The House of the Living God

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The testimony in which the faithful are called to walk, in the last days, has a twofold character: -first a witness to the unity of the body of Christ, formed by the Holy Ghost sent down at Pentecost. And secondly, the whole church having failed, the character of a remnant in maintaining this testimony; and this too in the midst of a great Baptized House-the responsible body on earth, commonly named "Christendom." This testimony can never aim to be more than one to the failure of the church of God as set up by Him. The more true to Christ the remnant of His people are, the more shall they be a witness to the present state of the church of God, i. e., what it is; but not to what it was, as first displayed.
Now there is found in the Word of God, for their example and comfort, a faith which counts upon Him, and His divine intervention, when the failure of man is there: a faith that finds itself sutained by God according to the power and blessings of the dispensation, which answers according to the first thoughts of His heart, when He had set all up in primary power.
He connects that power, and the Lord's own presence, with the faith of the few who act on the truth provided for the present moment,
even though the administration of the whole is not in operation according to the order which God set up. For example: the blessing of Asher ends with those lovely words-"As thy days, (so shall thy) strength be." (Deut. 33:2525Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be. (Deuteronomy 33:25).) and all went to ruin, as the history of Israel unfolds; yea at the first coming of Christ, when the godly, pious remnant of His people were "waiting for the consolation of Israel;" the Simeons and Annas of that day, we find one of that same tribe. "Anna a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served, with fastings and prayers night and day," in the enjoyment and power of that blessing of Moses -as he says, "so shall thy strength be," and the Lord Christ Himself became identified with that obscure remnant, of which she was one; as those whom His Heart could own, and who were ready to receive Him when first He came.
The returned remnant of Judah too, in all the weakness of those who could pretend to nothing but occupation of the divine platform of God's earthly people; to them we find those comforting words addressed, "I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts: according to the word that I covenanted with you, when ye came out of Egypt, so my Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not." Their faith is recalled to that mighty day of power, when the Lord of Hosts "bare them on eagle's wings, and brought them to Himself," and removed their shoulder from the burdens of Egyptian bondage. Undimmed in power, He was with them, just the same, for faith to claim and use. No outward displays were theirs; but His Word and Spirit, which proved His presence to faith, wrought in that feeble few; to them is revealed the shaking of all things (of Heb. 12:27,27And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:27)) and the coming of Him who would make the "latter glory" of His house greater than the "former." They are thus the link between the Temple of the palmy days of Solomon; and that of the day of coming glory, when He shall sit "a Priest upon His throne," and the counsel of peace shall be between Jehovah and Him, and he shall bear the glory. (Zech. 5:12, 13. Hag. 1; 2.)
Thus, too, those who answer to the calling which suits His mind, as presented in Philadelphia (Rev. 3); who are true to that, which though not a perfect state of things, is suited to the state of failure which He contemplates-
He makes them the link, the silver cord, between the church of the past as set up at Pentecost (Acts 2.) and the church of the glory. (Rev. 21:99And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. (Revelation 21:9).) The overcomer would be made a "pillar in the temple of His God," in the "new Jerusalem" on high.
Let me here remark that there never was, and never can be a moment, when that which answers to this calling (Phila.) can cease, till the Lord comes. In the moral picture presented in these two chapters (Rev. 2 and 3), we find all the seven features together, at any moment (as they were when He sent the messages,) and remaining so, as long as the scriptures there abide. In the dark ages, and those of more light in later days; and now at the end, before He comes, all, everywhere, who answer with perfect heart to the measure of truth which He has given them, such are morally Philadelphia. Others may have more light; but the true heart that walks with Christ in what it knows, is known of Him, and is what is contemplated in Philadelphia.
Historically there is an unfolding-as the Lord did delay-in the state of each of the seven churches-each larger feature coming into prominence, and presenting the salient features of the professing church, till the church becomes a remnant in the message to Thyatira; which then develops into those which follow.
