The articles on 'The Assembly' by G. W. Ware andThe reading with F.E.R, 'The Coming Together of the Assembly', shows the early practical concerns as to how to proceed, and is refreshing in the way that human thoughts are set aside.
THE ASSEMBLY: WHAT IS IT?
The truth concerning the church of God, for which the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself, must command the interest of every heart in which the love of God is shed abroad by the Holy Spirit.
- The shedding abroad of this love in the heart necessar-ily begets response, for what heart could remain unre-sponsive when under the influence of that mighty love which led the blessed God to spare not His own Son?
It is with the desire to help such in the understanding of this all-important subject that the following pages are written.
- The failure to apprehend the mind of God about it, as revealed in His word, has been a fruitful source of the worldliness which is all around us in the professing church today.
May God by His blessed Spirit help both reader and writer in the consideration of our subject.
It is well that we should at the outset seek to have a clear understanding of the oft-used word 'church'.
- It is frequently used to distinguish a building, such as – When I was passing St. James' Church, etc.
- This use of the word, we need hardly say, is entirely unscriptural, for there is no such thought in Scripture as a building of bricks and mortar being called a church.
- Again, how often we hear the word used in connection with some particular body of professing Christians – the Church of England – the Wesleyan Church – the Presbyterian Church – the Baptist Church, and so forth.
- For this use of the word also there is no Scriptural warrant.
If we turn to Scripture we find the word used in three very distinct connections.
- The Lord Jesus used it as recorded for us in Matthew 16: 18 – "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church".
- Stephen also used it in his defence before the council, Acts 7: 38 – "This is he that was in the church in the wilderness".
- And thirdly, it is used in Acts 19: 41 where, after describing the riotous concourse in the theatre at Ephesus, we read of the town clerk that "when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly" – same word 'church' as in each of the other passages.
In truth the word would be much better translated 'assembly' wherever it occurs; and for this reason, and because of the abuse of the word 'church', we propose to dismiss that word from our pages, and substitute for it the word 'assembly'.
We have then the word 'assembly' used in three different ways':
- The Lord Jesus speaks of "my assembly".
- Stephen speaks of "the assembly in the wilderness".
- It is applied to the concourse of the Ephesian rioters.
Now it is quite evident that when we read, as in Ephesians 5: 25 and elsewhere, of the assembly for which Christ gave Himself, there is no reference whatever to such an assembly as that of the Ephesian rioters.
- Neither can the reference be to "the assembly in the wilderness", for the Lord Jesus says of the assembly which He describes as "my assembly" that the gates of hades – the unseen forces of evil – shall not prevail against it.
- Such words could not possibly be used of "the assembly in the wilderness", for, as we all very well know, the gates of hades did prevail against large numbers of that assembly in the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and they perished in their sins.
- That this is not the assembly so repeatedly referred to in the epistles is still further evidenced by the words used by the Lord Jesus in the verse under our consideration.
Let the reader carefully remark that the Lord does not say, On this rock I have been building My assembly – as if it had been a work in the past –
- nor even, On this rock I am building My assembly – as if it were a work then present –
- but, "On this rock I will build my assembly", that is to say, it was a work even then still future.
In other words, it is perfectly plain from Scripture that, whenever the word occurs in the epistles it must be applied in one of three ways, either
- to that which the Lord speaks of as "my assembly", or
- to the whole company of the saints on earth at any time during the present dispensation, or
- to those composing it in any given place, such as in Romans 16: 1 – "the assembly which is at Cenchrea".
Having stated so much as to the bearing of the word, it would now be well for us to seek to ascertain what light Scripture throws on the whole passage in Matthew 16 of which we have hitherto quoted only one verse.
- The reader will do well to refer to the whole passage, verses 13-21, before proceeding further.
The point had been reached in the Lord's life here when, as far as the will of the leaders of the nation was concerned, His rejection was accomplished. His rights as the Messiah had been denied Him.
- He had come to His own but His own had not received Him, and He then gives to His disciples the first hint as to the nature of His assembly – He asks them "Whom say ye that I am?"
- People had been speculating as to who He was, but their human speculations were, as always, far wide of the mark. It was a matter not for human speculation, but for divine revelation.
- So when Simon says "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God", the Lord distinctly says "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven",
- and He then adds words of very great import – "and I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it".
- Discussion has raged round these words for centuries, chiefly on account of the unwarrantable use made of them by the defenders of the Papal system.
- Into this controversy we shall not enter – it would be sheer waste of time – but we shall ask the reader to put together the two statements in the passage before us.
- Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
- Thou art Peter.
In the first we have the confession of the person of Jesus by Simon, as the result of the Father's revelation to him.
- In the second we have a new name, Peter, conferred on Simon, carrying with it a further un-folding of what was in the Lord's mind, however little Peter may have understood it at the time.
- We may be well assured that the Lord Jesus conferred this new name with design and to express more fully, not merely His thought about Simon at that moment,
- but His thought about every one of those of whom Simon was but an example – an example of all those to whom the Father's revelation as to the person of that blessed One, who was there before Simon's eyes, should hereafter come.
- What He is as thus revealed to Peter is the rock on which the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God is now building His assembly.
Before we proceed any further may we ask the reader, has this blessed Person been discovered to your soul? Have you found the Lord?
- Do not be too quick to answer that question, or you may make a mistake such as a dear earnest man did, of whom we heard some years ago.
- He had entered a tramcar in the city of B—— and, doubtless in love of heart for Christ, and with the desire to make Him known, he distributed little gospel tracts to his fellow passengers.
- Among those to whom he gave his little messengers there was a dear servant of Christ who, when he had completed his service, quietly asked him "Have you found the Lord?"
- "Oh yes, bless His name!" replied our friend. "I am glad to hear it", said the first speaker, "and where did you find Him?" "At Torquay", came the ready response.
- "Oh no, that is where He found you. Where did you find Him?"
- "Ah", replied he, "I never thought of that before, but I think I see what you mean".
- And now, dear reader, let us again ask you, Have you found the Lord? and if so, Where have you found Him?
- How blessed if you can truly say, I have found the Lord Jesus, rejected indeed by men, but raised up from among the dead, and exalted by the right hand of God, and I know Him in resurrection life as "the Christ, the Son of the living God".
And now, will you turn over the pages of your Bible, while we connect with the passage before us in Matthew 16, a passage in this same Peter's first epistle, chapter 2: 1-10.
- It must be plain to everyone that Peter is here giving us the light which the Holy Spirit subsequently brought to his soul as to the words of Jesus, consequent upon his confession of Him as "the Christ, the Son of the living God".
- Let us meditate upon the passage together. The blessed Son of God had become a man in order to establish every word of God, and to carry into effect those deep counsels of love, which were in the Father's heart from eternity.
- He was found here as a Man, in every way pursuing the objects of His Father's pleasure – such a Man as never before had appeared on the stage of this world's history.
- The religious leaders of that generation, spoken of in our passage as "the builders", took Him fully into consideration and deliberately rejected Him as a stone not fit for their building.
- See a similar passage in Matthew 21: 33-46, especially noticing verses 42 to 46.
- In man's pretentious religious edifice there was no place for the lowly obedient fulfiller of the Father's will, and they cast Him on one side as a disallowed stone. But what has God done?
