The Church - The Body of Christ
by Joseph Orton
Delivered Lord's day Morning, November 6th, 1881
You will see this is but a very small portion of the sentence that is in this chapter; but it is more especially from these words I have read I want to offer a few thoughts. Yet we must look a little at the context to see what the connection is, and what the Apostle is here exhorting them to. He tells them, "after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints," that his prayer was - "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (which he refers to again in the verses that I have read;) "and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power." (Eph. 1:17-19) The Apostle here speaks of very great things with respect to the Church of God, very great things that God has favoured us with; that there is a power put forth by God to usward, the same "power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."
We have then, in these words I have read, stated to us that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ hath put all things under His (our Lord Jesus Christ's) feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things unto His Church; and then it describes His Church as "His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." It is with this last verse I would treat this morning, as far as the Lord will please to give me ability.
We have this description given of the Church of Christ in more than one place in Scripture - she is called "His body." This is taken to represent the Church of Christ here on earth, and also the Church of Christ in heaven above, when the whole election of grace are gathered in. I think myself it has reference to these two features of it; not so much to the individual members of Christ's body, but to the body as gathered into a Church. It is said of each individual member of Christ's body, that they are "temples of the Holy Ghost;" and it is also said of them that they are, as a collected body, a Church - "the temple of the Holy Ghost." But I do not think they are called so expressly a body, except where they are gathered together into a church-state here below, according to God's own order and appointment. And thus you will find that in a church collected of various members here below, there is a variety, just as there is a variety in our own bodies of different members, with their different gifts, and their different uses, but all completing and making up one perfect body, which we cannot say of the separate members, taken separately from the body. We could not say of our hand, taken separately, that it is our body. It is a member of it, and has its distinct use. The Apostle describes it: The head cannot say to the foot, "I have no need of thee," nor any one member can say to another, "I have no need of thee." But the whole together make one body, of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head. (1 Cor. 12:14-27)
"And gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body." The Church of Christ consists of various members, not alike, but diverse; not all with the same gifts, but diverse - some in one way, and some in another; very different in their uses, but each adapted to its use, and the position which it fills. So we find the Church of Christ is made up of such; and each member comes into its proper place. They are all connected by joints and bands, and from the Head each and all receive their proper nourishment. From Him alone we receive what we do receive, and by Him are made what we are; and it is for His good pleasure and to His glory that we are each placed in the position God in His wisdom has ordained, that it might make up a glorious body, perfect and complete in all it parts.
It is quite a mistake people make who profess the name of Jesus Christ, and to fear Him, to be separate from the Church of Christ. A separate member - a member cut off the body of Christ! What nourishment comes to that member from the various joints and bands that are ordained by God to unite the whole body into one? Now, where there is a separation from the Church of God - like we read of in 1 Cor. 5., where a member was excommunicated and cut off - such an one is said to be delivered unto Satan; and when a member is cut off, there is no more living virtue, no more communication from the vitals to that member; and therefore it is like that member of the Church of Corinth was, when excommunicated and delivered up to Satan - all the vital use is gone.
I merely look at this to show what a loss there is to a person professing the fear of God to be separate from the body of Christ - the Church of Christ is called His body, and separation therefrom cuts off from that vital influence. God alone knows how it is communicated; and He Himself tells us about it, and tells us what it is. He Himself it is who ordained this, and communicates the blessing; and He Himself tells us what the loss is that is sustained by a person being cut off or separated from the communion of the saints of God. There is a separation from the body, a separation of influence, a loss to that particular member, whatever that member may be, however insignificant in its own eyes, or in the eyes of others, the body is not perfect without it; and, being separated, it is like an incision or cutting off, when all vital sap ceases to flow to it. God tells us so, and He knows what loss we suffer - we may not see and feel it.
When you have a diseased member, you know it and feel it; but, when it is healthy, you do not. Many people put their religion in their feelings, instead of in a knowledge and understanding of the things of God, and that knowledge being mixed with faith. It is in the ordinances of God's house, the Church of God, this is to be found; and when we know these things we come into union with it, and derive a blessing from it, but without excitement. If you come to notice the effect of this, you will note what a check it has upon worldliness, what an effect it has in stirring up our pure minds by way of remembrance - it puts us in remembrance of the things of God; it is a check upon us in our customs and intercourse with this world; it is like a check or bar, the same as our health and natural vitality is a defence against the diseases with which we are surrounded.