But morally Philadelphia represents those who answer Christ's heart at all times and in all circumstances, since the Lord gave those messages, till His threat is finally executed-"I will spue thee out of my mouth." Philadelphia may, in the historical view, come in after Sardis, and be exhorted that He comes quickly, as her resource, and to let no man take her crown; but as long as His voice is heard by faithful souls, such form, now, as ever, and wherever found, the link between the church at Pentecost, and
Like the seven prismatic colors of the rainbow-the pure single ray of colorless light being broken up into its component parts; these seven churches are not merely actual addresses to seven existing assemblies at the moment; nor are they merely a historic development of the whole period of the Christian interval, while Christ is hidden in the heavens, and the Holy Ghost is here, but they have a moral signification (no view being of greater importance than this,) in which all the seven features, and moral states are found, at any given moment, from the day of the utterance of the messages, until the day when He who spoke them comes again. Like the rainbow, in which all the seven colors are seen, though one or other may become prominent at any moment. Every moral state in all the seven messages remains from the beginning to the very end. There are at this moment, as at the beginning, those who have left their first love; and those who suffer for Christ; and those who are faithful where Satan's seat is, and so on to the conclusion of the whole.
Besides all this, we should never forget that, John is watching over the decay of that which Paul unfolded; and telling us what Christ will do with that which bears His name. For our own path we get no directions but to "listen"-to "hear what the Spirit saith to the churches," for we do not find church ground unfolded here. It is not John's province to treat of this: John never gives us corporate things, but individual, and never speaks of the church of God. When we are therefore grounded and settled in that which never fails-the unity of the Body of Christ, maintained by the Spirit of God on earth, as taught by Paul, we may turn with deep profit to John and these messages, and learn what Christ will do with all that bears His name on earth. But from Paul alone can I learn what I am to do, in the midst of such a scene; and how I am to be an "overcomer" according to the mind of the Lord, which never can be by abandoning that which His Spirit maintains on earth.
How important therefore to be thoroughly grounded in the truths of the church of God, which remain as long as God's Spirit remains, and His Word abides, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man; unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:1313Till 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 fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:13).)
I turn now to examine another side of the truth of the church of God, as unfolded in Paul's doctrine-not that of the Body of Christ -united to her Head in heaven, and maintained by the Holy Ghost on earth in unity; but that of the "House of God," the "Habitation of God through the Spirit."
On the day of Pentecost the aggregate number of disciples which were baptized of the Holy Ghost, and thus formed into the Body united to Christ in heaven: were also on earth, a "Habitation of God by the Spirit." Each was coterminous, with the other. Both terms embraced the same people. Those who composed the Body composed the House, and none else.
But to each relationship a different thought pertained. In the Body there is the absolute union between Christ and His members-He the Head, they the Body, of which, when persecuted, He could say, "Why persecutest thou Me?" In the House there is no thought of union at all, and this is most important to apprehend.
One dwells in a House; but the walls are not in union with him; so that he may not speak of them, "Me," and for this reason the Holy Ghost is not said to dwell in the Body, while He does dwell in the House.
During the early part of the Acts of the Apostles, there was a sort of tentative dealing with Israel once more (chaps. 3-7,) to offer that Christ whom, they had slain, would return with the "sure mercies of David." At the same time He who knew the end from the beginning, knew the result of this fresh offer. Nevertheless it was needful in His purposes, to bring out fully the responsibility and guilt of that ruined people, in the final rejection of Christ in the glory. Behind all this, God was working out His "purpose of the ages," in the church of God.
When Israel finally refused their glorified Messiah the martyred Stephen's blood bearing witness that all was over; Saul of Tarsus was "standing by, and consenting to his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him." But Stephen had prayed a prayer at the moment of his death, which was wonderfully answered in this man. "Lord" said he, "lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:6060And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60).) Saul of Tarsus was the answer to this prayer! But the divine floodgates of grace once opened in righteousness through the cross, could not now be stayed, and the stream which had flowed into "the city of the great King," up to this moment, having been finally refused; its course was diverted, and it flowed onward to Samaria.
The Lord of the harvest, had said at this place a few short years before-"Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest." Samaria is now conquered by the gospel, and the old enmity between "this mountain," and "Jerusalem," is blotted out by its peaceful waters, at least in the souls of ii those who accepted the water of life, thus freely flowing to them. But Philip must leave his prosperous labor, and follow the stream, if needful, to the "ends of the earth."