- He says, as it were, Do you disallow that stone any place in your building? He shall be the chief corner stone in Mine. That is, He shall be the stone in accord-ance with which the whole building shall be reared.
- "This is the stone", says Peter in his defence before the council "which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner", Acts 4: 11.
- Do you apprehend the Lord Jesus in that respect, beloved reader? Can you with an overflowing heart look up to that blessed risen Man
- who is gone into heaven and who is on the right hand of God – 1 Peter 3: 22 – and hail Him as the Living Stone,
- the One who, disallowed of men, is the chief corner stone, chosen of God and precious?
- In effect this was what underlay Peter's confession in Matthew 16, and which brought upon him those words of deep significance,
- It was as if the Lord Jesus should say – I can now mark you out as one who, having the apprehension of what I am, answers to what is required for the building I am about to erect. Thou art a stone.
It is into the truth contained in that statement that the apostle, in the passage before us, is so concerned that we should enter.
- To him it had been specially revealed, and he delights to recognize in those who have been brought to share in the Father's appreciation of Christ,
- those whom he can lead on as living stones into the apprehension with himself of their part in the new spiritual house which was being built.
- He would have us understand that consequent upon the rejection, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a new building – a new order of things – has been established;
- and that Christ as the Living Stone, and His saints as living stones are now, blessed be God, of one building.
- What a wonderful thing it is, beloved reader, that we should be led, as Peter was in his day, to share in the Father's estimation of that blessed Person!
- In nature's blindness we thought Him of no account – we saw in Him no beauty that we should desire Him. Blessed be God, our eyes have been opened, and something of His infinite preciousness has been revealed to our souls.
- It is not merely that God has called Him precious, v. 4, but we are so brought into God's estimate of Him, that earth's rejected One is precious to us also, v. 7.
- We have come to God's mind about that Living Stone. We entirely reverse man's judgment of Him, and with joyful hearts proclaim the preciousness we have found in Him. We are living stones.
- Thus do we find the first great characteristic of Christ's assembly. It is a company on earth, composed of those who are united together in God's appreciation of that blessed Man, His own dear Son.
How beautifully this comes before us in connection with the apostles and the 120 who were with them at the very outset of Christianity.
- The Lord Jesus on the day of His resurrection had appeared in the midst of His disciples – the eleven and them that were with them, Luke 24: 33 – and had breathed into them His own risen life.
- This was the moment that was surely before Him, when, having spoken of the building He was about to rear, He, in effect, told them that
- in order to carry out this gracious purpose, He would have to die and take up a new position in resurrection life – life beyond death. Who could do that but the Son of the living God?
- He looked on to the time when, having accomplished redemption and settled every question for them by His death, He might by breathing into them His own life as the risen One – the last Adam – the life-giving Spirit,
- make them living stones of His own order, and thus perfectly suitable for His building.
- Forty days afterwards the Lord leads the apostles out as far as Bethany, and from thence is taken up out of their midst in the very act of blessing them!
- They gaze up after Him until the cloud receives Him out of their sight, and then, having received the angelic announcement of His return in like manner, they go back to Jerusalem and bring the tidings of His ascension to the disciples there.
- To this company the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, and they were united in one Spirit.
- This was the beginning of Christ's assembly, and of its character as a spiritual house.
Now as we think of that company, we may well ask ourselves, what was it that held them together?
- Just this – they loved a Man in heaven whom the world had rejected.
- They found themselves face to face with the world that hated Him; but they held on their way, proclaimed Him in the power of the Spirit as accepted and glorified of God,
- and thousands left the ranks of the world and entered, as touched of God, into this new band.
- Thus could the Lord look down from heaven and behold a company of men and women on earth confessing His name.
- They were a company composed of those in whom the Father had wrought in His sovereign grace, and to whom He had made known His own thoughts of the humbled Man who had come into this world.
- Of them Christ could say "My assembly".
- In one way we may regard the conversion of Saul of Tarsus as a typical case of that which has been before us, though doubtless an extreme one.
- He was exceedingly mad against the Lord Jesus. He was fully possessed and controlled by the world's hatred of Him.
- Suddenly the light from heaven shines upon him; he finds that God has glorified the Man whom he so bitterly hated, and when from the glory in which He was, that Man spoke compassionately to him, it broke him to pieces.
- His whole thought of Him was altered and he proclaimed Him as the Son of God. He was added to the company. He was a bit of Christ's assembly – a stone in the new building.
- Henceforth to him man's building in which he had so gloried hitherto was nothing, but Christ and His building – the assembly which He loved – was everything,
- and for Him and it he lived, and labored, and suffered even unto death. Blessed issue of the work of God's grace in his soul!
But there is another way in which Christ regards the assembly. As the risen, glorified Man He regards it as His body here on earth. Into that unspeakably precious side of the truth we do not now enter.
- It was indicated to Saul of Tarsus at his conversion in the words "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" and a very special line of ministry was committed to him in connection with it.
How often our souls have been refreshed as we considered the first effects of the testimony to this blessed Person as described for us in the early chapters of the Acts.
Three classes come before us. There were
- Jews who gloried in Mount Moriah and its temple, and the names of Abraham and Moses;
- Samaritans who gloried in Mount Gerizim and their well, and, however falsely, in the name of "our father Jacob", John 4: 12; and
- Gentiles, who despised them both and gloried in other names and places.
To each class the exalted Jesus is proclaimed. They are attracted to Him and in each case the same result is produced.
- They all turn their backs – confessing it in their baptism – on all that in which hitherto they had severally gloried, and in the defence of which they had bitterly wrangled, and they find themselves
- all united in one company as those who hence-forth would glory together in only one name – the name of the glorified Jesus at God's right hand.
- Peter had done his work well. He opened the door of the kingdom of heaven, under the commission given him by Christ, and admitted all classes, irrespective of nationality or religion, into the company where the authority of Christ was acknowledged, and none other name owned but His.
Have you, dear reader been added to this company? Have you dissociated yourself from the world and its estimate of Christ, and with joyful heart cast in your lot with those who account Him precious?
- If so, you too are a stone in this building – a member of Christ's body on earth.
- For all such there is only one path here – they put His name above every name, and cherish the glory of it before everything on earth.
But the reader may say, I am prepared to admit the truth of what has been advanced, and that before God that building does exist today, but where is it to be seen on earth?
- Where is the assembly today? Where is the expression in each locality of that which Christ calls "My assembly"?
- We read about these things in Scripture and it is perfectly legitimate to enquire,
- How has it come to pass that the state of things in Christendom is so entirely different from that which we should naturally expect to find from the study of God's word?
- Alas! the truth must be fearlessly told, however much our hearts are smitten with shame as we tell it.
- That company so beautifully started under the influence of heaven's acclaim of Christ, fell back under the influence of the world that had rejected Him.
- Little by little the saints of God, unfaithful to the glorified Savior at God's right hand, adapted themselves to that which prevailed in the scene of His rejection.
- They made "provision for the flesh", and such a stream of evil rolled in that the corporate expression of the assembly was completely ruined.
- According to the mind of God it was to have been a witness of Christ, and the circle in which the authority of His name alone was owned.
- Instead of that we find all around us a great system, still bearing His name outwardly, in which christianized man after the flesh can find satisfaction for his religious instincts.
