The Church: An Election Called Out Of And Separated From The World.
The part of the subject, dear friends, that I have been asked to take up to-night is, the Church of God, specially in relation to the study of the prophetic Word. Will you turn with me to the Gospel according to Matthew xvi. 13?
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 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. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall he bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ. From, that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." Verse 24, "Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works."
I have long felt that the Church's place, in the purposes of God, is the key to the study of unfulfilled prophecy; and I think it is for want of a clear comprehension of the nature of the Church, and of the place which, in God's purpose, it occupies with respect to the Lord Jesus Christ and in the world at the present day, that so many mistakes are made in the interpretation of the prophetic Word. I think, in order to the clear understanding of the nature of the Church, we must see the distinction in God's word between the kingdom, and the Church. I suppose we are all agreed here this evening, that when our Lord came in His first advent, it was with the view of bringing in the kingdom from heaven according to all the prophetic scriptures that had promised that God's King should come to God's nation, and bring a condition in harmony with the mind of God; first, as regards the nation itself, and then, through the nation of God's election and purpose, His blessing to all the nations on the face of the earth. So we know, if we study the Gospels, and especially Matthew, we find it very clearly taught that the great thought that was first in the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ, in presenting Himself to the Israel-people, was His Messiahship, and the introduction of the kingdom that had been promised right down from Abraham through the ages. And then we know how, step by step, He was rejected of His people.
It is in relation to the introduction of the kingdom that John the Baptist is spoken of as "the forerunner;" and Christ Himself speaking of this, said that John the Baptist was Elias if the nation would receive it; and I understand by that, would "receive the kingdom." If His nation was prepared to receive the kingdom at that time, then the promises respecting the forerunner, Elias, who was to prepare the way of the Lord, would have been fulfilled in the person and work of John the Baptist. Now we know this did not take place. The nation, as a whole, refused the kingdom in refusing the King; and, step by step, when it became apparent that Jesus was to be rejected, He gave a larger and fuller blessing in grace to the remnant that accepted Him. He came to His own possessions, we read in John, and His own people received Him not. If you study the context of the passage we have just read, you find there has been decided rejection, and, step by step, it has become very apparent to the disciples, through the Lord's words, that He is about to be rejected; and we find our Lord then saying, "Whom say men that I the Son of man am?" and to those to whom it had been revealed that He was not only the Christ, but the Son of the living God, He brings in, in connection with that statement, and unto them as the remnant, a new position altogether, which position we have to consider this evening. Peter said, our Lord was not only the Christ, but the Son of the living God. "Whom say ye that I am?" "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."
Thus we have it clearly pointed out that in the case of those who, when the whole nation rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messias, there was a distinct revelation given, which was given to none beside, that Jesus, the despised and rejected One, who came in such lowly guise, was not only the Christ of prophecy and the Christ of God, the Messias of the Jewish people, but the Son of the living God. In connection with this statement, and specially in connection with that company to whom it was so revealed, we find the Lord bringing in a larger blessing, and we have them united to Himself from that moment in His rejection as a special election. When national blessings have for a time to be set aside, fuller grace is to be brought in for those who thus received the Christ of God; and the called-out company was from that moment formed.
I believe the Jewish remnant took the place then of Church ground; and the centre of the truth here stated is not only that Jesus is the Christ, but the Son of the living God. How much this is brought out in the Gospel according to John, which is, more than any other, the gospel where the nature of the Church is fully pointed out, and where the heavenly character of the Church is fully declared, and where those truths are taught us, in the power of God's Spirit, that, more than any other truths, build us up in union with Christ as the Son of the living God! We find that the precious teachings in the Gospel according to John all circle round the great truth thus revealed to the heart of Peter, that Jesus was not only the Christ, but the Son of the living God.
The next thought in connection with this, is what we find in Acts iii. I must just pause to consider what took place when Peter was speaking at Pentecost to the men of Israel, as related in Acts iii., from verse 19. There he calls, in the power of God's Spirit, the nation again to repentance. Another offer is given to them. Step by step, their King was rejected. He was led to the cross; and then, when He ascended to Heaven, and sent down the Holy Ghost, there took place, not at first the preaching of grace to all (the gospel with which we are so familiar), but once again the proclamation of the kingdom. I do hope there is a very clear and distinct understanding in the minds of all here of the distinction between the proclamation of the kingdom—which John, as the forerunner, pointed to, and which the Lord Jesus Christ preached, and sent in the day of His flesh, His disciples to preach—and the proclamation of the gospel of the present day. I think that from want of a clear perception of this distinction, many of God's children are prevented from having understanding of much prophetic truth. There is the gospel of the kingdom, which the Lord Himself declared at His first advent; and there is the gospel of God's grace, which subsequently the Holy Ghost proclaimed through the Church, and which is proclaimed to-day. What first took place then at Pentecost, was that Peter spoke to the men of Israel as such and said, "Ye men of Israel, repent." After charging home the crime of rejecting the Messias, he called upon them to repent, and in doing so, used these remarkable words, "Repent . . . that your sins may be blotted out, and that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of Jehovah; and that He may send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." So that there was a distinct and clear call to repentance, and an offer in connection with it, made to the Israel-nation, of the immediate return of the Lord Jesus, when, their sins put away, He would bring in the times of refreshing from the presence of Jehovah, and the restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. You know the answer to this. Our Lord foretells it in the parable of the householder who let out his vineyard to husbandmen. When the time of the fruit drew near, they not only beat his servants, refused and cast out his son, but killed the son, and sent a messenger to say, "We will not have this man to rule over us." The answer given to this appeal, through Peter, to the nation to repent was the stoning of Stephen. And I believe that from that moment, there was thus the rejection a second time of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messias by His nation; and that then the nation was set aside for a very considerable period. And there was no longer the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom in the world, because if you study prophecy aright, I think you will come to the conclusion that there cannot possibly be the preaching of the gospel of God's kingdom if the nation is set aside. There must be, first, the repentance of the nation, and the blotting out of the national sin; there must be the recognition that they have committed a great crime in rejecting the Messias before they can receive the Lord Jesus Christ back again, and with Him, the kingdom. I am sure we cannot study the prophetic Word without being convinced that the nations of the earth will never know anything of the blessings of the kingdom from heaven till the Israel-nation has first embraced it. If we go right on in the order of prophecy, we shall find very clearly from the whole prophetic Word, that the thing next to be expected was the bringing in of the day of vengeance of our God. There was nothing further needed to manifest the world's crime. Both Jew and Gentile combined to crucify the Lord of glory. The world was thus marked out, ready for the judgment of God. I think we shall find that the Church has very much forsaken her true position, forgotten her character (I mean the true Church), in the very position she has taken up in these last days toward the world. That could not have been done if the Church had been able to realize that the world was ripe for judgment; that a greater crime, so to speak, could never be committed than had already been committed in the murder of the Son of God; and that if it were not for the grace of God coming in marvellously during the past nineteen centuries, there could have been nothing between the world after the crucifixion of Christ, and the final rejection of Him when offered by the Holy Ghost, and the day of vengeance of our God. Nevertheless, we find God bringing in something which is not in prophecy. We find the next thing in prophecy, after the rejection of the Lord Jesus, is the day of vengeance of our God; and next, that in the midst of the day of vengeance, when God's judgment is poured broadcast over the world, He begins to comfort the mourning ones in Zion. This is prophetic; but nineteen centuries have elapsed without anything of this kind being manifested. What then did take place when the Lord Jesus was finally rejected? Our God came in, and two things took place—He took His stand upon the redemption brought in by the precious blood of Jesus, and He offered terms of unalloyed grace to everybody that would accept the Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour. They were to be treated in marvellous grace. And while the gospel of God's grace was proclaimed, another thing was to take place, and that was, that God's time of long-suffering was to continue; His forbearance with the world, not bringing in the terrible judgments according to the prophetic Word, but forbearing, and entering the period of long-suffering, which was to continue indefinitely, and has continued up to this hour. He sent out, as we have already said, the gospel of grace, and proclaimed grace to every soul without exception—to young or old, to the worst sinner, as well as the man or woman who fancies himself or herself by comparison better than others. He brought in this new kind of righteousness never heard of before.
