In resuming our exposition of the chapter before us (Eph. 2.), we would draw the attention of our readers to the wonderful contrast presented to us in it between the natural and original state of a sinner, and especially a Gentile sinner, as sunk in the depths of the fall, and manifesting in his life and conduct its dreadful fruits and effects—and the state of a sinner redeemed, restored, and saved by free and sovereign grace. As sunk in the depths of the fall, and manifesting in his life and conduct its awful fruits and practical effects, he is dead in trespasses and sins, walks according to the course of this world, is under the dominion and influence of Satan, the prince of the power of the air, has his conversation in the lusts of the flesh, fulfills the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and is by nature a child of wrath, exposed to, and deserving the terrible and eternal anger of God as a consuming fire. What a picture is here drawn of the state of man by nature, and especially of those Gentile sinners to whom the Epistle was addressed. But how true a description also of what we ourselves were in days past, when dead in sin, and how we walked, lived, and acted before we were arrested in our mad career by sovereign and distinguishing grace. It is good and profitable often to call to mind and ponder over our base original, and what our state by nature was, that we may see in it, as in a glass, the awful depths of sin and ruin in which we were sunk. It is thus that we see, in the light of our own experience, as a confirmation of the word of truth, what death of soul Godwards; what reckless, callous insensibility to his will and word; what total lack of godly fear; what determined resolution to have our own way and carry out our various plans of pleasure or profit; what willful rejection and proud scorning of all control, possessed our whole minds, even if we were not abandoned to excess of crime or all manner of open and outward ungodliness. It is thus also that we learn to wonder at and admire the loving-kindness, tender pity, and infinite compassion of a blessed Redeemer who had mercy upon those who had no mercy upon themselves, and who, but for his grace, would have gone on adding sin to sin and iniquity to iniquity until they dropped into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone!
Israel was bidden to confess, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father" (Deut. 26:5); and when the Lord would, by a most striking and effective figure, specially represent to the Church of old the riches of his grace, he paints her as a helpless, forlorn babe, "cast out in the open field, to the loathing of its person in the day that it was born" (Ezek. 16:5), that by the contrast of this miserable condition with his pity and love to her, and the fruits of it, he might recall to her mind the unparalleled debt of gratitude due to himself, and her base returns for all his favors and loving-kindness bestowed upon her.
Shallow professors, and formal, dry, dead preachers may cry out against it as poring over ourselves, brooding over our miseries, making an experience of, or even priding ourselves upon our corruptions; but we are well satisfied that a believing sight and sense, and a feeling, experimental knowledge of the depths of the fall and the state of ruin, misery, and degradation into which it has personally and individually sunk us, must ever precede a spiritual, experimental knowledge of the efficacy of atoning blood as applied to the conscience and the heights, lengths, depths, and breadths of pardoning love as revealed to the soul; and that those who are ignorant of the one are ignorant of the other.
It is, indeed, for lack of being deeply and thoroughly exercised upon these solemn matters, and because they have known and felt so little of the dreadful evil of sin, of the holiness and justice of God, and of their own utter helplessness to deliver and save themselves, that we have so many self-righteous, presumptuous, light and trifling, vain and empty professors among us. Had they really seen and felt what man is by nature and practice, and had their souls been long and deeply exercised with a burden of sin and guilt, and then been blessed with some manifestation of God's mercy and love, how it would have cured them both of their self-righteousness and of their presumption, driven out of them, or at least much subdued, their light and trifling spirit, and left such a deep, solemn, and permanent impression on their mind of what they have been and are toward God, and what he has been and is toward them, as would have wrought in them a solidity, humility, contrition, and brokenness of spirit, a tenderness of conscience, separation from the world, and spirituality of mind, of which at present we see so little in the professing Church of God.
