Which Is His Body

 •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 9
We have seen that the “assembly” in its external manifestation in Jerusalem was scattered abroad at the death of Stephen. Then the blessing flowed down to Samaria, and Saul of Tarsus, in the midst of his terrible career of sin and rebellion against a glorified Christ is called out to be the minister of that grace which called him, and of the assembly which he had persecuted, and of the faith which once he had destroyed! He is converted to the recognition of the union of those scattered saints with an ascended Christ. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” This wonderful truth he ministers in Ephesians 1; 2:1-10, both as it was in the counsels of God, and action to make it good. Everything in this scripture is looked upon as from God’s side — even faith (Acts 2:88And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? (Acts 2:8)) is the gift of God. He first shows the choice of the persons, before the foundation of the world; and as predestined to certain privileges. Individual relationship as men in Christ with God, and sons before the Father, first, fully settled. It is the highest of all our relationships; higher even than our being members of Christ’s body. To the praise of the glory of His grace they are accepted in the Beloved. Thus they have been brought by redemption, as we have seen, into the same place with Christ as man (vss. 3-7). Then each has been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, having believed the Gospel of his salvation — the seal of God marking us as His, as looking back at the perfection of the redemption which is past; as looking forward, an earnest of the inheritance that is before us, as joint-heirs with Christ in His headship over all things which is to come (vss. 13-14). The inheritance we have not yet actually received, nor could we till He receives it; the earnest of it we have, in the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The salvation, the glad tidings of which we have heard, is the deliverance or transfer of the person out of the old state and place in which we were in Adam into an entirely new place and relationship with God in Christ.
Then Christ is seen raised up as Man and gone on high, set at God’s right hand, Head over all things to the church which is His body, which is formed of Jew and Gentile, dead in sins, children of wrath, quickened together with Christ, raised up together, and seated, [not yet with, but] “in” Him in the heavenlies. Such is the revealed place of the assembly, “His body,” according to the counsels of God, and the work of God by which He effectuates them, during the interval while Christ is hidden in the heavens, and rejected by the world; and before He is de facto “Head over all things.” When all things are put under His feet in the age to come — the “assembly,” in purpose and result is “His body,” the fullness of Him that dwelleth in all.”
Thus we have seen Christ — “Head over all things,” in three characters: God — Creator of them; Son — and appointed Heir of them; and as Man, according to Psalm 8, the Man of God’s counsel and purpose. He takes it all by redemption, as by personal right. But an interval comes, while He is hidden in the heavens, and the Holy Spirit dwells on earth; during which He is seated on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:2121To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Revelation 3:21)), before He sits on His own — as Son of man. “We see not yet all things put under Him.” Meanwhile, the “assembly” — “his body” — is formed; its members co-quickened with Him, co-raised, one with the other, and co-seated in the heavenlies in Christ.
Now if we had no more than this about the body of Christ, in scripture, we should have to accept what many, alas! have held from very early days in the history of the church, that this body is invisible, and only a thing of counsel and purpose in God’s mind. This thought came from confounding the visible, external body, or house, with the true body of Christ. The not seeing what the body of Christ was, and the distinction between it and the visible assembly around, forced those who could not accept the visible corrupt thing as His body, to invent the terms “visible” and “invisible church.”
But when we turn to the first epistle to the Corinthians, we find (Acts 12:12-26) another thought than that in Ephesians 1. There we have the body of Christ seen in God’s purpose and counsel, as it will yet be manifested in glory, and those who compose it — seated in heavenly places in Christ; that, which, when He is in possession of all His glory, as Son of man, in the coming age, is “his body.” In 1 Corinthians 12 we see the body of Christ as actually existing upon earth, maintained in. unity by the power of the Holy Spirit. So much is the truth of its being here on earth before the mind of the apostle, that he says, in verse 26, “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” Here all its members are seen on earth; this is plain, for the saints who have fallen asleep do not “suffer.” It is those who are on earth at any given time, during the sojourn of the church on earth, who enter into the thought of this scripture; they are maintained in unity by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who baptized them into “one body.”
Here let me say, that an individual is not said to be baptized with the Holy Spirit in scripture. Not even our Lord Himself. Of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Him, as Man, in bodily shape as a dove, when He was about to enter upon His public ministry, He says Himself, “For him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:2727Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. (John 6:27)).
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a corporate thing, forming the relationship of a body of people, as of the assembly on the day of Pentecost. The one hundred and twenty were corporately baptized of the Holy Spirit, and thus constituted “one body,” not at that time, of course, for the truth of it was not revealed, for the faith of its members, but truly so before God. Afterward, Gentiles were incorporated into this body, as in Acts 10-11. (See especially Acts 11:15-1715And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. 17Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? (Acts 11:15‑17).) Now, this baptism of the Holy Spirit having formed all those in whom He dwelt into “one body” at Pentecost, there was no need to repeat it from that time. Individual saints, members of the body of Christ, have died, and their spirits are with the Lord; their bodies — the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 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)) dissolved in dust, and perhaps scattered to the four winds. They are of that body, and will be found in its unity in eternity, but have ceased to enter into account as of it here, as at present seen on earth, where it is maintained in its unity by the Spirit of God. Those who have ever since believed the glad tidings of their salvation have come into this body by the individual sealing of the Spirit of God; and thus it is true of believers now on earth, that “by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.” because we have, by the sealing of the Spirit of God, come into that which was then formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
How important, beloved friends, is it to see that this body of Christ is here upon earth now, as truly as on the day of Pentecost. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is here on earth, where, as to personal place, He maintains the body of Christ. All those who have died and passed away are of the body of Christ, as seen in Ephesians 1, but it is only those alive, at this, or any given moment, on earth, who are seen and treated as the body of Christ, according to this chapter before us. So that here, at the close of nineteen centuries, the body of Christ is maintained in its unity as truly and perfectly as when it was at first constituted at the day of Pentecost. The external manifestation, alas, is gone; but the Holy Spirit, who came down and constituted it first, is here still; and the body of Christ is maintained, as then, by His presence and power.
