1. Its Formation
2. Its Different Aspects
3. The Body of Christ
6. The Candlestick
7. The City and the Bride
8. A Gathered Company
9. Christian Fellowship
10. The Lord's Supper
|SHORT PAPERS ON THE CHURCH|
From 'The Believers' Friend' 1916-17
|1. ITS FORMATION|
It is a moment of no small interest when a believer first awakes to the fact that he is linked with every other Christian by an indissoluble bond, and that all believers together form one company.
The Holy Spirit of God has formed the link and is the source of the feelings which Christians rightly have in common one with another. The Holy Spirit has formed this one company.
It is our desire in this and subsequent papers, if God permit, to consider the subject of this remarkable association and to inquire what it is in itself and what are its characteristics.
We may look a little, first of all, at the formation of this company.
During His ministry on earth the Lord gathered round Him disciples, and we shall recall that, after His death and resurrection, He gave them instructions to tarry in Jerusalem till they should be baptised with the Holy Spirit whom He had promised to send. Acts 1: 4-5.
It was not till later that the truth relating to the presence of the Spirit was made known; but the church of God was formed then, and believers were constituted one body through the coming of the Holy Spirit. See 1 Corinthians 12: 13.
The doctrine of this, as we have said, was revealed later.
We shall be impressed at the outset, therefore, with the fact that the church of God is neither a voluntary nor a human association, but was formed by a divine Person – the Holy Spirit – indwelling each individual Christian and baptising all into one body.
In Matthew 16: 18 the Lord referred to this company, and there it is we find the definite statement that He would build His church.
It was evidently, therefore, something entirely new when the Lord uttered these words.
We may note in the earlier chapters of the Acts of the Apostles how the church gradually emerges from Judaism;
We may trace how the bounds and limits of Jewish distinction were burst, and we recall Antioch as well as other places, and eventually Ephesus, as scenes of the Spirit's operations on earth.
The means God is pleased to use for the further formation, or extension, of the church we find alluded to in Ephesians 3: 6. We shall quote the verse:
Of course we refer to the formation of the church of God on earth and its existence here.
Let us be perfectly clear on this point, dear reader. Are we recognising any other company than the one formed by the presence of God the Holy Spirit?
"For also in the power of one Spirit we have all been baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free, and have all been given to drink of one Spirit", 1 Corinthians 12: 13.
Page Top Article Top
|2. ITS DIFFERENT ASPECTS|
In our last paper we considered the subject of the formation of the church of God.
There is that which is distinctive of the church of God, that which had not been true of any other company previously
The truth relating to the church of God, viewed in that aspect which is peculiar to it, is called the "mystery".
The words of the Lord Jesus to the persecuting Saul of Tarsus first disclosed, or intimated, this "mystery", which had been kept secret since the world began.
There had been a "people" of God; there had been God's house; there had been priests; there had been the city of God's King;
If God permit, we shall consider this view of the church in our next paper. In this it must suffice to say that the subject is referred to in the epistles of Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Corinthians and Romans.
In Ephesians we have the fullest development of the truth relating to the assembly. It is there seen as the subject of eternal counsel.
In Colossians the church as the body of Christ is viewed as that which is qualified and capable for the display of Christ.
The epistle to the Corinthians presents a more limited view of the body.
The subject is introduced in the epistle to the Romans to show us our right position and responsibilities in the christian circle. Romans 12: 5.
This, then, is that which is distinctive of and peculiar to the church of God. Believers are "Christ's body". Wonderful fact!
But the church is also that in which the continuity of God's thoughts and ways is seen. Hence, while it is peculiarly the body of Christ,
While the truth of the body of Christ was 'kept secret' it was no new thought to hear of the house of God, or of a temple, or priests, or even of a bride, or city.
There is a development, however, in the ways of God in bringing these truths out in Old Testament days.
A desert was no place for a city. A city has foundations, and stability marks it. It is a centre. So we read in Psalm 122.
And at length the prophets speak of Israel under the figure of a bride – alas, an unfaithful one!
But the tabernacle constructed by Moses is nowhere to be seen today; the temple erected by Solomon has long since disappeared; Jerusalem, the city of the great King, has been laid in ruins more than once; and no gladness marks the day of Zion yet!
Is there, then, no dwelling-place for God? Are there no priests? Is there no temple, no city, no bride? Is there no witness for God today on earth?
The church grows into a holy temple in the Lord and is ever characterised by this fact,
In a coming day the church will descend from heaven as a city, having the glory of God. Revelation 21: 10.
What a remarkable company this must be! Able to display Christ, to enshrine the glory and presence of God and to approach Him who dwells among them, and to bear witness to the light in a world of darkness!
Reader, are you of this company, the church of God?
Page Top Article Top
|3. THE BODY OF CHRIST|
It is not a little remarkable that what is peculiar to the church of God was not revealed to believers at the outset. In the early chapters of Acts we find no allusion, much less any teaching, relating to the body of Christ.
As we remarked in a previous paper, this truth was communicated by special revelation to the apostle Paul,
But we must not suppose that the body of Christ was not formed till then.
Things overlapped. There was the offer of the return of Christ to Israel, Acts 3: 20, and promises of earthly blessing would have been then fulfilled had they nationally repented of their act of crucifying the Lord.
But far otherwise was the case, and the stoning of Stephen was the evidence of the ratification of their sin. They sent a messenger, as it were, saying,
We may observe that the church as the body of Christ is spoken of in different ways: –
The church is seen as the fulness of Christ, and as associated with Him in His position, as set far above all principality, etc., and as Head over all things.
It is interesting to recall that the first type of the church is that of Eve, and was given before sin entered the world, and hence illustrates the fact that the church was the subject of God's eternal counsel. This is very wonderful.
Eve was not only "taken out" of Adam, but was brought to him as a suited companion. And the church derives its being from Christ, it is His body; but it is also viewed as the antitype of Eve – the suited companion of Christ.
It is difficult to sever the truth of the body of Christ from the thought of the woman brought to the man. There is a difference, but the two ideas are very closely allied. See Genesis 2: 22-23; Ephesians 5: 28, 30.
