Marks whereby the Assembly of God and the Table of the Lord were and are to be known.
To Mr. J. G. Deck, Motueka, Nelson, N.Z.
My Dear Brother,
Our Lord searched the heart of Peter (in John 21: 15-17) with three questions, which brought up to Peter's mind the roots of his failure, rather than the overt act of denial. And He graciously closed up each probing with a word of comfort: Feed my lambs (v. 15); Shepherd my sheep (v. 16); Feed my sheep (v. 17); thus breaking the self-confidence of His servant, both in himself and man, ere He confided the sheep and lambs of Israel to his care. Then He adds, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" (v. 18). What a Lord He is, and how admirable in all His ways! Many of us, too, when young, thought of "what we would do for Him," and we, too, have had to learn that the happier question is, "What will He do with us?" You will, I am sure, go along with an aged pilgrim in admiration of this wisdom and these ways of our common Lord and Master. He did not turn Peter off and send him away as a failed hireling, but used the failure as a means of fitting him for a more important service and place; and He would not accept Peter's rejection of the crown of martyrdom, but would take His own way of putting that honour upon him; no praise to Peter. Counting that, as an aged one, on reviewing your course from England, through India, England, and hither, you must have made your experiences (in a long residence here, too) as I have mine in other scenes, I have selected you as one to whom, in grace and love, I may fairly address a few thoughts connected with the work of the Lord in New Zealand. I will only add that, in doing so, I desire to remember, and myself to act upon the Lord's own words to Peter, "Follow me" (v. 19), and "Follow thou me" (v. 22).
There are, as men speak, very many gatherings in New Zealand to break bread and drink wine together, weekly and professedly, in memory of Christ and of His death until He comes (1 Cor. 11: 17-33). To interfere in the house and at the table of any one would be wrong for me and unlovely. And who, or what am I to venture to dictate at the Lord's table? I would be aware of so doing; the Lord keep me from it. But my place is, at what is His table, as a guest; and if in any measure I can guard others from sinning at it, or, in my little measure, after the line of Paul's conduct, can stay the Lord's hand from sending weakness and infirmity upon many, and cutting a good many off in discipline, by arousing the attention of the guests to any existing cause for His discipline, I would desire to do so humbly, but freely. The Lord was indeed in discipline cutting off many, that they might not be condemned with the world (v. 30-32), and Paul knew it ere he wrote his first letter, calling attention to sins, and among them to the awful one named in 1 Cor. 5.
I would, also, as one desiring to find grace to be faithful, warn the simple ones as to what are the marks of His table; and so, also, arouse the attention of some who assume their table to be His, while there is still cause to question its being so. And, indeed, God is the God of reality, and, if I and others go to a table and call it "the table of the Lord," we should expect that He will make manifest to all what it really is in His sight, whether it is His table, or whether it is not, and so, I think, He is wont to do; as well as, if it be His, to make all that is at it manifest, for He is light and is present there.
And now, firstly, there is an expression connected with our being together in His name, which is important as connected with His assembly, and is if understood, helpful to us. It occurs in Matt. 18: 18, 20, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
The gospel of Matthew gives us the history of our Lord's life here below, when looked at as Son of David (securer of the sure mercies of David) and Son of Abraham (father of the faithful, having promises for earth and heaven). Himself, the heir and alone holder of all promised blessings and the object of faith, was to have a kingdom and a church also. And it is by reason of this, as I judge, that the church, or assembly, is brought out here as in none of the other gospels. See Matt. 16: 13-28 and Matt. 18: 15-20. The word "church" never occurs in the gospels, save in these two contexts; the word occurs here, though the church was not set up until Pentecost. Now, in the second of the passages the words I have cited are found, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them." In v. 15-17 we learn how a private injury of one individual brother against another is to be met: Christ gone to heaven, there could be an appeal to the church, which would have responsibility and authority (not infallibility, but authority,) heaven-sustained, v. 18; then v. 19 a promise as to prayer; and after that v. 20. To me it is clear that this last verse contains the strength and limits of the whole and that which qualifies it: it must be in His name, whether the gathering together or the prayer. And here I must remark that the term "name" in Scripture, as applied to God and the Lord Jesus Christ in their various titles, is not merely a conventional sound without meaning. The name of "God" (Elohim) had its illustration, as