The House of God, Which Is the Assembly of the Living God

 •  42 min. read  •  grade level: 8
I come now, dear friends, to another side of the subject altogether — that of the “house of God.” After we pass Ephesians 1, we leave that portion of the epistle which is occupied strictly with the purposes and counsels of God — “The purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” This sentence characterizes Ephesians 1. Ephsians 2 gives us generally His work in time to accomplish them; and from verse 11 we pass to the actually formed subsisting assembly on earth.
First he “describes the condition of the Gentile” aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now, in Christ Jesus, ye who were sometimes far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace.”
Here Paul thinks of Gentiles and Jews — both brought nigh to God, “in Christ,” by His blood. This could not be even during His lifetime, for none could be “in Christ” then. He sheds His blood — lays down His life — rises, and ascends on high, “our peace,” having borne the wrath, and reconciled both to God in one body by His cross, having slain the enmity thereby; preaching peace to those “afar off” — the technical expression as to a Gentile — and to the Jew, who was dispensationally “nigh.” Thus “we have access through Jesus (not “in Christ” as before) by one Spirit to the Father.” You notice that the language here is essentially different to the early part of Ephesians. Here are two sets of people brought in one body — on one platform — having access by one Spirit — through Jesus (δἰ αὐτοῦ) to the Father (not ἐν Χπιστῷ Ἰησοῦ, for Here comas in mediation). Then we come to verse 19; “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building, (πᾶσα ἡ οἰκοδομή) fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”
You will recall that in Matthew 16, the Lord said to Peter, when He had confessed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” that the Father had revealed to Peter this truth as to the person of the Lord; and now the Lord tells Peter something about His assembly, and then about Himself. “And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He does not here tell what this assembly would be; but marks its still further construction and the foundation upon which it would stand. This foundation was the person of Christ as risen Son of the living God as confessed by Peter’s faith, just what we have in Ephesians 2:2020And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; (Ephesians 2:20).* The apostles and prophets doctrinally, were laid as the foundation and Jesus Christ personally, the chief corner stone. “The gates of hades” was the power of death wielded by Satan by the judgment of God; Christ had
entered His dark domain, and broken asunder its bars, leading captivity captive, and had been proved Son of God in power, by resurrection of the dead (Rom. 1:44And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:4)). Death had prevailed over man once innocent, now fallen. Christ had annulled its power, and risen above it, “Son of the living God.” This would be the foundation of the assembly which He was about to build.
(*The confession “Son Of the living God” is so plainly the foundation of the church, as to need but few words. “Hades’ gates” is put in contrast to “Son of the living God,” who had gone down into the stronghold of death — wielded by Satan’s power by the judgment of God (Heb. 2:1414Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:14)). He came up from that dark domain, bursting the bars of death, triumphing over it. Death had triumphed over an innocent Adam, and a fallen one. It. “reigned from Adam to Moses.” It had triumphed over Israel under law. Now Jesus comes, and goes down into it, and conquers it, not by intercepting, but by defeating it. “Hades’ gates” could not prevail against what He would now build on that imperishable foundation, Himself in risen power — ” Son of the living God.” “Declared Son of God in power by resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:44And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:4)). How well did Peter know its meaning when he said, “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2). He had no thought here of the assembly being built on himself!)
This evening I wish to distinguish, in some measure, two things which are distinguished very clearly in scripture, that is, the “assembly” which Christ builds by the Holy Spirit come down, according to Matthew 16, and into which no false material can enter; and the assembly in which man has his responsible place as builder, into which “wood, hay, and stubble” enter* — in other words, the house of God, where the Holy Spirit dwells.
(* Men have confused the two wholly; attributing to the external church in which man builds immunity from the power of evil and judgment, which was only promised to the true church which Christ builds. “The gates of ‘hades shall not prevail against it” is the promise to the church which Christ builds; not to that which man builds (1 Cor. 3)).
When Christ builds, He does not commit it to man at all, and no responsibility of man comes in. He dies and rises again, and that which He builds on the imperishable foundation of faith in His person in resurrection is secured forever! This building is brought before us in Ephesians 2:20-2120And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:20‑21) — that which Christ builds, and which “fitly framed together” — mark those words strongly — “groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” This temple was begun when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven, and “groweth” till all is in glory, to the very end of the church’s earthly sojourn, it is not yet complete. Now you will not find those words, “fitly framed together,” when that which man builds comes before us.
