As the assembly of Christ, the Church is told of its everlasting security; as His body, it is reminded of its responsibility; as His bride, it even now enjoys in a special manner His love; “for Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25.) To her present position of bride the attention of the reader is requested.
The appellation of bride, used of the Church, is only met with in the Apocalypse (21:9; 22:17), in which book she is also called the Lamb’s wife. (19:7; 21:9.) She is the bride of the Lamb, and to Him only of course does she stand in this position, to be openly manifested as such, after that which professes to be the Church shall have been publicly judged as the great whore (Rev. 19:2), the Babylon of the Apocalypse. Now from three of the New Testament penmen do we learn about the Church in this special connection with Christ. Of her beauty in the Lamb’s eyes Matthew tells us; of Christ’s care and service, to make her answer to the desire of His heart, Paul informs us. To John was it permitted to behold in vision something of her personal glory, when she shall be displayed to the world as the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. Now such teaching is peculiar to the New Testament. No Old Testament prophet ever touched upon this theme. No Old Testament poet ever descanted upon such a union; yet David was inspired to sing of the King’s consort (Ps. 45); Solomon composed the “Song of songs;” Isaiah described the future glory and greatness of her to whom Jehovah will be an husband, (54) These inspired men, however, were occupied with something very different from the Church of God. A little attention will make this clear.
Isaiah makes plain that it is of Jerusalem he writes (liv.), to which Jehovah formerly acted as husband (Ezek. 16:8-14), till forced to cast her off for a time for her whoredom with the nations, her lovers. Having learnt to her sorrow what widowhood and shame are, she will by-and-by enjoy restoration to divine favour, and be publicly reinstated in her proper relation to Him who is Israel’s King and her husband. It was of this bright future that David sung when he penned that “song of loves” (Ps. 45), in which the queen is introduced, and described as accompanied by her virginal train, when she has received from the king the place of honour, and her favour is to be sought after by the rich among the people.
But is not the Church, it may be asked, made mention of in this psalm? Heavenly saints, who form it, are expressly noticed therein, though as quite distinct from the queen. They are just touched upon under the term “His fellows” (v. 7), among whom, as Heb. 3:14 in the original makes plain, we must include all those who are now saints upon earth, believers on the Lord Jesus Christ. The “fellows” of the King must be very different from the queen. Both indeed have to do with Him who is the King, though clearly distinct the one from the other.
Of Jerusalem’s past and future the prophetic word instructs us. Her restoration to favour, and to her proper position before all the earth, the prophet Isaiah predicts, and the psalmist graphically depicts. But for this to be righteously effected there must be the moral restoration of the remnant of the people. Now it is of this Solomon writes in the Canticles, the purport of which, briefly expressed, is to show the pains taken by the Beloved to get hold afresh of the full affection of His loved one;1 for the two are not described therein as meeting for the first time. Canticles then does not set forth the intercourse of the Church with Christ. The Church is not mentioned in the Song of songs, though Christ is prominent in the book, and the affection of His heart toward His earthly people is beautifully set forth. Yet there is much instruction for the individual Christian in that unique composition of the son of David; and many a believer, tasting of the unwearied love of Christ, after he has wandered in heart from Him, has found therein language just suited to him as a saint. The Church’s position however, in reference to Christ, and His dealings with her, are very different from both the one and the other as set forth in that book.
For all teaching then about the Church, as the bride of Christ, we must turn to the New Testament. To that let us now direct our attention.
On the shore of the lake of Galilee, in the audience of the multitude, the Lord spake the parables of the sower, the tares, the mustard tree, and the leaven. Inside the house, when alone with His disciples, He expounded the parable of the tares, and gave to them in addition those of the treasure, the pearl, and the net. (Matt. 13:1-52.) The outward character of the kingdom of the heavens, as men would see it, the Lord spake in parables to the multitude. Its aspect from God’s point of view He reserved for the special information of His disciples. They, and they only, were then permitted to learn what a treasure His saints were to Him, what a beautiful thing the Church would be in His eyes, and how He would care for His own people—symbolized by the good fish— through the instrumentality of His ministering servants. For the reader will remark, that in the parable of the net the good fish only are cared for, in the supplementary remarks the bad fish only are dealt with. On that occasion, in the house, it was disclosed for the first time, that there should be an object of surpassing beauty in the eyes of Christ, which He would die to possess. He would buy the field for the sake of the treasure concealed in it; but He would purchase the pearl for its own preciousness.
