Is there a Collective Christian Position? – Frederick Raven

Some say there is now no collective Christian position and that it is impossible for Christians rightly to break bread together in view of the public breakdown of the church.  However I think we can free from sectarian organisation.

 

I have heard it said that there is now no collective Christian position. I understand what they mean.  Some have though that it meant it was now impossible for Christians rightly to break bread together in view of the public breakdown of the church.  However I think we can free from sectarian organisation.

I believe that the Lord is reminding His own as to the subject of gathering.    A brother recently wrote to me, referring back to when he was ill in 1970 (a significant year for some readers).  He wrote:

“I was crying out to the Lord in pain, when the Lord came back to me with the rebuke, ‘You don’t really love me! all you love is ‘the assembly’, I am secondary to all you do!’ 

By putting ‘the assembly’ in quotes, I am sure he was referring to a religious body, not the body of Christ.  That challenged me: does my little round of meetings and the fellowship I enjoy mean more to me than the Lord Himself. Frederick Raven said he did not understand a ‘collective position’. Many resisted him then – maybe we would have been preserved from a lot of sorrow had we gotten the gain of his ministry since.  Here are a few extracts (slightly edited for sense) from a reading on the parables of the mustard tree and the leaven in Matthew 13:31-46 (1901) – See Ministry of F E Raven Vol 15 p 359).

 

F E Raven

Frederick Raven

The mustard tree conveys the idea of imperialism, the hierarchical system of things, a great conspicuous figure, which affords shelter; the leaven hid in the three measures of meal represents a great inflated mass leavened by corrupted doctrine.  When Christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin.  The ruin has come in upon Christianity as a whole. I think everyone who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin.  We must go on without any pretension, without any idea of what is called corporate witness, an ecclesiastical company in any sense.  We are in danger of becoming a tree: well let us say, a small tree.

 In reply to the remark ‘Our collective Christian position is a witness to the ruin’.  Raven answered. I do not understand a collective position.  I think our position is essentially individual. I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things.  Find ‘those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart’ (2 Tim 2:22), I do not mind who: I am not recognising a company.  I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things.  Scripture says, ‘Two are better than one’ (Eccl 4:9).  If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together. I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, “To none”.

 Abiding in Christ meets every difficulty.  The sad thing to me is, that I see a great number today who do not seem to be abiding in Christ. I do not say that they are not Christians, but the only antidote to lawlessness is abiding in Christ.

We break bread in view of all Christians; we cannot compass all in fact, but in our mind we take in all saints.  The moment we go out in thought to the whole church all is plain sailing.  A Christian who isolates himself is lawless.

When asked, ’Is there any company that can act with authority?”.  FER answered ‘No’. Then asked ‘How then can we deal with evil?’, ‘You do not go on with evil. We seek to act according to the truth.  As to putting away, I am a bit afraid of the collective idea. The only thing that can act with the authority of Christ is the church. However, two or three acting in Christ’s name is not really the church, only they are guided by the principle of the church.  ‘We being many are one body’ (Rom 12:5). I do not see any warrant for taking the place of a company; we stand apart from the organisation of Christendom.

My Conclusion

Perhaps we all need to be with the Lord and do a bit of rethinking.  I fear lest in leaving or rejecting the tenets of one company, we join or espouse the ideas of another.  Occupation with Christ is the only antidote.

 

Sosthenes

September 2019

 

 

Full Text of Reading

Following some criticism for ‘selectively quoting’ from FER, I am reproducing the whole reading.
See Ministry of F E Raven Vol 15 p 359).
Obtainable from Kingston Bible Trust
I do not believe that my extracts detract in any way from the whole reading

READING ON MATTHEW

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Matthew 13:31 – 46 (KJV) – Darby version on hyperlink

 

The Mustard Tree

Ques. In reference to the tree — is it the thought that the outward proportion is according to the inward corruption?

F.E.R. Yes; but I think you must distinguish between them. The leaven and the mustard tree are two different similitudes. One represents one thing, and the other represents another. The tree conveys the idea of imperialism, a great conspicuous figure, which affords shelter. On the other hand, the leaven hid in the three measures of meal represents a great inflated mass leavened by corrupted doctrine — they are two distinct figures.

Rem. The mustard tree represents the hierarchical system of things.

F.E.R. Yes, it becomes conspicuous in the world, ruling over the kings of the earth. The harlot will ride the beast. That is imperialism. The three measures of meal leavened represent a great inflated mass.

Rem. Permeating a given sphere.

F.E.R. Exactly.

Ques. Do you get the end of those two views in Revelation 17 and 18?

F.E.R. I should think what you get in Revelation is more the mustard tree. It is the great city Babylon that rules over the kings of the earth.

Ques. Does the apostle speak of leaven in 2 Timothy 3 where he gives a moral description of the last days? Does that give the idea of leaven?

 

The Adaptation of Christianity to Man

F.E.R. Not quite to my mind. I think leaven is very much more what is human. It is the adaptation of Christianity to man. Everything is humanised.

Rem. That is the point — Christianity adapted to human ideas.

Ques. Is it what is spoken of in Colossians 2?

F.E.R. Yes, that is it. “After the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world”.

Rem. “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them”.

F.E.R. What is our place in regard of all these things? We have a perception of them, and are professedly apart from them, but I do not know whether we are apart from them morally, and I fear in many minds there is a kind of hankering after them. What was said at the beginning was that if you stand outside these things, as recognising the character of them, you are a witness to the ruin. It is a poor kind of thing to be a witness to the ruin, but that is pretty much where we are. I do not know how far it is understood.

