The House of God (1)

Notes of an Address

These things write I unto thee hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:16-17).

In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

Ye also, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ… The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 2:5, 4:17).

Of the supremacy of God in His own universe there can be no question in the mind of any one who has been brought out of his native darkness into the light of the revelation which has come to us in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He controls the elements of evil that are found there, yea, even uses them for the effectuation of the purposes of His love, and guides with a skilful and omnipotent hand into the various channels which lead to the one grand, glorious result, the eternal glory of His great, illustrious name and the supreme blessedness of all who submit themselves to His good and gracious decrees. If Satan has fallen, if spirits have rebelled against His authority, if man has been overthrown by the power of evil and lies with all his descendants under death, sin, and the power of the devil; if His laws have been broken, His words despised, His servants murdered, His beloved Son persecuted, rejected, cast out, mocked, nailed to a gibbet, and if His Holy Spirit has been resisted, and if there has been no intervention on His part to stop or hinder such wicked doings, it was simply because these things prepared the way for the fulfilment of the grand designs which He had in view before the world was. We know that God is love. What rest and peace and joy this knowledge brings into the heart that has been casting about in vain for some foundation in this morass of iniquity, upon which to place the foot of faith knowing that it is unshakable.

We who are left in this evil world are under the training of the Holy Spirit of God, in view of the special place which, in His infinite love, has been given to us in eternal counsel. We are perfectly fit for glory when converted; but God has been pleased to leave us for a time here during the absence of Christ. He does so for His own wise reasons, and one of these is that we might grow by the true knowledge of Himself (Col. 1:10). All the exercises which He is pleased to pass us through are to this end. We are also here in testimony for Him and to maintain His truth in this dark world; and by the troubles which He allows to come upon us He wakes us up again and again to the various truths which we may be in danger of slipping away from.

The last great truth which we had allowed ourselves to grow careless about was the fact that God had a dwelling-place upon earth—the house of God. In order that we might be better established in this most important truth, He has been pleased to bring us through deep waters, if we have learned our lesson, all will be well; but if not we may find ourselves the subjects of discipline which may be still more solemn. He loves us too well to let us go to sleep at our post, while a wakeful and subtle foe, with murderous intent, creeps upon us through the darkness. He has committed the honour of His blessed Son to the keeping of His people, and this He will at all costs safeguard.

I do not suppose any one thoroughly acquainted with the state of things existing amongst a section (the word will not be misunderstood by those to whom I speak) of the people of God, imagines for one moment that the helping hand stretched out by some of the saints of the Lord to others in affliction was the cause of our trouble.

Most of us know it was not. The question was one of the house of God and the relation it bore to the blessing of souls in the world: whether Christ was the subject of the gospel, in whom salvation, eternal life, and all other Christian blessings were placed for men, or whether the believer was the depository of the living water, the channel through which the Holy Ghost was given to those coming out of the world through faith in the preached Word.

There were other questions connected with this, but this was the great point at issue. The teaching was against Christ, and most certainly not of God. I am told that this teaching has been to a large extent abandoned. I should rejoice with all my heart if it is so, but what a pity it was not abandoned before it was pushed to a division. But those who fought for the doctrine must take the responsibility both of it and the division. But by this means the blessed God who loves His people has been directing our attention to this most important subject.

The first thing I wish to direct your attention to is the fact that God has a dwelling-place upon earth. He has been here for nigh two thousand years, and He is just as truly here today as He was on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were all filled with Him. We are not, perhaps, as fully aware of His presence as they were, but that does not alter the fact that, when He came, He came to abide for ever (John 14:16). And therefore is He here today. The world cannot receive Him. It neither sees Him nor knows Him, and we need to be careful lest we become as unaware of His presence as the world is. He is here and dwells in His house, and we are that house, “builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22), and when I say we I mean all Christians.

There are two thoughts connected with the house of God, or rather with His dwelling, which have been greatly mixed up, and that by those from whom one would have expected better; that is, God’s dwelling with us and our dwelling with Him. The former thought is set before us in His dwelling with us here upon earth, the latter is set before us in John 14, and is spoken of as the Father’s house. As to the house of God, it is not so much a question of our dwelling with Him as it is of His dwelling with us, and as to the Father’s house, it is not His dwelling with us, but our dwelling with Him. When the temple shall be rebuilt both thoughts are combined, but I am not dealing with that at present.

It used also to be said that there was a journey to be taken to the house of God, and the songs of degrees were quoted as setting forth that journey. But while that may be true of Israel and descriptive of the journey they shall take when they begin to come under the dealings of God as a nation, it has no reference to our journey to the house of God, for we have no journey to take; we are in the house of God, and have our place there before we learn any about the blessedness or responsibilities of the place. There is a journey to the Father’s house, and we are now on that journey. In this connection Psalm 84:15 is most interesting.

