Christ and the Assembly

or, Gathered to His Name and Keeping the Spirit's Unity.

Matthew 18:20; Ephesians 4:3.

The Lord Jesus Christ is everything to those who know Him. His very name is as ointment poured forth. Where He is not, they find no rest; and apart from Him, life to them is not life. In Him divine and human perfectness shine forth. In Him we see and know the Father. Through Him the fountain of "perfect love" is ever flowing to us. In Him we have the One, who, at the priceless cost of the sacrifice of Himself, removed everything that hindered our being for ever happy in the cloudless presence of God. In Him, and through His precious blood, we gratefully own that God is for us, God is our Justifier, God is our Father, who loves us as He loved His Son, who hath made us accepted in the Beloved, sealed us with the Holy Spirit, blessed us with "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places," and given us the hope of eternal glory.

Seeing, then, that divine love has thus blessed us, and united us for ever to our Lord Jesus Christ, is it to be wondered at that His name is given to us as the only centre of our being gathered together on earth? And when we now think of Him in the glory of God, is it surprising that He should say, for the blessing of those so gathered, "There am I in the midst of them"? Certainly not. Should we not rather say, How can He fail to take His place "in the midst" of those whose hearts are drawn together in His precious name, and who are objects of His eternal, unchanging, and redeeming love? And do we not see how dear to His heart must be such a gathering, which causes Him to take His place "in the midst"? Can anything on earth equal it? Is it possible that any other congregation under the sun can be comparable to it?

It is clear that those only who know the love of Christ as having washed them from their sins in His own blood, can really be attracted by His name, or gathered together around Him. The first time we have it recorded of our Lord's being in the midst of His disciples after His resurrection, we find that the first words He spoke to them were, "Peace be unto you; and He showed them His hands and His side." This assured them of everything having been removed by Him, through the work of the cross, that hindered their being happy in God's presence. Peace had been made by the blood of the cross, and now they were to know it, and be happy in Him who had made this peace. The One who was in their midst had removed all guilt and fear, and assured them of such newly-formed and settled relationships, as to say, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." They were thus set free for holy and happy occupation with Himself. "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." (John 20:19.) This is surely the true secret of joy.

The Lord also communicated to them life in the Holy Ghost - risen life - which He now had as raised up from among the dead, and which could not have been given to them before. Whatever might have been the character of the life believers had before this, we find now One able to breathe on them risen life - "He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." But with this, let us not fail to observe, they were still to tarry in Jerusalem until they had "power" by the Holy Ghost coming upon them. (See Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8.) This coming of the Holy Ghost Himself to abide with us for ever, took place, as we know, on the day of Pentecost, after Christ was exalted to the right hand of God. But Christ risen and breathing on His disciples before He ascended, was a different thing. The Holy Ghost came in consequence of Christ being ascended; a point never to be forgotten, because the formation, endowment, power, and blessing of the Church of God on earth are connected with Christ in glory. All our blessings are, no doubt, founded on the work of the cross, but they come to us in association with Christ exalted to the right hand of God. It was there He was given to be Head over all to the Church, which is His body; there He received the Holy Ghost and sent down to us; thence He gave "gifts" for the building up of the body; there we now know Him as the "Head," from whom blessing flows to every member of the body; and from thence we look for Him to come.

Before He breathed on His disciples here gathered (for there were not only the eleven, but others were also present with them, perhaps all the hundred and twenty, except Thomas - Luke 24:33), He sent them all forth into service and testimony, saying, "As my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you," and their understandings being opened to understand the Scriptures, they had, in connection with their work on earth, authority to remit and to retain sins. This was afterwards carried out in acts of discipline. This forgiveness has been sometimes spoken of as administrative forgiveness. Acts of discipline on earth are, no doubt, ratified in heaven by the Lord, who is in the midst of those gathered together in His name. In Matt. 18:18 - 20, as well as here, binding in heaven what is thus bound on earth, is connected with the Lord Jesus Christ being in the midst, as was afterward so jealously guarded by the apostle at Corinth. (1 Cor. 5:4.)

It is to be feared that many believers in the present day go no further than this in their apprehensions of what is involved in being gathered together in our Lord's name. They know Him in the midst as the administrator of "peace," founded on His own finished work; they are conscious of the need of the Holy Ghost, they realize that they are here to serve Christ, and have power, as congregations, to remit or retain sins in discipline. But if they stop here, they are not really on assembly ground at all. In the twentieth chapter of John we have not yet the assembly formed on earth, for there was no Head in heaven, and "the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified." We have disciples, and the Lord in the midst, and a beautiful sample to us of what His gracious ways with such are. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit there were individual believers, children of God, those whom Christ was not ashamed to call His brethren; but before Pentecost the assembly had not been formed. It was by the coming of the Holy Ghost that believers were united to Christ as members of "One body" - "By One Spirit we are all baptized into One body." We have union, not by faith, nor yet even in life, but by "One Spirit." Wondrous truth! "Therefore (Jesus) 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." His coming is thus described: "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 there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:1 - 4, 33.) This was the baptism of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 1:5, 1 Cor. 12:13.) This was the "power" they were told to wait for; and the sequel shows what a mighty power it was. The "One body" was now formed on earth; believers were united to Christ the Head in heaven by "One Spirit." Precious union! The power and operations of the "One Spirit" were at once seen in the fervent testimony of the saints, their being of one heart and of one soul, unselfishly and practically one; though, as yet, they had not the truth of the assembly revealed to them, nor did they intelligently know what keeping the unity of the Spirit was. In God's sovereignty and goodness this came out after. (Eph. 3)

