Christ, Head Over All the Assembly, Which Is His Body

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
This evening, in the Lord’s mercy, I desire to bring before you, beloved friends, the great subject of the church of God, which, next to Christ Himself, is the center of all God’s counsels for His glory. It is very sweet, when we are in the consciousness of our relationship as sons — children of God our Father — to be assured of, and instructed in our relationship to Christ as “members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” He is never said to be “bone of our bone”; but we are said to be “of His flesh, and of His bones,” when He has gone on high, after His work on the cross by which we are saved.
The church is that wonderful structure in which God will display in all the ages, and throughout eternity, the “exceeding riches of His grace.” How rich He is and how far His grace could go, will be seen in “His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.”
The Bible is the history of two men — the “first Adam,” the responsible, or created man; and the “last Adam,” the man of God’s purpose and counsel. The responsible man’s history closed in the cross. The “second Man” — the “last Adam” — came in, and, in blessed and holy love, took willingly the cup of wrath, and died, that God might be free, in righteousness, to let out the floodgates of His love. The stream took its rise in His heart, but needed a righteous channel in which to flow. It was pent up in the heart of Christ, little as we could have conceived it, when He said, “How am I straitened, till it be accomplished” (Luke 13). He poured out His soul unto death and the stream flowed on! God’s heart was thus set free to flow out to sinners — the vilest — the most abject; bearing them back by redemption on its mighty stream, to place them on high — “seated in heavenly places in Christ.”
You do not find God’s purposes and counsels unfolded in scripture till the cross is past. It stands morally at the end of the world’s history. In God’s dealings previous to the cross, you have the responsible man tested and exposed. The Lord Jesus came down and brought out the fact that man was irrecoverably lost. If the world had received Him, it would have proved that there was some latent good in man’s heart which only needed this fresh culture to unfold. But no! Man had no heart for Jesus then, as now. We know this when we think how we desire naturally to live without Jesus. Men will talk of anything but Him. In religion he can clothe himself, and pride himself, because it gives him some importance in his own eyes; but the presentation of the Lord Jesus tests the heart which can thus deceive itself, when He has no place there.
On this side of the cross, historically, you have the purposed Man in glory — the veil rent, and the grace of God preached “unto all,” and no further dealings of God, until His long-suffering is exhausted, when the judgment of the living closes the scene, and introduces the millennial age. We have to do with Him either in grace or in judgment. To know Him in grace, we have passed from death to life; to know Him in judgment is eternal woe!
When the cross is thus passed, all God’s counsels which were before the foundation of the world, unfold themselves to us in the word, and that for the first time. It is exceedingly interesting to trace from scripture what does come out then — when the Lord Jesus, the second Man, is in the glory of God.
I will draw your attention shortly to some of them. In Hebrews 9:2626For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26) you read, “Now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” This was accomplished by the suffering and death of the cross. I am going to point out all the “nows” of scripture as to these things.
1. In Romans 3:21-2621But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:21‑26). “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested”; again, “To declare at this time [now] his righteousness.” The judgment that was needed to establish God’s righteousness against sin was poured out upon the head of Jesus; and God took Him up as Man, who had glorified Him by bearing all to His glory, and set Him on His own throne — thus displaying His righteousness, His consistency with Himself in doing so. Thus the gospel is the revelation of God’s righteousness, because it is His own consistency with Himself in ministering His grace on the ground of the sacrifice of Christ. — We are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” and God is just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” Instead of the demand for righteousness from man, there is the administration of it to him, and that of God’s righteousness instead of man’s, from the glory where Christ is. The saints of the Old Testament stood on the ground of the “forbearance” of God. We, as Christians, stand on His righteousness. (Compare Rom. 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25) with vs. 20.) There was “the passing over [see margin — not “remission”] of sins that are past,” that is, of past ages. Forgiveness was promised (Jer. 32), but not preached or proclaimed (Acts 13:3838Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: (Acts 13:38)). Suppose the case of a man who owed a debt, and whose creditor forbore with him because some rich man had gone security for his liability. The debt was there, but the creditor forbore to press his claim. But if this rich man came in later and discharged the whole amount, the debtor was free! So with us, in contrast with the saints of old with whom God forbore — the cross now proves His righteousness in doing so — we stand on the ground of God’s righteousness being now gloriously manifested, because Christ is in heaven! (John 13:31-32; 16:10; 17:4-531Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. (John 13:31‑32)
10Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; (John 16:10)
4I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (John 17:4‑5)
). We who believe possess a purged conscience which no saint of Old Testament times ever could, though he knew God in blessed confidence, and found Him a God of grace. The cross is now the proof of how righteous this forbearance of God was with them.
Thus we find the closing up of the first man’s history in responsibility in the cross, which stood morally at “the end of the world.” In the cross man consummated his guilt, and there the blessed Son of God drank willingly the cup of wrath, and not only put away our sins, but the man that sinned by enduring the judgment of God that lay upon him. Then God took the man who so glorified Him, and put Him in glory in the display of righteousness. The promise of eternal life before the world was is revealed, on the close of man’s history in the death of Christ, he who had the power of death being also annulled; and the eternal purpose of God in the church is made known.
Thus you get all these “nows” of scripture when the cross is past, and Christ is in the glory of God, having accomplished redemption. Sin is put away for the believer; righteousness manifested; eternal life bestowed. There was one more thing that God’s manifold wisdom might be known; namely, the church of God.
Let me remark as to the word “church.” It has done more mischief, and created more misapprehension as to the divine purposes, than almost any other expression. Let us be clear at once as to it, that the word is not in scripture! No doubt you have it in our excellent (for the most part) Authorized Version. But it is not a true representation of the original. In all cases it should be translated “assembly.” If we were to speak of the assembly of England, of Scotland, of Ireland, we would not understand what it meant. When we use the word church, it is a conventional word, conveying a human thought about a human institution.
For instance, take the well known passage in Matthew 18, “Tell it to the church”; read it, “Tell it to the assembly,” and the thought of many of its being the teaching or priestly body, or other organization, is gone.
Now, the interval during which Christ is hidden in the heavens, and the Holy Spirit is dwelling on earth, in contradistinction to His working in other ages, has no computation in scripture. “Times and seasons” belong to the Jew and the earth. The present interval is not “time,” properly speaking, at all. Time is counted when God has to do with earth and earthly things.
What then, is the “assembly of God,” looked upon in the truth of the expression? It is the body of a Head, who has gone on high; formed by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, to be the vessel for the expression of Christ, while He is hidden from the world, and before He is revealed in glory. As we have in Ephesians 1:22-2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23): “And gave Him to be head over all things to the assembly which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.”
In order to facilitate the unfolding of my subject, I have divided it into three heads.