Rem. That is what was before me, that we might see how far we are sensible of the ruin and outside of it. The mustard tree is the ruin.

Ques. This is a picture of the ruin of what?

Rem. It is the ruin of the kingdom of heaven that is spoken of here. The mustard tree is the ruin.

 

The Church and the Kingdom of Heaven

Ques. Do you distinguish between the church and the kingdom of heaven?

Rem. I do; but in bringing in the kingdom the church comes into view. The mustard tree is a great hierarchical system which Christ never intended the church to be.

Rem. It is the product of a false kingdom instead of the true. Babylon is a false system.

Rem. You get the beginning of it in 1 Corinthians. “Ye have reigned as kings without us”.

F.E.R. It is worth while to know what is in our minds when we speak about the ruin. When christianity assumed a form and character which God never intended, it was morally a ruin. God never intended that there should be clergy and sacramentalism and all that sort of thing; but that is the form that christianity has taken to a very large extent.

Ques. When we speak of the ruin, do we not think rather more of it in connection with a house than a tree? You would say that the house has broken down.

F.E.R. I do not know that I should say that. I think Christianity has.

Rem. Christianity was really intended to produce a moral witness for Christ here, and in that sense it has failed.

Ques. Does the failure embrace both the kingdom and the church phase of things?

F.E.R. I think the ruin has come in upon Christianity as a whole. I think every one who takes a place outside the great world order is a witness to the ruin.

Ques. Are you not a witness to what cannot be touched by ruin? Was not Paul?

F.E.R. You are not qualified to be a witness to the ruin if you are not up to the mark.

Rem. Our collective position is a witness to the ruin.

 

I do not understand a Collective Position.

F.E.R. I do not understand a collective position.

Ques. “With those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”, does not that imply a company?

F.E.R. I do not mind who it is: it is anybody who calls on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Ques. What was in your mind when you said that you do not understand a collective position?

F.E.R. I think our position is essentially individual. I cannot see any warrant for anything save what is individual in the present state of things.

Rem. But Scripture says, “Two are better than one”.

F.E.R. I agree to that. I cannot see how we can be a witness to the ruin if we are lawless. A lawless man cannot be a witness to the ruin, he is in the ruin. If you get two people walking in righteousness they will naturally be drawn together.

 

‘Our Fellowship’

Rem. A good deal has been said about our fellowship.

Rem. I think that means christian fellowship.

Ques. I often hear the expression, ‘So-and-so is not in our fellowship’. If we use such terms, what is meant?

F.E.R. I should suppose that what is meant is that So-and-so is not walking in the truth. If a man is going on in Bethesda, I should not say that that man is really in the fellowship of the truth.

Rem. I have heard you say that the only warrant for our going on together in fellowship is in that passage in 2 Timothy: “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”.

F.E.R. Quite so. It is the only warrant I know for it.

Rem. Then we must go on without any pretension, or without any idea of what is called corporate witness.

Rem. What you mean is that we cannot claim to be an ecclesiastical company in any sense.

Rem. We are in danger of becoming a tree.

F.E.R. Well, a small tree.

Rem. I suppose we cannot help walking together if we are each walking in the truth.

F.E.R. I do not mind at all if the truth is the bond. There are, I fear, a great many in fellowship with us who look upon brethren as an association, or something of the kind, on scriptural lines, and they are borne along with it.

Rem. I suppose it is that you really stand aside and through grace wait for Christ, and if there are any others waiting they are glad to break bread with you; not forming anything.

F.E.R. Quite so.

Romanism and Protestantism

Rem. I do not see in the seven churches that anything is under the eye of Christ but Romanism and Protestantism — Thyatira and Sardis; all the sects, and so on, are not anything under the eye of Christ, they are all part of Protestantism. It is Romanism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other.

Ques. What about Laodicea?

Rem. That is part of Protestantism.

Ques. What of Philadelphia?

Rem. That is also part of Protestantism.

Rem. Do you think these parables have any connection with the previous part of the gospel — the tree and the fruit — and the tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is cut down? I thought of Christ as the green tree. He was removed. The trees of the earth were cut down because of the evil in them.

F.E.R. I think the fig tree has been cut down for good; but the fig tree represents man under culture, and it is cursed.

Rem. The tree that is spoken of here is not in connection with fruit good or bad. It is connected with shade and overshadowing.

Ques. When you speak of ‘individual’, is there not such a thing as the unity of the Spirit?

F.E.R. Yes; but if you are a witness to the ruin, you do everything right, else you are no witness. If you are lawless you are involved in the ruin. The mystery of lawlessness already works, and it is only as we are apart from it that we are a witness to the ruin.

Ques. Is there any company that can act with authority?

F.E.R. No.

How can we deal with Evil?

Ques. How then can we deal with evil?

F.E.R. You do not go on with it. There is no need to go on with evil.

Ques. Are we to look for “faithful men” today?

F.E.R. Yes, I think so. I think we seek to act according to the truth.

Rem. It has often been said that it is only the assembly that can put away.

F.E.R. I am a bit afraid of the collective idea. The meaning of putting away is to get apart from evil. I think the only thing that can act with the authority of Christ is the church. I do not think two or three acting in Christ’s name is really the church, only they are guided by the principle of the church.

Ques. If you went into a place you would try to find those who are calling on the Lord out of a pure heart?

“I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say,’ To none’.”

F.E.R. Yes, certainly; but I should not recognise a company. If I were asked to what company I belong, I should say, To none.