- Such a system does not express Christ's assembly; it is rather that which the Lord Jesus foresaw when He told the parable of the mustard tree, in the branches of which, alas! the birds of the air – unclean spiritual forces – would find a lodging. Matthew 13: 31-32.
Such is the state of the great Christian profession all around us today, and the question at once arises, what can anyone do who desires to be faithful to Christ, in the midst of a condition of things so manifestly contrary to His mind?
- We unhesitatingly say that the first thing is to turn to the Lord Jesus, who is Head of the assembly, and give Him His rightful place in the soul. Individually we thus acknowledge that all direction must come from Him.
- There is an end to all casting about to find some company of professing Christians suitable to us, and our great anxiety is to discover what is suitable to Him in the midst of the failure – and consequently the ruin – of the assembly regarded as a witness on earth.
In the pursuit of this discovery it is of the greatest moment that we should have well set before our souls a plan of this building before any signs of ruin appeared. For this we have to prayerfully "search the scriptures".
- We have, as was the case with Moses of old, to get above the confusion around us, and on the mount – for us the mount of faith – view the pattern of things as it is shewn to us in the presence of God. Hebrews 8: 5.
- When this pattern has been in some measure engraved on our souls, we are capacitated to test things in the circle which professes to bear the name of Christ on earth, and to detect that which is merely counterfeit.
- The terrible failure and ruin on all hands become thus increasingly apparent to us.
- How often we may have said to ourselves as, with a feeling of awe upon us, we stood in the midst of some noble ruin, How magnificent must this building have been when in its original perfection!
- But suppose we could stand in that ruin with the plan of the building in our hands, before ever one stone got out of place, we might well exclaim, How great is the ruin around us on every hand!
- We might detect here and there that which still bore an impress of former grandeur, but our spirits would be overborne with the sense of the awful desolation effected by the rude hands of men and time.
- It would be even so with us as we contemplated the present state of Christendom, with the pattern of the assembly in our minds, as it came out from the hands of God in those early days, when the saints were under the power of their first love for their rejected Head on high.
And yet, dear reader, no power of Satan can overthrow that which He builds, and the Lord Jesus loves His assembly today just as fervently as in that day when He gave all that He had that it might be His own treasure forever.
- Oh, to be more deeply impressed, in the midst of the ruin, with the sense of Christ's faithful, unchanging love for His assembly!
- How our hearts would then turn to Him, our blessed Head on high! How we should take up the shame of the ruin before Him!
It is in this way that the believer is brought to discover that Christ's thoughts about the assembly have not altered, however much it has failed to answer to those thoughts.
- Individually he is led to deep self-judgment, and the refusal to give any countenance to that which is contrary to the Lord's will, while his soul earnestly desires to be led on by the Lord, and to be established by Him in His own thoughts about the assembly.
- He is not willful, he does not set about to re-establish what has so completely failed and shamefully dishonored the Lord; but he desires to be faithful, to hold fast the Lord's word and not deny His name.
- He walks individually in the light which divine principles at the first shed upon the saints. He refuses as iniquity everything which is contrary to it.
- He names the name of the Lord and departs from all such things, but while still maintaining his individual responsibility to the Lord,
- he desires to obey the injunction to follow righteousness, faith, love, peace with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2.
- Those, who thus find themselves thrown together, could accept no narrower basis of fellowship than that which was laid at the beginning, and which is applicable to the whole assembly of God.
- They would be marked by humility of mind, and by brokenness and contrition of spirit.
- They would set up nothing, nor profess to be anything, but would seek to walk in the truth of Christ's assembly, and in view of the Lord's speedy coming to take the assembly to Himself,
- they would just desire to order their goings for the moment according to His pleasure, assured that "if we are unfaithful, he abideth faithful, for he cannot deny himself", 2 Timothy 2: 13.
They might find themselves shorn of a great deal that was beautiful in the outward order of things in early days, but,
- through His boundless grace, they would find everything vital to be as true as ever, and that
- the Lord's presence in the midst may be still enjoyed by two or three gathered to His name. Matthew 18: 20.
- They might doubtless find themselves of very small account in the minds of men, and difficulties might increase more and more, but their souls would be content to find their satisfaction in the sense of His approval.
- They would let all the taunts of the great religious world go by them, and in the sense of His love seek to be overcomers, holding that fast which they have that no man take their crown. Revelation 3: 11.
- Such, we have no question whatever, is the only true attitude for souls to be found in, in this day of deep dishonor to the Lord's name. We are well assured it is what will meet His approval when He comes,
- while that which is pretentious and great in the eyes of man – rich and increased with goods – will be spued out of His mouth as a thing utterly nauseous to Him. Revelation. 3: 16-17.
There is, however, one great danger which has to be carefully guarded against, and that is lest separation from evil be made the bond of fellowship.
- If any take this ground they are at once sectarian, and only increase the prevailing confusion.
- No – the call of the Lord is indeed to purge ourselves from all that is unsuitable to Him and hence a dishonour to His name,
- but, having done this, He leads us to embrace the only bonds of fellowship for His saints which He has ever acknowledged, viz.,
- the recognition of His Headship on high and
- the presence of the Holy Spirit upon earth, with
- the exclusion of everything contrary to His death,
- and the walking together in the power of divine, and therefore holy love.
- On this ground we can take the Lord's supper together as that which is the common privilege of all saints.
- As we partake of it we may well rejoice together in the love that led Him to give Himself for the assembly at such tremendous cost, and –
- as one gone to his rest has beautifully expressed it – by the Spirit's power we find the heavenly door is opened, and our souls are brought to taste of the joy of "that favoured hour, when toil shall all be o'er".
- We are brought in spirit to the Lord on His own resurrection ground, outside all that pertains to the scene through which we walk from day to day.
With this we may well be content, thankfully receiving the ministry He is pleased to give us through those whom He may graciously raise up to feed His household,
- and rejoicing in the outgoings of the gospel of His grace to the lost and perishing all around.
But perhaps someone may be disposed to say, That is all very well as far as it goes, but what about holding a service for the praise and worship of God?
- Let the New Testament Scriptures be carefully searched; they plainly declare that worship is a priestly act – see 1 Peter 2: 5 – and that all the people of God in the present dispensation are called to be priests.
- "Ye", says the apostle Peter, speaking to all the saints, "are a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ".
- Therefore, when the people of God are gathered together in any given place their privilege is to act as a company of priests called of God to offer up spiritual sacrifices.
- How important then that every one of us should answer to God's call, and seek grace from Him to exercise the duties of our priestly office.
It is such a relief to turn away from all that men have brought in by way of adapting the assembly to the requirements of the altered condition of things in the world, and to see how simple everything was at the beginning.
- We read in Acts 20: 7, "And upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them".
- That is to say, the disciples – who were all priests – came together, Paul among them, to take the Lord's supper.
- The bread and the wine, precious memorial of His death, was placed before them. They partook of it. It spoke to their hearts. It brought before them the death of the Saviour whom they loved, now in glory. They called Him to mind. They remembered Him. They meditated upon Him.
- What was the result? There could have been only one. They must praise Him with grateful, adoring hearts, and thank Him for the love which took Him unto death, which was rightly their portion, that He might bring them into oneness with Himself in life.
