Christ and His Church


Before the lips of our Lord first uttered those two words, "My church," words which impress us with the preciousness of the church to Him as being His own peculiar possession, He asked His disciples, "Whom do ye say that I am?" Peter answered at once "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The truth as to His Person must come out, for there could be no church apart from that, for it is formed upon and will be filled with what He is. But in this connection it is important that we should rightly grasp the significance of this episode in the revelation of the truth. Peter had not arrived at the truth by the exercise of his natural wits, or through any education he had received in the schools of men; nor can any other man; the scribes and Pharisees were far more intellectual and educated than he, and they neither discerned nor confessed the truth as to the Son of God. Nor had he gathered it from his study of the Old Testament prophets, though they all spoke of Christ; nor from the preaching of John the Baptist, though he was a faithful messenger, going before the face of the Lord's Anointed. He had received it from the FATHER — name of perfect grace, unknown to saints and sages of dispensations past, however exalted their privileges; hidden even now from the wise and prudent of the earth, but revealed to babes. And it was from HEAVEN that the Father had revealed it. It was a heavenly revelation, the fruit of unmeasured grace which the name Father implies. This great revelation upon which so much hangs, was not made because of any merit in those who were chosen to receive it; and it connects itself, not with prophecies regarding the kingdom which are earthly in character, but with heaven and the counsel of God's will, by which all who were to receive it were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.

We cannot pass over this passage of Scripture lightly; it arrests us by its blessedness, and certainly we must learn what lies under the simple statements here given if we are to have any true understanding of the truth of the church. WE BEGIN WITH THE PERSON OF CHRIST, this is fundamental, there could be no church apart from Him; but what we would at this point emphasize is, that it is His Father in heaven who reveals what He is that the church might be. It is not what He will be as Son of David, that is set forth in the Old Testament; or even as Son of man, His glory in this position is also spoken of in those indispensable prophecies; but, Who is this Son of Man? He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is upon this revelation of Him that the church is brought into being, built up and completed; and every other glory which is His will manifest itself fully in relation to what He, the Christ, is personally with the Father. It is the Father's work to make this known, indeed we might, speaking with reverence, call it His own special and chief activity; but does not this show what a world of ineffable love is here opened up to us, that had never been opened before, where the counsels of the Father for the glory of the Son are unfolded, and into which none can intrude. Only those chosen for it by surpassing grace may enter here.

Our deep conviction is, that we shall make no progress in the knowledge of the truth of the church if we fail to understand this, so that we make no apology for seeming repetition. It was not as Elohim — the strong One (Gen. 1:1) that God made this revelation to Peter, or as Jehovah — the self-existent One, (Gen. 2:7) or as El-Shaddai (Gen. 17:1) the Almighty, all-sufficient One, but as the FATHER of our Lord Jesus Christ — "My Father," as He said. All that had come out in former days He is and will ever be; but it is not here a question of His attributes, His power, faithfulness or sufficiency, but what He is in His very nature. This could not be known to us by any work of His hand in creation, but only by the revelation of Himself by the only begotten Son that dwelt eternally in His bosom. So that we have first-the Father revealed in and by the only begotten Son, Jesus our Lord; and then the truth as to this glorious Person revealed to our faith by the Father; one can easily see that this must eventuate in fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ for all who respond to this revelation. Thus all truth hangs together.

Again we insist that it is the FATHER IN HEAVEN who reveals it. It is made to us upon earth, but it is from heaven, it is heavenly in character, and lifts us above the earth, and carries us into a range of things about which the prophecies that have to do with earth have nothing to say. The great majority of even pious Christians have not grasped the force of this, but the importance of it will be seen as the truth is developed. Then further, the way in which Christ is revealed is as victorious over death-He is "the Son of the living God." This revelation from the Father in heaven looked onward and carried the thought of resurrection with it. Immediately the Lord speaks of His suffering and death and resurrection; the truth is placed upon that platform, outside man in the flesh, with his ambitions, hopes and activities, which all lie shattered and dissolved at the touch of death.

