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The Nature, Object, and Responsibility of the Church, The Body of Christ

By J.B. Stoney

      I suppose there is hardly an exercised soul but would admit that we are in the difficult days, the perilous times; yet it is one thing to see the difficulty, and another to understand the remedy for the difficulty. Are you exercised as to the remedy for the difficulty? In 2 Timothy 3 we read of the perilous times. The apostle did not live in those times, but he prophesied of them. The remedy that he gives is "my doctrine" or teaching, and the Holy Scripture. Many are ignorant of Paul's teaching, both as to the gospel and the church. I do not say that the gospel is not preached; but Paul's gospel and the church came out in Acts 9. That was the first time either the one or the other came out; and these two are embraced in Paul's teaching. Paul thus encourages Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also". Now note, that that day was a darker one than this day. All in Asia had turned away from Paul; there was only one man whom he could in any measure count on. See how the saints forsook him! In chapter 4 he writes, "all men forsook me" He foresaw the spiritual wickedness that would obtain. Now from what had they declined? From the truth specially committed to Paul. They did not depart from Christ nor from the hope of salvation; but what they gave up was holding the heavenly position, which has been already spoken of - effectively I trust to many - as the truth against which the power of the enemy is specially directed. Let me explain that when you hold your heavenly position, it is not merely that you go to heaven, but that you cleave to Him who is in heaven. That is the secret of true love.

      "Whither thou goest, I will go". Here the church at Ephesus failed. It is a great help to read the Old Testament; you get there the great principles of truth. God is the same there as in the New Testament, only He has a different circle of interest. You will find all the way through, that the man who adhered to God's circle of interest for the time, was specially supported by Him; while the one who deviated from that circle, even though seeking another dispensation, was powerless and disaffected. Many a pious man now sticks to the dispensation which was in line when Christ was on earth; they love Jesus, are devoted and zealous, do many good works, but they are not in the line of God's chief interest. Now in the difficult days, what is the remedy? There is no remedy unless you adhere to the truth as it has been given. You may say, We are a feeble few. True, but that is all the more reason that we should adhere to it. It is an immense cheer to us in our insignificance to feel that, feeble as we are, we are identified with God's chief interest. The remnant is always most exemplary where the departure began. Like a man out of health. Supposing he has a bad eye, what would mark his restoration? Would it not be an improvement in his eye? Thus, the point of departure is the point of restoration. See how the church of Ephesus failed after all the favours shown to it. You find that church spoken of four times in Scripture. In Acts we have the church of Ephesus in their first fervour, where they burned their books. Then in the epistle to the Ephesians, where the greatest revelation of truth ever committed was given to them. Again, to Timothy, the servant at Ephesus, the apostle writes of the two great evils, popery and radicalism. Lastly, we have the epistle to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, where John joins with Paul. It is important to note that John always gives us the essential nature of the divine quality. It is not easy to explain it.

      The Spirit and the bride say "Come". Mark the recovery! The true remnant is most exemplary at the point where the failure began. If the church - represented by Ephesus - has left its first love, the remnant is marked by the love of the bride. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come". How could any one know the feelings of the bride but the bride? The bride in company with the Holy Spirit is distinguished for her personal attachment to Christ. This is paramount. True affection never overlooks its responsibilities. It is an immense cheer that the great thing that marks spiritual power in a day of ruin, is that you are true to the truth which the Lord has committed to you. Now as to the Scriptures which I have read, the first subject which I would press upon each one here is Christ's first circle of interest.

