THE GATHERING OF THE CHURCH
Such is the teaching of Scripture throughout, both of the Old and New Testaments. Only in this light can we understand the words of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. With a sudden insight into the mystery of the kingdom of God that before had been dark and incomprehensible to him and to his fellow apostles, he proclaimed to all the house of Israel that the promise had been fulfilled, that God had raised up Jesus and exalted Him at His own right hand, and had given Him the promise of the Holy Spirit. And he concludes by addressing the house of Israel in the following words: “For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:39. It is clear that the promise that is here mentioned is the same as that which was proclaimed throughout the old dispensation. That promise, according to the apostle Peter, is now fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The same truth is expressed in the words of the apostle Paul, spoken in the synagogue of Antioch: “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; As it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.” Acts 13:32-34. Here too it is very evident that the Scriptures speak of one and the same promise, which was made to the fathers of the old dispensation, is fulfilled in Christ, and now is proclaimed to all the elect, to the church of the new dispensation. For this promise is fulfilled centrally in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We may note here too that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is presented here as the fulfillment of the promise concerning the “sure mercies of David.” Of these “sure mercies” Isaiah had spoken in the 55th chapter of his prophecy: “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” Isaiah 55:3. If you should inquire what is meant by these sure mercies of David and by this everlasting covenant, you will find the answer in II Sam. 7:12-16, as well as in Psalm 89. God would establish the seed of David and his kingdom forever: “He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son . . . . And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.” These are the “sure mercies of David.” Of these sure mercies the angel Gabriel spoke td Mary in these words: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” Luke 2:32, 33. And it is of these same “sure mercies” that the apostle Paul speaks in the words already quoted, as being fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
What, then, is the conclusion from all this? First, that the “sure mercies of David” are fulfilled to us, the church of the new dispensation, the children of the fathers of the old dispensation, Secondly, that they are fulfilled in the resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. And thirdly, seeing that the “sure mercies of David” consisted of this, that the throne of David should be established for ever, the exaltation of Christ means that He now sits on that throne, and that the church is the house of Jacob over which He reigns. One people of God, one house of Jacob, one throne of David, and on that throne one King, the risen Lord—such is the plain teaching of Holy Writ. The throne of David is not destroyed; nor is its glory temporarily obscured. It is fulfilled and raised to its highest level in the exaltation of Jesus Christ our Lord.
A study of Scripture, that is, a study of the Old Testament in the light of the New, always yields the same result. If you will only interpret Scripture in its own light, you will ever reach the same conclusion, namely: that there is only one people of God, and for that one people are all the promises of God. Throughout the history of this world there is only one, holy, catholic church; and there is only one people of God. To that one people of God, to the one, holy, catholic church, is promised the everlasting glory of the covenant of God. For this we may refer to several passages of Scripture. Take, for instance, Jeremiah 31:31-34: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” It is evident that this promise is emphatically made in the old dispensation, and that too, to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. Yet, according to the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, this promise of a better covenant is now fulfilled in the church of the new dispensation. For Christ “hath obtained a better ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” And to describe that better covenant that is now realized and of which Christ is the Mediator, the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews quotes the passage from Jeremiah 31. The promise to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah is fulfilled in the church of the new dispensation. There is one people and one promise, the promise of the everlasting covenant of God with His church. Besides, in the last verse of this same chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews the author writes: “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” Heb. 8:13.