- How then could their hearts refrain from going out to the blessed God, who gave up that dear Son of His to death and shame, that they might be brought nigh to Him and know His love?
- Thus would the song of praise to God, even the Father, be raised in their hearts by the Lord Jesus in accordance with His own word,
- "In the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto thee", Hebrews 2: 12.
- These are the "spiritual sacrifices" in which God takes pleasure – that worship in spirit and in truth which He is now seeking from His own children. John 4: 23-24.
- After such a season as that before God, with the Lord Jesus in their midst, according to His own word in Matthew 18: 20, Paul's preaching must have been wonderful.
- He discharged his ministry as the Lord's servant, but there is not a word about his taking the service or conducting the worship.
It is indeed most blessed to see the place which worship and ministry hold in the word of God.
- In worship the saints as priests present spiritual sacrifices to God, while in ministry the Lord's gifted servants unfold to the saints "all the counsel of God", Acts 20: 27.
- In other words, worship is from the saints to God, while ministry is from the exalted Lord, through His servants, to the saints.
Be assured that our wisdom is to simply follow what the Lord has laid down in His word, and not to add to it in any way, confident that He will never forsake His people,
- but will fulfill all He has graciously undertaken on their behalf.
- In 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 we get instruction as to details, which are of the greatest possible importance,
- but unless we get definitely before our souls the Lord's will about our gathering together, we shall entirely fail to grasp the meaning of the instructions there given us.
We do not for one moment suggest any re-establishment of that which has been so grievously marred in the hands of men.
- The assembly as a corporate testimony of Christ to the world has completely failed.
- The Lord may, and does, grant revival of the truth as to His thoughts of the assembly in the hearts of those who seek Him.
- All such surely desire to answer to His thoughts, but He has not set a re-establishment of the Pentecostal state of things before us, but directs our souls to Himself alone,
- and on to that time when He will present the assembly to Himself without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, and display it in glory to a wondering universe. Revelations 20 and 21.
May the Lord lead His beloved people more and more into that which is in accordance with His pleasure, for His name's sake.
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F.E.R. The subject which the apostle takes up from chapter 11, verse 17 is the coming together of the Assembly. It is a great thing to see that in Scripture there is no such thing as an Assembly-meeting.
Ques. What do you mean?
F.E.R. There is no such thing as an appointed order of meeting, a system of meetings arranged and settled; prayer-meeting, reading, etc., all that kind of thing is not known in Scripture.
Rem. Please explain a little.
F.E.R. The idea presented is of the Assembly come together in one place.
Ques. What is the difference between an Assembly-meeting and the Assembly come together?
F.E.R. The Assembly-meeting is a certain appointed order of things which we stick to.
P. "Upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread".
F.E.R. Well, they were rallied by the Lord's supper, you do not want any arrangement save as to time. The Assembly is brought together by the Lord's supper.
- I do not see such a thing as an assembly prayer-meeting or an assembly worship meeting. I have seen circulars passed about among saints fixing prayer-meetings and soon [sic]. I do not see it in Scripture, nor do I think it is the right idea.
H.D'A.C. Once gathered we have the Head to order as He sees fit. We cannot lay down any order.
F.E.R. There is only one thing fixed, the Lord's supper. There are many points of detail.
- I do not like to see the box passed round at the end of the meeting, but in connection with the Lord's supper,
- neither do I like to see anyone closing the meeting in a formal way praying for the gospel.
P. We do not think the meeting over unless that is done.
Ques. Do we ever come together in Assembly except on Lord's Day morning?
Ques. Ought we to?
F.E.R. We must take into account the state of things. In a ruined state of things we cannot expect anything magnificent, we must be thankful that anything is preserved to us.
G.C. The danger is that we drop the thought of the Assembly after the meeting is over.
F.E.R. Where is the authority to arrange any system of meetings?
- I do not think of an Assembly prayer-meeting but a meeting of those interested in the Lord's work coming together to pray.
- If the Assembly comes together you cannot lay down any form it will take, but you must give place to the Head, to direct and order.
- If I come to lecture, I come with something before me, otherwise I should not be doing honour to the saints.
- But I would not have anything before me in the Assembly. The purpose of the Supper is to give the Lord His place as Head, that is the proper work of it. So the Supper in chapter 11 gives the Lord the prominent place.
- In chapter 12 we are baptised into one body by the Spirit. In chapter 13 we get the principle which excludes the flesh … anything that is uncomely in the Assembly.
Ques. Do you think that in the early days when they came together they began with the breaking of bread?
F.E.R. It seems so in apostolic days, but later it seems to have settled down to the first day of the week.
Ques. Could we come together in the week without breaking of bread?
F.E.R. I should look at that as a continuation of the Lord's Day meeting, e.g., a discipline meeting is called on testimony. No one brother can do it. It must be in the mouth of two or three witnesses.
- So in regard to persons desiring to break bread. You do not call a meeting together to discuss whether a person should break bread. Persons break bread with us on testimony. They are accepted on testimony.
Ques. Suppose there is any special difficulty with any case, would you call the Assembly?
F.E.R. No. I would call two or three to pray about it. I find there are those that bear the burden of the meeting and they would be the people to pray.
Rem. I should like you to say a little more about receiving.
F.E.R. I object to receiving because some have a difficulty about it; every Christian known to be orderly has a title to be there. If so, how can you talk about receiving?
- We have not an exclusive fellowship. It may be called that, but we do not seek to make it so.
Ques. What do you mean about being accepted on testimony?
F.E.R. It must be known that they are Christians and not connected with evil.
Ques. "Not forsaking the assembling", etc. Does that take in week-day meetings as well?
F.E.R. I think the Hebrews were in danger of neglecting to come together for fear of persecution.
- If a brother only appears at the Lord's supper, it shows he has little interest in the Lord's things. If he had he would come together with his brethren to pray about them.
Ques. You would not object to fixing an evening for a prayer-meeting?
F.E.R. Oh no! The principle of the Assembly:
- "I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee".
- You must give the fullest place to Christ. On the other hand you can come together on Matthew 18.
- The Lord says, "There am I in the midst".
- It is not as in Assembly. I rather doubt if many of us could give a distinction between Head and Lord. Christ is Lord to the individual; He is Head to the Church.
Ques. Would you speak of a meeting breaking bread as gathered in Assembly?
F.E.R. Well, the Lord's Supper is what brings them together. Having taken the Supper they are then in Assembly. I take chapters 11 - 13 as describing what is proper to the Assembly.
- When convened you get instruction in the principles which are to guide and govern in the Assembly. The instructions were given to the Corinthians to remedy the confusion.
Ques. Would you think that the Assembly coming together as such at other times than Lord's Day an indication of spiritual power?
F.E.R. We have to accept things as they are. It is no use to fret and vex ourselves about the state of things. People who look for great things are doomed to disappointment.
- In meetings for prayer you can count on His presence, "Where two or three", the Lord is universal – so they have a sense that He is supporting and they have His countenance also in readings, but it is not the same thought as the Assembly.
Ques. Would it be correct to say that the Assembly, as such, took the place of the sanctuary?
F.E.R. Yes, in a spiritual way. The prayer-meeting may be two or three exercised about difficulties, and their outlet is the Lord. They come together for prayer and they have the Lord with them in their exercises.
- There are few things less understood than the sanctuary.
