The Love of Christ for His Assembly

Ephesians 5:22-23

In the epistle to the Ephesian believers the love of Christ is viewed as restricted to His assembly. His work is not contemplated as that which has opened a way of salvation for all men, but as done on behalf of that company which He at this present moment owns on earth. He “loved the assembly, and gave Himself for it.” I need scarcely say here that the ward translated “church” means simply a company of people, and not a material building; and therefore in speaking of it I use the word “assembly.”

This epistle does not, like the Roman epistle, set forth the compassions of God, let loose for the deliverance of souls from sin’s domination, so that they might be free to serve Him with glad and willing hearts, but it presents the wisdom, love, and power of God in activity for the accomplishment of His eternal purpose.

But as the first Adam and his bride occupied the central and conspicuous position in that creation, and as all on earth was set in relation to him, so is the last Adam and His bride to occupy the central, glorious, and supreme position in that universe which will be radiant with that infinite love of His heart, which was displayed in the cross of His only-begotten Son.

The men of this world worship the most profound thoughts of its deepest thinker, the loftiest flights of its most poetic mind, the most cunning movements of its shrewdest diplomat, or the genius of its most popular military commander; but what are all such feeble and perishing sparks struck from the anvil of the human soul when compared with the wisdom of God as witnessed even in this fallen and ruined creation, where everything has suffered from the lawless hand of God’s enemies? And may we not ask what glory this creation has, which must certainly pass away and give place to a new heaven and a new earth, that one day shall burst upon our raptured vision with a glory that excels all that ever yet has come to pass, and which shall be a display of the best that divine wisdom and love and power can accomplish?

It is surely an unspeakable privilege for poor creatures like ourselves to be permitted to contemplate the compassions of God manifested in sending His Son to die our death, that we might live through Him; but to be not only called to contemplate but to share in the salvation that He has won, and also to share in the blessings of that universe which is founded on the blood of His cross, and which eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, and to be there as the everlasting companions of Jesus is bliss unspeakable.

It is indeed wonderful that poor creatures like ourselves should be brought into such intimacy with our great and glorious Creator as to be entrusted with the secrets of His heart, so that we have plainly before the vision of our souls the marvellous result to which all His operations tend, and to see that every single detail of His wondrous dealings with His creature man was from the outset only a step in the perfect way that led up to the grand result.

There is neither haste nor hesitancy with God. His movements bear not the least resemblance to the jerky and febrile activities of men. Every action is begun at the right moment, and every work completed the instant it is required. When the set time has come the old order passes and the new is announced. That which has passed away is seen to have done its work and that which is introduced enters not clothed with mourning for a defunct dispensation. Nothing is introduced that could be dispensed with, and nothing brought to an end that has not perfectly served its purpose. This earth was in the beginning of the works of God created and endowed with a glory that made the morning stars sing together, and caused the sons of God to shout with joy; and if for millions of years it was made to pass through its cosmos and chaos on its journey to the waste and empty condition in which it is found in Genesis 1:2 there was not a moment of that time when it was not in preparation for a creature to be made in the image and likeness of God, as well as serving a present purpose unrevealed to men. He who inhabiteth eternity does not waste an hour in idleness or in fruitless toil. During the long ages through which this earth has passed, though countless may have been the various purposes it has been made to serve, there was but one grand and glorious goal to which it was steadily advancing. Within its crust is stored a multitude of things that by the unbelieving mind of man is used in his attempts to disprove the revelation given to us of God. These things test and try the profession of Christianity, and are like the fan that winnows the chaff from the wheat. It is well that the tests are there, as they are used to preserve us from all that is spurious and counterfeit.

Man’s time is always ready, as our Lord has told us. He is an impatient creature, and a deferred hope makes his heart sick. It is only faith that can lift him above his natural restlessness. If we had more confidence in the wisdom and love of God we would be a great deal more restful. The saints of past dispensations saw in the vision of faith the promised blessings and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and though they died not having received them, their confidence in God remained unshaken.

We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. As to time, we know something of it, but of eternity we know nothing. But by the light of the revelation God has been graciously pleased to give us we cannot but be persuaded that the counsels of God are eternal, and that they all centre in the person of Christ. And not only this, but the supremest brightness, the highest blessedness, and the greatest glory that ever shall gladden the vision of any creature refer to what has been made known by the Spirit in this dispensation and which is spoken of as “The hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (1 Cor. 2:6-10). We delight to sing:
 “O mind divine, so must it be
  That glory all belongs to God.”

And nothing but the mind of a traitor would dispute such a loyal sentiment. But the glory that shall be ours in the day of all glory will be a glory that He will clothe us with, and which we will gladly own belongs by right only to Himself, as the glory of the moon is but a glory conferred upon her by the sun, for all the glory that is in the solar system centres in that radiant orb.

