"The church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood."
Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 10:32; Ephesians 1:22, 23; Revelation 21:9, 10; Ephesians 5:25-27.
In a day like this, beloved friends, when Ritualism, Rationalism, and Churchism are so prominent, it is exceedingly gracious of God to give to His faithful ones clear light from His own word as to the true character of the Church of God. To the Christian its importance cannot be overrated; for as God is in this dispensation forming and building up the Church, the body of Christ, if the soul be not in communion with Him about that Church, which Christ loved and purchased with His own blood, and which will ere long be presented to Himself a glorious Church, — I say, if the Christian be not in communion with God about that, how can he have clear light on other parts of the truth, which are put before us either in contrast or in connection with it?
The Church of God is an entirely new thing. And when I say "new," I mean new as in contrast with all the former dispensations. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, there were only two classes of persons found in the world — Jews and Gentiles. But since the Holy Ghost came down, consequent upon the blood-shedding and glorification of Christ in the heavens, we have three things presented to us as co-existing in the world; therefore I read that Scripture in confirmation of it" Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God." There are these three classes then in the world at this present moment — Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God.
Let me also say, beloved friends, that the Church of God is not revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. Do not be startled at this announcement, I beseech you, because if you follow me patiently, I trust you will see that the Scriptures fully warrant the statement. I do not say that we do not get in the Old Testament symbols of the Church; I am sure we do. Adam and Eve were symbolical of Christ and the Church. But what I said was, that we get no distinct revelation in the Old Testament Scriptures of the Church of God. In fact, if we had only the Old Testament Scriptures, we should not have had an idea that there was such a thing as the Church of God. I am, however, prepared for objections to this; and will now try to meet such as seem to me worth considering.
Some people say that the prophet Isaiah is full of the Church of God, and that most of the Old Testament prophets have written many beautiful descriptions of the Church of God. But in order to give a shadow of a proof of this they interpret "Jerusalem" to be the Church, the "house of David" to be the Church, "Zion" to be the Church, and I don't know what else to be the Church, without, as far as I can see, any authority whatever for so doing. But you will find, with regard to the prophet Isaiah, that the book is headed with these words: "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." And therefore, whilst the Holy Ghost, in writing the Scriptures, might underlie and interlace most precious truths which we can now take up and use for our edification, yet it is clear that the plain instruction of these Scriptures has reference to the nation and people of Israel, and not to the Church of God.
To those who may feel a little surprised at my questioning the right or wisdom of what they call spiritualizing the Old Testament Scriptures, or at my raising a question whether the words "Jerusalem," "house of David," "Zion," etc., mean the Church, I would say, consider with me two Scriptures. One in Micah, third chapter and twelfth verse: "Zion shall be ploughed like a field." Now is that the Church? To say such a thing would be an absurdity; for we know as a fact that it has had its literal accomplishment for many years, as travellers have frequently seen. In the second psalm we find the other Scripture to which I refer: "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." Where is that? Can it possibly be any other than the literal mount Zion, where God's King by-and-by will actually reign? Surely Christ is not King in relation to the Church. Do not for a moment suppose that Christ is reigning over the Church like a king reigns over his subjects. No, my beloved friends, as I tried to show you lately, the believer is one with Christ ascended — a joint-heir with Christ; and whatever Christ will inherit believers will share with Him as His joint-heirs. Yes, blessed be God, we shall share with Him the honour, glory, dignity, and wealth of the inheritance to which He is entitled as heir of all things. This is a very different thing from being reigned over; and these two Scriptures ought to be enough to show the unwarrantableness of asserting that Zion means the Church.
The second objection perhaps that would be brought to the statement, that the Church of God was not revealed in the last dispensation, would be a passage mentioned in the seventh chapter of the Acts. In the thirty-eighth verse we find the words, "This is He that was with the Church in the wilderness." Now there we see at once an apparent difficulty, because it seems to assert that the Church was known in a former dispensation; but there is no reality in it, when you consider the thing fairly. The same word that is here translated "church" is twice translated in the nineteenth chapter "assembly." In the thirty-ninth verse of that chapter we find, "It shall be determined in a lawful assembly;" that is, in one of the ordinary courts of law at Ephesus. And in the forty-first verse, "He dismissed the assembly." That is, He dismissed the crowd that made the uproar. Precisely the same word is here translated "assembly" as we find translated "church" in the seventh chapter. But further, consider for a moment what the assembly was in the wilderness. Was it not so rebellious, sinful, and unfaithful that not one of that immense congregation except Joshua and Caleb entered the land? Could we then gravely think of that being the Church? Let me be clear on this point. The word for "assembly" is also translated "church" in the New Testament; but why I read the verse from the first chapter of the Ephesians was to show that the assembly which we call the Church of God is there defined to be the body of Christ — "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."
