5. Administrators of God’s Secrets

The Dais or “Judgment Seat”
of God and His Christ

 Chapter Five

THE ILLUMINATION which comes through a knowledge of God’s secrets, the so-called “mysteries,” is most important in order to merit much applause when we are presented before the dais, after we meet the Lord in the air, and are arrayed in our bodies immortal and spiritual. It is most significant that applause is mentioned in this connection, and, if we probe deeper, it is easy to see why this is so, for the measure in which we enter into God’s secrets largely determines our doctrine and deportment, whether it is pleasing or displeasing to Him (1 Cor.4:1-5).

I cannot express how immeasurably thankful I am to God that He opened my eyes to the “divine mysteries” so early in my career, for I can see now, as I look back, how often they have decided my course, and kept me from making mistakes and even shipwreck of the faith. Among the first of the great tasks I undertook was a series of books elucidating God’s secrets, which were summarized in the pamphlet on “The Divine Mysteries.” Many of these secrets have now been published in books or pamphlets. Most of the differences in doctrine which divide the saints would disappear if they were all versed in these secrets, for the present is a secret administration (Eph.3:9), yet almost all ignore this vital point and seek for present truth in portions of the Scriptures which were written before these secrets were revealed.

Most men who minister to the saints would hardly care to characterize themselves as administrators, especially not of secrets. How seldom is such an idea incorporated in the subject of a sermon or announced in the public press! The truth for today is supposed to be found everywhere in the Bible, no matter to whom it was written or of whom it speaks. Many make it all equally pertinent and applicable at all times. Some would find the same things in the so-called “Old Testament” as in the “New,” only the latter explains the former. But of secrets, they are hardly aware. To apply the term to the whole of this administration, seems deplorable to them, as it “robs” us of all except what is found in Paul’s writings. If they only knew what Paul has for us they would be glad to leave God’s lesser gratuities to those to whom they are sent, and not seek to rob them!

Paul and Apollos, in Corinth, did not present the divine revelation given to Israel through prophets and apostles, except as a background for a special and unique message, especially revealed to Paul, which was unknown to the Sacred Scrolls as confided to Israel. The revelation given through, and to, that nation had come to a dead end, due to the rejection of their Messiah, not only when personally present in the land, but as presented after His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension by the apostles in the land. The kingdom could not come, yet its repudiation prepared the field for the display of God’s transcendent grace in a measure and manner altogether beyond what had been revealed heretofore. It was hid in God until Paul was chosen to bring it to the nations.

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God’s attitude toward the nations, ever since He took up with Israel, was one of distance and opposition. He plagued Egypt and drowned their army in the sea. He dispossessed the nations in Canaan and killed great numbers and enslaved the rest. The very word guim became a synonym for all that is abominable, and it has by no means lost all of its odium among the Jews today, and is still evident in the term “gentile.” Jehovah became the God of Israel, and the gods of the nations were abhorred. The knowledge of God was almost confined to the people of the covenant. This continued until Israel had rejected Jehovah in the prophets, and Messiah in the evangels, and God’s spirit in the Acts period. It was only then that He turned away from them to the nations, and, as a consequence, His attitude has been reversed.

It was not until after the call of Saul and his special mission to the nations that all physical distinctions were set aside, and God threw open His arms of welcome to all the nations. This change was so radical that Paul compares it to the new creation (2 Cor.5:17). He labels Israel’s fleshly function as primitive, and insists that it has passed by. All that is out of date. Corresponding to the future physical new creation, in which the tabernacle of God will be with mankind and He will be tabernacling with them, and they will be His peoples (Rev.21:3), so now God has conciliated the world to Himself in Christ, in that He is not reckoning their offenses to them. He is friendly toward the world in place of repellant.

God has placed in us this message of conciliation (2 Cor.5:18-21) and has given it to us to dispense it. This is the essential essence of the evangel for today. We are ambassadors of peace. God does His entreating through us. Our theme should always be, “For Christ’s sake be conciliated to God!” God has made Him a sin offering for our sakes, that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him.

