Romans 12: 4-8
Ephesians 4: 1-6
1 Corinthians 12: 13; 10: 16-17
Ephesians 2: 14-18
We live, dear brethren, in the last days of the dispensation and we prove the reality of the difficult times that Paul spoke about in 2 Timothy 3. The public church has broken down. Worldliness, sectarianism, denominationalism, clericalism, independency, and a set order in what purports to be the service of God all predominate in the Christian profession. We could spend a long time speaking about these errors but I thought it would be more profitable to speak of God's answer to these errors - for God does have an answer. The answer that God is bringing before us in these days is the necessity of adhering to the New Testament pattern concerning His assembly. We have had ministry recently as to the house of God and the different aspects of the assembly as presented in scripture. My exercise for this address is that we might look again at the truth of the one body. It is the distinctive truth of this dispensation. It was not known in the past dispensation. God will not move on that principle in the next dispensation. That is set out clearly in Ephesians 3 where we find that the mystery involves that Jew and Gentile are united in one body, v 6. This distinctive truth has been recovered to the saints in the revival of the truth in which we have part. Its importance cannot be gainsaid. You will find repeatedly that those who have gone before have maintained that the truth of the one body has helped, governed and preserved the saints in these last days.
In the scriptures that we have read, we find that the truth of the one body as accepted has a tremendous delivering effect upon the saints. In seeing the genuine article, we can be delivered from any imitation. God does not want us only to have a judgement of what is wrong but He wants to give us an impression of what is right. Indeed, it is only as seeing and enjoying the genuine article that we can come to a judgement of what is wrong.
I read in Romans because that is where we need to begin to see how we became part of the one body in Christ. The brethren well know that at the beginning of Romans 12 the great exercise is “to present our bodies a living sacrifice”, v 1. The lever in the soul for that is the compassions of God. That includes the way that God has come out in the glad tidings in the first five chapters of Romans in relation to our sins. The Lord Jesus has died and borne the penalty that the believer was under. The Lord Jesus' blood was shed; He went into the grave; He came out of the grave. He has "been delivered for our offences and has been raised for our justification", Rom 4: 25. We are thus delivered from the penalty we deserved for our sins, and justified before God in Christ. What compassion God had towards us when He moved in that way. Perhaps you knew it many years ago but I would seek to revive your interest in the way that God moved towards you in the glad tidings to secure you for His pleasure. There came a time when you had to confess your sins. There came a time when you had to repent of your sins. You were on the wrong road, and you needed to be turned around. That is true for every person who knows Christ as their Saviour. There is no doubt that if you were an obedient child and did everything that godly parents told you, you were spared from many of the sorrows that others have proved on the broad road. Perhaps in that way you did not need to stop going to evil places, but nevertheless you still needed to be converted. Even the disciples in Matthew 18 needed conversion, v 3. They needed to learn to be subject to the Lord and reject their own wills. None of us is subject naturally. It is essential therefore that each one of us is converted. The compassions of God go on from there. You discover that that there is something within your heart that answers to the sin system outside of you. You require God to have compassion on you, and deliver you. It is essential for us to understand that Christ was made sin, and that the old man who could not be mended has been ended in the death of Christ. You are now not only accepted but you are also delivered. The Spirit is free within you and you are able to present your body a living sacrifice to God. Now dear brother, dear sister, that involves a radical change in your life. Formerly, you might have been free to do many things and go to many places and be part of the general current of the world going on to judgement but the gospel delivers you from all that. You are now able to understand what it is to be part of the one body in Christ, Rom 12: 5.
You are part of the one body of Christ if you have received the Spirit, but the question is whether the gospel has laid hold of us in such a way that it delivers us from every worldly influence to be entirely available for the pleasure of God. The gospel as accepted delivers you from worldly friendships. You have to break with persons who are part of the world going on to judgement. That is certainly what happened in former times. Persons were converted, and gave up worldly friendships and inconsistent occupations, and anything that smacked of the world that crucified Christ. The gospel delivers us from these things. In New Testament times, there were no arguments as to whether something was a wrong association or not. The gospel made the difference. Mr Darby received such a full gospel and it is clear that the gospel which the apostle Paul preached was never preached in its same fulness until the Lord touched Mr Darby. That gospel led Mr Darby to sever every worldly link and enjoy the truth of the one body in Christ. The true soul must come that way. You must accept that any body of which Christ is not the Head is a dead body, and has to be separated from. You do it, not because someone is forcing you to do it, but because of the difference the gospel has made in your life. You must make the break beloved brother, beloved sister. You can no longer go on with a world that has crucified Christ. You have changed your Man; you have changed your side. You are now “in Christ” and you know that any body, however worthy or reputable it may be, which has not Christ as its Head is rooted in Adam. One of those who helped the saints put it like this. He said that if he saw a man's cart by the roadside in a ditch he would help pull it out, but he would not join a society with unconverted persons for pulling carts out of ditches. It is all very simple when the gospel changes your life. You will notice that there is no need in the epistle to the Romans to have long meetings discussing these things. The gospel delivered the Roman saints.