Now, when we come to verse 27, we find that Paul applies this truth to the assembly at Corinth: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” That is, in principle, as gathered together at Corinth, they were the body of Christ in Corinth; not, of course, separating them from the whole body here below, but as part of it, and according to the principle of their constitution; and so true of the whole complement of the saints in any other given place.
When we read the closing verses 28-31, another and important thought comes in. He changes the language now from “body” to “assembly.” In Ephesians 1 we remember that “assembly” and “body” are used as interchangeable terms, because the thing is there seen in its result and according to the purpose of God. In 1 Corinthians his speaks of the “assembly,” and speaks of the “body”; treating one practically and in principle as the other, because the truth of the “body” was to be worked out and expressed in the “assembly,” but he does not use the words interchangeably. This is very striking, and shows the wisdom of God’s Spirit in the choice of His words.
It draws forth the adoration of the heart of the renewed man, those wondrous touches of wisdom in the word of God. In what is only a stumbling-block at times to unbelief, faith finds a mine of divine wisdom and beauty. The Lord be praised for the opened eye to behold and profit by His words!
It is in this epistle that we find the responsibility of man coming in, and warnings to those who have Christ’s name on them, as well as to those who were builders after the apostles. (See 1 Cor. 3.) Of this we shall speak in full on another occasion, as the Lord may direct. In these closing verses, then, of 1 Corinthians 12, we find, after He has unfolded the body, as seen on earth, and spoken of the assembly in Corinth as being in principle the body, he then shows various members of the body of Christ, gifts and the like., set in the assembly: members of the body, set in the assembly — of course, looking at the latter, as the whole corporate profession of Christianity on earth. But while the “body” is spoken of, and the “assembly” is spoken of, one is not said to be the other (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)), although treated as practically identified here below. It was the ruin of the assembly, when this ceased to be so.
This gives room for the working out in full result of the grace and work of God, in the truth and fact of the church as built by Him; while leaving room for man’s responsibility to come in, and warnings to be given as needed here below, as to the responsible church built by man.
In 1 Corinthians 10:16-1716The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16‑17), we have the Lord’s table given us to be the symbol of the unity of this body of Christ upon earth, in partaking of the “one loaf.” “For we being many, are one loaf, one body; for we are all partakers of that one loaf.”
We have seen then, I trust, dear friends, the body of Christ in its two-fold presentation, that is, first, as formed of saints seated in the heavenlies in Christ according to the purpose of God in eternity and His work in time, which gives it a wholly heavenly character. Secondly, upon earth maintained in unity by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the present interval, the faith of which is expressed in partaking of the “one loaf” in the Lord’s supper. I turn now to another aspect of the church, as the “House or habitation of God” here below. This will come out as a separate subject.
Meanwhile, may the Lord bless His people fully. May each one’s eye be single, that the whole body may be full of light, and that the truths we have sought to bring before them in some little measure, may, with all their sanctifying power, form our souls that He may be glorified, and that we may grow up to Him in all things, for His name’s sake. Amen.
Note. — It is of the deepest importance to apprehend that the body of Christ, as seen on earth, during the interval while Christ is hidden in the heavens, is only composed of those saints who at this moment are alive on earth. There is one scripture (Eph. 1:2222And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, (Ephesians 1:22)) which looks at it in purpose and result as the entire gathering out of the saints from Pentecost till the Lord’s coming for the saints. The others treat it as the complement of saints here, where, as to personal place, the Holy Spirit is, who constitutes, by His presence in the members, “one body.”
In Romans 12 it is seen in the activities of its members on earth.
In 1 Corinthians 12 it is solidly seen on earth that “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” Those here are only those who are in the place of suffering; and gifts are not in heaven.
In Ephesians 4 the ascended Christ has given gifts to His body, for the perfecting of the saints, and gathering and edification of the body as also seen on earth: for such ministry and edification is not in heaven but here: where it is said of it, “From which the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth.”
The apostles saw that before their eyes on earth which was the body. They never contemplated the church remaining here for long, but looked for the coming of the Lord. He did tarry, in long-suffering love. Still the thing which is here before our eyes is the body, as before theirs. Just as the British army is the British army now, that is, the effective fighting men; and it was the British army at Waterloo also; and probably not a soldier remains in it that was in it then. They have, like the saints who have died, passed out into the reserve, or freedom from service, as Paul and the saints since then; and while all of it, do not enter into the count of the body as seen of God on earth today. They will be eventually, according to Ephesians 1, the body when Christ is de facto Head over all things, and meanwhile, I am sure, suffer loss of no privileges whatever which they enjoyed when here.