Christ and the Church

"Christ never fails, and there cannot be a want in Christ's church without there being an answer to it in Christ's heart" (J.N.Darby).

We know that that must be true, but it is both comforting and assuring to have it so clearly told "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it." He could not have done more than that for it, and since He has done so much we are certain that He cannot be indifferent to its needs, it is too precious to Him for that. Not crowns and kingdoms and glories yet to be are His concern now, but the sorrows and wants of His church, and He only can measure these; with it He occupies Himself today. It is His chief interest on earth.

Familiar but remarkable figures are used to convey to us what His feelings are towards His church. He gave the first of these Himself in the first mention of it in the New Testament. A merchant man seeking goodly pearls found one of great price and to purchase it he sold all that he had (Matt. 13). He valued it more than all his possessions, because of its purity, its preciousness and its peerless beauty. Such the church is to Christ. We may not see it like that, for it doth not yet appear what it shall be; but He saw it before ever He made it His own, as it will be for ever — His choicest gem without a flaw.

Then when the church came into actual being — its history commenced at Pentecost — the first word as to it and its nearness to Him came again from Himself in the glory. He arrested Saul of Tarsus, who was the devil's determined agent to destroy it from the earth, with the words, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?" His church is more than a valued and beautiful possession, it is a living thing, it is His body. On this side of the truth we have not a relationship as of two, but an indivisible unity. Christ and His members are one. Jesus of Nazareth, glorified and crowned in heaven, did not say, "Why persecutest thou Mine?" but ME. And the words should arrest us as they arrested Saul; there is surely a fullness in them that is little understood. To persecute one saint of God on earth is to persecute Christ; to despise or neglect one saint of God on earth is to despise and neglect Christ. He is the Head in heaven, they are His body on earth. They are one with Him, united to Him by the Spirit; He has communicated His life to them; to touch them is to touch Him. We shall need to be taught by the Spirit if this great fact is to be real to us, but it is there in the Scriptures for our instruction and meditation and joy.

Paul carried from that introduction to the Lord an indelible impression of the love that Christ bore to His church and of its unspeakable value to Him; and he never forgot that he had persecuted the saints that formed that church. Again and again he speaks of it with sorrow and pain. Hear his cry on one occasion. "I am the least of all the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."

"Saints, did I say? With your remembered faces.
Dear men and women, whom I sought and slew!
Oh, when we mingle in the heavenly places,
How will I weep to Stephen and to you."

But he obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly in unbelief. The Lord forgave Him and filled him with His own love for those he had wasted and destroyed, so that he could write to them, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). He could not lay down his life as the price of their redemption, for he needed to be redeemed himself, and Christ had made the great sacrifice for that once and for all, but he was willing to endure every other sort of suffering for the sake of the church. How close was his communion with his Lord about it! Christ's chief interest on earth had become his, and the nearer we draw to the Lord, the more like Paul we shall be.

But the pearl and the body are not enough as figures, to give the full truth as to what the church is to its Saviour and Head, wonderful as they are, a third figure is called into use, that of the marriage tie. And it is in relation to this that we are told "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph. 5). Here we have love revealed and reciprocated. He gave Himself, not His life only. Indeed His Church could not have been rescued and redeemed if He had not given His life, but it was Himself He gave, He has devoted Himself without measure or reserve in time and for eternity, to the blessing and joy of His church, and that it might be His own without challenge or rival for ever. His love is the source of all His activities. He gave Himself: we look back to the cross for the manifestation of that, there He passed through the deep waters of judgment and down into death, but He has been raised up from the dead and set at God's right hand in heaven, all things having been put under His feet, yet He does not forget His church, His love is unabated, the waters of death did not quench it, the ages of time have not dimmed it, we rejoice in the declaration of it in the past but it is active in the present, for now He sanctifies and washes and nourishes and cherishes it.

He considers His church with a tender solicitude, and uses His word to cleanse it from all the inward workings of evil, and to sanctify it to Himself from all worldly associations, for it must be suitable to Himself, holy in nature and without blame in conduct. He nourishes it by ministering Himself and His love to its affections and He cherishes it because it is moving through a cold and chilling world. And these present activities are to prepare it for the future: for the great marriage day (Rev. 19), when He will "present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing." That will be the supreme joy, the consummation of every hope in our hearts and in His, and having reached that highest, that utmost joy, it will abide in that fullness, maintained in it by divine power for ever and ever. The sun shall go down no more; there shall be no night there; throughout the eternal day the church shall be to Him as a bride adorned for her husband, receiving His love into her heart without measure and responding to it without reserve.

Yet His love has a deep and present joy, the joy of serving its object now, for His love finds its satisfaction in service. Of this, J.N.Darby has written, "He tenderly cares for the assembly (church) here below, He nourishes and cherishes it. The wants, the weaknesses, the difficulties, the anxieties of the assembly are the opportunities to Christ for the exercise of His love. She is the object of His affections. If the end is heaven, the assembly is not left desolate here. She learns His love where her heart needs it, she will enjoy it fully when the need has passed away for ever."

What a theme this is! Strange that we should be moved so little by it! Our spiritual life would be greatly enriched if we gave more earnest heed to it. A deeper knowledge of it would produce a truer sanctification from the world, it would deliver us from all selfish sectarianism, from pride of heart and assumption, it would enlarge and purify our hearts in love to all the saints, and it would above all stir up our affections toward our Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom, and make us cry with a growing earnestness in unison with the Spirit, "Even so, Come, Lord Jesus."