Unity and Union: Part 2

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WE will turn now to the writings of the apostle Paul, where alone the doctrine of the church as the body of Christ is unfolded, and hence where, in addition to the thought of unity, we read of that of union. But before taking up the doctrine of the church, as Paul unfolds it, we will just note the fact that the church began with the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, consequent upon the ascension to glory of the Lord Jesus. This is given us in Acts 2, and where we read (ver. 47), " the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
Another thing we would note, is, that it is against the church, as taking the place of Judaism, that Paul, before his conversion, was so bitter an opponent; and it is this fact that gives its peculiar significance to the manner of his conversion, and which colored his entire life and service subsequently. He speaks thus of himself in Gal. 1:13,1413For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: 14And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13‑14): " Ye have heard of my conversation in times past, in the Jews' religion, how that, beyond measure, I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it; and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." It is, too, in this connection he calls himself " the chief of sinners," and says he is not worthy " to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." The thing that weighed so heavily on Paul's conscience was not the breach of the law, or his lost condition as a sinner in rebellion against God, where he could be on common ground with other sinners, but the special sin of persecuting the church of Christ. The gravity of this sin was consequent upon the intimate relation in which the church stood to Christ, and this Paul learned at the moment of his conversion, and indeed it was in direct connection with this truth that his conversion took place. It is of all moment, in order to understand the special nature of Paul's ministry, to clearly apprehend this.
It was on his sanguinary mission to Damascus, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9), that Paul saw that "light above the brightness of the sun," and heard from heaven those wondrous words that brought him to God and changed the entire course of his life, " Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" and to which, in answer to his inquiry, " Who art thou, Lord?" was added that touching and pregnant statement, " I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." It was here, at the very beginning of his christian career, that Paul learned that never-to-be-forgotten lesson, which entered into every subsequent thought and feeling of the apostle's heart, that the poor disciples of the rejected and crucified, but now risen, exalted, and glorious Jesus, were so one with Himself, that in touching them on earth, he touched Him in heaven. In that one short statement, the marvelous and weighty truth of the union of the church with Christ as its Head in heaven, was set,' once and forever, before the soul of Saul of Tarsus. His life and teachings are but the unfolding of this divine and blessed mystery, and his writings we will now. briefly take up.
The essential difference between the writings of Paul and those of John, flows from this; that while John knew Jesus as a divine Person come to earth-" that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 John 1:22(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (1 John 1:2)), through the knowledge of whom he had entered into life and relationship with God as the Father-Paul knew Him as a Man in heavenly glory. It was there Paul knew Him as his Savior; there he learned the glories of His Person; there his heart had entered into that " love of Christ which passeth knowledge;" and there he learned the blessings, and the place of blessing, into which the believer in Jesus is brought. The kernel of John's doctrine is Jesus, the incarnate Son of God; the kernel of Paul's is Jesus, the risen Man in heavenly glory. For John, believers are children of the Father; for Paul, believers are members of Christ. Not that John did not know and own what Paul taught, or that Paul did not delight in and give full place to all that John loved to dwell upon, but John's heart was full of the one, and Paul's of the other. The fountain was one, and Christ's fullness the source of both, but the channels were different, and each divinely fitted for the special ministry it was specially given to sustain; like the colors of the rainbow, distinct in themselves, but blending in beauteous harmony to form one arc of divine and heavenly radiancy.
John breaks out in holy ecstasy with, " Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" (1 John 3:11Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. (1 John 3:1).)
The anthem of Paul's heart is, " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ!" And then, in deep and sober words, he tells us what and where we once were, and how we reached our present state of blessedness: " God," says he, " who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (E ph. 2: 4-6.)
The prayer of the apostle for believers, in the first chapter of this epistle, is based upon the fact, that saints are actually in possession of these blessings, and he asks, " The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory," that they may intelligently enter into them, as well as know the exceeding greatness of the power that is in exercise towards them as believers in Christ, that power being the same by which God " wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenlies," and where He "gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body."
Christ, a Man exalted above everything in heavenly glory, with believers united to Him by the Holy Ghost to form His body, was that which specially occupied the heart, and called out the energies of the apostle Paul. The Jewish system, by which men had been previously in relationship with God, and of which he had, previous to his conversion, been so zealous an upholder, had, in the ways of God, and now in his own faith, given place to the church. That whole system, which shut Gentiles out from all blessing, and made Jews and Gentiles enemies one of another, had been abolished by Christ, who had died that He might destroy this enmity, and thus "make in himself of twain one new man," reconciling " both unto God in one body by the cross." It is in this corporate relationship of believers to Christ, as the church which is His body, that the thought of union comes in.
Thinking of himself as an individual, Paul can speak of " the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)); but when his thoughts are engaged with the relationship that subsists between Christ and all believers, he says, " Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it," and that He " nourisheth and cherisheth" those that compose it as "members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones;" comparing this to the union of a man with his wife, and quoting the words of Gen. 2, where, in connection with the original institution of marriage, it is said, " For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh," adding, " This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church." (Eph. 5)
In this epistle Paul develops the thought of union on the side of what the church is to Christ as His body, and of what He is towards it as the object of His own care; hut we have another side of this blessed subject presented to us (1 Cor. 12), where, in addition to the thought of the union between Christ and His saints as members of His body, we have that of the union between saints, and one another, as members of one body. The simile that he uses here is not that of the union between a man and his wife, but that of the connection subsisting between the various parts of the human body. He says, " 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 the 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 been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many." He then develops, under this figure, the interdependence and mutual relationships in which believers stand one to another as members of this one body, and tells us that God has so formed the body, that there can be no schism in it, and " that the members should have the same care one of another," adding-so real is this union, and ever-acting is this interdependence -that " if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it."
In this view of union all believers are one body by the one Spirit; He animates and unites them one to another; but, as such, they are, says the apostle, " the body of Christ, and members in particular." The conduct, then, of Christians one towards another, in all its bearings, is to be regulated by this blessed, living union, formed and sustained by that " one and selfsame Spirit." This union of saints as one body underlies all the apostle's exhortations as to their walk and conduct, and this comes out remarkably in the Epistle of Romans, where we should scarcely have looked for it, the subject set before us there being the position of man in his individual responsibility before God. He says, in chapter xii., verses 4, 5, when speaking of the relative duties of believers, " For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another."
Very strikingly, too, does the apostle carry this thought of our union with Christ, as members of His body, into what is purely individual in its effects, where, when correcting the abuses to which believers can put their bodies, he says to the Corinthians (1 Con 6.), "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?" stating, as the ground of this, " He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit."
The union of believers with Christ, as the risen and exalted Man in heaven, Head of all principalities and power, is the subject of the Epistle to the Colossians, being brought forward there, to save saints from falling back under Judaism combined with human philosophy. He states, that all such retrograde steps flowed from " not holding the Head, from which all the body, by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together. increaseth with the increase of God." (Chapter 2:19.)
Brief and imperfect as our sketch of what Paul says on this subject has been, we think we have adduced enough from his writings to show that union always carries with it the thought of the corporate relationship of saints to Christ as His body and His bride, and that to confound this with indwelling and with simple unity, which enter alone into our individual relationships as believers in Christ, is a very real hindrance to the soul's apprehension of divine truth. C.W.
(Concluded from page 258.)