Again, those who are acquainted with the book of the prophet Isaiah will remember that there is a passage which has been used by very many as supposed to refer to the Church of God. It is in the nineteenth verse of the twenty-sixth chapter: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." I have read the passage with the italics, which, as every body knows, are not in the original. These words were put in with the best intentions by the translators, in order, as they thought, to give the passage a better sense; but, omitting the italics, the verse reads, "Thy dead men shall live, my dead body (or my carcase) shall they arise." The simple meaning of it is, that the Jewish people will by-and-by be brought out of the state of dust and death in which they now are. If you read it in connection with the whole chapter, you will not find the slightest difficulty with the passage. The plain and obvious meaning is, that Israel, in a dead state, likened to a dead body or carcase, shall, by-and-by, at the times of restitution of all things, be brought into the wondrous blessing predicted by the prophets. This must, however, be preceded by judgment; hence, in the last verses, the people are instructed to hide themselves until the inhabitants of the earth are punished for their iniquity.
In the 139th Psalm there is another passage which has often been brought forward in proof of giving us a plain revelation as to the Church of God. In the 14th verse it is written, "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." Omit the italics from this passage, and you will see, in reading these verses in connection, that the subject spoken of is the creation of the natural body; though from the knowledge we now have, we can easily see that it may also have a figurative application.
These are the chief objections, as far as I am aware, that intelligent persons would raise to the statement I have made, that we do not find the Church of God revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. And in the New Testament we have the plainest possible intimation that it was not so revealed. For instance, in the third chapter to the Ephesians, it is written" For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel."
Here we get the distinct statement that "the mystery" was revealed to Paul the apostle, and that it had not been made known to others "as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets." And particularly observe one thing here. The order is always "apostles and prophets," not "prophets and apostles." In the second chapter the Church is spoken of as "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." And so, with regard to gifts, "He gave some apostles, and some prophets," to show that the prophets of the New Testament are referred to, and not the Old Testament prophets. If it had been the latter, the order would have been prophets and apostles; but, as I have said, it is always the reverse — "apostles and prophets." Hence we have "as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets."
But the difficulty might be raised, that it was partially revealed to the Old Testament saints, although it was not then fully brought out as it was to Paul. But if we go a little further down this third chapter to the Ephesians, we find in the 9th verse, "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God." Mark that expression, "hid in God." It does not even say, "hid in the Scriptures;" but declares that the mystery of the Church, the body of Christ, was not revealed, but "hid in God." And in the sixteenth chapter to the Romans we are told that "the revelation of the mystery was kept secret since the world began." So that the Church of God is a new and special revelation — a thing that was not known until it was revealed to "His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit."
There is another thing which we ought now to enter into a little; viz., that the Church had no existence (save in God's purpose) until after the death and resurrection of Christ. The first mention, I believe, that we have of the Church in Scripture is in the 16th chapter of the gospel by Matthew. Christ had been virtually rejected by the nation of Israel. In the 12th chapter they went about to destroy Him; and in the beginning of the 16th chapter he speaks of them as an adulterous generation. Further on, in reply to Peter's confession of Him as the Christ the Son of the living God, Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my Church." This is the first time the Church is mentioned. It did not come out until after Christ had been rejected by Israel; and if you read the 21st verse, you will find, "From that time forth," Jesus began to speak of His sufferings, death, and resurrection. The distinction is most beautiful, because prior to that, at least to the end of the 12th chapter, the testimony of John the forerunner of Christ, and the testimony of Christ Himself, was to the kingdom. John's ministry was "repent" — not, for the Church is at hand, but "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And when John was put into prison, Christ came forth and took up the same ministry Himself, uttering the same words, "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In the tenth chapter He sends out His twelve disciples to preach that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The result was, that this testimony met with almost universal rejection; so that instead of welcoming the Messiah to set up the kingdom, they actually went about to destroy Him. Then, when Peter confesses, "Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God," Jesus says, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona." He tells Peter he is a blessed man; and added, that He purposed to build His Church. Now, can anything be clearer than that the Church was then a prospective thing; it was not then in existence. It was His intention to build it. Therefore, at that time, it was a thing in the future. You will also find in the first chapter of the Acts, after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, He says, "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." And we see that actually fulfilled in the second chapter, when the Holy Ghost came down. In the fifth verse of the first chapter of the Acts we read of Jesus saying to His disciples, (those very people on whom He had breathed, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost,") — "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." Accordingly, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost came down. For what? He came down and sat upon each of those