The Personal and Corporate Actions of the Holy Spirit: 3. The Body of Christ Formed by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

 •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 9
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body whether we be Jews or Gentiles whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many (1 Cor. 12:12-14).”
“There is one body, and one Spirit (Eph. 4:4).”
We come now to examine, not the individual action, on persons, of the Spirit of God, but His corporate action, seen in the formation of the church of God on earth — the “body of Christ.”
Before doing so, I would note that the saint now has two callings: the one, an individual calling; the other, a corporate one. They are not confused, nor can they be separated. The first of these is his “heavenly calling”; the second, his church calling, as a member of the body of Christ. We must therefore examine each of these in some detail; for we shall find that certain scriptures in the New Testament treat of the one, and certain of the other. This shows us why it is that in certain scriptures of the New Testament we find ourselves in company with Abraham, and David, and other worthies of the OT, while in other scriptures we find ourselves apart from them altogether, and they are unnoticed, unless it may be casually, and in an inferior place in God’s glory. They may be seen as “principalities and powers,” while we are the body of Him who is set above them — “the fullness of him who filleth all in all.”
Now, as soon as the earth became the scene of divine disappointment, when man fell, God retired from the scene, and the elect became “strangers and pilgrims in the earth,” being called out of it to seek “another and a better country.” When God returned to visit the elect in it, He did so in gracious and condescending love; and when He concluded His momentary sojourn, eating with and sharing their hospitality, He then “arose and went his way,” for sin was there; and in such a scene God could not dwell. This is beautifully illustrated in His visit to Abraham, in Genesis 18. This, then, was the “heavenly calling” — a calling out of the earth, by the revelation of Himself, to another scene. This calling is witnessed in all periods and ages of the world by the elect, or some typical person, which presents to us the features of this vocation in their day.1
1st. It is witnessed in the antediluvian days, in Enoch, the seventh from Adam. The earth was corrupt before God; all flesh had corrupted his way in the earth; and “Enoch walked with God.” Wonderful testimony! embracing all that man could desire. For three hundred years (Gen. 5), as the world was ripening for judgment, every step of Enoch was “with God.” His course began at the birth of his child; just as some striking incident in a man’s history becomes the divine voice to his soul. He names his son Methuselah, which signifies, “At his death he sends it.”2 Within the immediate circle of his family he witnessed that “the Lord cometh” in His judgments on the earth. His outward testimony amongst men was, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Jude 14,15).” “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Heb. 11:5).” “He walked with God, and was not, for God took him (Gen. 5).”
2nd. It was witnessed in the patriarchal days in Abraham. The “God of glory appeared unto him, and said, Get thee out of thy country, and thy kindred, and thy father’s house, and come into the land that I will show thee.” He does so at last, and then when there, and he had left all behind, God says, “to thy seed will I give this land.” Here, then, was this man, outside of all he was linked to, and having nothing on earth but his tent and his altar — a stranger and a worshiper in the earth; a pilgrim journeying to a “city which had foundations, whose builder and maker was God.” He possesses nothing here but a sepulcher, purchased from the sons of Heth, with these words on his lips, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight (Gen. 23:4).”
3rd. It was witnessed in the Mosaic age by the great leader of the people of God. “I pray thee,” said he, “let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. But the Lord... would not hear me; and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.” “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land... and the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with shine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth his sepulcher unto this day (Deut. 3:24).”
4th. It is expressed in the royal days by David, in the words which he sang by the Spirit as the sweet Psalmist of Israel: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. O spare me, that I may recover strength before I go hence, and be no more” (Psa. 39:12,13).
5th. And in the prophetic age in Elijah, who went up to heaven, at the close of his prophetic task, by a whirlwind, with a chariot and horses of fire.
6th. And lastly, in the Christian period, in ourselves with our own heavenly hope, while here on earth as “strangers and pilgrims,” “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1), and waiting for God’s Son from heaven to receive us unto Himself, that where He is there we may be also (John 14:1-3).3
In all this we see that we follow in the great line of saints, patriarchs and prophets, kings and people who have journeyed onwards through and out of this scene to their rest. We see them as “the spirits of just men made perfect,” but awaiting the “first resurrection,” when they will with us, as “children of the resurrection,” be clothed with their resurrection-bodies, and enter into their full heavenly glory (Heb. 11:40). In the dispensation in which each lived, God marked and defined the manner in which they were to walk in existing things here on earth. Sometimes this was by an individual walk with God; at others as a member of His elect nation; but in none of them, before the present Christian interval, do we find that in which we ourselves are called to walk in, as members of the body of Christ, formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
Hence we find ourselves, not only in company with that great army of saints from the beginning to the end, having our place in that heavenly calling; but having a definite place in the counsels of God, which they will never share. In the church of God He glorifies Himself in a way beyond all that shall ever be. In us He displays in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace, and His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. While He has given His Son, as a Man, a place, setting Him above all principalities and powers, not only in this age, but in that which is to come, He has given us to be His bride, His body, His Joint-heirs; the Eve of the Second Adam for the Paradise of God!
