The Lord's Chief Treasure

"Upon this rock I will build MY CHURCH*" (Matthew 16:18).
"If so ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Peter 2:3).

{*It may be well to explain what the word translated “church” in our Authorized Version means. The word is “ecclesia” and means to “call out.” The ecclesia is composed of all who have come to Christ, the Son of the living God, they are called “living stones” in 1 Peter 2. They form one assembly, having been called out from the bulk of men and from the world by the gospel with this great end in view. Assembly is the right word to use, wherever church occurs, hence we use it in this paper, except when quoting Scriptures from the Authorized Version.}

There is that in these words of the Lord that must make a powerful appeal to every heart that loves Him, and only such are in my mind as I write. Let us consider the position as Matthew shows it to us. In chapter 1 the Lord comes into the world as the Heir to David's throne, the rightful King of Israel, and His name is called JESUS — Jehovah Saviour — for He had come to save His people from their sins. But none owned Him or did Him homage but strangers from the East. When Jerusalem, the metropolis of His Kingdom, heard of His advent it did not rejoice, but was troubled along with Herod, the Idumean minion of Roman Emperors, who closed his long life by the massacre of the infants of Bethlehem, in the hope of destroying the Lord. Jerusalem did not want its Saviour, it greatly preferred its oppressor. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not."

But He had another title, greater, more glorious and far-reaching than that of Son of David, King of Israel; He was the Son of Man, this is His title as having the right to the universal throne, and not less than eighty times does He speak of Himself by it; but it is significant that the first time that He uses it, He says, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay has head" (Matt. 8:20). "He was in the world and the world was made by Him [and every part of it was part of His dominion], but the world knew Him not."

Who was it that was refused His rights when He came into the world? Who was it who was in the world a rejected King and a homeless Stranger? It was your Saviour, Christian, the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself for you. Is your heart not moved as you think of the treatment that was meted out to Him? And is it not a joy to you to know that He has got something that He can call His own, in spite of it all? For it is at this time, mark you, when utterly rejected, when the leaders of the people had decided to kill Him and not crown Him, that He says, "I will build MY CHURCH." Here is something that cannot be taken from Him. It is more to Him than crowns and kingdoms; they shall cease, but this shall abide for ever for the deep joy and unceasing satisfaction of His heart. The words throb with His love for it. He speaks of it as "My church," and we know that "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it." Is it not a joy to you to know that your Saviour has got this compensation for all His suffering on earth? And does it not add to your joy to know that you are part of it? Yes, you are part of that which Jesus calls "My church."

But we should not be able to appreciate the blessedness of what the assembly is to Christ and our part in it if we had not tasted that the Lord is gracious. There is great sweetness in the words. They are gospel words, and describe Him who said. "Come to Me, all ye that labour and are heavy, laden, and I will give you rest." They mean that when we came to Him in our sin and need we found Him to be most accessible. He did not spurn us, but made us feel that He was glad to see us, and we tasted that He is gracious, He became then and there indispensable to us. We cannot do without Him. It is all beautifully illustrated for us in Matthew 16; we see the perfection of Scripture in the fact that the gracious incidents in that chapter are recorded for us immediately before this great declaration of the Lord as to His assembly.

A Sidonian woman cried after the Lord, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David, my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." She did not understand that being a Gentile she had no claim upon Him as Son of David, and He made as though He heard her not. He did hear and He meant to bless her, but she had to learn, as we have had to learn, that His blessing is free and sovereign grace, and this she learnt quickly. She would not be said, Nay. She would not let Him go except He blessed her. Then He spoke and said, "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs." Her answer was magnificent, "Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the Master's table." It was as though she said, "I know that you have spread the table for the house of Israel according to all the promises of the past, but your provision is so abundant that that table will not contain it, it must overflow, and I shall be satisfied with the overflow." She got her desire, she tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Then great multitudes came to Him, bringing their lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet. Every human ill was there in that multitude and His compassion flowed out without reserve and He healed them all; they tasted that the Lord was gracious. That multitude who had followed Him needed bread. He had come from heaven to be the Bread of Life for them, if they would receive Him, but did He care for their physical needs also? Yes, He will "not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way." They were His creatures and He would show His compassion, His tender consideration for them no matter how careless of His claims they might be. So they did eat of the loaves and fishes and were filled. They tasted that He was gracious.