I want you very clearly to understand this. One of God's great controversies at the present day with the world is, that He is acknowledging only ONE RIGHTEOUSNESS. The rejection and crucifixion of Christ brought in the world so guilty before God, that the best man in the world is accounted utterly unworthy of God dealing with him on the ground of righteousness, and all are put upon the same level—sinners simply, without any distinction, young and old, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, good and bad—all are sinners; and God, taking His stand upon the redemption brought in by the blood of Jesus Christ, offers the righteousness of God. The man or woman who ignores his or her own righteousness, takes the place of a sinner before God, and accepts Jesus Christ and His finished work, is declared to stand upon the righteousness of God, which is the only righteousness that, throughout the present Church period, God is accepting. God will take no notice of human righteousness, the best of which is a polluted thing, and belongs only to the world that crucified the Lord of glory. While many, in the present day, are clutching, so to speak, at their own righteousness, because they find a difference between themselves and others, there is this controversy on the part of God with them that they are rejecting the only righteousness that God in His grace has held out to the world for nineteen centuries. Those who did receive and have received the Lord Jesus Christ as God's righteousness, acknowledging God's grace, have been separated from all the rest of the world beside. It is not a question of ecclesiastical organization—not, as we know, a question of churches simply and purely; it is a question of one wonderful body called out—a separated company. It is fashionable in these days to speak as if ecclesia meant "assembly." I think it has led some upon the wrong lines. I believe the assembly is coming. The great gathering-time of the Church is close, at hand. It will not be here; but when we enter the presence of the Lord, see Him eye to eye, and are gathered round His person. I think it is a gloss to put the meaning of assembly upon the word. The Church has lost the meaning of the word ecclesia, because the Church, as a whole, has departed from the very place embodied in the meaning of that word. It means right through, the called-out, separated company; called out to the rejected Jesus, and the best righteousness of man trodden under foot, as it were, by God Himself; because the very best righteousness of men was shown at the cross in rejecting Jesus. Now those who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, bringing salvation through grace only, have been called out of all this, and united, under the power of God's Spirit, to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Head, in glory, of this marvellous elect company, the Church, which is the body of Christ. How often you and I, as individuals, have departed from the very principle embodied in that thought! How the whole Church has been seeking her own glory, following the ambitions of men of the world, instead of being so intensely afraid that we should come under the influence and power of that world which rejected our Saviour and Lord; that the further we are now from it by the power of God's Spirit, so much the more shall we gladden the heart of the Lord Jesus. If we are to know anything about our Lord's, and the Father's thought about the Church, it will be by the whole Church becoming more and more a separated people to the Lord Jesus Christ, especially in these days in which we are living. If we get into the world's stream, and conform to the fashion of the things of time, we cannot know much of the blessed position that God means we should take as His Church, the practical union with the Lord Jesus, and the power that comes of it. Now we are just waiting to be removed bodily. I think a mistake has arisen, because the true church character has been lost sight of to a very great extent, in these days. So long as grace continues to be proclaimed, as for nineteen hundred years, it has been proclaimed, so long is it impossible for God to bring in judgment on a large scale; these two things are incompatible in the purpose of God. There cannot be God's judgment broadcast upon the earth while His long-suffering continues. While the gospel of God's grace, which is calling out the Church, continues to be preached, I do not believe for one moment that the tribulation can take place, that the day of vengeance of God can begin. I believe it is a matter of pure grace unto the end, till the last member is added to the Church; and then the knell of judgment shall be heard. As soon as, in the grace of God, the last member is added to the Church, as soon as God's forbearance with the world ceases, then, from that moment, I believe the Church is not only fully gathered, but will be taken into the presence, and round the Person of the Lord Jesus; and then the day of vengeance will burst upon the world. The first part of the judgments of God will be the removal of the Church. When grace ceases to be preached, the gracious company, the result of it, will be taken away. It is utterly incompatible with the whole question of grace, and with the result of grace—the Church, the body of Christ—to suppose that that body should pass through the day of vengeance, when the great question is, dealing with the world for rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messias, and the gospel of God's grace right through these nineteen centuries.
