The Body of Christ

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The fact has been current amongst thoughtful Christians, for some years, that of all the Apostles, the only one who speaks of the "Church of God" is the Apostle Paul. John, in his third Epistle, speaks of a local Assembly, or Church, as in the English Bible, (see 3 John 9,9I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. (3 John 9)) and James (ch. 5:14) writes "Is any sick among you, let him send for the elders of the Assembly," etc. These two exceptions in the New Testament are found in the use of the word "Church," or more correctly, "Assembly," or "Assembly of God" as only being treated of by Paul. We may also except of course the Lord's own announcement of its then future existence during His own lifetime in the words "On this Rock I will build my Assembly." (Matt. 16:1818And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18).)
When the great Apostle of the Gentiles was first called of the Lord, on his persecuting journey against the Church of God, from Jerusalem to Damascus; the roots of his future doctrines were expressed in the Lord's words-"Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" The saints on earth were Christ Himself! "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." "But rise, (said He) and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of (1) those things which thou has seen, and (2) of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." Here we find an intimation from the very first, that, not only were the things he had seen-this Christ in glory, and all that pertained to Him, to be the subjects of his ministry; but that further revelations were to be made specially to this man by an ascended and glorified Lord, who would appear again and afresh to him to communicate them.
In larger features I mark four distinct revelations afterward thus communicated to Paul, and marked as such in so many words: -these four revelations give us in a short epitome the whole character, occupation, truth of its existence here, and the exit from this scene, of the Church of God.
1.The mystical body of Christ-its Head-formed by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven at Pentecost.
2. The expression of the unity on earth of that body, in and by the Lord's supper.
3. The first resurrection of those who have slept during its formation and earthly sojourn.
4. The rapture of the living and the raised saints who compose it-to be "forever with the Lord" at His coming again.
It will be seen at a glance that these are complete in themselves. But I will now show how He calls attention to the fact that each was revealed specially to him by the Lord.
As to the first; we read "By revelation He made known unto me the mystery * * * * which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets in the power of the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be joint-heirs, and a joint-body, and joint partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus by the Gospel: of which I became a minister," etc. (Eph. 3:3,5,6,73How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, (Ephesians 3:3)
5Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. (Ephesians 3:5‑7)
As to the second: An ascended heavenly Lord-Head of the Church, His body, gives a fresh revelation of His supper to Paul, adding certain features and characteristics to it, which it possessed not, as given by an Incarnate Christ on earth to His then followers. He marks this by the words "I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed," etc. Thence follows the supper. (1 Cor. 11:2323For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: (1 Corinthians 11:23).) In 1 Cor. 10:16,17,16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16‑17) it receives the further character of being the symbol of the unity of the "One body" of Christ on earth, expressed in that "One loaf."
The first resurrection he marks by the words, "Behold, I show you a Mystery," and He unfolds the truths of a resurrection from among the dead of bodies of the saints who had once been members of Christ's body here on earth, and had passed on high to be with Him till the day of His glory. See 1 Cor. 15:5151Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, (1 Corinthians 15:51) and the whole chapter.
The rapture of all-dead and living-to that scene, he marks by the words, "For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord;" and thence follows in 1 Thess. 4, the catching up of the saints-the Church of God-to be forever with the Lord.
Now although we know that from the first, Paul taught these things to the Church of God. as his early writings and ministrations abundantly prove, it is striking and remarkable that it was reserved till the close of his ministry, when in prison in Rome, we should have been taught in its fullest character the truth of the unity of the Church of God, as unfolded in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
In the prison at Rome Paul wrote four Epistles-the close, with the exception of 2 Timothy, of all his written ministry, as far as we are told. They are, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
1. Colossians-written to people he had never seen, and to neglect which would be to fall into Laodicea, who is warned-unfolds the positive side of the gospel, which would set the soul in conscious union with Christ in glory holding the Head-this Head of His body-and just leads the saints up to the edge of this body-"unto which ye are called, in one body;" but no farther.
2. Ephesians-would teach them the whole truth of the mystery of Christ and the Church His body; when "all were seeking their own and not the things of Jesus Christ" when "many walked of whom I told you (said he) even weeping that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, who mind earthly things." Phil. 3.
3. In Philippians-Individual devotedness, in those that were "perfect,"-i. e., morally answering in spirit and walk and ways to the glory of Christ in heaven; or those who were true, yet otherwise minded, and to whom God would reveal more-Paul himself to be imitated in this.