Ques. The prayer-meeting is not connected with priestly or levitical service?
F.E.R. It is more as common people.
- "Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people".
- "Men ought always to pray".
- It is not gifted men only.
Ques. Is there a gift of prayer?
F.E.R. I am afraid so. I only judge so because many brothers pray at such great length.
- There are two things very trying in a meeting – long prayers and long pauses.
- Some pray about everything. There are few amongst us who can really do that. That hinders others taking part. I do not care to pray about some things that have already been asked.
Ques. Do you object to pauses?
F.E.R. Long pauses, specially in the prayer meeting, indicate a great spiritual deadness.
Ques. Will you say something as to the service of the sanctuary?
F.E.R. For the service of the sanctuary you must have saints divested of the flesh. You cannot have flesh in the sanctuary.
- The only ground on which you can have priests is risen with Christ, you cannot have a priest after the flesh, not even the Lord on earth.
- If you are risen with Christ you are outside of flesh, outside of every order of man, whether religious, philosophical, sentimental, educated. We may not know much of what a risen man is like, but he is clear of every order of man here.
- You may judge that if you get sentimentalism or eloquence in the Assembly, it is not priestly work. The spring of everything must be God Himself else it is not the divine nature.
- In chapter 13 you get the practical exclusion of the flesh. In the early part every movement of the flesh is excluded, the second part brings you to God outside of all knowledge, etc. That is where love brings you.
Rem. If we were built up more in the divine nature we should know more of the Father in Assembly. Why is the Lord brought in in the beginning of chapter 9?
F.E.R. It is the Lord as Administrator, because it is in regard of gifts. The Lord bestows them.
- What I understand by gift is, a divinely given impression of Christ to be expressed. If a gift were anything else it would not be something expressed of Christ.
- I think the great thing in the chapter is to give Christ His place in the Assembly, the place of pre-eminence in love. That is the practical working of the Supper if rightly understood. In chapter 11 it is His side, in chapter 12 our side.
Ques. What is the meaning of remembering the Lord?
F.E.R. It is calling Him into presence; His death is the vehicle, the means, and is so because death is the expression of His love.
- The death of Christ is an incident in the pathway of love, the most important incident, and so through death we call Him to mind. Love was there before death, and after death just as really as at His death.
Ques. Is it the remembrance of His death in the past or the remembrance of Him as absent?
F.E.R. The latter. You call Himself to mind yet are sensible of His presence. You could not remember another death in that way. You might remember the death of the Duke of Wellington, but you could not call him into presence.
- The Lord makes His presence felt to hearts prepared for it. They get Him as Head and He is pre-eminent. In pre-eminence the point is He is one of us.
Ques. Does that correspond to the great Priest?
F.E.R. Yes, so He is the Firstborn of many brethren. If we are speaking of the Lord, He is not one of us, but is Lord on God's side, as Head He is on our side therefore He is pre-eminent, anointed above His fellows – that is where you join the Lord.
Rem. People may get to the breaking of bread and never join the Lord.
F.E.R. That may be so, but that is where you get the Assembly.
Ques. Should we not come together as risen with Christ?
F.E.R. There is no other ground. There is no idea of the Assembly coming together in Romans. The important point in the Assembly is to be done with all that is formal, the passing of the box and notices. I would give out the notices after the passing of the box, not at the close of the meeting.
|In more recent times it has become customary for the notices to be given out at the beginning, before the hymn or the breaking of bread.
Ques. Why not at the close?
F.E.R. Because no one has authority to close the meeting, there might be the feeling that spiritual power had declined.
Ques. Why should all that is formal take place first?
F.E.R. Because it is only then that you come to a true sense of the Assembly. The Lord is called into presence by the Supper and thus it is that the Assembly begins. In the midst of the church will I praise thee.
Ques. It is after the breaking of bread that the Lord takes His place as Leader?
F.E.R. I would not say that. Chapters 12 and 13 are the exclusion of the flesh and the bond that which holds together.
- There is no such thing as a brother feeling his responsibility in the Assembly.
- The object of chapter 13 is to shut out the pre-eminence of man. Take the idea of the body, the head is not pre-eminent in the human body. By one Spirit are all baptized into one body.
- As Head He identifies Himself with us; in the kingdom He is Lord; He becomes leader of the praises in the great congregation, it is a different idea from Lord – that is administration.
- The bread and wine are separate emblems of death. Announce His death till He come is incidental, you cannot think of His death without thinking of His love, and you cannot think of His love without thinking of Himself – it is an undying love. The love abides although He went into death.
- Look at the pleasure He had in coming into the company of His disciples during those forty days – as much pleasure as before, or more.
Ques. What is the connection of the breaking of bread with the two going to Emmaus?
F.E.R. It is significant, though that is not the Lord's supper. He was known unto them in the breaking of bread. It was an act very familiar to them – He had always taken that place among them as pre-eminent.
- If you go to take a meal at a friend's house, he takes the place at the head of the table, but he is not lord. A man is not lord to his wife, he is head, she reigns with him.
H.D'A.C. When Christ is before us, no one in the Assembly has any pre-eminence.
F.E.R. The effect is that there is no such thing as clericalism in the Assembly.
Ques. On that ground can you sing every hymn given out in the Assembly?
F.E.R. I would not like to be compelled to sing every line of a hymn given out, but I would not give public expression to my inability to do so.
Ques. Would putting on the new man have any connection with the Assembly?
F.E.R. No. It is not connected with testimony, it comes out in the walk towards the saints and towards all; God's testimony is that He has set up a new man in new creation here.
- Chapter 13 is a great study – it brings out what man's spiritual stature is. Most men know their physical stature, you can find that out by standing against the wall; but it is a great thing to know your true height in the Assembly.
Ques. Can we find that out for ourselves?
F.E.R. Yes. It is very important to find it out. Gift and abilities do not indicate your stature.
- Chapter 11 bears intimately on it especially where people in the Assembly maintain almost hatred to one another.
- Love is our measure. You must have faith, but that is not your measure. It is impossible for man to be less than nothing – then the chapter tells us the characteristics of love. The practical working is to exclude the flesh.
- Love is the divine nature. It is exclusion not correction of the flesh. In the most advanced Christian that ever was, you do not find the flesh improved, the only way is to exclude it.
- At the end of the chapter you are brought to God above all knowledge.
Ques. Why in part?
F.E.R. It must be so when things are imperfect. Knowledge implies that everything is not known. There is something to be learned. It is that which is placed within the reach of man to acquire. It is important to see that this chapter is not an exhortation but a description.
- You can only love as affected by love; you cannot get love up. If we are really affected and controlled by the love of Christ thus, verses 4 to 7 is the effect in the Assembly.
- When the heart is affected by the love of Christ I lose sight of everything that would tend to bring in distinction of flesh. I do not want to love those only that are agreeable to me. As an individual you may have to return to those distinctions but in the assembly you are above them.
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|THE ASSEMBLY IN FOUR ASPECTS|
F. E. Raven
1. THE BODY
|Ephesians 1: 15-23; 2: 1-7; 1 Corinthians 12: 13, 27-31|
Place Unknown, 1894
Ministry by F. E. Raven, 8: 102-17
I wish to dwell a little on this and succeeding occasions, as the Lord may enable me, on the truth of the church, looked at in its different aspects,
- for it is very evident that the church is presented to us in Scripture in more aspects than one.