Ques. Would you address a letter of commendation to the saints?

F.E.R. Yes; but it is not because I recognise a company, but because I know there are saints there who call upon the Lord with a pure heart; but those few saints are not the church.

Ques. What is it if it is not a company?

F.E.R. A sort of two or three held together by the truth. In acting we can only act in the light of the church.

Ques. Would the expression “Tell it to the assembly” hold good now?

F.E.R. The principle of it would, but I think we are in danger of getting into an organisation. We have lists of meetings or address books.

Ques. When you speak of a company you are using the word in a sense of an ecclesiastical company?

F.E.R. Yes. People do their best to force us into some ecclesiastical position. Brethren are not an addition to the system around us; it is the very thing we have to contend against. I do not see any warrant for standing apart from what is in christendom, but in seeing that it is not according to God, and this is individual.

Ques. How would leaven affect us now?

F.E.R. You will find in christendom that the precepts of christianity are very largely adapted to man as man. Men can take up an official position as men. For a clergyman it is not necessary that a man should be converted. I have no doubt that a great part of the world is largely affected by the precepts which you get in the epistles, but they are applied to man as man.

Ques. We have heard recently that many have taken the path without faith in it; is that what is in your mind to guard against?

F.E.R. Yes; if people take account of brethren as a company, and attach themselves to them as such, there is no faith for the path, and they are hanging on some one else. I do not know what the end of it will be. We are, I fear, dragging on a lot of unwilling people.

Ques. What about young people who desire to take their place to remember the Lord? May they not be instructed?

F.E.R. Yes; but they not only want instruction but faith for the path.

Rem. Abiding in Christ meets every difficulty.

F.E.R. The sad thing to me is, that I see a great number today who do not seem to be abiding in Christ. I do not say that they are not christians, but they are in measure lawless. The only antidote to lawlessness is abiding in Christ.

Ques. What is our warrant for breaking bread at all if you get rid of the company idea?

“We want to walk in the light of the church”

F.E.R. If you do not act in the light of the Lord, you are lawless. We want to walk in the light of the church. The moment we go out in thought to the whole church all is plain sailing. If a christian isolates himself he is lawless; but we want to keep ourselves and our own minds clear of the company idea.

Rem. There is a sense in which you can look at the company by taking in all saints.

F.E.R. Yes, you are on plain ground then.

Rem. You would have a great objection to a christian isolating himself.

F.E.R. Yes, I think he is lawless.

Ques. Does not breaking bread give the thought of a company?

F.E.R. I break bread in thinking of the entire company.

Rem. The one loaf takes in the whole of the saints.

F.E.R. Yes. In mind you take in all saints, and you break bread in view of all christians; we cannot compass all in fact, but in our mind we take in all saints.

Rem. You take in in your mind what is in God’s mind.

F.E.R. Yes, exactly. “We being many are one body”. I do not see any warrant for taking the place of a company; we stand apart from the organisation of christendom.

Rem. The use of the word ‘company’ involves in many minds the idea of some kind of corporation.

Rem. The brethren.

F.E.R. Yes. The great point is that we must each individually be in faith. I take myself as an example; if any one challenged me as to what I belong to in christendom I should say, ‘To nothing’. It would not be a quibble in my mind.

Rem. 2 Timothy is a great book for us now. It shews a clear path. Follow first righteousness, then faith, then love.

F.E.R. Yes; but it is with those who call, &c.

Calling on the Lord out of a pure Heart is Individual

Rem. It would be unbecoming for any company of christians to claim that they were calling on the Lord out of a pure heart.

F.E.R. Yes, the individual does that.

Ques. When you speak of a company, would not that imply every one forming that company?

Rem. It is very difficult to convey an idea of what it is to others. It is inexplicable to people outside.

F.E.R. I am not considering what they think, but what is in my own mind. My point is as to where we are in regard of these things in our own minds. I believe the thought in a great many minds is that brethren are a company in christendom gathered together on scriptural ideas.

Rem. You would refuse their putting you in a false position.

F.E.R. I am anxious to be out of a false position in my own mind. I have no doubt the position is an exceedingly difficult one.

Ques. When we use the plural number, ‘we’ and ‘us’, ought we not to take in in our minds the whole church?

F.E.R. Yes, I think so. The point with regard to it all is the idea that people have in their minds of the position taken up, and of our relation to all that is going on.

Ques. Did not all this come out some years ago in Fragmentary Remarks?

F.E.R. I am quite sure all this was in Mr. Darby’s mind. No one was more averse to anything like organisation than he was. The very fact that any one of us is seeking to pursue the truth of necessity brings us together for the moment; but there can be no collective witness to the ruin; it is individual.

Rem. Mr. Darby maintained that we were only two or three, and if we were a witness to anything we were a witness to the ruin.

Rem. You are a witness to the ruin by abiding in Christ rather than by taking pains to let people know whom you are associated with.

F.E.R. I think so. I want to see an end of lawlessness amongst those with whom we are associated. If we were abiding in Christ we should stand clear of a great many things we are now associated with. I see many people in fellowship who assent to the truth, but who are not governed by the truth. Do you think if people were abiding in Christ, they would be found in picture galleries? Is that suitable to abiding in Christ? If you are not abiding in Christ, you are sure to be lawless.

Ques. How is this difficulty to be met with regard to those who seek for help?

 

Faith for the Path

F.E.R. The difficulty is, there are people who have not faith for the path.

Ques. What do you mean by faith for the path?

F.E.R. Take Moses. Moses had every opportunity in the world, but he had faith for a path. If people have faith for the path they will be prepared for self-abnegation. If they want to get the best of both worlds, to get the things of this world as well as the things of Christ, they will not be much good. It is not that we make a company, but our bond is the truth. What we want to know more of is living down here in relation to the One in heaven. I defy anybody to find any antidote at all to lawlessness excepting abiding in Christ. It certainly means the entire setting aside of our own will.

Ques. Do I get a right impression that the only thing for us is for the truth of God to be made good in our souls individually?

F.E.R. Yes.

Ques. What would you say abiding in Christ is?

F.E.R. It is like the earth abiding in the sun. It is coming under the influence of Christ; you are held by attraction to Christ.

Rem. If we are walking in the Spirit, we shall be abiding in Christ.

F.E.R. I think the whole universe will abide in Christ, and that is how God intends to set lawlessness aside. In the meantime we abide in Christ and He in us. I do not think Christ will abide in you if you do not abide in Him. If Christ is your Head Christ is your intelligence, and you view everything according to Him. Christ in the gospels never viewed anything according to man. Man’s thoughts were continually presented to Him, but He never viewed anything according to man. We have the mind of Christ, and we view everything in relation to Christ and not to ourselves.

Rem. I remember a brother saying that practical christianity may be summed up in two expressions: the sum of the Spirit’s teaching is abide in Christ, and the sum of Christ’s teaching is “Love one another”.

Rem. I suppose if two persons were abiding in Christ they would be loving one another, and there would be unity?

F.E.R. I think so. The true principle is — “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another”. We cannot get out of that — “We have fellowship one with another”.

J N Darby Simplified – The Body of Christ (the Assembly here) and the House of God (Christian Profession)

A clear view of the way the church is presented:

The body according to the purpose and work of God, its members quickened with Christ, raised up and sitting in heavenly places in Him.
The body manifested on the earth by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (not water), outwardly expressed by union in partaking of the Lord’s supper.
The spiritual house in the thought and purpose of God, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets of the New Testament, growing up a holy temple to the Lord.

 

The Body of Christ (the Assembly here) and the House of God (Christian Profession)

Based on a Paper by J N Darby – ‘The House of God; the Body of Christ; and the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.

JND Collected Writings Volume 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) p15 –74

 

J N Darby

Throughout Christendom, in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles, there is confusion as to the difference between the house of God and the body of Christ.  The error that is rampant throughout Christendom, is that these two things are regarded as essentially the same, and that membership of a church gives a person all the privileges and blessings of Christianity.

We have to distinguish between:

 

  • The Body of Christ This comprises living members on earth, born of God, quickened of the Spirit, with all their sins forgiven. They have been perfected by one offering and are heirs of the inheritance of glory.
  • The House of God, a more general concept, encompassing the whole Christian environment or profession. Many are brought into it by birth.

 

If the house and the body were the same thing, all persons attending a church, adults or infants, believers and unbelievers, would be regarded as saved and members of the body of Christ.   There would be no value in the death of Christ or the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Assembly or Body of Christ

In the New Testament we have the word ἐκκλησία/ekklésia/Strong 1577  This is translated as ‘church’ in the King James Bible, and in most other modern English translations.  In our minds when people use the word ‘church’ they would think of a physical building, or a particular denomination.  Calling a physical church building a ‘house of God’ adds to the confusion.

It is for this reason that J N Darby preferred to use the word ‘assembly’- (see Matt 16:18 Darby Version).  This is a more literal rendering of the Greek word (ἐκ-κλησία/ek-klésia = out-called = a-sembled).  Where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, He is in their midst – that is the true church.   Darby noted that the rendering was better in other languages, the word in German, Gemeinde, the word normally used for ‘community’.  The French église, and Welsh eglwys come directly from the Greek.

He also noted the words used in the Old Testament.

  • Qe-hal or kahal (Strong 6951)– congregation or assemblage – Strong uses convocation (See 2 Chron 30:25)
  • Mo-w-ed or moed (Strong 4150) – the appointed place of meeting where they met God (See Ex 33:7)
  • Ha-ed-ah or hedah (Strong 5712) – congregation or assembly – a company formed together by appointment (See Ex 12:3)

Israel was the assembly of God, but having rejected the Messiah, it is set aside, we might say, by the death of Christ.  Israel failed in its witness of the unity of the Godhead, by the adoption of idolatry.  So when the Lord Jesus came, Israel as a nation failed to recognise God’s visitation, and rejected Him.

From the time of the prophets onwards, God has always had a remnant of Israel who were devoted to Him.  Prophecy looked forward to a remnant which would be preserved and brought back in the last days.

In Psalm 22 we have the Lord’s death as seen by the remnant (the seed that would serve Him v. 30).  The Lord was to be been forsaken, and then heard of God – answereed from the horns of the buffaloes (or unicorns) (v. 21). The response is ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation [kahal] will I praise thee (v. 22).  This corresponds to Lord declaring to Mary Magdalen, ‘Go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and [to] my God and your God’. (John 20:17).  What delight God has is in the value of His sacrifice when sin is put away.

In Matthew 16:19, Peter is given the keys the keys of the kingdom of heaven: he is not given the keys for the church (assembly).  The church has no keys.   Neither Matthew nor Peter give us teaching as to the assembly.  We have the house – Peter, in his epistle says, ‘Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5).

For teaching as to the assembly we have to come to Paul: ‘The Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God (Col 2:19).  Whereas Peter sees things here, Paul sees the centre in heaven, where the Head is now.