But now having looked down into the horrible pit and miry clay into which sin has sunk us, in common with the whole human race, let us, with the Apostle, take a view of the other side of the question, and see to what heights of blessedness sovereign grace has restored and raised the elect of God. How wonderful is the contrast between the depths of the fall and the heights of the recovery; between the misery of man and the mercy of God; between the state and character of sinners dead in sin and saints blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. But as in our exposition of the chapter now before us we have already attempted to unfold the spiritual blessings and exalted privileges described by the Apostle, and to trace out one by one the mercies and favors to which the saints are advanced spoken of in it, we need not go over that ground again, or even briefly recapitulate them, as it would be but a repetition of our previous papers. We shall, therefore, at once address ourselves to the exposition of the remaining verses of the chapter.
Our readers will remember that the point at which we paused in our last paper was to show how the saints of God, and especially the Gentile saints, were "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with saints, and of the household of God." (Verse 19.)
The point, therefore, to which we are now come, is the way in which they are built up, that they may be a habitation of God through the Spirit.
i. The first thing which we have to unfold is that which lies at the basis of the whole, that is, the foundation—"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." (Eph. 2:20.)
It will be observed that they are here said to be "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." This does not mean that the apostles and prophets form themselves the foundation of the spiritual building, as if it were actually and really built upon them, but that it was laid ministerially by them. No man, or order of men, however distinguished by ability, gift, or grace, however called or favored of God, could be a foundation able to bear up the Church of Christ. Neither Peter, nor Peter's successors, true or false, could be a rock on which Christ has declared he will build his Church. Such a foundation would be sand, not a rock against which the gates of hell would not prevail, and those who trusted in it and built upon it would come under the curse—"Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm." (Jer. 17:5.)
Christ, and Christ alone, is the foundation. This point is well explained by the Apostle himself in another epistle—"According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:10, 11.) He here speaks of himself as "a wise master-builder," that is, a skillful architect who knew both the certainty and value of the foundation, and the fit materials for the superstructure. According, then, to the grace of God which was given unto him, instructing him into a spiritual and experimental knowledge of Christ by a revelation of him to his soul (Gal. 1:16), and bestowing upon him the gift of utterance to open his mouth boldly, and make known the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19), he ministerially laid the foundation by preaching Christ and him crucified.
He, therefore, plainly tells us that "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." This foundation God laid actually, according to his own words—"Therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation; he who believes shall not make haste" (Isa. 28:16); but Paul laid it ministerially. Thus when we read of "the foundation of the apostles and prophets," and being built on that foundation, it does not mean that the apostles and prophets were themselves the foundation, but that they laid it ministerially when they declared, by the word of their testimony, in the language of Peter—"The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone." (Acts 4:11.)
This foundation, then, was laid by "the apostles and prophets" when they testified in their ministry of the Person and work of Christ, preaching him as the Son of God (Acts 9:20), and set him forth as the Rock, the only Rock, on which the Church is built. If we carefully read the various sermons and discourses of Peter and Paul recorded in the Acts, we shall clearly see how in them all Christ in his sufferings, death, and resurrection is laid as the foundation of all forgiveness of sin, and of all hope of salvation. (Acts 2:32-39; 3:26; 4:10-12; 13:38, 39.) There is no difficulty, therefore, in ascertaining the meaning of the word "apostles." They were those who were entrusted with a peculiar mission, and an office distinct from all others. Thus among the specially-gifted members of the body of Christ, enumerated by the Apostle, they occupy the first place—"And God has set some in the church; first, apostles." (1 Cor. 12:28.) Such were the twelve disciples—"And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples; and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles" (Luke 6:13); and such was Paul, who declares of himself that he was "not appointed by any group or by human authority. My call is from Jesus Christ himself and from God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead." (Gal. 1:1.)
The apostles were distinguished from all other teachers and officers in the Church by having their commission and doctrine immediately and directly from Christ himself. The literal meaning of the word apostle is "one who is sent." Thus they were, in a peculiar and especial way, sent by Christ himself, either by express call when he was on earth, or, as in Paul's particular case, by express revelation from him in heaven. To them was also given a power to work miracles as proofs of their divine commission; and they only could, by the laying on of hands ministerially, give the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17; 19:6.) They also alone had authority to plant churches; nor was their mission confined to any particular church; but they had power and authority in all the churches to preach the word and administer the ordinances, give counsel, advice, reproof, exhortation, and censure, either personally or by letter. None, therefore, but they could write, under divine inspiration, epistles to the churches to form a part of the sacred Scriptures. The foundation, therefore, laid by men so eminent in grace, endowed with such divine authority, and furnished with such extraordinary gifts, must needs be a foundation laid in the power of the Holy Spirit, and worthy of our faith and acceptance.
