Things, truths, not words, are my objects. I had supposed that kuriake was the source of kirche in German, kirk and church. “Kyroike” I never heard of; it may be all right. Some philologists now say that this is all wrong, and that kirk, or church, comes from the Saxon. I can only say I really do not know, nor have at this moment the means of ascertaining, if indeed it be ascertainable with any certainty. But the truth is I have a pious horror of the word “church,” because no one knows what it means.
What does it mean? Mr. G.’s congregation might build him a new church; then it means a building. Or Mr. S. may be a member of Mr. G.’s church; then it means an assembly under the presidency of Mr. G. In England, he is going into the church means he is going to become a clergyman; he is gone to church, is the public service or worship—gone to the church is the building again.
The Roman Catholic church and the Greek church are large bodies of persons professing Christianity, associated under these designations. So of Presbyterians, and Covenanters, Lutherans, etc. If you press the matter, the church is the teaching, the authoritative part of it. This is so even among Protestants. The thirty-nine Articles of England tell us the church can decree rites and ceremonies, and has authority in matters of faith. So that we have to know what a person means by “the church “before we can reply to a question as to it.
But I will just mention a little bit of history which refers to this, and why it is so current a word. When James I (or, as we should say with Scottish Covenanters, James VI) had the Bible translated, the translation in popular use was the Geneva one, made by the refugees in Queen Mary’s time. This always used the word “congregation.” Now James had a long experience, or knowledge at least, of his mother’s conflicts with John Knox, and was not very fond of Scottish principles embodied afterwards in the covenant, and used to say, “No bishop, no king.” He therefore gave strict orders to have the word “church” everywhere, and not “congregation.” Hence the prevalence of a word which has really no meaning.
Say “assembly,” which is the meaning of the Greek ekklesia, and all ambiguity disappears. “Ecclesia” was the assembly of those who in the small Grecian states were citizens, and so had right to vote, etc., and then was applied to analogous bodies or meetings. We all know what an assembly means. Only now we have to do with God’s assembly. For example, “Take with thee one or two more, etc., if not, tell it to the church.” To whom is it to be told? Well, the minister, or perhaps the presbytery. With the Roman Catholic, “if he will not hear the church” wins awful proportions. Now say (as it really is) “the assembly,” how simple all is! If wronged, go yourself first alone; if in vain, take one or two others; if still in vain, matters being ascertained, then tell it to the assembly. For the present mixed state of things this may seem very inconvenient, but the sense of the words is plain enough.
Now apply this to Acts 7. “This is he that was with the assembly in the wilderness.” Can anything be simpler? Israel was a vast assembly in the wilderness, and assembled themselves at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. For though a different word in Hebrew, the tabernacle got its name from its being the place of meeting. But then all possible reference to the church in the Christian sense disappears. Who denies that the six hundred thousand men who came constantly to the entrance of the court were an assembly? There were three words used for it, Kahal (as is stated by Mr. G.), from Kahal, the verb to call together; Moeed, and Heeda, or Gneedah, the two last from Yaad, to appoint a place or time of meeting. Hence the tabernacle was called Ohel Moeed, the tent or tabernacle of the congregation.
Israel was a great assembly or congregation, as none can dispute, but which proves simply nothing as to its being what God’s assembly is, according to the word, now. It is “Ecclesia,” an assembly, in Acts 7, and the word, being simply an assembled multitude, says just no more than that. The identical word is used when it is said (Acts 19), “Having so said, he (the town clerk) dismissed the assembly.” Put “the church” there, and what nice sense you will have!
I quite understand it will be said, “Yes, but they were God’s assembly in the wilderness.” Admitted, but the whole question remains; that is, were God’s assembly then, and God’s assembly now, constituted on the same principles, on the same basis? There was no question then of conversion, or faith, or anything of the kind, or even profession. They were, as Scripture expresses it, of the fountain of Jacob, descendants of Israel according to the flesh, and under condition of being circumcised the eighth day, which, by the by, none of those born in the wilderness were at that time. That assembly was a nation; God’s assembly now is not. The fact of being an assembly, or the word, proves nothing; the whole question remains—Are the Israelitish nation, and God’s assembly called by grace, the same thing, or assembled on the same principles?
Mr. G. makes some enormous statements: First, “The church of Pentecost was Israel.” Why, the Jews had openly rejected the Lord, and Peter in his sermon says to those who had ears to hear, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation,” and the Lord Himself, “Henceforth your house is left unto you desolate, for I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth until ye say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” They were a judicially rejected people, though not for ever, and are so to this day. They were men of Israel; but the assertion, inconceivable as it is, only shews how far a false principle can carry any one. God did not say in Joel, “He would give the great outpouring of His Spirit to Israel.” He said He would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. In patience with Israel He dealt with them, and began at Jerusalem; but it was the Holy Ghost being given to Cornelius that opened fully Peter’s and the Jewish Christians’ eyes.
