The Supremacy of Christ in the Assembly

If the saints of God are to be gathered together, according to the thoughts and will of God, it must be by the truth and power of God. The truth is in Christ and the power is in the Holy Ghost, and apart from these there is no assembly of God at all.

No one will deny that the truth and power of God are unchanged, and are as able to gather the saints together now as in the first century of the Christian era, and it will be readily admitted by every thoughtful person that to knowingly introduce or be satisfied with any substitute for them is to despise them, and Christendom abounds with such substitutes. This must be displeasing to God, and while He is wonderfully patient with our ignorance, He cannot sanction or give His support to anything but that which is from Himself. God will only stand by that which He formed at the beginning, and if we are to have His approval and support, we must come back to that, and every truly exercised Christian will say, "I want nothing except that".

When God formed His assembly at the beginning, and gathered His saints together into "the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord", He was not experimenting, as some seem to think, but He was displaying, in what He did, His manifold wisdom. His truth, sufficient for His saints until the end, was fully revealed, and this abides; men may have departed from it, believing in their folly that they can improve upon it; His blood-bought saints may be indifferent to it, or be satisfied to go on in ignorance of it, but God does not change His truth because of this. It abides the same, and any who seek in lowliness of mind to carry out His thoughts, will most assuredly have His approval and support.

We propose then to consider the character of the gatherings together of the assembly as they are set before us in the Word. 1 Corinthians is the Epistle to which we naturally turn, and the 9th verse of chapter 1 sets very definitely before us the character of our fellowship together. "God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord".

The assembly at Corinth, when gathered together, was not a voluntary gathering of believers, each claiming his right to be there because he was a member of the same body, much less was it a free assembly in which every one had a right to take part in ministering according as his impulses led him. There were those at Corinth who took this view of the matter, and these are corrected by the apostle, especially in chapter 14. The assembly is supposed to bear this character by many today, but their conception of what the assembly is, is very far from the truth. Nor was it a gathering together of a select, or selected company of believers, who had attained to a certain standard of knowledge, or who saw eye to eye as to certain lines of truth, or followed certain leaders, or adopted certain systems of teaching. That sort of thing began to show itself in that assembly, but it was most sternly rebuked in this inspired Epistle. There are those who would make it this today, and who have gone so far as to say that it is necessary now for us to choose our company. The former is the introduction of the principles of democracy into the assembly, and is a challenge to the truth of the assembly. The latter is Pharisaical and sectarian in the extreme, and if possible is more destructive of the truth than the other. The former tends to lawlessness and disorder, and the latter to pride and bondage.

No one has any rights in the assembly but Christ; that is fundamental to the truth of the assembly, and of every gathering having an assembly character. Where it is not acknowledged the assembly is not. It is our purpose in this paper to press upon our readers that the assembly is Christ's own circle, the sphere in which He is to be supreme, and where His rights are to be maintained. It has been formed on earth by the Holy Ghost for this very purpose. Every loyal heart will acquiesce in this, and rejoice that such a circle has been formed on earth, and desire to be intelligently in it, and the more so because when Christ came into this world His every right was refused. The princes of this world, we are told in this very Epistle, crucified the Lord of Glory. Let that title, given to Him here, come before us in all its greatness, and we shall begin to realize the dignity of the assembly of which through grace we form a part, and the necessity of ever yielding to the Lord His rightful place in it.

Our minds are carried back, as we consider this title, to Isaiah 6, where the prophet saw they Lord sitting upon the Throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. There the sphere that bore His Name was filled with His glory, and the seraphim stood before Him, with covered faces and feet, and cried one to another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts". It is this same Person of whom John speaks in the 12th chapter of his Gospel, when he sadly records the fact that when the Lord of Glory came to His own, they had neither eyes to see Him, nor ears to hear Him, nor hearts to understand or appreciate His person or mission.

As we consider His personal greatness, and acknowledge that every sphere in the universe should be subject to Him, and yet see how completely He was refused by men, how His every right was denied, it must be a cause for joy to us, that now He has a circle upon the earth in which His rights are acknowledged and His name revered.

He has been raised from the dead, and on the resurrection day He gathered together the company of His disciples whom He loved and who loved Him, and stood in the midst of them, showing to their enraptured eyes His hands and His side, which had been wounded to death for them. There we have a pattern of the assembly when gathered together. Was there one in that circle that would have talked of his own rights on that memorable evening? Would they not gladly and unitedly acknowledge His rights who was their Lord indeed, and His alone? "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord."

When the assembly is gathered it is a circle formed upon earth in which Christ's supremacy must abide unchallenged, or it loses its character and ceases to be for His pleasure. It is a circle where Christ is all and in all, and the Holy Ghost dwells in that circle to maintain in it the rights of Christ. We read that no man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Ghost, and that we believe means that all who thus call Him Lord are subject to Him. We must remark here, that the Lord is not spoken of as Lord of the assembly, which is His body, but as Head to it: the Epistles to Ephesus and Colosse unfold this side of the truth. But that He is Lord in the assembly when it is gathered together is as plain as can be in this 1st Epistle to Corinth. His Lordship is the most prominent truth in the Epistle, as will be easily seen by tracing out the number of times in it that this title is given to Him.