The sandy desert near Gaza becomes the channel of the grace of Jesus. A child of the cursed race of Ham, the father of Canaan: an Ethiopian Chamberlain of Queen Candace, is sitting in his Chariot reading the Prophet Isaiah. He had come from the heart of Africa to worship at Jerusalem, and with an unsatisfied heart, was returning. The day of Jerusalem's visitation was past. The words of the weeping Jesus might re-echo once more when He exclaimed, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things (which belong) to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." (Luke 19:4242Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. (Luke 19:42).) But he who is a "rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" follows this "dry tree," and after a few short words from Philip, evangelizing Jesus to him, he receives the message from the God and Father of Jesus, and the Ethiopian "went on his way rejoicing" -carrying this knowledge of Jesus into the abodes of the race of Cush.
The whole Assembly is broken up at Jerusalem; and "all (were) scattered abroad, except the Apostles." Stephen's prayer ascended as incense before God; and "Saul yet breathing slaughter against the Lord"-is converted in the height of his mad career, by the words from Christ in glory, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" He was a chosen vessel to bear Christ's name, whom he persecuted "to the Gentiles, the kings, and to the children of Israel."
But God had, as Paul the Apostle tells us, made him "a wise master builder"-to unfold in his doctrines, the mystery of Christ and the church. He laid the foundation, and others built thereupon. To man then; to His servants was committed the administration of this House of God-composed of those who were received into the place where the Holy Ghost dwelt. On the one side, the divine work of God in forming and maintaining the Body of Christ progressed. It was constituted by the baptism of the Holy Ghost. On the other we have the administration of the House put into man's hands: and those who entered, came in by the baptism of water.
At the first, as we have seen, God constituted it by taking up His abode in the disciples at Pentecost, as His House, or Habitation. Then, all who accepted the testimony were received into the place where the spirit dwelt. The Apostles and those who were thus constituted the House at the first, were never baptized: they were not thus received into what they were already. But all who came after were thus received; professing by baptism, that they were "buried" to the "death of Christ." (Rom. 6) Peter on that day insists that all that came should come in by the appointed way; "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." (Acts 2:3838Then 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. (Acts 2:38).) The nation was about to fall under judgment-guilty now, with all other guilt, of their Messiah's blood. But there was one hallowed spot left, into which the slayer of Blood could flee: the House of God- (no more the Temple) stood ready to welcome all whose hearts were pricked with their guilt, and who now were welcomed into the House of God, built in His name.
The promise was unto them and to their children, and to all that were "afar off" "even as many as the Lord our God shall call." How blessed for the poor Jew to know that he was thus entering into God's House, that his children were not to be left behind, in a world of which Satan was god and prince. What an echo of the day of Moses, when God brought them out of Egypt long before, that their houses, and all that pertained to those who were delivered, were to pass into the place of privilege and blessing; not one should be left to separate them-not one should be left behind. Pharaoh thought, as Satan ever does, to separate them with the word-"go ye that are men." But Moses refuses to change the demand, "we will go with our young and our old; with our sons and with our daughters... for we must hold a feast unto the Lord." (Ex. 10:9-119And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord. 10And he said unto them, Let the Lord be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you. 11Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence. (Exodus 10:9‑11).) And we read how they "were all baptized unto Moses, in the cloud and in the sea." (1 Cor. 10:22And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; (1 Corinthians 10:2).) As said to another before this, "Come thou and all thy house into the ark."
Soon after many more were added to this House of God (Acts 4:4,4Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. (Acts 4:4)) but all were Jews: God took this mode of saving the remnant of Israel.
