"In other generations was not made known unto the sons of men."
"From all ages hath been hid in God" (Eph. 3:5, 9).
"Which hath been hid from all ages and generations" (Col. 1:26).
It will be noticed that we have chosen the alternative word to the one in the relevant Scriptures, that is "Secret" instead of "Mystery." Our reason for so doing is to avoid the necessity of spending a lot of time in explaining that Paul was not thinking in terms of the pagan mystery religions and making Christianity another such, with differences. Neither was he thinking of something mysterious. We have heard people speak of "mystical Christianity" and of "the mystical Body of Christ." Such terms, we feel, are dangerous, because they open the mental door to mysticism which is false spirituality. Mysticism leads multitudes of people into a wholly false and deceived position as regards Christianity. We want to say here with great emphasis that, contrary to many false definitions of the Letter to the Ephesians, that Letter is in another world altogether from mysticism! It is intensely real and practical, and there are no illusions about it. To use the word "Secret" is to be easily understood, whereas "mystery" suggests to the ordinary mind something remote from comprehension. By "Secret" the simple meaning is that something was not made known, but hidden, or kept in reserve. This will be more fully defined as we go on. In this article we are mainly concerned with the fact of the secret, not with the nature of it, which will be the subject of the next article to follow. As to the fact, by that we mean that it did definitely exist and was ever and in all things the great reality in the mind of God. Indeed, it was implicit, if not explicit, in all the ways and means of God. It was no myth, but a positive reality. It was the hidden meaning of God's ways, and of the means that He employed. We, to whom the "secret" or "mystery" has now been disclosed, find it very difficult indeed to use the Old Testament without giving that meaning. But to the people of that dispensation, with a few exceptions of partial enlightenment, only the events, the instruments, and the objects were known. They did things and employed things because they were commanded to do so. Their entire system - given by God - was objective, outward. Even where and when there was sincerity, devoutness, reverence, and zeal, it was to an outward form and with outward means. The heart could be in it, and there could be strong conviction that it was right, and yet, withal, true spiritual understanding was absent. That lack of spiritual understanding could - and often did - mean misunderstanding, and that misunderstanding led to hard and even cruel behavior.
This fact comes out in a glaring way in the days when God's Son was here in the flesh. It would almost seem that the Spirit of Truth had - among other things - the deliberate intention in inspiring the Gospels to expose this terrible fact that men could be fiercely and utterly committed to the outward and objective things of tradition, ritual, dogmas, etc., and at the same time be utterly remote from their spiritual meaning and value. The Apostle of whom we are speaking just now was formerly one of these people. He said that he 'verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to Christ,' and he did vehemently what he believed his understanding of his Bible demanded. It is just at this point that the Apostle focused his revelation as to the change in the Divine economy from one era to another. This is the significance of his words regarding the mystery being hidden from ages and generations. He knew, and no one knew better than he, the nature and features of that Old Testament economy. It was an economy of externals; ritual, vestments, liturgies, formalities, particular places, e.g. buildings and localities; men dressed differently from other men; names and titles, religious classes, and the thousand and one other things which went to make up the religious system; orders, adornments and procedure. it was the system of the visible, elaborate, attractive, impressive; the processions of high priests, priests and attendants, with robes, mitres and censers, etc. It was so familiar to Paul in his former life, and it was just the things, beside which there was nothing comparable.
Now, something had happened which made it all a system of shadows without the substance: it had - for him - receded from reality, and it belonged to a past and disposed of childhood. Yes, so he described it in his Letter to the Galatians. For him, any carry-over of that kind of thing was failure in apprehension of God's mind; failure in "growing up"; failure in spiritual understanding; a clinging to childish things: in a word, contradiction to the very meaning of Christ and the advent of the Holy Spirit. With Paul the revolution was radical and, while he loved the people in that proscribed system, he felt keenly the falsehood of their positions. it will be in our next article that we shall seek to show what it really was that was hidden from the people of that era and from those who carried the features of that era beyond God's appointed time into a new and completely different era, even to our own time.
We are at present dealing only with the inclusive fact of the hiddenness. There are one or two matters to which we must refer in particular. One has to do with what was NOT hidden in that era. This is necessary in order to arrive at the essential "Secret."
(continued with # 2)