The Church in Relation to Christ
From Notes of an Address
Eve (Genesis 2:18, 21-24)
We have been meditating a good deal on the Gospel and kindred subjects, truths which affect us in our individual Christian life. Now I should like to say a little on the other side; not what the Lord is to us, but what we are to the Lord.
The first things that generally engross Christians are the blessings they get from Christ, but there is another side, full of blessing for us too, and that is, what Christ will get from us. In our early career as Christians we are very much like babies. When a baby gets hold of anything, it always goes to its mouth, and so the first thing we do when we get hold of the Word of God is to seize everything for ourselves. We consider how it fits us, or how it suits our case. But there is another side. There is an objective before God, and that is that we should be brought into association with Christ, not only that we should be saved from hell, which is the initial step.
When Joseph made himself known to his brethren, he began to unfold again to them the wonderful scheme that God had in His mind with regard to them and him. He had indicated it before to them, as God had indicated it to him by dreams, and they scoffed at the whole thing and laughed him to scorn; and worse than that, their hearts were filled with hatred and envy against him. But when we find these men suppliants in the presence of Joseph, with what different ears they listened to the same story that Joseph first indicated when he told them his dreams. Having made himself known to them and set their hearts at rest, they and he were at leisure to open, we may say, the book of God’s purpose with regard to him and them.
The very first thing God does with us is to bring us to Himself. The first operation of the Spirit of God is to awaken needs within us in order to make us appreciate Christ. It is when the Lord Jesus Christ is known as the One that has met our desperate need, when all the needs of the conscience are met, when the soul is saved, when the kiss of reconciliation has been put upon our cheeks, when we find ourselves at home and at rest and at peace with God, then we are at leisure, and He is free to unfold this wonderful scheme that is in His mind with regard to us and our association with Christ. It is a wonderful thing that we should be able to say,
“That Thou should’st be so much to me,
And be the God Thou art;
Is darkness to my intellect
But sunshine to my heart.”
Yet it is more wonderful if we turn it round (with all apologies to the author) and put it in this way,
“That I should be so much to Thee
And Thou the God Thou art,
Is darkness to my intellect
But sunshine to my heart.”
That Christ in all His greatness and glory should be so much to me, is not nearly so surprising as that I, in spite of all my weakness, defilement and sinfulness, should be so much to Him.
You will have observed no doubt in reading the Song of Solomon, the advance that the bride makes. She first says, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” Then she goes on to say, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” The first thing she appreciates is the thought of what He is to her; the second stage in the growth of her soul is what she is to Him, and then she winds up with the third expression, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is towards me.” She finds out this fact, that she has become necessary to his joy. Don’t let it take your breath away, my dear fellow believer; it is enough to do it; but you and I are positively necessary to the joy and glory of Christ.
Nothing could exceed the importance of seeing the unique place that the Church occupies in the thoughts of God in relation to Christ. Angels never stood in that relationship, and never will. It is the peculiar position into which the Church is called, and let me say in passing what I mean by the Church. It is that which is called in the end of Ephesians 1, “the Church which is His body,” and it embraces in its scope every blood-washed, and Spirit-sealed believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever you find a Spirit-begotten, Spirit-sealed believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will find one that forms part of the Church of God. It is the fact of his being born again, of his having trusted in Christ, the fact that he has been indwelt and sealed by the Spirit, that brings him to form part of the Church of God. That is the Church, no matter what the colour of your skin, no matter what name you may have labelled yourself, or allowed yourself to be labelled; no matter what your profession, if you are a bona fide, genuine Christian according to Scripture, you form a part of that which is called in Scripture the Church of God, the body of Christ.
I am not talking about your being saved from hell and going to heaven when you die, but I am talking about what has taken place by the Spirit’s work since you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. By the fact of the Holy Spirit sealing you as His, you have not joined the Church, but the Spirit of God has joined you to the Church, and since you form part of the Church, you could not leave it. That is the only Church that Scripture recognises, or that I want to know anything about. Any other “church” that you may join is an organization that has no support from The Book. The Church to which the Spirit of God joins you, is the only Church that God recognizes.