Samaria falls under the sound of the Gospel, and the enemy who first began "within," through Ananias and Sapphira, now seeks to introduce evil persons from "without: " "tares amongst the wheat were sown while men slept." "Wood, hay, and stubble," were introduced into the House of God and Simon the Sorcerer is received in the flush of joy which filled many hearts in Samaria, (Acts 8). Thus the house, coterminous at first with the Body, began already to enlarge itself, while committed to man's responsibility, disproportionately to the body, which was maintained of God intact within it. But the Spirit of God did not leave the House, nor has He left it even to this day, though it has enlarged itself into what we see around us, into that which is likened by Paul to "a great house," containing "vessels of gold, and of silver, of wood and of earth; some to honor and some to dishonor." (2 Tim. 2)
As Israel in the desert stood in an ordinancial relationship with Moses in that dispensation; they 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. So all now who profess Christ's name-in like manner stand in ordinancial or sacramental relationship with Him, as in the analogy drawn, in 1 Cor. 10:1-111Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 5But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 7Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 9Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 10Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. 11Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:1‑11).
In the midst of this scene, scattered outwardly within it, is found that which should always have been outwardly one, as it is inwardly maintained so by the Holy Spirit-the Body of Christ.
Years ago one said to me, when speaking of ministerial labor, a sentence which I never forgot: "Our business is to bring Christians into the consciousness of their position, in the midst of a great baptized house," i. e., to make them conscious that there is a church of God on earth, a body of Christ, of which they are living members. This sentence was one full of meaning and power to my own soul.
We will turn now to Scripture to examine more fully the unfoldings of this truth of the House of God-an intelligent grasp of which is so needful for our path and service to the Lord.
In the first Epistle to the Corinthians we find two greater divisions. 1St, Chapter 1-10:14; and 2nd, Chapter 10 In the first division he has the House before him; in the second the Body. (Chapter 12 Connecting both though distinguishing them too.) And here it may be of use to say that the word "assembly" applies to both, though having a distinct application to each. If we look on high at Christ in glory, the "Assembly" is His "Body," (Eph. 1:22,2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23)); and if we look below where the Spirit dwells the "Assembly" is His "House."-See 1 Tim. 15.
In Paul's address to the Corinthians we find a most comprehensive breadth of thought. "Unto the Assembly of God which is in Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called Saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours." (1 Cor. 1:22Unto 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 1:2).) In this comprehensive address we find him writing to the professing Church. He assumes of course that all are true and real, unless proved to be otherwise. But all who profess Christ's name are addressed; calling on the name of the Lord having this meaning in Scripture. The simply calling on His name not proving their reality; but reality having to prove itself in those who have called. Now the professing church having thus been addressed; the whole professing church, at that day, being assumed primarily as real, another thing comes in when ruin has set in. The professing church has now enlarged itself to what we term Christendom, nevertheless the professing church is bound by what Paul wrote. This makes all plain.
The wisdom of the Spirit of God foresaw and forecast all this for us: for if we turn to 2 Tim. 3 we find what was prophetically provided for the "last days," which at once began when apostolic gift was removed from the church. The epistle is divided into three parts. First (chap. 1:1-14) a preface. Second (chap. 1:15-2.) takes up what had already supervened in the lifetime of the Apostle, in the words "This thou knowest," etc. And third (chap. 3;4) commencing with "This know also: " in which division he foresees what was about to be. Let us hear his words, "This know also, that in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." This then is his description of the profession of Christianity: this the sphere in which the faithful would find themselves; this, the platform where the servants of Christ would now have to work. And in such a sphere, with such materials before him was the servant Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist." (2 Tim. 4:55But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5).)
How deeply solemn is this prophetic truth then! To find that instead of the habitation of God on earth, being the answer to the glory of Christ in heaven, as produced by the Spirit of God, it had so dishonored that blessed name, as to be described with words, almost similar to those used to describe the Heathen, out of which the Church had (with the Jew) been called. The only striking difference being this, that when the heathen are described (Rom. 1:28-3228And 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; 29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:28‑32)), the words "having a form of godliness" were not used: but are added to similar words (2 Tim. 3) to describe a worse state, because existing under the name of Christ!
It needs not that I should examine more. We might recall the words of Paul in Philippians-"All seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ:" and "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 glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." Colossians too, and Galatians, and even Ephesians, refer to those evils which had entered in, and against which the faithful are warned. The tendency too in the saints, to sink down into an abnormal state of soul, below the common level of all, at the first. Those varied states around us now are the speaking witness that in the House of God there are numbers of those who are really Christ's, but who are not in the consciousness of Christian state-in union with Christ in glory.