For instance, in this chapter – Ephesians 2 – it is noticeable that the apostle, beginning from the top, that is, Christ exalted as Head over all things,
- presents the church as His body, and afterwards as growing into a holy temple –
- just the reverse order to Corinthians, where he begins with the temple, and goes on afterwards to speak of the body.
In Ephesians the apostle presents first the body; then he gives us the temple at the close of chapter 2; and finally Jew and Gentile
- "builded together for an habitation of God by the Spirit".
- And I think I can understand the object in this order, for in unfolding the whole scope of what God has effected in Christ, it is necessary to begin from the Head,
- and then the thought of the body is introduced as His fulness,
- and from the body the Spirit works down to what is the present status of the church, that is Jew and Gentile "built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit", JND.
- Each successive truth is dependent on the preceding.
Tonight I take up the truth of the body, first as it is seen in Ephesians, and then as it is viewed in Corinthians. The distinction is this:
- in Ephesians we get the truth of the body on the heavenly side, in what it is to Christ;
- in Corinthians we get it more on the earthward side – I do not know how better to put it – in its present aspect as the vessel of the Spirit here upon earth.
- For it is introduced in 1 Corinthians 12, as I understand it, in connection with the manifestations of the Spirit,
- "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular";
- and then, God has set various gifts in the assembly viewed in that way as the body. The subject of 1 Corinthians 12 is the manifestations of the Spirit.
I want just to notice, what I may enlarge upon on another occasion, that if we look at the apostle Paul's work –
- I do not speak now about his work in the gospel, but his church work
- – we find a foundation spoken of as laid in Corinth, and the chief corner-stone presented in Ephesus.
- Corinth was the beginning of the apostle's work when he went distinctly on his own line. Up to that point he had been working, to a very large extent, in connection with Jerusalem as a church centre.
- But Corinth appears to be the distinct starting-point of his work upon the line of the particular revelation given to him.
- In the first epistle to the Corinthians the apostle speaks of himself
- "as a wise master builder"; we sometimes render the word in English, by 'architect'.
- What I understand by the expression is, that when he laid the foundation he had the plan of the edifice before him.
- In natural things, when the first stone of the building is laid, the architect sees the whole building, while other people, who know nothing about the plan, merely see the first stone.
- Then he tells us what the foundation was,
- "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ".
- Ephesus was the climax of the apostle's work and testimony in connection with the church, and
- that is necessarily the point of departure when failure comes in.
It exercised my mind somewhat, in speaking of the church, on which side I should begin, whether from the top or the bottom.
- But I thought it better to begin from the top, that is, from the body as presented to us in Ephesians, and then to work down to Corinthians, because I think that is the divine way.
- If anyone wanted to understand in the type of the tabernacle what the brazen altar imported, he would have to begin properly from the ark of the covenant and the mercy-seat.
- If you were approaching God from man's side, you must come by the brazen altar; but if you want to have intelligence about the brazen altar, then you have to begin from the divine end, from which God began in describing the tabernacle and its furniture, from the ark of the covenant and the mercy-seat.
- And therefore, on the same principle, in speaking of the body of Christ, I prefer to begin from the top, from what it is in its relation to the Head, as presented to us in the Ephesians.
By the Lord's help, I will try to give you two or three suggestive thoughts in connection with what comes out in these two chapters of Ephesians,
- and will then speak a little on the other side of the truth as in 1 Corinthians 12, where the truth of the body comes out in a very practical way.
- I do not think that Christians who ignore that chapter make very much progress.
- Sects and systems, it is very evident, ignore it, for the simple reason that they are avowedly sectarian. Every Christian denomination is sectarian.
- No state church can be universal, because it cannot properly go beyond the limits of the particular country to which it belongs.
- The only universal system is Roman Catholicism, which in the Christian point of view is apostasy.
- It is clear that in 1 Corinthians 12 you cannot find sectarianism, or any justification of it; it is
- And I have no hesitation in saying that where there is the ignoring of this truth, and where restrictions are placed upon the liberty of the Spirit of God, Christians will not get much light.
- I do not un-christianise them for a moment; for if there had not been some light to be got, none of us would be where we are, nor even converted.
- But the professing church has lost the truth of the body completely, and has in fact ignored the presence of the Holy Spirit.
- And until Christians leave sectarianism, and all of that order, and come to where there is liberty for the Spirit of God to act, they will enjoy but little light.
- Depend upon it, no greater evil has been done, no greater insult offered to the Lord than in ignoring the presence of the Spirit sent by Him from the Father.
- And it is astonishing how easily we too may drop into it. People will substitute all sorts of things for the Holy Spirit: a clergy, or a ministry, or formality or order;
- but I trust we have returned to the recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit here, and with it to the manifestations of the Spirit.
I desire now to suggest two or three thoughts in connection with the truth of the body as it is presented to us in Ephesians.
The beginning of it is the Head; and the first thought that is introduced is the power which has set the Head in His place.
- That is, the power that "wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places", and
- "gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all".
- It is the power of God which has been effective in Christ, to set Him in the place of Head over all.
- There could not be any church until Christ was set in this place of Head; you could not talk about the body until the Head was there.
- God's power has come out in two special things: first in raising Christ from the dead, and secondly in setting Him at His own right hand as man in the heavenly places, far above all principality and every name;
- and He has given Him "Head over all things", which is the accomplishment, as has been often pointed out, of Psalm 8,
- "to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him which filleth all in all".
I dare say we are all instructed as to the Head; but I am sure one cannot do harm in recurring for a moment to the truth.
- It was in the eternal purpose of God that He was to be Head to the body: but now God has set Him in His place as such, and every Christian is united to Christ.
Before I pass on to speak of the body, I want to give an idea of what union means, for it is a great point to start with.
- And I would remark here that we have no option whatever about our place in the church. A great many people in the present day –
- I do not speak of people that we are more intimately connected with
- – are taken up to a large extent with Christian activity, and ignore the church.
- But I say you have no option as to the church, because every Christian is united to Christ, though every Christian does not understand union, and does not get all the present good of it.
- But no one can rightly ignore the truth of the church as Christ's body, because whether you know it or not, you are united to Christ if you have the Holy Spirit.
- And hence the apostle can say to the Corinthians,
- "He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit".
- It is certain, in regard to the most uninstructed Christian, that he is united to Christ if he has received the Holy Spirit.
- It is a great thing to know the value of union, but that does not touch the fact of union.
- I should not be entitled to seek to understand union if I were not united; I could not understand it if I had not the thing itself, but being united I may seek to understand what the import of union is.
Now to guard against misapprehension, I feel it needful to say this – that when I speak of union, I do not mean union in the sense of marriage.
- Marriage has sometimes been spoken of as the declaration of union, but I do not get that now.
- The church is espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ, and has the bride-place in that way; but when I speak of union I mean organic union as of the members of a body to the head.
- It is very evident the Head was there before ever there was the body at all.
- Christ was set at God's right hand in the heavenly places before the
Holy Spirit was given; and when the Holy Spirit was given, then union was effected; it took place on the day of Pentecost.
- I do not think the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost understood union, but they were nonetheless united; for every one received the Holy Spirit, and by the fact of receiving the Holy Spirit, they were united to the Head in heaven.
