Is the Church the Body of Christ on Earth - by JB Stoney
A LETTER TO ALL CHRISTIANS
Is the church, the body of Christ, on the earth? The answer to this question is of the deepest moment to you. If answered in the affirmative, great indeed are your privileges and corresponding responsibility; while if answered in the negative, you would concede a sad conclusion, that the body of Christ has ceased to be on the earth. If the latter were true each christian would be an isolated unit, and you would be deprived of the privileges belonging to the body of Christ. Your admitting that His body is here places you under the gravest responsibility.
First, let us ascertain from Scripture the origin and constitution of the church, the body of Christ. We read in Romans 16 : 25, that the mystery was kept secret since the world began; and in Ephesians 3 5, we read, “Which in other ages was not made known unto the Sons of men”; and in Colossians 1 26, “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints”. It is very evident from these passages that the church, the body of Christ, was not revealed in the Old Testament, and did not exist. When Israel was redeemed out of Egypt, God dwelt among them, as we find in Exodus 29 45 — “And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God”. In Christ now, christians “are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit”; “Yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house”, etc. (1 Pet. 2: 5). The house of God is the congregational, or visible, aspect of the church; the body — the internal and unseen organisation of the members of the body of Christ. It is of immense importance that you should apprehend your calling and privileges, because if you do not, you cannot be aware of your responsibilities, and however devoted you may be, you cannot answer to the will of your Lord.
There are two ministries: the ministry of the gospel and the ministry of the church (see Col. 1: 23-25). The ministry of the gospel is your salvation: until you know this you could not know the ministry of the church which is the body of Christ. The ministry of the gospel is, thank God, extensively known; but you may rest assured, that if every earnest preacher of the gospel knew that on the reception of the gospel of God there was to follow our highest blessing, an introduction into the christian’s highest position here for Christ, he would be even more zealous that his converts should be so established in the grace of God that they might enter on their glorious relation to Christ. In the gospel we learn Christ’s perfect work for us in bringing us to God now; while in the church, we are introduced into such close relation to Christ as members of His body, which is the highest conceivable position, for “God has set the members, each one of them in the body, according as it has pleased him”, 1 Cor. 12:18.
“My church”, (as we learn from the Lord’s words in Matthew 16 :18, “I will build my church”) is a new structure. It had not existed before. Peter is literally the first stone for it, and this new structure dates from the time when Christ was rejected by the Jews. We read in Matthew 14 : 10 that John was beheaded. This evidently was a crisis in our blessed Lord’s history here. It foretold His own rejection. He not only retires into the desert, and feeds the poor of the flock who seek Him there, but He takes a new place. He walks on the water, thus setting forth in figure that He is supreme, greater than any power or force here. Peter, in leaving the ship to join Him, represents the man of faith and love who leaves all that is naturally suited to man, to join Christ where faith alone can support him. This is the divine path for every believer in this day; this is the true education for the new structure which Christ builds, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. This is Christ’s building on the earth. It was formally set up in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit descended and filled all the house where they were sitting, and sat upon each of them; each one was filled with the Holy Spirit. The mystery was not as yet revealed, though it existed when the Holy Spirit, by whom union with Christ is effected, was, as we have seen, given, and all were baptised by .one Spirit into one body. But the doctrine of the mystery, the church, which is His (Christ’s) body, was not divulged until subsequent to the stoning of Stephen. The Lord, after being first rejected in humiliation, had been offered to Israel from glory — “the times of refreshing . . . from the presence of the Lord” was offered to them if they repented (Acts 3 : 19); but the Jews resisted the Holy Spirit, and literally in stoning Stephen the citizens sent a messenger after Him saying,
‘‘We will not have this man to reign over us (see Luke 19: 14). Consequent on this the mystery was divulged, when the Lord said to Saul of Tarsus, “Why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9). It is plain from these words that it is an essential truth that He is here personated by His own. When Satan had apparently succeeded in expelling Christ from the earth, then was divulged the secret of God, that Christ’s body was here, so that man’s wickedness and Satan’s malice were most marvellously counteracted. He is personated here by His body. The “me” must remain ever true and unchanging, notwithstanding all the opposition of man and Satan. To apprehend that His own on the earth are “me” — part of Himself— is essentially necessary for walk and service; nay, to apprehend it is the only solution of the apparent anomaly that God’s people can be on the earth where Christ has been refused, and from which He had been called away to sit at God’s right hand until His foes are made His footstool (Ps. 110 :1). If you admit the rejection of Christ — and it cannot be denied — how can His people in all their weakness continue in the place where the Mighty One was refused? The Jews cried, “Away with him, crucify him”; and the Roman governor impaled Him to a cross. Hence the Lord could say of His disciples, “1 am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee”, John 17 : 11. The only solution for this apparent anomaly is that each believer now is a member of Christ’s body, and that at any moment during the period of His rejection He can speak of the saints here as “me”; that is, they are called to personate Him here, so that by no means are christians here as isolated servants or witnesses, but each, one and all, are, in the purpose of God, already set in the body as it has pleased God.