Yet the Spirit of God abides. He still inhabits God's house on earth. He remains there till all those who are Christ's are called by His grace: till the Lord Himself comes again. And still is that name-the House of God-applicable, in responsibility, to that which is His habitation here below; though it is the abode of evil too; just as Jesus spake of-"My Father's House," of the Temple of old, though it had been made a "den of thieves" by man. So the House of God remains such, as long as God's Spirit remains there. Then it is given up, as a "cage of every unclean and hateful bird."
Now it is evident that the two essentially Christian Sacraments, as we may call Baptism and the Lord's Supper, apply to a very different state of things. The former being the rite observed in the reception of those who came into the House of God on earth. The latter being the symbol of the unity of the Body of Christ. By the first, not only was the person received, but administratively his sins were washed away. Doubtless this was the case actually before God with Paul at his conversion; but still he is told by Ananias to "Arise and be baptized, washing away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord: " as Peter told the Jews at Pentecost to "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." (Acts 2:3838Then 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. (Acts 2:38).) But the person once received, it never could be repeated. Now suppose, as in many cases around us now, it was done informally, yet it was done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and in Vain would be the thought of repeating it: such could not be.
How could one unchristianize themselves, or get outside the profession of Christianity, to come in again as they think more correctly, but by blotting out a historic action in their previous life-no matter when performed? It is simply impossible. The thing was done, and there it remains; even though done informally. The responsibility rests on the person who did it; not on the person to whom it is done. For baptism is the act of the baptizer-not of the baptized. "Go and disciple all nations, baptizing them," etc., not, "go and be baptized." This commission was given by the Lord in resurrection only, not in ascension-from whence He sent the Holy Ghost; as the glorified Head of His body. It was given to Peter and the others on earth, and the House was formed, and this work of reception followed, long before Paul was converted. When he was, he was received, as any other into the House of baptism. Yet he distinctly states that "He was not sent to baptize." He finds it there, not set aside by his subsequent and heavenly commission, and he thus uses it at times, to receive some (as-"Crispus and Gaius, and the house of Stephanas,") making no more of it than was necessary, though it was not comprised in his mission.
Now the Lord's supper is "As often as ye eat" -"ye do show the Lord's death, till He come." Unlike Baptism, it was revealed afresh by Christ in glory to Paul, and received through him fresh features unknown before, as first instituted by the Lord. It becomes, when partaken after the divine thought, the symbol of the unity of the Church of God here below. The great ostensible center too, of the gathering together of the church of God on earth. There, in a special way the presence of the Lord Himself "in the midst" is realized. (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20).)
It is that moral center, in view of which each member of Christ judges himself that he may eat thereof worthily, in a manner suited to the holiness and truth of Him to whom he is united by the Holy Ghost given him. It is that with respect to which the partaking, or otherwise, shows that the person is confessing and professing the reality of his portion in Christ. It is with respect to it that, in failing to judge himself and his ways, the assembled saints must deal with the failing one, and put out "from among themselves that wicked person." It is in view of it, that when the individual has failed to judge himself, and it has fallen to the responsibility of the assembled saints to do so; or when the assembled saints have failed (as at Corinth) to deal with what was unsuited to Christ, and to the table of the Lord; the Lord Himself had, as over His own House, acted, removing some by death; and had laid His chastening hand on others, by sickness and weakness of body: for many amongst them were "weak and sickly, and many slept." (1 Cor. 11)
It is, in fact, the great moral symbol and center, outwardly and expressly, of the existence of the Church of God here below.
It is, too, yet more blessedly, when partaken of in the power of an ungrieved Spirit, the most touching of all the "services of faith" of the people of the Lord. Where the presence of the Lord is more sweetly realized at the moment which neither God nor His people will ever forget; when He gave Himself up for His glory, and for our eternal salvation.
