The True Ground of God's Assembly.

A most important lesson may be learnt from the contrast between the golden candlestick, as in the tabernacle and in the temple of old, with the seven golden candlesticks, among which the Lord has been seen walking as described in Revelation 1 But, before we draw this contrast, let us briefly show that this contrast is designed of the Lord.

The ground-plan of the book of Revelation is a sacred chamber, like to the tabernacle of old. Every piece of furniture to be found in the one is to be discerned as alluded to in the other, with the significant exception that there is no vail. The seer discerns all that is going on from end to end thereof Nothing else, however, is wanting, though much is in most perfect and beautiful contrast. For

The High Priest and the Sacrifice are there, but seen as one—viz., a Lamb slain (chap. v.).

The priests, His sons, are there—not a few of them only—and officiating. No. The Sacrifice is regarded as complete, and the priests in their twenty-four courses are beheld all there, habited in their priestly vestments, but crowned and enthroned all of them. The allusion is perfectly evident to the arrangement of the priesthood by King David (see 1 Chron. 24). The throne of God is there; but scarcely now a mercy-seat; it is in the course of transformation to a throne of judgment.

The cherubim are there—(and after chapter 4 no longer are these the angels)—in chapter 5, and subsequently, they are the Church of God in heavenly service and rule.

Before the throne there is a sea of glass, in contradistinction with the brazen laver of old. For once on a time the priests needed to have their feet washed ere they worshipped. But the new, the royal priesthood, once there, have done with impurity for ever. Though quite close to the throne of God, they have no need of washing there. No, not even as to their feet or walk. Hence this antitypical laver is no longer of water, to cleanse; but of glass, to exhibit purity. As if our wonderment were such at being sanctified wholly and for ever, and eternally fit for the presence of God, that there was still use for this something like a laver—namely, that we might gaze therein to behold how very clean we are! And for this cause doubtless it is removed to a new position. No longer outside the tabernacle, but in the holiest of all, hard by the throne of God—before the throne (Rev. 4:4).

The altar of incense is to be discerned in the temple chamber of Revelation (see chap. 8:3).

The altar of burnt offering is there (see chap. 6:9)

The tabernacle of shewbread, with its twelve loaves, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, is certainly alluded to in the reference to those twelve tribes in chapter 7. For Israel, still before God, is seen in her ideal completeness as “twelve tribes “(see James 1:1; Acts 26:7). Hence it is, I think, that the number of each tribe there sealed, is stated to be “twelve thousand.” The words “thousand” and “prince” will be found to be used interchangeably by comparing Micah 5:2 with Matt. 2:6. And the number of thousands of each being exactly “twelve “makes the allusion perfectly obvious.

There remains only the golden candlestick as of old, with the seven golden candlesticks in the Revelation. Is there any glance back to the typical account in the description in Revelation?

Of old there were six lights grouped around a centre stem, which centre stem was a visible one; now, on the other hand, there are seven distinct candlesticks, but connected together really, divinely, by a living Person, the High Priest, our Lord Himself. Could aught be more striking or instructive?

The oneness is to be maintained most undoubtedly, but in a new way—viz., by clinging close to an invisible Christ and his written Word. As assemblies cease to come together solely unto His Name, or presence, and as they slant away from obedience to His Word, so will they appear—yea, and be divided, and even in conflict probably with each other; in other words, so will they appear as seven. But let Him be the sole Centre, actually present, though invisibly, round Whom His people congregate. Thus are they blended into one, and thus only.

And the above is found to be a fact. When of late, as on Bank Holidays, divers assemblies that gather to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and whose members are sound in their faith and holy in their walk, have come together to sit before the Lord, and to worship Him in Spirit and in truth, have not their hearts become fused into one, and themselves drawn closer not only to the Lord, but to each other? So what the Lord teaches in the picture is found, when believed and acted on, to be His pure truth.

Alas! that men should spoil it by their traditions, their human organisations, and party mechanism; and not only so, but reverse God’s order, by seeking to work from outward to inward, instead of from inward to outward—spirit first, then soul, then body.

It would appear from the previous picture in Revelation, that the way of the Lord with an individual soul in its salvation and peace, and His way with an assembly of two or three and upwards, and His way with several assemblies, whether seven or more or less—that in all these three cases that way of His is one and the same. I mean that the individual soul, and the single assembly, and the various assemblies, must each and all begin with Himself immediately. Contact with Himself is the divine sine qua non of good being obtained.

Substitute some mechanism, however elaborate or however simple, for God’s one and perfect union, viz., a living Christ alone, and then you have a sect, a party, or almost anything you please, but not the Church of God. Where the Queen lives is a palace; where Christ lives, there is the church. Ubi christus; ibi ecclesia.