believers, so that they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. But you may say, "What has that to do with the formation of the Church of God?" It has everything to do with it. That was the time when the Church of God began to be formed upon the earth. Therefore, at the end of the chapter, we read that "the Lord added" — to what? To the nation of Israel? No. To the disciples? No. What then? "The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." In confirmation of this, turn to the 12th chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, and you will find in the 13th verse, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." No doubt there had always been believers, with more or less distinctness of apprehension of the coming Redeemer, from Adam downwards. Adam evidently had faith in the Redeemer, as well as Abel, Enoch, and a host of others. They were justified by the blood of the promised sacrifice. They had life and righteousness, and they will be everlastingly blessed. But they were always individuals — "just men;" they were always units. But since the Holy Ghost came down, there is no such thing as being merely an individual Christian. The Spirit has formed a unity, and enjoins us to keep it. In saying this I am not setting aside individual responsibility, because I know that exists; but what God is building now on the earth is a body, a corporation, so to speak, of believers in a crucified, risen, and ascended Saviour, who are actually in God's sight baptized by the Holy Ghost into "one body," in union with Christ, the ascended Head in heaven. Therefore, I trust, we can enter a little into the meaning of these words in the first of Ephesians: "The Church, which is His body." And let me say, beloved friends, that I cannot conceive any calling higher, any dignity greater; or a more blessed or more gracious way in which God could deal with His creatures, than in thus bringing each believer into direct union with the risen Son of His love in heaven, and in union with one another, by one indwelling Holy Spirit. Some years ago there was a clerical meeting in the town in which I was residing. A Christian passing through the street was attracted, like many others, with the sight of a number of clergymen going into the hotel. Whilst there, he found himself standing beside a Jew, who resided in the town. This Jew turned to the Christian and said, "I was just thinking what a miserable imitation this is of our glorious vestments and temple. Instead of these vestments, oh, think of the garments of glory and beauty! and instead of that building, think of our glorious temple! What a miserable imitation this is of our religion." The Christian turned to the Jew, and said, "I entirely agree with you. I am not there at all. I readily accord you all the blessings of earth, and all the blessings of earthly religion, earthly grandeur, vestments, ordinances, and temple; they are yours. I am not there at all. I am up there" (pointing to the heavens). He then inquired of the Jew where he resided? The Jew kindly informed him. "I will call and see you, if you will allow me, in a few days," said he; and they parted. He called on this Jew, and was kindly received; for I suppose the Jew was astonished to find any Christian who was willing to accord to his people all their privileges, and all the grandeur of their religion. The Christian took a Testament out of his pocket, and having read to the Jew the first few verses of the first chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, he said, "I am not where you are at all; I am in Christ in the heavens; I am blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Him. Christ is my life. Christ is my righteousness. I have redemption through His blood. I am united to Him, and all believers are united together in Him, by one Spirit, and baptized into one body." Now, what do you think this intelligent Jew said to that? His answer was something like this. "Of course, I don't believe it; but if that were true, it would be the finest emanation from God that could possibly be conceived." But, beloved friends, we know that it is true; and the lost and sin-stricken soul who has received Christ as his Saviour, and bows to the revealed truth of God, gladly rejoices in these wondrous blessings. It is quite true that Christians have slipped away from the enjoyment of this place of blessing into which God has put them; yet, thank God, the fact has not altered through our failure. We are not only in Christ, who is seated in the heavens, but we belong to Christ here, we are united to Him by the Holy Ghost as members of His body; so that He can speak of us in the fifth of Ephesians as "members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." And most blessed is it to see that the death of Christ is the foundation and security of these marvellous blessings. He died that He "might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad."
Bear with me, beloved friends, in this digression. I will now proceed with the consideration of the point, that the Church of the living God — the body of Christ had no existence until after the death of Jesus. How could it, if Christ was not Head till He ascended? but if we turn to Ephesians 2 we shall find a text that, to my mind, settles the matter. In the fifteenth verse it is written, "Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace." This shows that Christ did something, "in His flesh," which completely settled every question as to the law of commandments in ordinances. This He did by His death on the cross by bearing the curse of the law. He took it out of the way, having abolished it in His flesh. For what was it taken out of the way? Why was Christ to satisfy every requirement of the law, and to be nailed to the cross, and made a curse for it? As it is written, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." Why was that? To bring in a better thing. That is, Christ died to take away one thing and to bring in another. The second then could not be formed till the first was abolished. We have seen what was abolished. The question now is, What was this that was formed? We are told, "one new man;" in other words, the Church of God. You see that it is the figure of a body that is used here. For Christ is the head, and believers are the members. The head and members form the man. Therefore Christ and His members are this "one new man," formed or created in Himself. It is made up of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, thus of the twain, united by one Spirit in Christ as Head, we have this new workmanship of God — "one new man."
