"The Church which is His Body"

(Eph. 1:20-21)
With Some Collateral Truths
F. G. Patterson
"Show Me Now Thy Way"
"He Preserveth the Way of His Saints"
About 1870 New Edition


Much need has been felt for a concise, simple statement of the principles which should guide the Lord's people who have had grace and faithfulness given them to "depart from iniquity," in the professing church (which Paul likens to "a great house,") in late years. So many wiles and artifices of the enemy have been set to work to prevent them from walking in the truth, that many have found extreme difficulty in finding God's pathway in such a labyrinth of evil and corruption as is around. It is to be feared that the difficulties have almost deterred many from seeking it further, if not giving up in despair the endeavours to discover God's way.

This being the case, the few following remarks (which contain but an outline of the immense principles treated of) are put forth with the earnest humble hope, that the Lord may use them for His own glory, and make them helpful to the children of God in seeking to discern their pathway amidst the corruptions of Christendom in these last days. A pathway which is so simple and clear to the believer, where there is a single eye; and the truth of which has more deeply convinced, as they have followed it, the souls of those whom a God of truth has in grace guided therein.

These remarks are committed, in all humility, to Him who alone can make them of any value, by using them in the power of His gracious Spirit — to Him whose right it is, with the weak things of the world, to confound the things that are mighty, so that no flesh may glory in His presence.

With the hope that He may use and bless them, they are sent forth to His Church.

"The Church which is His Body"

In Ephesians 1:22-23, the Church of God is termed the "body of Christ." When Christ was exalted to Heaven as Man, we learn that God, "gave him to be head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." (Eph. 1:22-23.) See also 1 Cor. 12:12, etc. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit: for the body is not one member, but many," etc. Again in Col. 1:18, Christ risen from the dead "is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead." Christ has been exalted as Man to heaven, after accomplishing the work of redemption on His cross.

He was "with God," and "was God," the eternal Son, before anything we could conceive had a beginning. He was glorified as Man when he ascended to the right hand of God. God was glorified as to sin by Him in the work of His cross. Every moral character of God — justice, truth, majesty, love, righteousness — all glorified and established in that work of Jesus. "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway (i.e., without waiting for the days of the kingdom, but straightway) glorify him." (John 13:31-32.) And so God "raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in heavenly places … . And gave him to be head over all things to the Church, which is his body." (Eph. 1:20-21.)

When Jesus was glorified, the Holy Ghost descended from heaven on the day of Pentecost, according to the word of the Lord, "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever." "The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name." (John 14:16-26.) "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you. And when he is come," etc. (John 16:7-8.) Again, "When He was risen from the dead, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." (Acts 1:4-5.)

Again, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place, and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. … And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Again, "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him, … being delivered by the determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands, have crucified and slain; whom God hath raised up … . Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." (Acts 2:1-2, 4, 22, 23, 24, 33.)

The Holy Ghost descended from heaven, then, when the Lord Jesus was glorified; abides for ever with the Church — "He shall abide with you for ever," (John 14:16); and "By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, … and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:13.) He unites all believers, since his descent, as one body, to their Head exalted to heaven. "He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit." (1 Cor. 6:17.) All those, no matter where, who are united to Christ by the Holy Ghost, compose the "Church, which is His body," the complement or fulness of Him that fills all in all. They are said to be quickened together with Him, raised up together and seated together in Christ in heavenly places. (Eph. 1:19; 2:6.) They are not in actual bodily presence there as yet, but they wait for Him to come and take them to Himself — "I will come again and receive you unto myself."

Hence the formation and calling of the Church of God, or body of Christ, begins at the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, and ends when the Lord Jesus comes to take it up to meet him in the air. The Corinthians came behind in no gift "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 1:7.)* In Philippians, "For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Phil 3:20.) "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:4.)

{*I do not distinguish here — what Scriptures does clearly — the coming for the saints, from His appearing or manifestations in glory with them, as our present subject does not need that we should do so.}

The Thessalonians "turned to God from idols ….. to wait for his Son from heaven." (Thess. 1:9-10.) In writing to them the Apostle gives the details, "We which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent (anticipate) them which are asleep, … (for) the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:15-17.) "Behold I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye … . The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Cor. 15:51-52.) This chapter treats of the resurrection of the saints — "Christ the first-fruits, afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (verse 22) — and none else.

These two events, then, are the beginning and ending of the calling out of the Church of God, or body of Christ, viz., the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, and the coming of the Lord to take the saints to heaven. The Holy Ghost unites believers into one body, and to Christ as head of His body. There was not, nor could there have been any union of this kind in the Old Testament times. Salvation belonged to all saints, in virtue of the work of Christ, who had been, or will be, either before the Church began to be formed, or after it shall have been taken up; but no union with Christ, or position in the body. Union with Christ is by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Search in vain in Scripture for the common thought, "united to Christ by faith:" in Scripture there is no such thought. "He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit;" and "your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which ye have of God." (1 Cor. 6:17-19.)