But the Apostle speaks of this foundation as laid also by "the prophets." By those we understand, not the prophets of the Old Testament, though we would not exclude them, according to Peter's testimony (Acts 10:43), but the prophets of the New; for the Apostle tells us, in a passage already quoted, that they occupied a position in the Church next to the apostles—"And God has set some in the church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets." He also speaks in almost similar language in the epistle now before us—"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets." (Eph. 4:11.) By the word "prophets," however, we are not to understand, in the usual sense of the term, men who predicted future events, though there were such in the primitive Church, as Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10), but preachers, as we now term them, who are called "prophets," because they spoke in the name of and from the Lord, being, as it were, his mouth. This, indeed, is the true and proper meaning of the word "prophet;" his distinguishing character being that he speaks for God, being his mouth (Jer. 15:19), and one to whom the word of the Lord has come. That he predicts future events is but a secondary part of his mission, and connected with his primary office, more as a confirmation than its chief intention.
In this point of view, therefore, the prophets of the New Testament resemble the prophets of the Old, who spoke such words, whether predictions or not, "as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Pet. 1:21.) We see this very clearly from the language of the Apostle in another place—"But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believes not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all." (1 Cor. 14:24.) By prophesying is evidently meant here, not predicting future events, but preaching with power to men's consciences; for it is in this way that the unbeliever is convinced of sin, judged as guilty, and the secrets of his heart made manifest. Prophecy, therefore, in the true and proper sense of the word, includes instruction and consolation, reproof, and, indeed, the whole work of the ministry—"Let two or three prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged." (1 Cor. 14:29-31.) For these reasons, therefore, we understand the prophets who are said, in conjunction with the apostles, to have laid the foundation on which the Church is built to be the prophets or preachers, not of the Old Testament, but of the New, and thus to include those servants of the living God who preached the gospel as being divinely commissioned and enabled to do so by the teaching of the Holy Spirit and the authority of God.
But now let us look at the expression, "Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone."
The meaning of this expression, which frequently occurs in the New Testament, is, we think, often misunderstood. It is taken in the first instance from the declaration concerning our Lord in the Psalms, which he in the gospels (Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17) specially claimed and appropriated to himself—"The stone which the builders refused has become the head stone of the corner." (Psalm 118:22.) The "head of the corner," or "the chief corner stone," the meaning of both expressions being one and the same, signifies not the stone which stands at the top of the building, uniting the corners of the two walls just under the roof, but the broad foundation stone, which is firmly fixed at the very bottom; and it is called the "corner stone" or the "head" or "chief of the corner," because being laid as a huge and broad stone for a foundation of the whole building, each wall meets upon it at the corners, it equally supporting and upholding them all.
The two walls which thus meet together represent Jew and Gentile; but each of these walls equally rests upon the broad foundation stone which is common to both, and not only supports them separately but unites then together at the corner, where each meets and rests upon it. It is the expression "head" which has caused the misapprehension of the word "corner stone" to which we have alluded; but the word "head" in Hebrew properly signifies the first or chief; and thus as the foundation is not only the chief stone as supporting the whole, but the first which is laid, so our gracious Lord is not only chief in dignity, but was laid first in place, for the Church was chosen in him. In all things he must have the pre-eminence. Thus he is first in dignity, as the Son of the Father in truth and love; first in choice, God choosing the elect in him; first in suffering, for what sorrows were like his sorrows? first in resurrection, for he is "the first-fruits of them that slept;" first in power, for "all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth;" first in glory, for he is gone to prepare a place for his people; and we may well add, he is first in their hearts and affections, for he who loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than him is not worthy of him.