What a blessed place of exaltation the church thus has! It is associated with Christ in His place as Head over all things, and in this regard is said to be His fulness.
Let us not forget, beloved reader, that this is our place, through grace.
Jews and Gentiles are made joint-heirs and a joint-body by the gospel. Ephesians 3: 6; 1 Corinthians 12: 13.
It is now that to principalities and powers the manifold wisdom of God is made known by the church. Today, also, there is one body, one Spirit. Ephesians 4: 4, 16; also Colossians 2: 19.
The prominent idea connected with the church as the body of Christ is that it may display Christ.
In human life a man is known through his body; and so, in a far more wonderful way, the body of Christ is for the display of Christ, for the practical setting forth of the moral features of Jesus.
We believe this applies to the church as the body of Christ in every aspect.
This is very wonderful and equally exercising to our hearts. God's thought is that Christ should be morally continued here on earth in His own, in His body.
We must indeed feel how far short the church falls practically in this aspect. And it should cause real heart searching as to the smallness of the measure in which we have answered to God's mind in this matter.
The subject is a very large one and intensely interesting, and we hope the reader will seek the mind of God as to it and search Scripture in a far more detailed manner than we can develop in these short papers. We desire to stimulate a spirit of inquiry and exercise.
There are, however, two practical thoughts which I venture to suggest. We have merely begun the subject in so doing. And what we say we shall remember is applicable to the church, the body of Christ, at any time, as also in any locality.
"For also in the power of one Spirit we have all been baptised into one body", 1 Corinthians 12: 13.
Individually as different persons we have a different spirit. But the fact of one Spirit having baptised us into one body makes unity a living reality –
But we must remark that anything of the flesh will rob us of the enjoyment of this unity and of its practical realisation. It is the unity of the Spirit.
The union of Christendom may be sought after, so-called differences may be dropped as convenience may suggest. But this is a mere imitation of unity.
Unity can only be in the power of the Spirit of God and in accordance with what is of the Spirit. Let the Spirit of God have His place and unity will be realised by all who thus honour Him.
We feel this is very solemn. For it is clear from the setting of Scripture that unless we are in the practical recognition of what is formed on earth in the power of the Spirit, unless we are in the enjoyment and good of this unity, it is futile to speak of the Headship of Christ.
If we follow the way Scripture develops the truth, we shall observe that in Romans and Corinthians Christ is not presented as Head of the body. The lesson of unity must be learnt first. But in Colossians and Ephesians He is so presented.
Hence, as has so often been said, the truth taught in Romans forms the foundation in our souls and makes room for the further light of the church in Corinthians. And so, if we are practically recognising unity, we shall be led on to the wondrous fact that Christ is Head of His body.
Moreover, the body of Christ is the vessel for the activity of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12. Any restriction as to liberty which might prevent the manifestation and exercise of spiritual gift is dishonouring to the Spirit of God. The Spirit distributes as He will. He qualifies as well as calls the servant for the work of God. Acts 13: 2.
Man can neither appoint nor prevent, according to God, the ministry in Christianity. We are quite sure that the Emperor of Rome was not consulted as to the appointment of servants or as to the exercise of gift in the church in the days of the apostles! Nor had an apostle authority over the liberty of another servant. 1 Corinthians 16: 12.
There is no doubt that the labyrinth of present-day ecclesiastical machinery is a very serious slight to the Spirit of God!
Hence, recognising this unity and liberty in the power of the Spirit, we should regard each other as members of the body of Christ. As baptised into one body, every member is necessary, each one is comely, and we may care for all. 1 Corinthians 12. Oh! how slow we are to view each other thus.
But, as we have said, if we recognise what is formed on earth in the power of the Spirit, Christ as Head of the body will be practically available to us. This brings us to our second point.
Religiousness will fail, but not Christ! The fleshly mind will prove its own insufficiency, but there is always fulness in the Head.
Is it too late in the church's history to "hold the head"? Is it too late to be quite supported by Christ? Impossible! Colossians 2 is still true!
Today we may prove it if we will. But this needs faith. It needs a right state on our part. It is useless to speak of the Headship of Christ if we are practically denying the truth of that of which He is Head.
The incessant formation of councils, of committees of management; the arrangement of spiritual affairs by human wisdom and expediency may suit man's mind. But it is not faith.
Schism, contention and activity of the flesh grieves the Spirit and must necessarily rob us of the right state which is essential if we are to know Christ as Head.
Let us not say these truths only apply to the church 'invisible and universal'. Immense mistake!
The body of Christ is on earth today. It is in every locality where there are believers. It will be the vessel for the display of Christ in the day to come, and is called to display Him now.
Page Top Article Top
|4. THE HOUSE OF GOD|
– ITS PRIVILEGES
The house of God, during the present time, is not a material building, but a spiritual one.
The first intimation we have of this building is in Matthew 16, where Christ tells Peter that He will build His church.
Believers – those who have received the Spirit of God consequent upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – are God's house.
How far, far surpassing any mere lifeless, inanimate structure such a building must be! Every part is living, intelligent, and is capable of responding to the One who dwells therein.
These two aspects of the house of God are presented to us in Scripture.
In Old Testament days God was pleased to give a sign in evidence of His dwelling among His earthly people Israel.
It would be a poor thing to conceive that today we are not so well off as Israel was in their day. Indeed, we are very much better off. Types have given place to realities, shadows to the substance foreshadowed.
God dwells in His house today, not in a symbolic way, but in reality. God, the Holy Spirit, has come from heaven and dwells in the assembly. See Acts 2. We feel this to be a point of the greatest moment.
Believers are the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit. No material building could possibly be this.
We can only briefly consider a subject like this in these Short Papers. But a few ideas present themselves to us very plainly in Scripture.
God dwelt in the tabernacle, as later in the temple, and God dwells in the assembly today. His glory filled the tabernacle, Exodus 40: 34, and afterwards it filled the temple, 2 Chronicles 7: 2; and
God has been revealed. His holiness, grace, mercy, righteousness have all been made known in exquisite harmony with what He is in His nature – love. In the cross all this was seen, and the church is founded on the blessed work of redemption. *
It need scarcely be said that if God's glory is that which marks His house, man's glory is excluded.
