Christ - The Bridegroom

The Church as the Body of Christ speaks, then, as we have seen, of service in subjection and fellowship with the Head. In the Bride we find it in a new aspect, in which, while association with Christ is just as prominent, there is rather the thought of rest than of activity; or it is the heart that is awake and in activity, Christ is seen as the Beloved of the heart, and in known and enjoyed relationship, its entire satisfaction and delight.

The “Body” is not the equivalent of the “Bride,” and we miss much if we accept the one as substitute for the other. The incompatibility of the Church filling both these places has been, however, lately pressed, and that the members of Christ’s Body are not the Bride, but part of the Bridegroom Himself. But surely, if these are both figures, there is no incompatibility here, and it is only by joining different aspects of truth in an incongruous manner—“part of the Bridegroom”—that they are made to appear so. Scripture does not so connect them, and to put things in this way is only an unconscious self-entanglement of thought.

It has been also represented that the Church was a “mystery hid in God” during Old Testament times, and that this is inconsistent with there being any types of it in the Old Testament, such as Rebekah, for instance, has been taken to be: for types teach, and were meant to teach doctrines, and the mystery is not said to be hidden in Scripture, but in God. But this is to overlook the plain statement of the apostle, where after a direct quotation of Gen. 2:24, (“the two shall be one flesh”) following an application of the preceding history of Adam and his wife, he says: “This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32). Now here the mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ is found at the very beginning of the Old Testament.

Types by themselves teach nothing: they need the removing of the veil that is over them before they can be anything more than just history, ordinance, or what is upon the face of them. If Scripture were full of them, they would still be hid in God until it pleased Him to give the key to unlock their meaning. The distinction sought to be made is therefore quite unfounded.

It is true, that, as to the Body of Christ, the Old Testament, as far as we are aware, has no hint of it; while with regard to the Bride there are types from the very beginning. But not only so, the figure of marriage is used again and again with reference to the relation between Jehovah and Israel, as a people brought into intimate and unique attachment to Himself; and this both in the history of the past, and in the prophecy of the future. This was, therefore, no mystery hid in God,—no secret to be brought out at an after time,—and cannot refer to the Church which is Christ’s Body. Thus in Jeremiah (31:31–34) God speaks of the covenant made with their fathers, when He took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, as of a marriage contract: “which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband to them, saith the Lord.” And in Hosea (chap. 2) God judges them for their wanderings from Him as adultery, while He prophesies the return of the nation to her “first husband” as the result of His dealings with her in the time to come: “I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and went after her lovers, and forgat Me, saith the Lord. Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope; and she shall sing there as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.”

Then comes the renewal, but in a more intimate way, of the old relationship. “And it shall be at that day that thou shalt call Me Ishi, and shalt no more call Baali: for I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall be no more remembered by their name.”

The change of title here is significant. “Ishi” and “Baali” both are used for “husband”; but the latter is strictly “lord, master,” and implies simply the wife’s subjection; whereas “Ishi,” “my man,” as with similar words in other languages, goes back to creation and the fundamental fitting of man and woman to each other, so that there should be real fellowship or kinship in the relation. The connection with the substitution of the one title for the other as to the true God and the dropping of the very names of the “Baals,” the false gods, out of Israel’s mouth, is therefore easy to be understood. They had only known God hitherto in the far off place of “master,” not in the reality of His glorious nature, not in the affectionate intimacy which He sought. Thus there Was nothing to hinder their being drawn away to “other lords” which had usurped His place. But now, in the future which He here contemplates, all would be changed, so as to make stable the relationship: “And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness and in judgment, and in loving kindness and in mercies; I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness”—or “steadfastness”—“and thou shalt know the Lord.”

Here, then, is the end of all wanderings: and now “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah,”—“My delight is in her,”—“and thy land Beulah” (married): “for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married” (Isa. 62:4).