first recorded in the paces of Scripture, in the first chapter of Genesis. Creation made manifest and stood forth as witness of the eternal power and Godhead of the incorruptible Elohim (Rom. 1: 20.) The second chapter brought out to light another part of His glory, viz., as "Jehovah" -- God, in His provision for and association with man in Eden. The meaning of the word Jesus is "Jehovah-a-saving" (compare Matt. 1: 21); He was made Lord (Acts 2: 36, and Phil. 2: 9-11) and Christ (Acts 2: 36), "Anointed," with a glory as such in heaven, even as He is to have a glory as "Anointed" on earth, under His Hebrew name of Messiah (John 1: 41). And what is the manifestation, now, from the throne of God and heaven of the Nazarene, once crucified, now ascended and seated on the throne under these titles, "Jehovah-a-saving for heaven, Lord of all things, the Anointed Son of Man?" This is His name, and those who come unto Him and shelter there, find every need met. A company being, in whatever humble measure, in the liberty and life-giving power of this manifestation which God has made by Jesus, and is ours through faith and the Holy Spirit, is a very different truth (for truth it is) from man's thoughts, when, from whatever motive, he merely spreads a table and sits down at it with others on the first day of the week. I judge we should all do well to stand under the light of these rays shining down upon us from the newly announced name (or manifestation) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It is a flood of blessed light, making all manifest, and of love telling itself out as none but God, who is love, can tell it; and the people into whom it shines know the hallowing effect of it on themselves as to the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Secondly. Before coming to certain tests of the table and company at it, which the scriptures give, and in the very nature of things, suppose (or take for granted): tests, therefore, which they who accredit it as the Lord's table in any place, are bound, by their allegiance to their Master and as His friends met to remember Him, to look for -- let me say a little word as to what they (the guests) are supposed to be.
Does it not suppose, as being given to disciples (who were first called Christians at Antioch), that the guests at it are a people who have been separated unto Himself in heaven (John 17: 19) from out of the world, as not of it even as He was not of it (v. 15)? His death stands between them and the world and worldliness as the Red Sea divided between Israel in the wilderness and Egypt, the house of bondage and land of captivity. He who dwells in them now is the spring and regulator of their life here below, as the flesh once was. And now, instead of being deluded by Satan and led down to destruction by him, body, soul, and spirit, they know and have been owned by Jesus, the mighty conqueror of Satan as His own, and they have found in Him, risen from death and the grave and glorified, an object of joy and rejoicing. They sing His victory and enter with joy into His having triumphed gloriously and anticipate the songs of His triumph and the rejoicings of that day. One man has been found who has done nothing amiss; and He has won, by His lowly and perfect obedience unto God, a place from God, a place and glory which He has opened unto them. His complete self-surrender when here below, "Lo! I come to do thy will, O God" (the whole of that will, and nothing but it); and the beauty of His ways and thoughts and the marvellous moral display He has made of His Father and God have laid hold of their hearts and (forgetting all that is behind and looking forward to meet Him), they live to Him and Him alone. Dust of this earth they think not to collect as their portion; the old selfishness of flesh they have judged; Satan they resist, knowing that he will soon be bruised under their feet. The supper is a feast in the wilderness pilgrimage of life. in the entering into the land and amid the wars thereof -- but they at it are the church militant and are fighting, through grace, the good fight of faith. Many a fall and many a wound they each may have had, and yet they can sing "In all things more than conquerors through him that loved us." Is it not so, beloved? The church is the house of God, the body of Christ, and serves as exhibited down here, for the nursery, the schoolroom, the guardroom, the hospital of God's own heavenly people. But it is only for those who on credible testimony can be received at first as already His. And here, observe, that (in Scripture) the seeker and the inquirer were not as such called Christians. The saved were those who could take their places in the company that owned the apostle's doctrine and fellowship (Acts 2: 42); and they were of one heart and of one soul (Acts 4: 32) through the presence and power of the Spirit.
Christ never forgets His Father's choice of us, nor His own call, nor the faith and purpose of the Spirit in us -- even in the days when we were not self-judged; as we should have been, surely. He is the alone faithful and true One, and His ways change not. He has, too, for you and for me, little as we may be, tokens of His love and good pleasure just suited to our littleness and low estate.
