Eph. 4:4—"There is one body." That was not always true, but it is true now. It was true when Paul wrote it 1900 years ago, and it is true tonight. "There is one body."
We are accustomed to thinking in terms of what exists today. It is difficult, for instance, for those in the audience here tonight to think of a time when there was no such thing as the Dominion of Canada. It is hard to force your mind back to think of a time when such a great country was unknown—when it did not exist. And yet there was such a time. Now, we are living in a day when we are very familiar with the truth that there is an institution here on this earth called the Church. "There is one body." That was not always true. Some of you remember your history that you learned in high school, and you read a lot about a man called Julius Caesar, about his Gallic wars, crossing the Rubicon, and coming into Rome. Well, when those things were going on this truth of the church was not yet true. It came into existence at a certain time and under certain conditions, and since then things have been entirely different to what they were before.
You get the first announcement of this truth in Matt. 16. On a certain occasion our Lord Jesus Christ said to Peter, "Upon this rock I will build My church." Now that is the first announcement in the Word of God of the coming into being of what the Lord Jesus was pleased to call His church. "I will build My church." Not, "I have built it," nor "I am building it," but "I will build it." You find it announced also, not so specifically, but in principle, in John's Gospel, John 10:16. It does not say, "There is," but "There shall be, one flock and one shepherd." Now chapter 11:49-52: "He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." There you get anticipation again but, in what we are starting with tonight in Eph. 4, it is not anticipation, it is realization—"There is one body." Evidently then, something must have transpired in between. In Matthew and in John we read the announcement of something that is to be, and in Ephesians we read that the thing is, and that is what we want to trace tonight.
Before we go further, it might be well to identify it. Eph. 1:22, "The church, which is His body." That does not leave any doubt as to what it is. Chapter 5:25: "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it." This was announced as a lecture for Christians. If you are a Christian, and you read in your Bible about something that Christ loved enough to give Himself for, don't you think that should be an object of intense interest to you? Here is something that Christ loved so much He gave Himself for it. He could not give anything better than that. He must love it very dearly. If so, dear fellow-Christians, shouldn't that be an object of intense interest to you? Indeed it should. There should be an interest in your heart and mind to find out all you can about it—this thing that Christ so loved as to give Himself for. We ought to be interested to find out what it is, to learn all we can about it, and to profit in our souls by that knowledge. Here are the facts—first, there is one body; second, that body is the church; and third, Christ so loved it that He gave Himself that He might have it.
Now we want to go back and discover how it comes about that there is such a thing. Reverting to our illustration from history, a good part of the history you studied in school was taken up with your great Dominion of Canada. Your history tells you how it came to be. That is of interest to every loyal Canadian. So, we ought to be interested in how this thing came into existence of which it can be said, "There is one body." In Acts 1 we have the Lord Jesus taking His disciples to the Mount of Olives and giving them a parting charge before He is taken up into heaven (verses 4 and 5). Let us notice that expression, "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."
Now look at chapter 2, verses 1-5. Here is the first step in the fulfillment of the promise that our Lord made in the 16th of Matthew: "Upon this rock I will build My church." In the 1st chapter He has a lot of materials before Him, and He is getting ready to build that church. There is the material, but He is not quite ready to take that material and form it into this new thing. We have to wait a little while longer. It is like a man who has the blueprints to build his building, and he is assembling the material on the grounds, but not a nail is driven, not one cubic foot of concrete is laid. It is not time to start yet. There is the material for the church-120 of them abiding in an upper room in Jerusalem. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all gathered together with one accord in one place." God moves on schedule; God is always on time; and when the day of Pentecost arrived, when the day of Pentecost was fully come, then this marvelous thing transpires, something that never happened in the history of the world before. The Holy Ghost comes down from heaven to dwell in the hearts of believers. His coming had been announced before—we find it in John 14 and John 16. "If I go away, I will send the Comforter, and He will abide with you forever." He was distinctly promised, but He could not come as long as the Lord was here. We read in the 7th chapter (verse 39) that the Holy Ghost was not yet come because Jesus was not yet glorified, and we must have that Man in the Glory before we can have the Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of believers down here in this world.
If I were to select the two most outstanding characteristics of the present dispensation, in contrast with all others that have gone before or with any that will follow, I would say that they are the presence in the glory of the Man Christ Jesus—the glorified Man in Heaven; and the presence on earth of the Spirit of God dwelling in the hearts of believers. Now those two things were never true before. They distinctly characterize the present period in which we live.