May I say, beloved brethren, the crying need of the day is for a delivering gospel to be preached. The danger is that we drop down to what has been called revival preaching. That commenced shortly after the beginning of the recovery of the truth in which we have part. Men such as Mr Stoney had their lives radically transformed through the gospel that the Lord revealed to Mr Darby. Shortly after, the nineteenth century revivals began. No doubt, as Mr Darby said, there was much of God in that but the whole character of revival preaching was to ensure a man got to heaven while going on with the world that crucified Christ. In fact, this was so much the case that Mr Stoney strongly deprecated those who said that God was with Moody and Sankey in a singular way while their followers insisted it was not necessary to separate from ecclesiastical circles in Christendom that had no foundation in scripture, JBS Letters vol 1 p216. How right that is. Beloved brethren, it is not someone giving orders but God who comes to us in the Gospel. If we appreciated that, we would have no problems with worldly associations or friendships. Our only bearing towards the world would be to bring the gospel to it. However, how can you bring the gospel to the world, and tell persons they need to judge the world when you yourself are caught up in the world? There needs to be a break. You say, ’I am going to lose my friends'. Beloved brother, beloved sister, God will give you better friends. He will give you friends who know Christ and who are part of the one body in Christ. Some say, 'I am going to lose my job if I break with worldly associations'. Do you think the Father will not look after you? Listen to the word of scripture from a man of experience, David. "I have been young, and now I am old, and I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread", Ps 37: 25.
This truth is not just confined to Romans. You also find it in 2 Corinthians. Paul laboured at Corinth but, when he left there, worldliness came in like a flood. The local assembly there was still recognised. That is important to remember, but the world came in like a flood. In the first epistle, Paul insists on the Lordship of Christ and in chapter 5, he stresses that the wicked man must be withdrawn from or, as he terms it, removed, v 13. In the second epistle, it is clear that that action had taken place and now Paul stresses that as God had granted repentance the Corinthians ought to grant forgiveness, chap 2. Paul then begins to develop the truth of the glad tidings - the ministry of the new covenant, and the ministry of reconciliation, chaps 3 & 5. The result of that is that the Corinthian saints were to understand freshly that they could not be diversely yoked with unbelievers, chap 6. The saint who accepts that and separates from worldly persons does not lose by it. He proves the care of the Father. I say it again dear brethren - the Father will not let you down. The Father will come in for you. Many of us have had to say to associations of various kinds, 'I am sorry, I cannot go on with that'. We have not lost out in doing that because God has helped us. Dear brethren, there is only one body before God at the present time, and that is the one body in Christ. It is inclusive of every Christian and exclusive of anyone who is not a Christian. If we have never come to that then we ought to lay hold of the gospel in all its delivering power. In presenting our bodies to God, we can have part intelligently in the one body in Christ. That is the answer to every wrong association.
Ephesians 4 brings before us another truth connected with the one body. We often refer to Ephesians 3 as a parenthesis and link the end of Ephesians 2 with the beginning of Ephesians 4. However, it is good to remember that the parenthesis in Ephesians 3 gives an added emphasis to the verses at the beginning of Ephesians 4. Thus, the sense in our souls of Jew and Gentile being linked together in one body under one Head, and what it is to have all the saints before God in His service, must govern me in my approach to Ephesians 4. You could not think of having all the saints with you in Ephesians 3, and then adopting a sectarian line. Sadly, many Christians do just that. Indeed, one well known Christian lost his way as to the truth of the one body in Christ, and very soon found himself at Keswick under the banner of "All one in Christ Jesus". In other words, persons believe that believers can meet together for one weekend a year, and return to their separate denominations for the remainder of the year. That is not to say that there are not real believers there, but the truth of the one body must govern how we gather all the time not just one week in a year.