But mark the difference between the temple of verse 21, and what you find in the last verse; “In whom ye also are builded together, for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” First he looks in verse 21, on the progressive work — the whole temple, according to the mind and purpose of God to be His sanctuary, the home of the brightest manifestation of His glory forever; and secondly (vs. 22), he looks at the present aspect of the assembly, at this moment, an habitation, or dwelling-place of God by the Spirit, on earth — in other words, the “house of God.”
Now in this last verse we see that while he gives us the normal thought of the house or habitation of God, on earth in its existence here during the present interval, he does not say who is the builder. So that while this last verse gives you the normal thought of the house of God, as at Pentecost, or ever since, at any given moment, he leaves room for the bringing in of man’s responsibility, and does not name the builder, as we shall see.
Let us now turn to the first epistle to the Corinthians, where we find that, speaking generally, the order of the house of God is the thought in the mind of the Spirit.
Let me say here, that God coming down and dwelling in something on earth is a very different thought from that which we saw in the early part of Ephesians. There it was God quickening members, and raising them up and uniting them to Christ in glory. In that thought we saw Christ, as Head of His body, seated in heavenly places, and His body united to Him in the same sphere. But in this truth of a “habitation of God,” there is no thought of head, or body, or union at all. Of your body you say, it is myself — as the Lord to Saul, “Why persecutest thou Me?” Of My house I say, I dwell in it; but its walls are not united to Me. This makes the two thoughts as distinct as possible; and you find in scripture the word “assembly” is sometimes used for the true body of Christ in purpose and result, as we have seen; and also, for the professing body, or house where the, Holy Spirit dwells.
When the house or habitation of God was first constituted, at the day of Pentecost, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, all those of which it was composed were true believers. The Holy Spirit “sat upon each of them,” and “filled all the house,” thus fulfilling the Lord’s promise in John 14:1717Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:17) (which read, “He shall dwell with you, and shall be in you”). The Holy Spirit was now in them, and with them; and collectively they were God’s house on earth.
Man then began to carry on this work, and Peter receives by baptism* into this house the three thousand Jews, and so the house of God went on. They came in to partake of the privileges of that sphere, to which God had now confined His ordinary operations on earth. Soon those came in who were merely taking up the profession of Christianity (Simon the sorcerer, and the like), and the house began to enlarge its proportions beyond the limits of those who were really Christ’s. Still the Holy Spirit was there, and He remains still, though the house has been so enlarged as to embrace a great baptized Christendom.
(*That baptism was the mode of admission or reception to it is clear from the fact that those who were constituted the house by the descent of the Holy Spirit, that is, the twelve apostles, and the company of disciples who were with them, were never baptized at all (I speak now not of John’s baptism, but of Christian baptism). There was no one to baptize or receive them. They were already the house, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, and could not be brought in. Then, those who were received after Peter had addressed them had to pass into this new ground, and all the privileges belonging thereto, through baptism (Acts 2:37-4737Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:37‑47)). They came into the house of God in order to receive, or “for (εἰς) remission of sine,” and besides, “Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” They had neither yet; and baptism of water was the door of entrance for those who were being received. I may here remark that baptism is the sign of what one is about to receive: not of what one has received already. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, constitutes the body of Christ).
But to return to 1 Corinthians 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). In these verses you get the most comprehensive of all the addresses of the Epistles in the New Testament. No one can escape the breadth of the thought and persons embraced there. It addresses the assembly of God at Corinth, and is so framed that at no time can any one professing the Lord’s name evade its responsibility. There is this remarkable difference between it and that to the Ephesians. In the Ephesians he calls them “saints and faithful,” or, as the word would convey, “believers” (πιστοἰς): “To the saints which are in Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” In Corinthians he says, “Unto the assembly of God which is at Corinth, to them which are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” Nothing could be more comprehensive. But what says verse 9 “God is faithful!” that is the point here, for there are responsibility and warnings and the like. In Ephesians he calls them “saints” and “faithful”; in Corinthians he calls them “saints,” but does not add the word faithful, but says God is so.
We have, therefore, before us a most comprehensive thought; and let me remark that, in itself, “calling upon the name of the Lord” in scripture, is merely profession. To be valid, of course, there must be life in our souls; but it is no more than this. A man might call on the Lord’s name to dishonor it. See the people who did many wonderful works in Matthew 7, and said, “Lord, Lord”; He says of them, “I never knew you.” This is very solemn.
When we turn to 1 Corinthians 3 of this Epistle we find instruction before us, founded on the responsibility of those professing Christ’s name, and that of those who build the house ministerially, here below. “For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God, which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God,* 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, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:9-179For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. 10According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. 14If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 16Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Corinthians 3:9‑17)).
