Progress in the Truth.

1874 42 True Christianity has such a wonderful vitality, that it makes its way through all impediments. Even where its very elements only are seized, fruit will appear, and indeed fruit, if there be any reality, beyond what those elements might be expected to produce; for the Spirit of God will exceed the limits of exact scriptural knowledge, if there be earnestness in the recipient.

Looking at the stepping-stones or stairs of truth for bringing Christians up to more high and intimate communion with Christ and with one another, we notice that usually the first truth which an exercised soul apprehends, upon the ground indeed of its own recognized inability to meet God on equal terms, is that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." (1 Cor. xv. 3, 4.)

It seems to have been the first truth preached by the Apostle Paul. It is plain that such a truth does not in itself clear us from the world, nor connect us with Christ by union. It is something done for us, and does not in itself include relationship, although it is marvellously suited to show the love of God, the measure being the gift of His Son. There are multitudes of persons, to whom we should not deny the christian name, who reach only to this state. They would mourn over any teaching which did not embody the death of Christ as the only meritorious cause of their acceptance — a death to save the lost. Hence they would alike repudiate both the ritualism and the rationalism of the day — both the pomp of symbolism, and the intellectual setting up of man, and, if they went so far, would insist on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. With this class of persons, you will find it difficult to maintain a spiritual conversation. They can talk with real earnestness of the results of Christianity, such as schools and reformatories and sermons; but how can they talk of Christ Himself, since they only know of what He has done, rather than of what He is in Himself? Such persons, alive to the necessity (which conscience tells them) of a religious life, are safe as to proprieties of conduct. It belongs to them to cultivate the arts and sciences, and to show a respectable, nay, even a religious hue over everything around them; for ignorant of "the sentence of death" in themselves (2 Cor. i. 9), they must fill up life by embellishing "the old man;" in short they would get the unrenewed man out of the public house, by presenting a man's own self to him, under a more attractive guise. They are not deeply experienced in the ruin of human nature, but think that something good may yet be made out of it; and all this without at all meaning to deny Christ.

Now the next step, which ought to be known after the fact of Christ dying for our sins and rising again, is that we died with Him. This is unfolded in Romans vi. "We have been buried with him by baptism unto death." "Our old man has been crucified with him." It is a wonderful advance. To be dead with Christ is a different thing from Christ dying for us. If truly received, it closes our eyes to many things to which they were before open. It is a help to us even when we are unspiritual. It forces us against our will. A temptation arises, it may be some cast of the eye to which the flesh would give way; but I say I cannot entertain it because I am dead. People may remain in this state a long time. Their demeanour is, to a certain extent, doleful. They begin to understand the science of Christianity, but they are not in the experience of the life that comes out of death.

The next stage is that I am not only dead with Christ but alive with Him from the dead — "If ye then be risen with Christ." (Col. iii. 1.) Then quite a new scene opens. When I only knew that I was dead, there was divine certainty that the old man was sentenced by the death of Christ but no joy. Still it was a point gained in the way of salvation, and it led me to shut my eyes upon the world. But to be alive with Christ from the dead not only gives me to see the blue sky of heaven, but also a person — a glorious object before me, with all His surroundings; and I am capable of divine intercourse with Him on high.

But although, as before remarked, the Holy Ghost generally overleaps the limits of our special knowledge, yet this in itself is not union; at all events it does not set forth the relationship of Christ to a body. Here let us remark, that it is of primary importance to bring habits of devotion into every truth we hold; that is, that every truth ought to have a corresponding power of walk. All true devotional feelings ought to arise out of our knowledge of the ways of God. If there be devotedness or devotional feelings out of God's order, failure and disappointment are sure to be the result. It is this that makes the study of the word so needful. I must go to the word of God to find out the ways of God.

