The Assembly of God: Its Fellowship and Worship.

Each Epistle has a distinct subject. Romans is the inspired presentation of the Gospel. Ephesians exhibits the Church’s position in heaven, 1 Corinthians shews the assembly in responsibility on earth. Whilst Romans discloses the antitype of the passover (to 5:11), and of the passage of the Red Sea to end of 8; Ephesians shows the passage of the Jordan, and our abode in Canaan. Then in between these two there aptly intervene Galatians, which warns us of those teachers who would put us under law; and 1st Corinthians, which contemplates the path generally through the wilderness of those who affirm that they are saved; hence the frequency of allusion in this epistle to Israel’s wilderness wanderings.

Its opening words prove that its directions are to be simply obeyed; for it is addressed “to all that call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No other epistle is thus headed. Yet men dare to say, in the teeth of this singular superscription, that its instructions are inapplicable now. They encourage one another to turn a deaf ear to God’s Word, as did the Israelites of old. What! and is it so, that time invalidates the Word of the eternal God? of Him to whom a thousand years are but as one day! Not two days then have elapsed since these divine rubrics as to church worship were penned. Shall men substitute other modes of worship for God’s? Or shall they put it to the vote how far God’s way shall be heeded? Imagine Moses, after receiving precise instruction as to how the candlestick, the table, and all other pieces of the tabernacle, were to be made, even down to the minutest details thereof, imagine him putting it to Israel’s vote whether the candlestick should have “knops” on it or not! This epistle inapplicable, for instance, say you? Then tell me when the instructions of this epistle were set aside, and by whom? Oh, ye professors, come out from apostacy, and learn that to obey is better than sacrifice!

From verse 4 to 9 of chapter 1 we have an epitome of the entire epistle. The assembly as witnessing corporately for Christ on earth, and waiting for His second advent is pictured. Specially it is stated that they are called unto the fellowship of God’s Son. (ver. 9.) These words form the text. For 9:23, and 10:14-16 show the bearing of this expression here. For we perceive from 9:23, that even Paul is only a co-sharer with the other saints. In the assembly, each and all are seen to be so exalted together with Christ, that clerisy in form or in substance is impossible. All distinctions disappear, except in so far as, whilst all share His grace together, the Lord Himself, as a Sovereign, makes distinctions by “dividing to every man severally as He will “Hence it is that in 10:14-16, reference is made to our mutual communion or sharing together of the loaf and of the cup, and of that which they signify, in order to dehort us from all real idolatry. For the assembly belongs not to any man; it is the “church of God” Himself (1:2).

The epistle consists of three parts. Part 1 to the end of chapter 4 puts all God’s ministering servants in their proper places. Yet even this part is still addressed to the assembly; for the distinction of clergy and laity, or of “the” minister and “his” congregation, springs not originally from ministerial assumption, but from the people’s desire that thus it should be. It is irksome for man to depend on God. Chapter 1 teaches us that Christ is God’s power for the religious who are fond of something external, and He is also God’s wisdom for those who idolize intellect. As God’s wisdom He is made to us righteousness, and santification, and redemption; therefore, for the Corinthians then, or for any others now, to range themselves under favourite ministers is absurd; for that which they preach to the world exhibits human nothingness, viz., Christ crucified. And again (chap. 2.), how the church is nourished is by the Holy Ghost Himself, come down from heaven, who makes known to us the deep things of God. But as the preaching of Christ crucified is folly to the world (1:23), so the revelation of those things which are freely given to us by God in the assembly by the Holy Ghost are folly to the natural man (2:14), whilst conversely, everything that the flesh would desire in a minister is termed folly with God (3:19). Therefore, let all of God’s servants take heed what sort of material they introduce into God’s building, and still more that within the building, which is the assembly, nothing should violate the idea of the body, no, not even their own imaginary ability; for (4:5) God in due time will reward all faithful service. Therefore, let none seek honour from men, Presently we shall reign; but now, if His, we must suffer.

Part 2 treats of the assembly itself; chapters 5 and 6 of its purity, and 7 and 8 of the purity of individuals. And here it is contemplated that one may be exercised about matters of no moment, whilst neglecting those of consequence. Then in chap, 9, which is parenthetic, the writer cites his own example, after which in chap. 10 he solemnly cautions against the real idolatry to which professors are actually liable, and what it will lead to, traced from the antitypes of Israel’s four sins; these are the golden calf, i.e. clerisy (ver. 7); next, fornication, that is commixture of church and world (ver. 8); tempting Christ by despising the food of heaven when dispensed in little bits (ver. 9); and lastly, murmuring through thought of inability to reach our heavenly home (Ver. 10). Here is the idolatry to be afraid of, and such its fruits and judgment. Of it we may well be careful, and not of that imaginary thing about which they had written to him; so he adds that the table round which, and Him who there presides, they all congregate, markedly exhibits that “they have all things in common.” Consequently in

