God's Church and God's Churches
by Henry Dyer
An address by Mr. Henry Dyer
There are two passages in the Book of the Revelation which will help us in treating of this important matter. First, as a passage on the subject of God's one united Church, let us read Rev. i. 4, 5—"John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth" (that is, the ruling power, not king, that He will be in the millennium). After this goodly benediction there follows the uplifted praise of John's hymn: "Unto Him that loves us" (it is a present love), "and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (a past and completed thing), "and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father" (or "a kingdom, priests, &c."; i.e., not a reigning kingdom yet, but a spiritual kingdom as to worship). It was intended of Israel from the first that they should be a kingdom of priests; but their failure came in, and for the time they have lost it; so now He makes it true of us. "To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." And may He quickly come and take His power and reign. "Behold, He cometh with clouds." John in vision sees the very thing he longed for in his former words—"And every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth" (or better, "all the tribes of the land," for there will not be a tribe but shall be partaker in the guilt of Antichrist; but out of every tribe there will be a sealed remnant, as in chap, vii.) "shall wail because of Him. Even so. Amen."
I have read these verses because they contain that line, "Unto Him that loves us"; the blessed entire "us" of the whole saints of God. God's one united Church. But now let us read verse 10. "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (that is, on the blessed first day of the week), "and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea." These churches are mentioned according to their geographical outline, beginning northward and going round eastward, making an entire circle round their Master in the midst. "And I turned to see the voice that spake" (or, was speaking) "with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands." Not, as of old, one lampstand with seven branches, but seven distinct lampstands, round the Master, and each standing on its own spot. "And in the midst of the seven lampstands one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle." Mark here how the Lord takes the glory of manhood along with the tenderness of the woman. "His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace" (and therefore fitted to walk about among the seven churches); "and His voice as the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars" (that is, as we are told in verse 20, the angels of the seven churches): "and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword." The sword of which, I trust, we have oft felt the sharpness; first wounding, and then healing. "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead." Mortality could not bear the glory of the wondrous Lord. "Who only hath immortality," says Paul, "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto." However much loving and loved, no mortal man can face that presence. Two have seen Him in His glory: the sinner, Saul of Tarsus, and he was crushed to the ground and blinded; the other, John, the beloved disciple, and he, too, sank under its power. O that we may more see the Lord, and learn that holy reverence which bows before His presence.
I have read these two passages, one for the sake of God's own Church, and the other for God's churches. I do not say "seven" only, but, taking it in the sense of God's sevens, viz., the complete number of all local churches though they be innumerable, yet all in direct connection with Himself.
First a word as to that sweet view of God's universal Church. "Unto Him that loves us, and washed us" (or loosed us) "from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us" (the whole of His spiritual Israel, in whatever corner of this wide world found) "a kingdom" (not reigning, but), "priests." This aspect of His Church links itself with what we were considering recently, in the Lord's threefold question to Peter, "Lovest thou Me?" i.e., if thou lovest Me serve the Church that I love, and never turn aside from the service. All service in the Church must ever be from the spring of God-wrought love. Just as we have that glorious parenthesis of 1 Cor. xiii., in the midst of God's appointments as to order and service in His Church. "I show you a more excellent way," even than speaking with tongues, viz., Do you love it, that Church for which Christ died? for though you may be the very ablest expounder, though you may work miracles as Elijah, yet without love you will not edify the Church, or render service acceptable to our God; because you are not in the line of His supreme relationship to the Church, viz., the love that was seen at Calvary, and which is seen now. "For their sakes, I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." O beloved, I like to think that we are not out of touch with our last subject. Jesus says, With all the love with which your heart burns for Me I bid you care for My lambs and My sheep upon earth, to feed and to shepherd My flock; to distinguish the difference between the lambs and the sheep, and not only know how to feed but how to shepherd. Remember that He loves the Church and every labourer in it; and all the saints are labourers more or less; not a single saint but may shepherd or edify some fellow-saint. And what must the care be? Not cold-hearted, proud-hearted; not with much head knowledge and a dictatorial spirit, but in unison with the word we have read, "Unto Him that loves us." Now in this aspect of God's whole Church, our business is mainly in giving thanks for it, and in praying for it. Let me turn all I know of the saints and of their condition into praise for what I hear of God-glorifying ways in them, and to a deep word of sorrow at its divisions and its strifes. It is not a little thing that the moment you believed you were baptized by one Spirit into the one body of Christ, and it becomes you to ask for grace to fill your little part in relationship to the whole. But you will say that this is rather general and vague, and only touches my business as I read God's word about the Church, and as I bear it in my heart in praise, thanksgiving, or prayer. I cannot know all by name, and never even heard of the great majority of them. This is quite true, and therefore I pass on to the second part, for there are "churches" as well as the one "Church."