Christendom is in hopeless confusion as to the church. There is in every religious system total ignorance of the Head; the true Head of the church is unknown, and therefore a wrong one is substituted for Him. And again, the power proper to the church is absolutely unknown and ignored; all this because the church’s origin and nature, as simply of Christ, are not seen. We are members of His body, as Eve was formed out of Adam. Hence a christian cannot understand His true course and service here except he has apprehended in faith God’s purpose in setting him in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12 :11, 18). By the Holy Spirit we are all baptised into one body. It is thus the body is formed; each member placed there according to God’s pleasure. I trust that the Spirit of God may now convince you by the light of His word in your conscience that Christ’s body is on the earth, that all the members requisite for forming the “me” are on the earth. I do not assert —alas! I cannot — that each member is in conscious knowledge of union with Christ, and that each one (would to God it were so) is “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
In conclusion, I would add a little as to the history of the soul in learning the grace which has set him in this great position. First, you are established in grace — “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved”, Rom. 10 : 9. You are justified — “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”, Rom. 5: 1. This known, you become acquainted with Him personally; His love now, and not merely His great work for you, is before your heart. You begin to know Him where He is in glory. You find that you can behold His glory (see 2 Cor. 3 :18), and instead of being repelled by the glory like Isaiah 6 : 5, you are transformed into the same image. What a wonderful grace! Once you know this the more will you bear about in your body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in your body. Like the queen of Sheba in Solomon’s house, you are so consciously set free from yourself that you are glad to be dead in Christ’s death, yourself kept in abeyance, so that nothing should intervene to divert you or to deprive you of your fulness of joy in the Lord’s presence. When you know Christ in glory, you readily receive the truth that He is your Head — the Head of every christian, though every christian is not “holding the head”.
When you really know Christ as your Head, you receive direction from Him, and you are consciously conducted to Him in heavenly places by the Spirit, as Rebekah was conducted by Eliezer to Isaac. When you have conscious knowledge (Eph. 1 :19) of “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 ftom the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places”, then you know experimentally union with Christ, for the qualities and privileges which are attached to this great position are made known to you (see Eph. 3 : 14-21), so that you now come out in your true vocation on the earth in the abilities of the heavenly Man to whom you are united, to represent Him, first in the church, secondly, in your own family circle, and thirdly, to withstand here all the power of Satan, the universal lords of darkness, and spiritual wickedness. I can well understand your exclaiming, ‘Who is up to these things?’ I sorrowfully reiterate your words; but let me ask you, as I ask myself, If they are true, if God has called us to this great position for His Son, are we to refuse to be according to His pleasure because God only by His Spirit can fit us for it and fix us in it? Surely you will say from your heart, like one in another day, “Be it unto me according to thy word”.
The Lord lead you and me to apprehend God’s purpose for us, even that He has set each of us in the body of Christ “as it bath pleased him”.
Your affectionate brother in Christ,
J. B. STONEY.