"Christ loved the church"

Ephesians 5:22-23.

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Remark, beloved brethren, how the grace of God has associated us with Himself and with Christ, though, of course, remaining Himself meanwhile in the supremacy of infinite Godhead, in which none can be associated with Him; but He has made us partakers of the divine nature, and given us His Spirit to dwell in us, so that we realise what He is, and become one with Christ through being united to Him.

We find, in the early part of Ephesians 5, that we are called to be "imitators of God, as dear children, and to walk in love." Love is His nature; and we see this exemplified in a man, if we take Christ as the pattern of it. "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us."

Besides this we get another word brought before us, which also expresses God's nature: that is light; and it is said: "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light." And, here too, Christ is given as the perfect expression of what is put before us. "Awake, thou that sleepest, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." As a man in the world, He was the expression and pattern of light.

But after this he adds, "Be filled with the Spirit"; for, though we are made partakers of this divine nature, which is light, and we are called to love after the pattern of God in Christ, yet after all we are but poor human creatures, powerless in ourselves; and the Spirit is the only power we have for everything.

In God's mind it is everything for us to have fellowship with Himself. He has put us before Himself in love; He has made us His sons and daughters - the objects of His delight; and He should be the object of our delight. So much for the first relationship that we find here. It is with the Father as sons, and in this Christ is the Firstborn among many brethren.

The second is union with Christ now glorified: "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." We are livingly united to Him, as members to a head. I cannot get closer to him than being a member of His body, and in the same glory with Himself. This relationship gives us the indissoluble union of Christ and the church. "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it … and let the wife see that she reverence her husband." Though quite true as regards husband and wife, it is a figure of Christ and the church.

163 But, though we are united to Him, He is ever pre-eminent, and what even gives its value to this relationship is the necessary pre-eminence in it, as in everything, of Christ. When Moses and Elias were on the mount with the Lord, they were in the same glory as He was, and talking with Him of what was nearest His heart, and nearest His Father's heart too; they were in familiar intercourse with Him. But, even then, the moment Peter talks about making three tabernacles, one for each, thus putting them on an equality, the Father's voice comes in and owns His Son, and Moses and Elias at once disappear. I only use this to illustrate what I mean; and so it must always be. There must always be the eternal blessedness and pre-eminence of His Person, and the nearer we get to Him the more conscious we shall be of this. If I know a man indeed intimately, I shall surely get to know his foibles. In Christ, the more I know Him, the more I shall only get to know deeper, and divine, excellence. There is no fear of near acquaintance diminishing respect towards Him: the more I feel His love, the more I shall feel that He is supreme in it. Intimacy with His love only shews out its excellence, and produces more adoration and love in me.

God is supreme in love. It is not said in chapter 5 that we are to be love; we cannot be free and supreme in it; we are said to be light, because the new man partakes in the purity of His nature. And in the love of Christ we find the working of this supreme goodness, and in a man, so that following Him we can walk in it, though we cannot say we are love, as we say we are light.

But, in the case of the church, at the close of chapter 5, we have a love of special relationship, not simply the goodness and sovereign love of God; yet the spring and source of all is in the unsought love of Christ, in which He acts in the thought of His own grace, when there was nothing to draw it out. He has to purchase what He loves, and form it for Himself. He "gave himself for it": and when He gets it, He cleanses it for Himself.

But there is yet another point of view. He presents it "to himself." When God had made Eve, He presented her to Adam; but here we get the glory of Christ's Person. Being a divine Person He presents the church to Himself, having formed it and perfected it, so as to be suited to Himself. He does all for the church. Let us now see a little of the way in which He does it.

164 The first thing of all is His own unmotived love. "He loved the church," perfectly, divinely, infinitely; we here find the utterness of His love. "He gave himself." He did not only do something for it: "He gave himself!" And this is constantly repeated in the word; it is even said that "He gave himself for our sins," our sins being that which was in the way between us and God. As I look at Christ's love, I see that it had no motive but in itself, and it gives itself: nothing is held back. He is wholly and altogether mine; He has given Himself, and all is lumped up in that. The self-sacrifice of Christ was absolute: it was Himself, all He is, and all He was in His perfection. The whole motive of His nature was engaged in it: "He gave himself." And this is a wonderful thought, if our hearts could only get hold of it. It is not that He gave His blood, and gave His life, though that is true, and we may speak of it distinctively, for Scripture does; but the point here is the character of His love; so it says, "He gave himself." The motive was self-giving.