(*In Eph. 2:2121In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:21), it is said to be a temple in process of building. Here, in 1 Corinthians 3, it is said to be a temple already, as built of man, but ostensibly before the world, and responsibly “God’s building.” “Ye are the temple of God”; that is, the saints collectively. Unlike 1 Corinthians 6:1919What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19), where it is your body which is said to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, as dwelling in the individual. It is in view of “God’s building” being His temple, that the defilement of it becomes so serious, as in verse 17. Hence the added thought of the temple.)
In this scripture, dear friends, we have the other thought of the “house,” or “temple of God.” In Ephesians it was that building which is “fitly framed together.” Here you will get no such words. You have Paul, the wise master builder, commencing the building — laying the foundation in his doctrines and ministry. Then others follow. It is the question of ministerial labor and its results; “work,” not works. Some have confounded this with the “works” of Christians; but it is “work,” that for which those who have carried it on will have to answer to God. The teaching brought in souls according to its character, into the responsible house — “God’s building,” responsibly before the world. It has been remarked that here we find three characters of builders engaged in the work. The good builder, who himself is saved, and whose work will stand (vs. 14). Then the man who builds badly, himself saved, it is true, but his work burned up (vs. 15). Thirdly, a bad builder — a heretic — whose work is not only burnt up, but he himself is also lost. That is the house, or temple of God, carried on by man’s responsibility. Christ carries on His work all through, into which no responsibility of man enters, but there is that which is committed to the responsibility of man’s hands, and which is thus spoken of.
Like all that has ever been committed to man, alas! what a ruin it has become. This pressed upon the spirit of Paul, as he tells us “the mystery of lawlessness” was already at work, and the man of sin would arise (2 Thess. 2). It raised the warning voice of John, that the Antichrist would come, and even then there were many antichrists, “whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2). Jude, too, and Peter add their evidence of the state of things that would be developed till judgment cleared the scene.
I will turn now to a word in the ninth chapter of this same epistle for a moment, before passing on to the remarkable warnings of 1 Corinthians 10. I allude to that in the last verse — “castaway.” Many have shrunk from this word in its full force, as utterly “reprobate,” finding the apostle Paul using it of himself; and who so conscious of the fullness of redemption — who so certain that the Paradise he had tasted of (2 Cor. 12) was to be his home forever? He says, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (ἀδοκιμός).
He looks at himself as running in a race, responsibly here below, and, although he runs in no uncertainty of the final issue, he feels conscious that it is no imaginary foe with which he has to contend. He did not fight as “one who beat the air,” that is, as if a fancied enemy was before him. But with all the energy of one who knew the terrible foe which he bore about in himself — the “flesh” for which the Son of God had to endure the judgment of God in infinite suffering — he kept under his body and led it captive, lest preaching to others, he himself might be a castaway. First a good Christian, then a good preacher. It does not suppose a child of God, yet to become a castaway. It does suppose the possibility of a preacher being lost!
He is putting a case of the most solemn character, needed because of the prominence given at Corinth to gift in which power was displayed, and he transfers it to himself for the sake of others; as he had said in an earlier part of the epistle, “These things have I transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes” (1 Cor. 4).
We find the word here translated “castaway used eight times in the New Testament, and each time in the fullest force of the word as lost in the passage we have touched upon. In Romans 1:2828And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; (Romans 1:28), as to the heathen,“God gave them over to a reprobate (ἀδόκιμον) mind.” In 2 Corinthians 13:5-75Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? 6But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates. 7Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates. (2 Corinthians 13:5‑7), three times translated as “reprobates.” In Titus 1:1616They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:16); the unbeliever is “unto every good work reprobate.” In 2 Timothy 3:88Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. (2 Timothy 3:8), the Jannes and Jambres resisters of the truth are “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.” And in Hebrews 6:66If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:6), “that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” No one could have a second thought as to these passages; and, besides, Paul never was disapproved or castaway in his ministry; never was his ministry so wondrously blessed, or used of God, as when from the prison in Rome came forth many of the scriptures of God.
Now when we come to 1 Corinthians 10, we find he applies this principle of 1 Corinthians 9 to others who might enjoy privileges such as those of the house of God, and rest in carnal security in its ordinances without having part in the divine nature. Under the figure οf “the things which happened” to Israel in the desert, using those incidents as types, and as “written for our admonition, upon whom the end of the ages are come,” he warns against resting in a mere outward profession such as was to be found in the responsible house as the result of man’s failure in building.
