UNITY IN THE PAULINE EPISTLES
It is however in the Epistles of the apostle to the Gentiles that we find fuller light, where unity rises (beyond the union of God's children however sure, sweet, and blessed, as seen in John's testimony), into the truths of God's habitation, and Christ's body. To be built together is close indeed; to be constituted an organic body, the one body of Christ, is yet more, the closest unity possible. Let us trace this new thing to His praise.
In the Epistle to the Romans unity is applied practically, after the gospel of God has been elaborately set forth in chaps. i. - viii., and God's sovereign grace to all is in chaps. ix.- xi. conciliated with His special promises to Israel. The saints are exhorted to present their bodies a living sacrifice, not conformed to this age, nor with high thoughts but sobriety. "For as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function" (thus communion is taught, each fulfilling his own place in the one body, but not exceeding his measure), " so we the many are one body in Christ and severally members one of another."
Thus, in this Epistle as in all the N.T. and in the nature of things, God does not fail to make it evident that it is for the individual to repent and believe. We are reconciled to God and justified individually. Before the body of Christ was formed or revealed, the believer had through His blood the remission of sins, and was a son of God by faith in Christ Jesus. The work of redemption was now accomplished; Christ had taken His seat at God's right hand; and the Holy Spirit came down to baptise all who received the gospel into one body, and to dwell in them as God's house. Then and there was the church of God formed. "The Lord was adding day by day such as should be saved together " (Acts ii. 47); and this united body was in due time called " the church " (chap. v. 11).
The saints who believed through grace were no longer left as of old among their brethren after the flesh (Mal. iii. 16), however slowly they gave up habits and prejudices. They had now " their own company " (Acts iv. 23), outside Israel and of course the Gentiles. Their hearts, their prayers, their praises, rose up to God and His Anointed, Whose bondmen they were bought with a price, and therefore to glorify God in their body. They were taken out of Israel and brought into the body of Christ by the uniting power of the Holy Spirit before they could explain its nature and character. But His descent they knew well, and that they had received Him. It was for Paul in due time to interpret the result and even to reveal it as bound up with Christ, given to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. The presence of the Spirit sent from heaven was their bond that made them one body, not their faith nor yet life which they had antecedently as individuals. They were no longer children of God scattered abroad, but gathered together in one; no longer invisible as units in the midst of the outwardly chosen people, but a corporate body on earth one with their Head in heaven, and as distinct from Jew as from Gentile (1 Cor. x. 32).
In 1 Cor. xii. the apostle, before writing to the Roman saints, had discussed the constitutive principle on the side of the Holy Spirit's presence and action in the church, in the course of which the truth is stated as much above the Reformed systems or those who dissented from them, as above the ancient and so called catholic claims of Greece, Rome, or any others. His was the power that wrought in all the gifts varied as they were, some of which the Corinthians were singling out for ostentation, all of them given to exalt the Lord Jesus. That love, a way still more excellent, must animate and direct each in order to a right exercise of any gift is clearly shown in chap. xiii; and that power is to be subject to the Lord's authority in the regulation of all is the aim of chap. xiv.
In these distinct manifestations then the same Spirit distributes, the same Lord is served, the same God effectuates, by each for common profit. For as the one body has many members, and the many members are one body: so also, he boldly says, is " the Christ," the body and Head. How truly then is it " one body in Christ! " Of this unity the Holy Spirit now given and present is the power. "For also [besides working in each] in virtue of one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and we were all given to drink of one Spirit" (13). It is not new birth, still less water baptism, but the effect of the Spirit given when Jesus was glorified.
But in the body are many members, not one merely. The lower are as essential as the higher (15, 16). All are proper to the body; and God set the members each one of them in the body as it pleased Him. How blessed and conclusive to faith! "But if they all were one member, where the body? But now [they are] many members, yet one body;" and the superior cannot do without the humbler members: all have need of each other (21). Pride is as out of place as discontent. Nay, those that seem weaker are " necessary," rather than the higher (22); " and the less honourable we clothe with more abundant honour, and our uncomely have more abundant comeliness " (23). "God tempered the body together, so that there might be no schism in the body" (24, 25). Hence if one member suffer, all suffer together; if one is honoured, all rejoice (26). Such is the true organisation of the church through the Spirit, without Whom it could not be.
Very important too are vers. 27, 28. The first proves that the local assembly (here primarily at Corinth) is Christ's body, and severally members. It represents in the locality that body, assuredly not as independent of, but as one with, all on earth. Compare chap. i. 2. All the saints here below were God's assembly, and each a member not of an but of the assembly, Christ's body. So the second demonstrates that if God set some in the assembly, it means not of course locally, but in it as a whole on earth. Certainly the apostles, &c. were not set in the Corinthian church or any other locality in particular. God sets the gifts in the assembly as a whole. They are, like the humblest Christians, members of the body; and the Holy Spirit acts therein by each as He pleases here below, for obviously it is no question of heaven. Thus, as the given Spirit abides with us for ever (John xiv.), it is unbelief to doubt that Christ's body exists here still, or that He can fail on His part. Let the members of Christ see that they be subject to the written word which alone secures the truth.
1 Cor. xiv. furnishes, what was so necessary, the Lord's regulation of the assembly. For the exercise of gift therein (whatever the liberty where is the Spirit of the Lord) is not left to the licence, any more than the authority, of man. It is for His glory Who is the Second Man. The apostle therefore explains not only the relative value of the gifts, which men were apt to mistake, but the order that befits God's presence and promotes the edification of saints. What he wrote they were to recognise as the Lord's commandment. Now is all this, so due to His name, so full of enjoyment and growth and communion, is it obsolete? Is it not only lost for our joint walk, edification, and worship (15-17), but so fatally that we are not to seek thus to assemble, or to count on God's blessing in the only order He prescribes for the proper assembly of His own here below? Of course evangelising, or trading with individual gift, is not here in question.
In Eph. ii. the truth appears no less clearly, though viewed, on the side, not of the Spirit's presence and action to glorify the Lord, but of Christ's love to the church. Hence are omitted all references to such sign gifts as tongues, interpretations, miracles, healings. But nowhere is the unity of the church revealed more plainly, nowhere with greater elevation, or out of love so deep. Yet here as ever (and it is due to Christ and to God, to say nothing of the soul), the individual blessedness of saints is carefully treated before the church is so much as named, in the strongest contrast with the catholic system which makes all blessing hinge on the church to its own glory but really its shame. Now in Christ Jesus believing Gentiles, once far off, are become nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace who made both (i.e. Jews and Gentiles) one, and broke down the middle wall of partition . . . that He might create the two in Himself into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile both in one body to God by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. So at the close of chapter ii. we are said to be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, as the Ephesian saints also were being builded together for God's habitation in the Spirit. Thus God's house, like Christ's body, is shown to be the church, founded on redemption, and made good by the Spirit sent from heaven to that end.
Eph. iv. presents the Spirit's unity with great fulness before treating of the gifts : "one body and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in you [or, us] all" (4-6). Diversity follows in the gifts, which are not simply powers here as in 1 Cor. xii., but persons endowed for special ends in Christ's love to His own. His ascension is the declared starting-point after His wondrous humiliation and its fruit. "But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, unto ministerial work, unto edifying of the body of Christ, until we all attain," &c. This is unmistakeable if we are simple, deriving both the one body and the several gifts from Christ on high after His victory over Satan to our deliverance, and that work of redemption which has perfectly glorified God even as to sin and our sins, so that His love can flow to the uttermost. Thus and therefore is Christ set as Head over all things to the church His body. What a glorious place this gives to not only the church but those gifts, the exercise of which constitutes ministry of the word!
Beyond controversy the foundation gifts are the apostles and prophets. The basis of N.T. truth they so well laid that there was no room for their continuance, still less for the delusion of their revival. The όthers, evangelists as well as pastors and teachers, are given " till we all attain," &c. Do we wish better security than the written word? Does unbelief tempt us to think that the one body admits of change without sin, or that the gifts of Christ fail, so that we need human imitations to supply their place? Do we believe that Christ's body abides on earth from the first, as that only to which we belong wherever we dwell, according to which we are called to walk and in nothing else? Do we believe that He has given evangelists to win the unconverted, or pastors and teachers to tend and feed His sheep as truly now as on the day of Pentecost?
The Epistle to the Colossians teaches no other doctrine, though its design is to assert the glory of Christ the Head rather than to develop the nature and privileges of the body. Indeed the special aspect of the mystery made known to the Gentile saints is Christ in them the hope of glory i.e. on high; the converse of what the O.T. prophets teach, Christ the glory of His people Israel with all the nations blessed but subordinate. A marked warning is against not holding the Head from Whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God (chap. ii. 19). Heathen philosophy and judaising ordinances were the dangers; and so they are to this day. Christ, not merely as Lord, nor yet as Saviour of sinners, but as Head of the body, is the object of faith, Christ ever working for the best good of all the body, not only through such a gift as Paul, but through the less considerable and marked, " the joints and bands " (cf. Eph. iv. 16). Thus was " all the body" to increase with the increase of God.
What a contrast with the increase of man when the spread of profession became multitudinous! " In the distress of the battle of Tolbiac Clovis [still a Pagan] loudly invoked the God of Clotilda and the Christians; and victory disposed him to hear with respectful gratitude the eloquent Remigius, bishop of Rheims, who forcibly displayed the temporal and spiritual advantages of his conversion. The king declared himself satisfied of the truth of the catholic faith; and the political reasons which might have suspended his public profession were removed by the devout or loyal acclamations of the Franks, who showed themselves alike prepared to follow their heroic leader to the field of battle or to the baptismal font . . . The new Constantine was immediately baptised with three thousand of his warlike subjects; and their example was imitated by the remainder of the gentle barbarians, who in obedience to the victorious prelate adored the cross which they had burnt, and burnt the idols which they had formerly adored" (Gibbon's D. & F. chap. xxxviii. A.D. 496).
The departure of the ancient systems into sanctioned error and evil is no doubt true. The Reformed Protestant systems began without any intelligence of the church of God; the Dissenters split off with less sense of it if possible. If we feel for the Lord's injured honour, and if we love the church, are we not bound to purge ourselves from the vessels to dishonour, as in a great house? What can we do but humble ourselves before God fur that ruin in Christendom which we have all shared, and fall back on all that is open to us to obey in this evil day? We are sanctified by the Spirit to obedience: the divine word is the rule, and He is the yet abiding power. We are here and always to follow the Lord, not men. Are we to slight the organisation of Christ's body and His gifts for either the old devices or the new inventions around us? I trove not.
The Bible Treasury, New Series 1vol 1 page 358