The Society of the Son of God

Address given in the Society of Arts Hall, Edinburgh, on January 3, 1929

"Where two or three are GATHERED TOGETHER to My Name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

"In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are GATHERED TOGETHER" (1 Corinthians 5:4).

"When ye come together in one place … Wherefore, my brethren, WHEN YE COME TOGETHER to eat, tarry one for another" (1 Corinthians 11:20, 33).

"If therefore the whole church come together in one place … How is it then, brethren? When ye COME TOGETHER" (1 Corinthians 14:23, 26).

There are all kinds of societies in the world founded and carried on by people who have common tastes and interests, and they have their gatherings together to further those interests and to enjoy the things that they have in common. The Burns Societies would be a good illustration of what I mean. These gather together to keep fresh the memory of the poet, and to share their delight in his genius and work. They are the Burns fellowship. We who are Christians belong to a Society, it is the Society of the Son of God. To this Society, or fellowship, God has called us by the gospel, and through the grace of God we have responded to the call, and now we have our part in this most exalted and wonderful society on earth or in heaven, "the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

We have not been drawn into this Society by mere admiration for Christ, whose name we bear, nor do we gather only to look back to One who is dead and gone and recall His words and works, for our Leader is a living Person, and we have been drawn to Him because we have found that He was able to meet our great need. He is our Saviour, who died for us, but lives again, and this fact imparts a special character to His Society. It brings out also the very great difference that lies between it and every other. There are great religious Societies in the world; there are followers of Confucius, of Buddha, of Mohammed. They have their legends, their traditions, their codes of ethics, and systems of philosophies, but the men whose names they bear are dead. BUT CHRIST LIVES; He has been raised again from the dead so that we not only have the words that He has spoken given to us by divine inspiration in the Scriptures, BUT WE HAVE HIMSELF. Only we must keep in mind the fact that though He lives He is absent from the world, and we, His Society, represent Him during His absence.

It seems to me that these two great facts lie behind these words that we so often quote from the 18th of Matthew's Gospel, "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name there am I in the midst of them." Our Lord is absent from the world and we are His representatives in it, a very high honour, a great privilege, but a very serious responsibility. Nevertheless, no responsibility is put upon us according to God's will that He is not able to enable us to carry out. We may consider ourselves in this world as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, and rejoice that there is power to maintain us in this responsibility for His glory.

Societies must gather together if they are to continue to exist. Suppose the members of a Society lost all interest in each other and in the object for which the Society came into being and ceased to gather together, it would at once die out, and we who belong to Christ's own Society must not cease to gather together — "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching" (Heb. 10). We may feel that enthusiasm for the name and interests of Christ is on the wane, but that must not affect us except to brace us up to persevere and hold fast. We must be like those of whom Malachi speaks, who feared the Lord and spoke often together of Him. Of such gatherings God took notice, and a book of remembrance was kept in heaven, and I believe that God keeps the Register of the Society of which I am speaking, and He marks the attendances of the members of that Society when they gather together to speak of the Lord, as those who are His representatives in the world. We know that the assembly of Christ cannot die out or be destroyed, for the gates of hell cannot prevail against it (Matt. 16). Yet if those who form that assembly ceased to gather together it would be a misnomer to call it a fellowship.

Now as we gather together as His representatives we are in the greatest favour, for the Lord tells us here that the Father in heaven listens to our prayers, and He not only listens but He answers. That is a wonderful thing. What wonderful power is in this way put within our reach! It seems to me, beloved Christian hearers, that we ought more deeply to consider this statement of the Lord. There is surely contained in it that of which we as yet have very little conception, "If two of you" — two of this Society — two of those who love the Lord and are loyal to Him here upon earth — "if two of you shall agree touching anything ye shall ask in My Name, it shall be done to you of My Father which is in heaven." I pray that God will stir all our hearts to consider that, and to realize the great privilege it gives us and the power that it puts within our reach. We have but to agree to ask and at once we are admitted to an intimate audience with the Father and He will answer our united prayer.

But not only are we in the most wonderful favour when we gather together as representing our Lord Jesus Christ, but He Himself is in the midst. He loves us and He cannot keep away from us, "Having loved His own which are in the world He loves them to the end," and His love constrains Him to be in the midst of those who gather to His Name, and being there He must have control of the gathering, and in it His authority and rights must be maintained. Anyone can see that nothing else could be right. Moreover the gatherings must bear His character, and that brings me to the main part of my subject. Take my illustration of the Burns societies again; the poet's character and genius give character to them; we could scarcely imagine people who hated poetry and wine being members of a Burns society, so that the gatherings of the societies are literary in character and, shall I say, convivial.