Persons might enjoy an ordinancial relationship with Christ (that is, by baptism and the Lord’s supper) as constituting the external church built by man, and after all be lost! They were to be warned by what happened to Israel, with many of whom God was not well pleased, and who were overthrown in the wilderness. The order in which he puts together these incidents in their wilderness history is truly worthy of our notice. How often it may have appeared to us as a number of incidents strung together, without apparent connection or order, except the fact of their being striking moments in the wanderings of this stiff-necked people.
“For* (γάρ) brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our ensamples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.”
(*This is the correct reading. It connects the chapter with the closing verses of 1 Corinthians 9. The dividing of the chapter has broken the order of the subjects in them.)
Here; we are shown that, although they all partook in common of these privileges as associated under the leadership of Moses, their privileged position did not secure them. In the passage the historical incidents are given us symbolically, and put together in a moral order, quite away from the historic order, in which they occurred; and in them we find set forth in principle what the history of the professing church has been, and will be until her end.
In verse 6 he begins by what happened some two years after they left Egypt. If we examine Numbers 11 we find that at that solemn juncture in their history, they loathed the pure, manna with which the Lord had fed them from day to day; “There is nothing but this manna before our eyes,” and they lusted for the flesh-pots of Egypt again. This was, in the antitype, the first sign of departure of the church from Christ. And, oh, what a solemn moment it is for the soul when Christ is not found to be enough for it — when the heart cries out for something more than His blessed person. How it turns to some vanity, or some folly or sin, some idol of its own device, to fill up the void in the heart that desires something more; something to satisfy the cravings of the flesh. What was this but the history of the departure of the church from her first love to Christ “Thou hast left thy first love,” is the sad and solemn plaint of His heart (Rev. 2:44Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. (Revelation 2:4)), and no activity could make up for this.
Now the apostle turns to another marked occasion (vs. 7) which happened before they left Mount Sinai. When Moses was in the mount, receiving the law from Jehovah, Aaron and the children of Israel made the golden calf, and danced round the idol. Their forefather Abraham, as they themselves also, had been called out of a world of idolatry to be the witness of the one true God against all the gods of the nations. The first thing they do is to fall back into that out of which they had been called. They must have something for the eye to rest upon; for Moses had gone up the mountain of Sinai, they had lost sight of him; and Aaron made them this golden calf, and coupled the name of Jehovah with “a calf that eateth hay.” “These be thy gods, O Israel.” “Tomorrow is a feast to Jehovah.”
So with the church. She was called out of the world to walk in the Spirit, and the first thing she does is to sink back to walk in the flesh once more. Instead of walking by faith, and waiting for an absent Lord, she desires something her eye can rest upon, something more tangible than a glorified but unseen Christ, known by the Holy Spirit come down from heaven; and, the moment she does so, fornication with the world follows.
This comes out in the next verse (vs. 8). There we get an incident which happened about the close of the fortieth year (Num. 25). “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them also committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” Illicit relationship with the world follows. This is what is so strikingly mentioned in the message to Pergamos in Revelation 2:1313I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. (Revelation 2:13), when the church had shaken hands with the world, so to speak. “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is.” The church “espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ” (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)), had given herself to another. The result is, Christ is tempted. “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents” (vs. 9). This is told of Israel in Numbers 21.
Then comes the final on “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed the destroyer” (vs. 10). This we find in Numbers 14. The solemn moment came when “All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron.” “And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” Here was the complete giving up of the Lord and His servants, and that at the moment when those faithful men — “men, of another spirit” — were exhorting them to go up and possess the land. They despised the pleasant land, and propose to make a captain and return into the land of slavery once more; and they “were destroyed of the destroyer.”
Thus, from what seems merely a number of incidents in their history, put together without any apparent order, we find the most comprehensive moral picture of the history of the professing church. It begins with finding an unseen. Christ insufficient, and the craving for something which would satisfy sight and sense (vs. 6). Then idolatry follows, with what is set up to fill the eye of those who could not walk by faith and wait for this absent one (vs. 7). The world can now walk with the church, for she has left the ground of faith, and leas gone back to that which the eye can see, and fornication between the world and the church is the result (vs. 8). This is “provoking the Lord to jealousy” — “tempting Christ” (vs. 9), and it ends in the giving up of the heavenly hope, and proposing to make a captain, and return to man and man’s estate once more!
In other words, it began with a calf — that is, something no matter what, set up, which the senses can rest upon, when Christ is not enough; and ends with a captain, that is, man is put in the place of Christ. The departure from first love gave place to the working of the “mystery of iniquity”; that is, flesh in man getting a place in the things of God. The story ends with an Antichrist, when the profession of Christianity is abandoned, and thus the “falling away” or apostasy comes (2 Thess. 2), and the Antichrist or man of sin!
