The True Church!
George Everard, 1885
"For it is we who are the true circumcision — we . . .
who worship by the Spirit of God,
who glory in Christ Jesus, and
who put no confidence in the flesh." Philippians 3:3
But for the Holy Spirit, the Church could never have arisen, continued, and spread as we know that it has. Though the Father gave the Son, and Jesus lived and died and rose again, and ascended to the Father — yet without the descent of the Spirit, and His continual working in the Church, there could never have been a body of faithful people, nor the possibility of such continuing amidst the perils to which the Church has been exposed.
But what is the Church? It is "the blessed company of all faithful people." It is the company of all those who love God, and are joined to the Lord Jesus by the link of true faith. In its essence, it is a heavenly and spiritual body quickened by the Holy Spirit from a death of sin; crucified with Christ, risen with Christ, sitting in heavenly places with Christ now, and hereafter to reign with Him in glory.
The Church is described in Holy Scripture as a TEMPLE — how is this temple formed?
Christ is the one Foundation Stone. The soul lies heedless of and without spiritual perception or desire, in the quarry of our corrupt and fallen nature. But the Holy Spirit awakens, arrests, and convinces of sin.
Then further, the same Spirit leads the soul into the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and fixes it on this Rock by a steadfast faith. So, one by one, through the years and ages, the Spirit brings many to Jesus.
And what is the result? A glorious Church; all the living stones of this temple knit one to another, because all built on the one Foundation; and thus is formed that Church, which is the habitation of the Triune Jehovah.
I am quite aware there is another view of the Church. As seen by the eye of man, as sojourning on earth — the VISIBLE Church must have its ordinances, its pastors, its assemblies, its ordinances; and these are absolutely necessary to its well-being, and for the various purposes for which Christ provided them.
But let me here add a word or two of caution. Beware also of making too much of the Church as a visible institution. Just as it is the office of the Holy Spirit to bear witness not to Himself but to Christ, so is it with His Church. She is to witness not to herself, but to Him. The golden candlestick is nothing but as it holds up the Light.
So the glory of the Church is not to exalt herself, and cry "The Church! the Church!" but to point away from herself to Christ, in all His variety of office and fullness of grace. Let Christ be her glorying, and God will honor the Church for His sake.
But we must never forget the vast difference between the Church as seen by the eye of man — and by the eye of God.
The Church, as seen by man, is the mixed mass of . . .
the true and the false,
good coin and base,
the genuine and counterfeit people of God.
The Church, as seen by God, is the unmixed company of those whose hearts are right before Him. It is the flock who hear the Shepherd's voice, and follow in His footsteps. It is those who are cleansed in His blood from guilt, and renewed in the inner man by the working of His Spirit.
In the passage at the head of this chapter we have three distinct marks of such. The Apostle is describing those who are to be reckoned as God's people. The Jew gloried in circumcision, and accounted the Church of God to be limited to such as had received this rite. But Paul goes deeper. Those who have but the outward circumcision may be very far from God. But the true circumcision, the circumcision of the Spirit — this marks the Church of the saved.
Then he names three points. And if you would know whether you are a member of the mystical body of Christ, the Church of the living God, whose names are written in Heaven, try yourself by these three marks.
1. "Who worship by the Spirit of God." Is this your worship?
Are your prayers and praises offered by the aid of the Holy Spirit?
Do you guard well your thoughts in devotion?
Do you hate wandering thoughts, and watch against them?
Do you come to God as a child to a tender Father?
Do your hearty desires go with the words you utter?
Do you thoroughly believe that the ear of God is open to your petition, and do you look for an answer in His own time and way?
2. "Who glory in Christ Jesus." Is Jesus your rejoicing and glorying? Do you glory in Christ as your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption? Do you glory in Him as being the Rock, the Resting-place, the Refuge of your soul? Do you glory in Him as being your great High Priest, your Shepherd, your King, your Redeemer? Do you glory in His changeless love, in His unshaken fidelity, in His Almighty power to help and save? Do you glory in Him as the source and spring of your happiness, as well as your salvation and your hope?
3. "Who put no confidence in the flesh." Is this the case with yourself? Have you cast aside all confidence in all that is merely external? Have you learned to put away all confidence in ordinances, duties, church work, and all that is merely on the surface? Have you refused to rely in the least degree on your zeal, or good feelings, or works, or gifts, or self-improvement, or prayers — that to you Christ alone may be all in all?
Here was Paul's ground of rejoicing — is it yours? Are you a member of that Church of God's true saints whose marks are such as these? God grant that you may be; for then you abide in the favor of God, and will hear at last the word of welcome, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
"A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." Romans 2:28-29