The ministry of the gospel from God's heart to the world: is sweet to the soul. Souls are blessed, and the Spirit's power is felt, and God is made known in a world which knows Him not. The ministry of Christ, too, for His saints; feeding them, and building them up, and producing worship in their hearts for all His unspeakable goodness, is touching to the soul, searching to the conscience; and the freshness of His love, is thus shed abroad in the heart. All these and many more, are good and blessed. But at the supper, the soul and God meet, as never otherwise: the heart of the saint, and the sufferings of Christ Himself are together; His love is tasted, His perfections fed upon; in short, the Lord Himself is there in a way, that next to heaven itself, there is nothing like it here. Man is not before us at such an hour. All this is put aside in the presence of a greater, who leads the praises of His own.
Should we not therefore, seek to ascertain God's own mind about this feast? Should we not seek to divest it of every thought and practice, that might mar the true blessedness which He, the Lord, has meant it to be to us. We shall sit down by and by at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We have no description of this scene. The Holy Ghost uses but one word to describe it: "Blessed!" "Blessed are they who are called to the marriage Supper of the Lamb." and He adds, "These are the true sayings of God."
But here at the "Lordly Supper" one sits down with others like himself, still in bodies of humiliation, though saved by grace, and made meet for glory, to feed afresh upon Christ in His death. The night when all the world was against Him, and God forsook Him, as well as His own who loved Him truly. When Satan's power and glamor were over men's souls, and our perfect blessed Savior passed through that night, His last with His disciples; and ate that Paschal Supper of which He speaks in those touching words "With desire ("earnest, yearning longing," as the word means,) have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (Luke 22:1515And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: (Luke 22:15).)
From that Paschal feast, and the institution of His own Supper, He passes to His agony in the garden, where He receives from His Father's hands His cup of sorrow. Bearing it (as it were,) in His hands, He is betrayed by His "friend": he who had eaten bread with Him had lifted up his heel against Him.
He passes onwards, and He is "denied" with oaths by one who thought no power could make his love for his Master fail. Then after His "good confession," He is mocked and arrayed in the scarlet robe and crown of thorns. From thence He passes into other hands and is scourged and condemned. At last came the cross of a malefactor, where He is numbered with the transgressors, and the things concerning Him had their end.
Forsaken now of God, we find Him in the darkness of that scene, where no ray of light penetrated to relieve His soul; He cries to God at the "hour of prayer"-the "ninth hour" and is "not heard." What soul depths were expressed in that unheard cry! But He, who in view of all this, when instituting the feast could twice "give thanks," knowing the light and love that was behind it all; the depths of that love of God the Father, whose love He shared from past eternity.
These are some of the features which come before us as we remember Him. We could not "remember" one we knew not: we remember One we know. We know Him but in poor small measure: but it is the Lord who loves us we know and remember in the hour of His death and shame; the result of His first coming to this world of sin.
Now although simplicity as to the line in which the Spirit of God would lead the gathered saints, in this "service of faith," is what should characterize them, that is, in the remembrance of the Lord at that night of His betrayal, there is no special character of remembrance to be looked for from the saints.
Still we must remember that "In the midst of the assembly (says the Lord) will I sing praise unto thee." We should therefore look for His presence most specially at such a time. But when Christ leads the praises of His own, we should not find many thoughts about our former state: our sins, our deliverance therefrom. It is Himself we remember in death; and all that this remembrance would embrace. I would dread much therefore to see souls thinking too much of their own blessing, their own side of things. It would seem to me that they have not come together with true thoughts of the Supper in their souls.
We know happily, that the "babes know the Father" it is the Spirit of adoption that characterizes them; they rejoice more in their own blessing, than in Him the Blesser. The fathers in Christ know Him. I am sure too, that in the Lord's Supper we have every chord touched that every heart, blessed through Christ, can feel and rejoice in. No string has ever been tuned in any heart which does not find its answer there, and while every soul who comes together to eat the Lord's supper is doubtless in a different spiritual state, the chords in each are divinely strung, and when Christ is before the soul they must yield harmony.