Thirdly, there are the habits and ways of His people and assembly down here, to which attention will have to be called if we come to trace the way back to their original position of those who have wandered from it. These I leave for the present, and turn to
Marks whereby the Assembly of God was and is to be known.
It is the assembly called out of this world; one and holy.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven was what Peter preached at Pentecost when he called on those that believed: "As many as the Lord our God shall call. . . . Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2: 39, 40). The apostle's doctrine and practice and fellowship were clean outside of Judaism (v. 41). The church was formed through faith upon Christ gone up out of this earth into heaven and made Lord and Christ there on the throne; it was thoroughly worthy of Him as being there, and had been formed and was sustained by the Holy Spirit come down to dwell on earth among poor sinners who believed in the Messiah martyred and rejected, as now alive and on the throne in heaven -- the fountain of all grace. Paul was called out of all earthly and worldly blessings by a Lord gone into heaven; and he called people to go out to Jesus the crucified and ascended (Heb. 13: 12, 13, and Gal. 1: 4 and 6: 14); it presents one body and one Spirit, and it is holy in principle and practice, sanctified to God.
As to the one body and one Spirit: a few remarks may suffice to show how far the one body and one Spirit are essential characteristics of the church or company called out of earth for heavenly places and blessings, even as Israel and saints before had been called out of idolatry for earthly places and earthly blessings. A king is yet to reign upon earth centre of government and worship on God's behalf. A king supposes both a kingdom and "subjects." The king is the higher party of the two; the "subjects" are the people who are blessed by relationship with him, members of his kingdom; not members of the king. The word "subject," not "member," answers to the word king in the official relationship of king and people in a kingdom. On the other hand no Englishman would say, speaking of a human body, "the head and its subjects," but the head and its members. A human body has but one head; and many "members" are required to make up the complement of the body. Our Lord Jesus Christ has had all things put under His feet (Eph. 1: 22, 23), and has been given to be Head over them to His assembly; but then, likewise (and the truth is distinct from that of His being Head over all things in the sense of His causing all things to work together for our good), He is Head of His body, which is the fulness (or complement) of Him that filleth all in all. May [we] grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ from whom the whole body joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4: 15, 16, comp. 1 Cor. 12: 7-27). There is but one such Head, but one such Body.
It is not that there is but one Spirit in this one body, which is all that we need to remember. He is God, a person in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, who has wrought in creation, in providence, in government, who now, in eternal salvation and redemption, takes a new place and comes down to dwell in the body the church; the alone power that ought to work in it too. The apostles had to wait for Him as the promise of the Father, Acts 1: 4, 5, 8. In Acts 2 He came down and made their company to be the church, and gave out a bold testimony for the Lord on the throne on high, forming a company and a teaching and a fellowship and practice which were new. Note the word Spirit through v. 4, 17, 18. This he continues in Acts 3 and Acts 4, adding certain things, however. In Acts 5 He is the power of discipline inside the assembly and putting Peter forward (v. 3, 9, 32), making the place a terror to the unrepentant. In 6 He shows Himself as the One, fulness of whom would fit a man for diaconal care, or for the work of an evangelist (Acts 6: 3, 5, 8; Acts 7: 51, 55); leading on to (7) Stephen's becoming, through Him, an adequate testimony against Israel; that, as they had rejected a Christ in humiliation upon earth, so they rejected Him now in glory, and giver of forgiveness of sins and of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8, when the twelve apostles, under the first persecution of the church, tarried in Jerusalem. He used those that were scattered abroad to go everywhere through Judea, and Samaria preaching the word. He was with them, and v. 17-23 met new difficulties. Read, too, Acts 9, Saul's conversion, and mark v. 17, 31 -- (compare Acts 13: 2, 4, 9, 52, etc.). I will not write more, but I commend the careful reading of the Acts, as showing how the presence of God, the, Holy Spirit, and His using men, and working by men, is stamped in divine grace upon every part of the narrative.