It is not right to go along to diverse meetings of Christians and leave it like that. We must accept that every denomination and sectarian system is contrary to the truth of the one body. It may surprise many to say this but there is no basis in scripture for any system such as the Church of England or the Church of Scotland. There are no Baptist churches in the New Testament or Methodist churches or Pentecostal churches. Someone will say then, 'What about us?’ Well, there is a need to be careful when talking about 'we' or 'us'. Those terms can be used safely in the sense that they include every Christian, but otherwise, they can become sectarian. Yet, it is also necessary to insist that the brethren with whom we walk have not formed another sect. They have simply stood apart from every sect and denomination, and sought to revert to the New Testament pattern, in accord with the truth of the one body. Some will remember a pamphlet of Mr Darby's. Somebody opposed the truth through a pamphlet entitled Is the One Body the Ground of Gathering? JND vol 33 p30. Mr Darby's simple answer was 'It is'. The brethren with whom we seek to break bread are on that line. They have stood apart from every system of man's devising and have sought to revert to the original New Testament pattern. There is no special membership.
If anyone wants to say that we have nothing to be proud of, I would go fully with that. If anyone wants to say that the state at certain points in the testimony was not very good when divisions took place, I would also go fully with that. It is clear that we have nothing to be proud about. Every morning we should kneel down in the presence of God and confess our sins and the sins of our people, Dan 9: 20. We all need to get low in the presence of God. We are in difficult times, and we need to humble ourselves as to how things are currently amongst those we walk with. We need to accept our own part in that. We cannot just say that it is others and not me. We all are responsible and we need to get low in the presence of God, but in so doing we need to walk in relation to the truth of the one body. That requires meekness, lowliness and long-suffering. It requires bearing with one another. If the Lord has set us in a locality, we need to accept it and be thankful, Col 3: 15.
We all know that there is only one Spirit, but we need also to accept that there is only one body. The unity of the Spirit involves what was formed at Pentecost. When the Spirit descended there was a unity formed between all Christians. That subsists at the present time, and it is our responsibility to bring ourselves into line with that. As the brethren know, there are three concentric circles at the beginning of Ephesians 4, JT vol 67 p143. It is also helpful to see that they have a cumulative effect. Therefore, if we accept that there is one body and one Spirit, and we see that our calling involves being conformed to Christ in glory, we will be helped to accept the practical side of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism". Beloved brethren, we all profess to have the same Lord. Currently, that must involve naming the name of the Lord and withdrawing from anything that is inconsistent with the truth of the one body. That is not sectarian. We are actually withdrawing from what is sectarian in naming the name of the Lord and withdrawing from iniquity, 2 Tim 2: 19. If you do that and I do that, and every Christian in Christendom did that, how blessed it would be! We look for an entity on the earth involving every believer - the bride - saying, in consonance with the Spirit, "Come", Rev 22: 17. We long for that, and for it to be practically so requires that believers should submit themselves to the one Lord. There is also only one faith. We do not think we have peculiar doctrine that belong just to the brethren we walk with and ought not to govern every other Christian. People speak about 'Exclusive Brethren'. We do not accept that title although we cannot stop people calling us by that title. However, what persons may call 'Exclusive Brethrenism' is Christianity. If it is not, then we ought not to go on with it for one moment. We must go on with the Word of God. There is only one faith. There is no point in asking us to show you a constitution. We do not have one other than the Bible. There is only one faith, and every real Christian ought to bring themselves into line with what is set out in the teaching of the Bible. If that is so, then, practically, the one body will be seen in expression. There is also only one baptism. That involves that we are severed from this world. As we accept that the man who was under judgement was vicariously removed in the burial of Christ, we will be delivered from the world. If you take that ground and I take that ground there will be less sorrows and heartaches amongst those we walk with. How wonderful it would be in working out the truth of the one body if we all accepted that our baptism also introduces us into the blessedness of the Lordship of Christ, and indeed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as presented in Matthew 28: 19. What follows on from that is "one God and Father". That involves the side of privilege. I will say more as to that before I finish, but what a wonderful thing it is to have part in what is for the pleasure of God as Father. We perhaps do not appreciate that enough. Many pious and devoted Christians are not in liberty in the presence of the Father. Yet it is available for every Christian to be before the Father in liberty, not recalling all their sins but being absolutely free as sons of God who have the Spirit of adoption. How wonderful that is! Have you lost the joy of it, dear brother? Have you lost the sense of the greatness of what we have been brought into? It is wonderful to know God as our Father, and be free in His presence.
