The Assembly as a Divine Conception - by A.E. Myles
[Extract from "The Assembly as a Divine Conception": "You may be a Christian yet never have given yourself to Christ. You may only have given Him a place in your life."]
THE ASSEMBLY AS A DIVINE CONCEPTION Matthew 16 : 15-18 ; 1 Corinthians 1 : 1-9
I had in mind, dear brethren, to speak about the assembly, what is called in the authorised version of the Scriptures the church, but a better term is assembly. The word ' church ' has come to be associated, in the minds of men, with a material building. I need hardly say to any one here who knows anything about God, that He is not concerned at all as to buildings of stone or brick, no matter how beautiful they may be ornamented with all the arts of man. God is concerned about persons, and where the expressions ' assembly ' or ' church' or ' a building' are used in Scripture, it is persons who are in view.
You will find that the term ' assembly' occurs frequently through the whole of the New Testament, and it is evident to any reader, as I trust it is to the many young people here, that the assembly is a very great thought in the divine mind. It is written " Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it," Eph. 5 : 25. Could you conceive of the Son of God giving Himself for a building of stones that crumble away ? No, it is persons who form the assembly and this passage gives us a little sense of the greatness of the assembly in the thought of God, since, as we read, Christ gave Himself for it.
There are two very clearly defined lines which run through the word of God; in other words believers are viewed in two aspects, one is what is individual and the other what is collective, or corporate. The corporate aspect is that which takes account of the relationship of the assembly to Christ and of the links of relationship with all other believers which flow out of the relation of the assembly to Christ. The individual aspect is that which deals with what each one is before God as individually responsible to Him. As an individual you are responsible to God for all the light you have received. When you come to Christ you begin an individual pathway of movement in relation to Another—the Lord Jesus Christ. When in faith you have definitely accepted Him as Saviour and Lord, you are only conscious of your individual blessing, but you have not learnt then that you are only one of a number, one of a vast number of persons whom the Lord Jesus had in view, and who are all equally the objects of His love. You were not conscious of that, but it existed, and when the Lord in His grace began to draw you to Himself, He had that vast company of persons— the assembly—in His mind.
Need I say, that to begin the individual path is very blessed. I trust you have all begun, and that you have made a definite movement toward the Lord in response to all His blessed movements in grace toward you; but while there is so much blessedness connected with that aspect of things, yet there is the other aspect which has to do with your corporate relations, which takes account of God's thoughts not only for you, but for millions of other persons who live, have lived, or may live on this earth, and all of whom are in the love of Christ in the same measure as you are. I desire to give you a few thoughts about assembly relations. I trust the Lord will help me to be simple; for it is so easy to use terms which by long usage have become familiar to those who are older, but which may not convey much meaning to the minds of young enquirers into the truth. So I should like to speak in simple language.
I read the passage in Matthew 16 because it is a passage that must arrest the attention of every careful reader. The Lord Himself makes a most positive and definite statement there about the assembly. He says (verse 18), "... upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The rock was not Peter; the rock was what He was in Person, the Son of the living God. It is coincident with Peter's confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, that the Lord brings to light that the impregnability of the assembly is based upon what He was—the Christ, and who He was—the Son of the living God.
Now, I feel sure that even the young people here, to whom I specially address myself, must have taken note of the hundreds of sects and religions there are in this world that nominally acknowledge Christ, and outwardly and publicly stand as the church of Christ. You may have read the history of the church, a shameful history of what men have done in the name of Christ; you may have read of deeds which make your blood run cold, of persecution, of martyrdom, and of what is worse—the false obnoxious doctrines of hell which have robbed the Lord Jesus Christ, in the eyes of men, of the glory that is His, and all professedly done in the name of the church of Christ. Profession is in possession of powers that aim to take from Christ all that has been given to Him. His deity is denied, so also His divinity, His true manhood, and the character of God is falsified; and these heresies as to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ are all covered up by a multitude of worldly activities. What does it all mean ? Did the Lord make a mistake when He said, " the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Did He, the Son of God, speak beyond knowledge. Surely not! In John 3:11 He said, " We speak that we do know." The Lord spoke with knowledge and all His words were with authority and according to truth. In the light of this, we must start our considerations with the deep conviction in faith, that what Christ builds the gates of hell cannot prevail against. Yet as you look around or read the history of the church you see what appears to be a total denial of the Lord's words. It may appear as if the gates of hell have prevailed, as if they have conquered; but the fact is men have laid hands upon and made captive that which stands professedly as the church of Christ, and the weight of cumulative evidence, coming as it does from antiquity and fully proved, is such that many serious-minded men, not converted men, will tell you that the most conspicuous failure in all the world's history is the church. They say that it has proved futile, wanting, and that it is full of confusion and shame.