Seeking goodly pearls, the merchantman is arrested in his search by the sight of one pearl of great price. His search is stopped; he goes no further; he desires nothing more. Pearls he was seeking for; one pearl when found has satisfied his heart’s desire. To possess it now is all his aim. He has valued it, and valued it aright. What is that value? Who shall determine it? Who shall give the price? One alone does that; the merchantman himself. He went, we read, and sold all that he had, and bought it. Its value to him is attested by that which he gives to possess it; for he must possess it. In plain language, Christ would die to possess that one pearl. It is of His death, then, that He here makes mention; and it is in these two parables that the Lord in this chapter speaks of His death. Other Scriptures acquaint us with the atoning character of His death. These parables acquaint us with another reason why He died. He wanted to acquire the treasure; He desired to possess the pearl. How precious, then, to Him, how satisfying to His eye and heart, is the one pearl of great price, for which, in order to purchase it, He has given up all that He had, speaking of Himself here of course as a man. The language of Scripture we must remember is definite; no waste of words do we find in that book. Whenever then we meet with epithets, we may be sure that there is force in them. So here let the reader note the language of Christ Himself: one pearl of great price (poluvtimon). No mere man surely would ever have dared thus to characterize the Church. Many and many a saint has heartily, truly declared, that Christ is to them the chiefest among ten thousand; but Christ by this epithet tells us what His Church is in His eyes. Of the Church’s affection for Christ we read elsewhere; but in the parable, and in Ephes. 5, it is His estimate of her, and His love to her that is dwelt upon. What her joy will be might be conceived; what His delight in her would be had need to be revealed, and that He Himself first touched upon.
Passing from the parable to the doctrinal teaching of Eph. 5, where Paul writes of the Church in its spousal relation to Christ, we are taught of His love to her, the way in which He has shown it, does prove it, and will yet manifest it. But, as is often the case in Scripture, the Spirit of God, whilst touching upon what has already been revealed, adds to its fulness. The parable described Christ giving up all He had to possess the pearl. The Holy Ghost, in the Ephesians, speaks in language, if possible, yet more full. For the apostle wrote: “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25.) All that He could give for it, all that He can be to it, she is assured of in these words.
A pearl of great price! But who would have discovered that? who, looking around on the Church of God, remembering the sadly-blotted history it possesses, surveying what it is at present, who indeed would ever have discovered that it was a pearl, that it had any beauty, and that it was an object of great price? To bring this out, to make manifest its beauty and preciousness, Christ has and does minister to it.
We should mark the progressive stages of His service which the apostle traces out for us. First, Christ gave Himself for the assembly. He died to possess the Church, and that because He loved it. The motive, the reason for thus dying, was simply the love of His heart. The parable tells us He desired to purchase it. The teaching of Ephesians acquaints us with the secret motive—love for it. His service for the assembly did not however end there. Man’s devotedness can proceed no further than to die instead of his object; but in dying, man loses any earthly object. Christ, on the contrary, died to possess the assembly, and His service for the object of His heart begins, where that of a mere man’s must end. So, secondly, He sanctifies it and cleanses it with the washing of water by the word. As first possessed then by Him, it does not answer to that which He desires. A pearl it is in His eyes, but He must bring out its beauty. This He does by the application of the word. Once it was not His, but He bought it. It was not clean, so He would cleanse it. It was not set apart, but He would sanctify it. These are tokens of His love to His assembly. By-and-by He will present the assembly to Himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. Such is the end He has in view. What a service has He undertaken! What an end has He proposed to Himself! What delight will He have when He presents the assembly to Himself glorious, without any blemish. Throughout this passage the reader should remark, we have nothing told us of the Church’s joy. Christ’s love, Christ’s present service, the end He has in view, on these points the Holy Ghost delights to dwell.
What a condition must the assembly be in when He has to sanctify and cleanse it (or, as some would translate, “having cleansed it,”) by the washing of water by the word, a plain declaration that it is not what He wants; yet He will not rest till He has made it all He desires. But more, He “nourisheth and cherisheth it.” (v. 29.) All that it needs in its spousal relation to Him He supplies. To make it conformable to His desire He applies to it the word. Besides this, He ministers to it all that it wants. Nourishing and cherishing! What grace is there in that! Giving Himself for it, sanctifying it, cleansing it. What grace, too, in all this!
Viewed as man views the assembly, could we say that it has requited such care and love? How little have those who form part of it had intelligence as to that which Christ is doing. There was surely a time in the history of every believer whose eye may light on this page, when salvation from wrath was desired, and perhaps known, but Church relationship to Christ unknown, or ignored. Can all the readers of this paper say that such is no longer true of them?
Unchanged however is Christ’s estimate of the assembly’s worth. What the parable sets forth, His constant service on its behalf confirms. Yet how soon had He to tell one assembly that it had left its first love, and to charge another with having in its midst that doctrine which He hated. (Rev. 2:15, compared with 5:6.) How early in the history of the Church had Jezebel been allowed a footing in that which bore His name, and He Himself had to stand without, knocking to learn, as it were, whether there was in the assembly at Laodicea one heart faithful to Him. This personal ministration of Christ testified to the unchanging affection of His heart (Rev. 3:19), and evidenced that He well knew the condition and position of His people, and most truly desired their welfare.
But this was in the past. Is He still unchanged? Those surely who have learnt in these days truth about the Church so long neglected, and even forgotten, can testify that His love and service are as unwearied as ever. Blessed for them that it is so. For what must those who form part of it be by nature, when, to enforce the observance by the husband of his duty and bearing towards his wife, the love of Christ and His service to the Church is set forth as a fitting illustration. What creatures to need such an exhortation! How richly blest to be objects of Christ’s love!
By-and-by His object will be accomplished. His present service to the assembly will cease, only because it will not be required; and He will present it to Himself glorious, answering to His wish about it. At this point, however, we must pass from the writings of Paul to those of John. Paul has set forth Christ’s love to the Church, and told even an assembly of its relation to Christ, as representing locally the Bride. (2 Cor. 11:2.) John writes of the time when the marriage of the Lamb shall have come (Rev. 19:7); but the actual marriage he never describes. For, like the inside of the Father’s house, it is essentially a scene fit only for heaven, and never therefore disclosed to the view of men on earth. We hear of the marriage of the Lamb. We are shown the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, after the marriage, when displayed to earth; but her presentation to Him is carefully hidden from us. Heaven rejoices at it, we learn. Blessed too, we are told, will those be who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:7-9.) Here again all is looked at from the Lamb’s point of view, not from that of the Bride. It is the fulfilment of His long-cherished desire that the great multitude unanimously announce. What her feelings will be John was not directed here to declare.
We do, however, gather from his writings something of her feelings towards Christ; for when He announces Himself at the end of the Revelation as the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star, an immediate response is made to Him by the Spirit and the bride, who, both addressing Him, say, “Come.” Her desire is to see Him. She wishes for His return. She asks Him to come. That is the voice of the Church as a whole. When it was in its pristine condition one could have fancied the whole assembly, with one heart and voice, uttering that word, “Come.” In the present condition of the assembly that cannot be done. Some there are, really part of the body of Christ, who understand not the truth of the Lord’s return. Some too have taken the place of being Christians—are such in name, but in name only. How could they join in that cry? Are souls then to be deprived of the opportunity and joy of echoing that cry to Him, the Morning Star, by reason of the present condition of the assembly of God upon the earth? By no means; for the Word immediately adds, “Let him that heareth say, Come.” God thus provides, that even in the disorderly condition of the Church souls should be allowed to welcome the coming of Christ.
Not only does the bride, however, desire His return; for we read in Rev. 19:7 of the bride, when the marriage day has come, having made herself ready, being adorned for her husband. And her bridal attire, how simple it is, yet how comely! “To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints.” (Rev. 19:8.) What a contrast to that of the great whore, who is described as clothed in purple and scarlet, with ornaments of gold, precious stones, and pearls! (Rev. 17:4.) On the person of the whore was seen that which attracts and pleases the natural eye. On the bride was just that which would please the Bridegroom’s eyes—the righteousnesses (dikaiwvmata) of the saints—what they have done, it is true, but all the fruit of divine grace, and of the energizing power of the Holy Ghost. The whore delights in meretricious splendour; the bride is arrayed in that which witnesses of grace bestowed on her. The bride too is the pearl of great price in Christ’s eyes. No need then could she have to deck out her person with pearls, etc. Such an attire, such ornaments, would only dim instead of enhancing her beauty in His eyes. Gold, pearls, precious stones— these speak of God as Creator. He made them. Righteousnesses of saints—these are the fruits of that new creation, of which Christ is the beginning, and in which all who form the bride have their part. The significance of her clothing we can all therefore understand.
But observe, the marriage is not described as taking place immediately on the rapture of the saints. In Rev. 5 they are seen in heaven already. It is not till chap. 19 that the marriage day is spoken of as having come. Then she will be found ready. Till the rapture she can say to Him, “Come.” But throughout all this time she proves His love and care. Her beauty He discerned at the outset. His love and service to her make it manifest; and when the time arrives for the marriage, He who has nourished her, cleansed her, and sanctified her, will find her prepared for Him. His service to her, it will then be seen, has not been in vain.
1 For though Jerusalem, not the nation, is the queen, Jehovah will stand to the nation also, as He has done once, in the relation of her husband. (Hosea 2:16-20.) So, before Jerusalem can have her place of honour by the King’s side, the remnant of the people must be restored in heart to Him from whom they have revolted. Canticles describes Christ dealing with hearts. Isaiah 54, Psalm 45 acquaint us with Jerusalem’s future glory.