That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven…
We have in this bold, sweeping picture of the great onward movement of the universe a solution of the most ambitious questions of philosophy. What is the meaning of the ever-changing flux and rush of all things? and whither does it tend? It is, says St. Paul, a progress towards organic unity. Can any thought be more modern or more in accordance with strict science? St. Paul recognizes the all-important point, too often ignored in ancient philosophy, that we have to deal with organic conditions - with living forces and their resultants. He discerns a purpose in the seeming confusion of forces. In spite of many indications of failure, he discovers a sure progress. And the end of this progress he declares to be union and harmony. Yet he is not merely philosophizing. His idea is theological; he sees God's mind planning the whole, and God's hand effecting it. It is also essentially Christian. The end is accomplished through Christ.
I. GOD PURPOSES TO BRING ALL THINGS INTO ORGANIC UNION. This purpose is illustrated by the latest philosophy of evolution. Mr. Herbert Spencer has shown that evolution is a process of increasing integration, accompanied by increasing differentiation. Scattered nebulous matter concentrates into solid worlds. From existence in separate cells, life advances to the union of cells in organic creatures. Society progresses from individual separation, through tribal union, to the formation of great nations. St. Paul carries out the idea on a larger scale. Heaven and earth, things spiritual and things material, will ultimately integrate in one grand unity. Consider some of the wonderful results involved in such a process as it completes itself.
1. An approach of all things nearer together and a more ready intercommunication. The earthly will no longer be separated from the heavenly.
2. Mutual co-operation. Each will minister to the other.
3. The more effective work of higher organization.
4. The end of all discord, the overthrow of all evil, the subjection of the lower to the higher. Sin must then be cast out and God's will done on earth as it is now only done in heaven.
5. No necessary uniformity. On the contrary, differentiation increases with integration. The most highly organized bodies have the greatest variety of parts. While we look for progress, therefore, we must not be surprised at seeing increasing differences of constitution, idea, method of action, etc., among Christians, but even expect this to accompany a growth in harmonious mutual helpfulness. We are not to see the uniformity of the blades of grass in a meadow; but the unity of the root, trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit of one great tree.
II. THE UNION OF ALL THINGS WILL BE EFFECTED THROUGH CHRIST. We cannot measure the far-reaching effects of the life-work of Christ. But the character of all of them is peacemaking and progressive. Christ comes to quell the discord of life, to draw all into one, and to lead the whole on to a higher life. We may see, partly, by what means this is done.
1. The Incarnation. Thus heaven comes down to earth. The process begins here in one man, Jesus.
2. The sacrifice of Christ. This is a peace offering. By it the separation between man and God is done away.
3. The brotherhood of Christ. All Christians are brethren in Christ. Thus human differences are done away; Jew and Gentile, bond and free, barbarians and civilized; are one in Christ. In the end, the union of Christians in the Church should realize the cosmopolitan oneness which will banish war and mutual jealousies.
4. The headship of Christ. As Christ is recognized to be the Head by all, all become members of him, and so members one of another.
5. The final triumph of Christ over sin, death, and all evil things.
III. THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE ORGANIC UNION OF ALL THINGS WILL COME WITH "THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULLNESS OF TIMES."
1. It is only possible in course of time. Evolution takes time; so do the Divine education of the race, the spread of the gospel, and the growth Of the Church in truth and grace.
2. It is not to be indefinitely postponed. There will be a fullness of times. The present confusion is only temporary. It may last long, but not forever. We may do something to hasten the consummation of all things. It will only come when the times are ripe for it; but as we do our part to aid the great Christian progress, we help on the ripening of the ages. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: