THE CHURCH GLORIOUS
"That He might sanctify it, cleansing it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."
Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 26 and 27
. This epistle is generally regarded as being in two equal parts. The first three chapters set forth the doctrine and the last three the practice. It is a common method with Paul, because there can be no vital outworking of the Christian life that is not the fruit of the revelation of the Word. After the doctrine, scripturally understood by the light and guidance of the Spirit, proceeds the conduct worthy of the calling wherewith the Christian is called. Hence Paul brings us to the common ways of life. Common, not because they are unimportant, but only because they are usual. In the second half of this chapter he sets forth the relationship of husband and wife in the light of revelation; for only in that light can it be rightly understood. As Paul expounds the truth here it is quite different from the bewitching folly of the film and play. There lovers seem to have no interest beyond themselves, but here he not only iterates the sanctity of marriage, but its deeper significance and meaning in the eternal scheme of things. The glamorous moment when the bride greets the bridegroom for the solemn and joyful occasion of marriage is earth's nearest approach to the presentation in heaven of the Church glorious to its Redeemer and Lord.
Something of the resplendent glory of that august presentation is to be reflected in every marriage ceremony of true believers. Good it is to remember that our Lord was present at the marriage in Cana, but better to bring to the heart the thrill of the heavenly circumstance when the Bridegroom shall present to Himself the Bride adorned for the eternal nuptials. On the occasion of our 137th Anniversary we may well think upon these things. The true perspective of the individual believer is focussed in this eternal engagement. The ecstatic delight in which every believer will share gives vitality to every earthly joy. The vital relationship of the Heavenly Bridegroom to the bride all glorious inspires all earthly relationships with its thrill and makes the pilgrimage here what God intends it to be. It is in such conceptions that believers are to see the fragile associations of our common humanity welded into the unbreakable bonds of eternity. Marriage is a not uncommon figure of bliss in the Scriptures and the marriage supper of the Lamb a nuptial anticipation more thrilling and inspiring than any earthly bride has ever been capable of feeling. What, therefore, Paul has here sublimely joined together let us not put asunder. The Church and the Bride can teach us much and first let us notice
1) THE PREPARATION
Here the Church is seen in its members individually. This is the age of grace wherein the Holy Spirit is seeking out the bride. As Eliezar at Abraham's command went back to choose a bride for Isaac, and to bring her to his tent, so the Holy Spirit is seeking out individuals who collectively with all other the elect of grace constitute the Bride of the Church Glorious. He it is Who by the operation of the word preached breaks down the barriers of obstinacy and self-righteousness in the sinner, causes him to know his state not in his own opinion or in the equal darkness of his fellows, but as he is before God. As He does so He opens his eyes to see the glory of the Christ who died for him, and so in repentance and faith he receives the blessed benefits of redemption by the blood of Christ. He cannot come to this experience apart from some revelation of the Word of God declared in his ear and received sincerely in his heart. If he call himself a Christian so constituted by other means his end is outer darkness for there is no Light save in Him who is THE Light of the World. Having thus received the Lord in the revelation of the Spirit through the Word he has learned the secret of all spiritual progress and in obedience to the Word he comes to the water.
I would not say that baptism is essential to salvation, but it is very far from being that optional matter so many untaught Christians suppose. It is also very far from being a sacrament imposed from without upon an unconscious mind. Paul's teaching is quite clear. Just as the bride proceeds to her bath in preparation for the marriage, so the believer proceeds to baptism. It is not an empty rite, but the submission of the entire being to the will and obedience of the Lord. Here the heart is cleansed from all the mixed motives that dominate the human mind and will, for this is a cleansing of water by the Word. In effect, the candidate, stepping down into the water, is yielded to the will of the Lord. Henceforth in order that by the infinite grace of God he or she may be sanctified in all the common experiences of life and thus be prepared for the transcendent privilege of being numbered with the Church Glorious. In such obedience the Lord embraces us in His own tender love. The Holy Spirit makes it a precious reality in the heart, so that there is an ecstasy of love towards God responding to the felt love of God in the heart, and it goes forth in all its sweetness as an aroma to men and women everywhere. If these heart-throbs are ours we can enjoy the anticipation of
2) THE PRESENTATION
The believer does not face death. He understands that it is likely he will die although he knows that there will be one generation of the Church that so far from going into the grave will be raptured to the presence of the Lord. Although, we are prone to presume that things will be as they are, yet every child of God is to hope and to pray for translation rather than burial or cremation. In any event, however, he is to live as one who sees clearly beyond what we call the grave, and he is to be confident that after the event of what we call death there lies an experience of union with the Lord, the Bridegroom, bringing with it an ecstasy of delight and joy he has never yet experienced. The Lord will present to Himself the company of the redeemed in His blood. Paul does not here mention that it will matter whether you belong to the Roman, Anglican or Eastern Churches, to any one or to none of them. The Christian is defined by Paul in chapter 1, verse 13, as one who has heard the word of truth, the gospel of his salvation, who has believed in Jesus and has been sealed by Jesus from heaven with the Holy Spirit. If that is our position our destiny by the grace of God is the presentation in heaven as members of the Church Glorious.
