"In the Midst of the Assembly will I Sing Praise unto Thee."

(Psalm 22:22; Heb. 2:12.)

This He rejoiced to do at the beginning when the first love of the church gave the place in the midst that He loved and chose. Then He could, unhindered, lead the praise as He only knew how to do, in His own knowledge of His death and resurrection and the acceptableness of that great work of redemption to His God and Father. He alone knows the love of His Father and can rejoice and praise in the blessed light of it. He loves the church too, having given Himself for it, and He nourishes and cherishes it in the presence of the Father. And He did so in the midst, as long as the first love of the church gave Him His chosen place as Head and Centre. But soon, when first love and communion on her part began to grow faint and cool, and she began to share her love with the world which, though it crucified Him, began again to creep in unnoticed among the redeemed; what wonder that He should be jealous and cause her to feel it in some way (Rev. 2:4). What wonder that, though His love must remain to His own the same yesterday, today, and forever, the manifestations of it should not be so clear or so frequent!

If sheep herd with swine, they have to be separated, and often need some washing before they are in a fit condition (Psalm 23), to lie down in green pastures and be led beside still waters. They have His word for this separating away from unclean vessels (2 Tim. 2:21; 2 Cor. 6:17) and in what company they are to call upon Him. Sheep whose hearts are awake to the Shepherd's loved voice, hearken to it, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee" (Eph. 5:14). "Lo I stand at the door and knock, if any one hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20). What wonder He should be jealous that HIS place should be given to another!

But others whom He gave, perhaps to feed the sheep, have been put in the midst, or at the head instead of the Great Shepherd. Many gifts have been given to feed, nourish, tend, and build up; and many to gather in the sheep, each in his place with his own work allotted to him, but the Head Shepherd never resigned His own peculiar and singular place in the midst as sole Head of His body. How could He! How could there be a body without a Head! How could there be an assembly according to God, and according to the Spirit, and according to the Head, without Him in His own proper place in the midst? Such a thing could not possibly be. There may be assemblies according to man; (their multitude and variety proves this) but their responsibilities will be found to be according to God, when He enters into judgment with them (1 Peter 4:7, 17). Yet He knows all His own sheep and will gather them all out when He comes, for He comes quickly (Rev. 22:12). He gathered righteous Lot out of Sodom, taking Him by the hand when he lingered: and turned his wife into a pillar of salt when she looked back — dreadful monument! Yes, He gave also pastors and teachers, but never one as head and centre. He always meant to keep the whole control to Himself, and the leadership of praise in the midst of the assembly. All would then be dependent on Himself, and He could then do it as He pleased, and through whom He pleased as in 1 Cor. 14; Acts 13:15, etc. Let us take note of 1 Cor. 14:30-40 as the Lord's express commands. and if any plead for decency and order, learn what the Lord pronounces to be such. Elders also He recognised and caused by the apostles to be placed over the Gentile assemblies, to whom ministry in the Word was useful if such possessed it, but not essential; and deacons to serve tables, but never a man or men to appoint these, for the apostles of His own appointment did it under His direction.

He may raise up suitable men for His service now, with no formal appointment save that of the call of love, but never a man that could take the place or be looked at as the head and centre to which to gather: how could there be — a substitute for Himself? It could but hinder those who are His members, being wholly dependent on Himself, their faith in Himself alone, occupied alone with Him, and at liberty to exhort and edify one another, as He has enjoined (Eph. 4; Eph. 5:19, etc.), or to praise under His own personal leading. Where is the heart that values His leading of the praise in the midst, and refuses to hand over to man what belongs to the Head alone? Is the Son, a man, set over all things to the assembly which is His body? Where are the two or three ("two or three" is the witness number) that can meet to His Name alone, as quite sufficient for them — but more, to obtain His promised and assured presence in their midst — that prefer Him to any man, or all together? Nor will He disappoint them even of ministry also. But is He not better than everything else? Yea, far better for those who love Him! "Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave" (Prov. 6:34; Cant. 8:6; Rev. 3:6).

In John 20 He, through Mary declares His Father's name to His brethren. Then on the first of the week, the disciples gathered to His name. Unto His name supposes Him not there. But when gathered, He says, "I am" there (Matt. 18:20) in the midst to open, as it were, His parliament, and gives it its character in His absence till He returns to fulfil John 14:1-4. Note, how Himself takes the whole administration into His hands, and what the Spirit relates about the assembly's joy. Note too, their account of that assembling to His name to the disciple not with them when Jesus came. The unbeliever says it is sight and sense he must have to credit His word. But he lost his opportunity never repeated, and heard some-thing else. May we profit by it. Shall we doubt John 16:7-33? Believer, there is nothing like Christ crucified as foundation, and Himself now in glory. You have much to grieve you, but this cheers you. He had nothing here but His Father and God, and a cross from men. What He had remains for you: and He promises Himself in the midst where two or three value His name and His authority and attraction to gather them. He says those who love other relations more than Him are not worthy of Him. If He makes heaven what it is, why not His presence be sought here — first alone and then in the midst of His own? If not enjoyed the first way, it will not be valued in the second. But study John 9:35-38.
G. W.