When the Holy Spirit came, we have many Jews converted – 3000 in one day.  Soon after in Acts, we have the introduction of the Samaritans, and then the Gentiles.   Christians were persecuted, culminating in their rejection of Stephen’s testimony to Christ in heaven, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:56). Paul is converted having witnessed Stephen’s martyrdom and testimony, and in what the Lord said to him from heaven, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest’ (Acts 9:5).   Thus Paul received the light of the living body united to the Head in heaven, and us seated in the heavenly places in Christ (see Ephesians 1:20).  Paul also showed that the body comprised living members, all fitted together perfectly – no dead members, and not a mutilated body.  That is the body of Christ here.

 

The Church in a Scene of Responsibility Here

Israel had failed in responsibility: now we see the Church in responsibility now.  It is important to see that the house has been is established, because in the house there can be failure even to apostasy.   On the other hand, the assembly cannot fail, because Christ is ‘head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’ (Ephesians 1:22-23).  As Head over all things to the assembly Christ, the glorious Man, is Prophet, Priest and King.  Whereas man had failed, you have Christ such perfection that He will be ‘glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe’ (2 Thessalonians 1:10).

In Ephesians 1:1 to 2:10, we have the assembly according to the purpose and counsel of God, There is no dependence on man.  Paul’s prayer was ‘That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:17-20).

From Ephesians 2:11 we have the actual condition down here.  It is being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ being the cornerstone, and what is being built is  the dwelling place of God through the Spirit. In Ephesiuans Paul refers much to the mystery, and it can be seen in the church livingly here.  Augustine spoke of an invisible church, and this is still referred to, but this is not invisible.  There is the outward manifestation of the church its unity, recognition of the work of the Spirit of God on earth.  We see it in the gifts (apostles, prophets, teachers) which have been given in the whole (not the local) assembly.  They are placed in the assembly, on earth, among ‘them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints  (1 Corinthians 1:2).

The Assembly as God’s Habitation

The second aspect of the assembly in Ephesus is a dispensational one.   Christ builds an assembly secured from Satan’s power.  We have the assembly according to the councils of God God workmanship in an ordered condition – not as what it has become was in the hands of man.  We have in Ephesians ch 1-2, facts rather than opinions – Jews and Gentiles made nigh by the blood of Christ, the middle wall of partition broken down, and all reconciled into one body by the cross, and formed together growing to a holy temple in the Lord.  This is a work going on in grace on earth – God’s habitation by the Spirit.   It does not say that God animates and unites believers, but He has a place where He dwells. Unity will result.

In chapter 4 we are told walk in love, worthy of the calling, and to use diligence to keep the unity.   We are given the unity from God’s point of view ‘There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all’  (Ch 4:4-6).   This is not the view according to man’s responsibility that we get in 1 Corinthians 3:12.  There you get what is being built on the good foundation  – good things – gold, silver, precious stones, and worthless things – wood, hay, stubble.  All man’s bad building will be lost.  In 2 Timothy 2, we get the great house – with vessels to honour and dishonour also those professing Christians with the form of godliness but denying its power. The true believer to is to purge himself (or turn away), from these and follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  (see 2 Tim 2:21-22 and 3:5).

After the rapture the apostate church will remain, led by the man of sin.

 

Summary

In summary, these scriptures referred to give us a clear view of the way the church is presented:

  1. The body according to the purpose and work of God, its members quickened with Christ, raised up and sitting in heavenly places in Him.
  2. The body manifested on the earth by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (not water), outwardly expressed by union in partaking of the Lord’s supper.
  3. The spiritual house in the thought and purpose of God, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets of the New Testament, growing up a holy temple to the Lord.
  4. The building of this house in fact by the labours of man. Paul might have been the wise master-builder; but there were others not building with good materials.
  5. The great house with vessels to dishonour to purify themselves and turn away.
  6. Finally, after the rapture, the actual apostasy ending in judgment.

 

What Church Leaders have Taught

In the subsequent thirty pages of the paper, J N Darby looks at the writings of the various church fathers starting just after the apostolic period (Barnabas, Clement etc) up till the eighteenth century – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.  If you wish to read this in detail, it is in the original article, starting at page 39.

 

Here is a Summary of happenings in the Great House:

In short, almost nobody saw the assembly in its heavenly character according to the purpose of God.  This was because most walked by sight.  Water baptism became the method of entry, this being held by most.  And the house of God was taken to be he physical building.  Many considered being a member of the church as being the same as salvation.  They acquiesced in evil, quoting the parable of the wheat and the tares – God would have it all right in the end.  Priests became mediators.  That was supposed to be Christianity!

 

Sosthenes

January 2018

The Things which shall be Hereafter (Rev 1:19)  – The Marriage of the Lamb

7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb

The Marriage of the Lamb

The third in our series of forthcoming events is the marriage of the Lamb. Chronologically the Antichrist and the great tribulation probably come first, but I would like to concentrate first on the events which affect the church and the saints of our dispensation:

  1. The Rapture
  2. The Judgment Seat of Christ
  3. The Marriage of the Lamb (this note)
  4. The Millennium (to be written)

 

Revelation 19:6-9

King James Version Darby Version
6And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. 6And I heard as a voice of a great crowd, and as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of strong thunders, saying, Hallelujah, for [the] Lord our God the Almighty has taken to himself kingly power.7Let us rejoice and exult, and give him glory; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. 8And it was given to her that she should be clothed in fine linen, bright [and] pure; for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints.

9And he says to me, Write, Blessed [are] they who are called to the supper of the marriage of the Lamb. And he says to me, These are the true words of God.