In Old Testament times, the Head was not in heaven, as Man; and the Holy Ghost was not given. Jesus stood and cried, saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:37-39.) Every good thing of old, from the Creation, was done by the power of the Holy Ghost; but He was not then given to dwell in the body of believers, and to unite them thus one to the other, and to Christ as in one body.*

{*It is the difference between His working and His coming to dwell in the Church which is so important. He wrought before the day of Pentecost; He came then. Just as the Son of God wrought in creation and in the Old Testament days; but He came at His incarnation. You never get God dwelling upon earth until redemption was accomplished. We find this in the typical redemption of Israel. Before that, God visited the earth: He did not dwell. He visited Adam in the Garden, He did not dwell with Adam. He visited the patriarchs — came and ate in the tent-door with Abraham, in condescending grace; but He did not dwell with him. But the moment a typical redemption is accomplished, and Israel is delivered, God came down to dwell amongst them in the pillar of cloud and the glory.

As we read in Exodus 29:46, "I am the Lord their God that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them." So, after Christ died and rose, and went on high, having accomplished redemption, the Holy Ghost came down to dwell, and abides with the Church for ever. His presence is a witness to our acceptance and the perfection of the work of Christ in which we stand. It is not only that a man is born again, and all his sins put away — God declaring that He will never remember them any more (Heb. 10:17); but the Holy Ghost has come down and dwells in the believer as a seal of redemption through Christ's work in which he stands. This is quite another thing than being born again. (See Gal. 3:26.) "For ye are all the sons of God, by faith in Christ Jesus."

Then in chapter 4:6, "And because ye are sons (not to make you such), God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." A saint before the day of Pentecost was born again. A believer since that time is not only born of God and knows his sins have been borne by Christ and put away, but the Holy Ghost dwells in his body, uniting him to Christ in heaven. ("He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit." 1 Cor. 6:17.). He knows this in the consciousness of his soul: because the Lord said, "At that day (i.e., the Spirit's day) ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." (John 14:20.)}

The Church of God, then, is the "body of Christ," and nothing else. It was, before the world was, in God's eternal purpose. Is not of the world now, but its members are strangers and pilgrims here. Will not be of it, in the days of the millennial age, although reigning over it with Christ. And in the eternal state, preserves its own eternal character when all time distinctions — Jew, Gentile, etc. — have passed away. "To God be glory in the Church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Eph. 3:21.)

This, then, is the Church of God — the body of Christ, in God's sight; and the normal position of all believers who are members of it. The feeblest members, as the strongest, have their position in it. Their realization of their position is quite another thing. We read in Eph. 5:30, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." Such is the union of all who believe with Christ. And remember, it is when Christ had accomplished redemption, risen from the dead, and ascended to heaven, that this could be said, and not before.

Practical Value of the Doctrine.

But this being so, we might think the doctrine of the Church, Christ's body had no practical value for its members. I desire to notice the immense practical value which it bears. I believe nothing can be more important at the present day. With the doctrine comes in many collateral truths, the power of which many of the Lord's people have been getting hold of in these days; such is the true character of Christian ministry, i.e., Christ's gifts bestowed in his body, evangelist, pastor, and teacher, etc. (Eph. 4:7-12), the free liberty of Christian ministry used of the Holy Ghost, who divides to each one severally as He will. (1 Cor. 12:11), etc., etc. But I pass these by, for the present importance of the subject before my readers.

I need hardly now say that the body in its completeness is the entire number of believers gathered out by the Holy Ghost between Pentecost and the Lord's coming, and united in one body to Him as head. But, inasmuch as the body is never in its complement together in the world, at any given time between these two events, there is another aspect of the use of the word "body." We find that the members of Christ who are on earth at any given moment between the two events are always treated in Scripture as the "body of Christ." "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular," writes the Apostle to the Assembly of God at Corinth. (1 Cor. 12:27.) "There is one body and one spirit," (Eph. 4:4.) This is very important, as it gives us the practical use of the doctrine; otherwise we might be inclined to treat it as that only belonging to the body in its completeness and heavenly aspect, and thus have no practical value. Even the Assembly of God at Corinth was in principle the "body of Christ." It was gathered together on the ground and principle of the body, apart from the world.

The Lord's Supper.

