The Gospel and the Church: 30. The Body of Christ

We have considered the church in its character as the house of God. Let us now view her, with God's gracious help, as the body of Christ, her gracious Head in heavenly glory.
The words “church” and “body of Christ” stand in closest connection. The church is the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is the church. Only the word in the original used for (ἐκκλησία) means a (greater or smaller) number of person, called out from a promiscuous multitude to form an assembly, be it for worldly or sacred purposes (compare Acts 7:38; 8:1; 9:31; 19:338This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: (Acts 7:38)
1And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (Acts 8:1)
31Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
3And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. (Acts 19:3)
, Eph. 1:2222And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, (Ephesians 1:22). and others). In a strictly Christian sense it means an assembly of believers from different nations, called “church” from the Greek word Κυριακός “belonging to the Lord,” the word “assembly” referring rather to its character as the “house of God.”
God's wonderful counsel (indicated in John 11:5252And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. (John 11:52), that Jesus was to die not for the nation only, but that the children of God scattered abroad amongst the Gentiles He should also gather into one) had been a mystery before the creation of the world, although foreshadowed already in paradise. But it could not be fulfilled until at Pentecost the Holy Spirit, the Revealer of the things which God has prepared for them that love Him, had been sent down from glory, after the “Son of Man” had been received up in glory.
Jesus (Who, as the only perfect man, alone could glorify and has glorified God on earth) must be exalted first at the right hand of God, before the Holy Ghost could come down to take His abode in the bodies of sinful men, who have been justified by faith and cleansed from all sin by the precious blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God, and thus made fit to be indwelt by this divine heavenly Guest. Jesus, the personal Savior of every individual sinner who believes in Him, must as the first-begotten from among the dead and “the firstborn among many brethren,” take His seat at the right hand of God as the Christ, the common head of His body, the church, before the believers could be baptized by the same Spirit, into one body, united to the head in glory, each “one spirit with the Lord,” as all of them formed it. At the first preaching at Pentecost, 3,000 were thus baptized into one body, and soon after 2,000 more.
Wonderful spectacle for angels, to study the wisdom of God! a spiritual body on earth, united to a heavenly head, the Son of man in glory, by the invisible tie of the Holy Spirit. Men only saw the visible effect of that mysterious union, for they beheld how these Christians loved one another, being “one heart and one soul,” as they were members of one body. Jesus the Nazarene, the Savior of sinners, approved among men by miracles and wonders and signs, rejected by the builders and disallowed of man, had been made of God both, Lord (for every individual believer) and Christ. He is the Head of His body, the church.
This was something entirely new, unknown in this world since its existence. There had been a congregation of the earthly people of God in the wilderness, the “house of Israel.” They possessed the living oracles of God, Who dwelt among them in tents, guiding them by the cloudy pillar in the daytime, and by night by the pillar of fire towards the promised land. But that was neither the church of God nor the body of Christ.
When He, of whom Moses and the prophets had testified, had Himself appeared in the midst of Israel, and His own had not received but crucified Him, having risen from the dead and appeared in the assembly of His disciples, showing to them His hands and His side, and announced to them the result of His death, saying, “Peace be unto you,” there was indeed a blessed assembly, but it was not the church yet as the body of Christ, which is characterized. by the indwelling and guidance of the Holy Spirit, sent down by the glorified Christ.
Wondrous, glorious fact, but too little, alas! realized by Christians: a body here on earth, formed by a countless multitude of believers, from all nations, united by the Spirit of God to the God—man there above in glory!
But it has been always the persistent aim of the enemy of the truth to put aside this all-important and most precious portion of divine truth, or, where he could not succeed in this, at least to weaken the sense of its importance in the souls of believers. He seeks especially to enfeeble the living consciousness and happy realization of our two-fold relationship to God and to His Son, as children of our Heavenly Father and as members of Christ. For he knows but too well, that the godly walk and testimony of each individual believer is closely connected with the assurance and realization by faith, of our relationship as children of God, and with our living consciousness of being members of one and the same body,—the body of Christ for mutual service, help and edification. It is especially the fresh and living sense of the latter, which the adversary now more than ever is endeavoring to obscure and to weaken (peace with God, and the assurance of the believer's relationship to the Father, at the present day being more known and enjoyed. than in former years, owing to the fuller preaching of the gospel of grace).
It is not only in our individual character as children of God,” but especially in our corporate quality as members of Christ's body, that we are enjoined to serve and edify one another in the Epistles to the Romans (at least in chap. 12.), and to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. We hear among Christians a great deal about “children of God,” but very little about “members of Christ.” The former term implies our eternal security and our blessed privileges, and of that we love to speak. But the words, “members of Christ” and “members one of another,” remind us of our joint privileges and responsibilities, on which we are less inclined to dwell. That in all true children of God a desire for union should manifest itself is but natural; it springs from the very instinct of the new man (Col. 3 compare Jude 1919These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. (Jude 19)). But that desire for union, right and proper as it is, we hear generally uttered rather with regard to the family tie of the “children of God” as such. But of the “one body” i.e. the unity of the members of the one body of Christ and their responsibility to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” we hear very little, but all the more of religious “bodies,” whose number is legion, and of “members” of this or that religious “body.” The word of God knows not “bodies,” nor speaks of “members” of confederations, formed by the will or spirit of man, and endowed with human ordinances, but not by the Spirit of God. The word of God. knows of only one, body, the body of Christ, of which every sealed believer is a member. There are in the N. T. churches in divers places, but they do not constitute sects, but present locally the one body of Christ, “the house of the living God.”