Nothing, I think, can be more conclusive than that the Church of God has this new, special, and unique character. It may be well to notice what is said, or rather what is omitted, in the book of Daniel, as to the Church not having been revealed till Paul's day, or not in existence on earth till the descent of the Holy Ghost. Where prophetic truth is recorded, according as the angel gave Daniel concerning the nation of Israel, there is a niche in which this might have come in, if it had been the mind of God to have revealed it then. But it was not. And therefore concerning this niche, which in point of time has already occupied well nigh two thousand years, Daniel is perfectly silent. What Daniel prophesied about was his own people; but his people — the nation of Israel — is one thing; and the Church of God, united to the living Head in heaven, is another. In this famous prophecy of seventy weeks, as recorded in the ninth chapter, we find that the particulars are unbroken until the sixty-ninth week, when the Messiah was "cut off" It takes us uninterruptedly down to the death of Christ. Ever since the death of Christ the gap has continued. You would not suppose from that prophecy that there was any thing like the Church of God to come in between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. The instruction being about the nation of Israel who rejected the Messiah, this present time is entirely unnoticed; and he goes on to the seventieth week, as if it would have immediately followed the death of the Messiah. This period has been occupied with the calling out of the Church of God; for the seventieth week has not yet begun; so that until the Church is completed and taken away, the last week of this prophecy will not begin to have its accomplishment.
I have thus sought to establish from Scripture that the Church of God is a new thing, "one body," and peculiar to this dispensation; that it began to be formed on earth by the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, who baptized believers, and still baptizes them, into one body. This, I repeat, is going on, and will continue to go on, till every member is united to the Head, and the body fully formed. As far as we know the body may now be well nigh completed. When it is completed, the Lord will come from heaven for us; and when the Church is removed, He will deal again with Jews and Gentiles as such. This subject is immensely important, as giving us a knowledge of what God is about now, and fellowship with Him by the Spirit in it. How impossible it is for a believer to understand according to God's mind what is going on in the present day, if he has not this key which God in His great love has given! But not only is the subject important as giving us intelligence concerning God's present ways, but it influences immensely the practical ways of Christians in testimony for the Lord, in conduct to one another, and in service to Christ. Satan has certainly wrought a most impoverishing work amongst Christians, in robbing them of the plain Scripture teaching of the peculiar calling, characteristics, and hope of the Church of God as distinct from Gentiles and Jews. It is evident that what Satan is about, and what many Christians are connected with and helping on, to their great loss and the Lord's dishonour, is a mixture of heathenism, Judaism, and Christianity. Bear with me, beloved friends. Look at the ecclesiastical architecture of the day. What is it? Is it not often an imitation of heathen temples that were once of such magnificence and grandeur in eastern parts? And if you search into a good deal of the religiousness round about us, (I speak with the greatest respect and love for every Christian; it is the system only that I speak against,) you will find that it is more or less connected with what is legal and Jewish, but, of course, blended with some truths of Christianity. But you cannot be connected with a mixture of this kind without terrible damage and loss. If you are a true believer in Christ, you are not now a Gentile nor a Jew. Being united to a risen Christ, you have lost your Gentile standing or Jewish standing; for your are in Him. You are formed by Him into a new thing. You belong to the "one new man" — the body of Christ — the Church of God; and I believe it will be a most profitable time for that Christian tonight who may see for the first time that there are three things at this moment in the world, — Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God. And there are these three things in this town. There are Jews here. All those who are not Jews are Gentiles, if they are in their sins; and those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, whether before Jews or Gentiles, are united to Christ, and because they are united to Christ they belong to the Church of God. Some thoughts current about the Church are very erroneous. Man says, "You must belong to our Church if you would belong to Christ." Never was anything more thoroughly untrue. Scripture teaches that you cannot belong to the Church of God unless by union with Christ. No ordinance, be it baptism or anything else, will give you a place in the Church of God. "By one Spirit [that is, by the Holy Ghost] are we all baptized into one body."
