Simple Papers on the Church of God: Part 4, the Assembly of Christ

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The foundation of the assembly thus declared, the rearing of it is written of, and described elsewhere. Peter, a stone in the building—for the Lord distinctly shows that he was not the rock itself (“Thou art Peter [πέτροδ, i.e. a stone], and upon this rock (πέτρα) I will build my church,” are His words) —makes clear to us who the living stones are (1 Peter 2:55Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)); and Paul acquaints us with the ultimate destination of that which is thus built. (Eph. 2:2121In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:21))
Remembering the historical associations of the neighborhood in which the Lord Jesus was at that moment, not far certainly from the site of the city of Dan, the announcement of the stability of His Church has marked significance. Dan had been memorable for the attempt of Jeroboam, and that successfully, to turn the eyes of Israel from Jerusalem and Jehovah, who dwelt therein, to the golden calves which he erected in Bethel and in Dan, that most northern city of his kingdom. The idolatrous worship there established has passed away; the calves, the altars, the priests, all in connection with it have come to naught. What Christ would build, bound to no place upon earth, though existing amongst men, was never to pass away. Against it the gates of Hades should never prevail; for with it He connected Himself; and on the confession of His person as the Christ, the Son of the living God, this new, this everlasting building was to rest.
“My assembly,” He calls it, though not then built.
‘Tis true there were some of its stones in existence, and surrounding the Builder at that very moment; pillars too some of them were, as they are called in Gal. 2:99And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. (Galatians 2:9); but as yet not a stone had been laid in its place; the structure had not even been commenced. “I will build” most pointedly shows that. And that He builds that assembly, which is elsewhere called the Church of God, on the rock, the truth as to His person, is a plain proof that none but those who confess. Him can form part of God’s assembly, as viewed in its. universal character. (Eph. 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)) But further, since Christ is the Builder, and the assembly is His, what He builds must be solid, real, and substantial. That must ever abide. Imperfection can have no place there. So in this, the first mention of the assembly, it is brought before us as the company who are really what they profess, Christians, not in name only, but in truth. No hay, no wood, no stubble, can find a place there. Stones, living stones only, are the materials with which Christ builds; for it is the Church, according to God’s purpose, of which He here treats. Imperishable is the structure, firm the foundation; for it rests on the truth about His person, that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
With this assembly He connects Himself. He owns it as, nay, calls it, His. All that it would appear to outward eyes He well knew. Its great failings, which men, the world, would afterward chronicle, were before His mind. Its failure in corporate testimony before the world was all present to His vision; yet He calls it His assembly. His name was to be indissolubly connected with it. How precious then must it be to Him! How gracious that He is not ashamed to call it His!
As the assembly is composed of those who had once been children of wrath, and in whom the flesh, sin, the old man, would yet remain, Christ well knew both how saints might fail, and the watchfulness of the enemy in order to introduce corruption into that which he cannot destroy. The Acts of the Apostles illustrates this in the history of Ananias and Sapphira. The epistles of Paul, of John, and of Jude attest it likewise. Christ therefore has invested the assembly with authority to deal with offenders in its midst in the most solemn way: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What an authority is this! Action taken upon earth—if rightly taken; of course—is ratified in heaven. God owns, and will firmly maintain, the judicial dealings of the assembly. If it binds on a person his sin, it is bound in heaven. If it looses a person from his sins, by receiving the individual amongst them as one fit to be at the Lord’s table, that act is confirmed in heaven. At Corinth that power was exercised, and the offending brother felt it. To the world it might seem a small matter that the individual was put away from the midst of God’s saints for grievous sin. Yet, since in heaven the sentence was ratified, what Christian could afford to despise it? No Miraculous power, it is true, accompanied that sentence to strike terror into the heart of the Corinthian community at large; no—vengeance from heaven visibly overtook the offender.
The power that was wielded was nevertheless very great, and the brother dealt with sorely felt it.
(2 Cor. 2:77So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (2 Corinthians 2:7)) With what authority then is the assembly invested? That men upon earth should give heed to admonitions from heaven, all would admit; but that the action of the assembly on earth, whether in binding or loosing, should be ratified on high, was something new indeed. To the world, church censure may seem a most impotent act. If done, however, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, it is really most potent; for no creature power can annul it.
But not only has Christ declared that the assembly is invested with such solemn, such weighty authority; He has also openly assured His People of His presence, even if it be reduced to the greatest possible weakness as regard numbers. Observe with what solemnity this is also introduced: “Again I say unto you” [or if the reading of the Vatican and many other uncials be adopted, “Again, verily I say unto you”], “That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” So divided, so rent by factions the assembly might be, that only two or three would be gathered unto His name; but if so gathered, He would be in their midst. Again, the whole Christian community in a place might only number two or three. From that number, insignificant though it might appear, Christ would not be absent. The sole condition for His presence is, “Gathered unto (ἐις) His name.” And when in the attitude of dependence, that is, in prayer—for it is of those met for prayer that the Lord speaks in verse 19—He promised to be in their midst; and if agreeing on that which they asked, His Father would grant their request. With what authority, again we would say it, is the assembly invested. In what weakness too may it be found; but what a privilege may it enjoy—the presence of Christ in its midst.
At first believers were of one heart and one soul. (Acts 4:3232And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. (Acts 4:32)) Would that always continue? It would not. And ere the apostles had left the earth, division had manifested itself amongst the saints. Paul felt this (2 Tim. 1:1515This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)); John experienced it (3 John 99I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. (3 John 9)); and we in our day witness it, and feel it. Believers are divided; the assembly is split up into many sects and denominations. What then are we to do? To meet all as one body seems at present impossible. Shall we acknowledge the evil, and acquiesce in it? Shall we fold our hands, and sit down appalled at the magnitude and hopelessness of the task of getting all to see eye to eye? Christ has set before us a different work; viz., to learn what it is to be gathered unto His name, and to act upon it. Then we know what we could not before-the joy and the blessing of His presence in our midst.
Centuries have rolled by since that promise was given; yet it still holds good. And saints there are in these days who have found it to be still true. How little, however, is it understood! How little is the presence of Christ amongst His people really known the condition necessary for its enjoyment He has clearly stated-gathered unto His name. He is faithful who has promised; for He cannot deny Himself. Why then should any Christian remain a stranger to the conscious fulfillment of such a promise? C. E. S.