It was His purpose “before the foundation of the world,” “His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus.” Still He kept the best wine to the last; He kept as His secret the mystery “hid in God,” to display at last to those “principalities and powers in the heavenlies the manifold wisdom of God.” He calls it the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” None ever anticipated it in His ways. All else about Christ was “searchable” in the OT Scriptures. His Incarnation was there, His life of suffering, His atoning death, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of God, His receiving gifts in the man (Himself), His coming in power and glory, His glorious reign. All these are to be found; but that which lay between His going on high, and His coming again — the valley that lay between the mountain tops, which when we behold them, is hidden from our view — this was never told to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This was that which was “unsearchable,” “past finding out,” in His untraceable ways!
But we must now examine the scriptures as to the formation of this body, by the baptism of the Spirit. We will therefore look at the first prophetic mention of this “baptism” before it took place. We hear it first, then, from the lips of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. When announcing Him he says (Matt. 3:11), “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” In Mark 1:8, the announcement runs, “I indeed baptize you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” In Luke 3:16, it is, “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” While in John 1:33, we read, “And I knew him not; but he that sent me to baptize with: water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost.” And lastly, in Acts 1:5, the Lord tells His disciples, “For John truly baptized with water: but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Here, then, we find the several passages of scripture where this baptism of the Spirit is formally announced. It will be seen that there is the additional baptism of fire named in certain of these passages, in keeping with the scriptures where they are found.
We are possibly aware that the four Gospels present Christ in various ways and characters. Matthew presents Him as the Son of Abraham and Son of David — the vessels of promise and Royalty in Israel. “He [thus] came unto his own, and his own people received him not”; and He will return to them again in power and great glory; thus having to do, in His first and second comings, both with grace and with judgment. Hence we have these two baptisms — that of the Holy Spirit, having to do with grace, and that of fire, expressive of judgment by-and-by. In Mark’s Gospel we have Christ presented as the Servant of God, “who went about doing good.” As such, it is plain He has only to do with grace, hence in keeping with this characteristic we find in Mark only the one baptism — of the Holy Spirit — named. Now, in Luke we have the Lord’s human genealogy and His Person presented to us as the “Son of Man.” In keeping with which, and because He has so blessedly, in that character, to do with grace, as well as with all judicial actions, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that of fire are both named. God “has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). But all will see that as the Son of the Father — the Son of God, as John’s Gospel presents Him — He would only have to do with grace; therefore there is but one baptism, that of the Holy Spirit, mentioned. This same reason shows us why, in Acts 1, only one baptism, of the Spirit, is named, because the Acts of the Apostles present to us the work of grace begun after the cross is there unfolded to us. This makes all plain.
Now, “when the day of Pentecost was fully come,” this baptism of the Spirit took place. And it may be well to remark here that this baptism never has to do with an individual saint, but with a number of persons, as a corporate action; also that once it took place it never was repeated. These remarks will be found to have great importance in our true apprehension of the church of God or body of Christ.
The number of disciples together in prayer on the day of Pentecost were thus acted upon — they were baptized into one body at that moment. Previously quickened and drawn after Christ, this fresh action changes their status from being mere individual believers to that of a body united to its Head in heaven. Christ had gone up there after redemption was accomplished, and He has entered into a new state for man by resurrection, and a new place for man, as ascended and seated in heavenly places. And in connection with this new state and new place, the Holy Spirit acts as such down from heaven, forming this “one body “in union with Christ and with each other, as “members of Christ.” This is the only “membership” known in the word of God.
Now, here I would remark that, when this body was formed at Pentecost no one knew anything about it; because it was needful that a fresh offer be made, that Christ would return to Israel as a nation and bring in the times of the restitution of all things spoken of by the prophets, and bless His people on earth. The early chapters of Acts (2 — 7) are taken up with this tentative action towards that people; and it closed in the martyrdom of Stephen, and the message was sent after Christ, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” The ground was now cleared to bring out fully the “eternal purpose” of God; and Saul of Tarsus was converted by a heavenly Christ, and “separated from the people [Israel] and from the Gentiles, unto whom [said the Lord] I now send thee.” He was heavenly in his origin and destiny and ministry, to bring out that body, formed by the Spirit’s baptism on earth, while Christ hid His face from the house of Israel; those “unsearchable riches” never before made known to the sons of men; that valley between the mountain tops hitherto undiscovered and undisclosed. Saul of Tarsus hears from the Lord Himself that the saints on earth whom he was persecuting were Himself.
Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise [said he] and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of those things which thou hast seen [that is, Christ in glory] and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee (Acts 26:15, 16).
Here he receives an intimation that further revelations would be given at some convenient time not then arrived. Now all this happened after the whole assembly was scattered, at the persecution which arose about the death of Stephen, in Jerusalem. Outwardly, what was gathered together and formed in Jerusalem was destroyed; but Paul receives (he only of all the apostles ever speaks of the church of God) the revelation of that which had been formed at Pentecost into a divine unity, as one body, which never could be destroyed; nor could its unity ever be broken; God holds the unity of the body in His own hands.