It is of the greatest importance that every child of God should see what he belongs to, what he is delivered from, where he is brought, and what God says of him. He should not be satisfied merely with knowing that he is a true believer. For instance, in the epistle to the Colossians Paul did not doubt that they were believers. He thanked God for their faith in Christ Jesus, and for the love which they had to all saints. He was thankful also that they were walking orderly, and were steadfast in the faith. But, in the beginning of the second chapter, he tells us that he was in great conflict, or rather in great agony, for those dear saints. He says he rejoiced at their faith, and love, and godliness in some respects, and yet he had this agony. Why was it that he was so distressed for them? He tells us "that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God." That is, he could not rest till their souls were established in the truth of the Church the body of Christ, the practical acknowledgment of the mystery. The mystery is defined in the sixth verse of the third chapter of Ephesians, "that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." As we have seen, at the conclusion of the second chapter of the Acts, there was a body formed on the day of Pentecost; but they were Jews. After God's testimony by the apostles and by Stephen had been rejected, the mystery was revealed to Paul. The Lord came down from heaven to him, and said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" That is to say, "Why persecutest thou the members of my body?" There was the revelation of the mystery — part of it at all events. Suppose a person takes a stick, and gives you a heavy blow on your arm or leg, you do not say, Why do you beat my arm or leg? but Why do you beat me? So believers in Christ are His body, and the Lord said to Saul, "Why persecutest thou me?" As believers therefore form the body of Christ, we can see why Paul was anxious that the Colossians should not come short of the blessed truth; for he knew there would be no knitting together of heart, no acting together according to the Lord's mind, unless they knew this blessed truth of being one body, and indwelt by by one Spirit. Here, I believe, we have the true secret of forming the Christian character, moulding the affections, ministering to the heart, guiding the life, and stirring the devotedness and service of the children of God. And I believe that no Christian will fully walk for the glory of God, who is ignorant of what His mind is concerning the Church. How can he? who does not feel his inmost soul moved within him when he knows that he is a member of the body of Christ, formed by the Holy Ghost, and thus united to that blessed living Head who is glorified in the heavens? Nor should it be overlooked, that the apostle traces the errors with which they were associated to their "not holding the Head." It was not that they did not hold Christ as Saviour and Lord, but they were not in their souls on the ground of the one body, which is united to Christ in the heavens. They were not holding the Head. This is a most important point, as the second of Colossians clearly shows; and perhaps no truth is more needed in the present day. The glories of Him in whom dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily — the Head of the body the Church; and consequently our relationship to Him, and to one another, and separation from the world, clearly apprehended in the soul, will keep us from a thousand errors, and guide our feet in ways according to our Lord's mind. If we are really holding the Head, every member of that body must be an object of interest, affection, and prayer; and what is due to Christ will not be overlooked.
Let me ask you to consider another question: How did Paul treat the disorders at Corinth? You know in what a sad state the Corinthian assembly was. One of the remedies, at all events, was to instruct them in this truth. He writes to them, as we have it in the twelfth and fourteenth chapters of his first epistle, that he would not have them ignorant concerning spiritual gifts, and the one body, and how they were to act toward each other as members of the same body, and how to behave themselves in the assembly, especially in relation to the Holy Ghost and the exercise of gifts. He would have them understand for their practical conduct these things. He says: "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." There are weighty obligations to Christ in connection with these truths. On these obligations much might be said, were there not other things to occupy our attention now. Suffice it to say, that our place as members of the body of Christ is to hold Him the Head — not only as Saviour, but as Head of the body; to be faithful to Him who is our Lord; to be subject to Him as the wife is subject to the husband; to honour Christ; to serve Christ; to show forth the characteristics of Christ. This is Christianity; and there is no other Christianity than serving and honouring the Lord Jesus Christ, and waiting for Him. The Thessalonian saints "turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven."