Here we find this day of Pentecost. Pentecost means fiftieth and it is the fiftieth day. It was an old Jewish feast, but now these Jews (for they were all Jews or proselytes), are gathered in that upper room, and when that fiftieth day rolls around, the Holy Spirit is given and He comes and dwells in them. What did that accomplish? How were things different now to what they were before? Let us remember what the Lord had said in Acts 1: "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost." That was His promise before He went away. Now look at 1 Cor. 12:13. Let us remember that "By one spirit are we all baptized into one body." So we connect that with Acts 1—"Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." We go on to the second chapter and we find the 120 there waiting for it. We find Him coming and He baptizes them, and now we have the formation of the church, not in its fullness, not in its entirety, because there are other supplementary things that are going to take place before you have the thing functioning in all its fullness and completeness; but this is the event that never was repeated—the descent of the Holy Spirit, baptizing these believers into one body.
Now I shall give an illustration that is very familiar to most of us here. I got it from Brother Fleck a good many years ago, and I have never heard a better one. He said, Suppose there are 120 beads together in a saucer. They are all separate and individual. But the lady takes a silk thread, and strings all those beads on to one silk thread, tying it together at the end. Now you no longer have 120 beads, but you have a necklace. They are still the same beads, but now they are bound together by a common silken thread. So the Holy Spirit took those 120 believers, united them together, and a new thing was formed, and that thing was the church of God. "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body."
We are trying to bridge the gap between "I will build My church" and "There is one body." We must go on further and see the developments which led up to the full and complete functioning of this thing that we discovered in the second chapter of Acts. This must be a very hasty resume of this wonderful truth but suppose we go over to the eighth chapter. There we have persecution breaking out against the church in Jerusalem, something like what you have over in Europe at the present time against the Jewish people. Up to this time the church was all composed of Jews or else proselytes (Gentiles who had become Jews). A big persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem at this time. Acts 8: 1 —"Except the apostles." You would think they would be the first ones they would scatter. If you are going to crush a thing to pieces, the logical thing would be to scatter the leaders; but remember that God is over all these things, and regardless of how man raves and rages, God sits over the water-flood and says, "Thus far and no farther." The apostles were permitted to stay in Jerusalem. Why was that? Because God had some further use for them there. Those apostles were needed at Jerusalem, and God was going to see that they stayed there until He was through with them. Many of the believers had to flee for their lives, and they went everywhere preaching the gospel.
Verse 5—Philip is a Jew, and he goes down to Samaria and preaches Christ to them. That is a very strange thing when you think of past history. You remember in the days of our Lord's life here, we read in John 4 that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. There was the bitterest antagonism between the Jews and Samaritans, and when you get that kind of race prejudice, especially when it is mixed up with religious hatred, you have a wall that grows higher every year. The barrier had been there between 700 and 800 years. Way back in the Old Testament the Assyrian had come in and carried Israel captive and the land was denuded of its inhabitants and began to grow up to briars and wild animals. The Assyrians did not want the land to go back to wilderness, so they sent colonists to look after it. They also imported a renegade priest to teach the law of Jehovah. You can imagine what a hopeless sort of a mixture you would have as a result of that kind of thing—pagan Assyrians back in the land of Israel, trying to learn the law of Jehovah. Those people finally emerged as the Samaritans. The Jew looked upon the Samaritans as the consummation of all that was contemptible and vile. He did not want to have anything to do with them. It was a poor Samaritan woman, who in the fourth of John, came out to draw water from the well. We find the Lord sitting there talking to that woman of Samaria, and when the disciples came back, they could not understand it—the Lord talking to a Samaritan. I have gone a little into this that we might see the prejudice and bitterness that existed there between those two nations.
Here the grace of God works in Philip and he goes down and preaches Christ to the Samaritans. That is what the Samaritans needed and that is what all the poor world needs. It doesn't make any difference to God what their nationality is, they all need Christ; and regardless of your background or your breeding, whether you come from the top stratum or the bottom stratum, you need Christ. Those poor Samaritans needed Christ; and they found it out. The Spirit of; God wrought among them, and we read in verse 6—"and the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake." Verses 8 to 12. Oh, what a glorious time they had down there in Samaria. Numbers of them got saved. They were a bad lot, but they heard about Jesus and they got saved. A new experience came into their lives, and they believed what Philip had to tell them. They were saved, and they were baptized; but they were not in the church yet. Oh, you say, "How do you know that?" Well, don't we read over in 1 Cor. 12: 13, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." How did people get into the church? "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." We see as we read on that they did not have the Spirit— (vv. 14, 15). We said a moment ago that God had a use for the apostles in Jerusalem and that is why He did not permit them to be scattered. You have to stop a moment and think what a stir this must have made in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the center of Jewish pride and prejudice for centuries. Now the news comes back to Jerusalem that the Samaritans have received the gospel. What a commotion that must have made! Acts 8:14-17. Now what happens? Now we have not only the Jew on the day of Pentecost receiving the Spirit and being baptized into one body, the church, but now we have this hybrid race, neither Jew nor Gentile but a mixture of the two, receiving Christ, and we find that they are baptized into the one body. That is, they received the Spirit of God and consequent upon receiving the Spirit of God that baptism which took place on the day of Pentecost is made good to them and they find themselves a part of the church of God.