From what sorrow and disaster would the saints of God have been saved if they had remembered that the things that are written in this Epistle "are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37) and had been subject to these commandments. Has anyone else a right to command in the assemblies of His saints? Certainly not! If it is His circle, He only has rights there, and the place of every one whose privilege it is to be there is that of subjection to Him. What blessing, what continuous streams of blessing would flow to the saints if His supremacy were owned by all, for He exercises His authority in perfect love. He, the one perfect, all-wise Administrator, administers the fullness of God for the blessing of His own when they are gathered together in His name.

Those who are called and gathered into this fellowship are a sanctified company. They are "sanctified in Christ Jesus", as 1 Corinthians 1:2 tells us; and Hebrews 2:11 confirms this. There we read, "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren"; and though in Corinthians, saints are not viewed as the brethren of Christ, nor is the Lord presented as Lord in Hebrews 2; yet what is interesting is that there He stands in the midst of those that are sanctified, and here in the Corinthian Epistle it is the sanctified ones who come together in His name; in the midst of them He is. These sanctified ones are not left to choose their own company, they are each chosen and called of God. The sovereign call of God sets aside the will of men.

These are the two things we desire to specially bring to the consideration of our readers: (1) That the assembly is Christ's own circle, and that this should be owned gladly and practically when it is gathered together; (2) That it is composed of those who are sanctified in Him, that is, set apart for His pleasure, to be at His disposal, separated to Him. All true believers are called to this — they are all saints by calling, and sanctified in Christ Jesus; and they call on the name of the Lord, that is, they own His Lordship. God grant that it may be done in greater reality.

It is not difficult to discern where these great truths are operative in the soul; the marks are lowliness of mind and subduedness of spirit. Alas! we have suffered much from just the opposite. We have known men professedly acting in the name of the Lord, set aside His commandments, and act in His sphere not according to His Word, but according to their own wisdom, which is folly; we have heard them talk of principles and seen them apply them to the hurt and scattering of the saints. We have to confess how little the truth has been in power anywhere; how often it has been held in terms, and how little it has been carried out in practice.

An important question and one that exercises many is, whether it is possible now to act upon the truth as it is presented in this 1st Epistle to Corinth? In some quarters it is definitely denied that we can: that since it is impossible now to gather the whole assembly together in any place, it is presumption for any to endeavour to act upon the full truth as to assembly gathering. We believe that to take that ground is to haul down the colours and surrender the fort. Jude's Epistle was written for days of widespread apostasy, and in it we are exhorted to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints", and surely that includes the whole faith, in which 1 Corinthians has its part. Paul's 2nd Epistle to Timothy was written to help us in these very days in which we live, and there Timothy is told to hand that which he had learned from Paul to faithful men, who would be able to teach others also; surely the truth given in 1 Corinthians had its place in that which Timothy had learned from Paul; and if anything that Paul taught, as having received it from the Lord, has come down to us, it has been committed to us that we might hold it fast as the testimony of the Lord, practise it, and pass it on to others. They are not faithful men who faint and surrender the truth or any part of it because of difficulties, and innumerable difficulties will beset us if we are determined to be faithful men; but in this good fight we shall be only the successors of Paul, and the grace in Christ Jesus that strengthened him to this end will be at our disposal.

"When ye are gathered together"

Three times in the Corinthian Epistle we read of the saints there being gathered together:

1. "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together" (1 Cor. 5:4).

2. "When ye come together therefore into one place" (1 Cor. 11:20).

3. "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place" (1 Cor. 14:23).

It is impossible to gather the whole assembly in any place together now, and this being so it would be nothing less than presumption for any company of Christians to claim to be the assembly of God in any place; yet it is still possible for even 'two or three' to gather together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as they do so, being subject to the truth, their gatherings will have assembly character.

The first of these three gatherings together is special, and most solemn. At Corinth, it was the calling together of the assembly in order to clear the Name of the Lord from complicity with evil. It was for the maintenance of the holiness of His name. It ought not to be difficult to see the necessity of this at the beginning, and it is surely as necessary today. The fellowship to which God called His saints at the beginning was a holy fellowship, for God is holy, and it originated with Him, and we can form no new fellowship; to do so would be to ignore that which was from the beginning; subjection to the Lord carries us back to that. Our Lord's Name is holy, for He is "the holy and the true". The Spirit of God who has formed the assembly and by whose power it only can exist is the Holy Spirit; and the faith which we are to hold together is "our most holy faith", so designated for days of apostasy such as these are. Hence evil must be judged and put away, for even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. Our sin and evil were judged in the Person of our Substitute at the cross, not that we might think lightly of sin and evil, and tolerate it in ourselves and each other, but that we might accept that judgment of it, and be henceforward righteously and practically free from it, keeping the feast with sincerity and truth.

In such matters as these zeal has often outrun knowledge, and care is needed that in them the Word is the guide, and the only guide. Tradition, precedents, policy, and all those things that have so large a place in the ways of men, should have no place here; "the commandments of the Lord" alone are to lead us.