Thus we have before us two incontrovertible things, first the authoritative testimony of the Son of God that His assembly is impregnable, and second, the testimony blazoned abroad in the world that the church has been taken captive and used for enemy ends. Now there is only one possible solution of these seemingly contradictory facts and that is that what stands publicly as the church of Christ, that which has so shamefully failed, is not the real thing at all but a false imitation, raised up designedly by the powers of darkness in order to bring public shame and dishonour on the name of Christ. Now, the comparison of a scripture such as I read in Matthew 16 with the address to the church at Laodicea in the book of the Revelation, is most interesting in this connection. The latter book is very instructive in that it shows what is the final issue of the things that we see working around us to-day; it shows what they will finally come to, and the address to the church at Laodicea is the last state of that which bears the name of Christ to-day in the eyes of men. It is a state of utter and entire indifference to Christ. They say they are rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing, and the Lord says to them, " I will spue thee out of my mouth," Rev. 3 : 16. It is obnoxious, nauseating to Him Instead of the tender and appealing love of the bride that calls for Him, that will not be content without Him, that sits as a widow and mourns during His absence, there is utter indifference to all His claims. That is the end, the issue of that which professes today before men to be His assembly. What about the words of Jesus ? What about this confident statement, " shall not prevail against it"—the confidence of a Person who is able to maintain what belongs to Him? Well, there is another word in the book of Revelation, at the end of the book (chap. 22) a word that comes from the lips of her who is described as the bride; it is only one word, " Come." There is therefore something on earth that will not be satisfied without Christ; something that in His eyes is beautiful, not obnoxious ; something that He will take to His own blessed heart and cherish and nourish throughout eternity; something that is the answer and response to His own blessed love; something that has come through the world with all its sad history, out of its persecution, out of its shame, out of the evil doctrine that men have held in regard to Christ; something that in His eyes is without spot and which the gates of hell have not touched, nor the powers of darkness put a blemish upon. It is the assembly, that which has been kept, and which is fully responsive to all the precious love of Christ, and which in unison with the Spirit will say " Come."
Thus, dear young fellow Christian, in language as simple as I can make it, you get the two lines—that of false profession, which outwardly claims to be Christ's but which is not His—a false imitation which has emanated from hell itself and which Christ will have nothing to do with; and then side by side and in obscurity you get the line of that which is true, and real, and precious in His sight, that which is the product of the Spirit and which with the Spirit will say " Come." " The Spirit and the bride say, Come." These two lines run through the New Testament scriptures. As the church was set up at the beginning it was wholly for Christ, marked by purity of affection, first love, and entire separation from the world, but failure came in, the flesh was allowed, then tolerated, then welcomed. The world came with the flesh. Nations which once persecuted the church patronised it, finally added it to their own national glory, until the line of distinction between the church and the world was lost. What do we see now? the so-called churches, not only hopelessly divided, but hurrying after every movement of the world in the vain endeavour to hold a recognised place. I hope, dear young believers, that your eyes will be opened to see the line of that which is pure and true, which is under the eye of Christ, and which will come out of the confusion of this world purified in affection and responsive to His own blessed love.
Now I should like to call your attention to one of the features of the assembly, viz.:—the relationship of the saints to one another; it is a divine conception. I refer to the manner in which they are connected and joined together, so that under the eye of Christ they are one whole, not so many units, or so many individuals, but one whole; they are saints perfectly joined together in the thoughts of God. I should like to develop the thought that the assembly is a divine conception, and is wholly the product of the divine mind. I am speaking in this way because we are so much in danger of judging divine thoughts by what we see around us in the world. We must get away from that, and remember that what we see around us is merely a mass of profession. We must turn to Scripture, to the light that is there for the formation of our thoughts, and there we can see that the assembly is a divine conception. When men form a church, as they often do, they draw up certain rules and regulations, which appeal to their minds as being the best calculated to meet the views of the greatest number, but divine instructions are entirely disregarded. If you talk to devoted Christians whom you will find in the various systems around, you will gather that what they are connected with appeals to them as being more right than what is connected with some other body. But what Scripture would teach us is that the assembly is a divine conception from beginning to end, that God has ordered it according to His own infinite wisdom and knowledge, not only in its outline but in the most minute detail connected with it, so that He has not left even one single detail for the mind of man to add to it. The assembly as it is indicated in Scripture is something that the greatest mind in this world could not add to or improve in the slightest particular. What a wonderful thing to come to a fellowship which is of God and which cannot be improved upon! What a favour to be brought to something to which the mind of man cannot offer a single suggestion of improvement! Do you know any organisation in this world—I speak of man's organisations— that cannot be improved ? The best business houses in this world are always on the outlook for suggestions of improvements, and they will pay for them. They recognise that things are advancing and improving and that the progress of science is always adding some feature that commerce can make use of. But when you come to the assembly, it is a conception of the mind of God that He is not ashamed of, for even the smallest detail in it is perfectly in accordance with His own blessed mind.
