The Body of Christ
by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Lord's day Morning, July 21st, 1850
It is a custom with me, beloved, to seek earnestly from the Lord the portions of His holy word which He designs me to preach from, and which He designs to bless. I did so for some considerable time, with regard to our present week's subject, before I obtained an answer. But the answer was at length brought with power Divine upon my soul, with regard to this precious appellation, "His body." "His body." How much has been said, in a most mistaken and perverted manner, about the body of Christ. When He Himself spake of the destruction of the temple it is said, He spake of the temple of His body, and said, if the Jews destroyed it He would raise it up again in three days. Not infrequently as His Church spoken of as His body, of which He Himself is the vital head, and, in language of my text it is most definitely set down what that body is, "the Church." I do not know a word in our vocabulary more perverted, more misunderstood, more misapplied, than the word Church. I am anxious that my hearers should exercise their thinking powers upon this point, if God will, and I hope they will come to the same conclusion that I have, that bricks and mortar cannot be the body of Christ, that a national hierarchy, established by human laws, cannot be the body of Christ. If I look at what is called the Roman Church, or the Greek Church, or the French Church, or the Genevan Church, or the Moravian Church, or any other church, you may mention of a national form, I am utterly at a loss to find the likeness of the body of Christ; and before I can avow myself a member of any church, I must discover in that church something of the likeness of the body of Christ. My text leads me to it. The apostle is exceedingly explicit on this point in all his epistles, as we showed you in the reading of this chapter. He never addresses his epistles, "unto all the inhabitants of Colosse, unto all the inhabitants of Philippi, unto all the inhabitants of Ephesus," but unto "the Church of God" there, "the saints which are in Christ Jesus" there. And this description is kept up in every epistle. I do wish my hearers would do themselves the honesty to lay aside every description of preconceived notions and prejudice, and read the epistles as they would read one of my letters. Bear with the familiarity of the comparison. Suppose I were to write a letter to any one of you at a distance, and even to say, on the opening of that letter, "To my dear brother such-an-one, together with such as are with him in his family, in his household;" you would not think it belonged to every one in the watering-place or in the house where you were staying; and you would think it uncommon impudence for any one to break open the letter. No; you would say, "The letter is addressed to me, to my family, and I refuse that any one else should take a glance of it." Now this is the case with all the epistles, without a single exception. The person to whom each letter is addressed (for an epistle is a letter, you know) are carefully pointed out, positively specified, and consequently the truths recorded belong to them.
Now, in order to approach our text, just glance a moment at what may appear a little difficulty in our way. When Paul, in the preceding part of the verse, talks about filling up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in the flesh, surely he could not mean that Christ's afflictions and sufferings were imperfect, surely he could not mean that Christ's afflictions and sufferings were not what He Himself declared them to be, when He said, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do," (John 17:4) and expiring upon the cross exclaimed, "It is finished." This could not have been his meaning. What then, it may be asked, is his meaning in rejoicing in his sufferings, when in prison at Rome on this occasion, and had probably never seen these Colossians at all? He heard from Epaphroditus of their welfare, and he writes to encourage and comfort their hearts; and he says, "I rejoice in my sufferings for you, because I am sent to the Gentiles, and on that account I am persecuted, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church." I conceive the meaning of the apostle to be simply this, that the afflictions of the Church, and especially the afflictions of God's sent ministers, are emphatically the afflictions of Christ, not in a meritorious sense, but in the way of participation, and hence the apostle speaks of having fellowship with His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; and our beloved Lord Himself says, "Whatsoever is done to one of the least of these my brethren, is done unto me," (Matt. 25:40) and He takes it as such. And, further, it is added, "He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, being tempted in all points like as we are." (Heb. 4:15) I thought it important in our exordium just to explain this, lest it should be a stumbling block in the way of some of my hearers, or give occasion to some proud free-willers to make a base use of it, as if they were to take part in the meritorious doings and sufferings of Christ, which we utterly repudiate and reject. The meaning, I conceive, is simply this, that, "as they have done it unto me, they will do it unto you," that, "The servant is not above his Master, nor the disciple above his Lord; if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you; and all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake." He looks on, is touched with sympathy, and succours and upholds His tried, afflicted, and persecuted saints.