That Church as the Bride will be severally and unitedly without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Now a spot is a blemish. It is some characteristic that mars what would be otherwise so acceptable and attractive. If, however, our baptism was the dedication of the heart and the will to the revelation of God in the Word, then in the earthly pilgrimage there will have been a sanctifying, a making whole so that we should be ready for this presentation. Not that we can expect to be perfect in our mortal flesh, but in the measure in which it is our sincere and genuine desire and ordering of life, so the Lord will see to the spots that mar the beauty of redemption in the child of God. There shall not even be a wrinkle. Wrinkles are a sign of age, and if with age there is wisdom they are honourable, but here the absence of the wrinkle is the sign that our bodies no longer bear the mark of withering age, but are vitalised with immortality. The believer who has been sealed with the Holy Spirit, and in consequence has willed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, will be numbered with the saints in immortality and incorruption without wrinkle or any such thing. It is the will of God that we shall be holy and without blemish when we meet the heavenly Bridegroom. That anticipation is to be the thought of every day, the desire of our hearts, the insatiable longing as the Spirit does His work in us in the common things of life every day. And now I venture the third thought this morning that is implicit in Paul's teaching here, and that is
3) THE PROCREATION
This is the truth that Paul has in mind, I think, in linking together the earthly union of man and wife and the Church Glorious with its Heavenly Bridegroom. Paul stresses here the human relationship of man and wife and does not hesitate to declare that the two persons are one flesh. He says this is a great mystery and then adds: "but I speak concerning Christ and His Church." If we follow the Genesis account of the creation, Adam was made first, and he was alone enjoying no other fellowship but that with God. I think it is a pertinent enquiry as to whether God intended that as a permanent arrangement. According to the record God saw that Adam was not satisfied and at some loss to himself and so Eve was formed out of his side. I think the record implies that originally all the procreative powers were found in one individual, but because Adam was not entirely satisfied with fellowship with God alone those procreative powers were separated in the man and the woman.
When, therefore, a marriage takes place as Paul teaches the two become one flesh. Everything was there for happiness, in the measure and degree in which their hearts were one in love, sympathy, understanding and goodwill. In effect they resume in the persons of each other the unity of the original creation. Having thus spoken of the Head of the Church the Body, Paul declares that the husband is the head of the wife. People suppose that this is set aside by the modern outlook, but unfortunately for the modern outlook it knows nothing of Divine revelation. Adam was created of God, Eve, we understand, was made out of Adam. The principle of life is in the original stock, which is Adam. Now Paul applies that to the fact of the Exalted Lord and the Church Glorious. The principle of life eternal is in Jesus our Lord. The Church is formed out of Him. It must never dare to assert itself to the world in such phrases as "The Church teaches" or "The Church allows," because it is not the body but the Head who is the Alpha and Omega of authority. Failure to recognise this truth is sidetracking thousands of professing Christians who suppose that the Church is the clergy and the voice of God is vested in them!
But now this Church faces a glorious future. As Adam originally was on earth in principle one, so the Church Glorious united to its Sovereign Lord as Head will be the instrument of procreation throughout eternity. The fullness of the universe of the new heavens and the new earth will emerge out of the creative function of our Lord in the body of which He is the Head. We are not, therefore, ever to think of our beloved dead in Christ as facing a cul de sac of pleasantness with no purpose and no achievement. But rather to know that just as the human reaches its zenith in procreation and the ends of man are in reproduction, so in this larger sphere we turn from mother earth that produced our flesh to anticipate with joy the coming of the Bridegroom with whom we are now united in One Spirit and shall then be united in one body. And we be sure the thrill and purpose of this heavenly wedlock will transcend our mortal powers to feel and understand. Great and glorious then is the prospect before us. Glories upon glories hath our God prepared. Let us yield ourselves now to His blessed will, let us see that our walk is in the light, let us be filled with the Spirit and anticipate with confidence the joyful day when the Head is united with the body in the glorious achievement of God in His Son.
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