A Heavenly Christ, therefore a Heavenly Church.

1896 45

It is the uniform tendency of man's mind to practically dissociate Christ and the church, particularly with regard to those relations of intimate unity which scripture reveals and emphasises as the peculiar marks of the Christian calling; Which of the great sections of Christendom really holds that the church is so united to Christ in heaven that its constitution derives an essential character from this very fact? The Roman, Anglican, and Dissenting, not to speak of the Greek, communities, all fall short of discerning that the living connection between the church and its risen Head on high is not a mere abstract notion, purely theoretical and altogether inoperative, but a vital principle meant to be embodied in its every action.

Now it is impossible to understand the heavenly nature of the calling of the church apart from Christ; for the raison d'être of the church is Christ. And it is not meant by this to refer now to the atoning and redemptive work of the Saviour. Undoubtedly that incomparable work supplied the immutable foundation on which God's dealings with man are based. Anticipatively or retrospectively, the death of Christ formed the sole ground for blessing to the children of faith for all time. It does not follow however that the blessing offered and given has been of an identical character from the beginning. On the contrary that blessing has varied in character and measure according to the then purpose of God, as it has been successively revealed in connection with the varied glories of the Son.

The Old Testament, speaking broadly, is occupied with the promise and prophecy of the advent of the Messiah Who would come to the chosen people of Israel as their Prophet, Priest, and King, and exalt the seed of Abraham above all the nations of the earth. The blessings which the saints of old were taught to expect were of an earthly nature. The daughter of Zion was to look for the coming of her King Who would reign in righteousness. The oppressor should be broken in pieces, and their enemies made to lick the dust. Peace should flow like a river, and the earth be full of the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea. Long life and prosperous days should be the happy portion of every subject of the glorious kingdom of David's Lord. In short, Christ in the Old Testament is brought forward as the earthly ruler and the executor of divine justice in the earth, especially in connection with the nation of Israel. Accordingly the blessings of the people assume an earthly and national character in perfect accord with these promises.

Now just as the hopes of Israel derived their points of distinction from Messiah the Prince coming to reign here below, so the hopes and calling of the church receive their distinctive marks from the position now assumed by Christ on high. This establishes the widest possible difference between Israel and the church. The difference is that betwixt earthly and heavenly, carnal and spiritual blessing. Wherever we look in the Old Testament, we find the same kind of anticipations. In Egypt and the wilderness, they look for the land of promise with a bountiful basket and store. In Canaan when groaning under the idolatrous rule of apostate kings, or when weeping by the rivers of Babylon, the faithful long for the Redeemer to come to Zion, Who shall bless every man under his own vine and his own pomegranate tree.

But the New Testament sanctions no such expectations for the Christian. The Jew was entitled to hope for blessing here of a worldly nature; but the believer's blessings are heavenly and spiritual, enjoyed alone by faith. They take their character, as has been said already, from Christ; and from Christ, not as the king of Israel and the ruler of the nations, but as the glorified Head of the church.

Now the epistle to the Ephesians unfolds the mystery of the heavenly blessing of the church in a very full manner, but always in connection with Christ. The close of the first chapter establishes the truth of the present exaltation of Christ on high and binds up with that momentous fact the position of the church in the heavenlies along with Him. Let us look at the way in which this doctrine is brought forward.

Ephesians 1:1-14 contain a summary of truths relating, to the saints, bringing out their place in the mind and purpose of God. This calls for a remark worthy of note. It is a principle of the word of God that personal blessings and responsibilities are invariably set forth before corporate blessings and relationship. And it is nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in this epistle which exceeds all others in the fulness of its divine unfoldings concerning the church in its most comprehensive aspect. For we have it presented in its totality, from eternity "hid in God," "now made known," and by-and-by to be presented to Christ perfect and entire. Nevertheless there is even in this epistle no exception to the general rule observed throughout the whole scheme of revelation to state first of all what relates to the individual. We are told not only of election and inheritance in Christ, but of what might seem very elementary, of forgiveness of sins and of hearing the gospel. This is significant enough. The individuality of the believer ought not to be swamped by the generalities of the church. It is also well, nay imperative, for the soul to be assured of its personal relationship before God in order that it may be able to enter more truly into its place in the church. Neither should an acquaintance with the privileges of Christ's body cause any to forget or under-value their individual standing through grace.

Having therefore unfolded to the saints at Ephesus their blessed place individually before God in Christ, he tells them of his prayers on their account that they may be made to know yet more. He seeks that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of the heart being enlightened. His petition on their behalf is threefold, viz., that they may know:—
1. — What is the hope of His calling, and
2. — What the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and
3. — What is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He
(a) raised Him from the dead, and
(b) set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come, and
(c) hath put all things under His feet, and
(d) gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:16-23).

Here then we have the inspired desires of the apostle for these Ephesian saints. He sought that they might grow in divine knowledge ("full knowledge" is the word employed).

In the first place (1) as to their calling; it had already been brought before them in the early verses, but did they grasp the hope of that calling? The hope is the consummation, the crown, the climax of what we now enjoy by faith. We are in point of fact even now blessed in the heavenlies, even now accepted in the Beloved. But the hope is yet to be realised when the Lord takes us to the Father's house on high and the purpose of God with regard to us is fully, accomplished. The calling is individual, the hope takes in all; for it contemplates that unity in which Christ will present the church to Himself in glory. Into this view the apostle prays that the saints may now enter fully.