I do not want to look into this further, but come to the second part, "The fullness of Him that filleth all in all."
I know there are a very great variety of opinions as to what this fullness is; and nearly all that I have heard or seen make remarks upon it, refer it to that fullness which we receive from Jesus Christ, as we find in John, "And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace." I myself differ from them. Not that we do not receive a fullness from Him; we do receive out of that fullness, and by Him are made that glory and beauty in His eyes which He admires. But it is expressly said, we are His fullness, "Which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." So that it is a fullness that Christ has in His Church, and which He Himself, speaking of it, says He is wanting without. He is complete and perfect, but there is a fullness that He seeks for, a fullness that he delights in, and this fullness His Church is to Him, "Which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." Now to look at this - how the Church of Christ is said to be the fullness of Christ, and yet He fills all in all; for it is put in that form to us, "The fullness of Him that filleth all in all." So that, whatever the Church is, He made her; whatever she has, He gave her; all from Himself, but all to Himself, to the praise of His glory. It is all to the praise of His glory that the Church of Christ is what she is, and that He fills her with the fullness that she has. I do not see myself how it could by any means signify alone that it is because the Church of Christ is filled by Him that she is blessed by Him. It is not that, but it is what she is as thus filled by Him, as thus blessed by Him; it is what she is unto Him.
Now when we come to look at it in this light, that she is her husband's, her Head's fullness, that He is not, as it were, complete without her; who is she? and what is she that is thus this fullness? that the infinite and unchanging and ever perfect Jehovah should thus need her to be a fullness unto Himself. There must be a something in the Church of God that is exceeding glorious, and exceeding comely; there must be a something that is the perfection of beauty in her, that she is thus spoken of. And when we come to look at it again, and consider the love of the Father, the love of the Son, and the love of the Spirit towards the Church of God, that love which we cannot comprehend (we feel a little of the effects of it, and find every now and then a little of the love of God shed abroad in the heart,) there must be a something that thus draws forth the heart and affections of the eternal Jehovah towards His Church, a something in her that is comely, glorious, and perfect too. This we know is His own work, His own comeliness that He puts upon her; but there is that comeliness, that perfection found in her, that, we are told, the Son of God could not be complete without. So we are referred by the Apostle to Adam the first. It was not good that he should be alone; there was a something wanting to him to complete his perfection, and that was his bride, his wife. So it is with the Lord Jesus Christ, for the Apostle says, when speaking of it, "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." (Eph. 5:32)
As this is a fullness the Lord Jesus Christ has in His Church, let us look somewhat into it. We have been looking a little at "the body," and its being joined together with various bands, joints, and ligaments, so that the most distant members receive nourishment from the vital parts of the body. So with the body of Christ - we are "members in particular." Now the Lord of Glory has a fullness of all blessedness, a fullness of all grace, and life that was everlasting, before all worlds were created, and that will endure - a fullness of everything in Himself; yet this fullness was not seen, or could it be seen, until it was displayed; and this glorious Person could not be praised till the works of His creation were made known and the works of His grace made known. How could the riches of His grace be praised and adored? There was a something wanting. Though God was perfect in Himself, that perfection could not be seen by others till He had created them. The fullness of His power and all-sufficiency were not seen till He displayed them, nor could the riches of His grace and His everlasting love be known, and He adored and loved for it (for "we love Him because He first loved us") till this was manifested and made known; and that is in the Church of God. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." It is in the Church of God these things are manifested and declared to us, and opened to us by the Spirit, that quickening, that life-giving Spirit who takes of the things of Christ and opens them to us. (John 16:14) This is what is called in the Scriptures of truth, a favour bestowed on God's elect in an especial manner. "After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory." (Eph. 1:13,14)
Notice here, think it over, look into it. The saints of old, who believed in Jesus Christ, were united to the Church of Christ - they believed and were baptized in His name, and joined to the Church of Christ. And here comes this sealing of the truth of God home upon their consciences. When they are brought to see how Christ has redeemed them from the curse of the law, how He died and was buried and rose again for them, they follow Him, and are baptized into His death, and so are brought to walk in newness of life, as risen again from the dead. That Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us. He gives His testimony and evidence of God's everlasting love by taking and opening first one precious cabinet and then another; and as we behold this rich treasure of God's everlasting love, we behold Him and praise Him for what we see of His glory. We come to see Him by this display of His glory; and what is to be compared with what He Himself is?