But the chief point of the passage now before us is the way in which the Lord Jesus is the chief corner stone to those who are built upon him; and in it we see the connection between the foundation as laid ministerially by the apostles and prophets, and the actual foundation itself, which is Christ the Lord. And to understand this connection better, take your own case, or that of any other poor guilty sinner quickened into divine life and looking about him on every side for something to support his guilty soul, his troubled mind, his fearful anxious heart, his burdened spirit. If he look up, what does he see but the justice of a holy God? If he look to the law, what is there in it but curse and condemnation, misery, wrath, and bondage? If he look to his past life, what is it but one continued course of wickedness and sin? If he look into his own heart, what does he find it but "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked?" What, then, shall he do? Where shall he go? On what can he build his hope?
Now, when Christ the foundation is set before him as laid in the Scriptures of truth by the apostles, or is preached in his hearing by one of God's prophets, and by the application of the word to his heart, he is enabled to believe for himself in the Son of God, then he comes off himself to rest upon Christ the foundation. It is thus that the very first stone of his hope is laid upon Christ. This is effected by the shining in of divine light into the soul, giving him a knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6.) And as he thus beholds, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, he is delivered from the power of darkness and is translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 1:13.) He now finds a foundation, on which his soul can safely and happily rest. Having tasted that the Lord is gracious, by the discoveries of his Person and work, and the manifestations of his mercy, and being drawn by the cords of a man and the bands of love (Hos. 11:4; Jer. 31:3), he comes unto him, as unto a living stone, rejected by men, but chosen of God and precious; and by coming unto him, is lifted up, so to speak, out of sin and self, out of bondage, darkness, and confusion, and is set down upon him as a tried stone, a sure foundation; and thus finds rest and peace. To rest thus upon Christ as a foundation carries with it the sensible approbation of God; for he has laid this foundation in Zion, that it might be "a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation." (Isa. 28:16.) As the child of God, therefore, by faith rests upon Christ, he has the testimony of the blessed Spirit in his heart that it is a sure foundation, and that he who believes on him shall not be confounded, either in this world, or in the world to come. (1 Pet. 2:6.)
ii. Having thus spoken of the foundation as laid ministerially, by the apostles and prophets, and laid actually by Jesus Christ being himself the chief cornerstone, the Apostle goes on to show how the living stones are built up upon and in him—"In whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto a holy temple in the Lord." (Eph. 2:21.)
By "the building," we are to understand the whole Church of Christ as comprehending all the members of his mystical body, chosen in him, and given to him before the foundation of the world. But this building is raised here below, before it is taken up to be eternally in all its completeness above; and thus, though there is an eternal union between the Lord Jesus Christ and his people, which is the foundation of every other, there is also a grace union in time as each successive member is brought forth and is baptized by the Holy Spirit into his mystical body. The union between Christ and his people is represented in the Scripture sometimes by the figure of a vine and its branches, sometimes by that of a body and its head, sometimes by that between a man and his wife, and sometimes, as in the passage before us, by that of a building of which he is the foundation, and they the superstructure. It is with the latter we have now to do.
The union between the foundation and the superstructure is very close and intimate naturally, but in the case of Christ and his people embraces a closeness of communication, of which no earthly material building is capable.
1. First, then, it is one of support. Every stone in a building has a virtual union with a foundation on which it rests, for if that foundation were removed from under them, every stone in every part of the building would at once fall to the ground with a crash. So, could the foundation which God has laid in Zion be removed, the gates of hell would prevail and the whole Church sink into eternal perdition. But here is the blessedness of "a sure foundation," that every stone which is built upon it is so supported by it that it cannot fall as long as the foundation stands.