      I am addressing many of His servants. Surely His first circle of interest must be yours also. I daresay that you have heard some say that the corporate thing is over. Christ's chief interest is unknown to one who can say that; and if it is unknown to you how can you understand His mind about anything? If I have a friend am I not interested in his chief interests? Do you know Christ's interests? Remember that His treasure is here, hid in the field, as we read in Matthew 13. The field is the world, Christ's treasure is in it. I have read these two scriptures that we may see our calling, that we may have conscious knowledge of our great position. However we have failed in our corporate testimony we cannot escape from corporate responsibility. The apostle writes: "I ... after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you; making mention of you in my prayers". You may say that every one is not up to the knowledge of the mystery. This I admit. But why are they not up to it? Where is the defect? Because they are not established and restful in the gospel. You are not up to the mystery until you know that you have a Saviour in glory. You would not enjoy union with Christ if you did not know Him in glory; that is, if you did not know that all the distance between God and you had been removed on His side, so that the nearer you are to Him the more assured you are of His grace. You have a home in the Father's house. That is the gospel. That is the gospel from God's side. The prodigal found that the nearer he came to his father, the better off he was. The apostle presses upon the Corinthians that they would be transformed into the same image by beholding the Lord's glory. I would ask the youngest believer, Are you at home in the glory, and do you enjoy a Saviour there? That would be "changed into the same image". No one can tell how it is effected; but it is not merely by reading the word; it is by beholding the glory. The glory is God's satisfaction, according to all His attributes, resting upon the Lord Jesus Christ your Saviour. The effect upon you through beholding the Lord's glory is that you are altered completely. It is not only that your judgment has changed; we find that in Psalm 73, but you are personally changed.

      'Yet sure, if in Thy presence
      My soul still constant were,
      Mine eye would more familiar
      Its brighter glories bear.
      And thus Thy deep perfections
      Much better should I know,
      And with adoring fervour
      In this Thy nature grow'. Hymn 51.

      You may taunt me and say, If that is true, why are you not more there?

      I am ready for that, for I am assured that if I were more there, I should be more affected by it, and then I should be a more effective servant. I have not yet touched on the church, the mystery.

      If you are fully in the grace of the gospel, you will be ready and glad to know that you are united to the One who has wrought all this blessing for you. It may be said, All Christians are united to Him, and so we are, the moment we receive the Holy Spirit; but how many of us consciously know union? Believe me, union is a wonderful reality. The first sense of union is, He is my Head, He dictates everything. No doubt you will feel humbled at times that you are not under His dictation. But before I proceed I call your attention to the exercises indispensable to the Christian.

      The first is, you know that every purpose of God has been accomplished for you. There is immense satisfaction of heart as the light of this is known to you in detail. The second is, that the Holy Spirit's work exclusively now is to make true to you the grace which is yours, to form you in the reality of all that which has been done for you; and for this the servant of God ministers the word. Finally, your own soul waits upon God in prayer, that you may apprehend that for which you are apprehended. The apostle prays that they might be given the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I would press earnestly upon you the value of these words. Often as I have read Ephesians those words seem to be increasingly wonderful to me. You may know every word of the epistle, you may know what is stated in every line of it; but if you have not the spirit of wisdom and revelation, it is no good to you; you will not grasp God's thought in it. I am lost in the immensity of it; and I am glad I am lost in it, because then I turn to God. The mystery is that when Christ was rejected here, then was divulged that His body was here. John says of the things that Jesus did, "if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written". Nothing of Christ will be lost; all will come out in His body, the assembly. Can anyone compass the vastness of the structure which has been here over eighteen hundred years; and all will come out in the new Jerusalem, each of us being a part of it?

      I do not dwell upon the hope of His calling

      it begins with the place, verse 4;
      then the state, verse 5;
      then the relationship, verse 6.
      That is the calling of God.

      Now I turn to verse 19: "what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead".

      The word 'know' in verse 18 is the same word used in other places for conscious knowledge. It is important to apprehend that you should have conscious knowledge of the power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places. All the members went up with Him then in God's mind. To give an illustration: all the feathers of a bird go up with the bird, and every feather came from the bird. Just as Eve came from the rib of Adam, so every Christian derives from Christ. The body is the complement of Christ. No one can know his place as a member of the body of Christ until he has conscious knowledge of the power which is to us-ward who believe. Now I turn to chapter 3: 14. The subject is quite different. In chapter 1 it is that you may have the conscious knowledge of the counsel of God, of His calling.