Why do you think the Spirit of God was withheld from the Samaritans until Peter and John came down from Jerusalem? I believe it was for a very wise reason. We read that verse in John that our Lord Jesus Christ would gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad, that there might be one flock and one shepherd. Here was a very delicate situation, a situation fraught with grave danger. That age-old prejudice between the Jew and the Samaritan was so strong that we could have had a Samaritan church and a Jewish church. It would have been the most natural thing to expect. But oh, beloved, the Spirit of God knows nothing of any such distinctions or divisions at all. Remember where we started out—"There is one body." Now, if you had a Jewish church and a Samaritan church, you would have two bodies. So the Spirit of God is going to be jealous over that truth and is going to see to it that that wall of prejudice is broken down—that there is no excuse whatever for that truth being denied; and He does not permit the Samaritans to get the Holy Spirit until they have been identified with that group in Jerusalem that was baptized with the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. The apostles lay their hands upon them, and they receive the Holy Ghost. Do you think the Samaritans would ever be able to say, "We are not dependent on Jerusalem. We got this thing all independent of them. Philip came down and preached the gospel and we believed it and got the Holy Spirit. Let the Jews have their church, and we Samaritans will have ours"? The Spirit of God knows all our hearts. He anticipates these prejudices that are so natural to us, and He did not permit the Samaritans to get official recognition as belonging to the church until they got it from these emissaries that came down from Jerusalem. On the other hand, what about those Jews from Jerusalem? They could not cast aside that Samaritan church and say, "That is all false work, we cannot own that." Two of their own number had gone down, and through the laying on of hands the Samaritans had received the Holy Ghost. The transaction had been wrought by agents that had come down from Jerusalem, and there was the evidence before their eyes that God had received those Samaritans. Now you have them all baptized together by one Spirit into one body.
Now let us go on another step. Acts 10. Here we broaden out still further, and now we have before us a man who was an out-and-out Gentile. Up to this time there was no Gentile material in the church. It is Jewish or hybrid material from Samaria; but now the Gentile is going to knock for admission. In the first part of the chapter there is a man called Cornelius—an earnest man, a man in whom God has wrought, but he does not know anything about the gospel. He does not know the sweet and precious story of Christ dying for sinners.
I have often thought about those who lived back in the days before the Lord Jesus. Those historical characters that we read about—Caesar and Alexander and other great men of history, never heard this lovely story of the love of Christ. That had not come into existence yet. How wonderful to be born in a time such as we have. Dear fellow-Christians, do you ever stop to think that the day you were born, you were born into a world where Christ had already died and shed His precious blood and opened up the door into heaven? You were born into a world that was prepared ahead of time, where the river of salvation was flowing freely. If there is anyone here who does not possess that salvation, what an awful thing to be born into a world where salvation is offered full and free, and then to miss it.
God orders it that Peter is going to preach salvation to Cornelius, and Peter is going to take six other Jews with him. These seven men, covered with the dust of the highway, finally arrive at Caesarea, and come to this man's home. He has been diligent. God has been working at both ends of the line, and Cornelius had called in all his relatives, and he says to Peter, "Here we are. We want to hear what you have to tell us." Would that we were more diligent with our relatives. This man is a good example for all of us. He got them all assembled there, and then said, "We want to hear what you have to say."
Turn toward the end of the tenth chapter, verses 42-48. How wonderful! As Peter spoke the gospel to them, the Holy Ghost descended on all them which heard the word. The Holy Spirit has taken charge. He has indwelt them—"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." 1 Cor. 12:13. There are some Jews standing by and they think, "What a strange thing that the Gentiles, the dogs, have received the Holy Spirit." They could not deny it. The evidence was before their eyes. Peter had been convinced by the Spirit of God, and he turns to his brethren and says, "There is the evidence before your eyes. God has received them. What are you going to do about it?" They did not say a word. They just nodded assent, I suppose, and so Peter commands them to be baptized.
Now we have Jew, Samaritan, Gentile, all baptized into one body by one Spirit, and you have the church of God fully functioning. You have that thing that was prophesied in the sixteenth of Matthew existing in this world. We will see a little more about how jealous that Spirit was that that body should go on as it was purposed at the beginning, in practical unity — one body.
Look now at chapter 11. Peter goes up to Jerusalem and reports what has happened —verses 17, 18. So they are received at Jerusalem. Jerusalem is happy about it. Again prejudice is broken down— they are all one body. The Jew acknowledges the Gentile and the Gentile acknowledges the Jew.
Now go on to chapter 15 — but before reading this, will you notice a verse in Eph. 4:3, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Now we are going to see some examples of the struggles and efforts in connection with keeping that unity. It has been perfectly established—"There is one body." There is no question about that. Now we have been talking about unity and oneness, and now we have dissensions and discussion. Has not that been the history of the church all down through the ages? We must not think that all the troubles of the church have happened in our day. There have always been plenty of them. They started very early in the history of the church.