The glory of fallen man in all its forms was exposed at the cross. The wisdom of this world was proved foolishness there, and its strength as weakness.
How very far the assembly has departed in practice from this essential truth. Monuments to men of mere ability and human genius are erected in so-called 'churches' or cathedrals, and the glory of man – such as he is! – is displayed in its varied forms.
And if holiness marks God's house no unholiness can be allowed! Not only was this the "law of the house", but also "all its border round about is most holy", Ezekiel 43: 12.
We could not be happy if this were otherwise. God's honour dwells in the habitation of His house, and we love it. Psalm 26: 8.
How intensely holy the dwelling-place of God must be! The temple of God is holy, and if any man corrupt God's temple, him will God destroy. 1 Corinthians 3: 17. May we all realise the real character of God's house and its holiness!
The temple was a centre of earthly religion. Earthly priests ministered there and carnal ordinances existed. Under such a state of things it was becoming that God's house should be marked by earthly splendour.
And we know that the temple was elaborately embellished with precious stones and gold, and nothing surely could be too glorious or costly, since the dwelling-place of God was of such a character – a material erection.
But in Christianity all is changed. And we may add, not only is God's house spiritual, but all worship connected therewith must also be spiritual.
In the days of the tabernacle or temple there was a material kind of worship – a worship which man in the flesh could render. First-fruits of earth's harvests were presented, incense was constantly ascending, and musical instruments, too, were used as ordained by the sweet Psalmist of Israel. All that was worship of a material or fleshly * kind.
The house of God was a material building, hence the worship of God was on this level. But now all is different. All worship must be in spirit. That is, it is not the material offering of first-fruits and incense, etc., but spiritual in its nature, and by the Spirit of God.
May we ask the reader if he has realised this momentous change?
We see on all hands the abandoning of the true character of Christianity, and a return to the elements of a carnal and earthly religion. Buildings are called God's house; harvest festivals are quite common; worship is assisted by strains of music from a lifeless instrument! And in some quarters, indeed, we find men assuming the office of an earthly priesthood offering incense of a material kind.
Let us be perfectly clear on this point. All this is a denial of the very character of real Christianity. It is a return to an earthly and carnal religion of a past dispensation under the name and cloak of Christianity. Hence, however well intended, it is a very serious disregard of God's expressed mind. It is really iniquity in God's holy things. It may be done in ignorance. We believe it is. But it is nevertheless iniquity. See Leviticus 5: 14-19.
And so, in New Testament words,
Happy, blessed occupation! But let us again remark the spiritual nature of everything. The Holy Spirit is our alone power and capacity for worship. And, therefore, anything which grieves Him necessarily robs us of this precious privilege. Let us be watchful!
And so also is it as to prayer. What a wondrous place of nearness is ours! We are privileged to make intercession for all. 1 Timothy 2: 1-4. God's house is a house of prayer. We shall allude to this in a later paper, if God permit.
In conclusion, we may note that God's house is of commanding interest. Psalm 122 beautifully sets this forth.
What gladness when we may "go up" to God's house – when we can leave our things, and in company with other Christians enter upon our proper spiritual privileges as forming God's house!
We read of some whose interest waned as to God's house. They were busy with regard to their own houses and yet were content to see God's house lie waste. See Haggai 1.
We have not been careful to note a distinction which the Spirit of God makes between the house of God and the temple of God.
Let not unholiness rob us of our blessed portion! Let us not permit man's glory to intrude!
Page Top Article Top
|5. THE HOUSE OF GOD|
– ITS RESPONSIBILITY
It is scarcely necessary to state that if there are many and blessed privileges known by believers as constituting the house of God, there are at the same time corresponding responsibilities.
The epistle which particularly deals with this side of the subject is 1 Timothy. The behaviour suited to the house of God is there dwelt upon.
The conduct insisted upon in the first epistle addressed to Timothy supposes the doctrine and the privileges of the epistle to the Ephesians.
The apostle Paul, in writing to his trusted, but apparently young, servant, Timothy, gives certain instructions as to detail, and concludes these remarks by saying that he wrote thus that Timothy might know how one ought to behave oneself in the house of God. 1 Timothy 3: 15.
Some had swerved from this state of soul, even in the early days of Timothy's time, and consequently departure of a more serious kind followed.
The standard by which all has to be judged today is the
God has been revealed, and by this revelation and in the presence of God we answer to His mind and possess these essential qualities – love, a good conscience and faith.
Love is the divine nature; a good conscience can only be kept as our conduct answers to what we know to be right; faith is that which gives the enjoyment of the light of the revelation of God. In our experience these qualities would possibly come in the reverse order.
Faith is the light of revelation in the soul; conscience regulates conduct accordingly; and, our hearts being thus morally purified, we love God who first loved us.
We may rest assured that these qualities are of immense importance. They are the foundation in the soul of all practical Christianity. They are the outcome of what is revealed to us by God and of His work in our souls, and are the moral basis of all right practice.
We feel persuaded that all departure has its beginning in a defect in one or more of these moral qualities.
Unless faith is in exercise, the soul is practically in darkness; if our consciences are not kept sensitive and good, we shall fail to answer to the light we have; love is the response in man to God.
It is useless to consider anything further if these primary and essential elements are wanting.
Hence the love and grace of God, who is known as Saviour, are manifested. How can we pray for people we do not love? Our hearts will condemn us if we assume to do so. But in the enjoyment of God's love, our hearts are filled with love to men * and we pray for them.
In the Philippian gaol the apostle and his companion were marked by prayer and praise! Acts 16: 25. Stephen prayed as his murderers battered him with stones! Acts 7: 59.
We are exhorted to pray – to pray for all men; for in this way God's heart and attitude towards man will be manifested. He desires all to be saved. Do we? Are we concerned for every one – for all men?
We stand between the living and the dead! The character of God is to be seen in us, for we are His house. A prayerful interest in man is the first manner in which this becomes evident.
Moreover, Christ's position is declared. He is the Mediator. 1 Timothy 2: 5. We do not pray unintelligently. We are in the light of what has been accomplished. God and man have met in the Person of the Mediator. Presently the testimony will be of power; now it is of grace.
