And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4.
IN the former lectures I have desired to bring before you, where the grace of God has set us, as relating to ourselves, and what Christ is to us and for us. Now I desire to turn your attention to what we are to Him. We cannot be for Him if we do not know what He is for us.
I have read this passage because it describes the first time that the Holy Spirit came down to us, and then was established the habitation of God by the Spirit. We read in the last verse of the second of Ephesians, "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Now that is a great thing to start with -- that God has a habitation on the earth. In Ephesians 2 is, "In whom ye are builded together"; the true building is spoken of. I do not mean to go into how that has been intruded into, how certain men have "crept in j V unawares," bad building, and the like. What I mean to occupy your attention with is the nature of this; P 7 structure, "the habitation of God through the Spirit." It is established here in Acts 2. There were two actions of the Holy Spirit, and one of those actions I do not mean to speak much of. But the great point is that the first action is connected with the congregation. "There came a sound from heaven as of a rush -- a roaring ing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting." It does not say it filled the walls, "but all the house where they were sitting"; these latter words you must keep distinctly in your mind; that is, the congregation, with it the Spirit connects Himself. The other action of the Holy Spirit is that He fills each of them individually. So there were two fillings. It is very important for the soul to be clear about these actions. The first thing is to accept the truth, and the truth is that there is a habitation of God upon the earth, and the Holy Spirit dwells in it, notwithstanding all the corruption. If I can, I will allude to what it is in the weakest day, and in the darkest day. Still, the main thing remains, and you will never understand the assembly unless you own that it is "the habitation of God through the Spirit." Here (Acts 2) it is first established. The Holy Spirit, in a visible way came down and "filled all the house where they were sitting"; and He also, in a very distinct and marked way, at the same time, "sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." You will say, That all in the house were true believers. I do not deny it; but still, though it began that way, you must bear in mind that such things happened as that evil men "crept in unawares," and that there was bad building, and that judgment must begin at the house of God; but that side I am not going into. What I am trying to bring before you is what the assembly is, and in the house aspect more than the body aspect. The latter, if the Lord permit, I hope to bring before you another time.
Now I turn to a few scriptures, as though you were studying it for the first time; because after all, we; are practically very unacquainted with the reality of this truth. Turn to Matthew 16:15-18. "He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." That is the first time we get the statement, " My church." The word 'assembly,' as you all know, occurs in the Old Testament, but here is the Lord saying, I will build my assembly. And in what connection does that statement come forth? If you look back to chapter 14:10, you will see what led to' this, "And he sent and beheaded John in the prison." Now that intimated to the Lord that He would be rejected by His own people. God had dwelt in the cloud among Israel, but the glory had departed. But now the Lord, from that verse up to this point (I am not going into it, but it is an interesting scripture), is educating His disciples for this great announcement, even that He will have a new structure, and that new structure is "My assembly." He announces, "Upon this rock I will build my assembly," and that rock was the Son of God. That is the nature of the teaching, or education, which I believe every one of us has to go through, in order to learn the assembly. I do not dwell on the education, but rather on the result of the education. It is an interesting moment. The Lord says, "I will build my church." He does not say, I have built it. Many think that the assembly dates down from Abel. No, it is entirely a new thing, and a new thing consequent upon Christ being refused by His own people. I am not referring to the body, that is when He is entirely rejected as glorified, that is a different thing, though they conjoin, they go together. But the house, the habitation of God, is a thing manifest on this earth. I do not know anywhere in Scripture that you could say that the body wag manifested. On the contrary, the body, as far as I see from Scripture, is hidden, save as to its works. I believe that it is the vital thing in the assembly.
The Lord says, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock "--the Son of God--"I will build my church" not upon Peter, as the Romanists have made it; all their breakdown you can trace to that. What is the great importance of the Son of God? Why did He not say, the man Jesus? Because it is entirely outside of everything, simply divine ground. It is in principle what you get in John's epistle; "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? "And that gives a character to this great structure. You are a stone in it. As Peter says (1 Peter 2:5), "Ye also, as living stones."
Now I have a very interesting thing to put before you, and that is, I am not asking you, Are you saved? I do not doubt it; but have you a sense in your soul that you are material for Christ's building? This is more than your salvation; it is consequent on and corroborates your salvation, for how could you be a stone, a living stone, if you are not saved? "To whom coming as unto a living stone." When you understand this, a wonderful light comes into the soul, and you can say, Thank God I am a bit of Christ's building. You are a component part of the structure which Christ builds. That is the great thing. Hence he says, "To whom coming . . . ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house." Now that is not the same kind of union as in the body, though it is important to understand that the Spirit is the hold in each, a binding as a stone in a building. Wherever you might be, you would still be a stone in the building. But you are not in assembly function except when you are assembled, gathered of God. If I might illustrate it by an ordinary subject, all the members of parliament together in a room, would not be parliament; they are not convened. Therefore, a believers' meeting, as such, is not the assembly at all. The assembly is called God's assembly; or, as our blessed Lord called it here, "My assembly." Our idea of the assembly is borrowed from Christendom, and thus regarded as "the congregation of the faithful." Now nothing can be plainer than that when a great person has an assembly, he is chief in that assembly. If I went to a man's house who had invited me, and saw a great many collected there, but not the master of the house, I should say I had made a mistake; I came here at his invitation, and he is not here. You could not have God's assembly without the presence of God. You may have a company of believers; indeed, you might get all the believers in the world, but that would not be the assembly of God. Therefore it is said, "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the assembly of the living God," 1 Tim. 3:15.
If you were to go to an assembly at any house, the very first person you would look for is the one who invited you. Now when you come to an assembly meeting, the first person you look for in the room, and the first person before your heart, is the Lord. If otherwise, you have not a true idea of the assembly, you are affected by the leaven of Christendom. If you ask a theologian, What is your definition of the church? he will tell you "the congregation of the faithful." It is extraordinary how people are leavened with this idea. The great characteristic of the church of God is that God Himself invites you, has called you out to that company. The company looks for His presence.
Now I turn to John 20:19-23, because my object' is to lead the youngest here really to understand the assembly. "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit; whose soever sins ye remit they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." I read this, not because it is the church established, but because it is the pattern. (I think it is important for you to get hold of the pattern, though it is not the thing itself. You get a great deal in the gospels of what I call pattern, but it is not the thing itself. A pattern of the coat is not the coat, but it shows the way the coat is made. Here it is extremely interesting, and one is thankful to the Lord for giving us the pattern of the assembly at the beginning; and it is a comfort to us that we can always go back to beginnings. Here we have the assembly in its infancy. In Scripture the first time a thing is set forth, its main features are presented. You may not have it in all its development, but you have it in its real features, just as a babe has the features which will eventually develop into a man). The Lord has risen from the dead, and you get two things which are interesting to put together. He leads Mary Magdalene into association with Himself where He is; but He also comes down into the midst of His gathered ones here on earth, because He is Son over God's house. The Lord grant our hearts may be true to it. I would not think of going to an assembly where the Lord was not.
In this passage we see the pattern. There are two great things in this pattern -- one is, how He fitted His disciples to be component parts of this great assembly; and the other is, that being fitted, He instructed them as to their responsibilities. This is a pattern of the introduction to the assembly, and therefore not required for those introduced.
I do not think that every believer (though his right is unquestionable) is intelligently a component part of Christ's building, a living stone, a component part of the most august assembly that ever was upon the earth. I speak now of "My assembly," because you cannot be occupied with Christ, if your own state still occupies you. Hence the first thing the Lord says, in order to fit His disciples for this new place, is "Peace unto you"; He clears them from every disturbing element. Then they see His hands and His side -- His death; and then He says, "Peace" to them again. That is, not only peace with God, but peace in their circumstances. They are now becoming constituent parts of this great assembly, they are learning that they are "living stones." It is a great Err day when I know that I am a living stone; and I trust you all will understand it better, and be able to refuse every worldly offer, because you can say, I am a constituent part of the most august assembly that ever was on this earth, where Christ makes known the Father, and His interests are paramount. It is Christ's assembly. It is not only our association with Him where He is, but He comes down into our midst. Now when I have association with Him, it is in a sphere where there is nothing to hinder; but when He comes into this room, there is hindrance in me and everybody, which He displaces. Still, thank God, He overcomes, and takes His place. If you have not an unclouded sense of the peace in which Christ's work has set you in the presence of God, you are not able to accept your place in the assembly as a living stone. I do not want to shut you out; but I call on you to "make your calling and election sure"; I call on you to understand your privileges. I mean that none else is rightly there. I do not say that others are not there. I own the patience of the Lord.