Here they have a big argument and a very serious one—a very fundamental one. It is not a question of whether the collection box should be on the table or under the table. (I heard of a meeting splitting over that once.) But this is an important question—"Are the Gentiles under the law or are they not?" A delegation goes up to Jerusalem and takes up this matter. We find that the apostles are still there. The Christians have been scattered, but the apostles are still at Jerusalem. Why? God needed them there and He kept them there and protected them. The question is put before the church. Go on now to verses 10-22 and 25-28. And then the Gentiles get the news that they do not have to keep the law. The Jewi3h brethren are not going to make us keep the law. We are free from it. Unity is restored, and they are all going on together again. Isn't that nice! That is the work of the Spirit of God, to keep the saints going on in unity. So the question has been settled. They had a thorough discussion. There was James and there was Peter, and there were a lot of Jews that could weigh the matter they had to consider—"Is it true that the Gentiles are not obligated to keep the law?" That is the decision of the Spirit of God, and they pass it on to them.
Acts 19:1-6. Here is a group of men up at Ephesus. Paul comes along, and he finds them going on together with some kind of a belief, some knowledge about the Lord. They have heard about John and his baptism, but they have never heard the gospel. Paul inquires if they have received the Holy Spirit. He knows something is wrong. They needed something. They had to be brought into the same unity that already existed. They could not be owned as occupying a different ground to the rest of them. Paul could not say, "You folks are not on the same ground as the folks up at Antioch, or at Jerusalem, but you have a lot of truth, and I will just go on with you." Oh, no. He is going to see that they are brought into the same ground as the rest. They receive the instruction and they receive the Holy Ghost, and now you find something that never existed in Ephesus before. You find the church of God there too; and it is a part of the same thing that existed before these 12 men at Ephesus ever heard of it. They are brought into the same thing that had been formed before they ever heard of it.
Now go on to the twentieth chapter. This chapter ends one subject division of the Acts. From the twentieth chapter on, it is sort of an appendix. Up to this time, the Apostle Paul has been in the foreground as the missionary to the Gentiles, and churches have been formed all over; and now you get his farewell address. The rest of the Acts just runs through the historical events that end in Paul's imprisonment at Jerusalem. Here you get his farewell address to the elders, verses 28-30. That is a different story, isn't it? All we have been talking about up to the present time is the story of the effort of the Spirit of God to form into one the children of God that were scattered abroad, to bring into one all those that receive the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; to form the church of God and to maintain that unity. But here we come to a sad prophecy—wolves coming in and scattering the sheep; and then a second sad thing—men arising from among yourselves drawing away disciples after them. Drawing away from what? You know, if you talk about drawing away, you have to have a starting point—a center. That is not an abstract term. You have to have something to draw away from.
What do you think is the rallying point, what is the gathering center of Christ in this world? Where is the center to which God gathers souls? Matt. 18:20 is the answer — "unto My name." The Lord announced that very center after He announced the church. He announced the church in Matt. 16 and He announced the center of the church in Matt. 18.
Here Paul, near the close of his life, in his farewell address says, "I know that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29). And something sadder than this is going to happen — "Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (verse 30). They are going to draw away disciples after themselves. Paul did not say there was a danger of it. He did not say, "I fear lest this may happen." He says, "I know " There is no question about it. Division was going to come into the church, and he warned them against it. Do you think he would warn them against a good thing? Would he tell them to beware of a good thing? No, he is warning them against a bad thing.
What is to be their stay in the midst of that division? He gives them that too. Here is the stay for their souls in the midst of that coming division. Verse 32. Brethren, in Paul's farewell address to the church here on earth, where did he leave us? What is our stay? What is our refuge in the midst of the break-up that he said would surely come? "God and the word of His grace." Why? Because God cannot change. He is the "I am"—ever the same, and His word cannot change—"Forever Thy word is settled in heaven." "If they speak not according to this word, there is no light in them." Paul saw the ruin coming, but he said, "I am leaving with you two things—God and the word, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified." In other words, dear brethren, when Paul said farewell, and told them of the ruin, he said, "I am not leaving you hopeless. I am not leaving you in despair." Remember, there will never be a time when you cannot retreat into those two precious truths. God is ever the same, and His word abides, and you are at liberty to go on with all the truth that is open to you. I cannot commend you to the brethren, but I can commend you to God and the word of His grace.
God willing, Thursday night, we will take up some of the details of how minutely God has provided for the practical daily maintenance of the truth, "There is one body."
