Simple Papers on the Church of God: Part 8, the Bride of Christ

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As the assembly of Christ, the Church is told of its everlasting security; as His body, it is reminded of its responsibility; as His bride, it even now enjoys in a special manner His love; " for Christ loved the Church, and gave. Himself for it." (Eph. 5:2525Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Ephesians 5:25)) To her present position of bride the attention of the reader is requested.
The appellation of bride, used of the Church, is only met with in the Apocalypse (21: 9; 22: 17), in which book she is also called the Lamb's wife. (19: 7; 21: 9) She is the bride of the Lamb, and to Him only of course does she stand in this position, to be openly manifested as such, after that which professes to be the Church shall have been publicly judged as the great whore (Rev. 19:22For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. (Revelation 19:2)), the Babylon of the Apocalypse. Now from three of the New Testament penmen do we learn about the Church in this special connection with Christ. Of her beauty in the Lamb's eyes Matthew tells us; of Christ's care and service, to make her answer to the desire of His heart, Paul informs us. To John was it permitted to behold in vision something of her personal glory, when she shall be displayed to the world as the Bride, the Lamb's wife. Now such teaching is peculiar to the New Testament. No Old Testament prophet ever touched upon this theme. No old Testament poet ever descanted upon such a union; yet David was inspired to sing of the King's consort (Psa. 45); Solomon composed the " Song of songs;" Isaiah described the future glory and greatness of her to whom Jehovah will be an husband. (54) These inspired men, however, were occupied with something very different from the Church of God. A little attention will make this clear.
Isaiah tells us plainly that it is of Jerusalem he writes (liv), to which Jehovah formerly acted as husband (Ezek. 16:8-148Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine. 9Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. 10I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers' skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. 11I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. 12And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. 13Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom. 14And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God. (Ezekiel 16:8‑14)), till forced to cast her off fire a time for her whoredom with the nations, her lovers. Having learned to her sorrow what widowhood and shame are, she will by-and-by enjoy restoration to divine favor, and be publicly reinstated in her proper relation to Him who is Israel's King and her husband. It was of this bright future that David sung when he penned that "song of loves"
(Psa. 45), in which the queen is introduced, and described as accompanied by her virginal train, when she has received from the king the place of honor, and her favor is to be sought after by the rich among the people: But is not the Church, it may be asked, made mention of in this psalm? Heavenly saints, who form it, are expressly noticed therein, though as quite distinct from the queen. They are just touched upon under the term "His fellows" (v. 7), among whom, as Heb. 3: 14 in the original makes plain, we must include all those who are now saints upon earth, believers on the Lord Jesus Christ. The "fellows" of the King must be very different from the queen. Both indeed have to do with Him who is the King, though clearly distinct the one from the other.
Of Jerusalem's past and future the prophetic word instructs us. Her, restoration to favor, and to her proper position before all the earth, the prophet Isaiah predicts, and the psalmist graphically depicts. But for this to be righteously effected there must be the moral restoration of the remnant of the people. Now it is of this Solomon writes in the Canticles, the purport of which, briefly expressed, is to show the pains taken by the Beloved to get hold afresh of the full affection of His loved, one;1 for the two are not described therein as meeting for the first time.
Song of Solomon then does not set forth the intercourse of the Church with Christ. The Church is not mentioned in the Song of Songs, though Christ is prominent in the boot' and the affection of His heart toward His earthly people is beautifully set forth. Yet there is much instruction for the individual Christian in that unique composition of the son of David; and many a believer, tasting of the unwearied love of Christ, after he has wandered in heart from Him, has found, therein language just suited to him as a saint. The Church's position however, in reference to Christ, and His dealings with her, are very different from both the one and the other as set forth in that book.
For all teaching then about the Church, as the bride of Christ, we must turn to the New Testament. To that let us now direct our attention.
On the shore of the lake of Galilee, in the audience of the multitude, the Lord spake the parables of the sower, the tares, the mustard tree, and the leaven.
Inside the house, when alone with His disciples, He expounded the parable of the tares, and gave to them in addition those of the treasure, the pearl, and the net. (Matt. 13:1-521The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. 2And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. 3And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 9Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. 10And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. 18Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 24Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. 31Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: 32Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. 33Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. 34All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 35That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. 36Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. 37He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; 38The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; 39The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. 44Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. 45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. 47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: 48Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. 49So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, 50And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 51Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. 52Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. (Matthew 13:1‑52)) The outward character of the kingdom of the heavens, as men would see it, the Lord spake in parables to the multitude. Its aspect from God's point of -view He reserved for the special information of His disciples. They, and they only, were then permitted to learn what a treasure His saints were to Him, what a beautiful thing the Church would be in His eyes, and how He would care for His own people -symbolized by the good fish-through the instrumentality of His ministering servants. For the reader will remark, that in the parable of the net the good fish only are eared for, in the supplementary remarks the bad fish only are dealt with. On that occasion, in the house, it was disclosed for the first time, that there should be an object of surpassing beauty in the eyes of Christ, which He would die to possess. He would buy the field for the sake of the treasure concealed in it; but He would purchase the pearl for its own preciousness.
