Simple Papers on the Church of God: Part 3, Its Present Relation to God

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This habitation, however, is also called God’s house. Now, though to some the distinction between habitation and house may seem a trivial one, it is none the less real. A house is a habitation, but a habitation need not be a house. And though the habitation of God is said to be built, and the assembly at Corinth is called God’s building, (ὀικοδομή), it is nevertheless true, that where Scripture uses the term house (ὀικος) with reference to the assembly of God, the context suggests distinctive teaching in connection with it. God’s habitation is treated of by the apostle Paul, when dwelling on the privileges of those who formed part of it. Of God’s house he writes, when reminding his readers of their ‘responsibility in connection with it. Thus, addressing the Hebrews, he says to them, “Whose house” (God’s house) “are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” (Heb. 3:66But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:6)) They would prove by steadfastness that they really were part of God’s house. So Peter, reminding his readers that judgment must begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:1717For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)), adds, “And if it first begin at us,” &c.
Again, addressing Timothy, Paul writes to his child in the faith, to tell him how to behave himself in God’s house, which is the assembly of the living God. (1 Tim. 3:1515But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)). The rules, the regulations, for a house are laid down by the Master, the owner of it. And since the assembly is God’s house, not man’s, Timothy was to learn how to conduct himself in it. Every one would reckon it a monstrous intrusion for another person to set about the regulating of a house, unless distinctly authorized by the master to do it. Men would naturally resent such an action on the part of their fellows, and no plea on the ground of taste or judgment would avail against their condemnation for arrogating to themselves a position and authority in a house which did not belong to. them. The master, the owner, all would agree, and not a stranger, nor even an inmate, is the fitting person to say how his house is to be conducted. Shall men then be allowed their right in such a matter, and God be denied His? Now has not this been practically the case in Christendom? Christians, and in some cases those not even converted, have taken upon themselves, with the sanction of the community at large, to make rules and regulations for a house, of which, if converted, they certainly form part, but which belongs to another, even to God. And such practices are openly justified, and commended as fitting and proper. Once however let the force of the term God’s house sink into the heart, and the impropriety, as well as incongruity, of men drawing up rules for the guidance of that house will be fully apparent. Timothy even, apostolic delegate as he was, holding thereby a position, which, Titus excepted, no one else that we know of was ever called to occupy, could not make any rules himself, but received them from the apostle. Timothy surely never dreamed, the apostle never countenanced the idea of any man, or any company of men, laying down rules formed in their wisdom for, the orderly government of God’s house. Should not the very term God’s house suggest to each one the propriety of learning from the Word, what are God’s rules for its guidance and government?
But this house is also called God’s temple, the shrine, as it were, of the Deity who dwells in it. Twice in the New Testament do we meet with this designation, and both times it is used by the apostle Paul when writing to the same company of Christians, those gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ at Corinth. The context helps us here also to determine the import of the term, and the reason of its selection. In the first epistle (3:16), when warning teachers to beware of what they were teaching, he writes to the whole assembly there gathered: “Know ye not that ye are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, such (οἵτινες, not which) ye are.” With the consciousness that the assembly was God’s temple, could they be indifferent to the introduction of false doctrine? Should any too, remembering this character of the assembly, be careless as to the doctrines they taught? The temple would remind all of the holy character of the assembly, and therefore of the holiness which befitted it. Again, when speaking of the general company of God’s saints on earth, and not of the local assembly merely at Corinth, the same apostle reminds them that Christians should be separate from evil, and from communion with unbelievers, on the ground that believers in the aggregate are the living God’s temple, who will dwell in them, and walk in them. (2 Cor. 6:1616And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2 Corinthians 6:16)) One sees at a glance, that there is a force, and a fitness in the term temple, used in this connection of thought, which no other word could so well set forth. Gentiles as well as Jews knew what the word temple would imply.
Here another thing should be pointed out. When the apostle writes of God’s habitation, or of God’s house, he knows of but one such upon earth. Where then can it be found? For it is no ideal thing, no phantom, since Timothy was to know how to behave himself in it. But where is it? Jerusalem cannot produce it; St. Peter’s at Borne cannot lay claim to be it. No cathedral, no building of wood, brick, iron, or stone; is entitled to this appellation. God does not dwell in any such at present. He dwells in His own habitation, which in Christ Jesus He has made for Himself by the Spirit. Understanding this, we have to correct our thoughts, and to change perhaps our language, which is the index to our thoughts; for we cannot go now to God’s house as those of old did, and as saints will by-and-by. (Psa. 122) We indeed who believe form part of it. If, however, we talk of going to God’s house, when. we mean that we are about to assemble ourselves with God’s saints for worship or fur prayer, do we not by our language show, that we have lost the right thought of what His house really is? We are attaching to a building, or a locality a term, which now belongs only to a peculiar company of people upon earth. Distinctive Christian teaching is virtually set aside, or ignored, as long as such language is accepted as correct. It was correct language for a Jew. It will be correct language fur all who worship Jehovah by-and-by. (Mic. 4: 2) But scriptural language is not of necessity Christian language, though Christian language—understanding by that what the Bible authorizes—must ever be scriptural, if real. As regards the terms “temple” and “assembly,” the usage of Scripture is different. They are applied to the local gathering, as well as to the general company of Christians upon earth. (See 1 Cor. 3:1616Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16); 2 Cor. 6:1616And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2 Corinthians 6:16), for the application of the term temple; and 1 Cor. 1:1,21Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:1‑2); Acts 20:2828Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28), for the use of the term—church or assembly) Nor are these the only senses in which these words are used; for both the one and the other are employed when the true Church universal is the subject in hand. (Eph. 1:22; 2:2122And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, (Ephesians 1:22)
21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:21)
) To a consideration of the word assembly let us now turn.