I turn to 1 Corinthians 12. There we find that we have all been baptised by one Spirit into one body and have been made to drink of one Spirit. That also ought to have a delivering effect upon us. Dear brethren, many of us have come to it through experience that the clerical system is not of God. That is not to say there are not godly clergymen, but the fact is that they are in a position that God has not afforded them. At the beginning of this chapter, we find that the Spirit has distributed different gifts to different persons. They are not all centred in the same person. One person might have been given the gift of giving a word of wisdom, and another a word of knowledge and so on. The Spirit has been very liberal in distributing these gifts. It is a painful memory to many of us who sat under the clerical system that there were persons who could have been helpful, but were not given the opportunity because they were not clergymen. That is the truth of the matter. There is no need for argument or contention. According to the Scriptures, the clerical system is wrong. There are godly clergymen but they are in a wrong position. However, the most advanced clergymen are only just arriving at the truth of acceptance. I know of one who has it through reading the ministry of Mr Stoney. They have not yet come to deliverance because if they did they would leave the clerical system. Mr Darby is an example of that. When he accepted the truth of acceptance, and knew the experience of deliverance, and that there was a Head in heaven and a body on earth, he could no longer go on with what was clerical. He could not stand to see persons who were gifted preachers being forbidden to preach by archbishops and bishops. He left the Church of Ireland, and gave up the clerical principle. In doing so, Mr Darby received from God a ministry that has stood the test of time. So beloved brethren, if you meet a clergyman, do not immediately tell him the clerical principle is wrong. Bring the gospel before him. Bring the full gospel before him, making sure of course that you are in the gain of it yourself. As accepting that, a clergyman will soon give up the clerical system. Many clergymen have received help that way. We all need help and we have a responsibility to help one another.
Now, the Spirit baptises into one body. That took place at Pentecost. In that one body there is no Jew or Greek. There are no Scottish, English, British, or German either. Each one of us needs to judge ourselves of our national characteristics because the baptism of the Spirit merges the saints into one body. Each one of us enters into the truth of the baptism of the Spirit through drinking into one Spirit. If we all do that, we will be satisfied and, if satisfied, we will be prepared to accept the place we have been given in the assembly. There may be someone who has been greatly blessed by God with a gift and there may be others who have not been given the same gift by God. If we drink into one Spirit and enjoy the love of God and that characterises our service we will let those with a greater gift have the place in service that is due to them. That place is of course only greater in service, not in sonship. Along with that, every true servant will also get below the saints, and esteem and love them. He will not lord it over God's heritage. The most spiritual of servants makes way for others who have questions and comments. Not only so, but this is not restricted to what is local. It may work out locally, but the fact is that God has set certain in the assembly. That is very wide in its bearing. It is sorrowful to reflect that an early difficulty amongst brethren occurred when the local assembly in Plymouth would not allow gifted brethren from Ireland such as Mr Bellett. It is almost unthinkable to think of a man who had such a distinctive impression of The Moral Glory of the Lord Jesus being told that his service was not required. Beloved brethren, administration is clearly local but in the working out of the truth, we are glad of any help we can get. So that when Paul and others went into the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, they were asked, "if ye have any word of exhortation to the people, speak", Acts 13: 15. We all need help. We do not have all we need in relation to gift in one locality. We are glad that God has set certain in the assembly who are in various localities and are able to help in a universal way.
I turn now to 1 Corinthians 10. It is helpful for us to pursue a little the thought that the body of Christ has a local expression. It is important to see that there are not churches separate from the one body. A social worker once asked an old brother known to many of us whether he belonged to a church. His reply was "No, I belong to the church". He did not mean that the brethren with whom we break bread with are the church to the exclusion of every other believer. We are not the church, but the brethren with whom we walk with do belong to the church. We are part of the one body of Christ, and that is the only church we belong to. That church has a local expression. We do not even claim to be that but we seek to walk in the light of the assembly.
