by Arthur George Doughty
FIRST impressions are usually important. This is so in natural affairs. It is so in spiritual matters. Souls are often damaged by faulty first impressions. An incomplete or incorrect presentation of the gospel is often responsible for much damage to the converts. Contrariwise, a right and full setting forth of the gospel and what it has in mind, has a profound effect on those who hear it.
The apostle Paul started with right impressions. He was not converted by preaching or sermon, however correct. He had a personal transaction with the Lord as glorified. It was therefore a model conversion. He started with an impression of the glory of the Son of God. This made the most profound effect on the whole of his afterlife. He was a man of outstanding natural ability and had received the best education that was possible in his day. He was a man of deep convictions and burning sincerity. Until he met the Lord of glory on the Damascus road, he had with all the ardour of a zealous Jew, hated the name of Christ and all that was connected with it. Yet in marvellous mercy, he was arrested from the glory. The very One he hated with all the intensity of fanatical opposition, spoke to him in accents of tenderest grace. He was addressed by name from heaven and in one moment, all his bitter animosity disappeared. All his own greatness and self-importance vanished in the light of the glory of Christ. The most profound impression was made on his soul of the greatness of the One whom he addressed as Lord. From that moment onwards, he became probably the most ardent lover of Jesus, the world has ever known. The world's glory faded from his view. It ceased to have any charm or attraction and from the moment of his conversion to the moment of his departure from this scene, he spent his life and all that he had in the service of the Son of God, who, as he tells us, "loved me, and gave himself for me," Gal. 2: 20. No half-measures would satisfy the apostle Paul. The world was crucified to him and he to the world, Gal. 6: 14. What made this extraordinary change in the life of a man to whom the world offered every advantage? Surely, it was his first impression of the glory of Jesus. It changed everything. Nor was this a fleeting or passing impression. At the end of a long career of suffering and loss for the name of Christ and with a martyr's death before his eyes, he could say, "I know whom I have believed," 2 Tim. 1: 12. What impression have you of Christ, dear reader, and what effect has it made on you and your life?
But there was something else of which Paul received a most profound impression at the time of his conversion and which also exercised the greatest possible effect on his life. The Lord said to him from heaven, "Why persecutest thou me?" Acts 9: 4. Whether he understood at that moment exactly what was meant by "Me," we may not be able to say. Certain it is that in the Lord's first words to Paul was the germ of the wonderful ministry, which in a peculiar way was committed to the great apostle. The Lord's words referred not to Himself as in heaven, but to a company of despised and persecuted saints on earth.
They were the body of Christ. As a matter of teaching and doctrine, this had not yet been made clear. It awaited the service of Paul himself to bring this truth to light. Yet it was conveyed to him in the first words the Lord said to him. These words implied that the saints here on earth were vitally linked with Christ in heaven. Not merely were they as individuals the objects of His care and solicitude, but in a collective way they constituted His body here on earth. This is one of the most profound and wonderful truths of Christianity and it was conveyed to Paul at the moment he was brought into touch with Christ. It was part of his first impressions. Its effect on Paul was far-reaching. If he became, as already said, one of the most ardent lovers of Christ, he also became one of the most profound lovers of the assembly. How could it be otherwise? If he loved Christ in heaven, how could he do otherwise than love His body here on earth? The two things went together. If he served the Lord, he served the church. Never was there such a servant of the church as Paul. He served the saints and he suffered for them, Col. 1: 24. The most zealous missionary the world has ever known, the most active evangelist, he was yet the greatest churchman that the church has ever seen.
We would ask the reader, not only what his impression is of the Lord, but what his impression is of the assembly. There are many, alas, who have never even conceived the wonderful fact that the body of Christ is here. They have been concerned as to individual blessings and perhaps as to the salvation of others, without ever realizing the Lord's primary concern so wonderfully expressed in His first words to Paul. There are some who would even deprecate what they term "church truth," and others who deem that to be the concern only of the advanced believer. Yet it is the Lord's thought that every Christian should have a profound concern as to the assembly. It should be among our first impressions, that the Lord has a company here on earth so intimately connected with Him as to be termed His body. There are many other designations of the saints of the present day and many other functions they fill. Some of these positions (such as the house of God, the temple of God, etc.) they occupy in continuation of the place which Israel filled in a past day, but the body of Christ is a place and title peculiar to the Christian company. It suggests special intimacy and nearness in our relations to Christ and also to one another (see I Cor. 12). It is the Lord's thought that each of us should know and enjoy our part in this. If we are missing it, we are missing one of the prime blessings of Christianity and also depriving the Lord and our brethren of what is due to Him and to them.
We therefore ask in closing, What is your impression of the assembly? If you have never realized that this is something that concerns you, however young or simple, we suggest you ponder the Lord's question to Paul and ask yourself whether you were aware that the body of Christ was here on earth then, and is still here to-day, and that you are intended to fill a living part in it. Concern as to this will not lessen our care as to our individual blessing and responsibility to the Lord in our pathways, or our evangelical activities for the blessing of men. It will give to both increased point and motive, and make us increasingly serviceable to the Lord and to His people.
"Words of Truth" (Stow Hill) 1941