J. A. Trench.
Christian Friend vol. 15, 1888, p. 169.
My Dear H-, I was delighted to get a letter from you, and to hear of blessing round you, and amongst those you are with. And now I trust this question of the truth of the ground upon which you stand, which hitherto has been made so easy for you, has only come up to make it the more real, through the exercise to your own soul.
Many of us have had to fight our way into the path against the circumstances, that, brought up as you have been, have been, as it might seem, favourable to you. But no one can escape exercise of soul in having to do with God and His truth, and so it meets you in this form.
It is a precious principle of God, that "if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Even the clearest truth without this fails to give the light we need, though with the eye single to Christ, as our object, the truth will not be withheld. But what constant diligence of heart, seeking to keep ourselves before God that His Word may detect the heart's being diverted by any other - it needs, that He Who gave Himself for me may shine in the excellency and glory before the eye of my soul: that takes the light and power out of all that would divert in attracting or distracting from Him; then the eye will see clearly to discern between men's maxims and motives and principles and God's. And how great the contrast!
But now what is God's object for the glory of Christ in this present time on earth? What is He doing? Are there given us in His Word principles to form and direct our path in everything? Or are we left free, through lack of these, to choose for ourselves in anything? Is the question a worthy one for our redeemed souls, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
The answer is found in the revelation of the mystery of which Paul's epistles are so full. See Rom. 16:25, 26; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:3-11, Eph. 5:23-32; Col. 1:24-27, Col. 2:2, 3; namely, the eternal counsels of God for Christ, that when His work was done, and He was raised from the dead and glorified, He should have the Church given Him as His body. It is formed by the Holy Ghost, come down from that glory where He has first taken His place as its Head, of all who have received the glad tidings of their salvation, who are thus united to their Head as His body, and to one another by the indwelling Holy Ghost.
This body is the only one we find in Scripture - "The Church, which is His body." (Eph 1:22, 23.) In Eph. 1 the general standpoint (so to speak) of the truth presented to us, whether of our individual position (4-7), the inheritance or of our corporate position, is that of God's counsels in eternity. Hence here, and here only, as far as I am aware, the body is presented as the complete number of all who are Christ's, from the coming of the Holy Ghost to His coming - each little one of His necessary to "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all," from Pentecost till He comes. Of course myriads of these have fallen asleep, and, their bodies in the grave, their spirits are with Christ, awaiting with Him the moment we await here away from Him, i.e., the resurrection morning.
If this were the only aspect of the Church given us in Scripture (and this is as far as most evangelical Christians see), it would be impossible to act on the truth of it, the most part of those who compose it being out of the scene of action. But it is not so. When we take the Word, we find that in every other passage where the body of Christ is spoken of, it is an existing company on earth that is in question. This flows from the great leading fact of the Church's existence, i.e., that the Holy Ghost who has formed the body (1 Cor. 12:12, 13), and maintains it in its unity, has come down upon earth and dwells, as to His given place,* for the glory of the Son of God in the Church on earth.
*As to His given place, I say, because, as God, of course He is in heaven and everywhere just as Jesus could say when on earth, because of His divine glory, "The Son of man which is in heaven." (John 3:13.) As to the place of the Holy Ghost - on earth dwelling in the believer - see John 14, 15, 16, where this is largely developed in its individual aspects. For His corporate presence see 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:22; and, as to its effects, 1 Cor. 12:7-13, where we have the manifestation of His presence in gifts, which clearly do not belong to heaven but to earth.
Thus, for instance, see 1 Cor. 12:25-27, addressing the Corinthians, the apostle treats them as the body of Christ in Corinth; responsible to express this their existing unity on earth, by having mutual care for each other, suffering and rejoicing together, if one member suffer or be honoured. All this of course is out of the range of those who have passed into the Lord's presence. They belong to the unity of the body, and will be manifested as such in glory, but for the time being they have passed out of the sphere where the Holy Ghost has formed the body, and maintains it in its unity down the lapse of ages since Pentecost.
But what marvellous privilege for you and me, dear H-, to be united, from the moment we received the Holy Ghost to dwell in us, to the Lord Jesus in heavenly glory, and therefore to all that are His, and that by grace we know it, when so many of His dear ones round us know nothing of it! But with the knowledge of our union comes our responsibility to act on it. And if we begin to see something of what this unity was to God, the object of His eternal counsels for the glory of Christ - what it is to Christ's love as having given Himself for it (Eph. 5), and how it is the present work of the Holy Ghost on earth come down to be the servant of His glory, how could we consent to the sorrow and sin of taking any place, or identifying ourselves in any way, with what wilfully, or more generally in total ignorance, sets up for man's right to choose for himself of what association he will become a member? God has chosen in His sovereign and abounding grace to make us members of a body that has for its Head the glorified One who gave Himself for us, and embraces all who are His in an indissoluble unity, the only body that He recognizes, with which too He connects inseparably the central act of the Church's worship on earth, i.e., the Lord's Table: "For we being many are one loaf, one body, for we are all partakers of that one loaf." How dreadful to think that what Christ instituted as the symbol of that unity should have been taken by men to be the symbol of each sect in its sectarian place, and thus of utter disunity. For you will see that in the light of these principles of Scripture, every association that does not in principle embrace every member of the body of Christ as such must be a sect.
Well, dear H-, if ignorance of and indifference to the truth is widespread, and those whom Christ died to gather together in one are scattered by the enemy through thirteen hundred differing human associations. on earth, what is one who has learned the precious mystery of our union with Christ to do? Does our most exalted privilege cease to be the measure of our individual responsibility? Does God change the principle of the dispensation because we have failed from almost the first to walk according to it? No trace of such a thing is to be found in Scripture. On the contrary, the later epistles all indicate the very state of things in which we find ourselves, and give us instructions how to walk according to God's principles in the midst of the evil. And here comes in the abiding principle for faith, whatever the dispensation, and by which alone there can be a walk according to God (2 Tim. 2:19), that is, separation from evil.
And see the three steps in the path so clearly marked out. (1.) I purge myself from all that has come into God's house to His dishonour. (19-21.) (2.) Verse 22. Watch your own heart, and keep it diligently, lest Satan get in there and mar your outward separation by inward unholiness. (3.) Seek out those similarly separate from evil and walk with them, following what is suited to God. But, as the Word says, "He that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey," so we must expect, dear brother. But it is worth loss and reproach and suffering here to yin the approval of Christ. (Rev. 3:8) - (belonging just to the time we find ourselves in, see verse 11.)
The Lord give you to be faithful in the testing circumstances you find yourself in, your heart large to rejoice in all that God works in His sovereign grace around you, your feet in the narrow path. (See 2 Cor. 6:13; then 14, etc.) The Lord keep you very near Himself! Only in communion with Him can we find strength to withstand the flood of worldliness and false association of Christians that we meet with everywhere, and to pursue with patience the path of His will. J. A. T.