The present house of God is the result of the ministry of Christ while He was here upon earth. He is spoken of as the Builder (Heb. 3:3), and also as the One who is over it as Son. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit took up His abode in it. We are thus builded together for His habitation, and are gathered in the confession of one Lord, the acknowledgment of one faith, and submission to one baptism. In this building God has His dwelling-place: He dwells with us. By and by we shall dwell with Him, but that will be when we reach glory and the Father’s-house.

The house of God is not a new thought; that is, it is not peculiar to the New Testament; the body is; but the body is Christ’s, and the house is God’s. The first intimation we have of it is in the dream of Jacob (Gen. 28). It is a spot that is in direct communication with heaven. Jacob calls it the house of God and the gate of heaven. The house His dwelling-place, and the gate the place from which His law goes forth. This will be true of the temple in the day when Christ shall establish His reign upon earth. But with the house, blessing only is connected: “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” The house of God is here for the blessing of men. This is important to keep in mind. But the blessing was all in a person! “In thee.” This is made good in Christ.

The next place to which I refer you is Exodus 25:8. There the Lord says, “Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” This was consequent upon their redemption out of the bondage of the Egyptians. It is only on the ground of redemption that God could take up His abode amongst men.

But what is the object of His dwelling amongst His people on earth? Turn with me to 1 Chronicles 28:2. There David speaks of having had it in his heart to build “an house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God.” Solomon speaks of it as a house “to burn sacrifice before Him” (2 Chr. 11:6). One great object for which God took His place amongst Israel was that through them the whole earth should be brought into subjection to Him. The twelve tribes were in themselves professedly in subjection to Him. That they were not really so came out in their subsequent history. Nevertheless they had been brought out of Egypt redeemed by power; were professedly under His feet, that is, in complete subjection to His authority. He placed His throne amongst them so that through them the nations might also be brought under His sway, the whole earth subjugated.

They failed Him in this most miserably, therefore He cast down His sanctuary to the ground, profaned it, and left it desolate. Jeremiah laments that He “cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not His footstool in the day of His anger” (Lam. 2:1). He will yet build it up again, and once more establish His throne in their midst; Israel will be saved with an everlasting salvation, and the name of the Lord shall be excellent in all the earth. Then He shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; and bullocks shall be offered upon His altar (Ps. 51:19).

Another thing in connection with the temple built by Solomon is worthy of observation. When the cloud, the symbol of the divine presence, filled the house, so that on account of it the priests could not stand to minister, one might have thought that heaven would cease to be recognized as a place where Jehovah was to be sought and found; but Solomon beseeches God to hear from heaven, “Thy dwelling-place,” when any prayed toward that house. This is very instructive, as otherwise we might conclude that, as God has a dwelling-place upon earth, He is to be found there, if I may so say, as One who has abandoned heaven. We learn the same truth today. The Holy Spirit was very manifestly amongst God’s people in the early days of the church’s history, yet Stephen in the ’hour of his martyrdom looked up steadfastly into heaven, finding all his resources there.

I will now call your attention to three passages which, I think, go together, as referring to one aspect of the house. In Matthew 16 our Lord speaks of building His assembly upon the rock of the truth of His person as Son of the living God; to this Peter refers when he speaks of the spiritual house built of living stones, and in Ephesians 2:21 we are told that the whole building fitly framed together groweth to a holy temple in the Lord. We are not told in any one of these scriptures that God dwells there. I do not say He does not, but I speak of the way in which things are brought before us in Scripture. In these passages the work is not looked at as complete: Christ is building, the living stones come, the building grows.

We are told that God dwells not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48). The term “made with hands” occurs several times in Scripture, and always refers to that which is material and carnal, in contrast to that which is spiritual.

Our glorified bodies are “not made with hands,” in contrast to these carnal bodies, the heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 9) is “not made with hands,” in contrast with the tabernacle set up by Moses. God dwells today in a spiritual building, in contrast to a material structure.

In Peter we are said to come to the Lord. When we heard the gospel we turned to the Lord. We came to Him for salvation. We did not know anything of Him as a living stone; but in that character the Spirit of God speaks of Him through Peter, for He has before Him the instruction of the Jewish believers in the truth of the spiritual house. A stone, Peter says, “disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious.” He is the stone which the builders rejected, but which has become the head of the corner. On this stone believers, who are living stones, are built up a spiritual house. It is viewed here not so much as a dwelling-place as a place for offering sacrifices.

