The Testimony of Jesus (continued)
Now, it is quite clear, from the verses we have just read, that the Apostle was speaking of the Church in more than one conception. He was not saying to Timothy, who was in the church in Ephesus, and had a great responsibility given him by the Apostle in relation to that church, 'Now Ephesus is the church of the living God.' He was not saying that any local church is "the" Church. But, to turn it around the other way, he was saying that "the" Church as a whole should find its representation in every local church, that what is true of the whole Church, in the mind of God, ought to be true wherever it is found in a local expression. Any local church should be a representation of "the" Church as a whole. And then the Apostle brings it down to the individuals, the persons, and, in effect, clearly says, 'Now, any one of you individuals can show what the Church is meant to be, as a whole, or else you can let it down. You are not just individual Christians - yours is a Church responsibility!'
What Is The Church?
This is a mater of very great importance in the connection with which we are occupied - God's first supreme thought concerning the Church. What is the Church? This is the first question. I think Paul very definitely gives us the answer in a particular term that he uses. "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake ..." (2 Timothy 2:10). If you look at the context, you will see that the Apostle takes that back to what he here calls "before times eternal". So the Church is something which is 'elect before times eternal', something quite clearly defined as an elect people, an elect body, which has its roots in eternity past, and therefore is not historical. It is eternal, and therefore it must be spiritual. We may just note one other relevant verse in this connection: "Who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal ..." (2 Timothy 1:9). "Purpose ... grace ... given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal". So the very first thing is that the Church, according to God's mind, is altogether different from, and above, anything that is historical - anything, that is, that has its beginnings and course and development in time. This is something which has its beginnings in eternity past, and its course is ordered according to the purpose conceived in eternity past. This is something NOT constituted by man, not brought into being by any human effort whatsoever: this is something which is constituted by the Holy Spirit, the eternal Spirit. And, as we were seeing earlier, that which is constituted by the Holy Spirit is essentially a spiritual thing. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
Now that, as we saw, relates to the new birth of the individual: the individual Christian is essentially constituted a spiritual being by the work of the Holy Spirit. And what is true of the individual is true of the aggregate of the born-anew: the Church is something born of the Holy Spirit and therefore is a spiritual thing. That does not mean that it is abstract. I have heard someone, praying in a meeting, make the petition that the message should not be 'so spiritual that it was hidden and not manifest'. Well, we know exactly what he meant and are in full agreement, and I am not putting him right when I say that it is impossible for anything to be spiritual and not manifest. Can the Holy Spirit be present, active, living, and no one know it? What is spiritual is not just abstract, indefinite; something intangible, in the air, like a vapor or a cloud. What is spiritual is terrific, it is mighty; and so, when the Church was really a spiritual body, it was - and the word can be well applied - it was terrific.
(continued with # 66)