It is a remarkable thing that God has been pleased to call the saints of each locality by the same name of "church," by which also He calls the whole. Directly I come to this point, other thoughts arise, and other privileges come up, in connection with those of my own locality whom I often see, whose smiles I enjoy, or whose tears I feel for, the saints of my personal acquaintance. This double use of the word "church" of itself contains a lesson. The word "church" means a "called out thing," and as the whole has been called out from time into eternity, so are the saints of any particular locality called out of the darkness and wickedness of their locality, and the saints of some other place from the darkness and wickedness of their locality; whether we speak of the church in Paris, or the church in Singapore, it is of the saints called out of the wickedness of Paris or of Singapore. So I am interested to find that God has not only a sweeping eye for the whole, but so distinguishing an eye for each, and never confounds one with another. And if the seven be multiplied by seventy or seven hundred, He knows every church and does not confound any single one with another among the hundreds. In one of these churches the Lord says, "I know where thou dwellest"; and 'tis not where Ephesus dwells, or Smyrna; but He said this of Pergamos—"Even where Satan's throne is." How perfectly He distinguishes—even as a parent between his many children. And He calls them all by the name of "churches"; first, because of what He has called them out from, and then of what He has called them out to. Paul says of his Thessalonian saints, that they would be to him his crown of rejoicing "in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming." The whole of the redeemed will be found round the throne of God and of the Lamb, one Church for ever; but there will be Thessalonian saints in their distinctness, and London saints in theirs, and the Lord distinguishes between them. And Paul will know his Thessalonian saints, and John will know his Asiatic saints. How accurate is the eye of our God!
Hence I must learn my relationship to this or that local church. And first, I would make my remarks encouraging. Turn now to the second passage we read. In it, the Divine Master gives a vision of Himself in every part rich with instruction. A circle of objects is seen all around Him, all alike as lampstands, yet He knows their difference; and He is in the midst of the whole. Thus we learn, first, that He is equally near to each church. He was in the midst of them all. Two of them He could altogether praise, but they were not a bit nearer to Him than the other five. Has He pushed Laodicea far away or put Ephesus into a corner? Nay; He has them all around Himself, and all equally near, although He does not treat all alike. Let this blessed truth be to the comfort of each and every assembly! O Jesus, Son of God, Thou art in the midst of all Thy churches, wherever they be. O how this instantly hallows all assemblies! And mark, it is thus He binds the assemblies, first to Himself, and secondly to each other. John saw no golden chains, not even a silken thread, tying those lampstands to each other; the one link to each other was the link to Himself, sufficient for the whole and for each. Mark, also, our Lord does not define the extent of the locality of each lampstand. There is nothing here of the territorial view of human or man-made "districts," but simply those whom the Lord reckoned to be living near enough to each other to be bound together, and to come together to meet with the Lord; but no definition of area. He keeps all such details to Himself, but watches the saints of the locality, not only to see the state of the individual but of the community, and to see whether they are building up each other, or are content simply with coming together on the Sundays'. This is cheering for us in moving about amongst the different assemblies of our present time, however unlike the small and feeble assemblies now gathered to the Name of the Lord may be to that early local unity of all believers, which those seven lampstands then represented; for the word, "church," as here used by our Lord, whilst it was the most uplifting, was also the most catholic word, taking in all the saints of the city or locality. This unity of the local "church" has long since been broken in upon by the schism and sect-making of the present day. If "lampstand" be taken as an emblem of the unity of each local "church," as well as of its heavenliness and its likeness to the Master, then His solemn rebuke has long since taken effect, perhaps, everywhere—"I will remove thy lampstand out of its place, except thou repent." The local unity (i.e., the church unity) of His saints is gone, very likely, everywhere (just as of old, the Ark of God was lost to the tribes), as a just reproof for each "church" not having collectively repented.