How solemn is this history, beloved friends! How wise, how merciful is our God, to warn us and tell us what is coming, we know not how soon! How needful to see to it that we are not resting in privileges merely, but that our souls have had to do with the living God, who of His own will has begotten us by the word of truth! “Now, all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:11-1311Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. 12Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 13There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:11‑13)).
Now I turn to a few other passages of the New Testament, still to bring before you this thought of the house of God.
In Philippians you will find that Paul recognizes how things had gone astray. At the first moment of the church’s history, the body of Christ and the house of God were co-extensive, that is, they were composed of the same individuals (Acts 2). But when men began to build, the house enlarged its proportions disproportionately to the body. There was a mass of material not introduced by the Lord; but the Holy Spirit did not leave the house. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit constituted and maintained in its true unity the body of Christ, uniting the members to Christ in glory. The two thoughts are quite distinct: the house, and the body. In the thought of the house you lose individuality, but you do not get either head, body or union. The body is united to its head in glory. It is the double relationship of the church; to God as His dwelling place, to Christ as His body.
In Philippians 2:2121For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. (Philippians 2:21) we find how things were failing, and those who professed Christianity were “carnal,” and walking “as men.” “For all seek their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ.” Again, look at the third chapter. “Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Phil. 3:15-1915Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. 16Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. 17Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. 18(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (Philippians 3:15‑19)).
You will note here how the apostle’s wisdom detects three distinct states of soul in the professing church:
1. Those “perfect” or full grown, that is, having the full sense of a Christian’s place as dead and risen with Christ, and running on like Paul, towards the glory, and likeness to a glorified Christ.
2. Those who had not fully attained in the soul’s consciousness to this true normal condition of the Christian, as apprehended for the glory by Christ; but who were to walk up to what they had, and God would give them more; and,
3. Those who, under the name of Christ, were glorying in their shame, in that flesh for which Christ had been put, to shame on the cross (the cross on earth answering to heavenly glory on high). These were mere professors, whose end would be utter destruction.
And here I would draw attention to the strikingly analogous state of things, in this threefold state, to that of Israel when we come to the close of the Book of Joshua. There Joshua dies; and in Philippians Paul is in prison at Rome, and the church of God has lost the devoted services of the great apostle. Joshua had put two and a half tribes in possession of their portion in the land of promise, namely, Judah (Josh. 15:11This then was the lot of the tribe of the children of Judah by their families; even to the border of Edom the wilderness of Zin southward was the uttermost part of the south coast. (Joshua 15:1)), Ephraim (Josh. 16:55And the border of the children of Ephraim according to their families was thus: even the border of their inheritance on the east side was Ataroth-addar, unto Beth-horon the upper; (Joshua 16:5)), and half Manasseh (Josh. 17:11There was also a lot for the tribe of Manasseh; for he was the firstborn of Joseph; to wit, for Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead: because he was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan. (Joshua 17:1)). Two and a half tribes would not go in and possess the land that he divided. They did not go back to Egypt, nor would they go into the land, but took an intermediate place outside the borders of the Lord’s possession (namely, Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh; see Josh. 1:1212And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying, (Joshua 1:12); Josh. 13:1515And Moses gave unto the tribe of the children of Reuben inheritance according to their families. (Joshua 13:15)). And lastly, seven tribes were in the land, but were not put in possession of their inheritance. (See Josh. 18:2-32And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance. 3And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you? (Joshua 18:2‑3).) Thus the land was conquered, but not possessed. They were thus left to “work out their own salvation,” so to say, from the enemy; but, alas! “all sought their own,” and they sank to the condition seen in the book of Judges after Soshim’s death.
Those “perfect,” answer in the analogy to the two and a half tribes in possession.
Those who had “not attained,” to the seven tribes in the land who had not yet possessed; and,
The two and a half tribes to those who under the profession of Christianity were enemies to the cross of Christ. They did not abandon Christianity, as those did not give up their title to lie termed “of Israel,” but refused their true calling, gloried in their shame, minding earthly things, and so were the first to fall into the hands of the enemy, and give him an entrance to the professing church.
I have no doubt that these three states are thus found till the end in the professing church.