But let us enter a little more into the heart of the matter. Mr. G. says, “To them were committed the oracles of God; to them pertained the adoption, glory, covenant, giving of the law, service, and the promises; Rom. 9:4. Nothing more can be said of the church now.” Now here is the nucleus, the heart, of the question: not the introduction of Old Testament saints into church privileges, unscriptural as that is, but reducing God’s assembly now to the measure of Jewish privileges. The former might alone be treated as a mistake, the latter deprives God’s assembly of its true divine standing, and this is what makes it of moment. The law was given by Moses, grace and truth came (egeneto) by Jesus Christ.
Let us see what Scripture says on the matter. In the tabernacle there was a veil, behind which God sat between the cherubim; the Holy Ghost thus signifying that the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest, while as yet the first tabernacle had its standing.. Now by Christ’s death the veil is rent from top to bottom, and we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh. We can, and are, to walk in the light as God is in the light. Is this “nothing more” to Mr. G.?
I will not insist on God’s righteousness being declared now, the righteousness of God being revealed, not prophesied of, because I desire to take what is most positive and on the very surface of Scripture. See Galatians 4. “Now I say the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a slave, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father; even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the rudiments of the world. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons; and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father; wherefore thou art no more a slave, but a son.” Is it “nothing more” to be brought to be sons of God by known and accomplished redemption, and know it, to live in the relationship, instead even of an heir differing nothing from a slave?
Will Mr. G. allow me to ask him, were the Jews under the first covenant, or the second, in their relationship with God? Are we under that first covenant? But more, we have the difference clearly brought out in Hebrews 10:9: “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second.” It will be said that these were ceremonies; but what ceremonies? The priesthood is changed; is that merely a ceremony, a better hope by which we draw nigh to God? And see the difference: the sacrifices could not make the comers thereunto perfect as pertaining to the conscience; there was a remembrance of sins every year. Now we are perfected for ever who are sanctified; so that Christ, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. He is seated there, because all is done, till His enemies are made His footstool; and our sins and iniquities are remembered no more. The worshippers once purged are so in such sort that they should have no more conscience of sins, instead of a remembrance of them every year. We have eternal redemption, a purged conscience, because the sins are purged once and for all, and boldness to enter into the holiest, “giving thanks to the Father who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12), having the knowledge of salvation given to His people by the remission of their sins. Is all this “nothing more”?
Take what is said by the Lord; and this will lead us to the question of the Holy Ghost. Than John Baptist no greater prophet had ever arisen, and of those born of woman none greater; but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Many kings, prophets, righteous men, had desired to see the things which the disciples saw, and had not seen them; but “blessed,” says the Lord, “are your eyes, for they see.” They were more blessed than their kings and prophets—they had Messiah with them. But so great was the privilege and advantage of having the Holy Ghost, that it was expedient that Christ should leave them; for if He did not, the Comforter would not come; but if He went away, He would send Him. What a thing to lose, Christ’s personal presence in grace! Yet so great was to be the effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit, that it was better He should go. But they would persuade us that He had been there all the time of the Old Testament! (See 1 Pet. 1.) They searched their own prophecies, and found they did not minister to themselves, but to us, the things now reported by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Was the promise to pour out the Spirit “nothing”? Clearly it was not anything if He was there all the time as when poured out.
And now mark the foundation of this immense truth. God never dwelt with Adam innocent, nor with Abraham or others; but as soon as a redemption, external even, was accomplished, we read, “They shall know (Exod. 29) that I, Jehovah their God, have brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them “; and the Shechinah of glory came down and sat between the cherubim, and led them in the wilderness. So it was, when an eternal and full redemption had been accomplished, and man (though much more than a man) sat down in virtue of it at the right hand of God, that the Holy Ghost came down to dwell in God’s people individually and collectively.
We must not confound between the divine action of the Holy Ghost and His coming. I think it will be found in Scripture that all direct action of God from creation is by the Holy Ghost. Even Christ could say, “If I by the Holy Ghost cast out demons.” At any rate He moved on the face of the waters; by His Spirit God garnished the heavens; He inspired the prophets, and wrought all through the divine history; but this was not His personal coming. So the Son created all things, but He did not come until the incarnation. “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; again, I leave the world and go to the Father,” John 16:28. So speaks Christ of the Holy Ghost: “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go away, I will send him unto you, and when he is come,” etc. (John 16:7, 8.) And this was so distinct a thing, that it is called “The Holy Ghost” without saying came, or given, or anything else. Thus John 7:39, “For the Holy Ghost was not yet”—given is added— “for Jesus was not yet glorified.” So the disciples, baptised by John in Acts 19:2, said, “We have not so much as heard whether the Holy Ghost is.”
All Jews knew the being of the Holy Ghost; but this was His promised presence, and this is easily understood as to John’s disciples, because he had spoken of Christ’s work as twofold:—He was “the Lamb of God,” and “he it is that baptiseth with the Holy Ghost”; which was the second great part of His work—baptising with the Holy Ghost—and could not be done till He was glorified. So He tells His disciples after His resurrection, “Ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” He Himself was anointed and sealed with the Holy Ghost when He stood, the first man fully, perfectly, acceptable to God, who had ever existed since evil entered, perfect in Himself. God “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power.”