Mark here how, as regards the process of fitting the church for Christ, loving it and giving Himself for it goes first. It does not say, He cleansed and washed it so that He might have it, and then loved it because it was cleansed and fit to be loved. No. He gives Himself for it, and possesses it with a perfect title; Himself given for it, in the absolute completeness of His whole heart, according to which He has taken it to Himself. He gives Himself for it because He loved it; and now, He says, it must be cleansed and made fit for me. Not, it must be happy - happy it is, no doubt - but not only so; it must be made fit for Himself. I cannot be satisfied if a person I love is not what I like him to be - my children or wife, for example. It is not a feeling of discontent - I do not mean that - but a want of full satisfaction. So Christ sets about making the church what He would like it to be. He cleanses it by "the washing of water by the word." As He said before: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."

As the word comes from God, it judges all that is contrary to God, by the revelation of what is in God, so that it may make me like what it reveals. "For their sakes," He says, "I sanctify myself." As Man, He set Himself apart as the perfect expression of what is divine in a man, or man according to God. So it is not that I am what I ought to be, but that I am connected with Christ, who is the expression of what I ought to be, and forms me into His likeness. "We all, with open face beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." That is the way it cleanses: it purifies our motives, thoughts, and apprehensions, thus changing us into the same image from glory to glory. But He is the doer; He redeems us, cleanses us, sanctifies us, and presents us.

165 There is also a thought here which is full of the deepest interest; and that is, that we cannot separate the cleansing from the glory. The cleansing is according to the glory, and, when the body is changed, the state of holiness is according to the glory revealed; see 1 Thessalonians 3:13, where we should have said "unblameable in holiness" in our walk; but we read, in the presence "of God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." We cannot really get on without looking at Christ in glory. It is said 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." That is the cleansing. Practical cleansing is by the power of the revelation of the glory of Christ. But let us always remember that this cleansing is not in order that we may belong to Him, but that it is "Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might cleanse it."

Another thing that we find as regards the church, and this ought to comfort us in these dark days, and in the darker ones which we see coming. He goes on to say: "No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church." It is not only that He fits it for Himself - makes it according to His own mind; but the same love that fits it, watches over it in the circumstances of weakness in which it is found, as it passes through the world. Why, he says, a man's flesh is himself; Christ takes care of Himself in taking care of the church. As he said to Saul: "Why persecutest thou me?" You are touching Me in persecuting them. Christ does not separate the saints down here from Himself. He is interested in them, cares for them, nourishes and cherishes them as a man does the flesh of his own body. And in this He can never fail. The darkness may be great, and the power of evil strong, and growing stronger (not that God is not working, for He is; and when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him, and is doing so, and preparing the coming of the Lord), but no more than a man can hate himself, can Christ fail in doing this - nourishing and cherishing the church.

166 The Lord has long patience with all this growing evil (we may pray that things may go quicker, that He would bring the end on more rapidly, calling in His own; but, if so, it will bring evil out more rapidly too, and the judgments that are coming on the earth, but yet we may desire it); but all through the faith of the saint can reckon on the care and love of Christ. You cannot put me in any circumstances where the love of Christ cannot suit me.

Nor even does the working of unbelief hinder. For, when those who are believers cannot use the power that has been brought in against evil, what is to be done? We read, that when they brought one possessed of a demon to the disciples, and they could not cast him out, the Lord says: "How long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" If you cannot use the power I have brought in, what is the use of staying with you? But He adds, "Bring him hither to me." Even if the faith of the church fail, and one were alone in the trial, individual faith will always find grace in the Lord Jesus Christ for its want. Just as the father of the child cried out with tears: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." Christ cannot fail; and we on our side must not be like Elijah, saying, "Lord, they have thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away" (and mark at the moment he had thrown down their altars and slain their prophets), and then run away. What we want to say is: Well, Christ never fails, and there cannot be a want in Christ's church without there being an answer to it in Christ's heart.

All we want, beloved friends, is to have the eye fixed on Christ, from whom all grace and love flow, and to be sanctified in heart and spirit thereby, while waiting for Him, who has given Himself for us, so that we might be like Him even now, while walking through this world.