If we pass on now to 1 Timothy, Paul writes to Timothy as to how one ought to behave oneself “in the house of God, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (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 church is looked upon as the despository of the truth; and so responsible to hold it up as the pillar and support of it. “The truth” is Christ Himself. If He were here He would not want a pillar and ground of the truth. But He is absent, and “the mystery of godliness” is committed to her. “The mystery of iniquity” is in contrast to this, and is Satan’s effort through the flesh in Dian to frustrate the testimony of Christianity, which is founded on the end of the first man, and a last Adam before God. Then you have (vs. 16) the whole course of Christ from the glory; God come down and “manifested in flesh”; presenting all He ever did as man, in the power of the Holy Spirit, even as He was declared Son of God in power by resurrection according to the Spirit of holiness, thus “justified by the Spirit.” “Seen of angels,” most blessed of creatures, sustained of God unfallen, they beheld their God for the first time when He became a babe, and they burst open the heavens, and in unselfish praises sang of God’s good pleasure in men (Luke 2). “Preached unto the Gentiles” this was the new thing in Christianity, there was no preaching in the Old Testament; Judaism was not characterized by preaching. “Believed on in the world”; an object of faith in it and not merely among Jews, and then “received up in glory.” Thus you get the whole testimony of Christ, which was committed to the church; God come down in love, passing through His course here; and finally, man received up in glory.
Hence, in 1Timothy, we get external order before men, as the great subject in hand, in the house of God here below.
So in 2 Timothy,* things had got into deeper disorder than ever; and, once ruined, there was no repairing the ruin. It is not God’s way to restore a fallen state, but to bring in a better when His purposes allow of it; and meanwhile, the faithful have their path clearly defined through a ruined state of things.
(*It has been remarked that 1Timothy contains the ordering of things when the house of God was in order, and 2 Timothy, the path of the saint when all was in disorder.)
“Nevertheless [that is, although evil had come in as a flood] the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:19-2119Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:19‑21)).
Here we discover what things had come to in man’s hands. He does not call it The great house, but “A great house.” It is an analogous thought; for responsibly it is still the house of God, where the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Cor. 3). God’s foundation had not changed, and there was a seal, having on one side an inscription, which skewed the privileges of all who were His — the Lord knew them; and on the other, that which marked their responsibility — “Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” One cannot leave the house while God lingers in it in long-suffering grace, but let him clear himself from all that was false and untrue. There were in it vessels to dishonor,* as well as of honor.
(*This word does not refer to degrees of honor, as some have supposed. It may be rendered “ignominy,” “infamy”; anything false or untrue.)
Now we come to the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is very true that in it we do not find that the writer is teaching or treating of the church of God, as such. He has another subject in hand. Still, underlying his teaching is the thought of the house of God, where the Holy Spirit dwells. Those who have professed Christianity, and have taken on them the name of Christ, are seen in their responsible place, traveling through the wilderness. I am about to examine two passages, both of which have troubled godly souls, who have not yet enjoyed thorough, perfect peace with God. One can speak for another in this. I allude to the sixth and tenth chapter.
In the former we read, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put him to an open shame” (vss. 4-6).
I will examine each sentence in these, verses separately; and I may remark, in passing, that the essential difference between these verses and those in chapter 10 is, that in chapter 6 we have at length, the privileges to be enjoyed by all who profess Christianity consequent on the exaltation of Messiah to the right hand of God, after having accomplished the work of redemption, and the consequent presence of the Holy Spirit on earth; while in chapter 10 we find rather the excellency of a sacrifice, so perfect that it left nothing to be added to it. It was so absolute in its value that it left no room for another. ln chapter 6, the Holy Spirit is prominent; in chapter 10, the sacrifice of Christ.
“It is impossible for those who were once enlightened.” If we turn to John 1:99That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9) we find the words, “That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Christ was this true light. Just as the sun shining at noon-day; if a man does not open his eyes to see the sun, it is of vary little use to him as light. Now you find that the same word is in each sentence. In Hebrews 6, “enlightened” is rendered “lighteth” in John 1 (φωτίζω). It means the external enlightenment of the truth of Christianity shining on the heart and conscience. Souls might thus be “shined upon,” or enlightened, without having life at all. Far different is the thought of Paul when he speaks of God having shined into his heart, “for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4). That was a real work in his soul. “Enlightened” means, then, the external presentation of the truths of revelation to the soul, with the light they bring. John 1:99That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9) makes this clear from the use of the same word. For although Christ came into the world shining as a light for every man, every man did not use the light. To use it were to be saved.