These instances of blessing serve to show us what He is, how gracious, compassionate, and ready and able to meet the need of all who seek Him, and we have sought Him; weary and burdened we came to Him, and we have tasted that He is gracious. It is not head knowledge with us, not mere theory, I trust. We have taken into our own experience this blessed fact — He is gracious. We cannot do without Him, nor ever shall as long as we are in this world. It is good for us to have learned this great truth and having learned it to cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart, for it prepares us for what follows.

We cannot do without Him, that is a gospel fact; but He cannot do without us, that is an assembly fact. He is indispensable to us, but we are indispensable to Him. He is gracious to us, we are precious to Him. Thrones and kingdoms He must have, for He must reign until He has put down every enemy, they are a necessity for the glory of His name and the eternal supremacy of God, but His assembly meets the need of His heart, in it He shall be satisfied. He cannot do without us. Let this side of the truth fill us with wonder, for only as we wonder shall we grow in the knowledge of its meaning, and worship.

We shall not cease to appreciate and show grace as we take in the truth. For the nearer we get to the heart of the Lord, the more gracious we shall become, for we shall be more like Him and He does not cease to be gracious to us when His glory as Builder and Head of His assembly is revealed to us. The truth of Christ and His assembly is truth for the heart, rather than for the head, it can only be truly learnt by the heart, it is only seen by the eyes of the heart. It is not the wish of the devil that we should understand it, he will be well pleased if we are indifferent about it, and it is a sad thing to have to say, but it is nevertheless true, that there are many who owe their eternal blessing to the Lord Jesus who are utterly indifferent to this that means so much to Him. Where this is the case, the devil has gained a temporary triumph; it is only temporary, for that day is surely coming of which the Scripture speaks, when the assembly shall be presented to Christ, all glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blame (Eph. 5). It shall appear "as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21). There will be no indifference then, no sleeping or divided affections. For the wife of the Lamb, which the assembly is yet to be, shall then receive into its heart His love without measure and respond to it without reserve.

But it is the Lord's desire that we should know His love as a present reality and respond to it now. This desire finds expression in Paul's inspired words, "I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 2:2). These remarkable words are for us. Think, O Christian, if you are inclined to be careless as to this, what it means to Christ. Only FIRST LOVE can satisfy Him, but what joy it must give to Him if your determination is to keep yourself for Him and not be turned from Him by any selfish thoughts or worldly ambitions. Against this the devil is continually plotting. But are you going to please Christ or the devil? Because of the danger the apostle poured out his fears to the Corinthians, "But I fear," says he, "lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve, through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." Let us fear also, it will cast us more wholly on the grace of the Lord and by His grace only can we be kept.

The truth of the assembly depends entirely upon who Christ is. Hence the Lord asks His disciples, "Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" The people did not know. They looked upon Him as one of the old prophets returned to the earth, their minds could not rise above what had been, though they might looking be looking for some advance in it. But they were wrong, as the Father's revelation to Peter proved. "But whom say ye that I am?" comes the challenge from the Lord. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," was their answer and the right one. He is the anointed Man, for "the Christ" means this; He is the Man in resurrection, for this was anticipated in "the Son of the living God," as Romans 1 clearly shows. As "the Christ" He is the beginning of a new creation, the Leader and Head of a new race of men. This great truth can only be learnt as the Father teaches it, faith only takes it in. As "the Christ" He stands in contrast to Adam, against whom the gates of hell prevailed, for he by his disobedience involved his whole race in condemnation and death, but "the Christ" having accomplished one great obedience has been raised up, the Conqueror of death, and He is the Head of a new race, all who belong to it are in Him, He builds them together into one assembly and it is one and shall be one for ever, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. What joy and triumph and courage the knowledge of this gives us. Christ's assembly is invincible. It will survive every attack of the enemy. It alone is stable and we who believe are part of it.

"Blessed art thou Simon Barjona," said the Lord, "for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but My Father, which is in heaven," and we all have come to this same blessedness if ye know our Lord, as "the Christ, the Son of the living God," for it is the Father's work thus to reveal Him to us. How wonderful it is! We have not only tasted that the Lord is gracious, equal to all our deep need, but the Father in His grace has opened our hearts to a new position, a new calling, a new place of favour, in revealing to us who His Son is. The revelation is from heaven, and God has made it not as the Almighty or as Jehovah, but as Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Upon what He is as "the Christ, the Son of the living God," the church is built. And Peter is the name that He gives to all who come to Him, for they are built up on Him, living stones in living and everlasting union with Himself, the living Stone.