Fourthly. Ere I come to holiness, I would say a few words on the church as a depositary of the Scriptures, and so, of truth. Isaiah 8 gives us part of the trial of Israel; and there we read of the word being sealed up among His (Immanuel's) disciples;" v. 12 to 20 are very important, and apply to Pentecostal times, as also, to the hour yet to come to the remnant. The term "disciples" is a name new, and marks a relationship new to the Jewish mind as a line of blessing. The old line of blessing to them was that of lineal descent from Abram. The one new was, "You have His word." This is more developed in John 15 than in 16, where their relationship in the Spirit is given. Study John 17 and Rom. 11: 12-24, as giving very different connections of the same truth about the word of God, and in His people down here. Also John 14, Acts 20: 32, 2 Tim. 3: 14-17, etc., and 1 Tim. 3: 16.
The Lord Jesus Christ in the revelation of God and the Father. Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1: 15); the image of God (2 Cor. 4: 4); in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2: 9); the man that is Jehovah's Fellow (Zech. 13: 7 and 11: 12, 13). He that has seen me has seen the Father also (John 14: 9; read from v. 6 to 20, and John 1: 18).
The written word is the place where alone all about Him can be found by those that are taught of God (John 5: 37-47, and John 6: 45).
The scriptures may be said then to be, in a certain sense, God's letter to the assembly; and believers and the assembly are responsible to be His letter to the world.
Fifthly. The assembly is responsible by privilege and calling to be holy.
For our sakes the Lord has sanctified (or set apart) Himself on the throne on high, that we may be set apart (sanctified) by the Father through the truth (John 17: 17, 18, 19). He is, as it were, the vow of our Nazariteship. We are to be holders forth of the word of life (Phil. 2: 16). But more than this, He is there as the Head of the body, the church. If Christ is Head of the body the church, if God the Holy Spirit indwells it, is it unable to find out, to see and to judge of evil which may be in it? To be unwilling to admit sin and sins in one's own family and to tolerate it in the assembly, is to cast dishonour upon the Lord Himself; making Him out to be more indifferent about sin than we are; a very awful sin it is too. This has been done by many, avowedly, too, as to doctrine, morality, and spirituality; and where tolerated, and in principle adopted and sanctioned by any company, it ceases, if it perseveres in so doing, to be part of the holy catholic church. If my principles are such, the sooner I were separated from the better.
On the other hand, there may be infantine weakness and excessive ignorance in an assembly -- and the more of these there be, the more would the Spirit of God and of Christ recognise there all that is of God -- all that makes the company to be part of the church; and so ought 1, too, to recognise it and seek to make it consistent with Christ's mind about it. But what if I find a company whose principles might be, 1st, the denial of the one body and one Spirit; 2ndly, the maintaining the independency of the churches; 3rdly, the setting aside of responsibility as to the truth and pleading against holy discipline in word and doctrine and walk of life. Should I accredit it? Nay, I ought to leave it as an assembly to its own principles, as antagonistic to Scripture and to mine; and (counting it neither heavenly nor divine) leave it alone. To their own master they, in it, will individually stand or fall, and I would pray for them each and all, and try to help each into a better position. But why waste time through giving them credit for being that which they are not, for being that which they disclaim? The state and condition of individuals may be very low in an assembly which owns Christ in His Headship and as Head, which owns and recognises the living God the Spirit to be with and among them; which desires to purge out all leaven that it may be an unleavened lump, etc.; in such case I own the assembly and try to keep the individuals. But if the assembly is anti-scriptural and anti-christian in principle as an assembly, I say the word applies to them in it, "Come out of her my people." I cannot own such assembly as God's "The Spirit and the bride say, Come," mark that which pastoral power now-a-days, should seek to bring forth among God's people down here.
I mean not, dear brother, to tax you for an answer to this. I publish it without your having seen or heard of it, so that you can in no wise be looked upon by any as responsible to repudiate or approve any part of it at all. Glad shall I be, if we do meet, for any remarks you may kindly make to me upon it, if you feel it worth while so to do.
In respect and, affection, as in God's presence, I write it,
Yours in Him,
G. V. W. Christchurch, March 14, 1874.
P.S. -- Read 2 Cor. 5: 14-17; if it has hold over me, "I know no man after the flesh."
Nor human kindness, nor leaven, can be allowed in any sacrifice -- they would spoil and corrupt it; but the salt of our God, in plentiful measure, will preserve.
As to one's labours among the professing world, take Jer. 15: 19, for your motto; and for those in the Gospel Rom. 1: 1-7.
"Selections from the Writings and Ministry of G. V. Wigram."