Again, “And have tasted of the heavenly gift.” Here we have what was in contrast to the law and even that spoken by the Messiah on earth. He now spoke from heaven (Heb. 12:2424And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24)); and the gift (for it was a gift that was now presented to men, instead of a demand being made upon them as under the law) was now fully from that source, even as announced here below. How many, during the ministry of the Lord on earth, had tasted of the blessedness of His gracious words, and with hearts moved to say, as they heard Him, “Never man spoke like this man!” and who turned back and walked no more with Him, as the character of the path in which He has to be followed began to dawn upon them. Tasting of the heavenly gift (it now came from heaven) is not eating His flesh, and drinking His blood, and so vitally receiving it in the heart.
“And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” All who profess the name of Christ partake of the Holy Spirit in the sense spoken here. The word is used for external participation in privilege, without necessarily the possession of it. The Holy Spirit having come, down from heaven, charged with this heavenly gift, to dwell in the house of God, all who have been received into that house have a common interest in His presence; quite another thing if they used the blessing. It is not at all the same thought as being born of the Spirit of God, or being possessors of the Holy Spirit, who has been given us as a seal, and who dwells in our bodies as believers.*
Simeon had launched his ship out into the deep at the Lord’s command. The Lord had wrought the miracle, and they had enclosed the great multitude of fishes; and beckoning to (τοῖς μέτοχοις) their partners, which were in the other ship, they came and filled both the ships, so that they “began to sink.” The fishermen in the other skip had a common right and privilege with Peter and the others, as fishers in the lake of Gennesaret. “Partners” is here expressed by μέτοκοι. But when we come to verse 10, we find, “So was also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon” in the same ship. Here we find a different word used (κοινωνοί) to express real partnership in the same boat, in contrast to common rights with all the other fishermen in the lake.
To put a case. Suppose a guild of merchants, all of whom have a common interest in the privileges of the guild. Some two or three are partners in, and own, a flourishing concern. All who are of the guild have these common interests, and would be μἔτοκοι but the partners in the special concern would be κοινωνοί.)
Thus all who are in the house of God, confessing and hearing the name of Christ, are partakers (μέτοχοι) of the Holy Spirit, who dwells there. All have an opportunity of participating in the blessing which He imparts, and may even have been made vessels of His power — a totally different thing from communion in the divine nature and His indwelling as the power of the realization of it.
Perhaps, too, they have “tasted the good word of God” thus, and remained the same people, unchanged. How often do we see this! Souls to all appearance seeming to receive the glad tidings with joy and brightness, and have no root in themselves, and dare for a time, but when temptation arises, because of the word they are offended. Now, I believe that when a soul does really receive the word in his conscience, he never does receive it with joy at the first. It makes a soul serious rather than joyful, though it leads to everlasting joy.
“And the powers of the world to come,” or “coming age.” This will be the millennial age, which is characterized by Satan being bound, and men’s diseases cured. The testimony to that age were the miracles which the Lord Himself performed, as well as His bestowing power on His disciples to perform them. How many — nay, how few of those thus wrought upon had real life in their souls? We learn from 1 Corinthians 13 the vast difference between any amount of power, and the possession of the divine nature which is love.
Thus you see, dear friends, that heaven, had expended all its treasures of grace and blessing, consequent on the exaltation of Christ after His atoning work; giving the presence of the Holy Spirit, and all these privileges, as characteristic of the new position as we have seen. If souls turned away thus from the Holy Spirit, as some have done, and the whole profession of Christianity is rapidly doing the same, what could be done? They endorsed the sin of their nation (those Hebrews) and crucified for themselves the Son of God.* The nation had done so, and said, “His blood be on us.” Some had escaped to the city of refuge — the church was such to the blood — guilty Jew — but there was the danger of abandoning it, and thus the avenger of blood would overtake them, and they would not escape. While in one closing verse, as he turns to the reality that was manifested to be among them (vs. 9) we learn that all these things of verses 4-5, might be there, without the possession of salvation.
(*The word “afresh” in the English Bible is not needed, and should not be there.)
I see a striking parallel between the law of the cities of refuge (Num. 35) and this chapter (Heb. 6) which I do not think had been before noticed. Like the church, the city of refuge was for the Israelite, and the stranger and sojourner amongst them. There were two characters of guilt mentioned and dealt with; namely, that of the premeditated murderer, and that of him who slew another suddenly without enmity in time past. These two were differently dealt with. The murderer was to be given up — his sin would find him out, even in the city of refuge. The unpremeditated slayer of blood was safe. He was to flee there, and remain there, till the death of the high priest who had been anointed with the holy oil: then he might return to the land of his inheritance.