Having thus, as I conceive, given the real intention of the apostle here, I wish to confine ourselves now, for our limited time, to the verse I have just read, it is all "for His body's sake, which is the Church." I feel a holy delight that the invisible Church of Christ is thus defined "the body of Christ." Mind you, I have said the invisible Church of Christ. The visible Church of Christ may have all sorts of shapes and forms; and it has in this present day, some of them, the most ridiculous and unscriptural: but the invisible Church, the real essential living Church of God, is always one. As it is written in the Canticles, "My dove, my undefiled is but one, the only one of her mother." (Songs 6:9) Now I do not care a straw whether you account me as belonging to the Church of England, or the Church of France, or the Church of Germany, or any other Church you may please to name as regards externals; but my joy and comfort is to belong to the invisible Church. As for the external form, let every man please himself, and I hope God will please me with the view He enables me to take of its externals; but my chief point this morning is with the invisible Church of God, which is declared in my text to be the very body of Christ.
I. Now concerning this "body of Christ, which is the Church." First of all observe, that it is a chosen body, it is in vital union with the covenant Head; for the body without the head is dead, and I very much fear that there are thousands who pass for Christians who have no union with Christ, and consequently are dead, "dead in trespasses and sins." Beloved, believe me, for I mean to be increasingly censorious upon this point as long as I live, God helping me; I only lament that my language has been so tame and calm as it has upon these points. I wish to be very severe in separating the precious from the vile, because I would not be guilty of your blood at the day of judgment. Now do think for yourselves. That Christianity is a dead Christianity that has no vital union with Christ; that professing Christian is dead in trespasses and sins who has no vital oneness with the Lord Jesus. His creed may be sound, his conduct may be correct, his name may be applauded, his good deeds may get him renown, and he may pass through the wilderness as a most amiable Christian in the sight of men, and perish after all; and perish he must eternally without a vital union with Christ. Now, do dwell a moment on this all-important point, for it is the fundamental of our holy Christianity. Be it observed, that every member of this body, this mystical living body, this invisible body of Christ, are chosen in Him before all worlds, covenanted for by Him in the sacred settlements of everlasting love, and called to Him in the fullness of time by the power of the Holy Ghost. Now if you would know whether you belong to the Church (mind you, I am not defining any external form of Church upon earth, I am soaring above this,) if you would know whether you belong to the invisible Church for which Christ bled, who constitute His body, and who are to spend an eternity in glory with Him, begin at the end of the description I have named, and ask whether God has called you by His grace. It is "them that are the called according to His purpose." We cannot begin at the beginning, but we must trace up to it. It is not your province or mine to go into the third heavens, and read whose names are written in the book of life, but we can look at the calling. As the apostle says, "Give diligence to make your calling sure," and then your election will be sure enough. Look well to this point. There is the open calling, the proclamation of the gospel, "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is with the sons of men." (Prov.8:4) This is not enough; thousands have heard this, and perished after all. But there is an internal, invincible, overcoming, soul-transforming, mighty, attracting call, by the voice of God, by the power of the Holy Ghost penetrating the sinner's heart and conscience, laying hold (if I may so speak) of every fibre of the soul, implanting life Divine, transforming, turning inside out and upside down, giving a new bias to the whole of the powers of the soul, translating it out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son; (Col. 1:13) and therefore we are said to be called out of darkness into light, to be called not to uncleanness, but to holiness, to be called unto the fellowship of God's dear Son. These are beautiful phrases occurring in Scripture, to mark the nature of Divine calling; and I beg of you to observe, that Divine calling is so invincible, that when power goes forth with it, when the Holy Ghost Himself puts forth His mysterious power, there are no excuses to be made. Even the voice of Christ was not effectual till He put forth the power of grace along with it; for when He said, "Follow me," says one, "Let me first go and bury my father," delaying stopping behind when he should at once follow Christ; says another, "Let me first go and bid them farewell that are at home," clinging to them still; but when He calls effectually, even Matthew at the receipt of custom follows Him, and away go the money and the books. Even Zebedee's sons, mending their nets, follow Him, and away go nets, ship, father, and all. I tell you, beloved, the call of Divine grace is an invincible call, and however stubborn and rebellious the sinner has been, his powers are prostrated, the bias of his mind is reversed, the current of his affections takes a different course, and he rises to follow Christ.