But not only is prayer to mark God's house in a general way, it is especially to mark men. This is the proper position of man. Men are to be characterised by prayer, by dependence. Men like to be independent.
But to be truly dependent on God is the most morally exalted position a man can possibly be in. Women are exhorted to be in due subjection and to be marked by good works.
The elder or "overseer" was one who exercised oversight and sought the spiritual good of those in the assembly. 1 Timothy 3: 1-7. It was a simple matter in early days to recognise the elders of an assembly, for the church was one.
But it was evidently not the mind of God to continue these offices in a merely formal way. No elder was told to ordain other elders. Apostolic succession is merely a human idea. No such thing is suggested in Scripture, and it was never intended to exist in fact.
But why, then, are we given such detailed instructions in 1 Timothy and Titus? The reason is plain. We are told the characteristics so that we may recognise those who possess them and honour such; then, too, those who seek to take care of the assembly should be exercised that these qualities and traits may mark them.
God knew that departure would come in almost at once, in the apostles' days, and hence gave the characteristics of those who would truly seek to take care of the church.
The deacon, or minister, was to be occupied with the temporal cares of those in the assembly. 1 Timothy 3: 8-13. Deacons are first alluded to in Acts 6.
It is very interesting to note the comprehensive character of these two offices. They were not "gifts", but offices of a purely local nature. The one sought the spiritual good, and the other ministered to the temporal needs of those in the assembly.*
May God give every one who seeks to serve Him in either of these ways to see that he possesses the qualifications, and may we all be more ready to recognise such and render them honour.
After giving these instructions the apostle states the object of his epistle. 1 Timothy 3: 15. It was that Timothy might know how to behave in God's house.
It is thus evident that the first three chapters give to us the formal outline of that which should mark the house of God. The church is the pillar and base of the truth. It is to be the practical witness to the truth, to that which came out in Christ.
'Mysteries' were usually associated with temples and shrines in heathen Ephesus.
We shall not be surprised to find that Satan was determined to corrupt, if he could not destroy, such a witness to what is according to God.
But what is to be the reply to this departure? Controversy? Dogma? No! Only that which was to have been the abiding testimony – godliness.
Details of a practical kind are referred to, but the key word of all is piety.
Page Top Article Top
|6. THE CANDLESTICK|
Very allied to the truths relating to the responsibility of the house of God are those which refer to the church of God as the candlestick or light-bearer.
It is in no sense the object of the writer of this paper to expound these two chapters in Revelation. All that is desired is to draw attention to the fact that the church is thus presented there and to consider a few practical thoughts in this connection.
The Lord Jesus said to His disciples in view of His rejection,
The seven golden candlesticks are the seven churches, we are told.
The light has not been extinguished, for Christ has His own here. The Spirit of Christ has produced Christ-likeness in those who belong to Christ. And through the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ the light which shone in Jesus is maintained in His own.
Blessed privilege to be for Christ here! May it be ours to shine more brightly!
But although, through the power of the Spirit of God, the light which shone in Jesus will ever be maintained, yet,
We need scarcely remark that everything committed to man's responsibility ends in failure. And it is not long before the failure begins.
Noah soon failed to govern himself.
Israel speedily departed out of the way and made the golden calf.
The failure does not commence with overt signs; the heart is the beginning of the trouble.
Now let us observe that this was so quite early in the church's history.
Satan at first tried to put out the light altogether by opposition. Persecution fell upon the followers of the despised Nazarene. But this could not be done.
Extermination proving impossible, the adversary resorted to corruption.
History tells us how Christianity began with a despised and persecuted company.
But has the light gone then? Has God been defeated? If the church as a whole has failed to shed forth the light of Christ, is there no witness now?
Individuals in the church have been these witnesses. Hence it is we read of the various promises to those who overcome. This is very encouraging.
Let us be quite clear as to this. From the very beginning of the departure, individuals have been God's witnesses.
To be a true witness and to really shine as a light for Christ it is necessary to overcome amidst all the failure which exists in that which bears the name of Christianity – failure which has resulted from that first departure, "thou hast left thy first love".
It is no wonder that at the end the Lord has to knock at the door from outside. Revelation 3: 20.
Presently the Lord will spue the false witness out of His mouth. Revelation 3: 16.
We wish again to remind the reader that we are considering the church as seen in the outward profession of Christ's name.
We should have been surprised that all could have become what it has, had not the Lord told us beforehand.
May God give both reader and writer to seek to be such and to be living witnesses to the light which God will maintain to the end in spite of all the failure of man!
Page Top Article Top
|7. THE CITY AND THE BRIDE|
It is refreshing to look beyond the time of man's brief sojourn here, with its responsibilities and failures, and glance into the period when God will display all that is according to His mind, all that is secured in Christ.
To do this with reference to our own individual career and soul history is encouraging; and it is especially cheering to every one who loves the church of God to do so with regard to the assembly itself, the assembly which Christ will present to Himself without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.
The object of this paper is to direct the heart to that blessed time, and, indeed, beyond or thence-forward to the fixed and unalterable blessedness of eternity.
The Lord Jesus prayed – as we read in John 17 – that there might be a testimony on the part of believers that the world might believe that the Father had sent Him. We believe that prayer has been answered.
But the Lord also prayed that His own might be "perfected into one", and that the world might know that the Father had sent Him and loved them as Christ was loved. John 17: 23.
The church of God as the candlestick, or light-bearer, is the responsible vessel to display the light here while Christ is absent. That it has failed to do this faithfully we have already seen.
The church of God as the city – the holy city, Jerusalem – is that in which the light of God's glory will be seen in a coming day. It will be central to a world of righteousness and joy in which all that is of Christ will be displayed.
We shall not attempt to prove that the holy city is a figure of the church. Many a time has this been done. We shall content ourselves by drawing a few practical lessons from the description of the city in Revelation 21.
The present world, too – that is, the world system – will have been brought to nothing, and earth itself will have been cleansed from the defilement of sin by the judgment of God.
Then it is that the church, the holy city, descends from heaven and comes with Christ to reign over the earth.
