The Assembly, viewed as God's Temple.

F. H. B.

Christian Friend vol. 19, 1892, p. 272.

The first intimation we have in sacred scripture of the assembly is in Matt. 16. It was when Christ had been rejected on earth that He spoke of building His assembly. This shows that it is something outside the earthly order of things. It is a new company, wholly distinct from anything which had previously existed. Israel is no longer the object of His interest and care on the earth. He is not now building up the nation, though He will do this another day; and He will build the earthly temple when the time comes. But now these things are in abeyance, and He is building His assembly. The assembly, therefore, is the present object of Christ's interest and care on the earth.

The company is formed of those who, in the time of His rejection, have been taught by the revelation of the Father to confess Him as the Son of the living God, and who consequently know Him in His divine supremacy over the whole power of evil. It is a company outside of, and distinct from, the world, but a company still on the earth for Christ. If we do not apprehend the fact that Christ is rejected from the earth, and that we are associated with Him in His rejection, we cannot understand the nature of His assembly. It is an out-of-the-world position. It is a precious truth, that while Christ is rejected by the world He has a company on the earth, a sphere where His supremacy is owned.

This true confession of Christ is the result, as we have seen, of a divine revelation to the soul; it is outside what can be apprehended by flesh and blood. The reception of this revelation constitutes the believer a living stone. He is formed by it. A stone is a part of the rock, and is therefore of the same nature as the rock. The believer is thus a part of Christ - he is of the nature of the Living Stone. The assembly is therefore a divine structure. Christ builds it, and builds that which is of Himself. This shuts out all that is of the natural man, all that is merely flesh and blood, which has no place in Christ's assembly.

It is important to remark that, from the point of view from which the assembly is regarded in Matt. 16, Christ Himself, revealed as the Son of the living God, declared such by resurrection of the dead, is the foundation on which the Church is built. He has gone through death, vanquished the power of Satan, and in resurrection is manifested as supreme over all the power of evil. Therefore neither the gates of Hades nor any power of evil can prevail against what is built upon this foundation.

We must also remark that He is here the builder. There is nothing said about human instrumentality, and there can be no imperfection in the work; only living stones are built into this structure. Nor can there be, from this point of view, a living stone not built into its place, or the work of the Builder would be incomplete. It is a divine structure composed of divine material, built by a divine Builder on a divine foundation; all is perfect and abiding, beyond the power of Satan. It does not depend upon the work of human builders. Every saint is a part of this structure.

But it is of all importance that this revelation of Christ as Son of the living God, and the nature of what He is building, should be so inwrought into the souls of saints that they may apprehend their true place in His assembly; that what is of Christ should be so formed in the soul, by the Spirit's ministry, that saints should be so built up in Christ that they may be, as it were, actually incorporated into what Christ is building. Then it would not be a gathering together by the acceptance of certain doctrinal statements of what is ecclesiastically right ground, but it would become impossible for one who knew his place as part of this divine structure to connect himself with any merely human organization, or to accredit what is the result of the will of man and mere human energy.

To refuse what is of man, and to maintain only what is of Christ, to be identified with Him and what He is doing, will bring us into conflict with the whole power of evil here. How could we face this if we do not know Him as Son of the living God? It is not simply knowing Him as my Saviour, though this is of all importance to begin with. I could not go into battle if there were any question as to my own personal security and blessing. I must begin with knowing Him as my Saviour in resurrection, and then I go on to make acquaintance with Him as Son of the living God. It is not merely that I know that He is the Son of the living God, as a part of true doctrine, but that I have come to Him. I know Him as such; I know Him in His supremacy over the whole power of evil in this world. Then I am prepared to meet all that is opposed to Christ and to His assembly, because it is a matter of going on only in His power.

This structure grows unto a holy temple. (See Eph. 2:20-21.) When it is complete it will be for heaven, the heavenly temple. The idea conveyed in the temple is the place of God's immediate presence, the place of light and holiness, the place where God makes known His mind, where the living oracles of God are.

In the Greek there are two words which are translated temple. The one signifies the whole buildings of the temple, including the court, where the people approached God as far as they could. This is the word always used when it speaks of the Lord, during His presence on earth, going into the temple; the other word signifies the innermost temple, the holy place and the most holy, where only the priests entered. The Lord not being a priest on earth never went into the temple in this sense. It is the latter word which is used when the Church is spoken of as the temple of God; it is that which answers to the holy place and the most holy.

The Church will be God's eternal dwelling-place, where His glory will dwell, as well as the place where He will ever manifest Himself, and thus the sphere from which the light will shine forth for the universe. (Eph. 3:21.) 1 Peter 2:5 speaks of the Church in this aspect of a spiritual house, being built up and composed of living stones.

Such is the structure which Christ is building. Nothing can destroy it; the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it. In spite of all the opposition of Satan it goes on growing still, and will eventually be complete, every stone in its place, and set up in glory.

But Scripture also shows that the assembly has a present status on earth, as the last verse of Eph. 2 states, "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." We see the same thing when the Church is viewed as the body of Christ. In Eph. 1:22-23 the Church, which is "His body," takes in the whole company of the redeemed during this present period from Pentecost till the time when the Lord comes again. But in Eph. 4:4 it says, "There is one body." Here the body is viewed as a present existing thing, including all the saints living at any given time on the earth during this present period.