It was a tremendous relief to me when I first grasped the import of this evangel. I was among a company of people who held what is now known as “fundamentalism,” and prided themselves in preaching a pure gospel, according to the Scriptures. We never realized that it belonged mostly in the old creation, that it was primitive and had passed by. We took a text almost anywhere, but especially in the so-called “gospels,” preferably John 3:16, which was supposed to he the pure and perfect passage for today.

But the more I meditated on the Scriptures, the more perplexed I became. If Paul was sent especially to the nations, why preach from a text in John? I found the new birth to be in the plural in the Original—ye must be born again—and it seemed to indicate the nation of Israel, especially when compared with the ancient prophets. And why does Paul use the far more radical figure of a new creation? That Israel was the wife of Jehovah and would be the bride seemed clear from the prophets and the Unveiling. How could the nations be included, especially as Paul brings in a new figure, the one body?

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But I was especially troubled, in preaching the gospel, by the phrases I copied from other speakers and tracts. If Christ died “in the room and stead” of the sinner, how could he be lost and suffer eternal torments in hell? In ordinary life, this cannot be. If I should be infirm or incapacitated, so that I could not perform my duty, and a friend graciously takes my place and does it for me, no judge on earth would punish me for my delinquency. Yes, and even if I did not believe that he had done it, I could not be held. It does not depend on my faith at all, but upon the justice of others. Will God be less lenient than humans? Will He be more unjust than they?

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Another idea was well expressed in the song, “Jesus paid it all.” And we reasoned quite logically that “payment He will not twice demand, first at my bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at mine.” But here also, the introduction of faith was quite contrary to our experience. If someone kindly pays our debt and gives us a receipt, we cannot be forced to pay it again if we fail to believe. It is a fact that does not depend on our faith at all. It is true even in unbelief.

Even in those days, it was my habit to check teaching with the Scriptures. But when I read the likeness of the ten thousand talent debtor, it only made matters worse. “The eternal security of the believer” was one of the main pillars of our theology, but here was a debtor who had his loan remitted, yet afterward he was given up to the tormentors till he may pay all that he owed (Matt.18:23-35). The remission of debts was conditioned on their conduct, not on the sacrifice of Christ or the grace of God. If they did not remit the debts of those who owed them, neither would their heavenly Father remit theirs. And so also with offenses (Matt.6:12-15). I stopped using the remission of debts and the forgiveness of offenses in my preaching of the evangel.

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Faith was nullified by our gospel. So I made a close study of the words which were supposed to mean instead, and found that the principal one denoted for the sake of. But even this did not satisfy, for the whole “theory of the atonement,” as the learned called it, was out of line with both Scripture and experience. It was only when I confined myself to Paul’s epistles and studied the terms that he used that I found full satisfaction, and embodied my findings in “The Mystery of the Gospel.”

My great mistake had been that I had not made a clean cut between the secret evangel of Paul, and the previous primitive gospel. I had mixed and muddled that for the flesh and that for the spirit, that for Israel and that for the nations. I had ignored the great differences between the new birth and the new creation, the bride and the body, and had known Christ after the flesh as well as after the spirit. Mine was a mongrel mixture until I saw that the evangel for today was a secret hushed up during God’s dealings with Israel, and is not to be found in the Scriptures for the Circumcision.

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I was especially grateful to God that He had led me to study the Original in spite of the opposition of my friends. Humanly speaking, I never would have understood the evangel for today, unless I had noticed that the word translated reconcile represented two slightly different words in the Greek. The longer one had the word FROM- prefixed to the shorter DOWN-CHANGE. It took me a long time and much study to discover that only the longer one denoted reconcile, mutual friendliness, of two parties. The shorter meant conciliate, a one-sided amity. In the providence of God, I had studied Edmund Burke’s Conciliation with America, in school, so was familiar with the force of the word conciliate. Burke was appealing to Britain, not America. He demanded that England change its attitude toward the Colonies.

Here is an evangel we can preach without reservations! It is really good news! It is true whether it is accepted or not, for it has two grades or degrees, one for the unbeliever and an added one for the believer. God is conciliated to both. Man is conciliated only if he believes. God is not reconciling the world now, as the A.V. says (2 Cor.5:19). Just as England, had it heeded the advice of Burke, would have held out the olive branch of peace to the American Colonies instead of using an armed force (which might have prevented the Revolutionary War), so God refuses to fight with the world now, but sends us as ambassadors of peace who refuse to hold men’s offenses against them. So long as we are here, God is at peace with the world, no matter how much they may offend Him, and wish to war with Him.

