The Church: Her Exalted Position and Calling.

John Ritchie, Publisher of Christian Literature.
London: W. G. Wheeler & Co., 17 Paternoster Row.

The Church:
Her Exalted Position and Calling.

The mode in which the epistle to the Romans is concluded is suggestive; for there is a hint there, in a singular way appended, concerning the revelation of some mystery, which, it is stated, had hitherto been kept secret ever since the world began. What can this mystery be? Undoubtedly something most blessed; for God’s invariable way with us is to keep the best till last. Then, where shall we turn for further instruction in this matter? Doubtless to the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Ephesians continues the subject just where Romans drops it. For in Romans the glory of the Lord Jesus is never treated of, beyond what His resurrection shows, except once incidently and briefly. But since “the glorification of the church depends on the glory of her Head, so we must turn elsewhere, if we would survey the unfoldings of His glory in connection with His ascension to God’s right hand.

Our justification depends on His resurrection. So, too, dogs His kingdom. But, verily, neither our complete discharge from all that was against us, nor yet a place in His kingdom, can in any wise be said to express all that is ours in Him. Then, what is our peculiar blessing? To ascertain this, observe what follows consequent on His ascension, namely, the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the essential blessing of the dispensation, and peculiar to it. But by the Holy Ghost all who believe are now baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:12), of which the Lord Jesus in heaven is the Head. Hence the church is united to Christ, and united to Him there. Certainly the Old Testament believers were not united to Christ, for two most evident reasons: firstly, the Holy Ghost had not come down personally from heaven, BY whom they could be united; neither again was there a risen Head in heaven TO whom they could be united. Is a Christ exalted and enthroned there in glory nothing, or a mere trifle? Is the Holy Ghost’s personal descent from heaven, and presence here on earth, a secondary matter? Was there, earlier than nineteen centuries ago, a Man in God, or the Holy Ghost so given, as is the case now? No, indeed. Then union to that glorified Head is also a new thing, and only wrought by the “exceeding greatness of God’s power” (Eph. 1:19).

There was no union with Christ before He had died. So He Himself testifies in John 12:24. Read also the last few verses of Eph 1, together with the first few verses of Eph. 2. Then it will be evident that our being quickened, and raised, and seated in the heavenlies, are all “together with Christ,” and that His empty grave is our starting-point. Likewise in Col. 1:18. Only “as firstborn from the dead” He is u head of the church.” Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection. Thus His Sonship is not the theme of the Old Testament. There the eye is pointed to Him as the Seed of the woman. But it is on Christ as the risen, and so human yet divine, Son of God, that the church is being built. Hence it is, that in Mark’s and Luke’s account of Peter’s confession of Christ, because they omit the words “Son of God “from that confession; so, too, do they accordingly omit that the Lord replied, that on that Rock of His Sonship He would build His church. Whilst Matthew, who gives us Peter’s confession in its entirety, records also the Lord’s words about His church. The future tense, “I will build,” &c, is also fraught with instruction.

Not even when the church began to exist as a matter of fact at the ascension of Christ, and consequent descent of the Holy Ghost, was the doctrine about it immediately revealed, nor for several years afterwards: that is to say, not until Paul received his apostolic commission. After the Holy Ghost came, His first testimony of Christ through the twelve was as Israel’s Messiah raised from the dead and glorified. But when Israel persisted in their refusal of Christ, as well in resurrection as before when He had been on earth, and consummated their refusal in their murder of Stephen, then He sat down. And now came forth that testimony in full as to the exceeding greatness of His person, and to the infinite delight of God in His finished work. For Paul, now raised up, at once begins to preach that Christ is “the Son of God “(Acts 9:20). The Word “Son “in the earlier places in the Acts is quite another word, and for contrast had better been translated “Servant,” as in 3:26; 4:27. Then the little remnant in Israel who had believed in Christ, would at last begin to learn God’s deeper counsels of grace. Now the word “church” began to leak out. The word “church” in Acts 2:47 is an interpolation. The right reading there is, “The Lord added together, daily such as should be saved.” Thus, by the bye, it is clear that the Christians had no idea at the beginning, of coming together on “the ground of the one Body,” but on the ground of the living Christ. They were, indeed, that one Body; but if they knew it not, as certainly at first they did not, they could not possibly so assemble. But when Paul subsequently was converted, he heard the Son of God in heaven first own His afflicted people to be His members, and even call them “ME “(Acts 9:4). It is not denied here that the mere word “church “had been used for other purposes. Thus it is applied to Israel whilst in the wilderness, as it is likewise thrice applied to the tumultuous assemblage of the heathen rabble at Ephesus in Acts 19. It is the one, the grand, the heavenly reality, that should be kept in view.

Hence it appears that Paul was called, not only to preach the Gospel, but another ministry was entrusted to him besides. In Col. 1:23, we read that he was a minister of the church, by the revelation of which great mystery the Word of God is at length completed, or fulfilled (verse 25). By so much then did Paul’s ministry transcend that of the twelve. Their testimony was of Him who had been with them from the beginning, and whom God had raised from the dead. But Paul’s does in a manner begin where Stephen’s leaves off. He was made a minister of the things which he had seen (Acts 22:15 and 26:16).