 

The marriage is described in this passage.  I have shown the Darby version as there are expressions which he, and several modern translators, believe that the KJV rendering is inaccurate.  These are highlighted.

The Current Relationship between Christ and His Church

The church came into existence when the Holy Spirit filled the 120 or so persons who were gathered in the upper room in Acts 2:2, a number that soon grew to 5000.   From the start, she was united to Christ, and even at this early date fully capable of fulfilling her function as the wife of Christ.

The epistles often refer to the church as Christ’s body.  The body comprises only those who are alive now, not to all who will form the bride.  Nevertheless, the relationship between Christ and His assembly is clear: ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church’ (Eph 5:31-32.

It is not until Revelation that we have the Church described as a bride.  His wife had made herself ready, so she was a wife before she was a bride.  The church is now the wife looking after her Husband’s affairs in His absence.  She is His trustworthy confidante. Although the marriage ceremony has not yet taken place, the relationship already exists.  There is perfect unity between Christ and His church.  Christendom publicly is something else.

When is The Marriage of the Lamb?

Before the marriage celebration of the Lamb, Babylon – the rival – will have been overthrown and judged..  It says, ‘[the] Lord our God the Almighty has taken to himself kingly power’  (v. 6 Darby).  He had taken the power, and was about to reign, but He was not actually reigning.  Hence we can say that this event would take place between the great tribulation and the millennium

The judgment seat of Christ, must precede the marriage.  No doubt ‘his wife hath made herself ready’ (v. 7would refer in part to that.  What remains is the bride’s bright clothing – the righteousnesses of the saints (v. 8 Darby).  – things that they had done which had met with God’s approval. (Note KJV appears wrong again here – most modern translations say ‘righteous deeds or acts’, which is correct – Greek δικαιώματα/dikaiōmata/Strong 1345).  What qualifications the bride has!

 

The Marriage Celebration

When a couple gets married, the persons will not have been united beforehand (at least if they have been conducting themselves according to God’s clear ordering).  Traditions might vary, but in any marriage there is generally a legal act and a celebration.  The bride is the centre of attention, beautifully dressed (hopefully comelily), and looking her best.  A new household is established, the man and the woman having both left their parental homes (see Gen 2:24 and Psalm 45:10).  The fact that the Holy Spirit introduced this concept so early in Genesis shows that the marriage relationship was always in God’s mind and purpose.

From what we have seen this will be no ordinary marriage.  We might say that legal side has already taken place.  Now it is time for a celebration of an existing relationship.  Until Satan had been overcome publicly it was not yet the time for her to be seen publicly in her beautiful radiance

It says ‘Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ v. 9.  Abraham and other Old Testament saints will be there as guests. They are children of the bridechamber, but they are not united to Christ as the church is (see Minstry of James Butler Stoney vol 6 page 116).  It has been suggested that the invitees include the king’s daughters and the daughters of Tyre in Psalm 45: 9 & 12.

  

Jerusalem as the Bride

The bride is described as a city because of her function of rule.  ‘Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.  And he [the angel] carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God…’ (Rev 21:9-11).  However, this will be seen in the millennium – the bride (or wife) of Christ, already married.

The holy Jerusalem is, of course, totally different from the millennial Jerusalem on earth, described in Ezekiel 40-44 and many other scriptures.  The city we are referring to will not be physically on the earth – indeed its foundations will be visible. Rev 21:6 describes the city as a cube 12,000 cubits (approx. 1380 miles or 2200km) in each dimension.

 

What is the difference between Christ’s heavenly and earthly bride?

The following table shows the difference between the two:

The Heavenly Bride The Earthly Bride
What The Church or Assembly Israel
Key Scriptures Rev 19:6-9 Psalm 45
Where In heaven – or at least over the earth On earth (see Ezek 40:2)
Jerusalem The holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev 21:2) I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain (Zech 8:3)
Relation to Christ She adores her Head She worships her Lord
When formed Starting with the Spirit’s coming, complete at the rapture Before Christ’s appearing and during the tribulation

 

Conclusion

We should guard ourselves from applying too much human logic and chronology to these holy matters.   I have not wanted to be technical, but have been feeling my way prayerfully through this holy subject.   I trust I have covered the matter justly.  If any reader feels that I have erred, please write immediately.

But it is wonderful that we are part of this beautiful bride!  Magazines are full of pictures of very beautiful women – pictures often enhanced digitally.  No such outward improvement will be required for the bride of Christ.  She will be just how Jesus wants it.

And we will be part!

God’s blessings

Sosthenes

February 2017

Christ loves the Assembly

jb-stoneyDo you think that because things are in a disorganised state, that Christ has less love for the assembly than He once had? …. Her very feebleness draws forth fresh expressions of His love.