The next point that we have to consider is the coming glory of the Church. The blessed Lord will come for her Himself. His heart is set upon that Church which He loved and gave Himself for; and He is looking forward to present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Hence, in the last chapter of the Revelation, He three times says, "Behold, I come quickly!" to which the faithful are supposed to reply, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
He will come again for His church; therefore it is written, that "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout," and that we shall all be changed — changed in a moment. This is what is coming. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — only think of this in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye: for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, and whether we are alive or in the grave, (like many who have gone before,) we shall all be changed. The Lord is looking forward to this. He says in the seventeenth chapter of John, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." Those who have gone before are also looking forward to this. Perfect as we know their happiness is as "present with the Lord," in the condition they are in, they as yet have not their bodies, and are looking forward for the Lord to come, when their bodies shall be raised and united to their spirits, and they will have a body capable of entering into the joys of eternal glory, as one with Christ, for they are His own flesh and bone. In the same way every believer ought to be looking forward to His coming, and one can thank God for the change that has come over many Christians in this respect. Thirty years ago a man who held the truth of the second coming of the Lord was almost thought to have lost his senses. But now there are thousands who hold steadfastly to this important doctrine as divine truth. I doubt not that the Lord is quickly coming; and this is why He is wakening up the saints to the truth of His coming. Surely, the voice has gone forth, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh. Go ye out to meet Him." Happy those who are waiting for Him; for it is a most rejoicing, soul-comforting, and purifying truth.
The first stage, then, so to speak, in the coming glory is this change, and then translation — to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Enoch was translated before the judgments were poured out upon the world; and that is what we are expecting. Do you not see how blessed this is? What would satisfy your hearts? Nothing but seeing Christ. Well, that is what you, dear Christians, shall have. Only be patient and you shall have it ere long. In a little while we shall see His face, and then
"We shall sing more sweet, more loud,
And Christ shall be our song."
You remember how Mephibosheth's heart was set upon the king, and that during his absence he so deeply sympathized with him in his rejection, that he "neither dressed his feet nor trimmed his beard;" and when his eyes lighted upon the king himself, he could think of nothing else, and cared for nothing else. He had David, what could he wish for more? Let Ziba or others have all the land, was the utterance of his grateful heart, for as much as "my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house." And the first glance of our eyes on our precious Lord will so fill our souls with joy, that we shall readily exclaim,
Jesus is mine.
Jesus is mine.
Yes, we shall then have full possession of what we have so longed for. Our joy will be perfect; our happiness complete. We shall see that blessed Saviour, whom having not seen we love. Yes,
"We shall hear His voice, and see His face, And know the fulness of His grace."
"In my Father's house," said Jesus, "there are many mansions" [many abodes]; and "I go to prepare a place for you." There are many abodes in heaven, but there is a special place for the Church; and He is gone to prepare that place, that where He is there we may be also. You will be there, fellow Christian, as certain as you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. His word is true; His promise is sure; He cannot deny Himself. You will be there in the Father's house, and in that very place which Jesus has prepared for you by His own presence, and the sacrifice of His own blood.
When we are changed and translated, taken to the Father's house, the presentation will take place. We have already referred to the fifth chapter of Ephesians, where we are told that "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it . .. that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Then Jesus will have before Him all those who form the body of Christ, the bride of the Lamb, the Church of the living God. Yes, He will present her to Himself. His loving heart will then feel — "This is the Church that I love, this is the Church that I purchased, this is the Church that is dearer to my heart than myself, this is my bride, to whom I am united for ever." What must it be to have Jesus presenting us to Himself We are exceedingly happy in Him now, but, as a dear friend said to me the other day, when we see the blessed Jesus, there will be such a gush of love! Who can describe it? for our best thoughts are but poor. But what then? There will be the judgment seat, and we shall be manifested before it; the judgment seat of that blessed One who so loves us. I tried to show in the first lecture that the believer has been already judged and put to death as a sinner, in Christ his substitute, on the cross; so that now we are alive in a risen Christ, and death and judgment are behind us. But then, say you, What is the meaning of the passage, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ," which we find in the fifth chapter of the second of Corinthians? It refers to those spoken of in the first verse of the same chapter: "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." This describes those who are referred to in the tenth verse. They know they are perfectly safe, and that heavenly glory is secured for them. Nay, more; they know that they have the Holy Ghost, and say, "Therefore we are always confident." Be assured, then, there is not a question to be raised about our salvation at that judgment seat. That was all settled on the cross, and we have the Holy Ghost as the earnest of our inheritance. In fact, we shall not appear there till we have glorified bodies, and are eternally happy in the love of Christ, and in the personal enjoyment of His glorious presence. Suppose any of you went away from your house for twelve months, and that you left three or four children in charge during your absence. When you came back, would you not have a judgment seat? You would call together those to whom you had committed the trust, and would commend one who had been faithful, reprove, perhaps, another who had not carried out your wishes, would tell a third, possibly, that he might have done better. So at the judgment seat of Christ, each will "receive of the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Thus, you see, it is a question of stewardship, and not a question of salvation at all. Knowing this, it is important that the believer should live and walk so as to be able to say, "I am doing this or that with the judgment seat of Christ straight before me." In this way the heart will be kept true to Christ.