That Church is destined to a very wonderful future. It is destined to be the associate of Christ, the companion of Christ throughout the ages of eternity, and as I look into your faces, though you may belong to every denomination in the town, that makes no difference to me, I think of you only as related to Christ in this way. May I say this, that in the Scriptures, the Church comes before us under various names, each name having its own significance. Sometimes it is called the Body of Christ, in relation to Himself as the Head of that Body, which brings before us the thought of unity, the unity of all the members together, and all being governed by one Head. That is the thought of the body of Christ. It is that in which Christ expresses Himself, that in which Christ’s character is to be seen. Sometimes it is called the House of God, sometimes it is called the Temple. All these terms have their own significance.
But there is another title which the Church bears, she is the “bride” of Christ. The Church as the Body of Christ is spoken of as the great mystery, that which was never revealed before. That which was hid from all ages and generations, says the Apostle Paul in the closing verses of Romans, is now made manifest. It does not say it was hidden in the Scriptures. No, it was “hid in God,” and this mystery, which was not made known since the world began; is now made manifest. The first time the Apostle Paul speaks of the Church is in the Epistle to the Romans. Romans is the Gospel epistle, where we have the great foundation truths of the Gospel. The result of the Gospel is that we are brought to partake in that wonderful structure on earth which is known as the Church, and which bears also the character of the Bride.
In point of fact, the Church did not exist until Pentecost. When the Lord Jesus Christ was here, He said, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18), and He began to announce that fact when John the Baptist had been murdered. If His harbinger met such a cruel death, what could He expect? Hence He began to intimate to His disciples that they should no longer speak about Him publicly as the Christ. Why? As Christ, He had the title to the Kingdom; but what was now before Him was the Church. There was another title He was going to be known by—“The Son of the living God.” That is the rock upon which He was going to build His Church. It was not Peter. Peter was not the one upon whom Christ was going to build His Church. No. He was going to build the Church upon that solid, impregnable, invulnerable rock—Himself, as the Son of the living God. He was the living Stone. He was going to be taken by God out of the ground into which man threw Him, and to be raised up again, the living Stone, and on that foundation He was going to build His Church, which is His Body. That building began at Pentecost.
In the Old Testament are found wonderful analogies, illustrations and figures of the Church. Genesis, which has been described as ‘the seed plot’ of the Bible, in its second chapter, gives us an indication of this very truth. It is not a little remarkable that in Genesis where the Spirit of God is using types or figures of the Church, He nearly always uses the figure of the bride. Not the body, not the house, not the temple, but the bride.
In Genesis 2 we have God taking initiative, in bringing Eve to Adam. It says, “And the Lord God said, it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him,” that is, a counterpart. There is God taking the initiative.
I need not tell you that Adam the first, was only a figure of Him that was to come—Adam the last, who was alone. There was a time when the One we know and love as Saviour and Lord, was alone. He was alone in the glory He had with the Father before the world was. Then there came a time when He stepped from the glory throne to the earth, and He was yet alone, There was never a man on the face of the earth like Him. He was alone, when every other man was built differently. Every other man was bent on doing his own will, going his own way, doing his own pleasure and gratifying his own wishes. Here was a Man that was bent upon going God’s way and doing God’s will and gratifying God’s wishes and accomplishing God’s pleasure. This Man was the Lord out of heaven; the other was of the earth, earthy. We, as the children of Adam’s race, had come one way; He had come another way. He was a Man of an entirely different order, and you find Him here on earth alone.
You remember the Mount of Transfiguration, when it always seems to me that the very glory of God stooped to imprint upon His brow the kiss of Divine satisfaction; there, at the close of His earthly career, the glory came down and He was glorified. Peter, who was with Him, ignorant of what He was saying, said, “Let us make three tabernacles, one for Thee, one for Moses and one for Elias,” that is, let us put them all on a dead level. What happened? A cloud came and Moses and Elias disappeared. And then there came a voice from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, hear Him.” What was that? God the Father, protecting the distinctive glory of God the Son. Peter, in his ignorance, would fain have put him on a level with those two wonderful servants of God. But God would not have it so. When the cloud was gone and Moses and Elias had gone too, it says, “Jesus was left alone.” If He had gone from that mountain top to heaven’s glory, He would have gone alone.