And we must not forget, as has already been said, in the thirteenth verse of the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, that literally all the Mosaic institutions of the old dispensation are mentioned in the New Testament as having been fulfilled. This is well known, and it can never be contradicted. In fact, almost the entire epistle to the Hebrews is a testimony to the truth that old things have passed away, never to return, and that all things have become new, never to vanish away. You understand, of course, that when the epistle to the Hebrews proclaims that old things have vanished away, this does not mean that they have been destroyed. But while their old and shadowy form is no more, as a promise of better things to come, they have now been realized. The Old Testament high priest has had his day; nor will there ever be room for him again. But his office did not vanish and did not cease to exist: it has been realized and raised to everlasting perfection in the High Priest, Jesus Christ. He came as the Son over His own house, as the same author to the Hebrews has it inHebrews 3:5, 6: “And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Similarly, in the same epistle to the Hebrews, 4:14, 15, we read: “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that’ is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Because we have that great High Priest, Jesus Christ, we may come boldly unto the throne of grace and find mercy and grace to help in time of need. And according to the same epistle to the Hebrews, Christ is called of God to be high priest after the order of Melchisedec. The high priest of the Old Testament was changeable and ultimately vanished away. But this is not the case with our Lord Jesus Christ. His priesthood is unchangeable and eveis lasting. Christ was priest, according to chapter 7 of the epistle to the Hebrews, in distinction from the priests of the Old Testament, with an oath: “For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” The Old Testament priests did not remain and could not remain because they died, and others took their place. But ‘this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.” Besides, in the old dispensation only the high priest ever entered into the most holy place: “The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” Hebrews 9:8-12. The sacrifices of bulls and goats have been abolished forever; nor will there ever be found a place for them again. Nevertheless, the idea and the essence of the sacrifice has been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, as we have already quoted above. The form of the Old Testament temple, or tabernacle, was abolished; nor can it ever be rebuilt. For, Hebrews 8:5, 6: “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” It is for this reason that we now have boldness “to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Heb. 10:19-22.
All the shadows of the Old Testament and of the old dispensation have been fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord, such as the temple and the altar, the high priest and the sacrifice, the holy place and the veil. The church is the true house of the Son of God. She is the temple of the living God; and the promise is fulfilled in her, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Hebrews 3:6. As also the apostle Paul teaches in II Corinthians 6:14-18: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” The old, earthly Jerusalem is no more. It vanished away and was destroyed. However, the essence of Jerusalem is not destroyed and will not be destroyed forever. For thus the apostle writes in Galatians 4:26: “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” To be sure, the old Mt. Zion still exists in the land of Canaan; but it has lost all its significance. And why? Only because its reality has now gloriously been realized for all the people of God. For, according toHebrews 12:22, 23: “But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” On that Mt. Zion and in that heavenly Jerusalem is Christ, the Seed of David; and He now reigns and shall reign forever. The promise made to the fathers has been fulfilled to us, their children. For another fulfillment you must not and may not look.
But how about the land of Canaan? Did not God promise to the fathers the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession? This certainly is true; but even this does not refer ultimately to the earthly land of Canaan. God will still fulfill that promise to Abraham and his seed; and they shall surely inherit the land, and inherit it forever. But, first of all, we must not forget that the seed of Abraham comprehends all believers, all the children of the promise, gathered from Jew and Gentile. About this we have already written, and we shall not repeat. Only, we must now emphasize that they surely shall inherit the land of Canaan. And again, if we interpret the land of Canaan in the light of all Scripture, we will not look for it in the old Palestine, at the Mediterranean Sea, but in the new earth. For the promise to Abraham and his seed is that they shall be heirs of the world. Did Abraham understand this promise in that sense of the word? He surely did! He believed the promise of God. And he died in the faith of that promise, even though he never possessed a foot of ground in the earthly land of Canaan, except the field of Ephron, which he bought for a hundred shekels of silver. For thus we read in Hebrews 11:9, ff: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And then, in verse 12: “Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” How could Abraham die in faith, in the faith of the promise of God? The text quoted above gives the answer. He knew that the promise of God had respect unto a better country, a heavenly country. The promise of God, therefore, is sure. It is Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus our Lord. Abraham and his seed shall surely inherit the land of Canaan. And all the seed of Abraham, gathered from Jews and Gentiles, that is, the one, holy, catholic church, looks forward to the possession of that land after the resurrection, when the final word of the promise shall be fulfilled. As we read in the book of Revelation 21:1-3: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” To be sure, God always fulfills His promises. But those promises will not be realized, even to Abraham and his seed, until all is accomplished in the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth. Hence, I repeat: there is one people. And for that one people there is only one promise. And that promise includes all the world. And that people to whom the one promise is made is the one, holy, catholic church existing both in the old and new dispensations. On the basis of all these passages of Scripture, we maintain that those who believe in the millennialist theory are certainly wrong.