The Apostle Paul, who reveals the truth of the Church, and to whose ministry it was given, received a special revelation concerning the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-25), and this in connection with the mystery of "Christ and the Church," His body, which was committed to him. (Eph. 3:2-9, and Col. 1:24-25.) The Lord's Supper according to God, links together two things, i.e., the death of the Lord and His coming again. In partaking of the Supper we show His death, by which we have life and redemption, till He come. "As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show the Lord's death till He come." (1 Cor. 11:26.) But the Lord's Supper is more than this; it is also the symbol of the unity of the body of Christ. We cannot partake of it, according to God, without owning this. If only two or three members of Christ came together now — when the outward manifestation of the unity of Christ's body is destroyed — to break bread, (as such they are privileged to do so, see Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 11:20), they express in the act the unity of the "body of Christ." The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread (loaf) which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? "For we, being many, are one loaf, one body, for we are all partakers of that one loaf." (1 Cor. 10:16-17.)

So that it is impossible to partake of the Lord's Supper in its true sense, according to Scripture, without expressing in the act the unity of the body of Christ. And hence the unscripturalness of attempting to take the ground of independency, or that which is assumed by the different human sects or churches so called.

It is with reference to the Supper that a discipline is exercised, whether self-judgment, or the discipline of the Assembly, or that of the Lord himself. It becomes thus a moral centre — not, of course, the centre, but a moral centre — and a test for the conscience of the individual Christian or of the Assembly. It is with reference to the Supper that the individual believer scrutinizes his own conduct and walk; thus not leaving himself open to other discipline. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged," (5:31). Failing this personal scrutiny of ourselves, the Assembly, which was gathered on the ground and principle of the body, was responsible to put out from among themselves that wicked person, (1 Cor. 5:13, and the whole chapter); if they failed in this, the Lord exercised the discipline needed and neglected; and "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." (1 Cor. 11:30.) They had been even taken away by death. So that we see that the personal scrutiny of ourselves, the discipline of the Assembly, and that of the Lord when the other two were neglected, were all exercised with reference to the Supper, which is the symbol of the unity of the body of Christ.

This is an immense principle, especially in these days of ruin, in the professing church. When even two or three are gathered together thus, apart from evil, they are responsible for all this. "Do ye not judge them that are within." (1 Cor. 5:12.) And besides, it is the only way Scripture knows or owns; and is the only way in which we can gather together, according to God; i.e., on the principles of the body of Christ in the name of the Lord. Even two or three are fully competent and responsible, although they are not the entire body, for all this, even as seen on earth at any one time, or in any one place, and not claiming to be such; and, moreover, not for a moment pretending to set up or reconstruct anything, or manifest any unity — although they express it in the Supper, which is quite another thing — in the ruin of the professing Church of Christendom. If they tried to do this, it would only be a failure, and they would soon find out their mistake.

On the other hand, they are necessarily in fellowship with all who were thus gathered, in the name of the Lord, on the ground and principles of the one body, and one Spirit, who acts in the one body, no matter where such are to be found, space and locality making no difference. Hence it is inevitable that they must be in fellowship with all who are thus gathered; while, at the same time, not pretending to be the entire body as seen on earth at any given time; nor doing so in such a manner as to exclude other members of the body, who are not thus gathered before God, — the title of all to be with them being membership of Christ, and corresponding holiness of walk and conversation.

The House of God.*

The Church has another aspect, which we find in Eph. 2:20-22; it is the house of God here below, the habitation of God through the Spirit. Built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, (chap. 3:5 proves them to be those of the New Testament), Jesus Christ Himself the corner stone. This building is the true thing which God builds. But when we turn to 1 Cor. 3, we find what man builds. The Corinthians were, as responsible before the world, "God's building" verse 9, "The temple of God," verses 16, 17. Paul, as a wise master-builder, hath laid the foundation in his doctrines, and no other could be laid; this foundation would stand sure. (2 Tim. 2:19.)

{*A right understanding of the distinction between the "body" and the "house" is of the utmost importance, and is a key to many passages and much of the teaching of the new Testament. The professing Church has mixed up both, attributing to the "house" the privileges of the "body."}

Man then began to build, and brought in upon the foundation, "wood, hay, stubble," as well as "gold, silver, precious stones," mischievous and worthless doctrines, persons, etc., with which the house is now filled, and by which it has been built by man. But the Holy Ghost did not leave the house. The house began to extend its proportions, disproportionately to the body, with which it had been co-extensive at the first. The body remained still the true thing which God had formed.

Thus, the house, instead of maintaining its primary state, viz., the "house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground (or base) of the truth," (1 Tim. 3:13) became like a "great house," with vessels to honour and dishonour in it. (1 Tim. 3:20.) Still the Holy Ghost was there; and as to responsibility, it still remained God's house in the world. Hence Peter tells us that "judgment must begin at the house of God," (an invariable principle in Scripture, see Ex. 9:7; 1 Peter 4:17). The body is infallibly secure: and the Lord takes it, the true thing, out of the house; and judgment is executed on that which is the responsible thing here below, and which is thus treated and judged according to the responsibility it had assumed. The house, I need hardly add, is the whole professing Church, composed of all the sects and systems, not excluding any who are in it.