Now, when we examine Hebrews 6, we find a solemn and beautiful analogy. The church had become the city of refuge for the poor blood-guilty Jew. Peter invites them, at Pentecost, to judge themselves for the deed, and flee; saving themselves from the “untoward generation” (Acts 2). All would go on thus till scrutiny took place according to God. (Compare Matt. 22:1-141And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, 2The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, 3And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. 4Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. 5But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: 6And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. 7But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. 9Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. 10So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. 11And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: 12And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. 13Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 14For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:1‑14).) Then, no amount of privileges would avail where there was no life in the soul, and at the same time the strongest “consolation” to those who had “fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before” them (Heb. 6:1818That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: (Hebrews 6:18)), confirmed by the promise, and the oath of God.
This little sentence, “fled for refuge,” so links the thought of the type with the antitype, as now known to faith — this, too, in an epistle where the High Priesthood of Christ is so much the subject, and in its pre-via exercise, within the holiest. As Christians, we have to do with Him as a priest gone in the forerunner for us, making the sanctuary of God the present refuge of our hearts; the Jew will have to do with Him as a priest come out! This He never does in Hebrews; there is only a hope that He will do so (Heb. 9:2828So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:28)). Accordingly, when He leaves the present exercise of His priesthood as intercessional, and comes forth to exercise it after its true order — royal, or Melchisedecial — the history of the church as in her sojourn here will be past; and Israel as a nation (that is, the true remnant of them in that day) will return to the land of their possession. In the type, it was at the death of the High Priest: in the antitype, it is Christ ceasing to carry on His priesthood after the present character of its exercise on high and entering upon its character as Melchisedec.
You find in this chapter, as has been remarked the highest character of christian privilege short of life, and, what is so touching, in the close of it, the feeblest expression of true faith found in the New Testament — that of a man pressed for his life, and “fleeing for refuge to lay hold!” God thus acknowledges the faintest expression of faith, and encourages it with the “strong consolation” of the word and oath of God, at the same time giving the most solemn warnings as to profession and participation in privileges, where there was no life. Life, where it existed, was expressing itself by works and labor of love — could be known by its fruit as ever.
Now, I turn, beloved friends, in the close of this subject, to the 2 Thessalonians 2, where you find in verse 3, the apostasy, or giving up of the profession of Christianity in toto, and the revelation of the “man of sin.”
He shows that while the mystery of lawlessness works, God was still restraining the manifestation of the “lawless one.” The apostasy, or “falling away,” will not be, as long as true Christians are in the scene, and as long as the Holy Spirit dwells here to maintain the body of Christ. Then, when the hindrance is removed, the abandonment of Christianity comes. An Antichrist, or man of sin, is then revealed, who would sit in the temple of God. Antichrist “denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:2222Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)), that is, the revelation of the Father by the Son, known to our souls by the Holy Spirit; or, in other words, the revelation of Christianity. This is at the time of the apostasy. I could not say there is the apostasy now, or as long as true saints are in the scene, and the Holy Spirit here, although the principles of it may be at work, and many may be apostates. But the whole professing church has not yet reached the apostasy.
I have endeavored to lay before you seven points in these two lectures.
2. The body of Christ as maintained in unity on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit, and composed only of those who are alive upon earth at any given moment where as to personal place, the Holy Spirit is, and having for the symbol of its external unity the partaking of “one loaf,” as in 1 Corinthians 10-12, by the members set in the assembly.
3. A holy temple in the Lord, growing under His hand — “fitly framed together” — silently and without flaw, until the last stone is placed on it in the glory (Matt. 16; Eph. 2:2121In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:21)). No responsibility of man enters here.
4. The house as a habitation of God by the Spirit on earth, in its normal condition (Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)). Here it does not state who builds it. But it connects with —
5. The house or temple, that is, all who profess His name on earth, where the responsibility of men enters as of builders, and those built; wood, hay, and stubble, may be found there (1 Cor. 3:1010According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. (1 Corinthians 3:10); 2 Cor. 6) — what is commonly called “Christendom.”
6. What it comes to in such a case, having in it vessels to honor and to dishonor: this Paul likens to “a great house” (2 Tim. 2). And, lastly,
7. The apostasy and the man of sin. But this is the abandonment of the profession of Christianity (2 Thess. 2), the true saints having been removed from the scene at the Lord’s coming.
On another occasion I hope to present, in some measure, a sketch of the aspect Christ assumes towards the external church, as given by John in the first three chapters of the Apocalypse; and, ultimately, the path of an “overcomer” in the midst of it all.
Meanwhile, may He keep the feet of His saints, and bless the truths of His own word. As the darkness of the scene deepens, may the light shine more brightly from Him, lighting up the pathway to those who seek to do His blessed will, and walk to His glory. Amen.