The Assembly in Administration

The assembly of God was formed on earth by the Holy Ghost not only to watch and wait for Christ from heaven, but to be in the meanwhile expressive of his mind here below. And that not only as to what should take place within it as to its own internal administration; and before the eyes of the world as expressive of the grace of God; but also in the sight of those mighty spiritual powers in the heavenly places. Ephesians 3:10 is a most remarkable passage, and should greatly affect every one, who through grace forms part of that assembly. "To the intent that now unto principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the assembly the manifold wisdom of God."

Jerusalem was the place where the Lord set His name, and those who desired to know His thoughts in ancient times had to inquire at His holy temple there; but when He came to it, having in incomparable grace become incarnate, He found it corrupt and corrupting, and He, its glory, departed from it, leaving it desolate.

Jerusalem failed, and was in consequence discarded by the Lord; yet He has left a responsible witness to Himself here below, not now in one favoured place, for it is "neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem"; nor is it a material building composed of "great stones and costly;" but, "where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). Blessed and abiding declaration of Him who died to redeem us, who now lives on high, the Head of His body, the assembly, and the Centre of all God's counsels and ways. The knowledge of His mind, the expression of it, His authority, will, and character were to stand connected with the two or three, who were gathered to His name, instead of being, as aforetime, with the temple in Jerusalem.

The disciples of the Lord proved the blessedness of these His words during that bright Pentecostal period (Acts 2), for then they were first fulfilled, and through the disciples grace flowed in the name of the Lord to the needy. His name was everything, and they, the assembly, were in themselves nothing, save the submissive and happy channels through whom He administered His grace to men in the power of the Holy Spirit. His name was there also for the detection and judgment of evil; and so we find that Ananias and Sapphira were cut off as soon as their sin was brought to light. This same power and authority was exercised for the putting away of evil by the assembly composed of Gentile believers at Corinth according to 1 Corinthians 5. The assembly there expressed the will of the Lord in judgment upon the transgressor in their united action. Then, when that judgment had done its work in his soul, in bringing him to repentance, the assembly expressed the will of the Lord in grace, in restoring him to his place (2 Cor. 2).

Now this explains the meaning of the passage, "Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18). What was done in the name of the Lord, in the assembly, as gathered to His name, was ratified in heaven, because as done in His name, it was what He would have done, had He been bodily in their midst; and in this way, as we have said, the assembly was expressive on earth of His mind.

But just as Israel failed in her witness to the presence of Jehovah with them, so has the assembly, set up in responsibility on earth, failed in the place of administration and of witness to the Lord. This was evident before the apostles passed away, for John had to write of an assembly out of which "the brethren" were cast (3 John). No one would assert that this Diotrephesian action, even though it was bound by an assembly, was ratified in heaven; for it was contrary to the Lord's character and to His revealed will, and so could not have had His sanction; contrariwise He would give His presence and support to the cast-out ones in their isolation, even though He bore long and patiently with the assembly out of which they had been cast. But how intensely sad to find the history of Israel's failure in this respect repeated in the assembly today (see Isa. 66:5; Ezek. 11:15-16).

Such unchristlike conduct and failure in the internal administration of an assembly was but a manifest symptom of that dread disease "departure from first love" which was to spread rapidly until the whole church became affected by it. Failure in this, the root from which every precious fruit grows, and the spring of all spiritual health and vigour, meant failure everywhere. The mind of the Lord was no longer sought when questions arose within, and the condition of things was such that it could not have been known.

The church became everything and Christ nothing; the pride and will of men became dominant, fleshly strife prevailed; and the decisions and edicts of the church were the expression of the will of powerful leaders; they were not the will of the Lord.

Yet God's thought for the assembly shall be fulfilled, for in the day of Christ's glory it shall come out of heaven as His workmanship — "that holy city, Jerusalem" (Rev. 21:22). A city in Scripture symbolizes administration. The administration here shall be perfectly according to God, for the city shall descend "out of heaven from God, having the glory of God", the mind of the Lord shall be fully expressed through it, for, "the Lamb is the lamp thereof"; and Christ shall have in it a vessel fully competent to display His glory to men, for "the nations shall walk by the light of it."

But mark well what is said of this city before these things are predicated of it. "Come hither," said the angel, "I will show thee the bride, THE LAMB'S WIFE." We underscore those words, for in them lies the glory and perfection of that city; and out of this fact, and what it means, flows forth everything that is suitable to a vast kingdom of which it is the centre. The church is right with Christ at last; He dwells without a rival in her affections; she knows His great love without measure, and responds to it without restraint; her whole heart is His, she is the bride, the Lamb's wife.

This is the touchstone now:

"'What think ye of Christ?' is the test
To try both your plan and your scheme,
You cannot be right in the rest.
Unless you think rightly of Him."

There can be no service rightly rendered to Him, no witness rightly given, no action rightly taken, unless He has His rightful place in the affections. The Holy Spirit will not support the saints on any other line; His first great work is to make Christ everything, and if this place is not accorded to Christ, then the Holy Spirit is grieved and His action hindered.

The word of the Lord holds good for today, and the blessedness of Matthew 18:20 may still be known, but Christ must have His rightful place among those who would claim it, otherwise the claim is unholy pretension. And the Lord's name carries with it today the authority that it did at the beginning; His will may still be known and carried out, and what is truly done in His name on earth is assuredly bound in heaven

If the mind of the Lord is to be carried out it must first be known, and for this there must be subjection to Him, and a condition and character in keeping with His name. This we should surely learn from the fact that Matthew 18:20 occurs in a chapter in which the moral traits of the kingdom of heaven are clearly set forth. But if there are bitter envyings and strife, back-bitings and slanderings amongst the saints; if parties are formed in the assembly, and the clash of unholy conflict is heard, even if it be in zeal for some truth of God, the devil has already gained a footing, and the decisions arrived at in such a state of things must be damaging to all concerned, and dishonouring to Christ, and will surely not be ratified in heaven. Happy would it be if it were thus seen and confessed by the saints of God on earth.

The love of Christ was the choicest treasure that the church possessed when she started her career on earth. Sad that it should have been treated as of little worth. Yet that love abides, and may still be known in all its freshness and power by those who long after it. That this is so is proved by the wonderful appeal that the Lord makes to the hearts of His saints in the closing chapter of Revelation, when He says, "I am the root and offspring of David, THE BRIGHT AND MORNING STAR." And we gather from this Scripture that this appeal must awaken a response in those to whom it is made. The Spirit and the BRIDE say "Come." They long for Him, and for the time when the night of failure shall give place to the morning of His glory. And in this response to the Lord, on the part of His own, there is the return to first love, and in this heart-longing for Him THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT assumes its primal importance. The Bright and Morning Star becomes the one hope which turns the eyes of the saints in one direction; His love binds them together in one bond, and gives them one theme and joy. Then will they no longer say to each other, "Get you far from the Lord: unto us is this land given in possession" (Ezek. 11:15). But each who hears the Lord's voice will realize how necessary to Him are all His own, and will say to them in consequence, "Come." And in the overflowing joy of His love will cry aloud to thirsty men, "Come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."

"Where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them" holds good even to this day. The Lord cannot forego His name; and greater than our joy in having His presence, according to Matthew 18:20, is His joy in being there. But He cannot link His name with evil, nor will He sanction the mischief-working will of man by His presence. He is "the holy and the true." And those who would have His presence must remember this.