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In tracing out the statements of the Scripture concerning the Church, we shall learn much of its history as seen in the mind of God; and this exhibits to us its real character more distinctly than it is any where else seen. The Church is to be the exhibition of the grace of God: not merely is His glory to be displayed by and in the Church, but His grace likewise. God has been pleased to make the way of bringing us into eternal blessing and glory the mode of displaying Himself; every acting of God does this, but the Church is the one especial object whereby this is effected.
God hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began; but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished [nullified] death, and hath brought life and immortality [incorruption] to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. i. 9, 10). The Church stands as the conscious recipient of the blessing of redemption, and thus she can trace her existence forward, as being united to the Son of God unto all eternity —and backward, as having stood in the purpose of God before all worlds.
It is scarcely possible to imagine how language can be used for setting forth the Church in eternal blessing as the exhibition of God's glory, more emphatic than that which the Spirit of God uses in Eph. iii. 21: "Unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." [or, "unto all the generations of the age of the ages"]. Just as strongly does the Holy Ghost speak of the eternity of our election, the promise was before eternal ages" (Tit. i. 2). His is the "eternal purpose (Eph. iii. 11). Thus may the Church stand in conscious blessing, resting upon the Spirit's testimony.
This is a blessed position, and yet it is the common portion of all who have trusted in the blood of the Lord Jesus. It is in the message of the gospel that God now meets man; and this message manifests who those persons are, who in His purpose are the elect heirs of glory,-in other words, who belong to His redeemed Church.* The Holy Ghost becomes the messenger who brings to the hearts of the chosen children the testimony of what Jesus has done; thus we have the links of blessing the Father chose the Church in his Son; the Son, by redemption, did that which avails to carry into effect the purpose of God; and the Holy Ghost brings, in due time, to each of the elect the knowledge of the blood of Christ, giving them to believe on Him to the saving of their souls. The Holy Ghost, as the quickener, ought to be most distinctly recognised. Thus it is written, "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord [or, say Lord Jesus] but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. xii. 3).
The Church, in the knowledge of the blood of Jesus, can say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved" (Eph. i. 3—6).
The Church is the great exhibition of grace, her standing is of heavenly blessing; the things of the world cannot be traced further back than creation, they have all begun in time, they have sprung from the earth—but the Church, on the contrary, can go beyond creation and time, even into the very mind of God, and the eternal purpose which he hath purposed in Himself, and instead of looking at the earth as her native sphere, she has to do with heaven and the blessings which are above.
In one sense, with regard to the Church, every thing between the original purpose of God's election and the final manifestation in glory, may be regarded as a kind of interruption. But this was needed, in order that grace should be displayed; and thus, instead of the Church coming into existence in original holiness and innate purity in glory (as might have been the case, had God so willed it), we find creation, failure, and earthly dispensations. Thus the purposed heirs stand in the world "children of wrath, even as others," "dead in trespasses and sins," and, being lost as to themselves, redemption comes in. Hence the blessing of the word "chosen in
I am not going into the questions which those who wish to be wise above that which is written might raise, as to the responsibility of sinners to believe, and whether we can reconcile this with the election of God (Deut. xxviii. 29).
Christ" is shewn; for, being thus chosen, the Church was in the mind of God, bound up with Him, and He stood as the pledge of our redemption, even before that fall which has rendered the redemption needful, in order to deliver the purposed heirs. The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are the wondrous exhibition of God's way of redeeming the heirs of glory, and thus of displaying Himself in the exercise of His grace. In the finished work of Christ the salvation of the Church was secured; His blood has availing power, not only for those of the elect who were yet to be born into the world, but also for those who had been, and who had died, having obtained a good report through faith; so that not only do we now know the purpose of God, but the means likewise which He uses to carry it into effect. Christ has suffered in our stead, He has risen again, the living proof that He has put away the sins which He bore in His own body on the tree; He has ascended to the Father's right hand, and has sent down the Holy Ghost, the witness of His finished work, and who, dwelling in the Church, is the declarer of all that she has in her living Head.
As far as the earth is concerned, and as far as we are of it, we can only say, that by nature we are sinners, sharers in the fall of Adam, enemies against God, and only meriting wrath; but, because we know, through the Holy Ghost, the preciousness of the blood of Jesus, we can look at the earth as not being that with which we have to do, for "we have been begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us" (1 Pet. i. 3, 4). We are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." We are "partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. iii. 1).
Before the coming of the Son of God there had been those who, in the purpose of the Father, were His children, even as we now are, but they had not that conscious knowledge of sonship, which, as being united to the Lord Jesus Christ, and having His Spirit sent into our hearts, crying, "Abba, Father," is granted to us;-as far as conscious relationship extended they were but as servants (Gal. iv. 1-3), but now we not only have our standing set before us, but also we know that the same redemption which avails for us, was equally efficient for them; so that, in the development of the counsels of God, their place in glory and ours will be the same (Matt. viii. 11; Heb. xi. 40), resting on the same ground of grace.