What is this great reality, then? What this last and wondrous mystery? It is that a body is Being slowly formed for that risen and glorified Head by the Holy Ghost. It is that one living Spirit dwells in each and all the members, as in the Lord Himself, Here are the words of God: “The mystery of the Christ was not made known in other ages as it is now revealed to His apostles (though not “by” them, but by Paul only), that the Gentiles should be heirs together, and a body together, and partakers together, of God’s promise in the Christ “(Eph. 3). So far from this being the same thing as before was the fact, we know that Judaism positively depends on the distinction of Jew and Gentile. But Christ has now made these two one, by welding both of them through the Holy Ghost into Himself, making of all one new man, of which He is the Head and we are the members. In the millennium again, when this mystical body shall have been completed, the distinction between Jew and Gentile, will again obtain.

Here, then, is the mystery, and not in the mere bringing in of Gentiles into blessing. That of itself was no mystery or secret at all. God had abundantly throughout the Old Testament predicted that, as Paul declares in Romans 15, where he cites many passages in proof. But that all that Christ is and has, should be ours, save His own essential Deity, by which He is ever the more blessed giver, and we the happy receivers; that whatsoever else is true of Him the Head, is equally true of all and each of us His members, and this in virtue of oneness with Him, oneness effected by the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost; verily this was a mystery. Not a word about it will you find from Genesis to Malachi. Types there had been, which now we behold the beauty of, as of Eve taken from Adam whilst he slept; as of Joseph and Moses marrying strangers whilst rejected by their brethren; and of that much-enjoyed one, Rebecca, escorted by Eliezer the servant to the unseen wealthy and only son.

Four chief comparisons of this church are found in Scripture. Three of these seem to indicate her standing Godwards, and the fourth creationwards. These are a temple in which GOD may dwell; a bride for CHRIST; a body, with the Lord as its Head, and filled throughout with the HOLY GHOST. Then in Rev. 21 she is presented to us as a city, the New Jerusalem, as if to teach us her relation to creation. As a temple, we behold how God will finally rest with delight in His love of us, and pour out His glory on us. And by comparing what He says of her in this character with His tabernacle of old, we perceive how God has had the end in view from the beginning. This wondrous end is, a living palace composed of living souls, each one instinct with divine life. Yea, each, one of these stones is also a temple of God, a complete miniature of the whole thing. So Eph. 2:21, where, for “all the building,” read “every building.” For each such stone or temple is full of divine life; each inbuilt immediately on Christ; each has God indwelling in it; each stone or temple, like the costly pictures in a nobleman’s hall, has a wondrous history connected with it, and is designed to exhibit the riches of its owner. Who but God could build such a temple, each stone a living, glowing facsimile of the entire buildings? Man’s proud motto is, “The greatest benefit to the greatest number.” God’s way is patiently and laboriously to work upon each several one. Hence, in John’s Gospel, how oft Christ is beheld dealing with individual cases. Even His invitation there is in the singular: “Him that cometh,” &c. As a bride, we are reminded of Christ’s love thereto, and notably in Ephesians 5 in seven particulars. First, He loved the church. Secondly, He gave Himself for it. Thirdly, He sanctifies it or separates it to God. Fourthly, He cleanses it from evil by the application of the Word. Fifthly, He nourishes it. Sixthly, He cherishes or comforts it. Then, lastly, as God brought Eve to Adam, so will He present it to Himself, glorious— the Church (so it should be translated). As a Body, the Holy Ghost, flowing down from a glorified Christ,) unites the living souls to an unseen Head in heaven, and in God (John 13:32). So much so, that not only does the Spirit flow from Christ personally; but also, through Christ, “out of the belly,” as it were, of His believing people. For God not only washes us in the laver of regeneration; but sheds upon us, and that “abundantly,” the Holy Ghost. So foolish are we, as well as naughty, when we grieve the Spirit in us; so that we are not full of the Holy Ghost to overflowing. Then lastly, creationwards, she, as the New Jerusalem, is described in Revelation as “having the glory of God,” and with her light Krustallizo—crystallizing, beatifying creation. In like manner does the material sun above our heads make all nature bright, and the sky beautiful. So too the church, being blest of God, is then a blessing in the new creation. “Hereunto are we called, that we should inherit the dispensing of blessing,” as 1 Peter 3:9 reads, with which compare James 3:10.

Meanwhile, whilst we await the Lord’s return, when His wonderful work for us and in us will be uncovered, and the oneness effected shall be so manifested that the world shall know that God sent Christ, we should seek to manifest this oneness (which is already real, and depending on God alone) by oneness “of heart and soul” before the world. It should be our endeavour that we all speak the same thing, and “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” It is by the obscuring or denial of this oneness, that the foe essays to touch in the most tender part the glory of the Lord. Therefore in no way can we serve Him better, who has loved us so very much, than by manifesting this holy oneness with each other, and with Him through the Holy Ghost, and thus testify of Him and of His great glory there.