So that we have at the first mention of the church in Scripture, the Father's activity — fullness of grace; the revelation He makes is a heavenly one, and it is of Christ, who would establish His church outside all the schemes and failures of man in the flesh against which all Satan's power and subtlety is directed in vain. It is invincible. This by way of introduction.

Christ the Glorious Head

The mystery which is unfolded in the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians is Christ and the church, not the church without Christ, nor yet Christ without the church. Christ is the Head and the church His body. Consequently, though the church is in this blessed unity which is formed according to the purpose of God and by the might of His Spirit, its place is the subordinate one, as every body is subordinate to its head, and its blessedness and importance lie in the fact that it is the body of Christ, united to Him, the living Head in heaven.

We begin with Christ, whatever place of favour or testimony the church has now, or of glory it will have hereafter, it has by virtue of the fact that it is united to Christ, hence the necessity of beginning with Him. In doing so, the affections of the heart are brought into activity. One might say, "I am not particularly interested in the truth of the church," but none who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ will say, "I am not interested in Him," and in occupation with Him we are led naturally to be interested in that which He loves and nourishes and cherishes.

He is the Son of the living God. We are carried at once to John's Gospel by this declaration. Of this Gospel Augustine said, "John … deservedly compared to an eagle has opened his treatise as with a peal of thunder; he has raised himself not merely above earth and the whole compass of the air and heaven, but even above every angel host and every order of the invisible powers, and has reached even to Him by Whom all things were made, in that sentence, 'In the beginning was the Word.'" It is with this Person we have to do and with Him we begin:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1-3). Here is the glory of His PersonAs to His Being, He is eternal in the Godhead, as to His power and handiwork, He is the Creator of everything that exists.

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (v. 14). Here is the greatness of His condescension made manifest in His incarnation, for His humanity was not in form merely, something put on, as one would put on a garment for a certain purpose and then cast it off again when that purpose was accomplished, but it was a reality. He became an actual man, and this He will never cease to be.

"We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten with the Father" (v. 14). "The only-begotten which was in the bosom of the Father" (v. 18). Here we reach that which baffles description or explanation, nevertheless, it is revealed to us and we may at least say this of it, that in this epithet we learn the infinite worthiness of the Lord to be the eternal object of the Father's love, and His capability of responding to the full to that love, and as such He has come to declare it to men.

"Full of grace and truth." And of this "have all we received, and grace upon grace." Here is declared His absolute suitability to the entire need of man. Coming from the highest height of God's glory as the revelation of it, He stooped to the deepest depths of man's need to remove it.

Space fails us even to recount the matchless range of glories that shine upon this first page of John's Gospel, and we pass on to "I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do" (John 17:4). Here is the perfection of His life and the completeness of His work. "He said, It is finished: and bowed His head and gave up the ghost … and one of the soldiers pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 14:30-34). Here is the one great sacrifice, by which He did the will of God and redeemed and perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

"The same day at evening when the disciples were assembled … came Jesus and stood in the midst, and says to them, Peace be to you" (John 20:19). Here is His triumph over the power of death and the introduction of His disciples into a sphere of peace — afterwards to be known as His assembly — of which He would be the all-sufficient Centre and Head.

The Gospel of John closes with the statement, that if all the things Jesus did and said were written the world would not contain the books that would be written. This in the judgment of the critic is hyperbolical language; we claim that it is the sober statement of the truth inspired by the Holy Spirit. Remember the greatness and glory of the Person; endeavour to conceive the character of the revelation that He made in His works and words, and then say whether this could be told in books.

Who, for instance, discerns fully, and could write truly, except the Father, the glory of the Son of God as displayed in the first miracle in Cana of Galilee; when He found man in his brightest social circumstances, his marriage day, a failure, for the wine ran out; but produced for him out of the water of purification, typical of death, the wine that could not fail; the best brought out last. Is not this the glory of the last Adam, who, out of His own death, shall bring forth the wine that makes glad the heart of God and man; shall roll back the tide of darkness and death brought in by the first Adam; remove from this creation the groans, disappointments, failure and loss; the vain reaching out on the part of man for what appears to be substance but is only shadow, vanity, vexation of spirit; and fill it with the wisdom and knowledge of God? Every cry hushed, every desire satisfied, everyone at rest, and God glorified through it all.