Here it is plain that to Israel, God’s earthly people, it is that these promises belong. It should be as plain, surely, that the “Bride of the Lamb,” united to Him in heaven before He comes forth to the judgment of the earth (Rev. 19), is not Israel, and that the “new,” the “heavenly Jerusalem,” “Jerusalem which is above,” (Rev. 21; Gal. 4:26) cannot be the Old Testament city, even in the fullest glory of her glorious time to come. Thus there are certainly two “Brides” contemplated in Scripture, a heavenly and an earthly one; and the objections made against this are really of no force whatever. For instance, where it is said: “The Bride in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea is Israel, or at any rate the elect of Israel; those who were partakers of the heavenly calling in Israel.” Surely nothing could well be more contrary to Scripture than this. Was it with partakers of the heavenly calling that God made a covenant when He took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt? Was it the elect in Israel who broke that covenant, though Jehovah was a husband to them? Was it these to whom He gave a writing of divorcement, and put them away? Is it a heavenly land, that is no more to be called Desolate, but Beulah (married)? Is it to an elect heavenly people that it is said, “Turn, O backsliding children: for I am married unto you; and I will take you, one of a city, and two of a family, and will bring you to Zion”? If these questions cannot be answered in the affirmative, then assuredly, whatever the New Testament Bride may be, the Old Testament one is not the same.

The writer allows even that “all the promises to Israel as a nation were earthly,” and such are the promises here: they are national; although it is true that only those can enjoy them who undergo that spiritual change which our Lord emphasizes as needed by any who enter the Kingdom of God. As Isaiah says (4:3, 4): “And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem; when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.”

In the forty-fifth psalm the divine-human King, Messiah, is seen as the Bridegroom of Israel, and as to its being an earthly scene that is set before us in it there can be surely no question made. It was to such a Bridegroom that the Baptist testified (John 3:29); and the parable of the virgins doubtless speaks of the same. In the whole prophecy (Matt. 24, 25) Israel is prominent, the Church coming in only in that part of it which assumes that parabolic form in which the “mysteries of the Kingdom,” “things kept secret from the foundation of the world,” had been before declared. And the virgins going forth to meet the Bridegroom, have been inconsistently taken by many to be the same as the Bride. To set this right in no wise affects the doctrine, if it does not rather make it clearer. At least the conformity with the Old Testament is plain, and with the position that Matthew holds as the connecting link between the Old Testament and the New.

In the passage in Ephesians before referred to there is much more than an illustrated appeal to wives and husbands in view of Christ’s relationship to the Church. That relationship is stated in a very definite way in antitypical parallelism to that of the first Adam and the woman divinely given to him. Adam, we are distinctly told in Romans (chap. 5:14) “is the figure of Him that was to come.” Christ is called in Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:45) “the last Adam.” But notice the contrast also, which here as always, in one way or other, obtains between type and antitype: “the first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit.” The same parallel, yet contrast, is seen in this passage in Ephesians: “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” It was God who presented Eve to Adam: it is Christ who as the fruit of His own self-sacrifice presents the Church to Himself.

It is certain that here Christ is looked at as in a higher,—and so in some sense a contrasted—way, repeating the story of the second of Genesis. But that is not all: the apostle goes on to say: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies: he that loveth his wife loveth himself; for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church. For we are members of His body; [we are] 18 of His flesh and of His bones.” Here two things are brought together which, in different ways show the ground of the Lord’s care. We are members of His body: nearer to Him than that can nothing be. But this is by the baptism of the Spirit, and implies a prior, anticipative, originative work that shall prepare for it. The baptism of the Spirit effects union; but with whom then can He unite Himself? Now comes the answer: “we are of His flesh and of His bones.”

But this carries us back at once to the Old Testament type again, and we hear Adam, after the whole of nature besides has failed to furnish a helpmeet for him, and when God to provide one has brought forth the woman out of his side,—we hear Adam saying, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” Her origin is from him, though not in the way of nature, but of divine power. And now again has been produced by a mightier act of divine power, a people who have received their spiritual origin from the last Adam, out of His death-sleep, who is not only a living Spirit, but a “Spirit giving life.” The earthly history has found its complete fulness of meaning.

And thereupon follows the saying, whether it was Adam’s or not, which the apostle quotes and applies in the end of his exhortation: “for this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The argument and justification for those apparently foreign unions, is founded upon that original fitting of the woman to the man which was made by God Himself the basis of origin of the whole family relationship. Thus it retains its place as prior to and beyond all other.

But the apostle’s application is that with which we have here to do. He says of it: “This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”

The mystery here then is spiritual, while God has manifested His interest in it by writing it out in natural hieroglyphics, impossible to be interpreted until He be pleased to give the key. “All these things happened unto them for types, and are written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages are come.”