We need not remark that before this could take place the Lord will call His own to be with Him. The Bridegroom will come and take home His bride. 1 Thessalonians 4: 15 and John 14 are two passages which clearly refer to this blessed fact. The immediate hope of the church is the coming of Christ to take her to be with Himself.
Today it is a time of fasting for the believer, for the Bridegroom has been taken away. Luke 5: 34-35. But His word assures us He is coming again. What joy unspeakable it will be when we see His blessed face!
Revelation 21 is after this; in fact, the first eight verses refer to eternity, verse 9 commences a detailed description of God's holy city.
First, then, the city is heavenly. It comes down from the place to which it belongs. It is to be feared that we forget that we are a heavenly people and that our interests are heavenly. We do not say that they ought to be, but that they are heavenly, for this is the way scripture speaks. Philippians 3: 20.
How slow we are to realise this and to take up our own proper interests! The church, that is, the company comprising all believers today, is a heavenly company – heavenly in its calling and character. We are not of the world, and presently Christ will come and take us to be with Himself in heaven.
It is saddening to a degree to observe how eagerly the political and other interests of this world are pursued by those whose interests are really heavenly, and who at any moment may be taken to heaven by Christ. How deadening, too, is earthly-mindedness! The apostle wept as he spoke of some who were characterised as "minding earthly things".
The church is to be taken to heaven, thence to return with Him when He comes again to reign over this earth, where He is at present rejected. And God is forming us now, forming our souls, with a view to our fulfilling our part as the holy city, which comes down from heaven and will be the centre of interest and influence in that day. It descends from heaven and bears a heavenly influence.
By glory we understand the expression of excellence. God has been revealed. His holiness, mercy, grace and righteousness, as well as His nature, love, have been declared in Christ.
God's excellence has been expressed, and, in the passage we are considering, what came out in Jesus is seen characterising the holy city. It shines with light which is derived not from any improvement of fallen man, but from the glory of God. Christ is its light!
The light will be pure and unalloyed then. There will be no sin to darken, no will of man to pervert the clear shining of God's glory through this chosen vessel, the church.
This glory is enshrined in the church today. "Ye are the temple of God", says the apostle in 1 Corinthians 3: 16, and in God's temple every whit utters His glory. We should bear that character now.
The greatest natural light is eclipsed by that glory which is above the brightness of the sun. It was this glory, this light, which arrested Saul of Tarsus, and thenceforth Paul, the "bondman of Jesus Christ", Romans 1: 1, is superior to the need of any earthly light, light of mere human intelligence and learning.
In the epistle to Colossians the apostle seeks to place believers in the advantage of this superiority now. The imaginations of the natural mind, the searchings of philosophy, the fleshly efforts of a legal soul, are viewed as not only an uncertain light, and therefore worse than useless, and they are a slight on Christ, they draw away from Him. All fulness dwells in Him. He is the Head, as we have before remarked, and, if only we are in touch with Him, all earthly light grows dim.
This will be so actually with the church in the day of glory. The glory of God lightens it, and the Lamb is the vessel through which every ray of that glory is given.
Great details are given as to the walls of the city, and their height and foundations are carefully noted. And although the gates of the city are always open, all entrance therein is guarded. It is the holy city. God is there! And nothing that defiles can enter.
It is not merely that it may not, it cannot enter. It is not possible for defilement to be there. What a clear, untainted atmosphere this is! Our renewed souls long to dwell in such a place and to breathe such air!
The city is heavenly, it has the glory of God, it is superior to all natural light and it is secure from evil!
'O bright and blessed scenes,
Where sin can never come;
Whose sight our longing spirit weans
From earth, where yet we roam', Hymn 64.
We noticed a verse in 2 Chronicles lately. It reads: "And he set the door-keepers at the gates of the house of Jehovah, that no one unclean in anything should enter in", chapter 23: 19. Are not good door-keepers needed today? Have they always been watchful at the gates? We fear not, alas!
But in the time we are considering the church will be without spot. It will be a 'glorious church'. And no evil will be therein. What an influence, what a power, such a heavenly company will be.
We believe the church will impress the character – which she herself will derive from Christ – upon all who walk in the glorious light which she will shed abroad.
Let us see beyond the mere figure used here, otherwise we may become material in our thoughts.
Every soul saved from Pentecost to the Rapture will go to make up this glorious assembly. The influence will be a spiritual or moral influence. The traits of Jesus will have been reproduced in us.
The precious stones, the beauty and the elegance of the holy city are being formed today. The Spirit of God is forming Christ in the souls of those who have believed the gospel. The work is steadily going on and is a divine work. It is not visible yet, but in the day of glory all will be manifested.
It is difficult to conceive the wonderful place the church will occupy in the world to come, the coming day of glory,
Page Top Article Top
|8. A GATHERED COMPANY|
In our papers we have sought to meditate upon the church in some of the aspects in which it is presented in Scripture, as also to consider its formation and what it is peculiarly, namely, the body of Christ.
The church of God may evidently be regarded in three ways:
It is clear that these are very distinct views of the same company of persons. For example, the earlier part of 1 Corinthians – with the exception of chapter 5 – considers the saints in the first light.
In chapters 11-14, however, the church, or assembly, that is, the Christians in the locality, are considered as "come together". We need only read the chapters to see this. We shall develop this later, if God will.
But it is also to be observed that believers are entitled to enjoy privileges of a peculiarly spiritual character.
There is no doubt that the enjoyment of these spiritual privileges would greatly colour the order and utterance of all in the assembly as a gathered company.
We desire to consider the subject of the church as "come together" in this paper.
The subject of the Lord's supper will come before us in another paper, if God permit, but we feel it to be necessary to state that the Lord's supper is referred to as introducing the section of the epistle which views the saints as "assembled".
Viewing the assembly in the light in which we have noticed it is presented in 1 Corinthians 11-14, we may observe:
Have we learnt the lesson God intended to teach us through this illustration? The prominent idea of the chapter is the manifestation of the Spirit's activities, and the "body" is introduced because it is there we find these activities.
Let us remember that the chapter primarily views the church as gathered together. And as thus "come together" it is recognised as the "body of Christ", and the Spirit of God distributes gift to whomsoever He will in such a company.