I would here add a word as to the responsibility of those who are Christ's. At the first, in Acts 2:47, "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." The church (or Assembly, which is the correct word) was then a thing to which persons could be added. But when we come to the state of things in 2nd Timothy, we find that, instead of there being something to which to add a person, that "the Lord knows them that are his," in that which He likens to a "great house." The responsibility of each one, then, is to "depart from iniquity." He cannot leave the house of God, nor can he mend matters now; nor again, is he to rest satisfied with its corruptions; but he is to separate himself from iniquity — from everything that dishonours the Lord in it; and to purge himself from the vessels to dishonour, that he may be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use: to be personally pure, and to identify himself with those who have done likewise, and who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. See 2nd Tim. 2:19-22.

The Assembly of God.

The word "assembly" is used in two ways in Scripture. If we look at Christ on high, it is His body on earth; if we look below, it is the professing body. Locally of course the assembly of God at such and such a place could then be addressed, because it was there. Now if God were to write an epistle, through an Apostle, to the assembly of God at such a place, no one could claim the letter. Because no sect or system is "the Assembly of God," nor can any claim to be such. If it did, it would be to the exclusion of the other members of Christ in the sects around. The saints can, and should, walk in the truth of it, and obediently to the word of God. But at best they are a remnant; and a witness (if really walking in the truth) to the failure of the church of God. Their testimony should be — 1st, To the truth of the church as it was, in the ever-abiding principle of "one body and one Spirit." 2nd, To the state of the church as it is.

When Christians have got out of the systems and sects, they find such a ruin around, they hardly know what to do; and finding things in such confusion, they fall back on the principle of Matt, 18:20, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them;" and many difficulties have arisen when they have not likewise got hold of the ever-abiding principles of the church of God, i.e., "one body and one Spirit." The promise in Matt, 18 is truly blessed, but is to be used in reference to the subsequent revelation of the church by Paul. The first thing to ascertain is, what is the church — the body? And next, how even two or three can come together, apart from evil, and are competent of the Lord to exercise all the needed discipline, when thus gathered.

We have no need to leave Paul's Epistles, to get hold of the principles. And when we thus get hold of principles which never alter, and to the observance of which we are ever responsible to the Lord, the promise of Matt, 18:20 should be looked for, and is most blessed. When they are thus gathered, they are morally an "assembly of God;" and the only thing which the Lord owns as such. If not, what else? I would guard, at the same time, against the abuse of the word "assembly." If they claimed to be "the assembly of God," in any place, to the exclusion of other members of the body who might be in the sects, they would be wrong, and off the ground which God can, and has owned and blessed. Otherwise there is no danger in the use of the word. They are an assembly of God, gathered in the name of the Lord. And, moreover, in doing this they never contemplate the re-constructing of anything. They are together on the only ground Scripture knows.

"The Unity of the Spirit"

It is the privilege of all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ, and not only their privilege but their responsibility, to "endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3.) The unity of the Spirit is not unanimity of sentiments or opinions, although the more spirituality there is, the more will this be found. It is the unity of the one body of Christ by the Holy Ghost. The Apostle had explained, in chapter 2, the work of Christ on the cross laying the foundation of this unity, in making peace, breaking down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, to reconcile both to God in one body by the cross: giving access to both by one Spirit, through Himself, to the Father.

Those who are thus gathered out of Jew and Gentile are baptized into one body by the Holy Ghost, since His descent at Pentecost (see Acts 1:5, 1 Cor. 12:12-13, etc.), and united to Christ as Head of the body (chapter 1:20-21). Becoming on earth a habitation of God through the Spirit (chapter 2:20-22). This unity having been formed by the Holy Ghost, it is in His keeping; but the Apostle, after unfolding the mystery (chapters 2, 3.) exhorts the members of the body, i.e., all believers, to endeavour to keep the unity which the Holy Ghost thus constitutes, adding, "there is one body and one Spirit." Every believer belongs to this body. It is not the opinions which one holds, but membership of Christ which is in question. It is this which entitles each to unite with others — who are, through grace, doing so in weakness — in thus furthering God's dispensation, with the energy of an obedient heart, and with that lowliness, and meekness, and long-suffering, and forbearing one another in love, which is so much the more needed in days of declension and ruin.

The unity of the Spirit does not depend then upon the unanimity of opinions or clearness of views, or intelligence of all the members of the body of Christ, but upon the fact that they belong to that body. The Lord's Supper expresses its unity, as we have seen, and all the members are entitled, in the act of "breaking of bread," to remember the death of the Lord, and look for His coming, and to own that they are one body. None should be excluded but those who are not walking in holiness, or are knowingly in evil associations, or who are standing outside in discipline, etc.

I have no doubt that the Lord will own, in His own time, the faithfulness of those, who, in true-heartedness to Christ, have had grace given to do so in these days of super-abounding evil.