- The revelation of the truth of it had not yet come out. It was given to Paul, not to Peter or John, to complete the word of God; and he completed the word of God, I believe, by the truth of the body.
- That had not come out at first, and yet the body was formed. And it is most important to hold this fast;
- because if union is made dependent on the intelligence or understanding of union, it would be turning things upside down.
- It is a very important principle in divine things, that you understand the words by the thing, and if you have not got the thing, you cannot understand the words.
- Unless a man is born again, he cannot understand what being born again means. It is so with a great many other things.
- And unless a man is united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, it is totally impossible that he could understand what union means.
The first great truth which comes out here as to the church is that it is the fulness of Christ; that is the place which the church has,
- "his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all".
- What I understand by it is this, that the church is proportioned morally to the One that fills all in all, it is His fulness – a very wonderful thing.
- I do not think any vessel will adequately display Christ save the church. And when it comes out, no one will be able to say that the body is disproportioned to the Head; it will all be the work of God.
- The Head fills all in all – that is what I might call the function of the Head; He will fill all things; Christ will fill the universe with good and with blessing, the fruits of redemption.
- He is the tree of life, and every family will live by Him; but every family will not be His fulness, the church is His fulness, the vessel in which He is adequately displayed.
I do not think that anything short of the body could display the Head, or that Christ could be displayed in one saint.
- Christ may be displayed in every saint in measure, but for an adequate display of Christ you must have the whole body. The body is His completeness – it is that which is adequate for the display of the Head.
- The thought of the body here is not as in 1 Corinthians 12: there it speaks of the body at any given moment upon earth;
- but here it is the body in the very fullest sense, it tells you what the church is, its proper place, the completeness of Him that fills all in all.
I pass on to the next point, to see how the truth of the body has been effectuated in saints.
- It says in verse 5 of chapter 2,
- "Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus".
- There is one expression in this passage used as to us which is not applied to Christ.
- And there are two expressions applied to us which are first stated of Christ.
- Christ is not here spoken of as quickened, but as raised and seated at God's right hand in heavenly places. And we get in regard to the saints,
- "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus";
- that is, that the power which has been applied to Christ has operated in us, and what God has effected in Christ is true for the saints.
- Therefore you have to take the statement in two parts; first, as to what has been effected in us, in that we are quickened together with Christ, and then that what has been effected in Christ is true also for the saints.
Now I desire to show you where the truth of union lies. I tried to make it plain at the beginning that every saint is united to Christ, because every saint is in possession of the Spirit.
- But where the truth and secret of union lies is in the fact of a moral being in the saints, which has been derived from Christ;
- that is, that having been quickened together with Christ, we have received a being which puts us in association with Christ.
- In other words, it is like Eve being taken out of Adam; she got, in a sense, her being from Adam.
- So, too, the church gets its being from Christ: it has often been said that the church does not add anything to Christ, because it is derived from Christ.
- And that is what, I judge, the apostle means when be says,
- He "hath quickened us together with Christ".
- It does not say, as in Romans, the Spirit is life; but in Colossians and Ephesians the saints are viewed not only as having received the Spirit of life, but the power of the Spirit has taken effect in them,
- and the apostle can go so far in regard to them as to say that they are quickened together with Christ,
- can view them as in a faith state in anticipation of what will be their actual state at the coming of Christ;
- and in this state they live with God in association with Christ, according as Christ lives with God; and that is where the secret of union really lies.
- As I said before, I am not denying the fact that every one that has the Holy Spirit is united; and the principle of everything that God has for us lies in the Holy Spirit.
- The apostle adds afterwards,
- "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them".
- He touches another side of the truth there; they had put off the old man, and put on the new, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth, they were now partakers of the divine nature.
- The power of the Spirit had become not only effective towards them, not only were there fleshy tables of the heart, and a real writing of Christ, as in the Corinthians,
- but there was the actual formation of a moral being, in virtue of which they now lived in association with Christ.
- Consequently what had been effected in Him held good for them. And that is where the truth of union lies.
The apostle is leading on to it when he says to the Galatians,
- "I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you",
- that is, until they were brought into the true Christian state. And that is what the apostle was continually labouring at.
- What a wonderful thought it is that a believer not only has the Holy Spirit communicated to him, but that the power of the Holy Spirit in him has made him a partaker of the divine nature.
- Union could not be but on that ground. How could you be joined to Christ save as quickened together with Him?
- I admit that the same power which quickens you together with Him unites you to Him; but I say
- the enjoyment or understanding of union with Christ could not possibly be if you were not conscious that you were of a new order by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Union is not in the flesh; we are not united to Christ in the flesh, or as men in the flesh;
- "He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit",
- and the truth of union clearly lies in the Spirit.
- If the fact of being quickened together with Christ is once apprehended, I can soon take in the other points,
- that the power of God which has been put in operation in regard to Christ applies to me as being part of Himself and united to Him:
- Jew and Gentile have been raised up together, and made to "sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus".
- We never could have been united to Christ simply as Jew and Gentile, but we are united in connection with a totally new spiritual being from Christ, who is at God's right hand.
- You can understand it as I said from the figure of Eve. God took her out of the man, and builded her into a woman. And so it says of the church,
- "We are members of his body";
- and that is where the truth of union lies.
One more thought in connection with Ephesians, before passing on to the other passage in Corinthians, and that is,
- that God has effected all this for His own satisfaction. It says in verse 7,
- "That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus".
- The fact is, that the motive spring which led God to do it was love. God would have us in His own company, in His own place.
- It has been said that what love values is company. God acted from love.
- I could not possibly tell why God loved us in that way, but that is what Scripture states,
- "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us",
- would have us there, in His own abode, in heavenly places; and therefore it is really for His own satisfaction.
- If you accept the truth that God is absolutely good and blessed, then what He does for His own pleasure must be absolutely good and blessed too, and He has done this for His own pleasure.
I hope you will bear in mind, by the grace of God, the two or three thoughts I have tried to bring before you in regard to the church on what I may call the heavenly side;
- for the more you enter into it, the better you will understand God, and the better you understand God, the more you will be able to apprehend the truth.
- It is remarkable how things act and re-act. The more I understand the truth of the church, the more I see that the springs are in God, and the more I enter into the knowledge of God,
- "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him",
- the better I can understand the truth of the church.
- The first thing is the Head, and where God has set Him.
- Then the body, which is His fulness, proportioned to Him where, and as He is;
- and then how God has wrought to make it effective in us. And all is eventually for His own satisfaction.
- That is what the church is, as presented to us in Ephesians, and that is the climax of the apostle's work.
- Here you have unfolded the counsel of God, and how God has given effect to His counsel.
If you turn now to 1 Corinthians 12, we shall view the body on the other side.
- The subject of the chapter is concerning spiritual gifts – "spiritual manifestations", gives more the right idea –
- "concerning spiritual manifestations, brethren, I do not wish you to be ignorant";
- the proof of this is in verse 7: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal".
- Then in verse 11 it says, "All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will".
- Then the apostle brings in the truth of the body, because the great point is that the manifestations of the Spirit are in the body,
- that there are no manifestations of the Spirit, nor are there any gifts, but what are set in the church as the body.
- He goes on to say,
- "For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many". And then in verse 27:
- "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church".