In reviewing our steps, we have first then Christ dying for our sins and rising again; secondly, our death with Him; thirdly, life in Him as risen: all progressive, but as yet no understanding of the descent of the Holy Ghost, although all these previous states have been wrought by the Holy Ghost. Nay more; in the Epistle to the Romans, a man being met as living in sins but justified, he has the Holy Ghost as the power of walk and individually indwelling him, and so in Christ (Rom. viii.), yet he has not, properly speaking, the truth of the membership of the body of Christ. It is to this as a further step we are now coming.

Among the present operations of the Spirit is that of forming a body on earth in union with the Head in glory. This is announced to us in the Epistle to the Ephesians. When we speak of being indwelt by the Spirit, we should know what His operations are. It is not enough to know that we are indwelt. That is a doctrine, but every doctrine has its practice. We cannot progress unless we own the relationships which God has established. Now among the things which I learn of the corporate action of the Holy Ghost is this, that we "are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Eph. ii. 22.) It is not only that we, both Jew and Gentile, "have access through Christ by one Spirit unto the Father" (ii. 18), but that same Spirit forms us unto something down here on earth. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. xii. 13.) In the same manner, without entering into particulars, we are variously called the temple of God and His house. (1 Cor. iii. 16; 1 Cor. vi. 16; 2 Cor. vi. 16; Heb. iii. 6, etc.)

Thus we learn our proper relationships to one another — "members one of another," in union with a living Head. In Ephesians iv. we find that, from Christ on high as the Head, "the whole body fitly framed together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love;" and in Colossians ii. 9, the apostle warns them against "not holding the head, from which all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." How helpful is this knowledge, because it throws our thoughts into the current in which the Holy Spirit is working! In other words, we yield ourselves into that form to which He would mould us.

If ever Christians, saints, are to live together according to New Testament thoughts, they must work out these truths which, whether they know it or not, the Holy Ghost works in them; if not, they fall into denominationalism. True fellowship must ever be based upon real relationship. It is normally true that "we ourselves are taught of God to love one another." This is always to be cultivated, yet must I know the membership of the body in which this love is intended to exist, if I would fully realize it.

If we look at Christendom in the large, we find many who have never imbibed, or who having imbibed, have escaped out of, the grosser forms of Romanism or ritualism — systems which go upon ordinances, and teach only a more or less refined symbolism. Freed from such things, they have formed themselves into societies which age has stereotyped. They exist by the pulpit, and some of the members of such societies are the excellent of the earth. But how is it they do not corporately progress in spirituality? For certainly the general cry is that they do not. The reply must be that they are not formed according to the true fellowship of the Holy Ghost.

Love is inherent among Christians. "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another." "We ourselves are taught of God to love one another." We are advocating the knowledge of the place into which we are put, and our relationship to one another, as incentives to this love. It is a family love. Saints gathered as congregationalists are not in the way of realizing it. The joints and bands are not made apparent.

How marvellous are the ways of God! That the church should be on earth connected by the Spirit with an ascended Head — formed into membership with Him, and with one another. "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." (1 Cor. xii. 12.)

What an insight it gives us into the character of God! That the fall of Adam should have resulted in such a glorious restoration! The truth of Christ, a centre to which we are gathered by the energy of the one Spirit, must put an end to all denominationalism. There can be no separate cause, where there is but one Head and one body. The exercise of a pastorate within the limits of those whose names are upon church books, or within the limits of a geographical radius, gives way to "He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."

Their sphere is considered as having to do with all the members of Christ: as it is said, "till we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man." Thus learning from the word of God His purpose in Christ, how thankfully may we take our place as recognizing the unity of the Spirit, and "endeavouring to keep it in the bond of peace."

It is inconceivable what a breadth is given to our thoughts in discovering the church's position in the affections of Christ. The more we realize it, the more do we love Him and one another. Saints soon fall into the conventionalism of forms. They get into shoal water, and run aground in acting towards one another unless they are constantly realizing the depths of God's love. "We are members one of another," and the resources of God in Christ are always sufficient for the mould into which He has cast us. Paul's love for the saints was just in proportion as he realized Christ's interest in them; and John's epistles give us the measure of our action. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." W. W.