And what is the effect of the Holy Ghost’s dwelling in us? The love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given to us; Rom. 5. We know that we are in Christ, and Christ is in us; John 14. We know that we are sons, and cry, Abba Father, the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit. He takes the things of Christ, the glorified man on high, and shews them to us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost, which we have of God; so that God dwells in us, and we in Him, and we know it by the Holy Ghost given to us. What eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man to conceive, God hath revealed unto us by His Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; and, Christ living thus in us, the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit life because of righteousness. Man at the right hand of God, in righteousness, and the Holy Ghost dwelling in the believer as the consequence of it, characterise Christianity.
All this is lost by this system. What made it expedient for Christ to leave His disciples, we are told, is all the same as what they had before He came! The anointing of the Holy Ghost is “nothing”! Besides, he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit, and this leads to the corporate difference.
Till Christ ascended up on high there was no man at the right hand of God, no one to whom the believer could, as a present fact, be united, and consequently, as we have seen, no Holy Ghost either to unite him to Him. But Christ ascended up on high, a man, in righteousness, and the Holy Ghost consequently came down, not to the world, but to believers. Let us hold fast this great truth—the essence of Christianity, as the cross and God’s love are the foundation of it. The Head being on high, we are quickened together with Him, according to the power with which God wrought in raising Him from the dead, and setting Him there, and raised us up Jews or Gentiles together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ, not with Him yet; Eph. 1:19-23; chap. 2:1-7. Neither part of this was true before Christ was glorified. There was no such glorified man, no Holy Ghost come down from heaven. On this Scripture is clear as possibly can be. There was a Son of God who could quicken; no raised glorified man, whose going to the Father was the testimony of God’s righteousness, nor Holy Ghost come down, the divine witness of it. We are members of His body; He has given Him, as so exalted, to be Head over all things to the church which is His body. Thus by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body, Jews or Greeks. Israel had lost his place as such. There was no difference now. By the cross the middle wall of partition was broken down, and of twain one new man to be made, and both reconciled to God in one body by the cross.
Now the duty and essence of Judaism was the keeping of the wall up; Christianity as a system on earth is founded on its being broken down. Were the Gentiles in the church brought into the Jewish state as is alleged? No; He makes of twain one new man, and reconciles both, and came and preached peace to those afar off, and those nigh, for neither had it. The apostles and prophets (the prophets are the prophets of the New Testament, see Eph. 3:5) were the foundation of a new edifice, a habitation of God through the Spirit. This had never been promised, never revealed at all and could not have been. To say there was no difference between Jew and Gentile would have destroyed Judaism at one stroke. It was not revealed at all; Eph. 3:4-11; Col. 1:26; Rom. 16:25, 26. In verse 26 it is not “the scriptures of the prophets,” but now by prophetic scriptures, graphon prophetikon.
But the grand point is the coming of the Holy Ghost consequent on the exaltation of a man in righteousness to the right hand of God. So when Christ says, “I will build my church “on the revelation made by the Father to Peter, what was the meaning of that, if He had been building it all the time? The church then, the body of Christ, is formed by the baptism of the Holy Ghost consequent on the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God; the Holy Ghost, as so come, was not yet, when Christ was not glorified; and this baptism as is declared in Acts 1, took place a few days after, that is, on the day of Pentecost.
Romans 11 has nothing to do with the church, the body of Christ. It is the olive-tree of promise (and the church was never promised even), and it is accompanied with a revelation that, when the Jews are grafted in again, the Gentile branches would be broken off. There were promises and prophecies at any rate, which apply to Gentiles, as, “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people”; but if Israel be God’s people, the church cannot exist with it; for there is no difference of Jew and Gentile, and blindness in part is happened unto Israel, till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. They are enemies as touching the gospel. It is “the casting them away” in “the reconciling of the world.” The church is the body of Christ formed by the Holy Ghost on earth, while Christ sits on the right hand of God.
I should have many things to note if I merely took up the article. “House of the Lord,” or any application of it to the place where the people meet, is wholly without foundation in Scripture. “The church of the wilderness “is also unscriptural. “The kingdom of heaven” is not the church at all. It is really too bad to say, “the apostles do not say a word about a new organisation.” There is a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. Did not Paul organise the church? Were the priests and Levites priests and Levites of the Christian church?
There would be another difficulty which Mr. G. has not noticed at all; that before the Exodus there was no assembly of any kind at all; individual saints, Enochs, and Noahs, and Abrahams, but no assembly; but I do not go beyond what is on the surface of the article.
What I press is this—that the Holy Ghost is come, and that, when He came, the baptism, by which the saints were made one body, took place. The assembly is the body of Christ, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost on earth, and never existed before that baptism, and could not, for the Head did not exist, nor was the Holy Ghost in consequence descended to unite men to Him so as to form that body. He gave Himself not for that nation only, but to gather together in one the children of God which were scattered abroad.