The Assembly: Man in Responsibility

The temple that Solomon built was the house of God, and God filled it with His glory at its consecration or dedication, but it was not long before God's temple became defiled and ruined. In the days of Jehoiada there were breaches in the house, and these the faithful priest had repaired. Many of the golden vessels too were taken away, and these were replaced with silver vessels. The wicked king "Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord … and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria"; and not content with this, he made an altar, like one he saw in Damascus, and offered his offerings on it, removing the brazen altar of Jehovah, and "put it on the north side of the altar" (2 Kings 16:8-15).

Just before the captivity of Judah, there was the outward pretension to the worship of Jehovah, but idolatry had even come into that which bore Jehovah's Name. They were still saying, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" (Jer. 7:4), vainly imagining that the formal, though corrupt, worship would save them from God's judgment, because of the existence of the building called by God's Name. But God had pronounced His judgment on Jerusalem, His glory being about to depart from the temple, and this because of the awful corruptions in that which bore His Name. Ezekiel was taken in spirit to Jerusalem, to see what was going on in the temple, and he wrote, "So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things … and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall," and the elders of Israel were there with censers, burning incense to the idols. There were also women, "weeping for Tummuz", and sun worshippers with their backs towards the temple and worshipping the sun towards the east.

When the Lord Jesus was on earth, at the beginning of His public ministry, He owned the temple as His Father's House (John 2:16), even if 'He had to cleanse it, though in a different manner from Hezekiah (2 Chr. 29:5). Even towards the close of His life on earth, the Lord Jesus, in spite of all the hypocrisy and evil, speaks of the temple as "My House"; but when mourning over the city of Jerusalem, He says, "Your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 21:13; 23:38). Although having the name of God's house, the temple had lost its true character, both on account of what was allowed and because of the rejection of the Son of God.

When we view the house of God today, that which was set up at the beginning as a dwelling place for God, that which bears the Name of God, do we not see something corresponding to the house in earlier times? — a profession of the Name of the Lord, but with it a departure from the holiness and character that are consistent with the Lord's Name.

God's Building

There are two distinct aspects of the house of God, or of God's building; there is the workmanship of God and of Christ into which no evil can come, and there is that which man builds, and this can be defiled and ruined. It is this latter aspect of God's building with which we are particularly occupied at this time, and which the Apostle Paul brings before the assembly at Corinth in chapter 3 of his first letter to that gathering.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:9 writes of himself and his fellow servants as "labourers together with God", or as "God's fellow-workmen" and of the saints at Corinth as "God's husbandry, God's building". Paul and Apollos had both laboured at Corinth in the vine-yard of God; Paul had done the planting, Apollos had watered, but God had given the increase. But when the Apostle writes of the building, he says, "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation." He had laid the foundation of God's assembly at Corinth as having made known to them the truth of the Gospel, the truth concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of this he adds, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Jesus Christ must be the foundation, else what is built is not the assembly of God. There are many other kinds of institutions in this world, both among the heathen and in Christendom, but only what is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ is God's assembly. The foundation is the doctrine received into the hearts of those who have believed, and when Paul came first to Corinth he preached "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified". That was the foundation; and every other part of the building should take character from it.

Upon Paul's foundation other builders were working, and the Apostle warns, "Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon ". Each builder is to keep in mind the character of the foundation, which should control the manner of his building as well as the materials used. In verse 10 the Apostle lays stress on how we build, in verse 12 it is what we build. The motives of the builders are to be consistent with Christ, as are the methods or principles controlling them.

Gold, silver and precious stones are valuable materials, and enduring, which cannot be damaged by fire. Gold speaks of divine righteousness and glory, silver of God's grace in redemption, and precious stones the features of the divine nature and character that were perfectly seen in Jesus down here. Only that which is of God, and that which brings Christ before saints is suitable for God's assembly.

Wood, hay and stubble are materials that readily decay, and will not stand the fire. They represent the teachings of men, doctrine that originates in human hearts and minds, and that is for the guidance of man after the flesh. Wood speaks of what is human in texture and character, grass of temporary prosperity on earth, and straw of what is left when the valuable grain has been removed; and such is the teaching of man in the flesh. How much of this character of teaching there is in Christendom today, that which has its origin in the mind of man, that which concerns itself about his temporal welfare, and that empty philosophy that has the fair appearance of having something for man's edification but is only an empty husk.