In the past dispensation there was a material house and there was a carnal priesthood; but now we have a spiritual house and a spiritual priesthood. Solomon’s temple was builded with stones hewn out of the quarry, and the priests were the sons of Aaron. But the stones which compose this building and the priests are one: the living stones are the priests. Every soul instinct with the life of Christ is part of this building, and is also a holy priest, capable of offering spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

But what are these sacrifices? A Jew could bring anything from a turtle-dove to a bullock. A poor man brought what he could; it might be only a turtle-dove; whereas a rich man could bring a bullock. We have poor and rich today—I do not mean in earthly things, but in faith. It is not a question then of what the offerer under the law thought of the sacrifices, but what were they under the eye of God? They all typified Christ. Whether the offering was large or small, it was Christ that was represented by the victim which was laid upon the altar. When a man under law brought a bullock, he brought Christ. That was what God saw in the gift. It was the same when a man brought a dove, it was all Christ, for Christ is the only offering that God can accept.

What is it we offer to God? Hebrews 13 answers, “By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips confessing His name” (N.Tr.). You go to God with Christ, according to the measure in which you know Him. You may be weak in faith, and if so the measure of your presentation of Christ will be small. You may be rich in faith, and if so you will be able to set Christ before God in a large way. But inasmuch as the offering, whether large or small, is always Christ, both are equally well pleasing to God.

He has told us a great deal about Christ, indeed, He has nothing now to engage us with except Christ, and we go to Him and tell into His ear all that He has told into ours about the beloved Object of His heart, and that is acceptable to Him. But whether it be a bullock or a dove we offer we can only say, like David, who laid by so much wealth for the building of the temple, “Of Thine own have we given Thee.”

Peter also speaks of the royal priesthood, and this thought also is connected with the house, for we are told that “in His temple doth everyone speak of His glory” (Ps. 29:9). The royal priests show forth the virtues of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light. Such present Christ to the world. I do not mean in the way of preaching, for the house does not preach; but in our manner of life we set before the world the excellencies of Christ. We are in the light of Christ risen, while the world remains in the darkness of unbelief, and while we are thus in the light we shine; like the moon which shines down upon earth during the world’s night, and it is enabled to shine because it is in the light of the sun. It is Christ we go with to God, and it is Christ we set before men. It is a great pleasure to God to have His people set Christ before Him, but the presentation of Christ to the world does not meet with the same acceptance from man. Nevertheless, we have nothing else to set before God or man except Christ.

The Epistle to Timothy is written that we should know how one ought to behave oneself in the house of God. We have men, women, bishops, deacons, elders, widows, slaves, masters, rich, poor, and the conduct becoming each. The house is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. He is by His Spirit here to take complete charge of the household. He is here to be all to us that Christ was to His disciples when He was upon earth. It is He who leads us on in the knowledge of God, instructs us in the truth of Scripture, builds us up on our most holy faith, fills our hearts with the love of God, fixes our attention upon Christ in heaven, enables us to call God our Father, witnesses with our spirit that we are God’s children, gives us to know the deep things of God, is our power for testimony, service, prayer, and worship, and it is He who unites us to our living and glorified Head in heaven as His body. In short, as Christ is everything to us objectively, so is the Spirit everything to us subjectively.

He is here in the name of Christ and in His interests. Through Him the whole household is fed and nourished, and through Him the servants of Christ are enabled to go forth with the testimony of the gospel world-wide. He is the holy oil which keeps the house illuminated with the light of God in the midst of the surrounding gloom. The secret of the light which radiates from the house lies in the fact that “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory”; and by the Spirit this verily is maintained in living power in the hearts of the saints, and the measure in which this is so is the measure of the light which radiates from the house.

The house is the pillar and ground of the truth, it is the witness to the truth of God in this world. That is what is indicated by the pillar, upon it the truth of God is inscribed; that is, as far as that truth affects men and can be read by them. There are the deep things of God, which no doubt wonderfully affect the radiancy of the light which shines out upon a benighted world, but these things are more for the minds and hearts of the household than they are for the enlightenment of others. It is more the light of God in the character of Saviour, a God of all grace, that is to be read on that pillar which has been so conspicuously set up in His goodness in the midst of this darkness.

It is also the base of the truth, that which maintains it on the earth. And for this purpose also the Spirit dwells in it. As to its outward appearance in the world today it is anything but a witness of the truth of God; but at the same time the truth is nowhere else. If it is to be found anywhere, it is to be found in that which ostensibly has the privileged place of the house of God. That every evil thing upon earth is also found there cannot be denied, and for this reason the judgment of God, when it is let loose against the world, must begin there (1 Peter 4:17-18); nevertheless the truth of God is there, and is maintained there, though the rubbish-heap of error may have almost completely obscured it from the gaze of men. There is that which Christ builds still in existence, for the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). The husk may be almost all that is visible, but the kernel is there, and will be there until the Lord comes and gathers His own to Himself, and then the husk shall be left desolate, a house without a tenant, to be overthrown by the judgment of God.