Tuesday night we dwelt quite at length on the truth, "There is one body." We traced through from the sixteenth of Matthew the historical evidence of how it came to pass that it could be said, "There is one body." Having established that great and fundamental fact, we see coupled with it an admonition here—"Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit." The unity of the body, thank God, is outside our keeping. That belongs to the One who formed it, and it is perfect—it has never been marred. He formed it, it is His church—"Upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." We cannot mar that unity, but here is something that is committed to us, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit." We take it for granted that those who are present are believers. If you are a child of God and a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have a responsibility definitely placed at your door to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit. What is that? Evidently it is a definite thing, since the definite article is used. What is the unity of the Spirit? I think that it is the unity we were talking about on Tuesday night. It is the unity that the Spirit of God has formed here. To. put it a little more definitely, the unity of the Spirit is that oneness into which the Spirit of God leads us according to the truth of God. Any real unity, unity that God can own, unity that is worth keeping must be the unity that is mapped out in the word of God. That is why we took time on Tuesday night to follow through the action of the Spirit of God in forming that unity.
Tonight we want to trace the methods by which that unity is maintained, the breaking of the unity, and the remedy when the unity is broken.
Acts 9. Here we have the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who later became the Apostle Paul. In Acts 9:26 he wanted to join himself to the disciples. No doubt he came down saying, "Brethren, I have been converted, I have found the Saviour, I have been preaching the gospel." (For he had, as we see from verse 20.) He had been converted, he was a mighty preacher of the gospel. He had the greatest commission that was ever given to any man in the history of God's dealings with man. He was the special apostle of Christ from the glory. He goes down to Jerusalem and tries to join the disciples. and they won't have him. Were they right or were they wrong? Why, brethren, they were right. They did not know him. They were not going to take him at face value. They had to have some credentials before they received that man. When he had a proper introduction (verses 27 and 28). he was whole-heartedly received and began to minister most acceptably amongst them.
Now I submit that in the face of a passage like that, the idea that we are to receive every one that comes along and says, "I am a Christian," will not stand the test of the Word of God. There is no such practice in the word of God and if we adopt such a practice, we do not know what kind of material we are going to get in among us. We don't know what sacrifices we may be making of the truth that God has committed to us. We are responsible for that which we allow among us.
We cannot take too much time with any one of these examples, but let us go on to the eighteenth chapter, verses 24 and 27. Here is a man. Apollos, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures. Supposing he had come down to Corinth, presented himself, and said, "Brethren, I want to come in and preach among you." Would they have been justified in accepting him at face value? Evidently the Spirit of God did not think so or we would not have this record of how careful the apostles were in giving him a letter of introduction and exhorting them to receive him. I suppose if that sort of man came among us, we would be impressed with his personality, and if we listened to him talk for five or ten minutes we would say, "Surely he is all right." Well, that is not the way the Spirit of God ordered it. That man, mighty as he was, carried with him a letter of introduction asking the saints to receive him; and it worked out beautifully. They did receive him, and they had some nice ministry too. He "helped them much which had believed through grace." But it was all done in godly order. There was the acknowledgment of the unity of the Spirit. He was not going around trying to thrust himself upon the saints. He carried his introduction with him, and that is godly order.
2 Cor. 3:1, 2: "Do we need epistles or letters of commendation to you as others?" What is the point here? The apostle was the one through whom the gathering at Corinth was formed. He was known to every individual there. He knew their history, and they knew his, and letters of commendation were not made just in order that there might be such a thing as a letter. They were made for the definite purpose of preventing the abuse of fellowship among those who professed to be Christians. We would not want to ask for a letter from a brother whom we all know, but otherwise letters are necessary.
"Letters of commendation"—you find them in use in Scripture. Romans 16:1, 2. Sisters need them as well as brothers. What a nice letter that is. And you know, letters of commendation should not be just a stamped form. The other day a brother sent me a letter of commendation from a gathering out in California. He said something like this: "Dear Brother: I am enclosing copy of a letter sent to our gathering the other day concerning a sister who lives in Iowa, and we don't seem to recognize any of the signatures. Would you please tell us if you know anything about this sister. As you live in Iowa perhaps you can give us some enlightenment." Well, that letter of commendation was a printed form with dotted lines where you filled in the name of the applicant and then a place at the bottom where you filled in the signature of the corresponding brother and a place at the top where you wrote the locality of the gathering. Now that was all wrong because in the word of God when a letter of commendation is given, it takes into consideration the personality of the one that bears the letter. So if you are giving a letter to a brother who is accustomed to taking the gospel, it is nice to say so, because the saints where he is going might be very thankful to hear him. If he has a nice line of ministry to the saints, it is well to recognize it. If it is a sister and she is useful to the church of God, why not say so? Paul did. Sometimes we are so afraid of flattering someone that we bend over backwards. The apostle was not afraid to acknowledge and recognize the qualifications that he saw in his fellow-workmen, whether they were brothers or sisters.