But in considering the state of the Church on earth now, we have a very different aspect presented to us. More than eighteen centuries have passed since the Church was formed by the coming of the Holy Ghost. All was set up in truth and holiness; and though nothing can possibly alter the union between Christ the Head and the members of His body on earth, yet, as to its manifestation, it has so entirely failed that we now speak of the ruin of the Church, and the confusion in Christendom, because scarcely a vestige of the corporate reality is to be seen as it was set up. God's building still groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord in His sight; but when the assembly is looked at as in man's hands, where is now any thing like that which was set up at Pentecost? It is so far gone that, instead of finding now in a city one assembly as distinct from the world around, we find saints scattered into sects, and, like the ruins of an ancient temple, many fragments buried in the pursuits and pleasures of the world that crucified the Lord of glory. The faithful therefore have now no resource but to go back to that which was from the beginning, not to reconstruct, which is clearly revealed to be not God's mind, but, while humbly acknowledging the ruin, to rely on the faithfulness of Christ to His own gracious words - "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20.) It is just here with many in the present day that the practical difficulty occurs. Some, for instance, contend that everything is so far gone that we have nothing left but thus to be gathered, and that we are under no obligation to Christ for the maintenance, as far as practicable, of assembly truth, as found in Ephesians and elsewhere. This at once opens the door to the admission of what is unsuited to Him who is in the midst, gives up confidence in the never-failing faithfulness of God to His own word, the abiding of the Holy Ghost, the Lord's love and relationships to His own, and takes off our heart's interests and affections from the whole Church of God. It really sets up independency, because it ignores responsibility to the Lord to keep the Spirit's unity.

The question is, Can any be intelligently gathered together in the Lord's name, and own Him who is "in the midst," according to the truth, without felt obligation to Him to keep the Spirit's unity, so far as is practicable, and especially with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart? May all our consciences be solemnly exercised before the Lord about this!

First, let us enquire, In or unto whose name are we gathered? Is it to His who is ascended, whom God hath made both Lord and Christ? It was so in apostolic times; for they were gathered "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," and were instructed to "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." (1 Cor. 5:4; Col. 3:17.) It is surely with Christ in glory that we have now to do; though personally, at the right hand of God, He is in the midst of those gathered together in His name on earth. It is not only that the Holy Spirit is with us, for that He is always; but when the condition is fulfilled of being really gathered together in His name, then the Lord Jesus Christ is in the midst of such. It is a precious fact, and blessedly known to faith by those who in heart and conscience are gathered to the Lord. Holding the principle is not enough, and saying we are so gathered is worse than useless, unless we know the reality of having to do with Him who is in the midst. The point is, Is His presence a real enjoyment to our souls?

2. He who is "in the midst" is the One who has accomplished eternal redemption, and went into heaven by His own blood. It is He who ascended unto His Father and to our Father, to His God and to our God, having made peace, and established the most endearing and everlasting relationships, so that our hearts are called out in praise and thanksgiving, and to wait for His return from heaven. How can we fail to praise? The question is, Are we thus praising, when gathered together in His name?

3. He who is "in the midst" has sent down the Holy Ghost, not only to teach us and to abide with us for ever, and the power for all godliness, but He also came to form the Church or assembly on earth. "By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." Believers are thus united to Christ - one Spirit with the Lord. Can we then be taken up with Him who is in our midst, and forget that "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones"? (Eph. 5:30.)

4. He who is "in the midst" is "Head of the body, the assembly;" that is, not Head of that particular meeting, but of the whole body - the assembly all over the world. As we have before observed, it was in ascension, and exalted above every name that is named, that He was given to be Head over all to the assembly, which is His body. Do we know Christ as Head of the body? Are we "holding the Head?" not merely holding the doctrine that He is Head, but by faith "holding the Head"? Is it possible to be gathered to His name according to His mind without "holding the Head"? (Col. 2:1-2, 19.) May we fully face this important practical question?

5. He who is "in the midst" presents Himself to us also as "He that is holy, and He that is true." (Rev. 3:7.) No doubt He is with us to reveal Himself lovingly and suitably according to our need; but He is also there to correct and discipline - "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten;" "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord," etc. (Rev. 3:19; 1 Cor. 11:30-32.) His name surely calls for holiness and truth. Should we not then be careful what we associate with His name, who bids us to "touch not the unclean thing"? If He around whom we are clustered would have us so separate from evil as not to touch, not to be linked with what is unclean in His sight, how can we be gathered together in His name according to His mind, unless we are separate from unsound doctrine, immoral ways, and unholy associations? As to doctrine and practice we are warned of their insidious and spreading effects by the Holy Spirit, who says, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump;" and as to unclean associations (the last thing many consciences are moved by) we are to treat them as we would a leprous garment. We are solemnly charged to "depart from iniquity," and to purge ourselves from vessels to dishonour by separating from them. It may be said, "If we act in this way we shall find few will go with us." Be it so, if it be the will of the Lord; but let us at all costs keep clear of associating with that peerless name anything which does not suit the "holy" and the "true." Self-judgment according to His word, the cultivation of personal communion with Himself, and faithfully maintaining our place outside the camp to Him, is the path in which His gracious promise is fulfilled - "He shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work." (2 Tim. 2:21.)

How is it possible then to be gathered in heart and conscience to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to own Him in the midst according to His word, without felt obligation to Him to keep the Spirit's unity so dear to His heart, and to stand for that holiness and truth which suit Him? May the "members of His body" be exercised before Him about these things, and, while seeking the path of faithfulness to Him, be heartily going out toward the whole Church of God. H. H. Snell.