But what will happen to the saints in heaven after this? Why a great deal, I doubt not, more than we know but we do know that there will be that most glorious event, the marriage of the Lamb. I apprehend that when Christ comes, according to the fifteenth chapter of the first of Corinthians, they that are His will be caught up to meet Him. This will include more than those who are members of the body — the Church of God. It will include all the saints all who have believed in the Redeemer from Adam down to that time. "They that are Christ's" will be caught up to enter upon the enjoyment of their heavenly blessings will be taken up to meet the Lord, and be for ever with Him. We shall be then enjoying the presence of the Lord before the glories of the kingdom are manifested, and while judgments are poured out upon men on the earth. But after a certain time the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation will have its fulfilment, when it will be said, "the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready." Now, without being dogmatic, it seems to me in this part of the nineteenth chapter, that the saints then in heaven are divided into two companies; viz., those who compose "the Lamb's wife," and those who are "called to the marriage." Things then take a decided and special form; afterwards all will come out of heaven following Jesus, when He conies in flaming fire to execute righteous wrath and indignation upon the wicked. When it is said, "The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready," I apprehend the instruction is, that until that time all those saints will have been in heaven without the Church having taken her distinctive place among them. For, as I have tried to show, the Church has a distinct and special calling, as the bride, and the body of Christ; so that the making ready applies to those who compose the Church of God taking an aggregate form. They will then manifestly and formally, if I may so say, take their position as the bride of the Lamb. The rest of the heavenly saints, as I judge, are set before us as occupying another place, as called ones to the marriage — spectators, if you please. In the fourth chapter they seem all together, under the name of "elders;" but when those who form the Church, the bride of Christ, take the special place which, in God's grace and purpose, is assigned them, we never get the word "elders" used after. We read of those who "are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" that is, as I have said, they are there as guests, or spectators. I do not doubt that they will be eternally happy and blessed, and be associated with Christ in the reign; but what position they may hold in the glory I do not know that we are told. But we do know that the Church of God, the body and bride of Christ, has always a distinctive place in Scripture.
What next are we to expect? There will be manifestation; for that is the purpose of God. The apostle Paul tells us that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now;" and he adds that it is waiting for "the manifestation of the sons of God." No person knows now who "the sons of God" are. You may go into a town where there are hundreds or thousands of Christians living, and not know who they are; they are not manifested. But the will of God is, that they shall be manifested — manifested to the world; "that the world may know," said Jesus, "that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me." This was the prayer of Christ in the seventeenth of John. We read also, in the first chapter of the second epistle to the Thessalonians, that "the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." It does not say to be glorified by His saints, but to be glorified in them. That is to say, we shall be like a number of tiny vessels, into which He will pour His own glory, and the world will see what the riches of the grace of God to us in Christ have been. So that when we are manifested with Christ the world will look up and know that we are the people who were redeemed by the blood of Christ. They will see us sharing His glory, vessels of glory, showing forth His praise. Every dear one in Christ will be a vessel bearing the glory of Christ before the world. Christ will then be glorified and admired in those who believe. Do think of this manifestation; and not only so, but think, as we read in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, that when the heavens are opened, and one comes out riding upon a white horse, that the armies which follow Christ will be not only the Church, but all the saints who have a place in the heavenlies. At that time, think also what it must be to be associated with Christ in judgment on the living wicked, to be sharing with Christ in His reign over the earth, to be associated with Christ in His judgment of the wicked dead at the great white throne, and to be eternally with Him — "for ever with the Lord." But we expect to be especially manifested to the world as the bride, the Lamb's wife. This is brought out in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation, where we are told that an angel called the attention of the apostle John to the fact that he was going to show him — now mark! — show him what? "the bride, the Lamb's wife." (v. 9.) You see it is the wife now. The marriage is spoken of as having taken place in the nineteenth chapter. The angel says, "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." He does not say, "I will show you a city." And I call particular attention to this, because I do not believe it to be a literal city at all. People talk about the golden gates, and streets, and precious stones, as if they referred to a literal city. I believe it to be a symbolic city. It is as plain as possible that John was called to see the bride and we are told that the angel then showed him a city. So also when the apostle had to see the harlot Babylon, as mentioned in the eighteenth chapter, he was again showed a city. But surely Babylon is not a literal city. We are told that in her was found "the blood of all that were slain upon the earth." So I understand from this chapter that the Church will come down from God out of heaven, and that those of the nations who are saved will walk in the light of it. You have seen the bright, beautiful sun suspended over your heads, shedding forth its light, so dazzling that you dared not look at its glory. So I believe people who are saved will look up, and see the bride, the Lamb's wife — bright and perfect according to the divine mind, and clothed with the glory of God. She will shine with light "like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." We are told here that she had in her foundation the names of the apostles and in Ephesians that she is built upon the foundation of the apostles, for they were its doctrinal founders. The Church began to be built on earth at Pentecost. This beautiful picture, in the twenty-first chapter, brings us into the millennium, a period of blessing on the earth for a thousand years. You say, How do you know that? Is it not a picture of the eternal state? No; because we are told that "the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." And we find it afterwards stated, that in the eternal state there will be "no more death, neither sorrow nor crying." The millennium, though a time of inconceivable blessedness on earth, will nevertheless be an imperfect condition of things. There will be sin, death, and curse, as the sixty-fifth of Isaiah teaches. The period too is limited to a thousand years. There will be "nations" then who will walk in the light of this city; but I do not understand that there will be nations in the eternal state. People boast of nationality; let them go back to the tower of Babel, and consider the sad history of how nationalities came into existence. The Lord Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, and to bring in a new creation.