A bright reward awaits those who build the divine materials into the local assembly; but those who are truly Christ's, but have been seduced into building worthless materials, will be saved, yet they will suffer loss; all that they have built of this worthless character will be destroyed. Sometimes God tests the building while we are still here, and how good it is if we see what is of Himself remaining when the time of testing comes. But whether we see the fire or not, the day will declare what we have been building.

There is however a third class of builder, those who are not true believers in the Lord Jesus, and who have been defiling with their wicked doctrines the temple of God; such are to be destroyed. There are many of this class in Christendom today, men who deny the foundations of the faith, and who minister doctrines subversive of Christianity, while remaining in the profession of Christ.

God's Habitation by the Spirit

At the end of Ephesians 2, the saints are found in relation to those who first brought to them the truth of God. Christ is the chief corner stone here, not the foundation as in 1st Corinthians 3. The apostles and prophets are the foundation of what is growing unto a "holy temple in the Lord". This is what the church will be in its completeness in the coming day; and the structure is viewed as divine, not that in which man's responsibility is found.

But in the present time, the saints "are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (verse 22). The church is God's habitation because God dwells in it by the Spirit. Man's responsibility is not raised here, nor is the question as to who is the builder. The Spirit of God not only dwells in each individual believer, but also in the house, and this is brought before us here. Yet it is not the sovereign aspect of the building as in other Scriptures, but rather that God has a house on earth now.

The Church of the Living God

Behaviour in the house of God is what the Apostle Paul is dealing with in 1 Timothy iii, and he writes to Timothy that he might know the behaviour that becomes God's house on earth. This very clearly deals with man in responsibility in relation to God's dwelling place. Men are to pray everywhere; women are to adorn themselves in modest apparel and to learn in silence, and not to teach. Bishops are to be blameless, and to have a good report from those without; deacons are to be husbands of one wife and to rule their children well; and the wives of those in offices in the church are to be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. These are some of the traits that are to mark those who form God's house, and who have some work to do for God in it.

God's house is composed of those who profess the Name of Christ, and in all their ways they are to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour. It is the living God's assembly, and His features should be manifested in those professing piety. In the temple of Solomon there were two pillars, Jachin, which means "He will establish", and Boaz, which means "In Him is strength". God's house is a pillar, which testifies to God, setting forth what He is, and what His mind is. But the church is also "the ground of the truth", the base which supports what is testified. All who profess Christianity should by their lives morally support what is professed. This is God's object in having His house in this world. The secret of the piety that should mark every professor is found in the mystery of piety.

A Great House

In Second Timothy, Paul writes of the ruin that marks the professing church. Already, in his day, the decline had set in. He has to write with deep sorrow, "This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Tim. 1:15). Chapter 3 opens with the state of professing Christendom "in the last days", with the marks of the heathen world, but "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof".

Can this be what began as "a habitation of God through the Spirit", what is spoken of in the First Epistle to Timothy as "the house of God, which is the church of the living God"? It certainly has not the character of its first estate, but it still clings to the name. Like the house that Solomon built, that was once filled with God's glory, but from which the glory reluctantly departed, and like that which the Lord owned as His house, but which He later called "your house", that which began as the "house of God" is likened unto "a great house" in the last days that Second Timothy envisages.

In the "great house" of Christendom, "there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour" (2 Tim. 2:20). Timothy was a vessel unto honour in his day, but there were two named, who were vessels to dishonour, Hymenaeus and Philetus, "who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some" (verse 17, 18). They did not deny the truth of resurrection, but gave it a false application, presenting it in such a way as to rob it of its true meaning and power in the lives of the saints, and to gather to themselves a heretical company.

In such a day as this we may not be able to tell at once whether a man is a real Christian or not, but the Lord knows them that are His; and He has made our path plain, "Let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity ". We cannot, if true to Christ, be found in company with men such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, or with those who support them. To be a "vessel unto honour, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work" entails separation from every form of evil, and the form of evil of which the Apostle is writing is religious.