Peace! Quite the opposite of the popular conception of gospel preaching. As a young preacher, I was advised to “take a look over the brink” every time before I began to preach the gospel. That is, I should visualize the fearful fate of the sinner writhing in the lake of fire. This would add fervor to my message. Alas! such artificial stimulants may add feeling but cannot create faith. They hinder rather than help. It is not the wrath of God that draws the sinner, but His love. Dire threats of a dreadful doom are not good news, and entirely misrepresent God’s present attitude. He is not only at peace with the saints who have accepted the Saviour, but with the world which has not. True, this may change at any time to the day of His indignation. But not so long as His ambassadors are here, so long as we are privileged to preach the evangel.

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As administrators of God’s secrets, we are to be faithful. In view of the almost universal lack of this in present evangelism, we can see how apt is this exhortation. Expedience is the chief motive today. The question as to the faithfulness of the message hardly arises, unless adherence to the horrors of orthodoxy is intended. The aim in view is to stir up the souls of the people and have a mighty “revival,” with many “won” for Christ. There is a great effort to bring the people to Christ, rather than to present God and Christ to the people. But how often do we hear God’s secret evangel, unknown to Peter and the Circumcision, faithfully set forth as Paul presents it in his preparatory epistles? I once saw a sermon on Reconciliation advertised. The speaker was one of the most prominent fundamentalists. So I thought I would go, although it was quite a distance away, and later than I care to keep awake. I went. The word “reconcile” was mentioned once, I think. The rest of it was really contrary to this great truth. I mention this because this was probably the best that fundamentalism could offer.

I once sent a letter to the head of a Bible Institute who was one of the sponsors of the Scofield Bible, pointing out that the two words for conciliate and reconcile had not been distinguished in the margin of that work. As he was a Greek scholar, I enclosed a concordance of the two terms cut out of Bruder’s Greek concordance. In reply, he said he understood the matter and also had concordances in his library. My well-meant effort was thrown back into my face.

The usual objection to conciliation on God’s part is that He does not change. Essentially that is true. But the fact that He changes His attitude toward His creatures is abundantly evidenced in the Scriptures. One passage should suffice to show this. He condoned the times of ignorance, but now is charging mankind that all everywhere are to repent (Acts 17:30). His dealings with Israel were continually changing. Now, as a nation, He has sent them a spirit of stupor (Rom.11:8) and sends salvation to the other nations. These are all connected with His conciliation to the world, after the setting aside of Israel. There is no change in the world, apart from the few who accept God’s friendship. The vital fact is that God has drawn near and welcomes all to accept and partake of His transcendent spiritual gratuities by faith. This is the evangel for today.

Until we believe, these eonian blessings are in no sense our due through Christ’s death, for all that He did was for our sake, not in our stead. The eonian fruits of His sacrifice are only for faith. After the eons, then, indeed, the value of His sufferings and death will overflow to all, for then reconciliation will reach the whole universe (Col.1:20). But those then reconciled with God will miss the bliss of eonian salvation, which is the subject of the evangel, as well as the high honors which are ours with Christ in His celestial kingdom.

It seems that the Corinthians would like to have examined Paul and tried him according to human standards. But this he considered trivial. So it is today. I have been condemned by many because of my faithfulness to the evangel. It is claimed that I rob the saints of most of the Bible. And this in the face of our years of painstaking toil to restore the Scriptures to the people by concordant versions! We do not confine our efforts to Paul’s epistles. By all means, read and study and believe all the rest. That will have the same effect, for it is not addressed to the nations as a rule. Only superficial unbelief appropriates everything even when it is clearly labeled, and is to, for, and about others.

Even if I have a clear conscience to the effect that, for many years, I have been faithful to the secret evangel, I have no desire to justify myself, but to leave it all to the Lord. In the midst of such utter confusion on this elementary theme, it would seem to be impossible that anyone to be entirely clear, no matter how hard he may try. Then there is the past. I am sure that I will not be commended for much that I preached in those days, notwithstanding the fact that it led to the acceptance of Christ on the part of some. If God used only perfect presentations of His evangel, how many would be called? In this, He is gracious, as in all else.