The special revelations given to Paul (with that of his ministry generally), are noticed by his drawing marked attention to them in connection with this great subject. They are four in number:
1st. The unity of the body, “How, that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery [as I wrote afore in few words] which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men (Eph. 3:3-5).” He then proceeds to unfold this body, composed of Jew and Gentile, yet being neither when thus united into one.
2nd. He received a revelation of the Lord’s Supper in connection with these truths committed to him, “I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you,” &c., and he gives the details of the supper (1 Cor. 11:23, &c.), adding to it several new features not before given by the Lord in His institution of it on earth; but as now freshly instituted from heaven, as the Head of His body, which He was not until He went there. One marked feature being that it becomes, when observed in its truth, the symbol of the unity of the body of Christ on earth. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we are all partakers of that one loaf (1 Cor. 10:16, 17).”
(3rd.) A third marked revelation we find in 1 Corinthians 15:51,52, in connection with the resurrection of the saints who have fallen asleep, and the being changed of those who do not fall asleep before Christ comes. “Behold, he says, I show you a mystery: We shall not (all) sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
(4th.) The fourth we find in 1 Thess. 4:15-17, “For this we say unto you, by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not go before them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with voice of the Archangel and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Thus we have in these four revelations: the unity of the body of Christ; the symbol of its unity on earth in the Supper; the first resurrection of the sleeping saints, and change of the living; and then the rapture of all to the glory of God. These embrace the constitution, employment, resurrection, and catching up, or rapture from this scene of the church of God or body of Christ; and form a complete and comprehensive summary of its whole truth.
Now, I must still endeavor to present more distinctly the present actuality of this body as here on earth, where as to personal place the Holy Spirit is. It is here that all its members are seen at one given time — as, for instance while I speak these words. It is true that when there is a general abstract statement of this body as the fullness of Christ, “the church which is his body, the fullness [or, complement] of him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:22, 23)”, there is no time contemplated; and then the body is seen in union with Christ in heavenly places, as a matter of counsel, in connection with His exaltation as Man. But in all other places in scripture when this body is mentioned, it only includes those members of Christ who are alive on earth at any given moment of its existence as you hear these words! For there as to personal place the Holy Spirit is, who constitutes its unity, as dwelling in each member, and baptizing all into one body.
Let us put a figure as to this. The —th regiment of the British army fought in the battle of Waterloo. It is now in the roll of the army of England, having its identity, and the same number and name as then. Yet all its members have died off, not one man being in it now that was then in its strength. Others have come in, and filled up the ranks, and though the members are changed, the regiment is the same. So with the body of Christ; those who composed it in Paul’s day have died off, and others have come in, and filled up the ranks. Those who sleep, their bodies are in the dust, and their spirits with the Lord. As to personal place, they have lost their connection with the body for the present. They are of it, though not in it, now. They will all take their place in it when it is removed from this scene. Here, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it,” &c. Suffering is not the part of those who have passed away from present connection with it.
Formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, it has been carried along those eighteen centuries past in unbroken unity, souls passing away, and others coming in; and it is here to-day on earth for God and for faith, as truly as when Paul wrote, “There is one body and one spirit.” The baptism never was repeated, but individual souls have been quickened and sealed, and thus united individually to that which the Holy Spirit formed by His baptism at Pentecost; and all its members can now, therefore, say, “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,” because we belong to that which was then definitely and permanently formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
There is one further important truth in connection with this doctrine, or the body, to which I would now refer before closing this paper. It is this — that wherever locally the members of this body were seen together “in assembly,” they were always treated as the body: this, of course, not separating them from the whole body on earth, but treated of God, as acting on the ground and principle of the body, and in unity with the whole body on earth. This is found in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Here the principle is applied. The apostle had been teaching the great doctrine of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-26): first, its unity, and then the diversity of its members, each having (whether comely or uncomely members) their place in the whole; and he applies this practically to the local assembly at Corinth, in the verse (27) above quoted.
This, then, is the body of Christ; this the corporate place of every member of Christ on earth; this the only membership known in scripture. The divine, positive fact and truth of that which no ruin of its outward unity, no corruption of Christendom, can ever mar or destroy. Grasping this in our soul’s consciousness, and by faith, we have something stable, amidst the ruins of the professing church, on which to act; on which to rest in the last days. Of the practical use of the truth we shall hope to treat in the concluding paper.
Words of Faith, 1883, pp. 174-184.
1. One may understand the heavenly calling to be in force only now, but there are types and foreshadows of it in the OT — similar to, say, Caleb as a type of heavenly one. (cp. 1 Cor. 15:48).
2. Or "He dies and then the arrow"; a figurative way of expressing that at his son's death the arrow of destruction would speed its way. Methuselah lived up to the moment of the flood, and passed away just as it came.
3. There will be another company of this great “heavenly calling,” seen in the martyred remnant, in the last final crisis of the earth before the appearing of Christ, who receive a heavenly reward, and are caught up there, having been slain for the testimony of Jesus and thus losing their earthly place in the earthly kingdom. They also belong to the “first resurrection.”