Every great religious system today harbours teachers who hold doctrines subversive of Christianity, and the path of the one loyal to Christ is outside of such systems. We cannot get out of the "great house" but we can be separate from the vessels of dishonour. As separate from all that is evil, we shall not be alone, for the Lord enjoins us to "follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:22). The days in which we live may be very difficult, but the path for the Christian has been made clear; and there is grace from the Lord for us to walk in it for His glory.

We Are God's House

Moses is brought before us in Hebrews 3 as a faithful servant in the house of God, but Christ is Son over God's house, and is counted worthy of greater honour than Moses "inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house." Then we are told "but He that built all things is God ". The One who built the whole universe has built Himself a house, and in it His Son has the place of supremacy, for He is set over it, the great Governor of God's house.

God's house is not the tabernacle which Moses built, for it has long since passed away, nor was it the temple that still existed, but was so soon to be destroyed; but, says the writer to the Hebrews, we are God's house, "if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." Just as in the case of the temple, it was possible for the Hebrew believers to have the Name of the Lord upon them, and to be found utterly inconsistent with the profession of belonging to Him. That is why the "if" is used. Like them, we are to "hold fast … unto the end"; we are to be true to our profession of Christ, to live in the confidence that faith brings, and not in present things, but as hoping in God for our portion in the world to come.

Judgment Begins at God's House

When Peter wrote, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God", there was plenty in Scripture to justify his words. As soon as God's house had been reared in the wilderness, and the priests consecrated, the two elder sons of Aaron offered strange fire, contrary to God's commandment, and judgment began at God's house. Eli's two sons also perished because of their evil ways.

When God sent his messengers to destroy the in-habitants of Jerusalem because of the abominations practised there, He said to them, "and begin at My sanctuary" (Ezek. 9:4-6). Not long after the church had been formed as God's house, the judgment of God fell upon Ananias and Sapphira because of their sin: and because of the disorderly behaviour of the Corinthians at the Lord's Supper, the Apostle wrote to them, "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:30). Then he added, "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world."

God will have holiness in His house, and He chastens His own in the judgment of His house, that they might be partakers of His holiness. We may "suffer as a Christian" in the judgment, but in the wisdom of God this is allowed that we might be the more freed from the influences of the world, to be more wholly for Himself. In persecution, the church is purified, but it may be the godly that are taken to be with the Lord that those who are left may be exercised to be faithful.

The Assembly: Divine Workmanship

The plan for the tabernacle was divine, Moses receiving it from God on mount Horeb, but the workmanship was man's, though he was given God's Spirit for its accomplishment. It was somewhat different with Solomon's temple, which was the king's, the fruit of his divinely-given wisdom, both in its design and in its construction. The temple in the millennium will be constructed according to the divine design, which was given to Ezekiel about two thousand six hundred years ago. In 1st Timothy we have the pattern for God's house, and also in 1st Corinthians, where we read of the materials that should be used in its building; but all these bring in man's workmanship, and in the ordering of the house, man's responsibility.

Moses was "faithful in all God's house", but the same could not be said of Solomon, for the time came when he took foreign wives, and they turned his heart away after other gods, and he kept not the Lord's commandment. The tabernacle, built according to the divine pattern, served throughout the wilderness, and was pitched by Joshua when he entered the land, and it continued in Shiloh until the days of Eli, when it passes from sight after the ark is taken. Its function was taken up by the tent that David spread for it till the temple was built by Solomon. But the temple too was destroyed, because of the failure of Israel; and not only Solomon's, but also that which existed when the Lord was here.

The church too, as God's house, has grievously failed and today it lies in ruins, and the time will surely come when, in its ruined form, it will for ever pass away and be found no more on earth. But there is another aspect of the church, as God's workmanship, in which there is no failure, into which man's responsibility does not enter, and this divine structure will never pass away. How good it is to be able to turn away from all the failure of man to be engaged with the sovereign working of God.