Do we in our gatherings together bear the character of the One whose Name we profess? That is a question that ought to cause us searchings of heart, for, if we deny His Name by our conduct, and do not keep His word in doctrine and practice, we forfeit all right to be owned as His Society or fellowship. And it is to urge this that I have read from the first epistle to the Corinthians. In these three chapters we have three definite gatherings together of the Society of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  The first shows us — THE HOLINESS OF HIS NAME;
  the second — THE LOVE OF HIS HEART;
  the third — THE WISDOM OF HIS MIND,
which wisdom He demonstrates by His Administration in His Assembly.

We must begin with THE HOLINESS OF HIS NAME, and the necessary gathering together spoken of in the fifth chapter is used of the Spirit of God to teach us that the Name of the Lord must be kept clear of all complicity with evil; there is not a shade of congruity between the two. There is no fellowship apart from this, for God who has called us to this fellowship is holy, and His Son, whose fellowship it is, as "the Holy and the True"; the Spirit of God who has formed the fellowship is the Holy Spirit, and the faith that we hold in common is "our most holy faith," and we who are in this Society "are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints" (chap. 1:2). It was not always true of us, for our sins were no less grievous than the sins of others, but "ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (chap. 6:11). We owe all to the grace of God.

What, then, is it to be holy? To be holy doesn't mean to be hypocritical as were the Pharisees, or legal-minded and austere like some of the old puritans, or unnatural like the monk who separates himself from all his relatives and shuts himself up in a monastery to live an unnatural life. To be holy means to be spiritually healthy, for our word health comes from the same root. It is to be healed, made whole.

It means to be whole, wholehearted if you will, wholehearted towards the One whose name we bear, Himself and His interests controlling us, the reason of our gatherings together. And if we are to be in spiritual health, to be practically holy in character and in ways, there are certain things that we must exclude from our lives. They are the old leaven and the leaven of malice and wickedness. If our tastes run after these things we are not in spiritual health, we are not holy, and we cannot be happy in the presence of the Lord Jesus, for an unholy man is an unhappy man. The tastes of the holy man are gratified by the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The plea for holiness is based upon the fact of Christ our Passover being crucified for us. It seems to me that is the lever that is used in this 5th chapter of 1st Corinthians, and it sets before us the measure of the holiness that belongs to Christ's Society. The basis of the Society is that He has been sacrificed for us.

Let us think of Calvary for a moment. Behold the Lamb of God there slain for us, and let us ask ourselves the question, Why? It was because we were sinful, because of our sins, our guilt, because of what we were. Then do you think it right that we should continue to be as once we were if what we were caused Him that death, those sufferings? Is it right that we should trifle with that that cost our Lord so much to save us from? Christ reached us through that cross. It was the only way by which He could save us. When we were at our very worst, grace abounded towards us, but shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? That surely is our instant and hearty conclusion. If we are feasting upon the Lamb roast with fire, and we know that we are under the shelter of the blood, then that which came under God's condemnation when Jesus died for us will be what we shall condemn. The evil that is in the world, the evil that the flesh and the devil proposes to us will be things from which we will keep separate that we may keep the feast of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Let us not think that this feast is a fast, if we refuse the evil, and purge it out, we do but refuse that which can only mar us and make us miserable. If we would be happy and free in our souls we must keep the feast of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. What is this bread? We can understand what the feasting upon the Lamb roast with fire means — it means that we enter into what death, the death of Jesus, meant, when He came into contact with the judgment of God on our behalf. That means something for us. It means that He loved us, and we feast upon His love. We feast upon those things that His death sets forth. A wonderful lesson-book for us is the cross of Christ, and wonderful food for our souls there is there. But what is the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth? It is Christ also. Sincerity and truth were perfectly expressed in Him. The greatest light could search His blessed ways and the motives behind them and only reveal the perfection of everything that He was and did. Sincerity is that which will bear the searching light of the sun, and there He was in the presence of the Father's glory, and the Father's voice was heard, saying, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Absolute singleness of aim and purpose; absolute singleness of heart; the Father's will His very being — nothing else but the Father's will. In regard to God in Him there was absolute sincerity. And He was the truth. There was nothing false, out of place, or exaggerated in Him. Everything was set by Him in its right proportion, in its right relationship; in Him we see what God is; we see what man is; we understand what we are, and the wonderful relationship into which we are brought.