It should be clear that, if a wicked person is "put away from among yourselves", for any to hold to such a person, is to be a partaker of his wickedness. Suppose one is rightly rejected for evil conduct, or for the denial of the truth as to Christ, which is more serious a thousandfold, though not so considered by the majority of Christians — it should be clear to all, that any who persisted in expressing fellowship with such an one must be one with him, and so one with his evil deeds. 2 John tells us that this is so, and surely all ought to see this; and moreover, those who hold to one who is rightly rejected must share his rejection. Fellowship would have no force otherwise. There can be no neutrality, no compromise in such matters as these. All who desire to be consistent with the fellowship into which God has called all His saints, must be zealous as to this; there must be a coming together for this purpose when necessity calls, or the character of the Lord is ignored, and the truth of assembly gathering gone; and the only way, where there is indifference to the presence of evil, is separation, after due patience and grace, for any who would still "Call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:19-22).

The second of these gatherings of the assembly (chap. 11) brings out the love of the heart of the Lord. So much has been written on the Lord's supper, and as we hope to take it up in detail, if the Lord will, in a future paper, we refrain from comments here.

The third of these gatherings is not the least important, for it was designed to promote the edification of the saints, and this surely is imperative if they are to fulfil the will of the Lord; in it comes out the wisdom of the mind of the Lord. The difference between the gathering together of the assembly in chapter 14 and that for the Lord's Supper in chapter 11 is that in the latter the assembly ministers to the Lord, and in the former the Lord ministers to His assembly by the Spirit through His servants, and we are not prepared to say which is the more important of the two, for assuredly both are indispensable to the joy and glory of the Lord, and for the edification and joy of His saints. The two are interdependent upon each other, they are the normal gatherings together of the assembly. It is evident that at Corinth this gathering was greatly abused. Unspiritual men thought more of the display of their own powers than of the edification of the saints and the honour of God's Name, hence there is given this long chapter of reproof and instruction. When the Lord was on earth He maintained in all His ways the honour of God's holy Name, and those same ways yielded a constant stream of blessing to those who came to Him. His assembly should be descriptive of Him. Those who are gathered in His Name should bear His character, consequently there should be these two things constantly maintained — the honour of God's Name and the blessing, not only of those who form part of the gathering, but even of the unbeliever who comes in (vv. 24-25).

Let it be noted that though the carnality of the Corinthians turned these gatherings into profitless and disorderly meetings, the remedy was not their abandonment. Instead, the Apostle instructs them as to what became them when so gathered, and we should do well to carefully and prayerfully consider these "commandments of the Lord".

Gatherings together of the saints of God according to instructions given in this 14th chapter have largely ceased. They come together today for the Lord's Supper, for prayer, for the reading of the Scriptures regularly, but not for meetings of this sort. It is true that there is no meeting more capable of being abused than this; ought it then to be abandoned and something else that man can control substituted in its place? Is it not as incumbent upon us to come together in this way and for this purpose, as it is to come together for other assembly purposes? Is the Lord still the one Lord? Is His Word enough for our guidance still?

But where such gatherings are held, there is often great disappointment in them. A correspondent, who is no mean judge as to things spiritual, writes: —

"If we go to a large meeting [of this kind] we find much time taken up by men who lack spiritual substance. I was at — . The chief feature was the unseemly haste of men whom God never intended to speak. . . The general subject was 'power'. One almost heard the creaking windlass as with aching back the waterman raised the driblet of water from Jacob's well. Scripture presents the artesian well. What a contrast!"

That such a report should be possible is deeply humiliating, and should cause general exercise of heart. The reason for such a state of things is, we believe, lack of faith in the Lord and of subjection to Him. If saints when gathered together were conscious of their interdependence one upon the other, of the importance of true ministry, and of the indispensability of the Lord for this, there would be more waiting upon Him. Better by far to wait upon Him for one hour and have half an hour devoted to profitable ministry than "one continuous stream of orations all day. Prayer non est and the ministry fourth rate", as our correspondent describes another meeting of this sort.

What a different story would be told if there were more of that which marked the saints of God in Malachi's day — the fear of the Lord; if saints gathered together in the sense that they were gathered by God's call, and that the Lord was in the midst of them, that they were not there to act as they pleased, but that they were in Christ's own circle in which He directs by the Spirit as to what pleases Him. This is a matter about which much prayer is needed, and self judgment and confession of failure. We urge upon our readers the necessity of a revival in our souls of the sense of what the assembly is to Christ; what it must be to Him to have His saints gathered together in His Name so that He can manifest Himself to them. We believe that this will only be through much exercise of heart and waiting upon the Lord, and, above all, the keeping of His commandments, by which we prove our love to Him who is our Lord.

Is it not an evidence of lack of faith in the Lord that such gatherings are now only held on special occasions, if they are held at all, and when large numbers are able to come together? Is it not evident that this was one of the usual regular gatherings of the assembly locally, and consequently held as often, at least, as the gathering together for the Supper of the Lord?

We ask these questions that exercise in regard them may be produced.