He further prays (2) that they may know the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints. It is not so much, as has been pointed out by others, that the saints themselves form this inheritance, but that in the saints God in Christ will take the inheritance. Christ is "heir of all things" (Heb. 2), and when He enters into His right, the church will share the glory of that inheritance as joint-heirs

(Rom. 8:17 ; 2 Tim. 2:12). Christ will not enter into His glory apart from His bride. He says Himself, "The glory which thou hast given me, I have given them" (John 17:22). And it is the desire of the apostle that the saints may now by faith apprehend their high destiny in the coming day of glory.

The next clause (3) of the petition is that they may know the exceeding greatness of God's power already exercised upon believers in raising them up to share the exaltation of Christ. This is so important as to call for special attention in a subsequent paper (D.V.).

1896 77 The strongly and distinctly marked clauses of the apostle's first prayer for the Ephesian saints (Eph. 1:16-23) have already been noticed. He sought on their behalf that they might be made to know
(1) the hope of His calling,
(2) the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and
(3) the exceeding greatness of His power toward believers.

The last petition introduces a subject on which the apostle in a characteristic manner enlarges in a very full way. It was a theme especially near and dear to the heart of Paul. Christ in heaven and. the consequent effects for us of His present exaltation are prominent in almost every epistle. Paul knew not Christ in the days of His flesh. He did not meet Him on the banks of the Jordan, like John or Peter. It was a heavenly Christ that confronted the mad persecutor; and it was the memory of that vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ which ever hung like a brilliant beacon star on the horizon of the apostle's life, shaping his course and animating his zeal. He loved to think of Christ in the glory, and when led to speak of the power now working in us, he immediately unfolds its connection with the power that put Christ there. The self-same power that wrought in Him works in us.

Thus the doctrinal truth is made as ever to rest on the solid substructure of fact. It is a fact however only to be appreciated by the spiritual mind; and this the apostle has in view. Such he calls to consider the most recent display of God's omnipotent power in the resurrection of Christ, unveiling its profound import to the church of God.

In the beginning God displayed His power in the creation of the heavens and the earth. In the history of Israel, He showed His power by their redemption from Egypt. But the greatest exemplification of God's power for the Christian is in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. This transcends in character the power exercised in furnishing the material universe, as it also does that which crushed the military power of Pharaoh and over-ruled natural phenomena for the deliverance of His enslaved people. For here we have the annulment of man's last enemy — death, God raising Him Who lay under its power, not merely to life but up to the very chiefest place of authority and glory.

In that supremest position dominion is given Him, and that over all things ; "He hath put all things under his feet." He is Lord of all. Though this universal sway is unseen as yet, the time of its public administration not having come, the glorification of the One Who lay in the rich man's tomb is no secret to faith because revealed. It is to the believer the most signal exercise of divine power. Wondrous are the potent and invisible forces of nature operating alike on the mightier orbs, forming the remoter stellar systems, as in the countless swarms of minute life which people the stagnant ditch. But the glory of God in creation is infinitely surpassed by the glory of the Father in raising the Son.

It is surpassed to the same degree as spiritual things surpass natural, and as eternal things surpass temporal. Mechanism of the universe! Cleavage of the Red Sea! Of what small account are these in comparison with what He has done for the Son of Man, for Him Who was "crucified in weakness," but "raised in power." He Who passed by the heavenly dignitaries, in His descent to the assumption of manhood and the subsequent shame and death of Calvary, has now passed them by in His ascent to occupy His seat on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."

What a super-eminent example of the working of God's mighty power is this! Life from the dead is much, but exaltation to the very utmost how much more! Singularly few are the instances of resurrection in Old Testament times. And those who thus issued from the gates of the grave through direct divine interposition full soon returned. But here is One thither again truly raised but raised to die no more, being elevated out of the domain of death beyond its reach into the heavenlies whereto death can never come. There even now abides the Son of Man, the permanent demonstration to faith of Omnipotent interference.

Now having strained our thoughts to their utmost in setting forth the heights of exaltation to which Christ is raised, the apostle brings forward a fact of the profoundest interest to the church. In that place of conferred glory, the church is associated with Him, He is not only "head over all things" but "head over all things to the church," The self-same power, that wrought in Christ to set Him on high, works in us to set us along with Him there. As Son of Man He has those who are destined to share the headship bestowed upon Him in resurrection; and they are described as being already, in purpose and effect, associated along with Him there.

The intimate connection of the church with Christ is illustrated by the figure of the body — "the church which is His body." This is not the relationship of subjects to a ruler, though of course it is at the same time true that the church is subject to Christ. But this expressive metaphor implies the marvellous truth that the eternal purpose of God would not be realised unless the church is united to the Risen Man in the place of glory to which He is exalted. Indeed, this is the particular import of the succeeding phrase, "the fulness of him that filleth all in all." The church is called out to become the complement, that which is necessary to complete the Mystic Man on high.

Here then we have the revealed purpose of God with regard to Christ and the church. We are brought into indissoluble association of the most intimate character with Christ, not as a man here below, for this could not be, but as a man in resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand. The fact (for it certainly is not a theory) of itself stamps a unique distinction upon the church. The grand objects and purpose of God in reference to her will never be accomplished on earth. The scene of her consummation in glory is on high, a secret as completely hidden from the world now as the fact of the present glory of Christ. On this account the aspirations of the church, where the true nature of God's calling is apprehended, will be exclusively heavenly, while the world will be regarded as a place of temporary sojourn in which all arrangements are purely provisional and in no way objects of chief concern.

How far this is borne out by the practice of the professing church of today needs no word of comment. W.J.H.