Seeking goodly pearls, the merchantman is arrested in his search by the sight of one pearl of great price. His search is stopped; he goes no further; he desires nothing more. Pearls he was seeking for; one pearl when found has satisfied his heart's desire. To possess it now is all his aim. He has valued it, and valued it aright. What is that value? Who shall determine it? Who shall give the price? One alone does that; the merchantman himself. He went, we read, and sold all that he had, and bought it. Its value to him is attested by that which he gives to possess it; for he must possess it. In plain language, Christ would die to possess that one pearl. It is of His death, then, that He here makes mention; and it is in these two parables that the Lord in, this chapter speaks of His death. Other scriptures acquaint us with the atoning character of His death. These parables acquaint us with another reason why He died. He wanted to acquire the treasure; He desired to possess the pearl. How precious, then, to Him, how satisfying to His eye and heart, is the one pearl of great price, for which, in order to purchase it, He has given up all that He had, speaking of Himself here of course as a man. The language of Scripture we must remember is definite; no waste of words do we find in that book. Whenever then we meet with epithets, we may be sure that there is force in them. So here let the reader note the language of Christ Himself: one pearl of great price (ππλύτιμον). No mere man surely would ever have dared thus to characterize the Church. Many and many a saint has heartily, truly declared, that Christ is to them the chiefest among ten thousand; but Christ by this epithet tells us what His Church is in His eyes. Of the Church's affection for Christ we read elsewhere; but in the parable, and in Eph. 5, it is His estimate of her, and His love to her that is dwelt upon. What her joy will be might be conceived; what His delight in her would be had need to be revealed, and that He Himself first touched upon.
Passing from the parable to the doctrinal teaching of Eph. 5, where Paul writes' of the Church in its spousal relation to Christ, we are taught of His love to her, the way in which He has shown it, does prove it, and will yet manifest it. But, as is often the case in Scripture, the Spirit of God, whilst touching upon what has already been revealed, adds to its fullness. The parable described Christ giving up all He had to possess the pearl. The Holy Ghost, in the Ephesians, speaks in language, if possible, yet more full. For the apostle wrote: " Christ loved the Church, and gave Him Self for it." (Eph. 5:2525Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Ephesians 5:25)) All that He could give for it, all that He can be to it, she is assured of in these words.
A pearl of great price! But who would have discovered that? who, looking around on the Church of God, remembering the sadly-blotted history it possesses, surveying what it is at present, who indeed would ever have discovered that it was a pearl, that it had any beauty, and that it was an object of great price? To bring this out, to make manifest its beauty and preciousness, Christ has and does minister to it.
We should mark the progressive stages of His service which the apostle traces out for us. First, Christ gave Himself for the assembly. He died to posses the Church, and that because He loved it. The motive, the reason for thus dying, was simply the love of His heart. The parable tells us He desired to purchase it. The teaching of Ephesians acquaints us with the secret motive -love for it. His service for the assembly did not however end there. Man's devotedness can proceed no further than to die instead of his object; but in dying, man loses any earthly object. Christ, on the contrary, died to possess the assembly, and His service for the object of His heart begins, where that of a mere man's must end. So, secondly, He sanctifies it and cleanses it with the washing of water by the word. As first possessed then by Him, it does not answer to that which He desires. A pearl it is in His eyes, but He must bring out its beauty. This He does by the application of the word. Once it was not His, but He bought it. It was not clean, so He would cleanse it. It was not set apart, but He would sanctify it. These are tokens of His love to His assembly. By-and-by He will present the assembly to Himself glorious; not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. Such is the end He has in view. What a service has He undertaken! What an end has He proposed to Himself! What delight will He have when He presents the assembly to Himself glorious, without any blemish. Throughout this passage the reader should remark, we have nothing told us of the Church's joy. Christ's love, Christ's present service, the end He has in view, on these points the Holy Ghost delights to dwell.
What a condition must the assembly be in when He has to sanctify and cleanse it (or, as some would translate, "having cleansed it,") by the washing of water by the word, a plain declaration that it is not what He wants; yet He will not rest till He has made it all He desires. But more, He " nourisheth and cherisheth it." (v. 29) All that it needs in its spousal relation to Him He supplies. To make it conformable to His desire He applies to it the word. Besides this, He ministers to it all that it wants. Nourishing and cherishing! What grace is there in that! Giving himself for it, sanctifying it, cleansing it. What grace, too, in all this!
Viewed as man views the assembly, could we say that it has requited such care and love? How little have those who form part of it had intelligence as to that which Christ is doing. There was surely a time in the history of every believer whose eye may light on this page, when salvation from wrath was desired, and perhaps known, but Church relationship to Christ un known; or ignored. Can all the readers of this paper say that such is no longer true of them?
