopic and microscopic delineation and commentary. By this means the particular doctrinal emphasis and characteristic of each book is underlined.

For instance, 'Romans' is the treatise on 'Justification by Faith'; or 'Galatians' - 'Our Liberty in Christ', and so on. This is undoubtedly profitable and good and we would not detract from it. But we beg to say that these methods and results may miss the most vital point.

Unless we recognize an inclusive and all-governing object we shall go no further than seeing these books as things in themselves; books apart, with their own separate content. Each will be different in itself and will just be this or that as to teaching.

The important thing in reading the New Testament books is to see that they are all tied together by one single object and that their diversity is only the diversity of the aspects or facets of one purpose. To see this it is both helpful and essential to ask a question as to each part or book. What does all that amount to? It will be what we can call the resultant reading. Sometimes we shall find that the writer does this very thing for us. Take for instance John chapter 20. In verses 30, 31, John summarizes all that he has put into the book. "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in his name." Thank you, John! Now we know exactly what it is all about. Not just so many incidents, however wonderful, but all the fragments are bound together by a single cord of purpose. In the same way we must read each book and then do more; we must see that all the books are tied together in the same way with a single object, with everything in them somehow bearing upon that object. That all-inclusive and single bond is undoubtedly "The Eternal Purpose" or what Paul calls "The Mystery", and each book is in some way a part of that. Keeping to Paul who, as we have said, is the supreme interpreter of "The Mystery", let us begin with

"The Mystery" in the Letter to the Romans.

It is of primary importance in taking up this letter that we turn immediately to the end to see if the writer does anything by way of summing up what he has written. We should expect him to do this after gathering so much into his document; and we are not wrong. Here it is: "Now to him that is able to stablish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by (through) the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever" (Rom. 16:25-27). (Every clause of this statement should be quietly considered.)

The point is that the Apostle gathers all that he has written in this letter into what he calls "the revelation of the mystery".

So then 'Romans' is more than a doctrinal treatise on "Justification by faith"; it is that, but in a larger context - the context of the "mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal".

In order to see how that is and what the connection really means we must here take space for an important parenthesis. We evangelicals believe that the Bible is God's book in a particular and unique way. We believe that He instigated it, that He is in it; that He is over it. We believe that He has governed it, protected, and preserved it. We believe many other things about it in its relation to God. One of these things is that it is not just an haphazard, chance, random, casual collection of writings, thrown together by the whim or notion of men without the sovereign overseeing of the Spirit of God. If we are right, and the evidences favour this belief, then the order in which we have the books - especially the New Testament books - is no accident or chance, but comes under that Divine government. We know how differently they would be arranged if chronology - the date factor - had decided. No one fails to see that the substance and purpose of 'Matthew' gives it the right to take first and foundational place in the collection, although not chronologically first. In the same way, no one questions the right position of the 'Revelation' as the last and summation of all. And so it is with the whole received arrangement. A glance at the diagram of Paul's letters will show this 'natural' spiritual sequence.

Having put in that parenthesis, we can proceed to consider 'Romans' in the light of its immense context.

Our procedure will have to be to push aside a mass of the content of this letter, for the time being, bringing it back presently in relation to the supreme purpose. The historical and the doctrinal, can stand there just now and wait while we take note of the matter which governs all else. What is that? It is the place of God's Son. That is the key to every book, but it has a particular significance in each.

The Place of God's Son in 'Romans'

The Apostle begins this letter with the phrase "...the gospel of God concerning his Son". Here are two things; the subject and the object. The subject is "the gospel of God". The object is "concerning his Son".

When the word "Gospel" is used nowadays, such as in the phrases: 'preaching the Gospel'; 'Gospel preaching'; 'taking the Gospel'; etc., the idea is almost invariably that of the evangel in its elementary form of the salvation of the unsaved. It is, in the mind of those so speaking, synonymous with 'Evangelism'; it is related to the basic and simple grounds upon which men are to be saved and enter the Kingdom of God.