My Assembly

In Matthew 16, where the Lord Jesus speaks of building His assembly, He introduces the subject by asking His disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" On hearing the reply that some thought He was "John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets", the Lord asks His disciples, "But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". Simon Peter had received a revelation from the Father concerning the greatness of the Person of Jesus, the great Builder, of whom he was to hear more from His own lips.

Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel, the One in whom all the promises of God to Israel were to be fulfilled, but He was in His own Person the Son of the living God. In earlier days, such outstanding men as Moses, Joshua, David, Hezekiah, Jeremiah and others had spoken of Israel's God as the living God, in contrast to the gods of the nations in which there was no life, a God who intervened for the help of His people; but none of them had known of the Son of the living God, the One who had come into Manhood to accomplish all that lay in the counsels and will of God.

As Messiah of Israel, Jesus was refused, but this would not hinder the carrying out of God's will, for there were greater things to be done than the raising up of "the tribes of Jacob" and the restoring of the preserved of Israel: the Son of the living God was to be a light to the Gentiles, and God's salvation "unto the end of the earth" (Isa. 49:6). This would be when He was refused and slain by Israel, but according to the purposes of God. And it was after His rejection by Israel that the Son of God speaks of Himself as a Builder. James, in Acts 15:15-18, recalled that God "will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down: and I will build again the ruins thereof" but the Son of God would build something entirely new, but not on the ruins of the tabernacle of David.

The Father had given a revelation to Peter as to the greatness of the Person of Jesus; now Jesus gives another revelation to Peter, saying, "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". Peter's name means "a stone", as the Lord told him in John 1:42, but the foundation of this new building was not a stone, but a rock. Poor Peter, faithful man that he was, would have been a very poor foundation for the Son of God to build on.

Christ Himself is the foundation, and Christ as the Son of the living God. Christ is the foundation of the building that Paul laid at Corinth, even as he wrote, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:10-11), but there men are building, and the building can be defiled; but here it is the Son of the living God who is the Builder, and the defiling hand of man cannot touch what He builds.

Not only is the work of the Son of God beyond the reach of man's defiling hand, but it cannot be touched by the hand of Satan, for "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it". The gates of hell have prevailed against everything that man has built, and God even allowed Satan to spoil His work in Eden, but he will not be allowed to touch this work of the Son of God; it is something beyond his power to harm; and we have the assurance of the Son of God Himself that this divine structure cannot be prevailed against by all the power of the enemy.

On this impregnable rock the Son of God was to build what He announces as "My assembly". This was something entirely new; it was not among the many things prophesied in relation to Christ's coming; His announcement of it was a fresh divine revelation, just as the Father's had been to Peter. He had not then commenced to build, for He said, "I will build". This new creation structure would not commence till the Son of God had died and risen again; and it may be that this is why the revelation had been of Jesus as the Son of the living God. The Son of God in resurrection, alive for evermore, was to build that which was peculiarly His own, for He speaks of it as My assembly.

When the Lord said, "Thou art Peter", it seems that He was indicating the character of material that would be built by Him into His building. Peter is a stone, and the Son of the living God would build living stones to form His assembly, those who had His own life, received from Himself in resurrection, and who in this way bore His own character and nature, and who were made part of Himself. Satan could not touch what belonged to the life of the Son of the living God, what belongs to another world, where he cannot come.

A Holy Temple in the Lord

At the end of Ephesians 2 the Apostle Paul told the Gentile believers that they were "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God". The Gospel had come to Ephesus, and those who believed were brought into this privileged position. They were no longer in the distance from God, but were in nearness to Him, enjoying the portion of all brought into His house. It was not the earthly Jerusalem of which they were fellow-citizens, but Jerusalem above, the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

They also now had part in a building in which "Jesus Christ Himself"' is the "chief corner stone". When the apostles were brought before Annas and Caiaphas, and others of the priestly order, Peter said to them, "This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the Head of the corner" (Acts 4:11). The leaders of Israel had no place for Him in their building, but He is the Chief Corner Stone in God's building. He is the Rock on which He builds; He is the Corner Stone in God's building.