Now, if God has called you thus by His grace, let me tell you, you prove the vital union that our glorious Christ in union with the Father and the Spirit, covenanted for you. The Father covenanted for you to give you to Christ, and Christ to you; as it is written, "I will give Him the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession." (Ps. 2:8) The Saviour owns them, "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to me, and they have kept Thy word." (John 17:6) And God so loved them, "that He gave His only begotten Son" for them. Moreover, the Son so covenanted for them, that He stipulated for all the conditions of their salvation, the obedience, and the sufferings, and the victories, and the satisfaction to be given to all the perfections and attributes of Deity, all were in Christ's stipulation on your behalf. Then the Holy Ghost ratified that covenant, by registering all their names in the Lamb's book of life, setting His own seal thereto, and pledging Himself to come down in the fullness of time, to set His seal on their hearts. So that all the persons of Deity have covenanted for the entire salvation of the whole mystical body of Christ, which is His Church. Oh how I love these precious certainties. I cannot, I dare not attempt to exist without them, nor to preach the gospel without them. Then it will follow, that if we are called by His grace, this proves that we were covenanted for by the eternal Three, and chosen in Christ by the Father before the foundation of the world. My hearers, can earth or hell destroy the soul that God the Father has chosen, that God the Son has covenanted for, that God the Holy Ghost has called by His grace? Utterly impossible!
Pass on just to mark, that Christ's body, His Church, in all her individual members, has an interest with Himself, which is identical and mutual. The interests of Christ are the interests of His Church; and the interests of His Church are His own. There is such a holy fellowship, such an indissoluble oneness, such an identity of interest between Christ and His Church, that the Father of mercies never saw them apart. He never saw Christ as Christ, without seeing His mystical body along with Him. He never saw His body, His Church, without seeing her Head; making Him "head over all things to His Church." (Eph. 1:22) I detain you here for a few moments just to mark, that His responsibility is her salvation, and His glory is the business of her life. And this marks their interests to be mutual. It is His responsibility that is her salvation. I am quite aware (and therefore I always guard this point) that when I insist on this glorious truth, people turn round immediately (for they are very fond of slander) and say at once, "He denies human responsibility, he makes us mere machines." Pause a moment. I admit of human responsibility to the fullest extent that any man can require or desire; but what has it done for me? Cursed me, killed me, condemned me, and if I am left under it only, I shall be damned to all eternity. Human responsibility before God, requires of the being himself, of the man or the woman, perfect, sinless obedience, a full and satisfactory atonement. Can you do it? Have you done it? If you have not, your responsibility will curse you, your responsibility will be your destruction. Oh, methinks, if there be one tremendous howl in the bottomless pit more awful than another, one frightful shriek that thrills through the infernal regions more loudly than another, it will be "Responsibility, responsibility has brought me here." I turn from it overwhelmed with awe; I turn from it confident that I can look for nothing but curse and condemnation from creature responsibility: but when I read in my precious book that my Father hath made Jesus to be sin for me who knew no sin, that he hath laid on Him the iniquity of all His sheep, that He has made the demand of Him of payment in full of all the requisitions that stood against His Church, I turn to my Saviour's responsibility, and rejoice to know that He has paid all, conquered all, secured all, demanded all, and imparts all to His Church required for her salvation, and that under solemn and irrevocable responsibility.