It is not of the Bride that we are now desiring to speak, but of the Bridegroom; but the one so implies the other that we are compelled to the course we have been pursuing. The recurrence of the type so frequently in the Old Testament, even from the beginning of the history, is full proof of how dear to Him is the thought of the relationship. Assuredly we shall not give these up from any preconceived idea that they ought not to be there. They are there, and speak so plainly for themselves, pictures though they may be only, that no unprejudiced mind can avoid seeing them.

Take Rebekah: and if Isaac be a type of Christ, and, in the twenty-second of Genesis, received back “in figure” from the dead (Heb. 11:19), how is it that we find next Sarah, the mother (Rom. 9:5) passes away, and then Rebekah takes her place in Sarah’s tent as bride of the risen heir. Of the kindred already, she is called by a special messenger (as the Church by the Holy Spirit) to cross the desert in his company to meet her yet unseen Lord.

Take Asenath; and Joseph too is betrayed by his brethren, brought down to the prison house and brought up out of it to be the Saviour of Egypt (the world); and then he must have a Gentile bride, while his brethren are strangers to him.

Take Zipporah (the “bird”—the heavenly bride); and again Moses is away from and rejected by his brethren when he finds her by the well—a Gentile too—and marries her.

Are such things, so fit in themselves, so fitting to their place in the history, mere casual happenings, which we may use, if we will, for illustration, but must not seriously press as having any design from God? Surely if design may be recognized anywhere without a label, we may recognize it here.

Now it is not contradictory to all this, and cannot be, to find that Old Testament saints looked for a city which has foundations; or even to believe, as I have long done, that this city and the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb in Revelation, are the same thing. Once let us realize that the “city,” however identified in some sense with its inhabitants, is yet in fact the habitation and not the inhabitants, and the difficulty begins to clear. The Bride City may contain more than the Bride, as even the writer whose views I am referring to allows. The throne of God and of the Lamb are in it; and the twelfth of Hebrews distinctly shows us “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” apart from both “the church of the First-born ones,” and “the spirits of just men made perfect.”19

“God has prepared for them a city” does not in this case imply necessarily what it is quoted for; and we may adapt the writer’s own words otherwise than he would allow. “This holy Jerusalem may contain”—the saints of the Old Testament; “but it is not necessary on this account that we should identify them.”

Turning from all this now, how blessed to think of this Bridegroom character of the Lord Jesus! It should be plain that it expresses His personal joy of love, in a way that the “Head of the Body” cannot, because it expresses a very different thing. A whole book of the Old Testament has been given to the expression of this relation of the Lord Jesus,—no doubt, in the first place to Israel; but capable of application all through to the higher and heavenly. Perhaps we have not a New Testament book of this character, for the same reason that we have not a New Testament psalm book. It would rather belittle than truly represent it; if it were not, at least, to be a book too large for human handling. Christian psalmody finds in all else that has been written its material of praise. Its “song of songs” must also transcend utterance. And perhaps must be learned otherwise than any book of this kind could avail for.

Thus it is, after all, that one can say so little of what the Lord’s Bridegroom character means. We see that all the nearest, sweetest human relationships are taken up to image forth these more wondrous spiritual ones. And Bridegroom and Bride, always remaining in the first freshness of the sabbatic morning of their beginning, speak of a mutual abiding for one another, which is the revelation of a sufficing love, such as we are surely learning by the way as we go to meet Him, but which in the first moment of His presence will manifest itself as it had not been before.

In the moment of her presentation to Isaac, Rebekah took a veil and covered herself. We can but do so in the anticipation of that time.


18 The repetition of the “we are,” or some equivalent of it, is necessitated by the insertion here of the preposition ?κ (“ουτ οφ”) ωηιχη σεπαρατες τηε φιρστ στατεμεντ φρομ τηε λαττερ ονε.

19 In the tract to which I have been referring the names of the twelve tribes on the gates of the city and those of the twelve apostles on the foundations are taken alike to show the Israelitish character of the city itself, and the “portion” of the twelve as judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28) shows these to be “separated off from the Church,” the body of Christ. He even declares that “the Lamb is the special title of the Lord Jesus in relation to Israel, and the elect of Israel”

No wonder that it should be also discovered that “the Gospels are the conclusion of the Old Testament history, and not the commencement of Church teaching; except, of course,”—and how important the exception!—“so far as Christ crucified is the foundation of all blessing.”