In the Chief Corner Stone we read all God's thoughts, and His purpose in having such a building, even as was written concerning the Stone in Zechariah 3:9, "I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts". Everything in this building takes character from Christ, every part of it, every line of structure converging on Him in whom all God's pleasure is found, and who gives effect to all God's will.

The apostles and prophets of the New Testament, of the ascended Christ, have a special place in the building, for they were the first to be brought in, and their ministry was used of the Lord to bring in the other stones. These apostles include those whom the Lord chose on earth, but here they are apostles of the ascended Christ, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. Are we not reminded by these foundation stones of Solomon's building, of which it is written, "And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house" (1 Kings 5:17)?

All the building is "fitly framed together" in the Chief Corner Stone; that is every part of the building has reference to Him, and directs the eye to Him. And like Solomon's temple, this temple "grows"; even as it is recorded, "And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building" (1 Kings 6:7). In the same manner, this holy temple grows silently, under the skilful eye of the divine builder, according to His own plan.

When the building is completed, it will be seen as "an holy temple in the Lord". Like the builder, and like the Chief Corner Stone, the building is holy, a shrine in which the glory of God can dwell, and from which it can shine forth in the day of display. But it is the place where God can dwell, and shall dwell. The glory will never depart from this temple as it did from Solomon's; the Name of the Lord will never be dishonoured in it as it was in the temple when Jesus was on earth; and no builder on earth will have a hand in the building to bring into it anything of a defiling or worthless nature, as was in the assembly viewed in its responsible character in 1 Corinthians 3.

The last verse of Ephesians 2 contemplates the house of God in its present aspect, as distinct from the holy temple considered in the previous verses. All the grace of the Person of Jesus Christ is viewed in Him as the Corner Stone; and all His authority as the Lord in whom the temple is viewed. Every stone in the building owns the Lordship of Christ, and takes character from Jesus Christ whose life it has.

A Spiritual House

The Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord gave the revelation of "My assembly", writes to the dispersed of Israel, and in chapter 2 of his First Epistle writes of the spiritual house composed of those who have come to Christ. He exhorts them to lay aside the features of the flesh, and "as newborn babes" (1 Peter 2:2) to desire earnestly the sincere milk of the word that they might grow thereby. Whatever our spiritual attainment, we need the word of God for food, so that we might grow by the true knowledge of God found in it. And it is through the word that we have tasted that the Lord is gracious, the word received by faith, and made our own in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Having heard the word of God, we have in receiving it come to Christ. It was for salvation we came, and we found it in Him, but, although not understanding it when we came, it was to Him as the living Stone we came. God had higher thoughts than ours: we would have been content with the forgiveness of our sins, but God had much more for us, as is brought out in this passage of Scripture. The One to whom we came was not allowed His rightful place by the leaders of Israel, but He was "chosen of God, and precious". How great the contrast of God's thoughts and men's. God, who knew His true worth, chose His dear Son for something much greater than a place in the building of the leaders of Israel, a place, the chief place, in the spiritual House, for Jesus, His dear Son, must be pre-eminent wherever He is found.

The saints of God, taking character from Christ, are also living stones, and as such are "built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). We became living stones through receiving the life of Christ; and only those who are truly born of God, and who have come to the Lord Jesus, are in this spiritual house. Mere profession does not bring men into this structure; only those who have passed out of death into life are in this holy priesthood. But all true Christians are priests; in Israel the priesthood was a separated and consecrated class; in Christianity all who are Christ's are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and are thus anointed and consecrated priests to God.

What a different picture this gives to what is found all around in Christendom, where they have a separated clergy for priests, consecrated by men; and often those who are so consecrated, and those who consecrate them, are without the true knowledge of God, still in the flesh, and not having the Spirit of God. Even the newborn babes in God's family, as shown in this Scripture, have this blessed place of divine privilege.

Our sacrifices in the spiritual house are spiritual. When we meet together as in assembly, we unitedly exercise this precious priestly function, though it is not limited to the assembly. Praise and worship to God at all times, whether unitedly or individually, are spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Christ Jesus; though in the assembly our worship is of a special character. The writer to the Hebrews mentions the spiritual sacrifices in Hebrews 13:15, "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name". Nor does He forget the sacrifices of material things (Heb. 13:16).