In closing I just want, in a word, to touch upon the fact that WE are to show forth the riches of God's grace. I should like to deal with that for a few moments before I sit down. We need not follow the ambitions of this life, nor the fashions of this world; for OUR destiny is very different. We are to be kept from the times of judgment, and to be ushered into the glory of the Lord. We are not only to be forever with the Lord, and to be His special reward from the Father. He has waited all these years, when His own people have rejected Him; but we are to show forth the praises and the riches of God's grace through eternal ages. As I understand that term, it is an exceedingly wonderful and precious one. You and I are destined, the Holy Ghost is moulding and fashioning us for the purpose, to show forth the riches of God's GRACE. Have you ever thought what that means? Look at Paul, who honestly could say that, if it were to be a question of the law, or of man's righteousness, he was head and shoulders above most men; and for what he saw of that wonderful mystery, as revealed to Him and others, he was led to count all these things but dung, that he might win Christ. He thus took his place as a poor, unworthy sinner. It was all perfectly true that, if he were to take his stand amongst his fellow-men, and be judged on a question of comparison of human righteousness, he would stand head and shoulders above them; yet he took his place, amongst the lowest, and said, "I receive God's righteousness, casting these things behind my back. I take hold of God's only righteousness, for me, a sinner;" and, as such, he was bound up with the large mass of those drawn out from Jews and Gentiles, the scum and offscouring of human righteousness, so to speak; he took his stand side by side with them, and was introduced into the new righteousness of God in Christ. From that moment, he had a new life, a new being, so to speak, as well as new destinies. He was to show forth, along with that company, one wonderful thing—the exceeding riches of God's grace. I think, when we get into the full presence of the Lord Jesus, we shall see Him as He is, and shine forth in the likeness of the brightness of His glory. If there will be one thing more than another that will be seen in every one of us, it will be the greatness of God's grace in your case and in mine, and how much we needed it, from first to last, and how much it was grace, grace, grace, without one single thought of desert on our part; but how we got grace, through the blood of Jesus, to begin with, and were maintained in grace by and under the power of the Spirit. If there is one thing more than another to be seen in the Church through eternal ages, it is God showing what grace means. This is one thought that, I think, is not cherished as it well might be in the Church. We do sometimes think of our gifts; we think of the power of the Holy Ghost through us; we think of the preaching of the gospel in these last days, and many added to the Church; but do we think of this? We should take our place lower at the feet of Jesus if we thought of it more that we are going to show, and in measure are showing just now, if we have any real Christ-life about us, to the world lying in the wicked one, what God's grace has done, is doing, and shall do, for us; and only through the blood of Jesus, and maintained, not by our own power, but by the power of our living Head. We should be manifesting grace to others. There was not one thought of malice in the heart of Christ to the Christ-rejecters. While the gospel is preached by the Church, in the Holy Ghost, there should be the most intense love for sinners in us, if Christ be in us. If we know what grace means in our own hearts, we know what it is to show it forth to others—that we have been all along treated as we do not deserve, but as Christ deserves, and so to treat others—to show forth the exceeding riches of God's grace to the world lying in the wicked one. Judgment and grace cannot go hand in hand to any great extent. There cannot be judgment sown broadcast over the earth so long as the Church remains to show forth the marvellous grace of God. The Lord help us to keep close to Jesus. If there is anything more needed than another, it is Christ to be seen in our gatherings, in our lives, in manifestation to those lying in the wicked one; that in the little time that yet remains, we may be called and enabled to manifest the grace of God to poor sinners on all sides of us; and if we are brought into persecution for Christ's name sake, manifesting not even a desire for judgment, but that God's grace be manifestly shown forth through all the members of His body till the time comes for His Church to be removed.