In mapping out the conduct that becomes those who dwell in the house of God, that which is most prominent in the mind of the Spirit is the first thing to which attention is drawn. He says, “I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Here we see what is uppermost in the mind of the Spirit. The character of God as a Saviour must be maintained, and the house is here in which dwells the One who alone can maintain that testimony. Authorities are to be prayed for, in order that we may not be in conflict with the powers that be, but it is all in view of the testimony of God going out into the world: for God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The salvation of all has become possible, for the ransom of the Mediator covers the whole human race: He gave Himself a ransom for all. This testimony is by the power of the Spirit maintained in the practical life of those who compose the household. This is good and acceptable to Him, for it is what is of Himself wrought into the hearts of His people.

This is the testimony of which Paul was not ashamed. It provoked the hostility of the Jews in a very special way, and the Gentiles also joined in persecution. Worldly saints, such as the Asiatics (2 Tim. 1), turned away from the one who heralded it abroad among the nations, and Timothy’s heart sank as he contemplated its unpopularity and the afflictions that it had to endure. But Paul encourages his faithful but timid companion, and lets him know that this testimony of our Lord must ever be in affliction, but that to the very finish of the present dispensation the work of the evangelist must be done (2 Tim. 4:5). The testimony to the truth of a Saviour-God and the ransom of the Mediator must never be abandoned; but as the days grow darker, and the hearts of men harder on account of the growth of error, it is to be heralded abroad with ever-increasing vigour.

Within the house there is a testimony which does not go abroad, but which is more for the saints themselves, and that is prophetic. According to the peculiar nature of the attack of Satan, the prophetic word furnishes instruction, so that the order of the battle for the faith may be according to God and that the victory may remain with His people. With this the world has nothing to do. It is entirely within, and in the midst of the divided state of the house of God today belongs to no special company of people. But though this may, and does, help to keep the light which goes out to the world free from all obscurities, it is not that light itself, for the light which is maintained by the Spirit in the world is more evangelic than prophetic—it is the light of the Saviour-God. As Christ when here was the witness of the grace of God to men, so are His people here in His place. The Philippians are a bright example of this, and the testimony there is largely evangelic, though not altogether so.

The house does not preach, but it is as much interested in the preaching as is the preacher. It goes to God about the rulers of the world, and it goes to Him about the herald of the gospel. We have a fine example of this in Acts 4:23-31. They tell God about the raging of the nations and their rulers, ask Him to take account of their threatenings, and grant boldness to His servants to speak the word, and then the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. In Thessalonians also we read: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.”

What a place the house of God has; and what a wonderful Personage dwells in it and it is He who dwells in it who makes it what it is as a light in the world. Of course, I speak of it according to what it was as originally set up and according to the peculiar privilege which belongs to it. It is the dwelling-place of God, a Place where sacrifice is continually presented to Him, where the true character of God as Saviour may be read, where His truth is maintained, a support for the herald who goes forth with the gospel, and where the attention of God is, by those who are intimate with Him, referred to the rulers of earth, and His power supplicated on behalf of the going forth of that testimony which He has ordained for the salvation of men.

It is here, not to draw attention to itself, but to Christ. The object of the enemy has ever been to obscure its light, and he has been only too successful. It is not the subject of testimony, Christ is that, and to Him it directs the thoughts of men. When it ceases to keep before the world the light of a Saviour-God it is useless here. It is a mere candlestick without a light, salt without savour, a well without water, a cloud without rain, a mirage of the desert to mock the weary traveller fainting for refreshment on the burning sand. And, indeed, as a witness for Christ it has become valueless and therefore it must be removed in judgment from this scene.

But seeing this is so, the opportunity for the overcomer has come. He is not bound to go with the crowd upon the highway of faithlessness to Christ. If no one else in Christendom behaved himself properly in the house of God, I as an individual may keep in mind the holiness that becomes such a sacred building, and as far as my personal influence goes I may seek to keep my fellow-believers also in mind that our privileges and responsibilities are just the same today as if everything was in the most perfect order. Besides, it is a great cause for thankfulness to be entrusted with the great thoughts of God and with the honour of the name of His Son in a day of departure from the truth and of indifference to Christ.

He is assailed on every hand, and anything and everything is substituted for Him, and we need to take care that we are not carried away in the powerful current that seems as if it would sweep all before it. We must make everything of Christ in this day of departure from Him.