The Lord Himself said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” Had He not died, He would have been alone for ever. But He would not be alone. In order that He might have His companion He left the glory Mount for the Mount of suffering. He wended His way straight up to Jerusalem, in order, that He might have companions through the ages of a coming Eternity. He did not seek for them in the serried ranks of angels. No. He sought for them amongst the simple of Adam’s fallen race.
I want you to notice that Eve was taken out of Adam. She was not a separate creation. God did not create something new. He did not create a fresh being. No. She formed part of Adam himself. It was out of his rib that God formed the woman. She derived her origin from him. Don’t overlook that fact. She had his life and nature, you may say, for she was derived from him. God’s purpose with regard to Adam having this bride was one thing, but how this purpose was to be realized was another thing. When we come to the realization of that purpose, we find Adam has to fall into a deep sleep, and out of the side of Adam when he was fallen into this deep sleep, God built this woman, and when he awoke out of his sleep, she was presented to him.
There could not have been any Church of God on earth united to Him had there not been that deep sleep into which He fell—the sleep of death. But He went down into death and the result is, that God is now able to present to Him one who is destined to be His bride and to share with Him the Father’s love, to share with Him His throne, and to share with Him His glory. She is of Him as to origin. She is in Him as having the same life and the same nature. She is united to Him, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, part of Himself.
Hebrews 2 puts it in this way, “Both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.” John 12 puts it in this way, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit”—many grains, but of the same order and character as that which falls into the ground. If you sow wheat, you will not get oats. If you sow wheat, you will get a crop of wheat. We are told in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which speaks of this, “Husbands, love your wives; even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church.” That is the mystery, he says. He was not speaking about man and wife, but of Christ and the Church. The close union of the bride and bridegroom is that which God by His Spirit has used to show the union that exists between the Church and Christ.
This is something more than being saved from hell, something more than going to heaven when we die. The full display remains for the future but there is a Bride on earth today and she is in the company of the Holy Ghost for the moment. Christ presents Himself as the Bright and Morning Star. There is a response in the heart of the bride to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is presented to her as the coming Bridegroom, the Bright and Morning Star. “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.”
Rebekah (Genesis 29:18-28, 24:2-6, 58, 61-67)
If in Genesis 2 we have Eve as a type of the church, the bride of Adam, by God’s gift, we find in Rachel, the bride of Jacob, one who typifies the Church as the object of the Bridegroom’s love, and in Rebecca, the type of the church as the object of the Spirit’s interest, led by the servant across the desert to the bridegroom.
We have considered Genesis 2. Let us now turn to the subject of Jacob and Rachel.
Very little is said of this case, but the love that Jacob bore to Rachel is the outstanding feature. It brings before us the Church in the character of a Bride but this time in relation to the love of the Bridegroom rather than the gift of God. Eve was God’s gift to Adam, it is quite true. The Church is God’s gift to Christ. For the moment, He has not got the Kingdom, but He has had given to Him a bride—the Church—and over and over again in John 17, He speaks about us having been given by the Father to Him.
But there is also this side of the story, that the bride is the object of the love of the Bridegroom, just as Rachel was the object of Jacob’s love. It says, “Jacob loved Rachel.” He had served a double period for her. He had to render a double service for her, and when speaking of those seven years of service, it says, “They seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” There is an old saying that “love lightens labour,” and there is truth in it. There was a love that lightened the burden of Christ. “For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the Cross, despising the shame.” It is true that our Jacob is serving a double period of service for us. He has served one period of service and He is now serving the second period before He gets His bride.