Just as in the varied aspects of Christ in His perfect life, His death, and sinbearing, and all, are presented in the offerings (see Lev. 1-7) many offerings to make the one blessed Christ. So in the supper, there is found that which meets the song of every heart, even though the note struck may sound more of its own side of things in some who surround Him who leads their praises.
Still I think true worship always has Him as its food and its object: "they worshipped Him." He reveals and displays the Father; and when the Father is worshipped in the Son, the Son reveals Him, and "the Father seeketh such to worship Him." When God is seen in Christ the Son, and the Father known in Him, and the Spirit in us is free to unfold His things to us, then worship has its true and proper level, and He dwells now in the praises of His church; as before, Jehovah dwelt in the praises of Israel!
We find that that which prefigured the communion of the church of God (the Peace offering) came third in the order of the five offerings in Leviticus, to show us that the worship of the saints is grounded upon what Christ was to God as a Burnt offering, and his Meat offering; both of these being offerings of "sweet savor." They pointed to all that Christ was to God in His devotedness to death for God's glory; bringing glory to His nature as to sin, in the place where sin was; and yielding Himself wholly up to God; this the Burnt offering typified. And this was accompanied by a meat-offering called his "meat-offering" ("the burnt offering and his meat-offering"). This was Christ's person in its purity and grace, and was bloodless and not atoning, though it accompanied that which was, and the memorial was offered to God and all its frankincense. Then where the ashes of both were, on the altar of Burnt-offering, there, was the Peace-offering (or its memorial) burnt (see Lev. 3:55And Aaron's sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt sacrifice, which is upon the wood that is on the fire: it is an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto the Lord. (Leviticus 3:5)). The fourth and fifth offerings were what Christ was made for us-not what He was in Himself personally; and they come after the Peace or communion offering (chap. 3.).
Has this no voice for us? Can we not see that he who best can enter upon what Christ was to God as the Burnt-offering and his Meat-offering, in His sweet savor, can best sustain and lead the worship of the assembled saints, for he is on the true ground of the soul's power of worship to the Father.
It is a cause of deep joy, and never to be forgotten, to know that Christ bore our sins, and brought us into this place of blessing, but it is not the prominent thought in praise. Was the prodigal thinking much of the far country, and his rags and misery, and of the change that had come, when he ate the fatted calf with the Father? His father's heart and house and joy silenced him. It would have no kindred note in his father's merriment, to have reminded him of his rags, and of the debt he owed his father. He must joy in his father's joy, be that what it may. These and such like praises are those which Christ can sing, and lead in the midst of His assembled saints.
Could a soul, uncertain of its salvation, have its place at such a feast? Nay. In conscience and in faith we stand alone. But when sealed with the Spirit, He leads our souls into communion with the Father and the Son and with each other in the light.
But all converted souls are not there. Surely not.-Many souls are quickened but not at peace. The very life they have makes them feel their sins; feel their misery; but when they have believed, God seals them with the Holy Spirit of promise. (Eph. 1:14,14Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:14) etc.).
Until then they are not "members of Christ," not in union with Him-Head of His body in heavenly places. How needful then to see that the person has received the Holy Ghost since he believed." (Acts 19)
The Supper therefore is for such only-members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
It is celebrated according to Scripture by such, as the expression of the whole body of Christ on earth.
The table must be spread as the Lord's table, and those who partake of it must be gathered to His Name, to express this. Tables of the varied sects and parties in the professing church could not be owned as "the table of the Lord": they are not so. A sect with a system has its own dogmas, and rules and creeds, and ministry-generally framed for the world or the unconverted as well as the saved. Perhaps a human ministry is there, or some one person, who absorbs all the functions of the members of Christ's body, professedly in himself. The free action of the Spirit of God is shut out in the members. These and such like preclude the godly from its communion, and proclaim it as not the Table of the Lord.
But when the Lord's table is spread according to God it must be:-
First, the expression of the whole body of Christ on the earth: in the breadth of all.
