Our Perfect Pattern

Notes of an Address at High Leigh, 1924, on John 8:3-5, 12-15, 34-35; 14:1; Colossians 3:12-17

We are glad to think of that glorious hour of which Ephesians 5:25-27 speaks, when our Lord will present to Himself His church which He loves and for which He gave Himself — a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. In that day, and for ever, His church will remain as a bride adorned for her husband, and He will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. His joy in the possession of His church will fully compensate Him for all that He suffered when He went into death to redeem it. Every blood-bought, Holy Ghost indwelt believer on earth is part of that church, and since we gathered here are believers we can rejoice in the prospect before us, and in the fact that then we shall be all that our Lord would have us to be. Now that same church — the assembly of God, is upon earth, and we are part of it, and it should be such as He would have it now. That is my subject. I would address you on the present life and grace of the assembly. I think you will understand what I mean before I come to the end of my address.

Precept is not enough for us, we must have a pattern for our conduct before our eyes, hence the life and grace that should show itself in the church or assembly on earth, is presented to us first in our Lord Jesus Christ. We see it here in this chapter, John 13, which is the first of this group of chapters that really form the centre of this special Gospel. The most wonderful words that were ever spoken under heaven fill these chapters, and those who listened to them were the nucleus of the assembly, they represented there all who afterwards should believe in the Name of the Lord; but before He said one word to them as to what their life and conduct during His absence was to be, He set Himself before them as their pattern.

Mark well how the Holy Spirit has recorded this for us: "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands." Let the force of it come home to us. Whatever the Lord did in this chapter was done in the full consciousness of the incomparable dignity that the Father had put upon Him. His right hand was filled and His left hand was filled, all things had been put into His hands — into the hands of JESUS whom men despised. The whole range of the glory of God had been committed to Him — the control of angels, the blessing of men, the judgment of devils; things in heaven, things on earth, and things under the earth; proof of the absolute confidence that the Father reposed in Him. He knew it, and knowing it, what will He do? What would any other man have done? Would he not have unveiled the glory before the astonished eyes of those who had despised Him and displayed the seals of His splendid office? Did Jesus do this? No, He did not. What did He do? Arising from supper, He laid aside His garments and girded Himself with a towel and washed His disciples' feet. In the tenderness of Divine love He did for them the labour of a slave! I am bringing before you our pattern, I am wanting to show you what the life and grace of the assembly really are. Look at our great Saviour, the Lord of glory, bending low to wash the feet of those uncultured and ignorant men, and doing it in the full knowledge that the chief place in the universe was His. He, the highest of all, served them in the lowest possible service, because He loved them with the greatest possible love. From Luke's Gospel we learn that they, poor self-centred men, so much like our wretched selves, were always seeking self-vindication and striving for the first place, that they were doing it even at the supper table, and that He said to them then what they well knew: "I am among you as he that serves." If there was one task more menial than another it fell to Him, to Him their Lord and Master. Many a time had He been up while they slept and prepared their breakfast. You may ask me how I know that. Recall that memorable morning on the shore of the sea, following their night of fruitless toil. They were disappointed men, tired and cold; but they found upon that shore a fire to warm them, lighted by His hands, and bread and coal thereon prepared by Himself to feed them. It was as though He said, "I want you to understand that I have not changed one bit; death and resurrection have not changed me; many a time before I died I showed my care for you by preparing a breakfast for you, and I am still just what I was, your servant." It was on "this wise that He showed Himself to them" for so we read in John 21, "HE SHOWED HIMSELF"; not the splendour of His majesty or the greatness of His power, but His tenderness, His care for their needs, the love that found its relief in serving them, He showed His heart, Himself. And now, says He, As I have done to you, so do ye to one another, I have left you an example.

The assembly is the continuation of Christ on earth. In it He is to be reproduced; His life and grace, who is the Head of the assembly which is His body, are to be manifested in it. The great truth is this, that we are members of the body of Christ. He went down into death, paying there the mighty price of our redemption, He has been raised up from the depths of death and seated at the right hand of the Eternal Majesty, and from that glory He has sent down the Holy Ghost to indwell us — to indwell you and me; and now, indwelt by the Holy Ghost, we are part of Himself. He looks down upon this gathering tonight and says, That is part of Me. This great fact was first disclosed when by His power the Lord struck the fanatical Saul of Tarsus to the earth as he pursued his mission of blood to Damascus. To him He said: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? And Saul, filed with amazement, asked: "Who art thou, Lord?" From the glory came the answer: "I am JESUS whom thou persecutest." He did not say, You are persecuting Mine, but "Me." And we are that, the youngest Christian here as well as the oldest — of each and all the Lord says, it is Me. He has redeemed us by His blood, sealed us by the Holy Ghost, and gathered us up into His blessed unity; we are members of His body; we are Himself. Pray, young Christian, that you may understand this, and that it may not only be in your head as doctrine, but in your heart and life in power. Christ is the Head of His body, and the life of the Head must flow in its activities through His members. This is the first of all reasons for the body of Christ's presence in the world, His life and grace and character are to come out in us, His members — the life of Jesus made manifest in our mortal flesh. The question is, How can it be?

