Brief Thoughts on the Church, as the Body and the House.

1876 59 As in science, so in scripture, one truth leads to another; and the more we learn, the simpler we become: for it is in human things the mastery of a subject that enables us to be simple.

Thus, to take a familiar example, the most profound research into the science of optics results both in the improvement and cheapening of the common telescope. So clearer conceptions of the truth of God, in whatever department we study it, and although pursued in the way of what might be called minute differences, result in a simpler and yet a more substantial gospel. Experience abundantly witnesses to this.

Some may remember when, in the current theology of the day, the Holy Ghost's presence was not even named. It was at best justification by faith; and the Holy Ghost was spoken of as "an influence," but not going so far as a power and a person, both of which He truly is. Nothing was known of His indwelling in the Christian, nor did they speak of His descent from an ascended Head, because of Christ's — that Head's — exaltation in heaven. It was at most God the Father, Christ the Saviour, and the Holy Ghost the Sanctifier. All true, but all for the individual, and even for him imperfectly.

But now that further research into scripture instructs us that, as a dispensational truth, the Holy Ghost is a person sent down here (see John xiv., xv., xvi.), inquiry into His action and into the relationships into which that action moulds us is of moment. He indwells us individually. (John iv. 14; John vii. 38; Rom. viii. 9–11; 1 Cor. vi. 19; 1 John iv. 15.) But just as pointedly does scripture assert that He indwells us collectively as God's house or temple. (1 Cor. iii. 16; 2 Cor. vi. 16; Eph. ii. 22.) And it is on the latter, that is, our collective or united condition, that a few hints are offered with a view to induce the reader to search for himself.

We find several relationships formed, which suppose the presence of God the Holy Ghost in the church, such as the body, and the house or temple. There is another aspect in the kingdom, but this we do not touch on. These just mentioned are the principal terms by which such expression is given to the relationship which the saints corporately hold to Christ through the Holy Ghost. Thus, "the church which is his body." (Eph. i. 23; Col. i. 24.) Again, "God hath set some in the church" (1 Cor. xii. 28), in close connection with "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (Ver. 27.) Thus we have the church and the body in a manner identical, before any failure comes in. In like manner church and house are interchangeable. "If I tarry long that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God." (1 Tim. iii. 15.)

We have no absolute identification of the body and the house, though the church, a middle term, being identified with both, seems to connect the three together. And this is indeed the truth; for the church looked at as on earth, and under the responsibility of man, may be viewed as the house — nay, even as the "great house" of 2 Timothy ii. 20 — which, entrusted to man, fails, as everything else does which he undertakes; whilst, as connected with God and His Christ, it may be viewed as the body of Christ, which never fails. In strictness it is not the body that is said to be indwelt by the Holy Ghost, but the house "in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Eph. ii. 22.)* And of course the figure of a house and a body are distinct, and neither are used without a meaning; nor is the body liable to failure, as both the church, or rather churches or assemblies, and the house are; and as in fact they do fail. (1 Cor. iii. 10-45; Rev. ii., iii.; 1 Tim. iii. 15; compared with 2 Tim. ii. 20.) The house of the first Epistle becomes as the great house of the Second, with vessels to dishonour as well as honour.

[*There are marked features of difference between Ephesians and Colossians. In the one we are raised and sitting together in the heavenlies. (Eph. ii.) In Colossians we are only raised (Col. iii. 1) and looking for our ascension. In the latter the Holy Ghost is not mentioned as a dispensational truth, nor is there any building of a house or a temple down here. The word oikodome "building" does not appear. This is one distinction between the two Epistles. Nevertheless in Colossians i. 18 the church and the body are mentioned. Notice particularly in both Epistles (Col. ii. 19; Eph. iv. 15, 16) the increase and growth of the body is from Christ the Head; the Holy Ghost, as to this, not being mentioned. The object in Colossians is Christ Himself, in all the power of His headship and life for us. It is impossible not to recognise the greatness of His position and of His power. Moreover He is in us; "Christ in you the hope of glory." In Ephesians there is more of what is formed on the earth by the Holy Ghost.]

The body is that into which we are formed by the descent of the Holy Ghost from the Head in glory. The gifts for its edification are looked at in their full result, that is, "till we all come to a perfect man." Failure therefore is not supposed; whilst the church (or churches) and the house fail from the fact of man having to do with them.

Not that God will ever be disappointed. Whilst man fails in what is entrusted to him, building bad materials upon a good foundation (1 Cor. iii. 11-43), God knows how to take care of His own work. (Eph. ii. 20, 21; Eph. 5:25, 27; 1 Peter ii. 4, 5.) In the church, as body or building, His own purposes cannot fail, and they will be realised in the glory.

Doubtless it is of great value to know that the Holy Ghost is here at all; it is something too to be aware that bad men may be found where He dwells. (1 Cor. iii. 17.) "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy." It is thus that we account for the present condition of Christendom. Perhaps, as to terms, speaking corporately, we should not go wrong in saying that the Holy Ghost forms and energizes the body of Christ (Eph. iv. 16), and dwells in the house or temple (1 Cor. iii.), over which Christ is as a Son. (Heb. iii. 6.) He is Son over His own house, and Head of the body.

But it is not necessary to over-refine on such a subject. Asa practical matter it would seem that, as sovereign grace formed, nourishes, and cherishes the body (Eph. i.; Col. ii.), responsibility attaches to the church looked at as the house. (1 Cor. iii.; 5; 1 Cor. xi. 20-32.) It is important then, if we learn our place and relationship as thus viewed, to remember it is Christ's house and God's church or assembly, not ours; and things are to be regulated, not by our will, but according to His will as revealed in His word.

In looking into these relationships, established by God Himself, we are at once delivered from the presumption and delusions, no less than the superstitions, of popery and its kindred systems.

The Lord give us to realise all His claims upon us, and to feel them in divine power!

High Littleton, September, 1875. W. W.

[The above paper was the last written by our beloved and departed brother, who desired, even when bodily weakness and suffering left him little respite, to help the least of God's saints. A few expressions have been corrected, which he might have done more fully himself, had he seen the essay in print. — Ed.]