Chapter 10 involves the great truth as to the Lord's table as bearing on the thought of the one body. As we come together at the Lord's supper and look on the loaf the pre-eminent thought before us will be the Lord's own personal body as a Man here on earth. Chapter 11 is quite clear as to that, "This is my body, which is for you", 1 Cor 11: 24. The effect of putting our hands to that ought to govern us through the week. It does not only govern us in our own locality, blessed as that is, it also governs our relationship with other localities. That is clearly stated in chapter 10, "Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf”, 1 Cor 10: 17. Therefore, what takes place in one local assembly has its bearing on every other local assembly. We again need to remind ourselves that administration is local. Those who do not accept that will find themselves against the Lord. The first epistle to the Corinthians is clear that every local assembly has its individual relationship with Christ. The Lord has His own rights in each place and that needs to be respected. However, there is something else that also needs to be respected, and that is that every local assembly in its administration ought in love and consideration to consider for every other local assembly. We all need help on this line, but the intention in our mind ought to be respect for our brethren as doing what is right for the Lord. You not only want to do what is right in your local assembly but you want to keep in mind every other local assembly. That is not a hard or controversial thing to say. It is simple love and consideration for the brethren. May we bear it in mind, and in saying that I want to stress again that I do not mean the sectarian 'we'. Every Christian would have part in the one loaf, one body. Alas, not all are putting their hands to the loaf. I trust we feel that and keep all the saints in our prayers. Our attitude towards other Christians is like Abraham setting seven ewe lambs before Abimelech, Gen 21: 28. We want to be like that, but we also want to understand where we are and why we are there. It has been helpful to many of us to have brethren set out clearly the background as to every division amongst those seeking to have part in the recovery from 1848 to 1972 in order to show where the brethren are, and why they are there. We need to arrive at that in a moral way. We need to have to do with the Lord personally, as to where He is. Peter said, "Lord, if it be thou, command me to come to thee", Matt 14: 28. It is not a question of leaving one church to join another church. It is, where is the Lord? That is not a sectarian position. It is available to every Christian and involves going forth to Him. There might be reproach attached to that. You might have your heart broken being criticised by other Christians for the stand you have taken. That is part of the reproach. We need to accept that, and ought not to respond in the same way. Our love ought to be unconditional. We may not always be able to manifest that love, but nevertheless it is there. If we cannot walk with saints, we can certainly pray for them. Many of us do pray continually that God may deliver our brethren, especially those who have once been on the pathway of testimony. We have not just wiped our hands of such persons. We cannot walk with them but we pray and mourn over our beloved brethren. May they be recovered! May we have part in that! We might of course need to be like Abraham in Genesis 18 praying and allowing God to grant repentance, v 22-33. However, we pray and do not adopt a hard attitude, because but for divine grace where might we be?
Now, the Lord’s table and the Lord’s supper are very blessed. The Lord's supper is taken in a public setting. That involves the wilderness - what the world has become to the Christian. We do not need at that point to go into great detail as to the Lord bearing our sins, because we are already clear in our souls as to that. We enjoy Him as the Sin-bearer at other times. There is, of course, provision made in Matthew's Gospel for remembering the Lord in that way particularly in sorrowful times amongst the saints. However, that is not the normal way we remember the Lord. The normal order connected with the Lord's supper is found in 1 Corinthians 11, where there is no mention of sins. So that as faithful saints come together they do something that men can take account of. They put their hands to the emblems, and announce the death of the Lord. However, at that point the Lord honours His promise not to leave them orphans and comes to His own, John 14: 18. The ground then changes and they no longer have Christ pre-eminently before them as Lord but as Head. They find then the Head strikes the chord that gives character to the service of God. The body responds to that and becomes available to the Head for the service and praise of God. As the Head leads in the praise, there is no need for a prearranged service. There are no hymns on boards, or clergymen saying it is time for children to go to Sunday school. There is rather Christ as Head leading persons into the presence of the Father as seen in Ephesians 2: 18. Beloved brethren, there are those who are older, and others too, who have arrived at this order of the service of God through exercise. From that standpoint, while fully admitting failings, many can state that they have found an experience in the service of God that they have not found anywhere else. It is blessed to know Christ as giving impulse to the body. It is typified in Luke 1 in the hill country of Judea in the holy communications between Elizabeth and Mary. Quickening came in there and that led to expressions of praise to God. As they listen to one another and they are moved by the Head they are led into the presence of the Father - the great representative of deity in the economy.
That is all I wish to say. The truth of the one body ought to be more to us than a picture on the wall. We do not just say that we gather on the ground of the one body, while we are going on with things that are inconsistent with that. The genuine article ought to have a delivering effect on us. As I arrive at this truth individually then I will find that makes way to have a vital part in the wonderful vessel, which is the one body in Christ.
May God bless the word.
15th September 2007