Thus far we have traced the Scriptures a little as to the Church of God and her coming glory; but we must add a thought or two more as to the eternal state, because the subject would be incomplete without it. The Church, the bride and body of Christ, has eternal qualities. is not only eternal in the sense that it has eternal salvation, but the believer, who now belongs to the Church of God, will always belong to the Church of God. In proof of this, I will only refer to two texts. In the second chapter of Ephesians, which is an epistle emphatically treating of the Church, we are told that God hath made us to "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." Now mark the words "in the ages to come." The millennium is one age. What follows the millennium is the eternal state ages of ages; and therefore I apprehend this one text proves that the Church, as such, will occupy a special and unique position throughout eternity. But there is another text, if it be necessary, which is still more decided on the point. In the concluding verse of the third chapter it is said, "Unto him be glory in the Church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end." Here the Church is spoken of as existing as such "throughout all ages." Nothing can be clearer.
A few words in conclusion. Are there any here who are not in Christ? My beloved friends, what a mercy you are out of hell! Thank God you are not in outer darkness! The mercy of God alone has kept you from the bottomless pit! Dear friends, you will never have this glory of which we have been speaking if you are out of Christ. You may be as religious as you like, as devoted as you desire in acts of kindness; you may say over your accustomed forms of prayer ten thousand times a day; still, the one vital question is, Are you in Christ? If you are in Christ, you are saved; you belong to the Church of God; you are heirs of the coming glory; you will be for ever with the Lord. But oh! if you go away from this place rejecting Him — if you go on to refuse the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, the time of terrible judgment will most surely come. You may die, and be respectably buried, and friends may deeply mourn your loss; but wherever you are, living or dead, Christ, who is the Lord of all, will assuredly find you out. He will bring you to His feet. He will so thoroughly convict you, that you shall not be able to look up, or to answer one word. You will be speechless. He will condemn you to outer darkness, with the devil and his angels, for ever. Do consider, dear souls, what crimson, scarlet sins and guilt you carry about with you. Come, then, to the Lord Jesus just as you are, that you may rejoice in Him as your Saviour; for "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" You may not neglect your honest duties; you may not neglect to say prayers; you may not neglect to go to church or chapel; you may not neglect to read the Scriptures; but, dear souls, you neglect salvation; you neglect Christ; you refuse Him as your Saviour. What can be worse? You are, therefore, on the road to eternal perdition. Oh, that you may now acknowledge the rich mercy of God in giving His only begotten Son to die for poor ruined sinners like you and me that whosoever — observe "whosoever" — whether rich or poor, profligate or moral — "whosoever," grey-headed or youthful — "whosoever" you are, or whatever be your history, condition, or character, if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, He declares that you "shall not perish, but have everlasting life." Poor, dear, dying sinner, these are the loving words of that blessed Lord Jesus, who is now in glory looking down upon you. And He is still true to His word, that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish. There is nothing for you to do; He has done everything to save sinners. Yes, "Jesus did it, did it all, Long, long ago," that "whosoever believeth on Him might not perish, but have eternal life." Do not be afraid of this sinner-loving Jesus, the Lamb of God, who delighteth in mercy.
Dear friends, I warn you tonight. Do you ask, What must I do to be saved? I say again that there is nothing for you to do — it has all been done — but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; that is, take Him at His word, rest on His finished work, His sin-cleansing blood. You may be sure He will be true to what He says. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."