We are amazed that Christians can so limit the Spirit's operations and manifestations that in certain circles of believers one member of the body can be selected as the only channel for the Spirit's activities, appointing a pastor or recognised minister or – more serious still – a priest.
It may be the most intelligent member, as the eye is to the body. But it is only one member, and who can imagine the eye doing the work of the ear or nose, not to say hands or feet?
The "body" is not one member, but many. And the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit are in the body, not in one member only, however valuable the member may be.
We feel that such a slight to the Holy Spirit must grieve Him and be very displeasing to the Lord; and the writer would earnestly ask every one who reads these lines if he is sanctioning, by his presence or patronage, any system or human organisation which so grievously ignores the presence of the Holy Spirit and His sovereignty to distribute to whomsoever He will.
It may be replied that there is opportunity for other members of the body of Christ to act in their individual service for the Lord, but one is appointed for the sake of order. But whose order is it? Clearly not scriptural order.
And then the chapter before us is not dealing with the subject of individual service, but alludes to the church as gathered or "come together".
Do you know of such a gathering together, dear reader? I do not refer to coming to hear a sermon, but a gathering together of believers, of the members of the body of Christ as such. If not, I beseech you to seek the Lord's mind as to this passage and adjust your own conduct with reference thereto.
By one Spirit we have been baptised into one body, and by that same Spirit gifts are given according to His will. There must be liberty in any gathering of Christians for gift to develop and manifest itself through any member of the body, and the Spirit of God must be left free to use whomsoever He may please.
If we make restrictions they will only be human, and hence a slight on the wisdom and sovereignty of God, the Holy Spirit – a very solemn thing!
What a simple yet searching portrayal of love – divine love – this is! "Charity" has a cold meaning nowadays, and does not at all convey the force of the word used here. It is love as in the heart of God, as expressed in Jesus; love in its reality – love divine! It is that which we are to add to brotherly love; it is the bond of perfectness.
God is love. Without love all else is nothing. The most eloquent orator, or the most tutored tongue, is but a tinkling cymbal. Without it the greatest acts of devotedness and self-sacrifice are unprofitable, the greatest mind and the most cultured intellect are nothing. Let us ponder the passage soberly. We quote the verses at length:
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I shall dole out all my goods in food, and if I deliver up my body that I may be burned, but have not love, I profit nothing".
The next verses give us love's traits, what is positive:
"Love has long patience, is kind; love is not emulous of others; love is not insolent and rash, is not puffed up, does not behave in an unseemly manner, does not seek what is its own, is not quickly provoked, does not impute evil, does not rejoice at iniquity but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails".
Oh! how our hearts are bowed as we consider love's traits. Jesus was the perfect expression of love. Love is of God. Its source is not found in the human heart, but in God's. To know love and to act in love we must know God and the manifestation of His love to us.
Does love mark us, dear fellow believer? What an intensely solemn chapter this is! Our every act, our every thought in the assembly, if to be of service and acceptable to God, must be in love; no self-seeking; no vaunting oneself; no rejoicing in iniquity, for "hereby know we that we love the children of God when we love God and do his commandments".
All else will fail. All else will end. Love is the divine nature, for only as born of God can we love after this sort. The kindest and most amiable of human dispositions is nothing here. Love is of God. The church has received this divine life, and our measure and stature in God's assembly is the measure in which we give place to that life which we have received in the power of the Spirit.
How this would settle the many difficulties which, alas! arise in the midst of God's people. How often it would prevent them ever arising. Our state is so frequently an evidence of how little we have been thinking and acting in love. Love never fails.
Apparently the Corinthians were making overmuch of the sign gifts – tongues, for instance, and were exercising them to the exaltation of man, and not to edification. The apostle corrects this error and points out that the gift of prophecy was rather to be coveted. By prophecy we are not necessarily to understand the foretelling of future events, but the announcing the mind of God for the present moment. He who prophesied spoke to "edification, and encouragement and consolation".
"Tongues" were for a sign to unbelievers, and in the assembly the apostle would rather speak five words intelligently than ten thousand words otherwise. We do well to note this. Edification should be before us. And for this, those present must understand what is said. How can "the other" in the gathered company say, "Amen", if I speak inaudibly and they cannot hear what I say? How can simple souls follow if my expressions are difficult and involved? And how can ministry be for edification which is not understood? Let us face these questions, and remember that it is not sufficient to give thanks. Well, "the other" must be edified. 1 Corinthians 14: 17.
We may note that there are five things for which there must be liberty in the assembly gathered together:
So we find praying, singing, giving thanks, teaching and prophesying – all to be in the spirit and with understanding. And let it be remarked that these activities are not to be restricted to any particular member, for we read, "ye can all prophesy".
We would again ask the reader, does he enjoy this happy liberty? Of course, we presume all pray silently, but this is publicly in the gathered company of believers – the assembly of God.
We have already remarked that the chapters before us do not refer to the higher spiritual privileges proper to the assembly in which, surely, "sisters" as well as "brothers" are entitled to participate.
May God graciously exercise our hearts so that we may seek to answer to His mind in these things, and doing so not rest content with merely outward order, however necessary it may be, but in the power of an ungrieved Spirit pass from the region of what is outward to the proper spiritual ground of the assembly.
|9. CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP|
In 1 Corinthians 10 we have three classes, or companies, of people brought before us, which are distinguished the one from the other religiously. They are Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God.
For their wickedness and idolatry when in that land Israel was taken captive into Assyria, and Judah to Babylon; but in His mercy God brought back a remnant of Judah from Babylon in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The fervour which at first marked this Jewish remnant soon abated, however, and a cold, lifeless, though fanatic religiousness settled upon the once favoured people.
But all through their history they had had the great distinction of having the oracles of God: they were the custodians of the written word.
Commands had been given by God through Moses as to sacrifice as well as to moral law, and a system of earthly religion existed, however much it became neglected and perverted in practice.
They, too, had a system of religion, differing according to their national god. But the systems were idolatrous, and we are shown the secret of the power of idolatry in this chapter which tells us that the Gentiles sacrificed to "demons, and not to God", verse 20.