James Butler Stoney (1814-1897)

J N Darby – Lettre No. 95

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

Dublin, 1861
A M. P.
Bien-aimé frère,
…J’en viens à vos questions :
1° Je crois qu’il est très fâcheux qu’un frère fasse part de ses pensées, en public, sur des questions ou des choses où il ne connaît pas la pensée de l’assemblée. Au reste, en général, à moins que cela ne soit nécessaire pour avertir, les questions ne devraient pas être amenées devant le public.
2° Ensuite, la question de réception est souvent mal posée. Nous ne sommes pas un corps volontairement associé, mais dans la mesure où nous pouvons l’être, un rassemblement des membres du corps de Christ, un rassemblement des siens, opéré par le Saint-Esprit. Nous ne recevons pas des personnes au milieu de nous pour prendre la cène avec nous ; Christ a dû les recevoir, nous les reconnaissons, étant responsables de garder la sainteté de la table du Seigneur et la vérité de Dieu. Les reconnaître, c’est une affaire de confiance, et qui dépend du témoignage que nous avons de leur vie. Il ne s’agit plus de délibération pour les recevoir, une fois que leur christianisme est constaté, sans en excepter la sainteté et la vérité; car l’Esprit qui conduit les enfants de Dieu est l’Esprit de vérité et l’Esprit Saint. Ils ont droit, dans ce cas, à la table. Reste encore la discipline. En des cas douteux, il est très à désirer que la conscience de toute l’assemblée soit au clair et ainsi au large; mais si l’homme est chrétien, connu comme tel, ou assez connu de quelque personne grave, pour que le témoignage de celle-ci soit une garantie du christianisme de celui qui désire prendre la cène, à mon avis il ne faut pas autre chose. Seulement, il est bon de le nommer devant l’assemblée, et en tout cas de le mentionner à quelques membres graves de la réunion, si l’on n’a pas de temps pour en parler davantage. C’est donc une affaire de témoignage suffisant, car il s’agit de maintenir un esprit de confiance entre tous. Si celui qui présente une âme nouvelle est un chrétien jeune ou léger, il vaudrait mieux que son témoignage fût appuyé par quelques chrétiens qui eussent plus de discernement. On devrait se réjouir de voir arriver de nouvelles âmes, mais on devrait veiller en même temps à ce que la vérité et la sainteté fussent sauvegardées.
3° Il me semble que, si quelqu’un qui ne rompt pas le pain parle dans l’assemblée où l’on rompt le pain, c’est un très grave désordre. Un homme qui se sépare à tort de l’assemblée de Dieu, n’est pas dans le cas de l’instruire quand elle est réunie. Cela n’empêche pas, personnellement en dehors de la réunion. Je reconnais ainsi son don comme membre du corps, mais lui renie cette position si, quand le corps est réuni, dans la mesure où cela peut se réaliser, il ne veut pas y prendre place.
Je ne trouve aucune difficulté en 1 Tim.1 v.13. Premièrement, ce passage n’affaiblit pas une foule de déclarations, voire même de préceptes, relatifs à l’exercice des dons, qui font de cet exercice un devoir pour celui qui possède le don. Ensuite, Timothée n’était nullement un ministre local, ce qu’on appelle un ministre établi ; il accompagnait l’apôtre, ou le remplaçait en des services exigeant quelqu’un qui fût pénétré de l’esprit de l’apôtre, et pleinement informé de ses voies. La prophétie, paraît-il, avait désigné Timothée (1 Tim.1 v.18) ; Paul lui avait imposé les mains (2 Tim.1 v.6) ; ensuite, le corps des anciens lui avait imposé les siennes, pour le recommander à la grâce de Dieu ; l’apôtre lui rappelle, comme motif, toutes ces choses, la prophétie par laquelle Dieu l’avait désigné, et la sanction des anciens qui, en ayant eu connaissance, l’ont ainsi recommandé à Dieu. Ainsi Paul lui-même avait été désigné par la prophétie, et ceux qui étaient les prophètes à Antioche lui avaient imposé les mains, afin de le recommander à la grâce de Dieu pour l’œuvre à laquelle il avait été appelé : telle est l’expression de la parole. Mais Timothée n’a jamais été un ministre établi sur un troupeau. Je crois pour ma part qu’il peut y avoir (et il y en a) des personnes consacrées à l’œuvre et qui exercent leur ministère régulièrement s’appliquant constamment à l’œuvre. Si quelqu’un était désigné par la prophétie pour cette tâche, je ne ferais aucune objection à l’imposition des mains des anciens, s’il y en a. Il est probable, si l’Esprit agissait de la sorte, que les anciens ne tarderaient pas à se retrouver. Je ne ferais même aucune difficulté à ce que, dans la pratique, les frères anciens le fissent – abstraction faite du clergé et de l’établissement des ministres qui est l’œuvre de l’ennemi. Je ne vois rien qui empêcherait de recommander un ouvrier à la grâce de Dieu, en lui imposant les mains en vue d’une œuvre particulière à laquelle il serait appelé. Cela pourrait se répéter chaque fois qu’il devrait entreprendre une œuvre nouvelle ; mais on en a fait une consécration pour arrêter la libre action du Saint-Esprit. Dès lors, c’est une abomination et de la rébellion contre Dieu.
Je ne suis nullement d’accord avec le Messager au sujet de 2 Cor.5 v.3, mais c’est une affaire d’interprétation, de sorte que cela ne me trouble pas. D’après ce que vous dites, l’auteur n’a pas compris le passage ; voilà tout. La force du passage est pour moi très claire. Le mot xxxx (mot en grec dans le texte) met en relief une condition, et le mot xxx y ajoute de la force : nous jouirons de ce dont nous avons parlé – pourvu que, bien entendu, nous supposions que, dans ce cas même où nous sommes revêtus [du corps], nous ne soyons pas trouvés nus [à l’égard du Christ], car dans ce dernier cas, ce serait tout autre chose que la gloire.
Dans ce pays, l’œuvre du Seigneur se poursuit d’une manière remarquable. A Dublin, le nombre des frères a beaucoup augmenté ; il y a un certain nombre d’aimables jeunes hommes, vivants et heureux, quelques-uns louent des chambres pour prêcher dans les mauvais quartiers de la ville (il y a 300’000 habitants), et il y a des conversions continuelles. Avant-hier soir, cinq auditeurs, sur une vingtaine, ont reçu la paix. Je tiens des réunions, souvent deux fois par jour ; une quantité de personnes, des messieurs et des dames aussi, sont profondément attentives ; des gens nobles et riches se convertissent à la campagne, et quittent souvent le nationalisme. Il y a un mouvement remarquable de l’Esprit de Dieu. Cela se fait en dehors des frères; mais partout les principes sur lesquels les frères ont insisté se reproduisent, et pour les grandes réunions où les âmes se convertissent, tout a été organisé sous sa forme actuelle par des frères, au moins par des personnes imbues de leurs principes, un peu trop relâchées pour être admises parmi nous, mais qui suivent en quelque mesure les mêmes principes tout en allant partout. Les livres des frères aussi sont lus. On s’aperçoit bien qu’il y a moins de ce qui est sûr et solide ; mais l’énergie de la vérité pénètre néanmoins et se fait jour.
Que Dieu nous garde près de lui, cher frère, heureux que Christ soit prêché partout, et fermes dans les principes et dans la marche que Christ enseigne, la parole de la patience. Il faut savoir être petit, et il en vaut la peine ; mais lui est toujours grand.
Saluez D. et tous les frères.
Votre tout affectionné.