2. But besides the union of support between the foundation and the stones which rest upon it, there is, in this case, what is not and cannot be found in a material building, a union consisting in mutual life. This is very clearly and sweetly brought before us by Peter—"To whom coming, as unto a living stone, rejected by men, but chosen of God, and precious, you also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Pet. 2:4, 5.) In a material building both the foundation stone and those which are built upon it are dead. There is, therefore, between them no other union but the union of support. But in the spiritual building, there is a union between the foundation and the stones built upon it, not only of support, but of life. It is this which makes the union between them so close and intimate. The Lord Jesus is "a living stone," inasmuch as in him is life (John 1:4); and this life is a mediatorial life, given to him, that he may give it to us; "for as the Father has life in himself, so has he given to the Son to have life in himself." (John 5:26.) It is as the possessor of this mediatorial life that "the Son quickens whom he will" (John 5:21); and by the reception of this life, out of his fullness, our souls are made and maintained alive unto God. (John 1:16; 5:40.)
This mediatorial life he now lives and exercises at the right hand of God. He therefore said to John in vision—"I am he who lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Rev. 1:18); and to his disciples he gave this promise before his departure from them—"Yet a little while, and the world sees me no more; but you see me—because I live, you shall live also." (John 14:19.)
As, then, we are severally quickened into spiritual and eternal life, we come unto him, who is a living stone, ourselves as living stones, and being lifted up, and out of the foundation of dead self, to rest upon him, as the foundation which God has laid in Zion, we become built up a spiritual house. (1 Pet. 2:5.) The life which is in the foundation spreads and diffuses itself through the living stones which are built upon it; and as this life is felt in them and by them, it makes them cling closer and closer to the Rock, with all the weight of their souls, and all the strength of their affections. And as they find the foundation firm and good, and able to bear them up, amid all their trials and temptations, for it is "a tried stone," they embrace it more and more in faith and love, and thus give back the life which they receive in prayer, praise, and adoration.
In the mind of God, in his eternal purposes and determinate decrees, every stone of this spiritual house already has its fixed place. There is an expression in the prophet Ezekiel which may illustrate this. The man of God is shown in vision "the frame of a city." The city was not yet built, but it was to be built, and he saw the frame of it already set up and complete. (Ezek. 40:2.) It was, therefore, to his mind's eye, as if the city were already complete, before a single stone of it was laid. So it is in this spiritual house. The whole frame of it, as complete as it will be when "the head stone is brought forth with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it," was ever before the mind of God; and thus every stone, as it is successively added to the building, occupies in it its fixed and predetermined place in the Church militant and suffering below, as it will in the Church triumphant and glorified above.
3. But we may also observe that the union between the living foundation and the living stones which are built upon it gives the latter union and communion with each other, as well as with the foundation itself. This point is beautifully brought out in this epistle by the figure of a body in union with its Head—"But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, who is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph. 4:15, 16.) The whole body is here spoken of as "fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplies." In almost similar terms the Apostle speaks in another place—"And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increases with the increase of God." (Col. 2:19.)
We here see the union of the different members of the body with each other through their union with their common Head, and that this union with him not only gives them union with one another, but is also a means of inward grace and strength, nourishment being ministered to the body by the joints and bands of the different members. It is in this way that all the building is "fitly framed together," each living stone being in union both with the foundation and with its fellow living stones, and thus having life and grace diffused through the whole as a means of mutual support and nourishment, they are not loose stones lying about the mouth of the quarry, nor severed members, but compacted together by cement, as stones, and by joints and bands, as members; and thus they mutually strengthen and nourish one another by the life derived from their common Head. What motives to love and union!
What a beautiful representation is this of the Church of Christ! and though it is much hidden from our eyes, and so obscured by sin and unbelief, and the low state of things among us, as often to be scarcely visible, yet it is not less real. We never can fully know the blessings and benefits which we owe to our brethren in the Lord, and especially to those of them with whom we are brought into immediate spiritual contact, by church fellowship or other band of union. Their conversation, their example, their prayers, the various ways in which they minister to our natural or spiritual necessities, the secret restraints from sin, the encouragements to believe, the springings up of hope, the drawings forth of love and affection, the sympathy manifested by them in trial and affliction, and the sweet persuasion that we have of the power and reality of their religion—all these helps and aids to the life of God in the soul spring out of the union which there is between the living stones with each other.