He served us well upon yonder Cross under the weight of judgment. “He loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” They said to Him, “Come down from the Cross and save Thyself and us.” But He came down from the throne of glory to the Cross that He might save. Come down from the Cross and save, He could not. “Himself He cannot save,” they said, and they never said a truer word. Let us take those words as they come hissing from their Pharisaical lips and weave them into a crown for His glory:
“Love’s stream too deeply flowed,
In love Himself He gave
To pay the debt we owe:
Obedience to the Father’s will
And love to Him did all fulfil.”
We have the explanation of His doing His first bit of work. It was no rude Roman nails that kept the Saviour upon the Cross. It was not their fastening that kept Him there. It was love that kept Him, there. “He loved us and gave Himself for us.”
We may turn to Exodus 21, where we have another figure of the same love. It is the Hebrew servant, and the law with regard to him, which is, that he has to serve six years and when those six years are over, he can leave. But, as the law ran, he had to go out as he came in. “If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he were married then his wife shall go out with him.” It all depended on how he came in. If his master shall have given him a wife, and she shall have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.” Here, we have the parallel to Genesis, the one who has been given him by his master. What happened when the six years of service was over? The wife and children became the master’s. What about himself? He must go out as he came in—alone. Go out without them? Leave the objects of his love and go without them? Yes. What a test!
But another clause is put in, a saving clause. What is that? “If the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife and my children, I will not go out free.” Then there is only one thing for him. “His master shall bring him into the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever.” He can then have the objects of his love for ever. That is just Luke 9 over again. The Lord had come to the end of His life of service, just before the Transfiguration. His years of service were practically over, and Moses and Elias came down to the mountain and talked with Him about His decease. If you have a Greek Testament, you will find that that word translated here “decease” is really the same word as that for the second Book of the Bible—Exodus. They spake concerning His exodus. Moses and Elias were talking to Him about His going out. How did He come in? He came in alone, and, He will have to go out alone, unless He is prepared to go to the place of piercing, and, Hallelujah to His blessed name, He went to the place of piercing, and every step of that journey from the glory Mount to the Mount of sorrow and death and judgment, was musical with this, “I love you, I love you, I will not go out without you. In order to have you Mine for ever, I will die for you.” That is the Saviour we know and love. Oh, what love! There is no love like the love of Jesus.
He is serving us in the glory now. The yesterday of His love was “He loved the Church and gave Himself for it.” The today of His love is “that He might cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church.” The presentation of it is the tomorrow of His love. He is performing His second period of service now, that beloved Lord of ours. The Bridegroom is up there in the double character of an Intercessor and Priest, to sustain us in our weakness, and to undertake our case when we have sinned. He is an Advocate with the Father, and a Priest with God, to represent us there in the presence of God. Oh, what bitter tears we have had to shed. I have had to shed bitter tears many a time because I have not taken advantage of His service as Priest, to support me, and have fallen on the road, and I have had to weep over the fact that I had to take advantage of His intercessory service as Advocate with the Father. And this is what He is doing that He might cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and when that period of service is up, Christ will get His bride, His Rachel, the object of His affections.
We come now to the instance of Isaac and Rebekah. There is another person prominent in this case. The servant is called by Abraham and sent on a mission to seek a bride for his son, and his service seems to be the predominating feature. He says, “Where am I to look for her?” The answer was, “You must look for her amongst our own kindred. Don’t choose a bride out of the nations, it must be one of our own kindred, one of our relatives.” Don’t you see, there must be no disparity. The Sanctifier and the sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call us brethren. Everything about us, that would have made Him ashamed to own us, He has obliterated by His death, in order that He might have us on new ground, in a new association and relationship, in a way in which He will not be ashamed to call us His brethren.