But do mark the opposite side of this mutual interest. While Christ's responsibility is the salvation of His Church, and she can have no salvation without it, His glory is the business of her life. Now I beg of you not to attempt to separate these two things, because you have no evidence of your personal union with Christ, if the glory of His name is not the business of your life. You remember the solemn vow we so often cite from Paul, "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death." (Phil. 1:20) And, again, he exhorts the saints, "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; wherefore glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God's." (1 Cor. 6:20) Oh, mark, I beseech you, the importance of this evidence in our experience! The doctrine of Christ's responsibility; for as to trusting to Him, or resting upon Him, it is little less than presumption, if the honour and glory of His name is not the business of our lives. And, therefore, the apostle enjoins, "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31)
Moreover, while their interests are thus mutual, whatever tends to the advancement and the welfare of His mystical body is a matter of His intercession on high; and whatever tends to the glory of Christ, and the interests of His kingdom upon earth, is a matter of supplication and request with His mystical body upon earth. And, therefore, the Psalmist writes down, "Prayer also shall be made for him continually: and daily shall he be praised." I beseech you, beloved, mark that phrase. It is a stumbling block to some. "Oh," say they, "do you want us to make prayer for Christ?" For the advancement of His mystical body, for the glorifying of His name, for the vanquishing of His enemies, for the hewing in pieces of every Agag, and the increase of the laborious efforts to which all His saints are called, to make known the riches of His grace, and "make manifest the savour of His knowledge in every place." (2 Cor. 2:14)
Pass on just to mark, that His mystical body, His Church, takes all her supplies from the fullness of the Head. "Out of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace;" (John 1:16) and let it never be lost sight of, that those supplies are varied, and adapted to the peculiar circumstances of His Church. I will name two or three features. Supplies of life "I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) Supplies of liberty "If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36) Supplies of love "The love of Christ constraineth us." (2 Cor. 5:14) Supplies of fruitfulness" For," says He "in me is thy fruit found;" (Hos. 14:8) and we bring forth no fruit but from His grace. I should like a quarter of an hour upon each of these particulars, but I must limit myself as much as possible. These precious subjects, when they refer to my glorious Lord, so grow upon my thoughts, that I hardly know where to end. Supplies of life must come from Him "He is our life." (Col. 3:4) Eternal life is treasured up in His person. All spiritual life is derived from Him. It gains its supplies from Him day by day; it is invigorated, strengthened, confirmed, enlarged, and grows up into Him, by virtue of vital union with Him. Then, again, the liberty of the gospel is all received from Christ, and those are in bondage who walk not in communion with Christ. Just hasten on to observe, that our supplies of love are all taken out of His fullness. "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed at His coming. It is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts that constitutes our very life and its consummation. Moreover, it is that love which constrains us to love Him, and love one another; for we love Him because He first loved us;" and the souls that love Jesus most ardently and fervently, are those that love one another with a pure heart fervently. So that all is drawn and received from Christ by virtue of our union with Him; and the vital union effected by the Holy Ghost, and accomplished pursuant to the virtual union, which existed from everlasting, produces also fruitfulness. "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5) Now, beloved, if you would know what it is to be really and truly in union with Christ, members of His mystical body, and really and truly to belong to the Church, not a church, nor this church, nor that church, but the Church of the living God, just ask, Is the life of God in my soul? Is the love of God shed abroad in my heart? Is the liberty of the gospel realized in my experience? And are the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and the glory of God, brought forth in my daily experience?
Pursue the subject a step further under this head. The members of the mystical body of Christ are all of them accepted in the Beloved; and hence the apostle sets it down in these remarkable words, that we should "be to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. 1:6)that is, in Christ, the glorious covenant Head. Two thoughts only here. We are accepted in the Beloved originally and openly. We were accepted in Him originally, or we could not have been recorded in the Book of Life; or God the Father would not have adopted us as sons and daughters. We were accepted in Him originally, and that without the possibility of revocation; accepted in the Beloved completely and perfectly, and hence, as the apostle says, they were seen without spot or blemish, or any such thing; (Eph. 5:27) and as Jehovah Himself says, "He hath not seen iniquity in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel." (Num. 23:21) There was plenty in their Adam nature, but He would not see it, because they were accepted perfectly in Christ. Moreover, they were not only accepted originally, and constituted the Church of Christ before time began, but they are accepted openly. And here I want the acceptance manifested in two instances. I want it manifested on earth; that is, before the Church, and before the world; so that it may be evident that you have been with Jesus, that you have partaken of His Spirit, that you have been recipients of His life, that you have been clothed with His righteousness, that you stand complete in Him, that your very design is, that there should be an open, honest, bold acknowledgment of His dear name, an avowal that you look for your entire salvation in His person, official character, and perfect work, and have no other