A very cursory glance at the way in which it is used in the letters of the New Testament (for instance the ten occurrences in 'Romans'), will show how completely inadequate such a conception is. All the vast, profound and rich teaching, the fullest and the most 'advanced', is termed "The Gospel", as well as the simplest. Take 1 Corinthians 15, for instance. The question that forces itself upon one reading that part of the letter is, 'How did Paul ever get to know that?' But note; Paul calls that, "The gospel which I preached unto you."

The "Gospel of God" is an immense thing, comprehending all revelation related to eternal counsels; to man in the eternal intention of God; to his creation, destiny, deflection, redemption, perfection, glory, and eternal vocation; and much more. This is all called "the gospel of God". Then note; it is said to be all "concerning his Son". The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is installed as the sum, the centre, and the object of all this "Gospel". How great He is! and how great a thing is the "Gospel"! In these eternal counsels, God's Son was designated, determined, and instated as the object and sphere of all the majestic, glorious, beneficent, and profound intentions of the Father. All this, because of its favourable intention is called, "the good news of God concerning his Son"; "the everlasting good news (gospel)".

The Bible is full of the greatest questions and most difficult problems that have ever confronted men, and the philosophers of all ages have spent all their energies in trying to answer them. Man is the centre of them all. There is that inborn and ever-assertive sense that he was made for something more than just to be an animate creature to exist for a fleeting moment and then be extinguished for ever. It is what is called 'an inborn sense of destiny'. The question arising in that connection is, 'What was he intended for? What is the meaning of that strong sense? How shall man realise his destiny, and what is it that he is intended to be?'

Then there is the problem of man's sense of sin; a sense to kill which - if that can really be done - calls for his most positive, vehement, and persistent effort. This sense that he is not now what he ought to be, that there is a deep and troublesome wrong, is in his very being. Every conceivable expedient has been resorted to in order to get this constitutional moral disorder put right, and all the religions of the world; all the psychological sublimations or deceptions; all the excesses of abandon to diversions; all this, we say, and much more, is in order to subjugate this - recognized or unrecognized - cry of conscience for adjustment. How shall man find inward peace, rest, and inward articulation? These are but the beginnings of the deep questions and problems which are a part of the very being of the sentient self-conscious, and - if he only knew it - God-conscious being called "Man".

To the above we may add three other problems in this universe. There is the problem of the groaning creation: "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain... waiting". But so it has been for thousands of years, and the cries become louder and more anguished as time goes on. It cannot "bring forth"; there is a deep frustration, and as to its hopes and longings, its efforts are abortive and cursed with "vanity". 'Oh, for full and final release from this bondage of corruption and death!' is its cry. But its heart is sick with disappointed hope.

Then, all too evident and persistent, there is schism in this universe. Division follows division; conflict follows conflict. With every effort to secure unity and oneness there is more disruption. In every realm this warfare of factions grows, intensifies, and multiplies. Nothing escapes this invasion of suspicions, mistrust, fear, slander, and misrepresentation.

Finally, there is that deepest of all problems, the problem of the sinister, hostile, evil, and all-good-opposing power of an intelligent hierarchy of wickedness operating behind all these conditions; the "Evil One" and his minions maintaining this spiritual and temporal disorder and chaos.

God knew from eternity that all these problems would arise and these questions hang over His creation demanding a solution and an answer. He had the Answer, but, for reasons best known to Himself, He hid that Answer and kept that Secret, appointing a time when He would bring it out and make it known, and in so doing provide the way to rest and realisation.

Those who know this Letter to the Romans recognize that the things that we have tabulated are the things with which it deals, and that the answer of God, His Secret, His Mystery, is His Son, in whom and by whom all the problems are resolved and initially and ultimately settled.

The "Mystery" or "Secret" is not a treatise, a doctrine, a philosophy; not even 'Justification by faith', but a Person - that Person in Himself, in His work, in His death, resurrection, and exaltation is God's eternal Secret.

This is comprehensive because 'Romans' as foundational is comprehensive. It touches all these aspects, lays its hand most firmly - as we would expect - upon the first things: Sin and Righteousness; but comprehends all in "his Son" - "the gospel of God concerning his Son".

Other aspects are dealt with more specifically in following letters, i.e., so far as the arrangement is concerned.

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