The church of God was formed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The church was not a nation, but was a company "called out", as the word "church" implies – called out from all nations, called into "one body". This company, or class of people, was also distinguished religiously and by their sacrifice. Not an oft repeated one, as Jewish sacrifices had been, but a sacrifice once offered – Christ's sacrifice of Himself upon the cross.
The church of God was formed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The church was not a nation, but was a company "called out", as the word "church" implies – called out from all nations, called into "one body".
This company, or class of people, was also distinguished religiously and by their sacrifice. Not an oft repeated one, as Jewish sacrifices had been, but a sacrifice once offered – Christ's sacrifice of Himself upon the cross.
We have gone into these distinctions in some detail in order to make clear the idea of fellowship.
The sacrifice of Christ was once offered and would never be repeated. It stood alone as a complete remedy for man's ruin, an abundant answer to the question of sin.
But while there was not, and could not be, a repetition of this sacrifice, the Lord Jesus had instituted a supper on the night of His betrayal for a remembrance of Himself.
The bread was only bread and remained such, and the cup of wine remained what it actually was; but they were the communion of His death.
The Lord had requested His own to remember Him by partaking of this supper. But in so doing believers necessarily identified themselves with His death, of which the supper was the repeated memorial.
An Israelite by his altar and sacrifice professed the true worship of Jehovah, and hence, also, the denial of all idolatrous worship. Idolatry and the worship of the one God, Jehovah, were mutually destructive of each other.
The Christian had no altar of a material kind. But he had a fellowship and was a participator, in common with every other Christian, in christian privileges, of which the death of Christ was the foundation.
The Corinthians were in the midst of idolatry, and therefore we have details in chapter 10 which are too plain to need remark.
But this is not all. The question of fellowship does not only apply to eating in an idol temple, or to the outward forms of idolatry. It touches everything.
It is very evident that the person, whether Jew, Gentile or Christian, was always, professedly, in communion with that with which he was identified.
Let us be perfectly clear on this. The very thought of communion or fellowship is contrary to any limitation.
It will be noticed that the bread and the cup are both used to teach us the bearing of this communion. The Lord's Supper is evidently supposed to have been taken, and the participators are called to recognise that to which they have committed themselves.
The bread is not referred to first as in the Supper, but the cup, as it symbolises that which is the basis of all communion.* The cup is the communion of the blood of Christ.
The believer, in partaking of this cup, avowed his interest in the death of Christ and identified himself with it.
But the death of Christ also bore witness to the fact of His rejection here, that His life had been taken from the earth. It was a Saviour who had been crucified who was brought before the soul in the Supper.
What lessons – indeed, deep, spiritual lessons – come before our souls as we meditate upon the meaning of the communion of the blood of Christ. We fear to limit it by what we might suggest.
But the bread, or loaf, is likewise full of teaching. While the broken bread refers to Christ's body given for us on the cross, the one loaf unbroken has a striking allusion to the church itself – the body of Christ.
The thought of fellowship and the partaking of the Supper are indissolubly linked together, and we can only regard as unintelligent many ideas which are about today which refer to the Lord's supper as a purely isolated and individual act.
How solemn and searching this is. But how lightly taken up, alas! I fear that in many circles of professed Christians the idea of christian fellowship is wholly unknown. What losers they are!
The violation and practical denial of christian fellowship is held up today as becoming. We state it with a deep sense of shame.
Reader, do you seek to be true to Christian fellowship? It is very holy: it is very real. May the Lord graciously help us to be so for His Name's sake.
Page Top Article Top
|10. THE LORD'S SUPPER|
The thought of the Lord's supper and the necessarily allied question of 'fellowship' are inseparably linked with the consideration of the subject of the assembly as "come together", 1 Corinthians 11: 17,
There are two ordinances in Christianity – baptism and the Lord's supper.
Christ has loved the church and has given Himself for it, Ephesians 5: 25, and in partaking of the Supper we respond to His love, remembering Him who so loved us and died for us.
The Lord's request to His own on the night of His betrayal – and, indeed, since by special communication through the apostle Paul to the assembly, 1 Corinthians 11 – is an appeal to the affections of the whole church.
It is to be feared that many of the Lord's people have overlooked this appeal. Endeavouring, it may be, to avoid superstition and ritualistic tendencies, they have forgotten the distinct request of the Lord, "this do … in remembrance of me".
We do not speak of it as a command, such as the Mosaic law contained; it is more, it is a request of love! And nothing can be more simple, or more precious, than this remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ by those who love Him.
It is particularly precious that the Lord should have linked the "coming together" of the assembly with the remembrance of Himself. It is characteristically an act of fellowship.
We do not break bread by ourselves individually, but as in communion with one another. It is the normal calling together of the whole assembly in a place; and we "come together" in response to that call.
And what a call it is! How strongly it appeals to every heart that loves Christ and desires to answer to His request! How loudly it calls to every ready and attentive ear! It is a call of love to love and can only be rightly answered by love.
And in coming together to respond to His love by partaking of the Supper, we are made increasingly and deeply conscious of how great His love is to all His own, and hence we love Him and we love each other. How could it be otherwise if we are real?
What an atmosphere to be called to! Each leaving his own individual circle, we are called by the remembrance of Himself into a circle of love – divine love, expressed and responded to.
In keeping with this we may remark that the Lord's love expressed in the Supper is rather as that which He has shown to the church than as that known to us individually.
It is instructive to note that the question of fellowship is introduced in the epistle to the Corinthians before the subject of the Supper is dealt with.
It is in no sense an individual act. Its very nature is opposed to the idea.
The "one loaf" speaks of "one body", 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17.
We, being many, are one loaf, one body, says scripture. What a blessed unity. The one loaf represents every member of the body of Christ.
Taking the Supper is an act of fellowship. The failure of the present day is great, but let us not lose sight of the true nature of the Lord's supper.
We hope to consider the subject of collective privileges in a future paper; but let it be clearly understood that
It is to be feared that the enemy would rob souls of the beauty and simplicity of this feast, or lead them to ignore it. It is primarily an act of responsive love; it is necessarily an act of fellowship.