But the Lord's same love to His own remains; and wherever any obey His Word, and gather to Him alone, the essential marks of His ancient lampstands are found more or less, and this He implies by His seven-fold repeated word: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."
Another point. The Lord speaks of an angel for each of the churches, and He never leaves a church without one. But what are we to understand by the "angel"? In the Book of the Revelation, many things are taught us by names they do not bear elsewhere in Scripture. Thus, we have the Holy Ghost spoken of as "the seven spirits"; a title nowhere else given to Him. So here, the whole ministry of the Word in any local assembly is called its "angel"; a word of double meaning, viz., first, those spiritual and heavenly beings, the ministers of God's will; and, secondly, the simple meaning of "messenger," one who carries a message. Thus, all in Ephesus who brought the Lord's message to the church there, were, collectively, the Lord's "angel" for Ephesus, or for Smyrna, or for Pergamos, &c. Thus, also, Haggai is called "the Lord's messenger in the Lord's message," the Lord Himself being present (see Haggai i. 13). And so here, the Lord Himself being seen in the midst of His lampstands, all who speak in His Name are called His "messengers"—His "angels." Therefore we learn that the Lord never leaves a local church without some power of Divine ministry. If it be only ten or twenty, He will enable some brother to speak a word which shall be in power; whilst there may be another of twenty-five, ten or twenty miles away, and the Lord is equally in the midst of them, and is as sufficient for the church of ten as for the church of twenty-five, and will convey His message to each in each spot. And no need is there always to fetch someone to come and minister. Shall we not wait on God, and will He not raise up some amongst us? For is He not in the midst of the churches, and holds the whole of the stars, i.e., "the angels," in His hand? And that, too, when it is but two or three who are gathered together to His Name in this or that place. It will not be "churches" for long, for there is only one Church in the coming glory; but I love to think that, whilst there is a plurality of churches, He walks with burning yet loving feet in the midst of them all.
This qualifying of each church by the presence in it of the Lord Himself for its own matters, takes the two lines of edification and discipline. And every loving labourer has to take these two lines, just as every loving father of a family, whilst he feeds and instructs and teaches, also uses the rod for correction if it is needed. Thus, as respects edification, Paul says to the church at Rome, chap. xv. 14 (and apparently it was a church small in number): "I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." And yet he writes them an epistle of sixteen chapters. Not because they could not do without him. Nay, they had the Lord; and if the apostles die or "go a-fishing," the Lord would not die nor forget them. And, as to discipline, turn to Corinth. Does Paul say to them, You can't put away that incestuous person unless I come and help you? Not a bit; but you gather yourselves together, and, in the Name of the Lord Jesus (and my spirit with you), put away from among yourselves that wicked person. Thus Jesus Himself is near to all His churches. O sweet truth! There is not a corner of all God's spiritual Israel which is not equally near to the Lord. The tabernacle was not in a corner of the camp, and nearest to this tribe or to that; but it was in the midst of all the twelve, and not one tribe could claim to know the way they were to go more than the others, for all could see the guiding cloud and follow on in unity of steps. They had their twelve different standards, and they had their own local officers, but it was the one God of Israel in the midst of the whole. And when the cloud moved the north-west corner moved as soon as the southeast corner; for that centre cloud moved the whole. And we are a kingdom of priests, and the Lord dwells in every different local assembly, and no local church is made dependent upon any neighbouring church, because each one has equal access to the Lord. Ephesus was close to Smyrna, and Smyrna was in a better condition; but Ephesus was not to send to Smyrna, but to go straight to the Lord with her cold heart. Thus one church need not be