The present dispensation stands in marked contradistinction from that which preceded it, for in that every thing was based simply on earthly principles; God then acknowledged an earthly nation, which was made separate from the rest of the world, not by spiritual life, but by ordinances.
The law dealt with man to try whether he could obtain blessing by obedience the whole of that dispensation had to do with earthly things. Israel was blessed in the land, and stood there upon terms of obedience, see Deut. xxviii. Then, earthly blessing, riches, and power, would have been the proofs of the favour of God; they were the very things which would have shewn that Israel was obedient; while the contrary were the proofs of their failure. The terms then were, "Obey, and thou shalt live ;" and the blessing proposed was in natural things upon earth;—now, grace comes in with "Obey, because thou hast received life," and the blessing is not proposed as a matter of attainment, but is spoken of as actually received: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”
Israel was a nation blessed on earth, the Church is blessed in heaven; all the relations of the Church flow from the place in which she is blessed; and just as Israel in the wilderness was not of the wilderness, so the Church, though on earth, is not of earth; the Lord Jesus has said, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John xvii. 14—16).
Israel was acknowledged by the Lord as His nation; and their land, &c. were specially "His own;" thus we read, "He came unto His own (rà idia), and His own (oi idiot, i. e. Israel) received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become [authority to be] the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John i. 11-13). Here we have the rejection of the Lord
Jesus by His own nation, and His gathering to Himself those whom He recog-
All the intermediate things which God has interposed between His eternal purpose and its final development, tend to teach the Church the great lesson of grace. This is learned from the failure of every thing which stood merely in nature; the character of heavenly blessing is to be learned from its contrast to earthly blessing; whilst Israel in the wilderness typifies the present circumstances in which the Church is found, in the world, yet not of the world, belonging to heaven, yet still remaining
The union of the Church with Christ is brought before us by the Spirit of God in many ways, all vividly depicting this blessed truth. The following are some of the figures employed: "I am the vine, ye are the branches" (John xv. 5); "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious; ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. ii. 4, 5); "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" (1 Cor. xii. 12). All these passages, and many more, set forth the union of the Church with Christ as a real thing, a present blessing and privilege.
In speaking of the Church, it is to be taken as a whole, as the Spirit presents it; -one body in Christ, dwelt in by one Spirit (1 Cor. xii. 13; Eph. iv. 4). The Church ought to be the exhibition on earth of the glory of her heavenly Head, possessing the full knowledge of what she really is, of her position, and of the character of her blessing.
The reason why God, after gathering by the Spirit a Church to his Son, leaves them on the earth, is that they should unitedly be His witness. It was not to make their acceptance more complete that Jesus sent His disciples forth, but because He was graciously pleased that by their testimony His elect should be gathered, and that thus they should be the sharers in His joy.
The Lord Jesus arose and ascended to the Father's right hand, and thence He sent down the Holy Ghost, as the abiding portion of the Church (John xiv. 16), who should qualify them to be His messengers of grace (Acts i. 8), by whose energy they should go forth, calling others to the knowledge of peace, through the blood of Christ, and setting before them the common privileges and the common hope given to the Church. In order to apprehend this hope, we must refer to the manner in which Jesus left the Church; "I will come again, and receive you unto myself" (John xiv. 3), was his promise, and this was to them a word of joyful expectation. Meanwhile, by union (John xvii), all who believed in the Lord Jesus were to testify that the Father had sent the Son: and, by love, they were to manifest their discipleship; "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John xiii. 35).
To wait for the Lord's appearing,-testifying for Him in his appointed way, mindful of the heavenly calling, was the position in which the Church was set. What a wondrous blessing and glory! They had to look at death as that through which they had passed in Jesus, and in Him they were shewn that they were seated in heavenly places; as to their bodies, they were in the world, but their life was above, and although sorrow and trial were set before them as their present portion, yet it had to them the character of privilege: "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also, to suffer for his sake" (Phil. i. 29). And even as they knew that they had "Redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Eph. i. 7), so they knew that they had an assured hope of" the adoption, to wit the redemption of the body" (Rom. viii. 23), and of "the redemption of the purchased possession" (Eph. i. 14), even that inheritance, the earnest of which they had received, the Holy Spirit of promise, by whom, after that they believed, they
In the midst of many conflicting thoughts and feelings, which must arise in the
mind in looking round upon the professing Church, and beholding how fearfully Satan has marred that which should have been so fair and goodly, there is joy both deep and real in contemplating, by the light of the word, the Church of God as it stands in His mind. As his purposes cannot fail, although man may fail, every thing which He has written concerning His Church will assuredly be accomplished to the utmost; and though disorder may last for a while, when the Lord cometh He will know those who are His, and to them will the blessed word be spoken, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!" Oh! blessed word! the joy of Jesus :-well might we suffer with Him now, since we shall reign hereafter. The Lord grant us "patience of hope."
§ II. THE HOLY GHOST'S DISTRIBUTION OF GIFTS.
It is from looking at the character, hope, and blessing of the Church, that we learn the nature of service in it. The Church is one body, dwelt in by one Spirit; Christ Himself is the Head, they are the members :-unity is impressed upon it from the very nature of its existence.