We see His power and Godhead from His works of creation; we see evidences of His glory in preserving us from the dangers we are surrounded with, and in keeping us, and bestowing many mercies upon us; but we are apt to rest here. They are great mercies, but we, like fools, grow fat and kick, just as Israel of old did, when fed with the riches of the land of Canaan. My friends, that Holy Spirit of promise leads us to the Person of Christ. He opens, as it were, a door, and we see the glory of the Person of Christ; and when we come to see this glorious Person we adore Him, we bless Him, we crown Him Lord of all. We have crowned His mercies many times, but it is Himself. It is not the jewels He adorns us with, not the rich robes He bestows upon us, not in them we delight, but in His Person who is full of grace and full of truth. So we come to adore His holy name and triumph in His praise.
How often it is the rich man has gloried in his riches, and yet he will confess that God has given them to him, and the mighty man has gloried in his strength, yet confessed that God has given it him; how often we have done so, instead of coming to glory in the Lord Jesus Christ, to see that He was our praise, our honour, and our glory. The Lord calls us to this. And how manifestly plain and clear do our Lord's ordinances set forth that truth, that we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. 3:3) "We are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4) We have no life here but in the Person of Christ; no inheritance here but in our Husband; and He will have us confess it to the praise of His glory. God has not dumb members of His body. "Whosoever...shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38) Are they to the praise of the glory of His name? Do they set forth this fullness and glory of Jesus Christ? Are they crowns and ornaments? Are they holders forth of the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ, that it may be seen who thus do so? My friends, it does not seem as though they were. But God chooses us to the praise of His glory, to hold it forth, and show it. And here comes what He had not, but in His Church He has it there, and so we find they are "The fullness of Him that filleth all in all." All things with all things. Wherever a fullness is, He is the Filler of it from that fullness that is in Himself. "And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."
We were looking a little this morning at the last of these two verses, about the Body, and its being the fullness of Jesus Christ - "the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." Now, if the Lord permit, we will look a little at the verse before it - "And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church." Here, as we were noticing, it is connected with the preceding verses, which speak of the Apostle's desire that the saints might come to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him," and then he points out, "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead." (Eph. 1:17-20) That great power was put forth in quickening us, and working the work of faith in us; - it is not a natural power, nor a natural power put forth in an extraordinary way, but the same power which He put forth when He raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. And this He bids us consider in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ - how he exalted Him "and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church." The great blessings God blesses us with are those blessings wherein He gives us to see the great work in giving His Son, His death, and resurrection from the dead, and His exaltation at the right hand of the Father. The great works He works in us are to that end, that we may know the true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. They are the great things. Whatever else we may know, it all fades away, and is, in comparison with it, as darkness, without any glory whatever, and without power. "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:3) And this is that knowledge that raises us up above all principality, and power, and might, and every name that is named in this world, so that "we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." What is it overcomes the world? "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4) What is faith? It is that which is begotten by the Word of God, that tells us of His thoughts and purposes towards us. It is not a thought that is begotten in the mind by any natural circumstance. We do believe by history and natural reports. We do believe that God has created the world, and it must be God that still upholds it. But that is only a natural faith. The saving faith the Scriptures speak of goes further. A natural faith a man may have, and perish, as the devils do. So James says, "Thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." But there is something more in true faith. It is begotten by the Word that tells us God's secret thoughts and purposes towards us, that declares the works He has done, and why He has done them; that declares God Himself to us. And so by it we triumph over the world, and whatever comes against us from the world, that gives us the victory over it. So the Apostle wishes that the saints of God at Ephesus may know these things, and search and inquire into them. And it is left on record for us too, - that we may know these things that are here set forth, that our eyes may be enlightened, and we may be enabled to comprehend them, may know the love of God "which passeth knowledge," and see what He has done.