THE ATTRIBUTES OR VIRTUES OF THE CHURCH
Usually the virtues, or attributes, of the church are mentioned as the following: in the first place, her oneness. This implies that the church of all ages and from all nations and tribes is essentially one. It is the unity of the body of Christ, and therefore a unity of her Head, a unity of the Spirit, and a unity of faith. We will come back to this presently.
Scripture always emphasizes that the church is one in Christ Jesus her Lord. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another.” Romans 12:5. Again: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” I Cor. 12:12, 13. And again, in Ephesians 1:22, 23: “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” And, to quote no more, in Eph. 4:4-6 we read: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all.”
So much about the unity of the church. And on this, as well as on the other attributes of the church, we must elaborate a little.
When we speak of the unity of the church, we mean that there is only one church, and that the members of this church are perfectly united together in the bond of spiritual affinity and fellowship, so that they form one spiritual body. You must understand, of course, that we are speaking of the church not as we observe her in the midst of the world, but as an object of faith, the church as she is according to the eternal purpose of God and as she includes all the elect, and no one else,—the church as once she shall be revealed in all the beauty of her perfection in the day of Christ, and as she is gathered and realized by Christ in every age, from the beginning of the world even unto the end. And that is not the case with the church as we see her. On earth we behold many churches. But in reality there is only one church. In the world we are confronted with the sorry spectacle of strife and division in what is known as the church. This, however, is not found in the true church as we now discuss her and as she is a perfect unity. The members of His church are in perfect agreement and harmony one with another. They are spiritually united in the bond of peace.
This must be maintained, no matter how divided and disrupted the church may appear in the world. From the truth that the church is one we must proceed also, in order to answer the question how we may seek and work together for the manifestation and realization of this true unity of the church in the world. We dare not contemplate the strange medley of what still calls itself church in the world. We must not proceed from the erroneous supposition that every church, whatever creed or superstition or human philosophy it may embrace, is still part of the true body of Christ, in order then to devise ways and means to eliminate the differences between them and to unite them all in one gigantic institution. This, of course, is the attempt in our ecumenical age. But although it may result in amalgamation, it certainly does not tend to the manifestation of the true unity of the church. It would not be the unity of the body of Christ. Rather, therefore, we must proceed from the truth of Scripture that the church is one. And we must ask the question: what is the source and character of this unity and fellowship? And then only can we deal with the question how we can best strive for the realization of this unity of the church on earth.
In answer to the question concerning the character of this unity, it must be emphasized that it has its source in Christ. Christ is its principle. Without Christ this spiritual unity, or communion, does not exist for a moment, no more than the light exists without the sun. For Christ, the Christ of the Scriptures, the Son of God, who came into our world, who assumed our nature, who was crucified and slain, who died on the cross for the sins of His people, but who also was raised on the third day, and who is exalted in the highest heavens at the right hand of God—this Christ received the promise of the Holy Ghost. And by that Holy Ghost Christ dwells in His body, the church, and in all its members individually. Thus Christ is the Head of the church, as the Scripture teaches, not only in the sense that He represents her—which, of course, is also true—not only as her Lord, Who rules over her—which, I say again, is also a fact—but also organically, as her unifying principle. All the members of the church, and that too, as members of one body, partake of the one Christ. The one life of the risen Lord pulsates in the whole church and all its members. Hence, the members of the church have one mind, the mind of Christ; they have one will, the will of Christ; they have one love, which unites them to one another, the love of Christ. One Spirit quickens them, the Spirit of Christ. One Word instructs and enlightens and directs them, the Word of Christ. Just as we may speak of a natural unity and affinity of the whole human race, rooted in the fact that God created the whole of mankind out of one blood, so there is also a spiritual unity and fellowship of the church that has its principle in the truth that there is one Lord and one Spirit, and that this one Lord through that one Spirit dwells in the whole church and in all its members. Christ is the principle of the unity and communion of the church.