Well, when Phoebe got to Rome, there was no question about her reception. She did not suddenly appear at the door and say, "I am Phoebe. I come from Cenchrea, and I would like to break bread with you." That was a long distance away, and in all probability they had never heard of her. But when she came with this letter and these lovely things were said about her, she must have had a royal welcome. You know, if you are a valuable brother in Toronto, you are going to be a valuable brother in Montreal; and if you are a troublesome brother in Toronto, you are very likely to be in Montreal, too.
Yes, the church of God is one. The only reason we are divided is because of the geographical factor. Otherwise we would all be together. When I am in Toronto, I like to be right here, but most of the time I am away down in Iowa and it is too far to go back and forth. That is why you meet in one place, and I in another; but we would all like to be together. Letters are given in order that oneness might be practically maintained among us, both as to keeping out evil and giving the Spirit of God free right to use whom He will among us.
Perhaps we should go back to Acts 20 where we left off the other night. Verses 31, 32. What was Paul warning them about? What was he weeping about? What was the burden of his heart? Verses 29, 30. Paul left with the church a parting message that everything was going to go to pieces and break up, and he says, "I know it is coming, and I am just going to commend you to God and to His word." In other words, Paul left them a remedy for the ruin. He left them a path through the ruin, but he did not hide from them that ruin was coming.
We find that Paul and Peter and John and Jude all lend their testimony to this; that ruin and wreckage was going to overtake the professing church of God here in this world. Let us take a testimony from each of them. 2 Peter 2:1, 2.—"There shall be false teachers among you." Are we to go on with them? Are you going to commend a false teacher by letter to go and peddle his false teachings around the country? Is there no protection to keep us from the inroads of these dangerous men? Ah, surely the Lord has not left His church at the mercy of the wolves. Well, as we go on we shall see that He has not. But here is Peter's solemn warning of what is coming.
ow let us take the testimony of Jude. Verse 4, and further down in verses 18 and 19. Do we want to listen to this kind of teacher? Remember, this is Christian profesFion—it is not the pagan world.
Now let us get a testimony from John. 1 John 2:18, 19. John tells us that there actually were antichrists and that they were in among us. Do we want to go on in fellowship with these persons? Was it the intenion of the Spirit of God in giving us the truth of the church, "There is one body," that we should continue to go on linked up with everything that professes the name of Christ? No, the Word of God has made provision for all this. There you find that there is a path marked out in the midst of the ruin.
Let us see some of these warnings, Romans 16: 17, 18. This is the same chapter where we had that lovely letter of commendation to take Phoebe in Here is the other side of the picture. That is a solemn admonition. These are people that profess to be teachers. They come along and say, "I have the truth. Listen to me." And the very same chapter that tells you to give such a hearty reception to a dear sister tells you that when this kind of people come along you are to avoid them. Do you think you are avoiding a man if you ask him to break bread at the Lord's table? Do you think you are avoiding him if you ask him to preach the gospel? No, "they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ but their own belly."
Now look at 2 John 9, 10 and 11. This epistle was written to a sister, and John tells her that if a so-called Christian teacher knocks at her door and brings some doctrine that may sound lovely, but it is not the truth of God—it denies the faith, he tells her not to let him cross the threshold, and not to say good-by to him either. Don't wish him well. If you do, you are partaking of his evil deeds. Does that sound harsh? Does that sound un-Christlike? Sometimes we mix up our good manners with the truth of God, and they do not always mix. There is no choice left us here. If this kind of person comes to your door, you are not to be polite or wish him well. You are not to let him cross the threshold, because he does not bring the doctrine of Christ.
Are we going to be more careless about the assembly than about our own homes? Is the assembly less precious to Christ than our homes? Here is a man that the Spirit of God tells you to shut the door in his face. There is no compromise—you let that person understand very distinctly that you have no fellowship with him. The Spirit of God exhorts you to shut the door in his face. Then do you think the Spirit of God would have you sit down and break bread with him at the Lord's table? No, we are responsible for whom we receive into our midst. 2 Tim. 3:1-5. Notice that these are all professing believers—"Having a form of godliness" (verse 5). "From such turn away." Does that sound as if we are to go on with everybody that calls himself a Christian? That cannot be. Now chapter 4:3, 4. Here is a class of people who deliberately shut their eyes to the truth. They turn aside to fables. They hire teachers and preachers that will preach what they want to hear, and they turn their back upon the truth of God. Do you think the Spirit of God wants you and me to go on in that kind of unholy fellowship? Surely the voice of the Spirit of God would be, "From such turn away."
2 Timothy 2:20, 21, 22. Here is the path in the midst of the ruin. The time has come in 2 Timothy when they have turned away from Paul. You see that in 2 Timothy 1: 15. Now isn't that sad? That is where he had labored. "All they which are in Asia be turned away from me." Everything was in ruins, and the Apostle Paul is giving us directions for finding a path through the ruin. The whole thing now has become like a great house, and in it there are vessels unto honor and there are vessels unto dishonor. Now he said, "I do not ask you to get out of the house, for the house is profession, and you could not get out of the house unless you renounced Christianity." But you are asked to find a clean spot in the house; to purge yourself from vessels unto dishonor, that you may be a vessel unto honor.