Well, the servant starts upon his mission. He is a fitting figure of the Holy Ghost in His mission on earth today, seeking out in His blessed activities a bride for the true Isaac. Isaac was one who had been received from the dead. When you find the Holy Ghost recording the action of Abraham in offering up Isaac, He practically puts it down that Abraham did offer him and that he received him from the dead in figure, and that Abraham is positively put beside God in that respect. He is allowed to feel something of what God felt when He gave His Son. It says, “He did not withhold his only begotten son.” What about Ishmael? He was of the flesh, and God did not reckon him. God looked upon Isaac, the child of promise, as the only begotten son, and He said that Abraham had practically offered his son, and had practically received him again from the dead. He is a type of the true Isaac, a representative of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The servant sent by Abraham is a figure of the Holy Ghost, the One sent by God to seek a bride for His exalted Son. The story is so sweet and blessed. The servant finds the bride and sets her up first of all with jewels of silver (silver is the redemption money) and jewels of gold (gold sets before us the righteousness of God); then he brings out the raiment, which represents the new character. So she is set up in redemption and righteousness, and in a new character. You and I, who form part of the bride of Christ, have been established on the ground of redemption and on the ground of righteousness, and we are now to appear in the character of Christ Himself. The features of Christ are to be seen in us.
Then Rebekah’s relatives make a challenge, “Wilt thou go with this man?” The challenge to us is, “Will you go with the Holy Ghost?” What is the Holy Ghost doing? Conducting the bride to Christ. What else? Attracting the affections of our hearts, which should be bridal affections, to Christ where He now is. It is the Holy Ghost’s mission to carry us right across the wilderness to meet Christ, because we find that Isaac comes out to meet his bride. He meets them in the field.
There is another striking thing in connection with this, you never hear of one word that the servant speaks except about Isaac after he takes charge of Rebekah to bring her to Isaac. The Holy Ghost’s mission is not only to bring us to Christ, but on the way to meet Him the Spirit of God would engage our hearts and affections with the Lord Himself. Later on, we find Isaac and Rebekah meeting and greeting each other, and the chapter winds up by saying, “He brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, . . . and Isaac was comforted.” Here is a bride that is going to be a comfort to a bereaved heart.
Sarah represents Israel. She is spoken of as the mother of Israel. Just as a mother represents her family, Sarah represents Israel; and Sarah is dead. What does that mean? Isaac has lost his mother. So Christ has lost Israel for the time being. What has He got in place of the Kingdom and people? He has had a new company given to Him, the Church which is to be His bride, and which in the meantime, since He has lost Israel, is to be a source of comfort to His heart. What a privilege is ours today in the hour of Christ’s rejection, when He has been deprived of His earthly rights, to administer a little comfort to His blessed heart.
Then when we turn to the end of the Bible we find the bride again. The bride, it says, is the Lamb’s wife, and when it speaks of marriage, it does not say, “the marriage of the bride,” but “the marriage of the Lamb.” He is everything. The bride is looked at in association with Him. The Church as the bride of Christ will share His joy and His glory when she comes out in her bridal attire, arrayed as a bride adorned for her husband. It is not the dress that suits her eyes, it is not the adornment that would please her tastes. No. Everything is to answer to the tastes and pleasure of her husband. He is everything, and the bride is everything to Him.
What a unique place the Church fills in the thoughts of God, does it not? Here we are, a poor, insignificant set of people, having often to bemoan our crookedness and waywardness, and yet to think that we are to be linked up with Christ, as that which is destined to be His bride, to sit with Him on His throne and share with Him. All His interests are ours, and ours His, both merged into one. So God puts one name on them, which covers them both. He puts the name of Christ now upon us, so that we are the bearers of His name.
So it is going to be with Israel, when she comes forth again, and Jehovah gets His earthly bride. His name is Jehovah-Tsidkenu, and this is the name by which she shall be called. He is going to put His name upon her in that day of glory, as He has put His name upon us in this His day of rejection. There is union, and with union comes the thought of affection. Union of purpose, union of affection, we are united to Him. What a privileged people! Oh, what a fall the Church has suffered when we think of her high and holy destiny. What a frightful fall she has suffered, that we should find her hand and glove with the world, that has stained its hand with the blood of Him whose bride the Church is.
May the Lord give us more vitality and affection of heart for Himself, that we may look upon ourselves here, insignificant as we may be, as God’s gift to His Son, that we may look upon ourselves as the object of the Holy Spirit’s interests and activity as He conducts us through this weary waste until He sets us down in the presence of the true Isaac, and we go to be His joy and glory for ever. May the Lord be praised for such a privilege. Amen!