From the time of Jacob's blessing of Joseph, when he said, "From thence is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel" (Gen. 49:24), the stone had frequently been alluded to. There was Israel's special stone, the onyx, fixed on the shoulders of the priestly ephod, with the names of the children of Israel on it; but there was the stone connected with the house of God, the stone which the builders disallowed, but which God made the head of the corner. It is the stone in this character that Peter contemplates, the "headstone" of Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:7.

Quoting from Isaiah 28:16 and Isaiah 8:14, the Apostle presents Jesus in relation to God's will and working, but also in relation to His refusal by Israel. Although refused by Israel's leaders, God lays His foundation stone in Sion where He was refused. The foundation of God's assembly was laid in Jerusalem, in the men who companied with the Lord, and who received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It was a tried stone that God laid as His foundation, His chief Corner Stone, One who had been tested to the utmost in death, but had proved faithful to God.

Rejected by Israel, He is chosen by God. Of no account to Israel, He is precious to God; and those who believe on Him are not confounded; and the believer is able to enter into the preciousness of Christ. If He is precious to God, both because of who He is as God's Son, and also because of what He is in all His perfections, and what He has done on the cross for God's glory, will and pleasure, He is also precious to us, because of what He has done for us, and because we too are now able to appreciate His moral beauty, His divine glory, the greatness of what He has accomplished on the cross and, too, what He is to the Father.

To Israel, the Stone they disallowed is a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence. How very solemn that their thoughts of Christ should be so different to God's, and that they should reject Him. They are still stumbling over Christ; and they are still offended; and will be till the day He appears, when they mourn and repent because of their sin and rejection of Him.

Those who have believed in Christ are also a royal priesthood, a chosen generation and "an holy nation, a peculiar people". What a blessed place of privilege for those who accept God's Christ. We are to "show forth the praises of Him who hath called" us out of darkness into His marvellous light.

This is to be the answer to God's grace and mercy from those He has so richly blessed. He has given us wonderful privileges and blessings, but His purpose and desire is that His own features may be manifested in those He has brought by His call out of the darkness in which we were by nature into the marvellous light that has come to us in the Person of the Son.

The Assembly: In Display

During the time of Christ's absence from this world God has been forming the assembly that it might be a testimony for Him while waiting for its rapture to heaven to be Christ's companion in the day of His glory, and to be for Him forever in the Father's house. The assembly is a new creation vessel, formed of those who, according to nature, were once in the distance far from God, but He has redeemed them to Himself by the precious blood of Christ and formed them in grace into a vessel in which His own nature can be manifested and which, when Christ comes and takes them to Himself, will be suitable for the display of His glory. Down here we are in bodies of humiliation, but sustained of God and carrying in our earthen vessels a heavenly treasure; but when the Lord comes we shall receive our bodies of glory that are suited for the display that God has purposed.

The Display of Love

In His prayer to the Father in John 17, the Lord Jesus says, And the glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:22). The Lord is speaking of His disciples, for this is the relationship in which His own were to Him. They had not yet been brought into the knowledge of the new relationships that were to be formed in resurrection, when they would be owned as His brethren and be able to say "Father" after receiving the Spirit of sonship.

The glory that the Lord receives as Man from the Father He would share with His own, and in that glory they would be one. In John the truth of the church, which was to be formed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, is not taught; but those who are formed into this divine unity in glory are those who would compose the church. It is the same company that is envisaged, but in a different relationship. The glory that is displayed in the church is the glory that belongs to the favoured company spoken of by the Son here to the Father.

In John 17:21 the Lord had spoken of the unity of His own on earth, a unity that exists in the divine life and nature of all the family of God, and that is so very much greater than any differences that might mark them in their responsible witness. The Lord also prayed for unity to mark the twelve (John 17:11) and this unity did mark the apostles in the promulgation of their testimony.

Unity in glory does not depend on the efforts of the saints, for then every one will have been conformed to the image of God's Son; and, as John writes in his First Epistle, "we shall be like Him"; and this likeness is displayed in the family of God, the children, in the day that they are displayed with the Son of God. Here we are in a scene that dishonoured the Lord Jesus, and we share the place that the world gave Him, but there is going to be a marked change when the Lord comes to take us to be with Himself.