But there is somewhat more even yet in this picture in Rev. 1, 2, 3. For who is “the angel of the church,” of whom we read here, and who yet figures nowhere else? Now, here I do urge the reader to get at the actual teaching, which will be found most valuable, and intimately bearing upon what we are contending for.

The angel is, of course, translated “the messenger.” Hence it is suggested that the church that has one to whom the word is applicable—“the angel;” that church has got away from Christ Himself. The term implies that that church is hardly in His own presence, and that that church, if it is to have a communication from its Lord, has need of a messenger. I care not at all as to whom you prove this angel to be, whether a literal angel, an official, corresponding to one in the Jewish synagogue, or to “the one man pastor,” the edge of the lesson is identical—that church has got away from Christ Himself. Nay, more; even that angel is not all he purports to be, even he is not in Christ’s presence; he has to be written to. “To the angel of the church, write.” Profession is one thing, reality is another.

Here also compare the word that is used of the action of Christ Himself. He is represented as “walking amid the seven golden candlesticks.” There would be no need and no scope for this walking on the part of the Lord Jesus, had those churches abode in Him and in His love. Hence that “walking” of His that we read of here, is judgment. The number of steps which He has to take, marks what that judgment is—marks it, dear reader, ponder—marks His judgment—betrays how far that church has got away from Him.

Thus the picture, the more it is studied, the more emphatic is its lesson found to be, as to God’s mode of union. Give up this for anything else, however specious, and that union is not divine.

Here I had intended to compare the teaching in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the inspired book of the church at the beginning, but my paper already is long enough. I will merely, therefore, in conclusion, cite a few Scriptures thence, with a line of explanation.

Turn first to Acts 2:47. The common reading there is—“The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” How wonderful it is, that uninspired men cannot touch God’s Word without marring it. The words “to the church” have been added by copyists. The correct reading is, “The Lord added together such as should be saved!” (See Alford in loco.)

That the above is the true Scripture is corroborated by Acts 5:14, where we are informed how the believers were put together—“Believers were the more added to the Lord.” Thus you see, the copyists had, in their ignorance, or in their wilfulness, put the church, in Acts 2:57, for the church’s Lord and true centre Stem. If a believer is to be received into fellowship, behold the warrant for that reception in Acts 9:27.

Let some water in which is contained much salt or sugar be kept motionless for a while, presently the particles before held in solution begin to form into clusters at the bottom. Each of these clusters and each particle thereof have the same nature, and are governed by the same affinities. Now shake the water. Then some particles from one cluster cohere to another. But still all are obedient to one single attraction. Thus the various clusters are seen to be virtually one. In like manner to saints their sole attraction is, or should be, the Name, the presence of the Lord Jesus. Therein is the drawing power of the Holy Ghost (John 12:32).

Again, if evangelists go forth to preach, and are instrumental in saving sinners, mark the true action of the assembly towards that work of theirs in Acts 11:21-24. Barnabas, beholding the work of God, has no thought of attempting to break it up, because they “follow not with us.” No, indeed; quite the contrary. Because he is “a good man,” he can, amid much failure probably, yet behold the true work of God. And he rejoices at it.

But suppose, when a servant of God has been blest in his work, he yet is called elsewhere to labour, what is he to do with those souls that have believed? Is he to join them to some coterie, to some sect? or is the Lord enough? Acts 14:23, furnishes the answer —“They committed them to the Lord, on whom they had believed.” So likewise in Acts 20:32—“I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace.” Spirituality and obedience for themselves is all that seemed to enter the apostle’s mind. “JOINING,” a favourite word with many now-a-days, Paul does not seem to have contemplated.

Lastly, I read in Acts 16:5—“So were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.” Now, I ask the ingenuous reader, Does it strike his mind that these assemblies obtained the permission of some central synod ere they came together corporately en ecclesia? Does not the word “daily” negative the idea together? Does not the verse imply how spontaneous and free was the coming together of the Christians as assemblies? Then, to break bread together, the warrant of the Lord’s command was ample. Now-a-days it is not so with some. If you seek to obey Him, and would tremble at the thought of receiving man’s permit in order to that obedience, you are setting up another table,” you are “on the wrong ground,” &c.

And so some weak-minded ones, fearing these denunciations, but living too far from where there is one of these authorised tables, never—it is a fact— never break bread at all, in a company of two or three or more together. If this is not making void the commandment of God to keep our own tradition, I know not what is. Is not the Lord Jesus enough? Is He dead? Is He not our Centre still, our only One?