The Church as the Body of Christ.

"The Head of the body, the Church." Col. 1:18.

"The Church, which is His body." Eph. 1:22-23.

T. H. Reynolds.

Christian Friend vol. 15, 1888, p. 29.

In considering the Church as the Body of Christ, it is needful to bear in mind at the outset - first, that the body is not complete without the Head; and, secondly, that the Head necessarily gives its character to the body. Any intelligent Christian would admit that the Church is the Body of Christ, and that all believers are members of Christ; but habits of religious thought preclude the right apprehension of these truths; hence the true character of the body is little known. That each believer not only possesses the same life, but as a living fact is united by the Holy Spirit to every other believer in the world, is recognized by a few only. Still less is the truth possessed, that all believers so united together are also (not should be) in vital union by the same Spirit with the Head. The truth of this union of all believers to one another and to the Head is thus expressed in 1 Cor. 12:12-13: "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." The baptism of believers into one body was a complete operation of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. The Church as the Body of Christ was then actually formed. It may be well to speak here of the individual position of those who compose it. The great characteristics of a Christian are, that every question as to sin and sins between God and himself has been eternally settled in the cross, and that he has received the Holy Ghost. Two consequences flow from the latter: his body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and the life of Christ risen in which he is alive to God is characterized by, and is in the power of, the Spirit of God - "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." These are solemn truths, and we may well pause to ask how far we enter into them.

It is impossible to enter rightly into the corporate position, unless the true Christian standing is known. The Body of Christ is not in any sense of the first man; its origin is in being quickened together with Christ out of the death in sins in which men universally (Jew or Gentile) were. Here all distinctions known among men are gone, and Christ is everything and in every one (Col. 3:2.) In Himself Christ has formed one new man. Thus we get the very nature of the body; it is entirely of Himself; the Head gives its character to the body. It is a body united to the Head; the life of the Head is its life; it derives its support from, and is governed in all its functions, by the Head. This is a weighty consideration for what are called "Bodies of Christians" and "Independent Churches." "Not holding the Head" necessitates being directed by human wisdom and governed by some other headship under the arrangement of men.

Further, though the Church as the Body of Christ was "the mystery from the beginning of the world hid in God," and the subject of "eternal purpose in Christ Jesus our Lord," yet the actual formation of the body could not take place until the last Adam had been in the deep sleep of death. The saints who compose His body are quickened together with Him who, though He went into death, is a quickening Spirit. God has quickened them together with Christ, and He (Christ) has imparted His own life to them as risen out of death. The revelation of the mystery could not be made until the second Man had taken the place destined for Him in eternal counsels at the right hand of God; it was delayed until the full and final enmity of the Jewish nation precluded the hope of Jerusalem again receiving her King; then the new centre at the right hand of God could be disclosed, and He who sat there owned the saints on earth as Himself. (Acts 9:4-5.) What a character this gives to the Church! It is His body which is seated in the heavenly places far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named. In the millennium His name will be excellent in all the earth, but this is glory set above the heavens in the Son of Man. (Ps. 8) In Colossians the apostle unfolds the glory of His person (Col. 1:15, 19; Col. 2:9) as the One in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily, and the saints complete in Him; in Ephesians the place in which he is set as Man, and the name given to Him above every name. When He had taken this place destined for Him in the counsels of God, Head over all things, then could be disclosed that the Church was His body.

The consideration of this will show that the Church is not of the world. It is indeed the house of God, and as such the pillar and ground of the truth; but in its own relationship to Christ, it is the body of the exalted and glorified Man. While the ages and dispensations of this world were going on, it was hid in God - a mystery not made known to the sons of men. It was future when Christ was upon earth; its period is between the ascension of Christ and His public manifestation in glory. Hence it is called the mystery, or rather Christ and the Church are the mystery. The economy of the mystery is no part of the public earthly development of the ways of God in Christ. Hence the apostle Paul, as the special vessel of the grace of God in the administration of the mystery, preached among the Gentiles "the unsearchable riches of the Christ." In the Person of the Christ, no longer on earth, but a glorified Man, are riches which cannot be traced out. This One, not known after the flesh at all, was preached to the Gentiles.