I think anyone reading the chapter would see that the prominent idea in it is not the body, but the Spirit.
- But as I understand it, the body is introduced as the vessel where the manifestations of the Spirit are set.
- I think the great subject of the first epistle to the Corinthians is the temple, and that God is actually here;
- but that identical with the temple there is a body in which are set the manifestations of the Spirit; they all come out in the members of the body.
- The idea I judge is, that the church is the glory of Christ. Some may not quite understand what that expression means, but I will tell you.
- The woman is the glory of the man, that is, that all that is of the man is reflected in the woman.
- There was no such complete reflection of man in any of the brute creation, God could not find anything among the inferior creation which was suited to be a helpmeet to the man.
- The woman was taken out of the man, and therefore reflected every moral quality of the man.
- You get another figure of it in nature, the moon reflects the light of the sun. When the moon is opposite to the sun, you get a full moon;
- that is, all the light of the sun falls upon the moon, and the moon reflects it, and in that sense the moon is the glory of the sun.
- So the church is the glory of Christ.
- The expression is used in 2 Corinthians, where the apostle, speaking of brothers whom he was sending to the Corinthians, says, that they were messengers of the churches, Christ's glory.
- When Christ was here personally, everything that God had for man came out in Him by the Spirit of God.
- Anyone will recall that whatever Christ had to say to men, He said by the Spirit, and whatever Christ did for man He did by the Spirit.
- I do not think the Lord ever had any idea at all of operating here except by the Spirit. He says,
- "If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons";
- Jesus of Nazareth, anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power
- "who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him";
- "In the power of the Spirit" He goes to Nazareth, and says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor".
- It was in the heart of God to relieve man from the consequences that sin had brought upon him, and from the power of Satan;
- but all that beneficence and good from God came to man through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now I venture to say, whatever God has for man comes out by the Spirit in the church as Christ's body.
- In the early days of Christianity if gifts of healing came to men, they were set in the church;
- or if God had light for men down here – and I think that is the great idea connected with the temple – it came out through the body.
- And that extends even to the revelation of God; for every bit of light that we get as to Christianity, all the New Testament scriptures, came out through members of the body;
- "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets".
- All that God has to say to men and to bestow upon men, the relief which God has in grace granted to man, was set in the church.
- I think it is in that sense the apostle introduces the body here, as the vessel of all the beneficence of God to man; all these various distributions of the Spirit were in the church;
- all that which really displayed the good of God coming out through Christ to men was set in the church, because the church is the body of Christ.
- Christ was no longer here personally, but the body of Christ was here.
Thus in 1 Corinthians 12 we get the earthly side of the church; it is not the church looked at as the fulness of Christ, and it is not union which is taught in the chapter, though unity is taught there,
- but the church as the body is the vessel in which are set all the manifestations of the Spirit; and it makes us all dependent one upon another.
- When I hear people saying, 'I never learnt anything from man', that is a pretty good proof to me that they do not know much.
- If they simply mean that they never learned anything from man as man, that may be the case;
- but if they mean that they never learned anything through the instrumentality or medium of man, then I say they must be very ignorant persons.
- Because had they known anything of Christianity, they must have known it through members of the body.
- Paul and John were members of the body, though they were apostles, and all the light that comes to us, the very Scriptures themselves, come to us through the apostles, and the apostles were set in the church.
The practical application of it in the present day is this, that we should recognise the truth of the one body,
- "By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body",
- "and have been all made to drink into one Spirit".
- That was not a kind of mystical idea; it was a reality down here which saints were to recognise, that is, that
- they were one body by the baptism of the Spirit, so that the apostle could say to the body of saints at Corinth,
- "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular".
- Christ could not have two bodies at Corinth, any more than Christ can have two bodies in London. There is Christ's body in London, and it is a very great point to recognise that fact.
- Because, if once I recognise it, I say I have done completely with anything which takes up distinctive sectarian ground.
- I will not be identified with apostasy, like popery, nor with a state church, nor with denominations, for the simple reason that I recognise the fact,
- "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular", and
- "By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body",
- and the one body is the vessel here for the manifestations of the Spirit.
There is one point more, and it is that there must be room given for the Spirit, you must not place any kind of restriction upon the Spirit.
- For instance, if you have an appointed minister, if you do not give liberty of ministry, you put restrictions on the Spirit.
- You can never tell who may be a vessel for the manifestation of the Spirit, for the Spirit sometimes uses very unlikely people;
- He does not always employ the kind of vessel that would be naturally approved by man, because the Spirit is sovereign, and uses whom He will.
- You must recognise the truth of the one body, which sets aside all idea of sectarianism,
- and you must leave room for the free action of the Spirit, who distributes to every man severally as He will.
All this truth is as to the church on its earthward side, but it is vastly important;
- for if you do not recognise it, you cannot understand anything about the assembly as convened.
- The instruction is given to the Corinthians for the regulation of the assembly as convened, and to avoid confusion.
- We come together as mutually dependent, for we are all one body, and every member of the body is dependent upon every other member of the body, as well as dependent upon the Head.
Suppose a man were to say, I am not going to concern myself about the body or about church principles, I am going to exercise the gift which the Lord has given me.
- My answer to him is this, God has set the gift in the church, and if you recognise that fact, you cannot ignore the church.
- Let a man be the most distinguished evangelist that ever was, he cannot ignore the church. An apostle could not, because God set apostles in the church.
- You have no option in the matter; you must, in the first instance, recognise the truth of the church, and that every gift is set in the church, and leave free room for the Spirit of God.
- And therefore, the most distinguished gift that a man could have, was not to overshadow every other gift. There may be members that are less conspicuous, and yet they are equally important.
- And it is not at all of God that the great gifts, the great luminaries, should overshadow everything else; because we are all set in the body in dependence upon the Head and upon each other.
- That is the principle of its constitution. May God give us to understand it better.
I have only one word more. People might say, What you have said may be a guide to us in regard to sects and systems,
- but what about those who profess to be on the ground of the one body?
- Well, beloved friends, it is not difficult to me. A great many bodies profess that kind of thing, but I say that though they have not given up ecclesiastical ground, they have given up the testimony,
- and I should have much more forbearance with those who have never seen the truth than with those who have departed from it.
- They have given up the testimony of the Lord in the sense of what is distinctive at the particular moment.
- They would assert quite as strongly as we would, and with quite as great zeal, that they are gathered on the ground of the one body, but I say that
- the different bodies who have departed at one time or another have given up the truth which the Spirit of God was making prominent at the moment.
- If that truth is union in the real power of it, they give it up, though they do not give up ecclesiastical ground.
- I do not care to take up ecclesiastical ground, and not go on with the testimony of the Lord.
- I believe at the present moment that the Spirit is bringing us back to the truth of the church in its heavenly character, as the fulness of Christ,
- not simply to the fact that we have received the Holy Spirit, but that the truth of union lies in that which we have derived from Christ, as quickened together with Him.
- The power which has wrought in Christ has been effective also in saints, who are
- "raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus".
- Many other things I could say, too, for it is very clear to me how one truth after another has been given up by those who have departed, while there is the insistence in the strongest way on ecclesiastical ground;
- but I do not think anyone who is really going on with the truth in the power of the Spirit is taken in by it.
- May God give us in His great grace rightly to balance things.
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