Verse 22—"With them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." There will never come a time when you cannot have Christian fellowship. The Lord found Himself alone in His pathway. He undertook a work in which He found Himself absolutely alone, but He has not asked you and me to go alone. He has promised us fellowship in the path, but He has not promised us that we will have a great, massive, powerful testimony. He has not promised us that we can mingle with the vast crowds, but He has told us something about two or three. In Matt. 18:20 the Lord says, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Why do you think He said two or three? I believe the Spirit of God made that gracious provision for us, that we need never get discouraged. As long as we can find a path where even two or three can meet and have the Lord's presence, we ought to thank God. That is the opposite of despair, and giving up and saying, "Everything is gone."
Now it is a fact today that there are good men, with a large measure of knowledge, who do not know that, and they do not walk in it. They say, "Everything is broken to pieces, and there is no collective testimony left." And so they refer to the illustration of the shipwreck in Paul's time and they say that those men got to the shore on pieces of board and broken parts of the ship—it was every man for himself—and they say that is where the church is now. Would it not be sad if that were true? You know, we have certain privileges as gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus that we could not possibly have if there was no such thing as a collective testimony. What is dearer to the heart of Christ than having His own remember Him in His death? That was the very thing that was pressing on His heart the night He was betrayed. He was not talking about going out and evangelizing India and China, but about remembering Him in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. In saying that there is no collective testimony, we are signing off from those precious privileges that grace has placed in our hands. You remember that when Paul gave us the Lord's supper in 1 Cor. 11 he said, "As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come." — Not till the church breaks up and goes to pieces. Not till the testimony is ruined, but " till He come." That has been a great comfort to my soul. That tells me that the Lord in His gracious goodness and provision for my needs and the welfare of my spiritual life, is going to see to it that there is a place maintained on earth where I can remember Him without compromising my conscience or disobeying the Word of God. You could not imagine the Lord Jesus ever suggesting a path to you and saying, "Walk in it," and at the same time leaving no path to walk in. That would be a cruel thing, would it not? Supposing the Lord had said, "Here is the path, walk in it till I come; but of course I know there is not any such path." Our Lord loves us—He doesn't mock us; and He knows our weakness and our failures and all about us. He knew how unfaithful we would be, and yet He has left the word, "As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come."
Yet, we have been reading many scriptures (and we could have read many more), that warn us that we can't go on with this, and we can't go on with that; and we can't let that man in, and we can't admit this. What is left, if we are to act on all those scriptures? Ah, Matthew 18:20 still abides—"Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Well, what is it to be gathered to that name? It is not to go on with evil, with seducers and heretics and division-maker.;, because we have been told definitely to avoid such and have no fellowship with them. We are to go on with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Well, what is going to decide that? What is the standard? Where are we going to enlist, and what is the banner? That is important, isn't it? When the Apostle gave that farewell address in Acts 20 he said, "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace." It is God and the Word.
Acts 2:42—"They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship." That term "fellowship" is equally limited by the word "apostles." It is the apostles' fellowship, as well as the apostles' doctrine. What is the apostles' fellowship? It is that fellowship that is based on the truth the apostles left us in the Word of God. We are to judge everything by that Word. That is the apostles' doctrine and there is a fellowship that goes with it.
I think an illustration would be helpful. Where I live there is what they call a church building just across the road, and there are some nice Christian people who go there Lord's day morning and other times, to worship. Why don't I go there? It would save me a lot of walking or driving, because it is more of an effort to go where I go. It is because I could not go there and go on with the apostles' doctrine, and there is not the apostles' fellowship there. In other words, if one of the apostles went in there, I don't believe he would feel a bit comfortable. I don't think Paul or Peter or John would feel a bit comfortable there. They would say, "It is not according to our word. It does not square up with the Word of God." Someone might say, "What is wrong with us?" I would say, "Do you folks ever baptize?" "Oh, no." "Do you ever take the Lord's supper?" "No, we never do."
That is not the apostles' fellowship, so I leave that place and go on another block. Here is another structure that they call a church, and there are some real Christians there. I find out as I go in there that they feel that the Lord Jesus comes there in a sacrament—that He is bodily present in the bread and wine there every Sunday morning. They are worshiping a dead Christ. Oh, I could not go on with that. I would not be happy there. That is not the apostles' doctrine. Now, there are many other things I might mention that are contrary to the apostles' doctrine, but I just want to point out an outstanding example.
Then I go across the street from there, and inquire about that place. "Oh," they say, "we keep the Sabbath. We don't believe that you can get to heaven unless you keep the Sabbath, so we have our meetings on Saturday." I cannot go there, even though there might be some real Christians there.