The history of the church shows the constant endeavor of the enemy of God as to His church, to weaken in the members of the body of Christ the consciousness and sense of that membership. Once having succeeded in this, the “accuser of the brethren” found it no difficult task to bring about all the sad schisms, divisions, and sects, which we perceive, and in these “last days” more than ever.
Ought not our own natural bodies to teach us better? What is our every morning's first experience when arising from sleep? Is it not the simple truth that one member serves the other? Did the left hand ever hide itself away, because the right hand occupies a place of honorable distinction and performs the most important part of every day's business? Or did the feet ever refuse to serve the hands, because of the undignified business assigned to them—ever to tread the dust and labor through the mire of the road, carrying the weight of the whole body, while the hands perform all the important and honorable functions. The hands, nay the whole body, could not do without the feet. What humbling lessons do not our own bodies daily teach us, Christian reader and fellow member in the body of Christ, if we had but eyes to see them, hearts to feel, and consciences to heed them?
A well-known and honored servant of Christ used to quote one of old: “suppose it pleased God to send two angels, the one to rule an empire, and the other to sweep a crossing in one of the streets of London; the latter would perform his business with the same willingness and heartiness as the former.” We are more than angels, fellow-believer, saved by grace and called to glory. Would we were more like these blessed heavenly servants of the Lord, who, though “excelling in strength,” yet never fail to do His commandments (strength combined with obedience), and, mark, Christian reader—not in a mere sense of duty, but heartily, “hearkening unto the voice of His word.” They not only know, but love the voice of their Heavenly Master. Do we, members of His body, who are united to Him and to one another by an infinitely closer tie than angels are, serve our Heavenly Head and Master heartily and with a ready mind?
One more illustration furnished by our own bodies. For this line of truth cannot be dwelt upon too much in these days of latitudinarian associations on the one hand, and sectarian divisions on the other.
Suppose I want a book in a distant room. My body, in obedience to the order received from the head, willingly rises at once to fetch it. The feet must carry me there. But they can do no more. The hands must take hold of it. But neither the feet nor the hands would be of any avail, unless the eyes show the way. If the eye is on the Head, we need not mind the “breakers ahead.” But if the light has become darkness, how great is the darkness! We need to remember Menenius Agrippa's famous parable and its instantaneous effect upon his Roman listeners. Alas! the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.
But it is not only the lively sense of our mutual relationship as members of one body, oven the body of Christ, but the being, more than we usually are, alive to the wondrous fact of the union of that body with, and its entire dependence upon, the glorified head, Christ Himself, which for every true member of Christ is of the utmost importance and in our days more than ever. By the Spirit of glory the body of Christ here on earth is united with its Head in glory— “One spirit with the Lord.” Unless the members be consciously kept alive to this union also, their mutual support and service will be of little profit. The Holy Spirit dwelling in the church, by Whom all the members of Christ have been baptized into one body, is indeed to lead these members; but He always does this in dependence on the Head of the body, even as Christ when on earth did and spoke everything in dependence upon the Father. He did that which He had seen with the Father, and spoke that which He had heard from Him.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:1919Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. (John 5:19)). Further “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak” (John 12:49, 5049For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak. (John 12:49‑50)).
So the Holy Spirit: “However when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13, 1413Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. 14He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:13‑14)).
All real Christians feel more or less the want of unity of co-operation in the body of Christ; and nowadays we need it realized more than ever. But what is lacking with so many, if not with most of them, is the conscious realization of our living union with, and of our entire dependence upon Christ, our glorious Head at the right hand of God. This is the reason why so many well-intentioned efforts remain fruitless. God is the fountain-head of every blessing, but “all the fullness of the Godhead dwelleth in Christ bodily” (Col. 2:99For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. (Colossians 2:9)). In Christ, our Head, to Whom we are united by the Spirit of God, in order to draw from His fullness (of which we all have received grace upon grace) is wisdom, light, strength and all we need in this world to glorify God and the Name of His dear Son. The members of Christ must, by the Holy Spirit, receive orders and directions from their common Head in glory, which, as I scarcely need to add, never can nor will clash with the word of God written by the same Spirit.
May God grant to His own a deeper and more real consciousness not only of our close relationship as members of the same body, even the body of Christ1 and mutual dependence upon one another, but also of the dependence of all the members, and of each member in particular, upon our common Heavenly Head, crowned with glory and honor,—Jesus Christ our Lord. Oh! what sorrow and shame would the church of God have been spared, and what dishonor to the Name of our glorified Head have been avoided, had the members of His body been more alive to this wondrous fact and awake to the responsibility accruing therefrom.