So also as to the temple, the apostle could say to the assembly at Corinth, "Ye are the temple of God." That is, the assembly is viewed as having that character and status now on earth. It is the place where God's presence is found in a special way; where He dwells, and where His mind is made known. It is the place where the light is. Man as such cannot enter this sphere. Man's will, man's ways, man's energy, maws voice, are all shut out, or at least should be. It is God's place, God's assembly. Here we are on holy ground.

Moreover, not only has the assembly generally this character, but the company of saints in any, locality is so viewed. The assembly has not only a present status on earth, but it has a local status. The company at Corinth were addressed as God's temple. That is, the local assembly should be a true representative of the assembly of God, so that whatever characterizes the assembly of God generally should characterize the local assembly, or any company which locally represents that assembly. We see also in 1 Cor. 12:27 how the apostle applies to the local assembly what is true of the assembly generally. Addressing the local company at Corinth he says, "Ye are the body of Christ." In several places the local company is addressed as "the assembly of God." Thus, "The assembly of God which is at Corinth," etc.; but we never read of assemblies of God in one place.

And even in the present time of the ruin of the Church as a responsible body on earth (broken up and divided as we see it everywhere, and more and more when the whole company in a locality can no longer be found coming together into one place to eat the Lord's supper, as in 1 Cor. 11:20), there may be found a company so divinely gathered as to represent the assembly of God. That is, wherever two or three are really gathered to Christ's name in the truth of the assembly of God, there Christ is in the midst, and that as Son over the house of God, and they enjoy the privileges which accompany His presence, and exercise the responsibilities of the assembly of God in maintaining the holiness which becomes God's house. So there is still a spot on earth for Christ, a place where He is owned in His supremacy, where He is always welcome, where His rule is acknowledged, and where His name is honoured and worshipped. The responsibility of the two or three so gathered is to keep a clean place for Him, and to care for His interests. This is exceedingly precious.

Thus, while acknowledging the present ruin of the assembly, and realizing too that we are a part of it, it is of all importance to maintain that a few, who in faith are gathered in the truth of the assembly of God, form part of a new structure, composed of new material. That is, souls formed by the revelation of Christ as Son of the living God, while they cannot claim to be the assembly, yet in the sight of God truly represent it; they enjoy the privileges of the temple of God, God's presence, in the person of the Son, shedding abroad His light and blessing among them. As another has said, "The great privileges conferred on the assembly, the habitation of God, are vouchsafed to them." And at the same time they seek to carry out the responsibilities of the assembly in maintaining that which becomes the presence of Him who is holy and true.

In John 20 we have an expression of the assembly, the disciples separated from the world, gathered together as a distinct company, and Christ coming into their midst, speaking peace to them, and manifesting Himself to them in the power of life which had vanquished death. This is the inside circle where Christ carries on His present ministry to His own, who are now identified with Him in His deliverance and victory, and who, being made partakers of His blessing, are able now to join in His praises. Declaring the Father's name to His brethren, He leads us into the enjoyment of our association with Himself before His God and Father, and thus tunes our hearts to sing with Him" In the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto Thee." Here is where His presence is to be found in the present day. As of old, those who sought Jehovah went up to the temple in Jerusalem, so now those who seek the Lord go up to that separated company which, being divinely gathered, represent His assembly, where He is in the midst of those gathered to His name. All saints belong to God's temple; they form a part of it, and in one sense God always dwells in His house, by the Spirit; that is, in the assembly budded together as a habitation for God in the Spirit, but it is among those truly gathered that His presence is manifested and realized in a special way. So that when going up to the assembly we enter into the spirit of the words of the Psalmist, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." (Ps. 122:1.) There may be many imitations of this divine gathering, but the true company will be distinguished by freshness and vigour, the light and blessing of God will be found among them, because Christ is there, and His presence and power are realities for faith. This, for a spiritual person, serves to distinguish the true thing from the counterfeit.

When gathered in assembly we feel that we are on divine and heavenly ground, and this should produce the reverence and godly fear that becomes those who serve God in His temple, without in any way hindering the boldness and liberty which we as saints and priests are privileged to enjoy there.

The assembly being the place of light, evil will surely be manifested, unless there be that which hinders the manifestation of the presence and power of the Lord. If, as is sometimes the case, evil exist undetected for months or years, it shows that the company are not walking in the faith of the Lord's presence among them; the company is in a bad state, as well as the guilty individual. The Lord's presence if manifested must detect evil. Moreover, the assembly being the place of holiness, it becomes too the place of judgment if evil be brought in. Judgment begins from the house of God. This we see at Corinth, for this cause many were weak and sickly among them, and many slept. God's hand was upon them in judgment, because instead of judging themselves they were allowing sin, and bringing it into the assembly of God, defiling the place of His presence. If not yet judging the world, He does judge His people, and especially among those who profess to be gathered on the ground of His assembly. As the apostle shows in 1 Cor. 11, it is present judgment exercised on the bodies of the saints, not in their souls, not future judgment with the world. When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord that we may not be condemned with the world. These are solemn realities; and while on the one hand the assembly is the place of privilege and blessing on earth, where we realize the Lord's presence and enjoy His ministry, yet, on the other hand, it is the most solemn position, calling for the continual exercise of godly fear, of self-judgment, and of dependence upon God. Holiness becomes God's house for ever.

It is to be feared that many of those who profess to be divinely gathered, have a very inadequate sense of the importance and reality of the assembly, especially when viewed as God's temple. Men reverence a building set apart for what they call the worship of God, and which they call the house of God. How much more should we respect the company where Christ is in the midst, His assembly. F. H. B.

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The sign of walking in the Spirit is when Christ is paramount in our thoughts and affections; when, in a word, He is practically everything to the soul.