The answer to our question is not far to seek. The Lord said to them, "Let not you heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me." But did they not believe in Him? They did, but this is not faith for soul's salvation, it is something more than that. He was not only their Pattern, He was also to be their Resource. They were to have Him as their inexhaustible and all-sufficient resource for the carrying out of God's purpose in their lives in the world. He is that for us. He says: "Believe also in Me." In that short sentence He presents Himself in the fullness and power of His Deity. All that ever God had been to men in olden days — to Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel — He would be to them, and will be to us. We do not see Him with our mortal eyes, but faith sees Him, and all that He is is at the disposal of our faith, He is indispensable, all-sufficient. "Believe also in ME."

The assembly when gathered together is the place in which the life and grace of the Lord should be manifested, it is the circle also where the authority of the Lord should be maintained. He is Lord as well as Head. Lordship first and then Headship is the order of the truth. I would connect authority with verse 34 of chapter 13, "A new commandment I give to you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." He is the Lord and has the right to command. He is not said to be Lord of the assembly, He is Head of the assembly; but He is certainly Lord in the assemblies when they are gathered. They are the circles where His rights and authority must be owned. I know those who can only interpret authority as discipline, judgment, casting out, and putting away. The judgment of evil there must be, of course. I am not setting that aside, but that is abnormal, what is normal is here given to us. The command is, "Love one another." If we are subject to the Lord, we shall exercise ourselves in this it this. "By this", He says, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Love not in word only, but in deed, love such as finds its expression in service, in self-sacrificing service. Of which our Lord gave us the pattern.

It calls for the setting self on one side, of making little of self and much of our fellow-members. Paul trod this path in his self-sacrificing service. He endured all things for the sake of the elect, because they were precious to Christ. This is only possible as Christ displaces self. A man is self-centred until he meets Christ. You never wished to be anybody else but yourself until you saw Christ. You were full of self-love until you saw Him, then you became sick of self, didn't you?

Many of you are young in the faith, and you have not learnt much about yourselves yet, but what you have learnt has not pleased you; nor have you learnt much about Jesus, but all you have learnt has delighted you. The more you know of Him the more will you abhor self, until you will be glad to look upon self as a condemned criminal and have Christ instead for your gain — that is carrying the cross and following Him, and thus with Christ instead of self before you, you will be able to devote yourself to Him and care for those whom He calls, "Me". Then will you be living in Colossians 3. Take verse 13, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." It is not here as in the Ephesian Epistle, "As God for Christ's sake has forgiven you," but "as Christ has forgiven you." It brings before us the manner and the measure of Christ's forgiveness. How has He forgiven us? He has made us part of Himself. He can have nothing against us if He has done that. I want you to understand it, He has not only pardoned every transgression, but He has made us members of His body, we are part of Himself now; we could not be nearer to Him, no relationship could be more intimate, that is how Christ has forgiven us. Now see what flows from this, "so also do ye." It is John 13 repeated. But what is the bearing of this? Well, it should be plain enough. If Christ has made us members of Himself, He has made us members one of another. If we are one with Him, so also are we one with each other, "we being many are one body." This is our calling as indicated in verse 15. Could Christians quarrel if they knew this great fact? Would there not always be the same forbearance and forgiveness towards each other as Christ, our Head, has had to each of us? Surely, for the grace of the Head would be in the members of His body if the truth were really in power within us.

Some of us, it may be, are conscious of deadness of soul, we are not making spiritual progress. Why? Let me ask, Are there hard feelings in our hearts against any Christian on earth? Are we harbouring an unforgiving spirit, any of us, against any? That is the reason of the dearth, and all our sighing and longing and praying will be futile as long as that spirit remains.

The Holy Ghost is grieved; the truth of our oneness with Christ and one another is denied, and the devil is delighted if we are not forbearing one another and forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven us. A poet has put into Paul's lips

"O men and women, whom I sought and slew,
  When I meet you in the heavenly places
How shall I weep to Stephen and to you?"

But let none of us postpone our weeping. If we have wronged any fellow-member of the body of Christ, if we have been overbearing instead of forbearing, hard and vindictive instead of forgiving, let us weep now, and confess it now as sin, sin not merely against a brother or sister, but against Christ. Then restored to the Lord and reconciled to those from whom we have been estranged, we may have Him afresh before us as our Pattern, and learning of Him become like Him. There is grace enough in Him for this, for He is Lord and He is Head, and as we know this we shall live in Colossians 3, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.