The assembly is very like a family; the Lord is there. But it is not a family if the head is not there. I do not refer to the Head of the body, but to the Lord as Master of the house. When we are gathered to His name, He is there. Then I see some, like children in the family, who enjoy His presence, others of them who know it is right to be there, but are occupied more with themselves than with Him, and others, lastly, who follow the example of their older brethren, and are there because it is the right thing. Now these three classes are constantly found in the assembly.
Next see to what they are appointed: "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." Sent into the world with a mission from the Lord -- the vocation of the assembly fundamentally. I believe that there is no place where the Lord opens His mind as He would in the assembly. I do not think any one can understand the Lord in private as He reveals Himself in the assembly. He does manifest Himself to a solitary individual, no doubt, and makes him know what He is to him; but that is not the same as when He is in His own house, making known His pleasure and His counsels, and leading us into the blessedness of the holiest.
But now, what are our responsibilities in the assembly? I turn to Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them." That is not a promise, though it is very often quoted as a promise. It is a consequence; and a consequence is not a promise. A consequence is that if the sun rises, it shines. The Lord says, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am, I"; it is not, "there will I be," but "there am I." However small we are, we can always secure the presence of the Lord; and that really is the chief gain in the assembly. Now there is a great deal involved in this:because if gathered to His name, we walk according to His name, you could not be truly gathered to His name and not be walking according to His name. It is impossible. This solves one of the great questions of the present day. Many may assume to be gathered to His name, but it is impossible for them to be gathered to His name if not walking according to His name. "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord, depart from iniquity." When a company is not walking according to His name, one cannot accept it as gathered to His name; one cannot be black and white at the same time.
The Lord does not leave the assembly as long as it gives Him His place, but the Lord leaves the assembly when independency rules, that is, when you act without Him. And you will find, as a general rule, that when you act without Him, you have previously allowed some terrible leaven to work, or you would not act without Him. Thus the Corinthians were recovered, they were not so far gone that they would act without Him; but they would give Him His place and be guided by Him.
Now I turn to 1 Corinthians 10:17-21, "For we being many are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh; are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is anything, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is anything? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God; and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the" cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." It is not that you might not, but you cannot, it is impossible; just as I might say it is impossible for a man to be in heaven and earth at the same time; impossible for a man to be a saint and a sinner. That is the meaning of the word, "Ye cannot." I refer to this, because I want you to see the assembly in its very beginning.
I have tried to present to you the pattern assembly, in John 20. In Luke 24 you get the other side of it; while the two disciples are telling their tale, the Lord is standing in the midst of them.
I turn to this passage (1 Corinthians 10) to show how the youngest believer is at once connected with the two things which are embraced in the Lord's table. One is the responsibility to have that table suited to the Lord; the other is that there is room enough at the table for every believer on the face of the earth. I am not going into that side of it, but I am showing you that the very youngest believer is introduced at the very first moment into the great characteristic of the whole assembly on earth. He has two things to maintain, and in fact it is on either of these that all the variances have arisen between Christians. Either they are too lax about what suits the Lord, or they are too narrow as to receiving all that belong to the Lord; and so there are what we call denominations; and that is not His assembly. There are two things:one, it is the Lord's table, and the Lord is there, and the other, as the apostle says (1 Corinthians 5), when you are gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, then you must remove from among yourselves every one unsuited to the Lord's name. There is no other course when leaven is working; that is, when the conscience is overborne by sin.
I want you to understand, that everyone at the Lord's table is answerable for these two things.
On the one hand, that there must be nothing sanctioned which is unsuited to the Lord; on the other hand, We are one bread (one loaf), one body (v. 17). That is, every believer in Christ has a right to be there; you must acknowledge his right; he has a place at His table. These are the two things that mark the Lord's table:one, that there must be nothing that is unsuitable to the Lord, nothing that the Lord would not have there; you must consult Him about it; leaven defiles ourselves, but it is not ourselves only we have to think of, it is the Lord; while, on the other hand, and this introduces the body aspect of the assembly, every one who belongs to Him has a place at His table.