By God’s assembly on earth is to be understood that company of people, which, professedly at least, has been gathered out from the rest of mankind unto Hint. At first it was, as in glory it will really be, composed only of true Christians; for such alone at first professed to be believers on the Lord Jesus Christ. After a time the assembly of God included others besides real believers, but none who did not profess to be Christians. Nov, wherever the truth has spread, members of the assembly are to be found. And in every place where a few souls professedly own the Lord Jesus Christ, there an assembly is regarded as existing. It may be like that in Laodicea, in which mere profession was the prevailing characteristic. It may be like that in Philadelphia, where faithfulness to Christ was a marked feature of it. But whatever may be the spiritual condition of the company locally gathered, if professedly called out to God, it is regarded in the Word as God’s assembly in that locality, and has responsibilities of no mean order in consequence. How little is this understood by those who only outwardly bear the name of Christ! Profession, of course, should be true; but profession of itself entails responsibility; and all who bear the name of Christ by profession declare that they are members of the assembly of God.
Dismissing at present from our consideration of the subject the assembly as it will be perfect in glory, in which none but real Christians will be found, let us confine our attention to the assembly as viewed upon earth at any one time, whether in its local or general aspect. Of God’s assembly we read in the Word, and by that we are reminded of a company of people as such, distinguished from every other assembly upon earth. In what varied lights God’s assembly is seen. If those who composed it were before the apostle’s mind, le could write of the assembly of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:11Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:1)), or the assemblies of the nations. If the country in which such gatherings were was to be expressed, he makes mention of the assemblies of Galatia; or of Asia. (1 Cor. 16: 1, 19) If Paul was thinking of the localities in which different companies met, he writes of the church, or assembly, in the house of Nymphas (Col. 4:1515Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. (Colossians 4:15)), Philemon (Phil. 2), or Aquila. (Rom. 16:55Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. (Romans 16:5)) When he thought of the spiritual condition of the members, he writes of the assemblies of the saints. (1 Cor. 14:3333For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:33)) Viewing the churches in relation to Christ, Paul describes them as assemblies of Christ. (Rom. 16:1616Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you. (Romans 16:16)) When remembering to whom the Church belonged, he styles it the assembly of God. And if its security is uppermost in his mind, he can write of it as in God the Father. (1 Thess. 1:11Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:1); 2 Thess. 1:11Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: (2 Thessalonians 1:1)) A glance, at these different ways of describing it shows this clearly, that men’s thoughts about it are not all drawn from Scripture. They talk of a national church and of local churches. In Scripture we meet with assemblies of a country, and the assembly, or church in a town. The assembly of God What a thought it gives us God connecting Himself with a company of people on earth, who had need, and professedly at least acknowledged it, of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And now we would ask, How does this term ‘assembly of God’ strike on the ear, or impress the mind of those who hear, or read about it? There was one once who evidently felt in no light way its force. Paul has left on record, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, what it was to him; for, writing of his grievous sin before his conversion, he states that he persecuted the assembly of God. Saints they were. Believers on the Lord Jesus such had proved themselves to be Yet be does not term ‘them saints or believers, but writes of the assembly of God, thereby exposing his former undisguised and ‘unmitigated hostility to the company gathered unto God. (1 Cor. 15:99For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9)) Could he have expressed a stronger way what he did in mistaken zeal for God? How far wrong must he have been when he was a persecutor of the assembly of the living God! Again, writing to the Corinthians to expose the grossness of their conduct at the Lord’s Supper, he pertinently asks them, Would they despise the assembly of God? (1 Cor. 11: 22) An answer to such a, question should surely be prompt and unhesitating. Could any one who professed to serve God despise His assembly? To a question so pointed, so searching, surely but one answer could be given. How the need there was for such a question shows of what our wretched hearts are capable.
In conclusion, habitation of God, tells us of our privilege; house of God reminds us of responsibilities; temple of God warns us of its holy character; assembly of God proclaims to whom it has been, professedly at least, gathered out.
C. E. S.
(Continued from page 47)