And were the Church of God more blessed and favored with life and power, were there in it more sensible union and communion with the Lord, so that there was a larger, fuller, and deeper communication of the life that is in him, the more would the benefit and blessing of the mutual union of his members with each other be known and realized. It was so in those early days when "the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and of one soul." Then was the body more closely and sensibly knit together, and larger nourishment was therefore ministered to it by the joints and bands. And as union is strength, so this mystical body was then more closely compacted together by that which every joint supplied, and thus they were strengthened by each other's example, sympathy, prayers, counsel, exhortations, and, when needed, by rebukes and reproofs, to suffer persecution and the loss of all things for Christ's sake. But when love waxed cold, then the body declined in strength, and, as it declined in strength, the joints and bands were less firmly compacted together, hanging, as it were, loosely, like a dislocated limb or a paralyzed arm; and, for lack of their former closeness, nourishment was not ministered as it had been when the members were in nearer union and communion.
iii. Now, this may prepare us to understand how "all the building grows unto a holy temple in the Lord." It grows so in two ways—1, By the constant accession of fresh stones; and 2, By the personal individual growth of the stones themselves.
1. It is in the first way, that every natural and material building is made to increase. As stone after stone is added to it, the building makes progress until at last it is complete. But the larger the structure, the choicer the materials, and the more beautiful the architecture, the longer time it almost necessarily takes to finish. Compare, for instance, the building of the palace at Westminster with the running up of a house in a London suburb; for so it is with this spiritual building. Innumerable are the living stones which compose it, for they will form at last a multitude which no man can number. Slowly also, but surely, invisibly to man, but not less really with God, are the living stones brought out from the quarry, and laid upon and united unto the foundation.
But as we have already sufficiently opened this point, we shall now attempt to show how the building grows into a holy temple by the spiritual increase of the individual stones in it.
2. Growth is the sure mark of life. We see this in vegetation, in the animal creation, in the growth of our own bodies, and of every other thing in which there is life. Where, then, there is the life of God in the soul, there will be a growth in that life. Paul says to the Thessalonian church—"We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fit, because that your faith grows exceedingly" (2 Thess. 1:3); and Peter says, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Pet. 3:18.) There is "an increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10), and "a coming in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:13.) It was for this increasing knowledge of the Son of God that Paul stretched every desire of his soul when he followed after, if that he might apprehend that for which also he was apprehended of Christ Jesus; and this reaching forth unto those things which were before, he pressed toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12-14.)
This is not what is called progressive sanctification, as if the flesh got holier and holier, for that is still ever "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;" but this is a growth of that "new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." After this growth in grace, this closer conformity to the image of Christ, should we ever be striving with all the powers of our soul; not satisfied with a low and lean state before God, but with unceasing prayer and supplication, begging of the Lord that we might be "filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that we might walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." (Col. 1:9, 10.)
It is only as we are thus taught, led, and blessed that we can enter into the meaning of the words with the consideration of which we shall close our present Meditations—"In whom you also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Eph. 2:22.)
These words will apply both to the whole body of Christ viewed collectively, and to each separate member of that body viewed individually. In this double sense we shall now, therefore, consider them.
i. View them first, then, as referring to the whole body of Christ as complete in him. We have shown that the Church of Christ, viewed as a body, is spoken of as "compacted together," and that, viewed as a building, it is "fitly framed together." In this fullness of the whole and the harmony of the parts, as in the human body and as in an architectural building, much of its beauty consists. A body of which a member is deficient or disproportionate, and a building incomplete as a whole or deficient in symmetry in its parts, alike disgust and repel the eye. But who can conceive or describe the beauty and harmony of that body of which Christ is the Head, and of that building of which he is the chief corner-stone? Both are now imperfect, for the body is still lacking some of its members, and the building some of its stones; but each, though, in fact, they are but one, being but figures, not the reality, shadows, not the substance, will one day be complete, for the Church of Christ is gradually growing up into its full proportions.