And who discerns fully the glory of that last miracle, which can scarcely be read without tears, when our adorable Lord, rising from His agony and sweat of blood in Gethsemane, was confronted by His eager, ruthless foes. One of them, Malchus, a slave of the high Priest, must have offered some gross insult to the Lord, and Peter, indignant and impetuous, drew the sword he carried and smote off his ear. Thus nature acted, thus man displayed himself, thinking he served his Lord. But Jesus, e'er His wonder-working hands were bound by His hardened captors, quietly touched the severed ear and healed it. What absolute goodness; what invincible mercy; what tender compassion; could this be written in books? Such divine goodness overcoming such appalling evil will have its place in the days of His glory when He shall fill all things; and every other ray of His glory seen by the Father's eye when He trod that lonely pathway, which "led only to the cross," will shine forth there.

It used to be said of a spiritually-minded minister of the Word, There is a book in which all would be written, for nothing that Jesus did or said could be lost, and that book is the church; it will be the lesson book of the universe. And this is true. The Father is writing in this book now by the Holy Ghost. For of the saints, who are the body of Christ, it is said, "Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart," and the divine intention is "that now to the principalities and powers in heavenly-places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:10-11). The church, as we shall see, is the transcript of Christ. This is where "the mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God who created all things by Jesus Christ" comes in (Eph. 3:9). And we would remark that it might be thought that we have gone outside the range of our subject in bringing into it the glories of Christ as unfolded in the opening of John's Gospel, but this verse, and the fact that the creatorial glory of Christ is connected with the same subject in Colossians justifies us in so doing.

The purpose of the mystery is to fill the universe with Christ, and this will be done by the church.

1. Christ — the full revelation of God in manhood, the display.

2. The Church — the vessel for the display.

3. The Created Universe — the sphere of the display.

Yes, God intends that Christ, who fills His own heart, shall fill the universe, and this will be glory, and one part of the mystery now is that 'Christ is in His members the hope of glory' (Col. 1:27)-God intends that the One who in the narrow compass of 33 years, in lowliness of life and obscurity, beset with every conceivable hostility of evil, fully declared His name, and revealed His nature in such a way that the world cannot contain the books, shall Himself be revealed in the fullness of His incomparable worth to every intelligence in the vast universe; and His body is the chosen vessel through which He will do it; and this not only in the dispensation of the fullness of times, but, to the ages of the ages God will have glory in the church by Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:21).

How the Body Was Formed

Now the question arises how, and by what means has the church, which is the body of Christ, the vessel for the fulfilment of the counsels of God, been brought into being for the accomplishment of this great purpose.

First. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit" (John 12:24), shows the necessity of the death of Christ that there might be brought into existence the "many grains" like Himself, for the members of His body must be of the same order and nature as the Head.

Second. "The Holy Ghost was not yet given because that Jesus was not yet glorified" (chap 7:39), shows the necessity of His exaltation and glory if the Spirit was to be given; and the body could not be formed apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit. "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth," said the Lord to His disciples, "It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come; but if I depart, I will send Him to you."

The first chapter of Acts records the ascension of Christ to the glory, the second chapter records the descent of the Holy Ghost from that spot upon His disciples on earth; and the unity of the saints in one body starts here and cannot be divorced from these two great facts, a Man at the right hand of God, and the Holy Ghost come from thence to earth.

Let us consider these great facts. The first is described in Ephesians 1 in most wonderful language. "The working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."

He has not only gone to heaven, but the exceeding greatness of God's power has carried Him there from the very depths of death, and set Him in indisputable supremacy above every created power, and this, mark it well, in relation to His body, the church. Now a work commensurate in greatness with the raising up of Christ must be done in order to raise His body up, unite it to Him, fashion each member of it after His likeness, and fill it with Himself; and that work is being effected in the second great fact, the coming of the Holy Ghost to earth to indwell every member of the body of Christ.