Second, there must be nothing knowingly allowed there, amongst those gathered, which would hinder in a doctrinal, or moral way, one single member of Christ on earth being there. To have it so would make it cease to be the "Table of the Lord," and only the table of a sect or party in Christendom. It is not that each there is compelled to see and understand all and every truth and doctrine with others; not in any wise: this would be to make the intelligence of the members of Christ and their unanimity in doctrine, a term of fellowship instead of this-that they are members of that one body, and sound in faith and morals. Nay: the great foundation truths of God's holy Word must be held aright.
These would be such as the pure and holy Person of Christ, the Son of God, His incarnation; His atoning work; His resurrection and ascension; His eternal Sonship; His coming in flesh. The doctrines, too, of Eternal punishment, of the Holy Ghost's presence in the church, of the Trinity of the Persons in the God-head, all such would be clearly defined in the soul. The babes in Christ know all these things, and when the Holy Spirit dwells in a saint, he has received the anointing which teaches him all these things. He is sensitive too as to these things: touch Christ in any way and you touch the apple of his eye. Let him be true in the faith of Christ's person, and you may depend that in the main he is right in all the rest. Let him be false in his thoughts of Jesus, and his whole soul will more or less be filled with error. He is the true test; the touch-stone of true faith. All this assumes that he is at peace with God, and possesses His Spirit dwelling in him.
Third, the "first day of the week" is the day of its celebration; as of all the great gatherings of the members of the church's risen head. When she was first formed at Pentecost, His members continued daily with one accord in the temple and "broke bread at home praising God," etc. But when the Assembly was broken up at Jerusalem (Acts 8) and was no more found connected with the Jewish center of things, the Spirit of God led them together habitually on the first day of the week for this distinct purpose. "And upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread." (Acts 20:77And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7).) And this was endorsed by the Apostle abiding there to be with them at this feast.
How sensitive is the spiritually minded saint at this wondrous center of the church's gathering! How spiritual one needs to be, to venture in the Lord's blessed presence to lead in the worship of God. The more he thinks of the presence of his Lord and Master, the more careful he is lest one word, one note he strikes should not be in keeping with the Lord's own heart, in communion with which the present Spirit leads His people's songs. How the heart feels a discordant note at such a moment; when the ear of the soul is watching for the note to strike truly in the hearts of saints with the Lord's. A hymn ill-chosen: the music unsuited to the words of the spiritual song. The haste of one the tardiness of another: the lengthiness of some. What exercise of soul do not these things produce, and how they mar the meeting which should refresh and feed the soul. How frequently too the judgment of self is neglected until the moment when the Lord's presence is felt; and then for the first time the soul feels that it is not in spiritual power, and it must think of self instead of Christ!
O that my brethren might ponder these things, and that poor and feeble though we are, we may grow in the sense of what it is to gather around our blessed Lord; to realize His presence; to forget ourselves; to wait on Him; to renew our strength; to carry clean though empty vessels, into His presence; to find them filled and overflowing by Him whose fullness is inexhaustible: so full that the overflowing cup returns to Him, as living waters refresh the weary soul, and find again their level in His presence, and the presence of the Father.
I feel sure too, that at times there are many there whose hearts would refresh their Lord and their brethren with "five words" of praise, hold back, and "quench the Spirit," forcing some other to speak out of the true order of the Spirit of God, (because forced upon him) and lose much for their own souls as well as for the souls of their brethren.
The heart yearns to see the Assemblies of God's saints filled with the Spirit, and in such freshness of power and worship which sets man aside, and gives place only to Christ, or what is of the Spirit of our God.
What comfort to know that every "first day of the week" brings us another seven days nearer to that glorious day, in view of which we show forth the Lord's death till He come. How sweetly the first coming of the Lord is before the soul in this feast, as well as the second. When that day arrives and when we see Him, He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; and every spiritual desire and longing will in us, as well as in Him, find its answer, and we shall enter that scene of which it is said: "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." It is His holy being which touches the heart even in that scene, and leads those who surround His throne to forget their own blessings, and their own glory; to leave the one, and divest themselves of the other, in the sweeter occupation of enjoying His; and to say, "Thou art worthy, O Lord." (Rev. 4). "Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: they shall be praising Thee to the ages of ages." (Psa. 84:44Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah. (Psalm 84:4).)