God looks on the heart. I have no hesitation in saying, that every actual believer would like to make known the gospel. No matter how stammering is his tongue, or imperfect its presentation, the heart alone imparts power, and brings real results. I remember once when I really felt moved to show a fellow worker the love of God. I was repulsed, and felt rather bad about it. But, after working hours, another person came to me and asked if what I had said to so-and-so is true of everyone. Was it for him also? I had no idea that anyone had overheard us, but eagerly assured him that he certainly was included. And his later life bore witness to the reality of his faith. We cannot choose, but only call those whom God has chosen. However muddled may be our mind, if our heart is in it, God graciously uses us, and will applaud our feeble and faulty efforts.

It is a great help to remember that we are ambassadors, and represent the court of heaven on earth. If “God is angry with the world,” which seems to be the basis of the orthodox message, we ought to hand in our credentials and leave. We are here because He is not angry, because He is for peace, and refuses to reckon man’s offenses to them. A good diplomat does not deal in threatening demands when his country is proclaiming peace. One of our most urgent tasks today is to undo the damage done by zealous but ignorant men who assume the role of detectives or sheriffs or judges or hangmen, ferreting out sins and arresting and judging and condemning their fellow men, as if the time of His indignation had already come, or the judgment day were present.

For all such “faithful” preaching we may win the commendation of men, but no applause at the dais of Christ. There, faithfulness will not consist in venting our own feelings against our fellows, but in representing the gracious, pacific attitude of God, which is the only proper approach to the transcendent favor which follows faith in this administration of God’s grace (Eph.3:2). In fact, the false “gospel” which is peddled is largely to blame for the feeble apprehension of the favor which is ours afterward. The strong tendency towards works and lawkeeping and self, which rules among the saints, arises from a man-made evangelism badly adulterated with the same base ingredients.

Not only the secret of the evangel is essential for applause at the dais, but the secret of Christ and of this administration. The lack of these vitally vitiates the service of those who seek to please God in this era. Not only the secrets of Paul’s preparatory epistles, the conciliation of Romans and Corinthians, but the secret of Christ’s celestial glories and of the place of believers among the nations as joint allottees, and a joint body and joint partakers in a celestial allotment are essential, for these determine the quality of our service, and its accordance with God’s operations at this time. They alone enable us to keep step with Him, and keep us from falling out of line with His affairs.

Most of the man-made movements in Christendom stress some section of the Bible, but seldom do they settle on the proper part. In my day I have met “overcomers,” who wish to be reckoned among the conquerors of the second and third chapters of the Unveiling. Quite a few enlist themselves among the 144,000, who will have their place in the next administration. Others “discover” their identity with Israel, although God has given the nation the spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing and ears not to be hearing, nationally, at this time (Rom.11:8). Then a great “revival” goes back to Pentecost and claims the powers that were present in Israel under Peter’s preaching, but do not note the utter failure of that heralding in the book of Acts, and the calling of Paul in its place.

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In view of the dais, the worst that can overtake a teacher is not mere ignorance of God’s secrets but opposition to them. Almost all in this degenerate day were ignorant at one time, and hear of the truth for today as a heretical and destructive doctrine. It is grace transcendent to be allowed to listen to the truth correctly cut, for everything in Christendom is adjusted to produce the apostasy. The tide is against the truth. The desire for fellowship, for a living, for popularity, for gain and for fame and many other motives not only discourage a teacher in standing for the truth, but tend to turn him against it. Those who stand firm must count on apostasy and opposition.

Those who preach Paul must suffer with him. All those in the province of Asia were turned from him. When we remember that it was to these, especially the Ephesians and Colossians, that he revealed his highest secrets, we are astonished that any light at all is left today (2 Tim.1:15). If the great apostle, at the close of his career, must admonish Timothy to suffer evil with him as an ideal soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim.2:3), what must those expect today who make his message known? This he repeats (2 Tim.4:5), and warns against those who withstand his words (15), yet all forsook him at his first defense. May the Lord give grace to all who read these lines to heed his exhortation!

A. E. Knoch

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