Part 3 to end of epistle there is treated in full the subject of church fellowship. Subjection to the Lord is first glanced at, and then the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day assembled at the Lord’s table are beheld. Thus is the subject commenced. And in order that obedience to this way of the Lord may be pressed on the soul, the writer specially informs us, that about this supper he received his instructions direct from heaven. Whilst “Do this” is His one and only command about public worship, this command He has thought good to repeat from yon throne. Is our entire worship called a supper? That suggests to us how we should rejoice and feast before the Lord. To the world it is a witness that this whole dispensation is but a night. Then in 12 we see what the gifts to the body are; in 14 how those gifts are to be exercised, and under what power and authority, whilst most beautifully, in the midst of these instructions, we have 13 looking at the moral fitness for the proper exercise of gift. The gifts of 12 must be baptized in the love of 13 to be exercised in grace as in 14; for 13 is like the Red Sea for gifts, in which the flesh is left at the bottom. Here then we have, as we are expressly informed, and not without a slight peremptoriness of tone, “the commandments of the Lord” (14:37). Here is the Lord’s precise instruction, how as believers we are to demean ourselves before Him when we come together (Greek; en ekklesia) in assembly. Ours is no accidental meeting; it is the Holy Ghost who Himself has gathered us (Matt. 18:20). So Acts 20:7 should be translated “gathered together.” We are gathered in the Name of Christ; that is to say, unto His own immediate presence. Compare 2 Chron. 20:9 with 1 Cor. 5:4. We come together “to break bread,” “to eat the Lord’s Supper.” We require no priest, nor any authority from any synod; our warrant is His plain precept. If we do it not, through being fettered by a human system, then are we making void God’s Word to keep man’s traditions. Largeness of numbers is not essential; “two or three” are sufficient. Still, the idea of an assembly, as in Heb. 10:25, certainly conveys the idea, generally speaking, of more than two or three. But our great joy is, His distinct pledge, that He is “there in the midst,” as our Saviour, our Lord, our Head. Consequently our whole action will proceed on the belief that we are before Him. “We see Jesus.” From Him flows the Spirit of God, who sways the assembly, as the wind moves an Æolian harp. If any unbelievers are present, they hear us proclaiming the Lord’s death; yet testifying that He is risen, and about bodily to return to receive us to Himself. And thus, as we assemble, and persist in assembling, round an invisible Head now; so we shall soon be gathered all together around that same Head and Lord visibly very soon. Compare the word in Heb. 10:25, of our gathering now; and the same word in 2 Thes. 2:1, of our gathering then. Only in these two places, throughout the New Testament, does this Greek word èpisunagògee occur—that is, of our two gatherings, here and there. I add no more on these chapters; for if men will not hear God in His own Word, no wonder if they laugh at His servants. But such mockers should remember that they are not yet out of the wilderness, where the Lord makes manifest who are His.

Then in 15 there is the bright prospect for those who, whilst yet the church patiently waits and serves here, depart to be with Christ. And in 16 we hear of the church’s collection for poor saints, of the house of Stephanas, that ordained themselves to serve the saints, and who are to be obeyed. Then the instructions of this epistle are authoritatively sealed with a most solemn curse on all who disobey or neglect them; for it is of course as a clincher to the divine rubrics herein contained, that the appeal to the heart of each is made as to its love of Christ and of obedient fealty to Him. (See 16:22.)

Assemblies are often enjoined in the Word to “be perfect” (see 2 Cor. 13:11). The Greek word which is used in such cases, properly denotes the being perfectly fitted together into one body or piece. Now, the mode in which this is to be accomplished we can learn by observing how the sons of Zebedee were mending, or “perfectly fitting together,” their broken net. See Matthew 4:21, where the same Greek word is used. Thus only shall assemblies of believers be perfectly fitted together, not by confederation or affiliation from without. Imagine two assemblies ascending on two beams of light towards the sun! It is not by going across to each other that they become one, which could only become possible by both going aslant, which is clearly not the way of God. But let each press on to the sun—to Christ. Thus do the saints “Build up” themselves on their most holy faith, and thus shall they be in heart and in soul united, for as Christ alone is the entire and only way unto the Father, so is He to all that is of God in His beloved and redeemed people. Thus we learn that genuine oneness among God’s saints is affected from within, alike among individuals and assemblies. The closer they are drawn by the Spirit to Christ, the closer they approximate to the written Word, the more will they gravitate towards each other in holy unity. And as faith is strongest in the individual when the eye is wholly off self, so the Church is most in the mind of the Spirit when her thought is solely of her Lord. As each individual must begin with Christ, so must also the two or three be gathered only and-exclusively unto Him, and so also must divers assemblies congregate around Himself alone, in order to be drawn closer to each other. Thus, too, shall all at last blend into one, when He descends from heaven, and with a shout summons all to His blessed presence, and receives the whole Church unto Himself.