We have often seen great men in the world, men of gift and attainment, as we would speak— men with master minds, such as Napoleon or others, and we may have thought, well, if such an one only came amongst the people of God what a help he would be. What could he do ? Well, you say, look at his mind. Was his mind as great as the mind of God ? Oh no, it could not be. In the assembly we have the divine mind, and no man could add to that. I should like to impress you, dear young Christian, with the greatness of God's thoughts. He has made it possible for us to be in touch with His great things, with immense things, things that are most profound, and that come from His own blessed mind as perfect, in short, the things of Christianity. Lift your eyes for one moment from what is imperfect and what has failure and weakness stamped upon it, and let them rest upon that which has come from God in all its completeness, and remember, that what God is doing now He is going to maintain for eternity, for it is all of Himself.
In this first epistle to the Corinthians we get many thoughts which are connected with the divine conception of the assembly. The people of God at Corinth needed adjustment. They were going on with things which were not according to the divine thought, and so the apostle presents to them certain features of the assembly as it is in the mind of God in order to correct them, so that what belonged to man's mind might be given up and refused. He begins by addressing them as " called saints." In the religious world the idea of a saint is largely taken from the Roman Catholic conception which is that hundreds of years after persons have passed out of this life they should be elevated by the church to a saintly position. Now, God works in exactly the reverse way from that. He approaches us and tells us what His thoughts about us are, and after that He works in our hearts and in our souls to bring us up to His thoughts. He begins from the top. He knows exactly what He is going to do before He begins. When a man starts to do a certain thing he goes as near to what he conceives as is possible, but God begins with His own thoughts, draws near to men and gives them those thoughts as light to their souls, and that light becomes the truth to them. And so " called saints " is the thought of God in regard of every one of His people. All His people are saints. They are called saints. It is not that they will ultimately reach this saintly position ; they begin with being it; it is what they are according to God, and He works in them to bring them into the practical reality of it. I appeal to you, younger brethren, to take that into your hearts—that God looks upon you as saints. It is not what men call you, but what you are by divine calling, and in the light of that wonderful position which we have under the eye of God, the apostle proceeds to speak of certain features of the assembly, and wonderful features they are. It says, that ". . . in everything ye are enriched in him," I Cor. i : 5. What a suggestion of wealth that is as connected with the assembly! Well, that is her portion; the word of wisdom was there; the word of doctrine was there; all knowledge was there; every gift was there; in short, the assembly is endowed with everything which is necessary to carry her right on unto the " coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is God's thought. You know what an endowment is. A person builds a hospital, puts up the building, equips it, makes it all ready, but that is not enough; it has to be endowed so that from day to day it may be furnished with all the constant supplies that are necessary to carry it on. Now, the assembly has not only been constituted and formed by the coming of the Spirit, but God has endowed it with all enrichment, with all treasure and wealth, with the wisdom and the knowledge and the gift that is necessary to sustain it and maintain it until the day of the revelation or coming of Jesus Christ. What a wealthy place! And note, all this is in the assembly on earth, not the assembly in heaven, and there is too now, the functioning under God's eye, and the practical everyday working out of this wonderful organisation with all its precious endowment, with its treasures of wisdom, of knowledge, of doctrine and of gift. What a marvellous place! Have you ever thought how the saints can continue to maintain for God here ? I know this, that in the professing systems of religion of this world there is a great deal of concern at this moment as to how they are going to carry on, for their resources are running out. But these divinely given resources cannot run out; they will not fail. Think of the assembly as the vessel of utterance! Utterance of what? you say. A place for the display of the gifts of men, or of the glory of men, or of what is connected with man after the flesh? Oh, no! The assembly is the place of utterance, where every little movement of affection for Christ finds intelligent expression. When God gave us this marvellous revelation of the assembly that was to be for Him and for Christ, He had in mind that it was to be a vessel of utterance; it was to be a vessel of expression. You may come amongst the saints of God who have through grace a measure of light; you may be a young man; you may be shy; you may be backward in expressing yourself and you may say, " I do not see how I could ever take any part in the meetings "; but the assembly is the place of utterance. If you do not give expression to what comes into your heart there, another will. Do not be dismayed, do not be discouraged about it. It is the assembly that is a vessel of utterance. You may be a sister; you may say, " I wonder why that brother that sits in front of me never says anything, never has anything to tell the Lord." Perhaps if there were something in your heart that had to find expression, that brother would get upon his feet; he could not help it. What is in the company that is moving in the light of this is bound to find utterance, it must find expression. If expression is lacking, it is because there is not appreciation in the hearts of the saints seeking to find an outlet. It is the place of utterance, I repeat; it is the place of wealth and God would bring His people into the practical enjoyment and appreciation of that.