      In chapter 3 you have the Spirit's work in you. Here you are made heavenly in tastes and interests. Hence we read, "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith". Do you note the greatness of the power to effect this in you, and that nothing but the power of God could displace what you are in nature? The old has to be displaced. God only can displace the old, and God only can erect the new. He has made an end of you in the cross, and He only can make this which is true of you true to you. When we contemplate this passage, we can account for the small number of Christians who know that they are heavenly, however true it is of them before God. You must be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man, that the Christ may dwell in your heart by faith. It is not merely heaven which is brought into our hearts by faith, but it is the Man that is in heaven, who is dwelling in our hearts by faith; and, thank God, when the Christ dwells in our hearts, we are heavenly in life, and tastes and interests. Many have thought that they would become heavenly by renouncing the earthly. No; the real way to renounce the earthly and to be heavenly in taste is by Christ dwelling in your heart by faith; the Man who is exalted to the right hand of God dwelling with all His tastes and interests in your heart. Blessed be God, it required the mighty power of God to accomplish this for you. You are in Christ. That you get in chapter 1. Now in chapter 3, Christ is in you. You have first to learn that you are in Christ, and next Christ is in you.

      No one can explain the blessedness of Christ dwelling in your heart by faith. Think how He would control you, according to His own will and pleasure. What a truce it would be to your will! Christ Himself swaying you in everything, for His service and testimony.

      In Galatians Christ lives in you.
      In 2 Corinthians 3, Christ is your object in glory.
      In Colossians, Christ is your Head.

      But great as He is as your life, or as your object in glory, or as your Head, there is much more here in Ephesians 3; "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth and height" - the whole domain of glory; then - "to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge". If the church at Ephesus had continued in the work of the Spirit in them, they would not have left their first love.

      Here you have come to the acme of the Spirit's work in you; and the consummation is, "that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God". It is only now that you realise the power which wrought in Christ. You are now by the Spirit's power in the heavenly position. The blessed One who is in heaven is dwelling in your heart by faith. You are not merely made acquainted with the heavenly scene where He is, but Himself dwells in your heart by faith; so that it is not the scene of glory that is in your heart, but the Christ who is there. Divine power has brought you into this heavenly position. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us". The power is now in you; it is not merely that you are in the conscious knowledge of it as in chapter 1: 19, but you are in the power now. Hence the doxology - "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen". You have power now to be descriptive of Christ in this world. It is most blessed. In the house aspect you are fruit-bearing, and going forth as missionaries, as in John 15. But here it is more John 17. Christ first sets us as Himself in the presence of the Father, and then He sets us as Himself in the presence of the world. One might say, Is not the body in the house? Yes, it is; the body is the organism; like the machinery of a clock, it is inside. In a clock you do not see the internal working, but if the machinery is in good order the time is correct. If the time is not correct, you know that the defect is in the machinery. I would now dwell on the heavenly ground, which evokes such terrible opposition. The whole force of the enemy is concentrated on the heavenly position.

      Now that you are in heavenly power you are to be on the earth descriptive of the heavenly man in every detail of life. Then you must begin at the beginning. Every good thing comes down; you come out now with Christ dwelling in your heart, and you begin with the church, chapter 4, "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace". If you fail in the first you will fail in all the rest. As you enter on the heavenly ground, all the force of Satan will be arrayed against you. Nothing aggravates Satan so much as to be descriptive of Christ in exaltation in the place where Christ's rejection, the most diabolical act, was perpetrated. I say, with deep sorrow of heart, that I never made an attempt to accept the heavenly ground, without there was a bait thrown in my way.

      Satan has only two forces, like a double-barrelled gun; the one is a bait to allure you; if that does not succeed, he will try to crush you. You see it in the children of the captivity in Daniel; he first offers them the king's meat, and when they refuse that, he says, 'I'll burn them'. The same God who delivered them from the one can deliver them from the other, and in a more distinct way. May every one of you be so assured in spirit of your heavenly position that Balaam may not succeed in diverting you from it. Balaam is the social element which corrupts. I have seen it. Where did our children pick that up? In association, in company with others. I suppose there is not a father in this room who does not know what damage his children have got by association, social intercourse with the children of worldly Christians. It is the social element that corrupts the church. What is your vocation, brethren? What could be so dear to a man of real affection for his Lord as to stand for Him where the many are declining and lukewarm? The hardest conflict manifests the deepest virtue.