If we ponder this wealth of glory as well as grace in Christ, and the church as His body - the fulness or complement of Him that filleth all in all - we can, in some little measure, understand how by it is now made known to the heavenly intelligencies the all-various wisdom of God. We understand it as we look at the church united to the Head and not apart. The administration of the mystery cannot separate the Head from the body, Christ from the church. The lustre from the Head is thrown upon the body. Nay, it is Himself. Its formation as also its building up and growth are entirely of Christ. It cannot be supplied from this world, nor from the first man; it is from the Head that the nourishment is ministered by which it grows, and from the same source it is fitly framed together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth. (Col. 2:19; Eph. 4:16.) The gifts for its edification are given according to the measure of the gift of Christ when He ascended up on high. The Church is the body of Christ as He now is in glory at the right hand of God, and is nourished from thence.

It may be asked, "Are these thoughts of the body of Christ to be indeed realized in the Church now?" The answer is, "It is not for us to have different thoughts (whatever we may see around) from those which are in the mind of God." Moreover, it is not by being occupied with the Church, save as we are in communion with the Head about it, that we shall rightly estimate its character. Our eyes must be upon the Head; the more we contemplate His glory, the more we shall recognise what befits His body. Further, our own state of soul may have somewhat to do with our apprehension of this, as of every other truth. Do we then believe that individually we derive everything from Christ? that we are not only "rooted," but also "built up in Him"? that we are "complete in Him"? Do we recognise for ourselves the putting off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, that is, by the cross  - the burial out of this world with Christ by baptism? and then, that we who were dead in sins are quickened together with Him? that we are of Him and in Him according to the grace of God? Until this is learnt, that the true Christian condition derives nothing from self, that the flesh and the world cannot minister to it, but that Christ is all, it is impossible to understand rightly how entirely the body is of the Head.

Something also must be known in real enjoyment of the love of the Father as the eternal source of every relationship. Of Him every family is named in heaven and earth. Hence the apostle prays, in Eph. 3:14-19, (and mark the remarkable words he uses), "I bow my knees to the Father … that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory" - Christ, the glorified Man, is the centre of this wealth of glory, as the Father is the source - "to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that the Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." What a marvellous desire, that the One who fills all things (the centre indeed of glory, but the Revealer of such an ocean of love that, as another has said, "The only cognizance we can take of this space is, that we cannot get out of it") should dwell in the poor little heart of a saint; hence, he proceeds, "being rooted and grounded in love, in order that ye may be fully able to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height." This is infinity indeed; but He who dwells in our tiny hearts fills it. We look, as it were, above, it is Christ; below, Christ; this side, Christ; that side, it is still Christ; and here we are lost in this ocean of love. "And to know the love of the Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that ye may be filled to all the fulness of God." A little mote may float in a sunbeam; it cannot indeed comprehend the beam, but it is bathed in it, and filled with it. Thus does the apostle desire (well might he bow his knees) that all saints might know love divine and eternal in a glorified Man; but yet in Him the fulness of Godhead glory.

The Church is the vessel of glory to God by Christ Jesus through all ages world without end. But the Church that He will present to Himself in glory without spot or wrinkle is the Church that Christ nourishes and cherishes as His body now. This relationship of the Church to Christ exists now as it will in glory; it is its true and proper relationship. Not to act upon it is to falsify its whole character. In order to our entering into its position as the vessel of glory to God, we are told that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that even an apostle could ask, according to the power that works in us. What but the power of God that wrought in Christ when He was down under our sins in death, to raise Him, and set Him in that place in glory where we have considered Him; and now has quickened together with Him, and raised and seated in Him in heavenly places lost sinners like ourselves, could operate in us to form us in all the power of love into correspondence to the Head. It is not by thinking of ourselves, but of His grace, and how it has been manifested towards us, that we shall be able to enter into our corporate relationship to Him.

It is the good pleasure of God's will that saints now should be to the praise of the glory of His grace. Oh that He might give each one to know better what that grace is! In order to this, let any try to conceive, if possible, the contrast between an Ephesian walking in darkness and the lowest degradations of heathenism, and the brightness of light, wondrous love, peerless perfections, and heavenly glory of the Lord Jesus; or what the moral distance between a Pharisee such as Paul, bent on establishing his own righteousness at the expense of the murder of the saints of Jesus, and the Lord Jesus Christ, establishing the righteousness and glory of God in the heavens at all cost to Himself on the earth, murdered here, but seated there - and then ponder grace, as the light of glory in His face shone down on the Pharisee and out to the Ephesian, to take up both in its embrace according to the power of redemption, and make them one with the exalted Lord in glory. Such His grace - it will be enhanced in our souls as we grow in acquaintance with Himself. We shall know it in all its fulness when He presents the Church to Himself in glory, and when we enter the Father's house as those accepted in the Beloved.

T. H. R.