J N Darby – French Letter No. 95 – Extract – Christian Assembly Order

It seems to me that, if somebody who does not break the bread speaks in the assembly where the bread is broken, it is a very serious disorder. A man who separates himself wrongfully from the assembly of God is not in the position to instruct it as to its being reunited. That does not hindering his doing so outside of the meeting. I recognise what he has as a member of the body, but this position is disavowed to him if, when the body is reunited, as far as it can be reunited, he does not want to take his place in it.

Dublin 1861

To Mr P
Beloved brother

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby

It seems to me that, if somebody who does not break the bread speaks in the assembly where the bread is broken, it is a very serious disorder. A man who separates himself wrongfully from the assembly of God is not in the position to instruct it as to its being reunited. That does not hindering his doing so outside of the meeting. I recognise what he has as a member of the body, but this position is disavowed to him if, when the body is reunited, as far as it can be reunited, he does not want to take his place in it.

I find no difficulty in 1 Tim 1:13. Firstly this passage does not weaken a load of statements, and even of principles relative to the exercise of gift, more it makes the exercise of the gift a duty to the one who has it. Then, in no way was Timothy a local minister, what you would call an established minister: he accompanied the apostle and succeeded him in the necessary services being someone who was imbued with the spirit of the apostle and fully informed as to his ways. Prophecy, it would appear, had predesignated Timothy (See 1 Tim 1:18) . Paul had placed his hands on him (2 Tim 1:6) , afterwards the body of the elders had put their own hands on him, to commend him to God. The apostle reminds him, with reason, both of these things: prophecy by which God had designated him, and the sanction of the elders, who knowing him, commended him to God. Paul himself was predesignated according to prophecy, and those who were at Antioch laid their hands on him, to commend him to the grace of God for the work for which he had been called: that is the expression in the word . But Timothy was never an established minister over a flock. I believer for my part that there can be (and there are) persons consecrated to the work and who exercise their ministry constantly applying themselves to the work. If someone were designated by prophecy for this task, I would have no objection to the laying on of hands by the elders, if there are any. It is probable that if the Spirit acted in this way that the elders would soon be found. I do not have any difficulty about that which in practice the older brothers do – disregarded by the clergy who establish ministers, which is the work of the enemy. I see nothing which hinders the commending of a labourer to the grace of God in laying on of hands with a view to the particular work to which he has been called. This could be repeated each time he had to undertake a new work; but if one has made a consecration to impede the free action of the Holy Spirit, then it is an abomination and a rebellion against God.

I do not agree at all with the Messager about 2 Cor 5:3, but that is a matter of interpretation, so that does not trouble me. According to what you say, the author did not understand the passage; that’s all. The force of the passage is very clear to me. The word xxxx(Greek word in text) puts a condition into relief, and the word xxx adds strength to it – we enjoy what we have spoken about, provided that, of course we suppose that in the state itself in which we are reclothed (the body) we are not found naked (as regards Christ), for otherwise that would be something other than glory.

In this country the work of the Lord pursues a remarkable course. In Dublin the number of brethren has increased a lot, there are a number of nice young men, lively and happy, some of them renting rooms in the bad parts of the city (There are 300,000 inhabitants) and there are continual conversions. The evening before last, five listeners out of about twenty received peace. I often have two meetings a day: quite a number of people – ladies and gentlemen -are very attentive. In the country some of the nobility and well-to-do have been converted and often have left the Church of Ireland. It is a remarkable movement of the Spirit of God. This is outside of the brethren, but everywhere the principles that the brethren have upheld are being reproduced, and in large gatherings where souls are being converted, things are being organised in the actual way the brethren do it, at least by persons who are embued with their principles – maybe a bit loose to be admitted amongst us, but they follow in some way the same principles whilst going anywhere. They read the brethren’s books. One perceives at lest that there is that which is sure and solid, but the energy of the truth is nonetheless penetrating and it is as light as day.

May God keep us close to Himself dear brother, happy that Christ is preached everywhere, and firm in the principles and walk in the way that Christ teaches. We must know what it is to be small – it is worth it – but He is always great.

Greet D and all the brethren

Yours most affectionately

Letter originally written in French, translated by Sosthenes, 2013
Click here for original – If you have any comments on the translation, feel free to let me know.