      You have heard of the officer who in face of the enemy tore down the colours and bound them round his body, saying, You will take me before you take the colours. That is what I call fidelity. Take me before you take them. You must not give up the colours, however things go. If you have reached your heavenly position in divine power, you will maintain for Christ in His exaltation as long as you remain here. I do not ask you to surrender anything; I ask you to have Christ dwelling in your heart by faith. You may say, Show us a pattern man. We all like to copy; but there is no gain in copying. You have to learn the Lord for yourself. All you learn for yourself will remain, and nothing else. Everyone has his own history. In closing I would refer to the evangelists and the last three parables in Matthew 13. They are deeply interesting.

      I can rejoice in the evangelist's work, and I think his gift is the highest. The evangelist is given by the Head, but if he does not know Christ's chief interest he will not fit his converts for their right place. Formerly, a recruiting officer recruited for his own corps; you may be sure he selected his man. If you do not understand where or what the corps is, you have not the object in recruiting. Many an evangelist thinks only of saving souls. It is right, surely, to seek to save souls; but this would not the less interest and absorb him if in his heart he could say of the saved one, he is a member of Christ's body; to sweep the house diligently, not for the benefit of man merely, but to find the silver piece and to put it along with the other nine pieces; see Luke 15. You must know where the other nine are or you cannot put your converts with them. The first of these three parables is the treasure hid the field; the second, the pearl of great price, the value of the church to Christ; the third, the net. I would ask you to sit for ten minutes alone and meditate on Christ's interest in the church, the one beautiful thing dear to Him in this world; the one thing that His heart is set on, hid here in the midst of all the distraction and evil. As an illustration, think of a man who had a beautiful garden which a horde of robbers had devastated. When asked why he retained that garden, he would reply, I keep the garden because of the arbour in which my wife sits. The church, Christ's interest, is still on the earth, notwithstanding all the devastation. If evangelists do not keep this before them, they will not gather the good, the converts, into vessels. We read, they "sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away". The Lord grant that each of us may so enter on our heavenly position, that in the power here made known to us we may be ready to withstand all the force of the enemy and "having done all, to stand". The words which are used in chapter 1: 19 are the same words that are used in chapter 6, where we read "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might". No man can face Satan until he knows the power of God for himself, as we see in Joshua 3:10, "Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you". The power which has brought you over Jordan is the power by which all the force arrayed against you will be overcome.

      You must be first in your heavenly position, before you can face the enemy. In the type in Joshua 5 you do not meet the enemy until you are met by the captain of the Lord's host. You are in the heavenly position yourself. The same power that brought you there is the power which enables you to resist all the power against you down here. In conclusion I give you Stephen for an example; Acts 7:55. The Holy Spirit 'ope'd' - for him - 'the heavenly door'. That is your privilege.

      Union with Christ was not revealed to Stephen, but he knew the power by which he was united to Him. He first faithfully declares, "I see ... the Son of man standing on the right hand of God". This is the true testimony: and now in the same power that made him a witness, he can encounter all the varied power of the enemy unswervingly, so that the finest quality of grace, overcoming evil with good, was expressed in him in divine lustre ere he died. The more they pressed him, the more Christ was manifested by him. The great virtue comes out most under the greatest pressure. "Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out". The Lord grant that you may believe that you are called to a heavenly position, and that you may not be discouraged by the dilapidation with which you are surrounded. Though all is failure on our side, may our hearts be faithful and true to Him who has called us, and who is as true to His own, and as ready to help them as ever He was. May the sense of His love be revived in our hearts! The better you know His love, the better you will love Him; and as you love Him you will keep His commandments, and thus He will be able to treat you as His "friends", because He can safely trust in you.

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