Christ and the Church

Ephesians 5  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
When God makes a place for Himself in our hearts no wonder if our standard of good and evil becomes different; and this is, in fact, what takes place.-" Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:88For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (Ephesians 5:8)). Not only we were in darkness, but we were darkness. This is the change which takes place when we turn to God: "we are light"; from "darkness," we become "light."
We are by nature a corrupt tree, and no wonder that we should bear corrupt fruits.-The natural heart is only evil. It is the tree, or sin, and the fruits which it brings forth are sins.-But as soon as we have a new nature in us, we judge what is of ourselves, and we discern good from evil. We can say with Paul, "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:1818For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Romans 7:18)). Before the life of Christ entered into us, there was something in us, and that something was sin; even the natural conscience recognized the sins, but we "were still darkness."-It is well to remember from whence we have been taken.
It is evident that, if God reveals Himself, all is entirely changed, for the light manifests all, and we see things quite differently from what we saw them before. It is just the opposite of what we thought or believed before.-The measure of what we ought to be is found in this word, "Be ye imitators of God" (Eph. 5:11Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; (Ephesians 5:1)). Because He loves, we must love; because He forgives, we must forgive, that the character of our Father may be seen in us. We must have the character of the family. What God is, that is what we ought to be. That is the model which we have to copy.
Christ, as a Jew, was under the law, because He was born, under the law. Being God, He made Himself man, and as such He is set before us as an example.
God was manifested in the flesh, and all the life of Jesus was at the same time, the observance of the law, and the making good of this manifestation. This is why, when the apostle had said, " Be ye imitators of God," he adds, " And walk in love as Christ also hath loved us" (Eph. 5:1,21Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor. (Ephesians 5:1‑2)). How happy for us that those things should have been set forth not only in an abstract manner, in God, but also in Jesus as man!
The means by which we can be imitators of God, is being "filled with the Spirit" (I do not now speak of the gifts of the Spirit). "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:1818And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; (Ephesians 5:18)).
It is evident that a soul filled with the Spirit has motives Of action conformable to those of God, and that in this practical sense all becomes entirely renewed in such a soul. So, the measure of our walk is God, the means of realizing it is the power of the Holy Spirit, and Christ, who is the model of it in His humanity, acts through relationships which the soul can understand, while he communicates to us all that He Himself has.
If holiness were exacted, or a certain line of conduct which ought to be, nothing would be obtained; if your command works, you will not make yourself to be loved. Never, under the law, should I have done anything, for though it gives indeed the principle of what a man ought to be, it does not impart the affections which make him capable of doing what it prescribes.
It is by the affections that we lay hold of that which is the main spring of our actions; if Jesus is this, we have the same object as God Himself, and apprehending Him in the affections, we reach forward to being like Him-Blessed be God that He has called us to be conformed to the image of His Son!-When I reflect on all He has felt and done, does that produce no effect on my heart? " Having this hope in Him we purify ourselves even as He is pure" (1 John 3:33And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)). Beholding Him, produces the affection; then we desire to realize what we see in Christ. Impossible that I should see what Jesus was here below, without that immediately raising the thought, this is "what I should like to be."
We must first fully understand this grace which has placed us where God would have us to be. This is the foundation.-In order to have the enjoyment of the position which God has prepared for us, we must have the consciousness of being there. I must have the consciousness of being a child, to be able to love my Father as such. This grace must be understood, in order to produce the affections.-We love God when we know that he has first loved us. If my conscience is not purified, and if the question of my sins is not settled, love is not there. For there can be no affection if the conscience is not purified, or if it demands, in the name of God, certain conduct under fear of being condemned. But washing us from our sins, and by saying to us, "Ye are clean" (John 15:33Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. (John 15:3)), He places us in His presence, without any other thought than that of His love. He has done all that was necessary.
If I have confidence in that which God has done in order to cleanse me, I say to myself, there can be nothing defective in His judgment who knows perfectly the sin of all. And He has been occupied about it and He has judged it, in Christ, according to that which His holiness required.
I myself do not know all my sins, for the more we come into God's presence, the more we learn to judge of things quite differently from what we once thought of them; and we see evil where once we saw none.
When my conscience is set perfectly at liberty, by faith in the work of Christ, my heart understands that God has loved me, in order that I may love Him, and that there is nothing more between my soul and him, but the joy of His love. When we have come to this point, we begin also to understand what God will do in other respects; and we learn it in Christ.
And it is this which is more specially the subject at the end of this chapter.-What the church ought to be is not there spoken of, but it is a revelation of what Christ is for her, " Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her" (ver. 25). The expiation He made for the sins of the church is not the point spoken of here, that is named elsewhere; but it is that energy of heart by which " Christ gave Himself for her." He gave Himself. There is not in His heart a single thought, a single movement, which is not occupied with the church, as in the counsel and purposes of Christ, there is nothing of which she is not the object. He is full of grace towards poor sinners; but, for the church, in the devotedness of His heart, in the settled purpose of this devotedness, He has given Himself.
We may count upon the blessing of every believer, whatever his state may be, and on the power of grace to raise, him up, if he has fallen, when we know that Christ has before. Him this purpose to "present the church to Himself without spot and blameless" (ver. 27). Faith counts on this power in Christ, and this prevents the despondency which would otherwise arise on seeing a person in a weak and bad state of soul.
A person in a feeble state of soul, cast down by what he sees in himself or in others, ought to think on that power which can "lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees" (Heb. 12:1212Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; (Hebrews 12:12)).