We would press home upon our readers, the character that these facts give to the body of Christ, of which they each form a part. It is heavenly and not earthly; it is of the "last Adam," who is the Lord raised from the dead, and not of the first man who is of the earth, earthy. We have heard the fact of the heavenly character of the church derided and it is little thought of by the bulk of Christians; hence we press it; it ought not to need pressing, for there are many passages of Scripture which state the fact in so many words. But it ought also to be clear, that if we are members of the body of Christ, who is not on earth but in heaven, and if we have been formed into His body, not by any earthly organisation devised by men, but by the indwelling of the Spirit from heaven, we must be now heavenly; however poorly we make it manifest, this is what we are in the thought of God.

Christendom acts as though Christ were accepted on earth; hence we have aims for world-power in Rome, the church and the state united in Episcopacy, politics rampant in Nonconformity. The solemn fact is refused that Christ was and is rejected by the world. We have briefly considered His glory and perfection in John's Gospel; consider now His rejection by the world, His humiliation and shame.

"One of the officers struck Jesus with the palm of his hand" (John 18:22).

"Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged Him" (John 19:1).

"The soldiers plaited a crown of thorns and put it upon His head, and they put on Him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote Him with their hands" (vv. 2-3).

When the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, "Crucify Him, crucify Him."

But they cried, "Away with Him" (v. 15).

"They crucified Him, and two other with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst."

Need we continue? Does not that centre cross upon which hung the Author of life, the Father's sent One, declare to the universe that the world dominated by Satan would not have the Son of the living God? Consequently God has raised up His Son, and with like energy and exceeding grace He is gathering out of the world the members and uniting them to the glorious earth-rejected, heavenly Head. The members cannot be part of Christ and be of the world that rejected Him at one and the same time; they cannot be diverse from the Head; they must be as He is. So they are God's ecclesia, an assembly of out-called ones, no longer of the world out of which they are called. But if you call out a number of people without a purpose or centre you have a rabble, that was not the purpose of God when He commenced to call out His church. He unites them each by one Spirit to one Head and forms an indivisible organism, instinct in every member of it with the life of the Head, to be under the dictation of the Head and to manifest what He is.

Christendom has departed from this and become a rabble; setting up heads of its own choosing; going its own way; section warring with section; a veritable babel. How could it be otherwise when it denies its heavenly origin and turns from the Head in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells and seeks instead the help of men and the world that rejected and crucified Him. And there is no deliverance from this but by the truth as to what God has established. For this reason we are endeavouring to present the truth to our readers.

But let us, not fearing repetition, consider what this means. The Holy Ghost from heaven takes possession of a company of men upon earth; one Spirit in each individual in that company, forms them by this indwelling into one body; but having come from the exalted Christ, He unites them all to Him, so that now they form the body of the Man who is out of death and exalted in heaven. He is their Head there, and they being His body are to be expressive of Him here. The Head must direct the members of His body: His thoughts, His graces, His manners, His very life have now to find expression in them. This is outside entirely what man is naturally, for Christ has passed through death and is out of it; it is outside also all the springs of earth, for He is exalted in heaven; hence it can only be done in the Holy Spirit's power, but the members of the body of Christ have not to seek Him, for He dwells in them for this very purpose. This is an entirely divine conception, but it is a blessed reality to be entered into consciously by every one of us. It is such a reality, such a fact established in the invincible might of the Holy Spirit that no power of the enemy can destroy it; such a reality that when Jesus arrested Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road He challenged him with the question, "Why persecutest thou ME?" The Head and the body are one. And the Head directs the body; the members need no self-appointed leaders, they are to look to their Head for direction, and to be descriptive of Him where He is in the very scene of His crucifixion. What a victory for God is this! What an overthrow for the devil is here disclosed! He thought to rid the world that he dominated of Christ, living a life of lowliness and obscurity; he has been foiled by the wisdom God, for now the exalted, heavenly Man is here in His body; it is His epistle, known and read of all men; it is here maintained by the mighty power that has come from Him at God's right hand. Its destiny is the place where He is, meanwhile it is descriptive of Him where He was rejected, for Christ is in you the hope of glory.

On this line lies unity, to seek it on any other can only fail, but this is outside all failure, it is the unity of the Spirit. And if we see the truth and appreciate it we shall welcome the precious exhortation, coming as it does from the prisoner of the Lord.

"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-3).