Sincerity and truth were made manifest in all their perfection in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is as we feed upon that life of His, that entrancing life, the life of the altogether lovely One, that we keep the feast, day by day, the whole week round. We begin with the fact that Christ our Passover was slain for us, and then we feed upon His life, and as we do so we shall surely be practically what God has made us, a new lump, sanctified in Christ Jesus. Assimilating what He is, we shall take character from Him; there will be a spiritual formation in progress, and we shall maintain the holiness of His name — absolutely necessary if we are to be truly His Society. May God exercise us everyone as to the holiness of His name.

But the gathering together that is spoken of in chapter 5 is abnormal, and the fewer of such a gathering the better. Nevertheless, the Spirit of God uses the fact of the evil there in Corinth to press upon us the character of our fellowship, and make it plain to us that the holiness of the name of Christ must be maintained. But now we come to ordinary normal gathering together of the people of God; the coming together for the Lord's Supper, and what can there be in connection with this gathering but joy, for there is brought before us in a very special way THE LOVE OF HIS HEART? How wonderful it is to hear His words, "This is My body which is for you; this is My blood which is for you." How near that brings us to Him; how near it brings Him to us! It is as though He would press upon us this very great and blessed fact that there upon the cross we were in His thoughts. He was there for us, and as a response to that, He desires that we should be together for Him, for He says "Do this in remembrance of Me." On the cross it was as though He said, YOU, I am here for you, My body and My blood are for you, and when we gather together, He says, You are for Me. "You" on the cross, "Me" when we gather together to remember Him in His death. If we are true members of His Society; if we really understand what the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, means, we shall not neglect this.

At the gathering together for the Lord's Supper it seems to me that the Lord says to us, as Joseph said to his brethren, "Come near to me." Do you remember that touching story in Genesis 45. And when they came near he took them one by one and kissed them, putting the kiss of his affection upon every cheek. So when we gather together to remember the Lord in His death He puts the kiss of His love afresh upon every one of us. The great feature of this gathering therefore is the love of His heart.

But there is another side. We show the Lord's death till He comes. As being gathered to His name, to use again my word, being His Society, we not only give joy and gladness to His heart, but we bear witness to the fact that we are His Society; we show His death till He comes. The world saw Christ last dead upon the cross — that has often been pointed out — they didn't see Him in resurrection, and as a matter of fact He is still dead to the world, and it has never repented of His murder, but we bear witness to the fact that we have joined ourselves to the One whom the world slew. We take our stand by His cross, just as Joseph of Arimathea did when he begged the body of Jesus and bore it to the sepulchre to lay it there. We make manifest to every intelligent creature that we take our stand by the One whom the world crucified. We say, with Paul, "God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world is crucified to us and we to the world."

"And then we have to consider each other too in this connection. We read, "Therefore, beloved brethren, when ye come together, tarry for one another." That does not only mean to wait until all can be present — surely there is much more in it than that. It means that we have to be marked by consideration, forbearance, love, grace — that, in fact, the way the Lord has treated us is the way we are to treat each other. That comes out in the 18th chapter of Matthew most definitely, for immediately the Lord had spoken of coming to His own, when they are gathered together, Peter asks, "If my brother sin against me seven times shall I forgive Him?" and the Lord said, "I say to you not seven times, but seventy times seven." Tarry for one another when ye come together, and by mutual forbearance and sympathy and love and grace be to each other what the Lord has been to you. If the love that caused our Lord to give Himself for us, fills our hearts, we shall surely love one another. There will be neither forbearance nor consideration if there is not love. But if there is love there will be both.

In chapter 14 there is set before us THE WISDOM OF HIS MIND. In the closing words of it we read: "The things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord." The title Lord means that He is in authority and the Administrator, and He shows the wisdom of His mind by His administration in His assembly. Now commandments are not optional, we either obey them or are rebellious, and to "obey is better than sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Sam. 22:23). I know that some are indifferent and ignorant; they have not enough spiritual interest to inquire as to the will of the Lord, and the apostle says, "If any man be ignorant let him be ignorant." But we must not be indifferent or ignorant, much less must we be disobedient, for if we are we shall hinder the working out of the wisdom of the Lord in the assemblies in which He is the Administrator, and shall suffer incalculable loss thereby, and God's intention will be in part obscured, for that intention is, that now to the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3:10).