God could have no other object than the Son of His love, for through Him alone could a universe be brought into existence of which the breadth, and length, and depth, and height would shine with the light of God perfectly revealed. He alone could reveal the Father, He alone could set forth God in His true character, He alone could glorify Him where He had been wickedly dishonoured, He alone could set forth in His life all that was due from man to his Creator, He alone could lay a foundation upon which every thought and counsel of the Father’s heart would be fulfilled, and He alone could bring God’s many sons to glory. It cost Him reproach, rejection, an ignominious death upon a gibbet, and sorrows unfathomable by any creature, but rather than one thought of His Father’s heart should perish He would go through it all.

But this self-surrender on the part of the Son for the Father’s glory was not to go without its compensation. If He must be hidden in the heavens for two thousand years before He is publicly vindicated in the sight of this world that rejected Him, and if during that time He must suffer in the persecution of His followers at the hand of this godless generation that put Him to death, He has the joy of seeing that glorious conception, which was the eternal vision of His soul, now being made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth—that body the members of which were written in the eternal book of divine counsel, but now in continuance being fashioned into a body and bride for Him, while as far as public interposition in the government of this world is concerned He is asleep. While the deep sleep lasted into which the first Adam was made to sink, a bride was being formed for him; and when he awoke she was there before him, to the joy of his heart so is the last Adam pillowed on the bosom of His Father, restfully asleep to this world and patiently waiting until the waking moment arrives, when He shall have His bride. Then He shall awake for the deliverance of His people, and the remnant of Israel shall awake Him (Matt. 8:23-26; Ps. 44:23; 73:20).

He will then awake to the judgment that has for so long been delayed, a judgment that once begun shall not pause until the heavens and the earth have been purified from the presence of sin and its terrible consequences. But before that judgment begins to fall upon this world He will remove to Himself out of the sphere of His indignation that assembly for which in the love of His heart He bled and died. As Enoch was taken up to heaven before the flood of waters were let loose upon the earth, and Noah was left to go through that period of divine wrath, though preserved through it, so will the bride of Christ be caught up to her eternal Lover, while the Jew will be left to pass through the tribulation but will find merciful preservation in Christ, once so ruthlessly rejected by that nation.

He loved the assembly, and delivered Himself up for it. When in the night of His betrayal the enemy came with their lanterns, torches and weapons to arrest Him, they were seen to be absolutely helpless in His presence. He delivers Himself into their hands with this proviso: “If ye seek Me, let these go away.” The nucleus of the assembly were there—the few disciples who had been given to Him of the Father—and with His life their lives must be guarded.

To the Christ His assembly is the most precious thing in the universe. It is in the nearest and most intimate place. This gift of the Father speaks of His consideration for His Son, and of His infinite love to Him. The relationship of husband and wife is the closest creature relationship that exists. When Adam beheld Eve he said: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” She was part of himself, “taken out of man.” And: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

This, the first of the various ways in which Christ and His assembly are foreshadowed, is the most expressive. The man goes into a deep sleep, figure of death; Christ goes into death actually. And though He is risen from the dead, He is still dead to the world and hid in God. But, as I have already intimated, He will shortly arise to take hold of things here, and His bride will rise to meet Him in the air.

I suppose it was the love of Adam for his wife that led him to take part with her in her sinful condition. But this did not help her, it only involved him in the transgression. The love of Christ brought Him into the judgment under which we lay, but He came into it not as a sinner but as a Saviour, and the full weight of that judgment has been borne by Him, glorifying God in the bearing of it; and now both Himself and His own are in the sunlight of divine favour.

He loved the assembly. It had no actual existence when He loved it. But it was a glorious reality to Him. From before the world’s foundation it filled His vision. It was the eternal and secret delight of His heart. The ages that led up to it were all in view of it. It was to be part of Himself. In His forming of the earth and man upon it, this secret of His heart was ever leaking out. It was to be bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh. The love of this Husband for His wife surpasses knowledge. When the time came He sold all His possessions and purchased her for Himself. The field had to be bought for the treasure that was in it.

He had to give a great price for a world that was of little value if He was to have that upon which His heart was set. He esteemed the pearl He had found to be worth all He possessed.

He gave Himself for it He died for it. But He devoted Himself to this loved object. It was buried in the day of a fallen world. It had in the first instance to be purchased, then, sanctified, separated from all that condition of things in which it was embedded. It had to undergo moral purification by the Word if it was to be presented to Himself glorious, having no spot or wrinkle or any of such things, but holy and blameless—the greatest, grandest, most glorious conception of the divine mind, fit companion for the Man of God’s eternal counsels, His bride, taken out of Himself; His body, part of Himself, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

When here on earth in the days of His flesh He was in quest of it. He knew the “pearl of great price” was somewhere in this worthless world. He was well aware of the “treasure” that was hid in the wide field of a ruined creation, and as Abraham sent his servant to fetch out of Syria a bride for his son Isaac, so did the Father, by the Spirit’s power, draw out of this world the elements that would eventually go to form that pearl, that treasure, that bride, that body, that would shine for ever in the redeemed creation resplendent with the beauty He would put upon it.

He was here in quest of it, He was on the cross paying the price of it, He is now before the face of God on its behalf, and in the day when the marriage is celebrated heaven shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and resound with the hallelujahs of the redeemed. Blessed be God!