Unchanged however is Christ's estimate of the assembly's worth. What the parable sets forth, His constant- service on its behalf confirms. Yet how soon had He to tell one assembly that it had left its first love, and to charge another with having in its midst that doctrine which He hated. (Rev. 2:1515So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. (Revelation 2:15), compared with 5: 6) How early in the history of the Church had 'Jezebel been allowed a footing in that which bore His name, and He Himself had to stand without, knocking to learn, as it were, whether there was in the assembly at Laodicea one heart faithful to Him. This personal ministration of Christ testified to the unchanging affection of His heart (Rev. 3: 19), and evidenced that He well knew the condition and position of His people, and most truly desired their welfare.
But this was in the past. Is He still unchanged? Those surely who have learned in these days truth about the Church so long neglected, and even forgotten, can testify that His love and service are as unwearied as ever. Blessed for them that it is so. For what must those who form part of it be by nature, when, to enforce the observance by the husband of his duty and bearing towards his wife, the love of Christ and His service to the Church is set forth as a fitting illustration. What creatures to need such an exhortation! How richly blest to be objects of Christ's love!
By-and-by His object will be accomplished.—His present service to the assembly will cease, only because it will not be required; and He will present it to Himself glorious, answering to His wish about it. At this point, however, we must pass from the writings of Paul to those of John. Paul has set forth Christ's love to the Church, and told even an assembly of its relation to Christ, as representing locally the Bride.
(2 Cor. 11:22For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)) John writes of the time when the marriage of the Lamb shall have come (Rev. 19:77Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7)); but the actual marriage he never describes. For, like the inside of the Father's house, it is essentially a scene fit only for heaven, and never therefore disclosed to the view of men on earth. We hear of the marriage of the Lamb. We are shown the Bride, the Lamb's wife, after the marriage, when displayed to earth; but her presentation to Him is carefully hidden from us. Heaven rejoices at it, we learn. Blessed too, we are told, will those be who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:7-97Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. (Revelation 19:7‑9)) Here again all is looked at from the Lamb's point of view, not from that of the Bride. It is the fulfillment of His long-cherished desire that the great multitude unanimously announce. What her feelings will be John was not directed here to declare.
We do, however, gather from his writings something of her feelings towards Christ; for when He announces Himself at the end of the Revelation as the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star, an immediate response is made to Him by the Spirit and the bride, who, both addressing Him, say, " Come." Her desire is to see Him. She wishes for His return. She asks Him to come. That is the voice of the Church as a whole. When it was in its pristine condition one could have fancied the whole assembly, with one heart and voice, uttering that word, " Come." In the present condition of the assembly that cannot be done. Some there are, really part of the body of Christ, who understand not the truth of the Lord's return. Some too have taken the place of being Christians-are such in name, but in name only. How could they join in that cry? Are souls then to be deprived of the opportunity and joy of echoing that cry to Him, the Morning Star, by reason of the present condition of the assembly of God upon the earth? By no means; for the Word immediately adds, "Let him that heareth say, Come." God thus provides, that even in the disorderly condition of the Church souls should be allowed to welcome the coming of Christ.
Not only does the bride, however, desire His return; for we read in Rev. 19:77Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7) of the bride, when the marriage day has come, having made herself ready, being adorned for her husband. And her bridal attire, how simple it is, yet how comely! " To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints." (Rev. 19:88And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. (Revelation 19:8)) What a contrast to that of the great whore, who is described as clothed in purple and scarlet, with ornaments of gold, precious stones, and pearls! (Rev. 17:44And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: (Revelation 17:4)) On the person of the whore was seen that which attracts and pleases the natural eye. On the bride was just that which would please the Bridegroom's eyes-the righteousnesses (δικαιώματα) of the saints-what they have done, it is true, but all the fruit of divine grace, and of the energizing power of the Holy Ghost. The whore delights in meretricious splendor; the bride is arrayed in that which witnesses of grace bestowed on her. The bride too is the pearl of great price in Christ's eyes. No need then could she have to deck out her person with pearls, &c. Such an attire, such ornaments, would only dim instead of enhancing her beauty in His eyes. Gold, pearls, precious stones- these speak of God as Creator. He made them. Righteousnesses of saints -these are the fruits of that new creation, of which Christ is the beginning, and in which all form the bride have their part. The significance of her clothing we can all therefore understand.
But observe the Marriage is not described as taking place immediately on the rapture of the saints. In Rev. 5 they 'are seen in heaven already. It is not till chap. 19 that the marriage day is spoken of as having come. Then she will be found ready. Till the rapture she can say to Him, "Come." But throughout all this time she proves His love and care. Her beauty He discerned at the outset. His love and service to her make it manifest; and when the time arrives for the marriage, He who has nourished her,-cleansed her, and sanctified her, will find her prepared for Him. His service to her, it will then be seen, has not been in vain.
C. E. S.