Now I turn to verse 9. It says, " God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." I am trying to indicate just one or two features of the assembly as it is in the mind of God, so that we might be impressed with the sense of the wealth and treasure of that wonderful place, but now in this verse things come a little closer, because it speaks of what is very practical. In the first place it says that God is faithful. Take that into your hearts. What is He faithful to ? He is faithful to His own thoughts, to every one of them. In 2 Timothy we get indicated the path in a day of ruin that is open for any man who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. He is to depart from iniquity; he is to follow after righteousness, faith, charity, peace with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (chap. 2 : 22). You may be one of a little company, perhaps a company of only two or three who are seeking to do that, and what you find is that God is faithful. He has not departed from His own thoughts one iota. All the failure and the weakness of which we are so conscious has not diverted the blessed God from His original thought. He is faithful. He wants you to know that He is faithful—faithful to His own thoughts about the assembly and her relation to Christ. He is the faithful God, and it goes on to say that He has called us to the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
I want now to say a little about that fellowship for it is connected with the assembly. You must know what that fellowship is, for a fellowship has not only privileges, but it has obligations, and this fellowship is the fellowship of God's Son Jesus Christ our Lord. I shall give you an illustration of what a fellowship is. There are many associations in this world—I do not call them fellowships, for fellowship is a divine term; but there are many associations in this world in which men band themselves together for a certain purpose. For instance, there are political associations ; the obligation in that case being that all should have the same political belief. If a man who is a Conservative, and belongs to a Conservative club becomes a Liberal, if he does not resign, they very quickly turn him out; he is not conforming to the association. Then there are musical associations ; people have common tastes about music and have joined themselves together as having these, but politics are not the test in a musical association. The point I would emphasise is this, that all the associations of men are partial. They are held together concerning one feature only of community of interest, but they do not embrace the whole life of a person. But when you come to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, it is a dominating fellowship; it is a controlling fellowship; it takes account of every sphere of a man's life—business features, household features; it takes account of the associations of marriage; it takes account of every place into which your feet take you, and of every thought that finds lodgment in your mind; it is a regulating fellowship; it takes everything into its view, and why ? Because it is the fellowship of His Son. Think of God drawing men together in such wise as to have a part with His own blessed Son! It is a partnership really. Every saint is a partner; every one has a vital interest; every one has a definite place. In the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ, God would have you enjoy all that is in His Son. He wants you to know it, and in order that you might know it, you must take up the obligations connected with it. These obligations bear on every feature of daily life, for the fellowship of God's Son Jesus Christ our Lord is a very great fellowship. God would give you, dear fellow-believer, to know, yea, to know what He thinks about His Son; ' His Son' is what He is on God's side, and ' Jesus Christ our Lord' is what He is on our side.
Now, if you are a Christian, I do not say, if you are breaking bread, but if you are a Christian, if you have the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Spirit of God, you belong to this fellowship. You may not be conscious of it; you may never have followed its workings, but you belong to it. God has connected you with it; you are a part of it. God has made you a partner in this wonderful " concern " that has all this wealth of capital, that has been endowed with all the treasures that the mind of God could devise. You are a partner in this wonderful privilege, and along with the privilege comes the serious obligations of fellowship. Every association that you put your hand to—the association of business, the companionship of marriage—has to be judged in the light of this fellowship. Is it in accordance with this fellowship ? Every place you go into, and everything that you identify yourself with affects the fellowship. If you are breaking bread, you involve the brethren in that which you touch. They may not see you, there may be no eye resting upon you, but you compromise the brethren if you do not answer to the obligations of the fellowship ; you identify the fellowship with every association to which you put your hand. Solemn and serious consideration for us !