4. These truths did not hinder, but rather were the basis of uprightness of heart and ways, even in a runaway slave towards his earthly master. Practical righteousness in daily life is thus inculcated in Philemon; and Onesimus—though gifted by Christ as His servant, and converted to Him for His glory-must go back to his mistress and master, and bow his neck to the yoke again, and trust the Lord of all hearts to enable him to serve as bondsman; or "being made free" to "use it rather" for Christ.
Thus we have:-
1.The Positive side of the gospel-Colossians.
2. The Unity of the body of Christ, when all was ruined-Ephesians.
3. Personal Devotedness-Philippians.
4. Practical Righteousness, through grace, in Philemon.
All sent forth through the Apostle by Jesus Christ in glory from the prison walls in Rome when total ruin had supervened.
This Epistle to the Ephesians is not addressed to the "Church of God." It is addressed to the "Saints and Faithful in Christ Jesus." Perhaps the same pen with which Paul wrote Philippians, indited this Epistle. "All were seeking their own." "Grievous wolves" were scented from afar, long before. Had they already begun to scatter the flock? Be that as it may, the address was not to the "Assembly of God at Ephesus," but to "Saints and faithful ones in Jesus Christ." From that moment to the end, therefore, does not this letter afford a divine ground for faith-be the days never so evil. It taught the "Church of God"-a purpose of the ages-brought out in time, to sojourn for a moment on the earth, but not of the world, and to have a place in eternal things when the world has passed away.
It was written then IN VIEW OF a day of complete ruin.
It was provided for faith's comfort and direction FOR a day of ruin: and that "UNTIL WE ALL COME, in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Chapter 4:13.
The body of Christ was outwardly scattered to the winds, and never could the unity of the body be maintained again: but the Spirit of God held it intact, and the ruin never would be such that the saints and faithful might not be with Him, who abides in and with the church forever, in practical power and fellowship. Thus there never can come a moment when this cannot be observed; nor can "One body" be useless, as the divine positive ground of action, by those who feel that the days are perilous, and are using all diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit, in One body, till Christ comes again.
I will now examine what Scripture teaches of the formation of this One Body of Christ on earth. In this paper I do not touch upon the
Body of Christ as a thing of counsel, as spoken of in Eph. 1:23,23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:23) composed of all who are His from the first formation of it until He comes again. I only treat of the practical side of the fact that
It will be well to seize the distinctive position which the Jew and the Gentile occupied before God in the Old Testament days, before the formation of the Body of a risen and ascended Christ. The quotation of two Scriptures will mark this distinction plainly.
As to Israel, I read, "Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises: whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen." (Rom. 9:4-54Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; 5Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:4‑5).)
As to the Gentile, "Wherefore remember, that ye, being in times past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ. being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." (Eph. 2:11, 1211Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:11‑12).)
The simple reading of these passages will show that all the blessings, and privileges, and promises, and hopes that God gave, were confined to the elect nation of Israel, and to partake of these blessings, a Gentile should come in and partake of them subordinately to the Jew, in whom they were vested as the vessel of blessing.
We read in 1 Cor. 12:12, 13,12For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12‑13) "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." Now, before the formation of such a Body out of both Jew and Gentile could take place, it was necessary that God Himself, who had surrounded Israel with a "wall of partition," should remove the same. It was not sufficient that the wall of partition which God had placed around the Jew, had been almost obliterated by the unfaithfulness of those who had been thus hemmed in. The partition wall existed as fully in the mind of God, and to faith, as though there had never been an unfaithful Jew on earth. God had placed it there, and God must remove it Himself, ere He would form the body of which we read here.
The prophets had spoken of a day of which it was said, "Rejoice ye Gentiles with his people," etc. But even in such a state of blessing, "Gentiles" remained "Gentiles," and "His people" remained "His people." They never spoke of this "body," in which Jew and Gentile alike have lost their national position-where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free. There are three things before God in the world. Paul enumerates them in 1 Cor. 10:3232Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: (1 Corinthians 10:32). They are, "The Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God." In the last mentioned, both Jew and Gentile have ceased to be such before God, believers amongst both having been incorporated into this Body of which we speak. The prophets spoke of the time when that which we know familiarly as the Millennium, or more correctly, the "Kingdom," will have been established on the earth; then the Jew will be the central nation, and the Gentile will rejoice with the people of Jehovah: a state of things which will come in after the Church has been gathered, and is with Christ in heaven.
The foreshadowing of the removal of this "wall of partition" was frequently seen in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself in the gospels. Instance the woman of Samaria, who could not understand how that the Lord, a Jew himself, should say, "Give me to drink," to her who was a woman of Samaria, as the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. (See John 4, see also the case of the Syrophenician woman in Matt. 15) Before this "wall of partition" was removed, it was "unlawful for a man, that is a Jew, to keep company, or come unto one of another nation." (Acts 10:2828And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28).)