I go down the street one more block. There is a nice big edifice, and I know some real Christians there. They tell me I have to be baptized with water in order to get to heaven. Well, I don't read that in my Bible How can I have fellowship in that place, and still be obedient to the Word of God?
Across the corner from there is another lovely big place. I go in there. They say that when you baptize a baby, you make him a member of the body of Christ—that he is born again. Oh, what a wretched perversion of the truth that is! How could I go on in fellowship with them? Now, there are many other things, but I am just choosing a single outstanding factor that speaks loudly so that we can get the point.
I go on one more block and I find another place, and by the way, it is the place where I used to go. I find in that place they teach you that you can be saved today and know your sins forgiven, and be a child of God, and then you can make a slip tomorrow and lose it all and land in hell. I find that salvation depends on my faithfulness and my holding on. Well, how can I go on with that kind of thing when I read, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand." Can I have fellowship with a company that definitely denies that blessed truth? I have to pass them by.
I go on two or three blocks further, and now I find myself getting into more difficulties. Here is a company, and they are meeting in a simple little hall—they know better than to call a building a church—and I find they are nice brethren, and they are converted, and they have nice gift and nice ministry—lovely hymns. I think, "Well, what about this place?" I go in and look around, and everything looks quite familiar. I say, "This looks very much like where I go." They seem to remember the Lord in the same way, and they look very sober and godly. I begin to make a little inquiry. You know, everybody came from somewhere. I ask you where you came from, you can tell me, and you can trace back where you were born, and where your father came from. Every meeting has a background too. They all have a history—a record. I find this group of believers, and I say, "You folks seem to hold practically the same truths as we do, and yet there are only a few blocks between us. We have room for all of you, and you have room for all of us down here; why are we apart?" I find that there is a history connected with this thing. I find that at one time we were together, but we are not together now; and yet I pick up my Bible and I read, "There is one body." "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit." Yet here brethren are divided. Here are two companies. What has happened? Are they both gathered alike, with the Lord's sanction? Yet, I read, in that passage in Eph. 4:4—"There is one body, and one Spirit." You remember Tuesday night how we traced the jealousy of the Spirit of God that any differences between the gatherings of God's people should be dissipated and put out of the way so that there should not be any barrier; and we saw the painstaking work of God in bringing them together. That was the work of the Spirit of God, and "there is one Spirit." I walk past the brethren in that hall many times. I know the brethren there, and I love them too. Do they have the Holy Spirit? I am sure they do. Does that one Spirit divide the saints? Is the Holy Spirit responsible for dividing the saints? 1 Cor. 12:13—"By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." Verse 25—"That there should be no schism in the body." Now, brethren, can we make the Holy Spirit responsible for two groups of Christians ten minutes' walk apart going on in division? Is the Spirit of God saying to one, "You go there," and to someone else, "You go there"? There is one Spirit and there is one body, and yet sometimes brethren will pass each other shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow, one going one place and the other going some place else. They are both indwelt with the Spirit of God, and they both belong to the one body. Is He the author of division? Would He not have those dear saints of God going on together? Yes, He would, but He would have them going on according to the truth of God.
Unity in itself is no object unless it has a sound and solid basis. Otherwise, you have merely union, merely amalgamation, merely the assembling of a lot of individuals together. You do not have unity. Evidently, the unity of the Spirit must have been broken at some time, with the result that these two companies are going on apart from each other. The unity of the Spirit must have been broken, and indeed it was. Meetings have a history, and it is a matter that is accessible. If I want to find out why, I can find out, and I will find that there was a time, it does not matter how far back, when a question was at issue that affected the honor and glory of Christ, and those who wanted to abide in the apostles' doctrine, those who refused to compromise conscience and who wanted to be loyal to Christ, had to act for Him. They had to separate themselves from that which was evil, that which was a dishonor to the name of Christ. It is a sad thing, but oh, far better to separate than to go on with evil. For remember, we have read scripture after scripture that tells us not to go on with evil—not to go on in fellowship with that which dishonors Christ. If a man goes on in wickedness, 1 Corinthians chapter 5, tells us to put him away. That chapter is most familiar to all of us here. No, brethren, the idea that we are to go on with everybody—that we are to have fellowship with everybody that calls himself a Christian—there is not a shred of scripture for any such idea. All the body and burden of Scripture is in the opposite direction.
On the other hand, the idea that I am to go on alone is all wrong too. There are two things we are to maintain—the apostles' doctrine, and the apostles' fellowship, and the two go together. They are twins, and one is based on the other. That path is kept open for us by the grace of God until our Lord shall come, and if any of us ever listen to the insinuations of the evil one and leave that path and strike out alone, we do not have the sanction of the Word of God nor the Spirit of God. Brethren, we are to go on with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart—that means out of an honest and sincere heart. We are to go on with them, not apart from them. There is no such thing as a path for the child of God apart from his brethren. We are to go on with our brethren—with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them."