The moment you break bread you are committed to these two things:that nothing shall be there which will not suit the Lord; and that there is room there (it is not the Lord's table otherwise) for every one of His own over the whole earth. There are only two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper, and it is extraordinary how very few can distinguish between them, though all admit that there is a difference. But what is the Lord's supper? It is not, as many hold, reviving to yourselves the work that Christ has done. The Lord's supper is remembering Him in His death when you are in the enjoyment of His presence; He is present as the glorified One. Saul of Tarsus for three days did neither eat nor drink, he was learning the depths of the cross, and how that cross could free him from every charge in the presence of the glory of God. But having learned it, he came to the Lord's supper, to call to mind what that blessed One went through in order to put Him in His presence without a cloud. It is not myself I am thinking of there, I am remembering Him. This is the passover in the land, after you have got on divine territory. If you know that the Lord is before you (God grant that we may know it better) it is wonderful happiness, heaven is begun, there is not a shade between me and Him; I greet Him, His death is prominently before my mind. As a rule, at a bright meeting the Lord's supper is not postponed.
We call Him to mind, as typified by the passover in the land, and we do not get the old corn of the land until the day after the passover. The table then is the responsibility, and the responsibility is, I will go through this world in communion with His death. In fact, it is, if I may give an illustration, as if I were on the Canaan side of Jordan, and I desire to pursue the rest of my journey along the shore of Jordan as I walk on day by day; I look down into the river, and not only at the stones brought up out of it.
Having dwelt on our true state in the assembly, let us now dwell a little on what the Lord is to us in it. According to Hebrews 2:12 He is declaring there 'Father. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the assembly will I praise thee." He has, according to Psalm 22:1-21, removed everything that was against us, at the deepest cost to Himself. We are, in breaking of bread, calling to mind all He went through to place us in this unclouded bliss; but now we are listening to Him, happy in His presence, to His declaring the Father to us. Just as a sample, He uttered John 14, at the Supper table, so that we are privileged to expect great unfoldings of the Father in the assembly. As the Lord said, "Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee," for the assembly of the living God is the pillar and ground of the truth; all the truth known is in the assembly. We now see that the assembly, as in the hands of man, is in ruins, yet each true heart has a zeal for His house, and knowing that "holiness becometh thy house, O LORD, for ever," he seeks that a corner at least of it should be fit for the Lord.
Let us turn to the second epistle to Timothy. That epistle is divided into two parts. The first two chapters are occupied with an ordinary state of things; the last two, with the difficult times.
The assembly must have fallen into great disorder when profane babblings are tolerated there (2 Tim. 2:17); "Their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom is Hymenaems and Philetus." It is not leaven here, but a worse thing, gangrene. Now the Lord did not get His place in that assembly, that is evident enough. Well, now, in this great failure, what are we to do? We are not to stay where the Lord does not get His place. In verse 21 we read, "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour." Now this word 'purge' is only used twice in Scripture. It is used for purging out the unclean person in 1 Corinthians 5:7; and it is used here for purging out oneself. The assembly has scome to such a condition they have tolerated vain babbling there, and you must purge yourself, not from the doctrine only, but from the vessels. People are ready enough to purge themselves from the doctrine, but where the trouble has occurred in many cases, is the endeavour to exonerate themselves because they were clear of the doctrine. To be clear of the doctrine is not sufficient; you are to purge yourselves from the vessels. You are to be vessels unto honour, and to follow "righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart." This indicates that there never would be a time when there would not be a purged people calling on the Lord. This was the divine counsel given to Timothy, to whom it was written when things were in order, "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God," etc. One now might say, I have purged myself from the vessels to dishonour, where shall I go? If you depend on the Lord, He will show you that there are others besides you who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Isolation is never recommended. A person may have more light, but if he is faithful to Christ he will find that there are other exercised souls who would be glad to receive from him. The saints are all united together; there is one Spirit in the whole; I speak now of the unity of the Spirit, not of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And you will find that when the Lord is working and leading souls in a certain direction, He is working elsewhere in a like manner, and you will often be surprised at the expanse of the testimony, so that when there is an energy of grace here, you will find an energy of grace in America or the Antipodes.
I trust the Lord will lead your hearts truly to understand the august nature of Christ's assembly on the earth.