The apostle Paul, after he had said, "I stand in doubt of you" (Gal. 4:2020I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. (Galatians 4:20)), says, as soon as his soul had risen to, Christ, " I am confident in the Lord touching you" (Gal. 5:1010I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. (Galatians 5:10)).. If we love Christians, how blessed it is to be able to count on their being blessed because they belong to Christ.
"That He might sanctify it" (ver. 26). I find in this, too, a source of happiness; He desires that our hearts should be separated from evil, and that they should lay hold on His grace and glory, according to the measure of understanding He gives of it. Then He skews the means of this sanctification, namely, the washing of water by His word (ver. 26). In Col. 1:2828Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: (Colossians 1:28), it is said, "Whom (Christ) we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." That is to say, in order that Christ may be revealed to our hearts according to His fullness, and that our hearts may be formed spiritually according to this full revelation of all that He is.
If you tell me, " I have this sin; this lust, which hinder me," I understand you, but this is not more mighty than Christ. He works by His Spirit, and presents Himself to you. Do you not find Him more lovely than all that concupiscence could make you long for.
Supposing I am covetous, and that I think about money, even with- the thought of putting it far from me. Ah! my hand would soon grasp it again. But if I look at Christ, then I love Him and forget the money without an effort. It is no more a matter of effort to put away from me the money, for my heart is elsewhere. This is then what Jesus has done to sanctify the Church, He has loved it. "He has given Himself for it" (ver. 25), and He works to draw her affections to Him, and to form them, by revealing Himself. And what blessedness that we should be called to find our delight where God finds His! What happiness to meet with God in having the same object, and the same affections as He! It is this that makes the heart happy.
It is in proportion that I understand what Christ is, that it is evident the measure of my spirituality will increase also, and that I shall judge of things quite differently from what I once did.
It is not said, that the Church may be without spot, but "that He might present it to Himself without spot" (ver. 27). He desires it for Himself, and this it is that forms our happiness. His heart desires us such, for Himself, Himself, who will be for us the "Hidden Manna" promised to him that overcometh. It is Christ who humbled Himself, and known in His humiliation, laid up in order that I may enjoy Him.
1 Thess. 4:1616For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (1 Thessalonians 4:16), it is said, " The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
The happiness will be, not only to reign with Him, to judge with Him (though those things are true), but the happiness will be "to be forever with the Lord."
Is this promise the joy of your hearts? Does the thought of being forever with Him make us happy? Have we sufficiently tasted His goodness and felt His love, as to be able to say, " All that I desire is to be forever with the Lord." Reader, such or such an object that is occupying and retaining your hearts, is it worthy of doing so? Look at Jesus, and you can forget all the rest. Seeing how lovely He is, you will learn that one thing only is worthy of your affections. On Christ's side, this desire to have us with Himself there is no want of. Not only He desires, but He wills that we should be with Him, as also it is said (John 17). He wills to have us with Himself, and we see in this last chapter that the joy wherewith we shall then joy with Him; is realized now in our affections, and that with a spiritual intelligence which forms our hearts into the likeness of that which is revealed, and so becomes likewise applicable to our present state.
It is quite plain that Christ already desires to present the Church to Himself without spot. Now this will, this wish of Christ becomes ours; and we seek already to be it by realizing this perfection through faith in the heart. It is not that the flesh is not still there, as so it will be, so to speak, even worse at the end, because it works in opposition to still greater light; but if the spirit is in us, it will not have the victory notwithstanding the conflict. The heart will not love sin. We cannot cease from dependance on God without a fall, and this is why we so often sin, even though we no longer love sin.
"No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church" (ver. 29). There are these two things: "He nourisheth and cherisheth it." The Church is in such a miserable state that it might be asked, Does He still nourish and' cherish it? If we look at what has passed since, we only see a proof of the faithfulness of the love of Christ. For myself, I have seen in a special manner that whatever be the incapability of the Church to take care of the members of Christ, I have seen, I repeat, that the feeblest soul is nourished and cherished in the midst of all, by Christ Himself, and that He makes use even of evil to do it good. It is impossible that He should not make "all things to work together for good to those that love Him" (Rom. 8:2727And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)), and to present them to Himself without spot and blameless (Eph. 5:2727That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)). Reader! Does your heart think that Jesus is occupied about you in this way-that he has unceasingly your good in view?
I intreat you to think of it.
Do you think there can be a moment within His heart which has not your happiness as its object? If your desire is to glorify Him, let your soul be calm, peaceful, happy, trusting all to Him, whatever may come, knowing that, whatever may be, "goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and your habitation shall be in the house of the Lord forever" (Psa. 23:66Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23:6)).
Reckon on a power, a love which nourisheth and cherisheth those who are the objects of it. And in this confidence rest in Him. Remember that the end which He proposes to you is the same as He has proposed to. Himself; even to present you to Himself "without spot and blameless," in order that now your affections may be fixed on Him, and find in Him a source of abundant joy. He desires that now, here below, you should be living as His betrothed.
If you desire that it should be so, it will not be difficult for you whilst looking unto Jesus. Moses did not distress himself about reflecting the glory of God; that was done without His thinking about it, because he had just been beholding the glory of God. Rest assured that all we have to do, is to think of Jesus, and to keep close to Him. Take the most common circumstances of life, as in the verse which follows. Supposing, if I am a servant, and have a hard master, well! it is not the master I am to look at, but al Christ, and it is Him I am to serve; all will then be made easy to me.
Seek to know what Christ is Himself, in order that His grace may make you such as He is. It is joy and happiness to walk under the light of His countenance, and with the enjoyment of the fullness of His love.