He tells us here, in the verses I have read, speaking of the Person of Jesus Christ (for to Him we are directed to look,) He "hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to His Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." Then he bids us look into, search into, and behold the triumph of the Lord of glory over all our foes; that He Himself is now Head over all things to His body the Church, that the Lord of glory has obtained a complete victory, He has triumphed over Satan, sin, death, and hell, He has led captivity captive, He has received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them. What can these gifts be but those that make the Person of Christ and His triumph known to us? And by what are they made known but by the revelation of the Spirit of Truth? So He received the gift of the Holy Ghost to pour out upon us, and "shed forth this, which," says Peter, "ye now see and hear," to make known to us the glorious triumph of the Lord of glory.
It is said with respect to this position in which the Lord of glory is placed by His Father, "But now we see not yet all things put under Him. But we see Jesus, who was make a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (Heb. 2:8,9) This very triumph of our Lord, though an actual triumph, we only see by faith. We have here a little evidence, and there a little evidence given to us of His complete triumph; but we find in the world sin, suffering, sickness, and sorrow; we find the enmity of the world, we find the world seeming to have their own way, and prospering in it; and yet we are told the Lord of glory has triumphed over all, taken captivity captive, and received gifts for men, yea for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them. We find it thus, but we only see it by faith. We have here and there little evidences given to us of this triumph, but we shall see it in future time; like we see now the evidence of His reign in the destruction of Rome and Babylon, and the breaking down of all persecuting powers. We cannot see the destruction of our oppressors in the same way, the destruction of the sin of our nature, and all the diseases of our bodies, and all the afflictions we have to bear with in this time-state: we do not see that now, it will be seen afterwards. Now we see by faith all things put under the feet of Jesus Christ, and He ruling and reigning over all. We do not see the mysterious movements of God in His providence, to know how He is working. We find wicked men seem to have a great share in working the great wheels of providence. They were wicked men of old that led the Jews into captivity, and that scourged the Jews when Jerusalem was taken by the Romans. God thus over-rules and will over-rule for good, and not a soul can lift hand or foot without His command. When we look back through the past years of our lives, we can see evidence of how God over-ruled and ordered things: we could not see it then, but we see something of it now, and thus we see God reigns.
What was to support the saints of old who went to Babylon? And what is to support us now in our day, if we are to live by sight or by natural sense? What is to enable us to endure? We see the world have a sufficiency, and more than enough, of the things of this world - they have more than heart can wish, they are at ease, and when they die "they have no bands in their death." The world have everything they require, and more; but we do not see God's saints in this time-state have such an abundance of the things of this world. How they are provided for, God only knows; but He provides all that is needful for them in this time-state, and uses all these things for the good of His saints, and the glory of His holy name.
Now if we cannot see how He works, and yet can see how He provides for the world at large, what have we to support us under our trials and the temptations that perplex us? Are we to look to the world for support, and by the ways the world takes go and seek for it? What is to preserve us from that? You know if we go after the world, and seek the world, the love of the Father is not in us. We cannot serve two masters; we must make a distinction, and choose and cleave to the one and forsake the other. If we go not after the world, what is there to look to but all manner of suffering, sorrow, trial, and distress, if we have no other ground of hope? And what other ground of hope is there but the promise of life in Jesus Christ, and to see Him who has tasted death, now crowned with glory, with all things under His dominion, to see Him Head over all things to His body the Church, and to see Him ordering all according to His sovereign will?
What enabled the saints of old to endure the trials and afflictions they suffered, and to come victorious out of them? They "endured as seeing Him who is invisible." So it was those three men whom Nebuchadnezzar cast into the fiery furnace endured: "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." They "endured as seeing Him who is invisible," Lord of all.
When we come to see the Lord of glory, not a Person of another nature, distinct from us, who did not know what wants and temptations are, but One who is one with us - a perfect man, "touched with the feeling of our infirmities;...in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15) - One who could feel the wrath of God against sin, and knew what sin was to His cost, He had to bear and suffer for it; to see One, a Brother, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, yet the Almighty God; to see Him set over all things as Head, everything being put in subjection under Him - He having His work to do by every creature and everything, and using all according to His wisdom that cannot err, for it is infinite, using all to bring about His purpose; and the rest (whatever they would do) He restrains and keeps them in bonds. Do we not see evidences of this restraint amongst the wicked of this world?