spiritually dull because its neighbour church is dull. O the blessed sufficiency of the Lord for each local church! Just as with our souls individually. If I am cold and my wife burning with love, am I to borrow of her warmth? Nay, I have to go to the Lord for myself and get my heart warmed. O that each assembly might be waked up to take hold of the Lord, and to say, Lord Jesus, Thou in the midst of us art the power, be the meetings however full, our readings however earnest, our care for each other however sincere. O let Jesus tie us with one love-tie to Himself, and let us not be seeking, as assemblies, to tie ourselves to each other. That is "independency," you say, and is not this a wrong thing? Yes, if it be independency in the flesh; but if because I am dependent upon God, then it is a very blessed thing. Independence in the flesh is a great snare; but independence of my next saint, because I am dependent upon Him, is the very wealth and health of my soul. O for the local churches arid assemblies to be independent; not with a saucy independence, but because He feeds His lambs, and to Him each church has to go that He may trim its dimly-burning wick. There is just now a danger of making assemblies dependent in whole districts on aid periodically or occasionally rendered from outside them. O avoid it. Smyrna is not told to mend up Ephesus, nor Philadelphia to set Laodicea right; but each assembly is told to come straight to the Lord Himself—to come under His searching eye. And the burning feet are seen treading among them all with the gentleness of woman whilst also the glorious Son of Man. He loves each church, and puts her, as a mother, to His breast, whilst He searches her to show her her condition.
At the same time we are to get acquainted with other assemblies, though we are not to interfere with their matters. Revelation ii. and iii. teach us this duty of acquaintance, for a copy of this Book of the Revelation would be sent to each church, with all the seven messages in it. Thus Ephesus would have before her the other six messages as well as her own. Thyatira, too, saw in a moment her own state, but she was also informed of the state of the other six. Thus there was no isolation of any one of them, for they formed all of them a part of God's one Church. Yet each was not to interfere with the state of any of the other six, except to give thanks for it or to pray for it; when it was a matter of edifying, or of discipline, each was to come to the Lord Himself. Nor do we find that the seven angels came together to consider the case of all. There was no coalition of the lampstands, and no coalition of the angels. Coalition is not power; nearness to the Son of God is. It is this blessed fact of Jesus in the midst of us all as assemblies which is our strength, for who else would or could care for all the number? But God is sufficient. The Son of Man is in the midst; let us roll on Him the burden. If you hear of division in this or that assembly, it is not for you to go in a band to set it right; but get you together and pray about it. It will not be wrong for you, individually as the Lord's servants, to go if you are asked to help; but the moment assemblies begin to be dependent one upon another what are they different from a sectarian synod? they become a man-made confederacy. There was no confederacy in these seven churches, but Jesus in the midst of all. And this is the more remarkable because these seven were in a very poor condition, and five of them are bidden, as assemblies, to repent. And who should give this repenting grace? Could they give it to each other? Each must go to the Son of Man in the midst; and as they looked into these holy eyes, and felt these burning feet, and, more still, as they saw and felt His womanly love, that moment they begin to repent. The Master had not left His first love, and, therefore, Ephesus might well melt and weep that she should have come to love Him less.
Such are some of the lessons this vision of the lampstands teaches. And should they all disappear in their united and assembly character of lampstands, and only a single individual remain where each lampstand formerly was, the Gracious Holy Master still cares for each such individual, for He seven times says: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches." Compare Isaiah Ixvi. 2: "To this man will I look, even to him that . . . trembleth at My word." What a God is our God!