And not only is the Church one, but also all who belong to it so have their proper place therein, that if any were wanting there would be a defect. The very nature of its existence shews this; "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. For the body is not one member but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? Those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member rejoice all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Cor. xii). In this account of the Church, which is given us by the Holy Ghost, we find that every member is spoken of as having some particular place in the body, whether it be ostensibly as the hand or the foot, or if it be nothing ostensible externally, yet holding a place not less real. The Spirit of God not only unites each member into the body, but also gives him a place in it in which he ought to serve, not only for his own blessing, but also for the common profit.
Christians have been so apt to limit the import of the word "ministry," that in the minds of many it only gives the idea of officially exercising a function as teacher in the Church, or at most comprehending preaching, teaching, and ruling. How different is the Scripture use of the word;-it comprehends all service (the words "ministry" and "service" are the same), whether ostensible or unostensible, from the labours of Paul to the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple ;—from the working of miracles, to the labouring in prayer for the Church. We may form very different estimates of the value of these things, but all have their place; take away any, the slightest member, and then the body is defective;-hinder any member from moving, and the whole body is prevented from healthful energy-" all suffer with it."
It is not written "All ought to suffer with it," but the fact is stated, "all suffer;" many read this and understand it as though the Scripture were merely speaking of that which ought to take place in the conscious sympathy and love of the saints;but why are the words of the Holy Ghost to be thus limited by men in their import? If the Church be what the Spirit calls it, one body,-then the unity in life manifests that there must be weakness throughout, if the functions of one member be hindered. As Jesus is dishonoured by the failure of His members in serving in their own proper sphere, so ought we, as having His mind, to feel grief of soul when we see hindrances thrown in their way, and thus weakness brought upon the whole body. It would be evincing very little of the mind of Christ for us to judge that conscious individual suffering is the only thing which should give us grief of heart. If the suffering or hindered service of any of the weakest members of the one body be not felt by us as a cause of sorrow, it manifests us to be in a very callous state;very forgetful of the oneness in which the Spirit of God has set us in Jesus, and of
the fact that we are actually weakened by the suffering of our fellow-members, whether we know it or not.
It shews us beautifully the oneness of the body of Christ, and the perfectness of the workmanship of God, that all the saints have their own proper place: each is conducive to the blessing of all, each has a special place of service, and all are concerned in the service of each.
The Saints are addressed as being "built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. ii. 20, 21): "To whom coming as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. ii. 4, 5). The Holy Ghost has here so plainly declared that which He desires to bring before the saints, that it seems difficult for the meaning to be either misapprehended or made more plain. Christ is the living stone who was rejected of men, "but chosen of God and precious:" believers are the living stones, who by the Spirit's operation in revealing Jesus to the soul are builded upon Him, and thus grow to a holy temple in the Lord.
The Church being builded on Jesus the rejected stone, each living stone has its proper place in the building; each one conduces to the completeness of the whole edifice, each one derives its own especial honour from being a part of the whole. There are stones on which the weight especially rests; and they are fitted to sustain it; there are those which occupy inconspicuous places in the building, but the absence of one would be a defect which would take away from the glory and strength of the whole; there are adorned stones which are elaborately worked, these seem perhaps to give an especial comeliness, but it is to the whole building that this is given, and they would not be able to be set in their place of grace if it were not for the unadorned stones on which they rest.
Such is the Church of God in its completeness, and such ought every manifestation of the Church on earth to be.
How beautiful and how blessed! Those who are most to be reverenced in the Church for their work and service, are parts of the same building with the feeblest saints. Paul labouring throughout the world in the service of Christ, and a poor widow washing the saints' feet, both fill up their own proper places, although to a casual observer it might seem as though no common category could include both. Paul and Phoebe were both "servants" of the Lord and of His Church; and there is no reason why the ministry of the one, although so much the more ostensible than that of the other, should have been one whit the more acceptable to Him by whose grace each had been personally accepted, and by whose Spirit each had been fitted for a place in the edifice of the Church.
The Spirit of God gives the same name to each of these two; if Paul was a servant (diákovos) of the Church (Col. i. 25), in a wide sense, so was "Phoebe our sister a servant of the Church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom. xvi. 1). The limited sphere of the labour, and its less ostensible character, hinders not the Spirit from equally mentioning it for our instruction in the truth of God.
The vine and the branches (John xv), beautifully brings before us the union which we have in Christ, and with one another: fruitfulness depends upon our union with Him, and the pruning &c., of which Jesus speaks, shews plainly how much His mind rests upon the fruitfulness of the "branches in Him." It is not for the branches to care only for themselves, but to know that their true aspect of grace would be for each to stand in its own place, whether conspicuous or not, and thus contribute aright to the symmetry of the whole.
The New Testament speaks in different places of the distribution of gifts in the Church; some are taken up in detail, and hence we may learn much as to the applicability of the principles which are taught us. Thus we read, “I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think [or, to mind above that which he ought to mind]; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether