The subject on which, with the Lord’s help, I propose to enter tonight is the one body, the body of Christ; and this too not only as a great doctrine which the Holy Ghost has laid down with the utmost clearness, and throughout a considerable part of the New Testament, but also, as far as I am able in a short space, deducing some of its practical consequences, and showing its bearing upon the communion and the conduct of every member of it, that is, of every Christian.
But in order to develop the special characteristics of Christ’s body, it will be necessary to explain how it differed from that which God revealed or set up in past dispensations; for there are distinctions, and even contrasts, between the past dealings of God and that which He is now accomplishing to the honour of His beloved Son. While there was of course always the only true God: while He had in times past those He loved upon earth; while He ever wrought by His Spirit; while there was necessarily faith at work in order to the blessing of souls; yet for all that there are essential and deeply important differences, which none can overlook without loss to himself, without sure weakening of his testimony to others, and, above all, without coming short of the just perception of what God Himself has nearest to His own heart — His own glory in Christ.
Now it is perfectly plain, if we take up the Old Testament, that when man fell into sin God gave certain revelations of blessing, all of which find their centre in the Lord Jesus. We see this from the very beginning of Genesis. When sin entered, not only righteous government but grace instantly followed. God was there; and in the presence of the guilty pair, and in defiance of the serpent, the mercy of God spoke of that same blessed One of whom we are about to hear further and deeper glories. In due time God brought out, in a distinct and personal manner, blessings in connection with Abraham and his seed. There we have the domain of promise — not only revelation of mercy, but distinct promise — to a given person and to his seed. This had not been the case in the garden of Eden. Man fell there; and it is evident that fallen man could not possibly be the object of the promise of God. There are promises for such: there could not be a promise to such. When Abraham received the promise, he was not a fallen man merely but a believing man. It was as one elect, called, and faithful, that God made him the depository of promise. But it was when Adam fell, before there was anything of the operation of divine grace in him; it was when he and Eve had completely separated themselves from God, that mercy, entirely irrespective of their condition or desert, held out a revelation of grace in the person of Christ. The woman’s Seed was presented more particularly as the destroyer of him that had wrought this deep and, as far as it went, irreparable mischief — irreparable to the creature, but only furnishing the opportunity for God to bring out His own grace to the glory of Him who, bruised Himself, was to bruise the serpent’s head.
The effect of the promise to Abraham was that a family was set apart unto God, and, in due time, a nation. Next, we find that, as this nation was full of confidence in its own powers, God was pleased, in the wisdom of His ways, to try them by the law, as we all know, given at Sinai. I need not enter into the details, but just state the general outline of the divine dealings for the purpose of clearing my subject. But the issue of that trial, however long God might delay, was not doubtful for a moment; for at the very mountain where God spoke, the children of Israel set at nought the authority and the glory of God, and bowed down to the work of their own hands: that is, the law, as a moral question between God and man, was overthrown from its very foundations at the outset. God lingered — long lingered — in patience, and meanwhile brought out His ways in every possible variety. The crowning experiment of all was the presence of Christ, the Seed of the woman, and the Seed of promise, too; for now came the person who answered to all the revelations and promises, the ways and types and prophecies of God. He came, in whose person was found all that was worthy of God, and that was suited to man. But the coming of Christ brought out the awful truth, not only that man is himself corrupt, depraved, and loves his own will, but that he hates goodness — yea, divine goodness — in a man. He is the enemy of God when manifesting Himself in the most blessed manner — in His own Son; when manifesting Himself, not only in power — for we can understand a guilty creature alarmed at holy power — but in perfect love, coming down in humiliation, putting Himself at the foot of man, beseeching man; for this is in truth not a figure or exaggeration of man’s mind, but God’s own word. Hear His description of it: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech by us,” etc. His love beseeching sinners was the attitude of divine grace in the person of Christ. What was the result? That man proved there was no possibility of extricating himself by any means that God put at his disposal: that if it were a question of man’s delivering himself, no matter what might be the mercy or the blessing, no matter how deep and full the grace displayed in a living person, man was too far gone — nay, so truly dead in sin, that, far from being won by God’s love, he only took advantage of it, and when Jesus put Himself at the foot of man, he lifted up his heel and trod on Him, the Son of God. But if man thus, under Satan’s malicious guidance, cast out and crucified Christ, God in the cross not only demonstrated His love (herein is love, indeed!) but wrought out redemption, a work suited even for those that crucified Jesus, capable of blotting out the foulest sin man was ever guilty of. God has triumphed where man did his worst against Him.
But this is not all. In the previous dealings of God, when He had given His law, God had separated the nation that was called out of Egypt — had marked them off in the most distinct and positive manner from all others. It was needful. Men might have complained that there had been no fair trial; the corrupt examples of others would naturally lead astray. God set Israel apart by their institutions, rites, ordinances, services, and His law; and by that law, and by those rites, He severed them from all others; so that it would have been sin against God for a Jew to have communion with a Gentile, no matter how godly and disposed to respect the law of God. No doubt there might be such a thing as being brought out of Gentilism, at any rate to a certain extent; but still, all through the system of God’s dealings by His law with the Jewish people, there was the express and total severance of His people from all the nations. I do not speak of the abuse of it, working upon the corrupt heart of man against others — the pride of men’s heart, who despised others because of their own divinely isolated position; but apart from the evil use that Israel made of their separation, faithfulness to God then required it, and His will was in the thing itself. God was proving before the whole world the painful and humbling truth, that let a nation have ever such mercies, ever such privileges, ever such wisdom directing their movements, outward and inward — nay, everything pertaining to them, the issue of all is increasing enmity against God Himself.
The death and resurrection of Christ introduced a new thing in every sense. Now, Christians admit this in general as to the work of Christ in its application to the need of the soul. There is no person of ever so little spiritual intelligence, who does not confess, with more or less clearness and thankfulness of heart, the all- importance of the cross of Christ for his need before God. There may be a scanty perception of the extent of the deliverance, an interrupted and feeble enjoyment of the perfect peace that has been made by the blood of Christ’s cross; but there is no believer who does not in some measure hold it and enjoy it, and thank God for it.
But there is more than the sinner’s need met in the cross; and I direct your attention to what the Holy Ghost gives us in Eph. 2, as showing the place of the cross in the ways of God — not merely in the salvation of the soul. At the 13th verse it is written, “Ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” Now, it is evident from this scripture, that the cross is not only the basis of peace for the soul, but the foundation also on which rests the “one body” that God is now making of Jew and Gentile before Himself. And we see this most plainly if we only look back to our Lord’s own presence on earth. He forbids His disciples going into the way of the Gentiles — forbids their entering any city of the Samaritans. Need it be said that it was from no lack of love? It was not that His heart did not yearn over the most reprobate of Samaritans; it was not that He did not appreciate the faith of a Gentile — He had not seen “such faith, no, not in Israel.” Notwithstanding, they were to go only to the lost sheep of Israel, because to such only He was sent, and so were they too. Now, here we find at once that, while there was this perfectness of grace in Christ, the holy order of God was none the less fully maintained. Law claimed a state of things essentially different from what we have described in Eph. 2. There was a positive barrier even during His lifetime, the very thing being formally prohibited, which, after He died and rose, was not merely a duty, but the delight of love, the only adequate answer in the saints to that death and resurrection. (See Matt. 28:19)
How comes this to pass? On what is so mighty a change founded? On the cross. It brings out the worthlessness of man, and most of all, the worthlessness of favoured, privileged, religious man — of man under God’s law. For if man under that law failed, what other law could avail? The law of God was the wisest, the best, the most holy and just dealing that it was possible to bring to bear upon man’s natural state. And here was the total failure of man; and God well knew it all from the first, for He took care that in the earliest book of Scripture, and all through, embedded in the very law itself, there should be plain words as well as shadows, showing that man would sin, and that only Christ, by His blood-shedding and His death could avail. The very first revelation of the garden of Eden is a witness of both. Faith had no other expectation. But nevertheless there was a full patient, long-suffering trial whether it was possible to get any good out of man, in the dealings of the only wise God with man. And now it was demonstrated in the cross that all was ruined in man, and that the highest advantages, short of God’s saving grace, brought out the ruin most distinctly. Now there is room for grace to work; and, beloved friends, it is upon this that it is my joy to speak a little tonight.
We have come down the stream; we have seen what man was when it was a question of his working for God: we shall now look briefly at God when He puts forth His glorious power to work, not merely for man, but for His Son; for oh! we never get the full blessing until we see this great and glorious truth, that God has at heart His Son — that God is thinking, not merely of a blessing for you, for me, for any of those that love Him — yea, and in sovereign grace, for those who love Him not, if they repent and believe the gospel — but that He has His eye upon Him who did all and suffered all for His glory, and has bound up that glory of God with the fullest, richest, everlasting blessing of all who believe in His name. And now, then, as the fruit of the cross of Christ (where we have the weakness of God, where nevertheless we have the triumph of God — God Himself coming down lower and lower still in love, not merely, so to speak, beseeching man, but laying all the weight and burden of sin upon the Lord Jesus, thereby meeting the desperate need of sinners by His Son suffering for them,) what do we find? That in the cross He has given the death-blow to sin; He has “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” as we are told. But besides, by it all the distinctions of Jew and Gentile pass away, and God brings out that to which He had always looked onward — that which was in His counsels not only from the foundation of the world, but before it, and which consequently He had shown before there was a question of law, and before there was a question of sin. For it is remarkable that the magnificent type, which the apostle applies in Ephesians 5 to the mystery of Christ and the church, was brought in before sin entered. (Gen. 2) In truth, it was a counsel that flowed out of what God was and is. It was God in His own love, even God working from what was in Himself. No doubt, the entrance of sin has given occasion for God to bring out His grace in blessed ways; but, for all that, we must ever remember that there were thoughts and counsels of grace in God Himself. There was that which He ever had in His own mind, for the revelation of which, no doubt sin might furnish the fit occasion. But sin was in no wise the suggestive spring any more than the measure. On the contrary, we see God indulging, so to speak, in the activity of His own perfect love; at any rate, we see Him thinking of, filled with, working for, His own Son. And I think it is of deep interest to observe the fact just referred to — the shadow of the church’s union with Christ preceding the entrance of sin and the provisions of grace in view of sin.
And observe further, that as just seen in the type of Genesis, so it is in the epistle to the Ephesians. Where is it that you have the counsels of God traced out? Is it after man’s sin has been portrayed in Ephesians 2? No; but in the earliest verses of Ephesians 1, where God gives the richest development of the counsels of His grace, entirely passing over and ignoring in the first instance all question of man’s sin, shame, and need. This we have afterwards and in the profoundest way. There is perhaps no part of the word of God which shows us the depth of human evil more than Ephesians 2; but this is not at all the first thought. Hence we find in the first chapter, “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.” And then it is only just by the way that the apostle alludes to the fact of their sins, and in a single verse (the 7th), where we read, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” With the exception of that incidental notice of the fact of our needing redemption, the remission of sins, you would not know from the first chapter of the epistle that the saints of God, these blest ones, had a single evil, or a particle of sin connected with them. That is, it is God perfectly acting from Himself, in and for His own Son; delighting in Him, putting honour upon Him, giving Him what was suited to Him out of His own resources of love, and hence boundlessly to the saints, the body of Christ, as the end of chapter 1 describes them. It is thus that the Holy Ghost is pleased to introduce these astonishing counsels of grace.
Then, in the second chapter, we have man’s state looked at most thoroughly. We see him weighed and found wanting as in no other part of Scripture. We have him here, not as an active being, alive in sin, but as all over with him, dead in sin — “dead in trespasses and sins.” He is, therefore, hopelessly lost and utterly powerless in sins. The whole case is closed against him; and it is to this condition of manifest moral death and subjection to Satan, that the grace of God applies itself, in His quickening, raising, heavenly power in Christ Jesus.
But, again, we find that in the latter part of Ephesians 2 the cross of Christ is taken up, not merely in connection with God’s counsels, as in chapter 1, nor even in view of their desperate need who are the objects of His counsels, as in the beginning of chapter 2, but in contrast to the previous ways of God upon the earth. He is addressing Gentiles. Was it not a suitable occasion for God to unfold to them the one new man, the mystery of Christ and the church, the body of Christ? They were hitherto ignored, evidently outside all that God had been doing of old. God had taken up a separated people and had tried them. The Gentiles were as non-existent, so to speak, before God. Not, of course, that the secret providence of God did not watch and work — not that the grace of God did not act as to individuals; but, regarded as Gentiles, they were outside. But now these are the very objects of heavenly grace; toward Gentiles the call goes out loud and large. Not that they alone were brought into the church, for it consists of Jews also; but it was Gentiles whom it seemed meet to God to bring into relief, in contrast to the condition in which they were once, so as to make more manifest the blessing which His grace now confers on both, in Christ the Lord. “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one.”
There we have another fact, not only that they are made nigh to God but both made one — Jew and Gentile that now believe made one body, as is explained more fully afterwards, the middle wall of partition broken down, the enmity abolished in His flesh, “even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man.” It is not merely a new life, but Christ and the church form one new man, a condition of things that had never before existed — “ one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” Thus the Gentiles had been dispensationally afar off, the Jews were comparatively nigh; but now they were taken completely out of their old condition. It is not, you will observe, that the Gentiles who believed are raised up to the level of the privileges which the Jews used to possess, but that there is now “one new man,” wherein is neither Jew nor Gentile. Both, consequently, quit their previous states for a new and most blessed position of oneness in Christ, which had never existed before save in the counsels of God.
Here then is the church, the body of Christ; this is what God is working out. He is not only saving souls, He is gathering; not only is He gathering into one, but He makes the believing Jew and Gentile, while they are on earth, though previously by His own command the most separate, now to be one new man in Christ, even His one body.
There is another truth connected with the church, revealed at the end of the chapter, which I merely notice by the way. Not only is there a body formed — one body in Christ, but there is a building upon earth, in which God dwells. Although it is not my business tonight to take up the subject of the dwelling or habitation of God, yet I cannot deny myself the joy of saying a few passing words on this wonderful place which God has given to His church.
And first of all it is to be noticed, in the Old Testament there was no such thing as a building or dwelling of God, until there was a type of redemption. No matter what might be His mercy or condescension to those He loved, He could not dwell with man until there was a basis of blood-shedding, by which He could righteously abide with him. Hence, all through the book of Genesis, for instance, God does not dwell with men; nay, He never speaks of it or promises it. But the moment the blood of the passover is shed, and you have Israel passing through the Red Sea — the combined types of redemption (one answering to the blood of Christ, the other to the death and resurrection of Christ, in which a complete redemption is set forth in figure) — immediately you hear of God having a habitation: God could now dwell in the midst of His people. It is not because the people were better: who could imagine that? Look at Israel at the Red Sea; what were they to be compared with Abraham or Isaac or even Jacob? Yet He who only visited the fathers can now dwell among the children, and put this word into their lips, “I will prepare him a habitation.” How comes this? Ah, beloved friends, how little any of us estimate the mighty change and the wondrous effect of redemption? It is not a question of comparing men, or their faith, or their faithfulness. God’s estimate of redemption is the point; and He shows that if there be only a type of redemption, He can come down typically, He can then dwell in the midst of His people. I admit this was only a preparatory thing. There was a visible token of it, suited of course to an earthly people; but still the great distinct fact is engraved on Israel’s history, as the very centre of their blessing, that God Himself deigned then to dwell in their midst. (Ex. 15:2, 13, 17; Ex. 29:43-46.)
The same thing is found here far more blessedly for the church on earth. On earth — and mark, not before the cross but since — God is pleased to make His people to be His habitation. He came down in the person of Christ, but Christ abode alone as far as the dwelling-place of God was concerned. “Destroy this temple:” He was the only true temple. But when He died and rose, what then? Redemption was accomplished; and now God could descend holily, righteously, suitably to His own character, and could dwell in His people. It is not because the New Testament saints are more worthy in themselves than those of old. He that knows himself and redemption knows that such an idea is a fallacy and a falsehood; he knows that human nature is good for nothing as before God; he knows that, in His presence, there is no question of flesh, or what flesh can glory in, “but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” But this is not all; not only is there a Lord to glory in, but now we have actual redemption in Christ through His blood. How does God estimate the precious blood of His Son? What does He feel about those on whom that blood is put by faith — those who are washed in it? Does He not as it were say, “I can come now and take my place in their midst?” This is indeed one of the precious characteristics of the church. It especially is even now the habitation of God. In virtue of this it is that the church is called the “house of God,” and His “temple,” in different parts of Scripture. But I must not dwell longer on this, because my subject is “the body.”
We find, then, in Eph. 4, that the Spirit of God presses this exhortation, “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Next, He explains, “There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Will it be imagined that this grand truth of the “one body” does not affect the judgment and conduct of the Christian as well as his affections? We have been brought, I will suppose, to the knowledge of Christ; we have found in Him the Son of God, the Saviour; we rest on Him as our peace before God; we call on Him as our Lord. But have I no relationship with others on earth? Am I left here simply and solitarily to look up to God? Have I to thread my way through the mazes of this world, only using the word of God with prayer? Let me ask, What are my relationships? Am I only a child of God with other children of His here and there? What am I to feel, as I look round upon those that name the excellent name — that call upon the Lord Jesus Christ, both mine and theirs?. The ONE BODY is the answer. God it is who forms it for the glory of Christ: it is united to Him. “We are members,” as it is said, “of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” It is not for you, it is not for me, to define, even in our natural relationships, our brothers and our sisters. Thank God, we are not asked: God does it; He gives what suits Him, even if it be only in the domain of earth and flesh. He does not give us what we might choose: we know our folly in this respect, He assigns each man a place — puts the high and the low according to His own wisdom. And in that which He is doing for His beloved Son, has He less to do or less to teach us? Is God’s will of less moment there than in the mere outward world? Nay, my brethren, nay: even moral men dispute not the will of God as to natural relationships. We know what human lust may do — how it may break through every line of demarcation; but still after all poor man finds even for himself, without thinking of God, the need and the value of owning the relationships which have been established in nature here below. Now, is it not a most solemn thought, and is it not a fact which ought to shame every Christian heart, that in the church which is so near to God, in that which is the fruit of His own perfect love, in that which He is creating for the everlasting glory of His beloved Son, what God orders, what God wills, what pleases God, is regarded as of infinitely less account to Christians than even their natural relationships to each other? Is it or is it not the fact? Is it or is it not a grievous sin?
How do you account for this? Whence the terrible triumph of the enemy? Why is it that there is such darkness over the whole subject of the “one body” now? Is it because God has not revealed His mind? What can be plainer in Scripture? Only a portion of the proofs has been produced from a small portion of God’s word; but what can be clearer than that, founded upon the cross of Christ, a new condition has been introduced and established of God? that He is now calling out the Jews and Gentiles who believe, and forming them into “one body?” — that, as He owns no other body than Christ’s, so this is His will about us, and our obligation to Him, even as it is the evident and only meaning of His word that speaks of His church? How is it, then, that such a truth escapes the thoughts of man — that you may search in vain to find it in writings new or old — that we have, some of us, long lived as Christians, and many of us once churchmen and dissenters so called, yet all utterly ignorant of its character? But if so patent, and with such a fulness of truth about it in God’s word, how comes it to have been a forgotten thing among His children?
It is not because there has not been sincerity — “godly sincerity” if you will — among Christians. But whatever is near to God, whatever is the present operation of God, is always that against which Satan sets himself with all his might and subtlety. And this, because it is bound up with Christ, because it is the special actual will of God for His people. Therefore Satan seeks to thwart and mar. He does not now try so much to darken other truths, but he takes up that which most nearly concerns the glory of Christ as now displayed; whatever that may be at any given time, there is the battle-field, there the arena, where no means are untried to blind and hinder God’s children from understanding and doing the will of their God and Father. When God is gathering out His church, then is the enemy’s season of active unceasing effort, to oppose, confound, and obscure all the truths connected with it.
Besides, there is another question. How comes it that Satan finds it possible to succeed in the face of such evidence as the New Testament affords? Alas! the reason of this, too — the moral reason — is evident. The children of God may be the more readily deceived, because the doctrine of the church, the body of Christ, brings God too close to us — sets His grace too richly before our souls — makes us feel (if our souls believe, bow, and enter into it) the vanity of all things here. Alas! our hearts shrink from the feeling. We naturally love ease; we like position in this world; we are fond of a little reputation, it may not be perhaps in the vulgar world, but in the so-called church — something, at any rate, for self, something outside the portion of Christ and the cross. The body is only for the Head, for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby. Man in nature disappears; his glory wanes and vanishes; his will is judged as sin. We do not like a doctrine and practice so peremptory, and withal so heavenly. Men like to do something, and to be somebody. Man has in himself, whenever this is allowed, that which exposes him to the power of sin, to the malice and wiles of Satan; and hence it is, that this great truth was no sooner revealed than it began to fade. There is no testimony to it whatever in the early fathers, and of course a position more and more distant and antagonistic as you descend. Take up any writings you please: — Papists and Protestants, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Arminians — all ignore it. It is not that you will not find enough truth asserted and preached for souls to be saved by; but the bare salvation of souls is not the whole truth, nor that part of the truth which reveals the church of God. Were not souls saved before Christ? Was not salvation of the Jews? Were there not faithful souls before God had a people upon earth? Was it not so from the very beginning, before the flood and after it? Most clearly and certainly.
But there comes in another thing which was not true before, which God had not revealed or established till the rejection of the Messiah, and for which He had reserved the sending of the Holy Ghost from heaven. Now in the cross of Christ God has laid a foundation for this new work, and is gathering together out of Jews and Gentiles His assembly, made in Christ one new man. Man likes to be of importance to himself, and in this world. Just in proportion as he allows this, he falls a prey to the working of the enemy; and the more easily does he deceive himself, because up to the cross of Christ there was room left for man more or less. His total ruin, his enmity to God, his hatred of grace in the revealed person of the Son, were never brought out in their fulness until then. Till then God was not, could not, be known as He now is. But the only-begotten Son declared Him, and this in respect both of sin and of His righteousness — a new kind of righteousness, which, by all means and on every side, clears and blesses the guiltiest who now believes in Jesus.
Now, if there is to be a heart growing up into the revelation which God has made of Himself in Christ according to His grace towards the Church, the one body of Christ, there must be the judgment of nature, root and branch — the judgment of the world in which man arrogates some place to himself. The church of God is based on the proved ruin of man, and is for the glory of God in His Son, as maintained by the Holy Ghost. Now, this will show the immensely important place of this truth as a matter for the soul both in communion and in conduct. Away with what does not touch upon practice and the soul’s relationship to God! But the fact is, that so far from the truth of the church leaving out heart and conscience, intercourse with God, worship and service, there is nothing which brings them out so much, and binds them so fast together, save only the truth of Christ’s own person; there is nothing more commanding, comprehensive, and penetrating for the walk or conversation of a Christian man.
Take, for instance, all the difficulties men gather from the Old Testament: on what are they founded? I speak now of the legitimate difficulties — at any rate what seem to be legitimate and authoritative to the mind of an uninstructed believer. What, after all, is their gist? Reasoning founded upon Old Testament precept or practice. But is the analogy just? How can we reason in an absolute way, if there be this “one new man”? — if the church is a novel special thing which did not even exist then? It is evident that conduct (for instance, found in a David or a Solomon — in an Abraham, or an Isaac, or a Jacob) may not apply now, but, on the contrary, be out of harmony with the ways God looks for in His church. I am not speaking of those moral landmarks which always condemn falsehood, corruption, or violence: no Christian is supposed to produce the sin of any of these men to justify his own evil. I speak of what was right and according to the will of God as then revealed. The moment the doctrine of the Church, the body of Christ, is seen, all such reasonings and difficulties have no more a place. God has now His Son in His presence as the risen man. There could not be such a thing as the body of Christ till Christ was there, not only as the Son, but as man, the Head of the body; Christ could not be there as man till the work of redemption was accomplished. Of old He had the title of the Son of man given, looking onward to His assumption of humanity, when He who was God and the Son of God became a real man. But how could He take this place in Heaven? He was born a man on earth. He was not a man until He was born into the world. How take this place in heaven? Christ was not Head, still less was there the body, the church, till then. “The church, which is his body,” assumes that Christ had become man, and, more than this, that He is Head, as the risen and ascended man. It is only after He died, as we know by His own figure of the corn of wheat, that He produced fruit. (John 12) But more than that: not to stand upon figures only, but to take any Scripture that speaks in precise terms upon it, what do we find? Read the end of Eph. 1: “What is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him, to be head over all things to the church.” Thus He has been given to the church Head over all things; but it is after He was raised from the dead, and set at God’s right hand. The risen man is Head there: even He never was head till after redemption. He took His place there and thus.
What is the consequence of that, beloved friends? The body of Christ is heavenly, as the head of the church is. Man does not relish this — nay, many a Christian man finds it too high and hard. If he is a heavenly man, where is the room for the pursuits and plans and projects of literature, of science, of politics? Where are all these things that fill the mind and the appetites and the desires of men? Are they in heaven? Are warlike schemes — are courtier dreams — in heaven? You hear no doubt of the battle against the devil, who is turned out of heaven, as the Lord wars by the angels of His power by-and-by. But I need not say there is no place in His body for the pride, ambition, or energy of man.
What then is the great idea of the church of God? It is the body of Christ, after He has accomplished redemption; and consequently, sin, as far as God’s judging the believer, is completely gone, put away in such sort as to glorify God and justify the believer. Founded upon this, those who believe are consequently not only born of water and the Spirit, and justified from their sins by the blood of Christ, but united to Him, their blessed Head, at the right hand of God. The church of God accordingly does not consist merely of the redeemed or saints. A “Christian” means more than a “saint” — much more! I am aware there are many who think it means much less, and would count my doctrine strange; because they consider everybody in these lands a Christian, and but very few on earth a saint — perhaps none till they get to heaven. But it is to me most evident — nothing more certain — that a Christian is a saint, and a good deal more; and that good deal more is, that he is a saint after God effected redemption in the blood of Christ; that he is a saint united to Christ at God’s right hand; that he is a saint who has God dwelling in him by the Spirit, for God now can dwell there. The atoning work is done: the blood has been shed and sprinkled. God can take up His abode there and does! How do I know it? Because God has told me so in His word. One may, alas! have poor enjoyment of it — that is another thing; but the enjoyment of the truth depends upon the measure in which our souls first rest upon it believingly: even then, unless we judge the flesh that hinders the realization of it, we cannot enjoy it either long or much if at all.
God shows then in His word, that the church is the union of believers — one with Christ, by the Holy Ghost, after He died and rose and went to heaven. The consequence is, that we must consult what God enjoins on the members of that body, if we would know how we are to walk and worship; how we are to act and feel towards the other members of Christ; and how to behave in “the house of God.”
The New Testament occupies itself with these subjects, more particularly the epistles of St. Paul. It could not be formally or definitely in the gospels, because they are devoted for the most part to a living Christ, closing with the facts of His death, resurrection, and ascension. You may find there preparations for the new work and testimony — not a few intimations of what was going to be done; but all show that the building of the church was not yet begun. In the epistles, on the other hand, we have revelations altogether founded upon the great fact that the building was going on, the body was being formed. And mark another thing, which I hope to develop on the next occasion I address you, namely, that along with the body of Christ goes the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. It is only just referred to here to show the connection: we shall find its importance afterwards. Those who have not examined fully the testimony of Scripture will feel the weight and value of the instruction there furnished, when that point comes more at length before us. But this at least is plain, that though it is a new work, entirely distinct from all that God had wrought before, there are great moral principles, as already hinted, which always abide. In every part of Scripture, in that which speaks of the times before the law, or during the law, as well as now under the gospel, God is the righteous, holy, almighty, faithful One, a God of longsuffering, and goodness, and truth: all this remains. Even here the difference is, that all these attributes of God shine out more gloriously, and, in consequence, deepen the revelation of God, in addition to other new ways and workings of grace which were not and could not be expressed before. What an accession of light when Christ, the true light, shone! What an infinite display of God Himself in His person! And what shall we say of the cross and death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus as the manifestation of God?
Hence, in this new man, all the moral glory of God of course abides; but now, in presence of that infinitely fuller manifestation, and the accomplishment of eternal redemption, is there to be no answer in the thoughts and hearts and ways of His children to what the God and Father of Christ is doing? If, for instance, God calls a person into the place of a servant, there are certain responsibilities that attach to a servant. But suppose these servants turn out thoroughly unfaithful and end in rebellion, and God says, “I will have no more of this; I will create a family and adopt children to Myself; I will bring people, according to My sovereign pleasure, out of the old condition into this new place.” What then? It is evident that to go back to what was true of the servants might be a most misleading guide when it became a question of the children; and, in point of fact, it is and must be so. On that mistaken ground Christians meddle with the world, occupying themselves with those things that please the flesh and give importance to man. In contrast with it, God has given us the glorious truth that He has, as it were, but one man (the first Adam being done with, and pronounced to be ruined, and dead, and buried in the grave of Christ). We Christians belong to the second Man, the Lord from heaven. (1 Cor. 15) There is “one new man,” not only in contrast with old distinctions, but as uniting all, Jewish or Gentile saints, in one body — His body; for that is the way in which it is presented in Ephesians 2.
The consequence is, that we need, and God gives us, a new revelation; He furnishes fresh instructions which had no place before. Supposing you had the New Testament in Old Testament times, what would have been (I will not say the worth, but) the effect of it then? Perplexing beyond measure! A Jew would not have known what to do with it. He might have been struck with the wisdom, beauty, holiness, and love of it all; but how to act upon it and reconcile it with the law given by Moses, it would not have been possible for him to know. He would have been commanded by the Old Testament to keep wholly apart from the Gentiles; he would have been told by the New Testament that they formed one body, and that they were all one in Christ — that both had access by one Spirit unto the Father. He could not have put these things together; and no wonder: they were not meant to be together. They belong to distinct times and to totally different states. The confusion of the two is one way in which Satan has triumphed in the professing church. Alas! it was not otherwise under God’s dealings with the Jews. While He was standing by His law, they were breaking it; while He was holding up the unity of the Godhead, they were set upon idols and going after the gods of the nations. They were utterly unfaithful to their testimony; but I am persuaded that a Jew, dark as he was and little versed in the mind of God, would have perceived that the instructions of the New Testament were irreconcilable with his calling. But God never gave it thus. When the work of atonement was finished on the cross, God brought out these new revelations by degrees. Why? Because there was a new state of things — “one new man” — that did not exist before. Consequently, a new word of God was given, suited to bring out the due relationship of Christians to one another, and the working of God in the Church, the body of Christ.
Let me notice briefly, before I close, the practical effect — “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” What interest this has, if really applicable in the face of our divisions! Consider for a moment the case of a Christian; he is awakened, finds peace, but questions what he is to do. How truly it has been the fact that many of us have been perplexed in such circumstances! We may have known very little of the word of God; but still we found difficulties in reconciling that word with what we saw around us — especially such a word as this, “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit.” But it is really a plain and humble path. I have nothing to do with making the unity; I have not to set up something, or join what others make. What then? I am to be diligent in keeping the unity of the Spirit. In other words, God the Holy Ghost has made a unity; and the business of the believer is to observe that unity — to keep it. What an amazing relief for a humble soul, that feels his liability to mistake, in danger of being either too lax on the one hand, or too narrow on the other!
What is the unity of the Spirit? Where does it begin and end? What is its nature and character? Scripture tells us that He has established a unity among men, yet apart from and above them. What is it? The answer is, It is in the church, which God has made the body of Christ. What a comfort it is for a believer that he has simply to judge by the word of God where the unity of the Spirit is! But how? I come to a place, and I am at a loss to know where to turn. Where shall I find the unity of the Spirit of God? How do I know it? God has left landmarks; He has given clear distinct light in His word. I search and see that He is gathering together the children of God into one; He gathers them unto the name of Christ, assuring them that where they are thus, He is in their midst. I never get the key to any spiritual difficulty without Christ. Do I merely look for the unity of Christians? It is a delusion and a danger without Christ. Christians — where shall I not find them? In what pit of error may I not discover some stray child of God? If I go in quest of the children of God, I may easily see them in this form of worldliness or in that; I may know them unattached here, close and bigoted there; I may find them gathered together according to human rules, and for entirely minor objects; I may hear them setting up the names of men, certain special doctrines, favourite views, as their centres of union. Is this the unity of the Spirit? What then is His unity, and how is it to be kept? It is that which He forms for the glory of Christ.
Christians of course are those that compose the unity; yet keeping it consists not in the bare fact that they are Christians, but that they are gathered unto Christ — gathered not to His bodily presence, but unto His name, now that He is in heaven; none the less, however, for that, but the more counting on His presence with them, though unseen, faithful to His own word. If I isolate myself where I may thus meet, I am indifferent to that which was an object of the death of Christ (John 11:52), and I am setting at nought the unity of the Spirit; if I value the one and am diligent to keep the other, I shall meet on that ground and on none other. Many members of Christ no doubt are elsewhere now, who ought to be there, as truly as any that are gathered to that name; but am I who know my Master’s will to hold aloof, because others see it not, or are faithless if they do? Am I to say His will cannot be done?
Therein lies part of the ruin of Christendom; there is the painful fact, that what Christ died for Satan has set himself to oppose, and has succeeded in it. Wonder not; for everything that God undertakes is first of all put into man’s hand, who is responsible to use it for Him. Alas! there is but one issue — the utter failure of man; and there will be no reversal of the tale till Jesus comes again. Nay, even then will be another trial of man — to show whether he uses the coming and kingdom of Jesus for God’s glory; and the end of the millennium will prove that, as it was before, so it will be then. Nevertheless, faith overcomes at all times. See that you hold the truth fast. Let none cheat you out of the blessing which God has given, and calls you to enjoy. Founded on the cross, united by the Spirit to Christ, waiting for His return, the church is the precious fruit of God’s grace.
After His people departed from the power and even let slip the bare form of this great truth, He has brought it before them anew. I cannot doubt that its recovery, in any measure, is vouchsafed of God in view of the ford’s speedy coming: else how do you account for it that God has been pleased to recall the bride to put herself, as it were, in readiness for the Bridegroom, signally bringing out again that mass of heavenly testimony which had been despised, deserted, and forgotten? Happy are they who not only bow and receive the grace of God in it but keep the treasure faithfully! “Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” Be assured, brethren, that we are in the same danger as men ever were in of letting slip that which God has given us; and that every engine which Satan can devise to drag us away — taking advantage of carelessness, difficulties, trials, or anything that can tax us to the utmost — will all be put in force, because he hates not only us but Christ and His truth.
But as the Lord has been pleased to raise up again a testimony to His person, work, and heavenly glory, so I pray and beseech you, especially the younger of my brethren and sisters who are here — all who may not have felt its force and preciousness — more particularly you who have been trained from your earliest perceptions of truth, brought in, as it were, rather than out, at comparatively little cost, and who have not known (as some others) the wrenching of many a tie, with a deep disciplinary work in the heart, realizing gradually the true condition of Christendom; — I call upon you all to beware lest Satan should, in any insidious way, lead you from the only solid divine rock in the midst of the rising surges of apostasy. Fully do I admit, that all who are brought into this glorious place, the body of Christ, ought to walk and carry themselves in a way suitable to such a position. It is a deep shame where there is no devotedness beyond what existed before this further measure of truth dawned on our souls; not only shame to us, but a serious hindrance to the truth, and a reproach upon the grace of God that revealed it and brought our souls into it, that after all there should be such an unworthy manifestation of its power. But how are we to deal with this? Are we therefore to slight or doubt the truth? Are we because of our unfaithfulness, to put aside the plain word of God that condemns us for a lower ground on which we can rest more consistently and comfortably? Are we to yield to that which the fleshly mind has often sought and fallen into — to set up other centres than Christ, other ministry than that of the Spirit? Are we to abandon the only place and principle which the New Testament allows for the members of Christ’s body, on the unbelieving plea that, as to walking according to this heavenly light, it is a thing impracticable in such a world as this? There are beyond question difficulties and perils neither few nor small in maintaining it. There is constant need of self-denial most surely, if it is to be walked in with God.
But how are we to judge, if not by the word of God? Are we prepared to surrender His word as our only standard of judgment? Now, while that word of course condemns deeply the shortcomings of those who are thus privileged of God — not only brought into the unity of the Spirit, as all saints are, but brought into the conscious knowledge and faith of it; while the failure of such is in a certain sense more inexcusable than that of any others, yet at least such are justifying God and His word and Spirit against themselves in a humbling way. Taking our stand upon this, that no one should glory save in the Lord, we shall find (and painfully too) that we are brought into this place to learn our faults as we never knew them — the shortcomings of others as we never suspected them. We may be astonished at the manifold failures, trials, hairbreadth escapes, and deep occasions of shame; but how come these to be so seen and felt? Because it is not the ground of the church? Nay! but because it is. And one of the most comforting things to our faith in that which naturally might perplex is, that we learn the present and permanent value of the Scriptures as we never proved it before. Take all the ways of God in discipline: they did not apply while we were mixed up with the world-church; but how precious, profitable, and indispensably needed when we endeavour to keep the Spirit’s unity! Take again all the warnings about the world: we hardly knew what it was. Is it not with Christians a constant question what the world is; or is not the answer that they give us the proof of an unsuspected blinding influence? They have something or other which they avoid doing, and this they call “the world.” But the moment we see the body of Christ, the world acquires a plain meaning: if we realize what it is to be among those “within,” those “without” are no longer a vague uncertain question.
Let us not fear then to quit all for the honour of God in this world; let us look to Him for grace that we may bear all rather than abandon it. There may be only two or three; but yet if they contemplate the body of Christ, shutting out none save according to His will, not for any feelings of their own, it is the only thing that is or ever was divinely large in this selfish world, as far as men are concerned. I do not mean that any who blaspheme Christ, or who make light of blasphemers in their deeds, if not in their words, should be sanctioned. “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.” It is vain to argue that the Spirit’s unity can make so light of Christ and His glory. I say not that individually such may not be Christ’s. We know what Satan may do even with one who really loves the Lord — how he may ensnare him into denying his Master, and denying Him with oaths too; but who would contend for justifying such sin or having communion with the guilty, till it was put away?
I repeat then, if there be only two or three, and they endeavour to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” with them is my place as a Christian. My heart should go out to every Christian, in whatever circumstances, whether nationalist, dissenting, or, if there be such, in popery; my heart should go out, spite of the error and evil — yea the rather because of these things in intercession. But then am I to give up diligent observance of the Spirit’s unity? Am I to follow and join them in what I know to be unscriptural and sinful, because there is a Christian or many Christians there? Surely not! We ought to get them out with and for the Lord. How is this to be done? Not by plunging ourselves into the mud, but on the contrary by taking our stand resolutely on the rock outside of it; and there seeking grace from God that, by the manifestation of the truth in every man’s conscience, and by holding out the light of Christ in the word — pressing too the responsibility of walking as Christ’s body on His members, they may be turned from the error of their way. Never deny that they are members of the body of Christ; remind them of that very fact and of its gravity — that they are members of His body: why should they value any other body? If members of that “one body,” why not own it, and own it always, and nothing else? If they belong to the unity of the Spirit, why not endeavour to keep it? God is now raising a question, not about Popery and Protestantism, but about Christendom’s denial of His church, Christ’s body. Our business is not to originate a church of the present or future, but to cleave to the church God has made, and consequently to confess the sin of all rivals — to repudiate them and come out from them. Let us put away every human invention in the things of God, and keep ourselves from idols. The word of God at all times calls upon His children to be subject to Himself and to His will. Are we so doing? On the one hand, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them;” on the other, “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Surely, if there be one thing in which, more than another, human will is most evidently sin, it is in that place where God exalts the Lord Christ; where He has sent down the Holy Ghost that He may be a spring of power in His people’s obedience.
Though this be merely an introductory lecture, and therefore I cannot be supposed to enter into all the proofs now — only laying down a kind of foundation for the subjects which we hope to pursue; yet I do trust that enough has been said to make plain, even to the least mature of those who hear me, the immense importance of their seeking from God to realise that they are not only saint but Christians, resting upon redemption, united to Christ, and responsible to act as members of His body, diligent in keeping the unity of the Spirit and none other in this world. This is a divine obligation superior too any changes in the church’s state here below. It is no question of numbers, but a duty always binding, even though there were only two or three who saw the truth.