I want us to realize that our Lord has a Society, a circle, in which He administers according to His own rights and wisdom. The fact will give us great satisfaction if we love Him. When He came into the world He was refused His rightful place. He came to His own and His own received Him not; He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, but the world knew Him not, and He was cut off and had nothing. No place was given Him in this world in which the wisdom of His administration might be shown out, but on the evening of the resurrection day He stood in the midst of His disciples, and they were glad when they saw THE LORD. He had His own circle now in which His supremacy was acknowledged, and where all would be subject to Him. We can visualize the scene in that upper room.

Peter, John, James, would not seek any pre-eminence there, nor force their own views upon their brethren; every ear would be attend to His voice, and all subject to Him. Now the Spirit of God has come from the exalted Lord in heaven to maintain His rights in that sacred circle, and we have been drawn into it, we belong to it, and I ask you, my dear friends, do we not desire to realize and to experience the wisdom of His mind in His administration in His assembly? Then we also must be subject to Him, we must be glad to see THE LORD.

The difference between the gathering together in chapter 11 and this in chapter 14:15, is that in the former we minister to the Lord, and in the latter He ministers to us. So you find one great word in it is "edification." The Lord gives the word, and knowing the need He gives the right word and His Society is edified thereby. The prophesying spoken of in verse 3 is not the foretelling of coming events, but the telling out of the Word of God, to build up the saints in the truth, and to stir them up to a fuller devotion and to bind up their hearts if they sorrow at all. And if a man cannot edify his brethren he ought to keep his mouth shut, for the Lord has got somebody there who can. In the edification of His own we see the wisdom of the Lord's administration. If the mind of the Lord is in evidence the minds of those present have to be active, but subject to the Lord. Understanding has its place. "I will sing with the spirit and with the understanding also; I will pray with the spirit and with the understanding also." There cannot be edification apart from understanding.

There must not only be a spiritual impulse, but that spiritual impulse must find expression according to the understanding under the direction of the Lord, and the spirits of the prophets must be subject to the prophets. A man ought to be able to control himself as being under the Lord's control in the assembly of the Lord. If he would be in an ecstasy, let it be in his own room and let him be beside himself to God alone, but in the assembly of God he must be sober, for in that assembly the Lord is the Administrator, and God is not the author of confusion but of peace. And in this connection the question arose as to speaking with tongues, and the apostle distinctly by the commandments of the Lord shows of what small value relatively this which these carnal Corinthians thought so much of was; he shows also into what contempt it might bring them, for he says, Suppose an unbeliever comes in, or an unlearned man, and you are all speaking with tongues, he will say you are mad; it will move his contempt. Display yourselves, and the only result will be the amusement of the onlooker. But, he says, if you prophesy, if you speak the word of God, and that can only be under the Lord's direction, his conscience will be searched, and he will fall down before you and confess that God is with you of a truth. I wonder, beloved Christians, how much of that there is in the gatherings with which we are acquainted. It seems to me that it brings out most wonderfully the character of the Lord's administration. Not only has He got edification for His own people in view, but He has got grace for the unbeliever coming in, He thinks of the outsider and His grace overflows to him, such is the blessedness of His administration.

The question is, Is it possible? It is here in the Word of God, and if we are prepared to walk according to the holiness of His Name and to feast upon the love of His heart, and to be enthusiastic and full of admiration for the wisdom of His mind, it seems to me that the Lord would manifest Himself in a gracious revival that would mean not only the gathering together and binding together and building up of the saints, but in blessing to the unbeliever who comes in by the way. And they would come, for grace would attract them, and they would not come in vain.

The day is coming when God's kingdom will come on earth and the Lord will sit upon His throne, and He will be the great public Administrator then, and harmonize everything in this world to the will of God. Then the desert will blossom a the rose, and springs of water break forth in desert places, and the hills will dance, and the trees will clap their hands with gladness, and peace and prosperity will spread their wings over the face of the world. The wisdom of the Administrator will secure this, but we, before that day comes, should know His wisdom, grace, and power now, and realize these great blessings in a spiritual way. We may well rejoice and praise the Lord for the grace that has saved us, and enlightened our darkness with the knowledge of the Lord, and joined us to the Lord, and so to one another. And this can never change, these gifts of God are for ever. But we all should be deeply moved by them, for it is the will of God that we should be practically what He has made us in Christ; it is His will that we, His own, should be gathered together, assemblies in which the Lord may be known and where light may shine from Him for the blessing of others, where the holiness of His Name may be maintained, the love of His heart enjoyed, and the wisdom of His mind displayed. And to Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.