Now, God has called us into that which was not our choice; it was God's thought. It is He who has called us into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. God would have us know, dear brethren, the preciousness of Christ, not as mere onlookers, but as those who have their part in that fellowship, those who are connected with it vitally, and who livingly form a part of the organisation. God is faithful to that. Now, are we true to it ? Let us ask ourselves the question, are we true to it ? Are our associations in line with it ? It is not here the fellowship of His death that is referred to; the fellowship here is more than that; it is that of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. It involves His death; for the very title Jesus Christ our Lord involves it, for that is what He is as the risen, ascended Man; that is what God has made Him both Lord and Christ; but it is Himself. All that He has died to is outside the fellowship, whether it be this world's system, or any religious system; everything that is false and unreal, is all severed by His death. This truth is taught in 1 Corinthians 10. We are identified with the symbols of His death and we are called to be apart from every other association. But oh! to have Himself as the bond of fellowship, Himself! All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him! Think of what we have in the Lord! Think of His ability to give gifts to men, to raise up men for the edification of the assembly! What a treasure we have got in Him! Think of all the blessed resources that are in His hand to minister to the assembly, to fill it with holy delight— with Himself, and with God! All these things are in Him, in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and you are privileged to have a part in that, and I am privileged to have a part in it too. Are we enjoying it ? What a goodly portion! Does it represent something that is irksome to you ? Is it a place of bondage to you ? If it is, you have not apprehended the preciousness of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. There is no bondage there. If it indicates for you a narrow pathway in this world, if it takes you into places where shame and humiliation will be your portion, is it not more than compensated for by what you find in Christ, in His Son ? He is God's delight; God finds all His delight in that blessed One. Think of Him as being great enough to fill the heart of God! Can He not fill your heart and mine ? Oh, surely the compensations of this fellowship are wonderful! I hope you are finding it so, that you are not feeling it irksome and hard, that as you go through this world, you do not say, " I must not do this, and I must not go there "; but that you say, " I cannot do it, because of what I have found in Christ." Your feet will not then be found in the paths of wickedness; you will not find yourself in the places of pleasure of this world; your soul will not delight in the literature of this world; you will find your delight in Christ, in His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
" Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him,
Is not thine a captured heart ?
Chief among the thousands own Him,
Joyful choose the better part."
Ah, dear brethren, that is our portion; that is what is real in the world. That is what is going to come out of all the confusion and shame of this world in all its beauty and preciousness as the bride. You have a part in that; take your place in it, let your heart expand itself there; let your mind ponder as controlled under the influence of the Spirit on all the vast range of things that are connected with Christ. Surely that is great enough for your life and mine, and wisdom and knowledge are found there in their totality. The knowledge of man is only partial. The greatest man in the world will tell you that there is much he does not know, but in this wonderful fellowship there is wisdom in its totality according to God, and knowledge in its totality; it is all that is in Christ that is open to us, all the vast resources in Christ God's Son—what He is to God, and what He is to us. All that! There is nothing else like it in the world; nothing that will give such wonderful compensation, nothing that can satisfy the heart like it, dear young Christian. Oh, I should like to encourage you to go in for it wholeheartedly and devotedly. You may be a Christian yet never have given yourself to Christ. You may only have given Him a place in your life. He does not merely want a place in your life; He wants you, He wants you altogether with no reservation; He wants you to commit yourself to Him and to His people. You may look at His people and they may look a poor and miserable lot—a poor and afflicted people; you may look at their outward appearance and there may be nothing about them outwardly that attracts the eye, but oh, what a treasure you will find if you see them as Christ sees them. People may say that Christians are a poor lot; ah, they are not! Every one of them is a prince. They are not riding on horseback in this world as princes; they are walking on foot; they are not clothed in princely garments; they will be some day, but not to-day. The beggars are riding on horseback; the princes are walking on foot. If your eyes are opened to see them as Christ sees them, what you will see is that the greatest amongst them are captains over a thousand, and the least among them captains over a hundred. There is not one of them that is small. Every one of them is a chief. Every one is distinguished. Every one is princely like the sons of a king— these are the brethren of Christ.
In closing I would say that if you tread this path about which I have been trying to make suggestions, if you take up this fellowship with all its precious privileges, you will find Christ in His beauty and you will find the saints as the product of His own blessed work, beautiful and fair. You will find that which the gates of hades cannot touch; you will find that which will come out of all the confusion of this world as the bride, and in that wonderful sense your heart and your mind will be satisfied. You will be, too, more prepared to accept the discipline of the way as contributing to that; you will be prepared to accept an outside place in this scene because of the present recompense and the future prospect, not only for what you are going to get in heaven but for what you get now. God will give it to you now. He will make it available for your hearts. I pray earnestly that the dear young people may find their way to such blessedness even now to be established as upon a rock, not to be tossed and blown about by every varying wind, nor as marking a crooked course through life, as many of us have marked, but marking a straight course that has Christ as its object and its goal. I desire for you with much earnestness that this might be your portion, for His name's sake.
A. E. Myles.