Perhaps we need scarcely add that it is not a sacrament – that is, it is not a means by which the participator receives anything through the mere partaking – 'a means of grace', as it is sometimes called.
Needless to say it is not a sacrifice. Alas! that the enemy should have so deceived souls. Christ's sacrifice stands alone, making all other sacrifices for sin impossible, or a denial of His perfect one.
We recall that long after Moses had made the serpent of brass it became an occasion of idolatry. Hezekiah observed this and destroyed it, calling it a piece of brass. 2 Kings 18: 4.
May the Lord revive in our souls the sense of His deep, deep love and adjust our thoughts and give each one of us greater intelligence and right ideas as to His supper.
The Lord's supper answers in this respect to the type of crossing the Jordan. See Joshua 3. The reader will recall that the twelve stones were set up in Jordan and a like number erected on the banks in the land of Canaan.
Page Top Article Top
|11. DAYS OF DEPARTURE|
– INDIVIDUAL FAITHFULNESS
We have heard it remarked by many, with regard to their soul's history and experiences, that until they took the first step which God had shown them they did not see the second.
It is my desire in this paper to draw attention to two phases of christian experience which may be known today, and, we may add, which have ever been possible from the early days of the church's history on earth.
Since the departure, which came in during the days of the apostles, the path of faithfulness has been very individual in character. We have sought to develop this in an earlier paper. Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
There is only one right path now as ever before; it lies in doing the will of God. True love is shown thereby.
But this demands a more detailed inquiry. We have said that the path of faithfulness has become very individual; indeed only thus is God's testimony maintained. Have we really grasped what this means?
The church is still the body of Christ; it continues on earth in each locality where there are believers, whatever they may call themselves.
But let us ask: Are believers practically answering to God's mind as to them in these respects? I am sure we must see that failure in practice has marked believers all along the line.
What then is our path? If we have been awakened to see our common failure, what is the next thing to do?
I have had occasion to read some literature penned by one of whom better things might have been expected.
To "depart from iniquity" means not only to depart from the spirit of evil in ourselves, but also to depart from the practice of evil everywhere.
To limit such an expression is to rob the passage of its force. No doubt this is what Satan wants to do.
The watchword for every faithful heart in the "last days" is "depart from iniquity". In himself first, most surely.
This is the first step. Cease to do evil! The Lord alone can lead us to take it. But if He has shown us so far, He waits for us to answer.
Is it asked, What shall we do then? The Lord will tell us. But if He has told us to do one thing, let us do it.
We cannot link Christ's holy name with all the evil we find in the professing church.
But let us repeat – this needs faith. As much so as it did for Peter to go out of the ship and walk on the water to go to Jesus. No one can support us in such a path but Christ Himself.
Our space has gone. We must reserve the consideration of the other side of our subject for our next paper.
May the Lord lead us to be individually faithful amidst all the failure of man.
Page Top Article Top
|12. DAYS OF DEPARTURE|
In our last paper we considered the subject of individual faithfulness to the Lord, and we learnt that the first step incumbent upon every soul who desires to please the Lord in this day of departure is to "cease to do evil", Isaiah 1: 16. In this paper we desire to consider some of the privileges which are ours today.
The church in its responsibility as a whole has failed to answer to the Lord's mind. As a corporate witness it is not faithful in its testimony.
Nor is the remedy to be found in beginning anything fresh. Reconstruction is no remedy here.
Then, is there an end of everything corporate or collective? Impossible!
And so in our day. Failure on man's part can in no way destroy what God has established on earth in the power of resurrection life by the Spirit.
There are already two sides of the truth relating to the church
Moreover, inasmuch as all the proper privileges of the church and her real life lie in a resurrection sphere,
Let us briefly consider some of the privileges which abide today in spite of all failure – privileges which are proper to the whole church of God.
The Lord was the bond; and faithfulness to the Lord was essential if there was to be practical fellowship.
Hence, after the exhortation to depart from all that was inconsistent with His name, the apostle proceeds to exhort the man of God to follow certain moral qualities, positive good, and to follow these with all that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2: 19-22.
Hence the Lord Himself is our bond. If we pursue this path we only revert to what is proper to every believer – any one may do so. Indeed, such qualities should mark all. If we are not doing so, the hindrance is wholly on our side.
Fellowship thus becomes practically what it is in its real character – the common participation together of things proper to all.
And only in the recognition of the whole church, the one body, is it possible to partake of the supper. The "we" who partake are characteristically "one body", 1 Corinthians 10: 17.
No individual can be this by himself. It is a collective privilege still subsisting for the whole church. The body of Christ still abides.
In a previous paper we have dwelt upon the necessity of "coming together" to respond to this request of love. Here we are considering the question of such a privilege still existing.
The request is to remember Him "until he come", and such language surely intimates that the privilege is to abide.
But it must be evident that to do this acceptably there must first be fellowship, for if anything supposes this, the Lord's supper does.
It is not sufficient, let us repeat here also, for a person to be a believer. This most certainly is essential; he is not a member of the body otherwise; but the Lord is the bond, and there must be faithfulness to Him.
If a believer continues in iniquity and I am told to depart from it, of necessity there is an end of practical fellowship between us.
But in obeying the injunction of the Lord to depart from iniquity and follow righteousness, etc., the believer only reverts to a path open to any, a path proper to the whole. He returns to that holiness which should ever have marked the church.
Hence, being in a position proper to the whole church of God, he may enjoy those privileges, in common with all in that path, which are theirs as members of Christ's body.
How blessed that such a privilege still remains! The Spirit of God is here. Christians are still a priestly house capable of approaching God and intelligently worshipping Him. But we can only enjoy these privileges as we comply with the conditions necessary.
Moreover, the readers of 2 Timothy will be struck by the fact that a collective path is supposed to exist right on to the end, though no passage of Scripture so clearly indicates the intensely individual nature of the responsibility of the believer.
It must be borne in mind that no thought of God can fail, and the same power is available today as in any day of the church's history.
We have been reminded recently that 'there are no circumstances or difficulties in which saints may find themselves in this world where church principles cannot be applied or made to work.
The Lord give us to be faithful. He is coming soon!
Page Top Article Top