None can share the Personal glory of the Son, but we are to behold it, according to His own desire, "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which Thou hast given me; for Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). In coming into the world, there was glory the Son laid aside; but in going to the Father He receives as Man, from the Father, the glory that He had with the Father "before the world was" (John 17:5). This is the glory we cannot share, but which we shall behold in the Son within the Father's house.

What the Son has acquired by His great work on the cross, the glory that shall be displayed in His kingdom, that He desires that we should share, and He has already given it to us, though we do not yet actually possess it. Very soon we shall enter into the glory, and then the saints will be seen in this unity of glory. The world has not received the testimony of the Son, and in consequence has also refused the testimony of His disciples; but the world will see the divine unity of the disciples of the Son of God in that day.

The world might well ask, Who are these? when the great company of the saints are seen in Christ's glory. They are the men who have believed in the Son, and who have been brought into this favoured place because the Son was sent by the Father to bring them into this place with Him. The world that refused the Son's testimony will realise that it was the Son that came into the world, sent by the Father, to give believers this place of glory along with Him as the fruit of His work.

But the world will also know that the disciples of the Son of God, whose testimony they refused, and whom they despised, are in the same place with the Son, sharing His glory. What else can this mean but that they are loved by the Father with the same love wherewith He loves His Son? This glory displays the Father's love for the Son and for those who share the Son's place in the affections of the Father.

The Display of Grace

When God took up His people Israel, His dealings with them in Egypt were in grace. He smote the firstborn of Egypt, but redeemed His own with the blood of the lamb, sheltering them by the blood from the sword of the destroyer. It was in grace too that He took them over the Red Sea and provided them with manna and with water day by day. At Sinai God proposed the law to them as a means of blessing, and poor Israel readily accepted, not knowing what was in their hearts. But they were never under pure law, else all would have perished at the foot of Sinai when they made the golden calf Moses, in divinely-given wisdom, broke the tables of stone before coming into the camp; and the whole sacrificial system showed God's provision for a sinful people.

In God's dealings with Israel His longsuffering and compassion are manifested, also His righteousness, His goodness and His severity; but God could not be fully known until He was revealed in the Person of the Son, and the Apostle John wrote of Him, saying, "and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". The Word made flesh revealed God in the love of His nature and in His disposition of grace towards men; and the Evangelist adds, "And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:14-16).

Paul, in writing to the saints at Ephesus, also tells us of God's rich grace. In chapter 1 he writes of "the riches of His grace" and "the glory of His grace" and in chapter 2 twice writes "by grace are ye saved". God in the sovereignty of His grace has intervened to save poor sinners from among the Jews and from among the Gentiles. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God has given us His own life, quickening us out of our dead state and raising us up to set us down together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Nothing can excel this wondrous grace of God: it shows the kind of God with whom we have to do, One who is "rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us". There was not a movement in our hearts towards God when He took us up. Indeed, we were bitterly opposed to God, in a state of moral and spiritual death. Our sins had put us at a distance from God and we must have remained there eternally, banished from His presence, but for His merciful intervention in His deep, deep love.

Not content with doing all this for us, taking us out of our lost and ruined condition, God has given us the brightest place in Christ in the heavenly places, while waiting to give us the nearest place with Christ in heaven itself. He has made us His own sons, and heirs along with Christ; and He is going to show what He has done for us in the ages to come. Men have always had wrong thoughts of God; they have called Him a hard God, not knowing Him as a God of love and grace. But God will show to the vast universe the kind of God He is when He brings us out into display along with Christ.

Every one in the vast company of the redeemed in glory with Christ will owe everything to God and to Christ. The chief of sinners will be there, and you and I will be there, the trophies of the grace of God. In richest grace God has stooped down to take up the despised of earth, those whom men have thought as not worth considering in this world, but He has fitted them through the work of Christ, and in new creation, to be the companions of Christ, and His heirs in the ages to come.