It was something remarkable that at the time of the French Revolution, which was like a revolution of Atheists, there was a despised remnant of Protestants there, the remnant of those refugees who fled to our country; and those infidels gave to these saints of God liberty to worship; and from that time the powers of France have not been able to deprive them of it. What could support those saints at that time when they were driven into dens and caves to worship? And could they see at the time how God was giving them liberty, while the country was swimming with the blood of the slain, and infidels were blaspheming? The only thing that can support us is to see "Him who is invisible," and to know who and what He is.
It is not the deliverance out of the trial that is the real blessing after all. It is a blessing; but we are saved by grace through faith, and this is the victory that overcomes all things. So when we get to eternal glory we shall go as victors, as conquerors, as overcomers, and shall have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; as those who have fought the fight, and obtained the victory. And, if we know not the Person through whom we obtain the victory, how can we endure? How can we look to Him, and trust in Him, if we have no knowledge as to who and what He is?
There is a kind of faith people speak of in our day about trusting in God, and going in the path of duty. It is nothing of the kind; it is a determination to have their own will and way, but not a particle of trust in it. If we run into temptation and a snare, where is the promise of God to keep us in it? If God brings us in, in His all-wise providence, then there is a promise that He will preserve us; but not for our presumptuously running into it.
He is Head over all things, Lord of all. And the Apostle says it takes the same kind of power, and as great a power, as raised the dead body of our Lord from the dead, to raise us dead creatures, to quicken us, and give us a right apprehension of these heavenly things. If God has given us such a sight, such an apprehension of these things, what must we say concerning it? Is it not an evidence of God's everlasting love, in revealing the glorious mysteries of His grace to us that He does not to the world?
If wicked men get rich, it is that God has a purpose to fulfil by it. If wicked men are permitted to get to the height of power, which they do by God's providence (we are not to place them there,) there is a something to be done, and God will use them, and bring about His purpose by them.
If we are hated and despised, in trouble and distress, the Lord of glory is above all things, and uses all things for His Church's sake. Whatever instruments there are, all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, He will use according to His sovereign will. He is "Head over all things to His body the Church," and they are put under His feet; and He has this authority given Him, to use them according to His sovereign will.
If God gives us to look to this Man, and see Him crowned with glory, as the Apostle says, "Thou hast put all things in subjection under His feet...But now we see not all things put under Him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour." If God shows these things to us, and gives us to look to Him, there is that Almighty power in it that draws us to look to Him and consider Him. The world may hear of these things, and turn their heads away; they cannot trust Jesus Christ to guide them through life, and provide what is necessary in this time-state; but they must use the world's craft, and the world's crooked ways, and have friendship and fellowship with the world to obtain the things of the world. They see not the glories of the Person of Jesus Christ. That sight changes us into His image; and it is for this end that He is "Head over all things to the Church...His body," that she might be made glorious, all fair, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. And such is God's delight, such is His joy in His treasure, that He calls her His fullness, the fullness of His glory, where it is exhibited and seen. And so it will be at the last day - He will come "to be admired in all them that believe." It seems that such was His delight in His joy, His treasure, that He hid Himself that she might be seen (I speak in a kind of figure,) that He might be seen in her, and there the glory be seen by all surrounding creatures. And there are creatures that will behold the glory of the Church triumphant, who will have no other share or part in it than this belonging; they will not be one with her, but will behold this glory, and admire it, and adore it.
In this time-state wicked men see not the glory, and they will be cast out into everlasting darkness, and never behold the bright shining of this glory. But angels do; and we are told that it is in the Church of the living God they are present to behold the glory of Jesus Christ shining forth in His Church: "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." So the Scriptures say, "Which things the angels desire to look into." It cannot mean Satan and his angels, but those heavenly spirits, those bright spirits "sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." These are the parties who will behold the glory of God shining forth in His saints.
But the saints of God will see Him, and be like Him - they will be with Him, and behold His glory. Here is the fullness of the brightness of His glory, which angels know not, and cannot see and know, but as it is manifested in the Church of the living God. And here we find again how they joy and delight in the Church of the living God. They are not mediators or saviours, and they do not know what the Church of God knows, only second-hand; they come a little lower at last. Jesus Christ was made a little lower than the angels; but now He is exalted above all. "Head over all things to His body the Church;" and we shall be exalted with Him. If we suffer, we shall be glorified together with Him. He is "Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."