Now, the object of this building, so beautifully and fitly framed together, is that it might be "a holy temple in the Lord." The glory of the tabernacle was the presence of God in it, as dwelling on the ark between the cherubim; and, therefore, when the ark was taken "the glory of the Lord departed from Israel." (1 Sam. 4:21.) So was it also in the temple erected by Solomon. When the Lord came into his temple, we read "that the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God." (2 Chron. 5:13, 14.) We thus see a connection between a temple and the habitation of God in it. It is his indwelling presence which makes the temple both holy and glorious. God sought for himself, so to speak, a habitation, a visible dwelling-place, that he who inhabits eternity, who dwells in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man has seen, nor can see, might yet present himself visibly to the eyes of men, and not only so, but might have a permanent dwelling-place among them. He therefore said to Moses—"Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." (Exod. 25:8.) This sanctuary typified, in the first instance, the sacred humanity of our blessed Lord, in which dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; for he in his human nature is "the true tabernacle which God pitched and not man." But in a secondary sense the Church, as being the mystical body of Christ, is also the temple of God, for in it he dwells by his Holy Spirit. It is the place of his habitation upon earth sanctified by his power and glorified by his indwelling presence.
2. But what is true of the Church collectively is true of every individual member separately. Every gospel church here below may be considered as a holy temple in which God lives and dwells. The Apostle, therefore, writing to the church at Corinth "as the Church of God" (2 Cor. 1:1) says to them—"And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Cor. 6:16.) It was because the church of God at Corinth was collectively the temple of the living God that he dwelt in them and walked in them.
Now, what the Church of God is in its completeness in Christ, as it will be in heaven above, and what it is in its visible and militant state on earth now, so is every individual member of that Church in this time state; and it is this solemn truth which makes the words before us to have such a forcible application to every individual believer. Not only, then, is a church, that is, a gospel church, built together by the ordinances of God's house, by a continual accession of living members, and by a growth in grace of each individual member, to be a habitation of God through the Spirit, but every one in it who fears and loves God is built into it for the same blessed purpose, that God may dwell in him and walk in him, making his body his own temple.
But, alas! how little is this realized and acted upon. Were pastors, were deacons, were members of gospel churches more deeply and powerfully impressed with the solemn truth that they are built together, that God himself might dwell in them through the Spirit, how much more careful they would be than they now are to maintain purity of doctrine, truth and reality, life and power in experience, and godliness and holiness in life! What a reverential fear would possess their minds, that they might not defile the Lord's temple, or sin against and before so holy and all-seeing a Guest! As a modest woman guards her chastity, or one who loves cleanliness in person, dress, and house shrinks from and hates dirt and filth, so will a conscience made and kept tender and alive in godly fear dread the defilement of sin and guilt.
And as we shall all have to answer for ourselves, "to die," as one said, "alone," and as religion is a personal matter, how careful should it make each individual believer so to walk before God and man that he may have both an inward and outward evidence that his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and that he is a habitation of God by the Spirit. If he realizes this, and live under its solemn weight and influence, how careful he will be not to defile that body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit; how desirous and anxious not to defile his eyes by wandering lusts, nor his ears by listening to worldly and carnal conversation, nor his lips by speaking deceit, or indulging in light and frothy talk, nor his hands by putting them to anything that is evil, nor his feet by running on errands of vanity and folly; but to view his body as a member of Christ (1 Cor. 6:15), and therefore sanctified to his service and to his glory.
We would gladly and willingly pursue this sacred and holy theme, as it is one of daily, hourly application; one which deeply concerns our state before God and the peace of our own consciences; but we forbear, as we think we must have sufficiently drawn upon the kindness and attention of our readers. Yet we cannot bring our task, though we hardly like to call it by such a term, to a close, without remarking that if we have rightly opened the mind of the Holy Spirit in our Meditations upon these two chapters, it will be seen how every doctrine which we have endeavored to open, every truth to unfold, every branch of experience to dwell upon and enforce, have each and all a sanctifying power and influence upon the believing soul; and thus we would gladly hope that, through the blessing of God on what we have written, it may leave its sanctifying influence upon every heart that truly desires to know, experience, and live "THE TRUTH AS IT IS IN JESUS."