The Display of God's All-Varied Wisdom

God's eternal power and divinity are clearly in evidence in the creation, and have been from the beginning, which leaves man without excuse before God. Those who have thought of the ways of God, with the desire to be taught of God, would exclaim with the Apostle Paul, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33). But God has not only displayed His power and His wisdom for the enlightening of men; there are beings of a higher order who have been learning of their Creator through His acts and ways.

When God answered Job, He asked him, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? … who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7). These great beings were evidently intelligent and delighted spectators in the work of God when He brought the world into being; and down the ages, in God's dealings with men, the angels must often have wondered, while learning of God's ways with men.

Angels are seen not only as spectators, but also as participators in God's dealings with men. The cherubims, with the flaming sword, kept the way of the tree of life when man was expelled from Eden. The law was given by a dispensation of angels; and down the Old Testament history they are to be seen as God's messengers and the executors of His judgments.

When the Son of God came to earth, the angels heralded His entry with rejoicing. Angels ministered to the Lord after the temptation in the wilderness and after His agony in Gethsemene. How the angels must have wondered at seeing their Creator in Manhood's form and their wonder increased at seeing Him insulted and His bearing it patiently. What amazement must have filled their minds when they saw men ill-treat, mock, scourge, spit upon and crucify their heavenly Lord; and with what gladness did they proclaim His resurrection to the favoured women, as they showed them the empty tomb, while one sat upon the stone to challenge the powers of this world.

But the heavenly hosts also saw the wondrous sight of the triumph of God and of Christ, as the Son of God defeated Satan and, "having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly" (Col. 2:15). The angels were privileged to say to the disciples as they watched Jesus being received up out of their sight, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). There was much that angels saw, but of the things spoken by the prophets concerning the salvation God has procured for us, "the angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:12). In all this there is a mystery of which the angels know not.

In the church now God is displaying to the great intelligences of heaven something of His wisdom. Angels are learning in the church now, as they look down from heaven, a character of divine wisdom different from that seen in the bringing in of the creation, or that manifested in God's ways with men. It is God's all-varied wisdom, His wisdom in all its rich variety, seen in those who once were sinners far from Him, but are now formed into a new creation vessel that one day will display His glory.

The all-varied wisdom that conceived God's purpose is now being displayed, but not to men. Men will one day look up and see God's glory and love in the church; but now the angels look down to see His all-varied wisdom in the church today. Every individual who forms part of the church is the fruit of God's new creation work, and every one is being sustained of God in an adverse scene while awaiting the day of glory. Angels take account of the saints, even as Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth, For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels" (1 Cor. 11:10).

No doubt the angels can see in the church in its entirety, and in the local assemblies, in the way in which God has formed them, and in the manner of those who are gathered in assembly, that which is altogether different from anything else in this world, that which bears the divine stamp. If the wisdom of Solomon in his house had such an effect on the Queen of Sheba, what effect must the manifold wisdom of God have on the heavenly hosts?

The Display of God's Glory

As Paul contemplated the display of God's manifold wisdom in the church, he wrote "according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord". What God is doing in time was conceived and planned in eternity, Christ being the One upon whom all depended and in whom all centred. All God's eternal purposes must be viewed in relation to Christ, the Man of His purpose, and in whom we now have access to God by the faith of Him. This brought the apostle to his knees in prayer to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:11-14).

God's eternal purpose was not only in relation to the church in its sojourn on earth and its display of His grace in the millennium, but also in eternity. For all eternity there will be the display of God's glory "in the church by Christ Jesus". The church is the vessel that God has formed for His own pleasure, the fruit of His wisdom, the devising of His own infinite skill, the crown of His workmanship in which He will set forth before the universe for eternity what He is in His glory. The glory of redemption will shine forth brightly, for the church was purchased "by the blood of His own"; but there will be the display of God's own nature, for all there are His sons, His children, His joint heirs with Christ His Heir of all things.

This is the great end to which God has been working since the ruin of the old creation by the entry of sin into the world. But there was sin in the universe before it entered into the world, for the devil sins from the beginning. God took the occasion of man's greatest sin, the slaying of His Son, to deal with sin once and for all in the cross, and He will remove it from the universe and fill the universe with His glory for ever in the assembly.