dependence. Then, again, they are accepted in the Beloved openly at last. Oh, the blessedness of this prospect! I would not for a thousand worlds stand otherwise than conscious of being accepted in Him now; and I trust the Church will look on, and the world shall witness, and be obliged to bear their testimony, "This man has been with Jesus." He stands accepted in the Beloved, complete in Christ Jesus from one eternity to another. But there is another open avowal of our acceptance in Him yet to come; and that is, when the earth and all that is therein shall have been burned up, when the dead shall be raised, when death and hell shall give up the dead that are therein, and Jesus shall appear with all His angels in glory, sitting upon the throne of judgment. Then shall He summon all before His bar, and, O solemn thought! all worlds shall be summoned to His presence, part to be openly accepted, and part to be eternally rejected. Can any man, who feels that he has a soul of inestimable value, think of the solemn contrast that lies between "Come, ye blessed," and "Depart, ye cursed," (Matt. 25:34,41) without being moved to the inquiry, To which family do I belong? Where shall I stand? Will He spurn me, with eyes like a flame of fire, or will He welcome me with the affection of the Lamb of God, and say to His Father, "Behold I and the Children which God hath given me?" (Heb. 2:13)
One word more, His body lives as long as the head lives. Sever the head, and the body dies immediately. But I hear the covenant Head say, "Because I live, ye shall live also;" (John 14:19) and I can never die till Christ dies, and my Bible tells me He will never die any more; for "death hath no more dominion over Him;" (Rom. 6:9) a blessed security. All the members of the mystical body of Christ live judicially because of their union with Him. They live experimentally by that union, and they shall live eternally, unless some one were to overthrow and destroy that union, "and that," says Paul, "I am persuaded cannot be." They live judicially. There is no condemnation to them; neither law, nor curse, nor vengeance stands against them, hell is locked against them for ever, heaven is opened to them, and they are favoured with joint-heirship with Him to enter into it. Oh! blessed, blessed life, to live because Christ lives. Moreover, they live experimentally as long as He lives. While He giveth more grace, and while He is the God of all grace, and while it pleases the Father that all fullness shall be treasured up in Him, you and I have only to receive as empty vessels out of His fullness, and our experience is watered, nourished, strengthened, feasted. Mark you, this describes all Christian experiences. It is not the filthy kennel of old nature raked up to be boasted of, under pretence of mock humility to mourn over it. This is not Christian experience. Christian experience is Christ in the heart the hope of glory, experimental godliness received from His fullness, receiving supplies continually from Him. And then that is the pledge and earnest of living eternally. Still the sacred vow of our precious covenant Head holds good, "Because I live, ye shall live also." Then if He lives in glory so shall I; yes, and I shall sit down with Him upon His throne, even as He also has overcome and sat down upon His Father's throne. O blessed oneness with a precious glorious Christ, never, no never to be dissolved, but to give me the pledges and earnests of glory on earth, and bring me home to the consummation of glory, when He has done all His will in me and by me here below.
II. Now let us proceed, in the second place, to say a word or two about the necessities implied, which I borrow from the phrase of my text, "for His body's sake." "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you," says Paul, "and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church." I must be allowed here a little to amplify the statement about Paul's afflictions, though I do not mean to overrate them. I first of all insist, that unparalleled sufferings were endured by the Church's covenant Head for her sake. "I lay down my life for my sheep," (John 10:15) He said, when He was upon earth. Now, I must wage perpetual war against that God-dishonouring, Christ-despising notion, that Christ laid down His life in a promiscuous manner for the sake of all the world. As if a man were to say, "I have money enough to supply all the persons around me in the neighbourhood, or city, or town, where I dwell;" and he consequently takes it and throws it abroad in the streets promiscuously and indiscriminately, saying, "They'll all be the better for it, no doubt!" Now, I think the probability is, in such a case, that no human being would be the better for it. It would just fall into the hands of a parcel of worthless creatures that would no doubt abuse it when they got it. Any wise man would know how to make a better use of his property. Shall Christ then shed His precious blood, shall Jesus pour out His soul unto death, shall He live a life of toil, obey the law, magnify it and make it honourable, shall He endure the vindictive vengeance of the Most High, shall He meet and grapple with all the rage of hell, and all the malice of earth, shall He yield up the ghost, and die in tortures indescribable, in unparalleled sufferings, and not know whether it would be of any use? No, it is for your sakes, for His body's sake, which is His Church, and we do insist upon it, that there is not a Scripture in all the Word of God that takes a wider latitude than this, however some passages may be perverted and snatched from their connection, and taken in an isolated form. We do insist and maintain, and are prepared to meet any human being to prove, that there is not a Scripture in the volume of inspiration that takes a wider latitude than that which I have just named. "I lay down my life for the sheep." Christ loved His Church and gave Himself for it, that He might wash it with the washing of water and of blood; that He might suffer without the gate for it, that He might cleanse it, and "present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing." Can any infidel mortal dare extend Christ's own language, dare pervert Christ's own words? I am obliged to take them as they stand, nay, not obliged, it is a holy luxury, a sacred joy so to do, and my soul rejoices in the thought, that the unparalleled sufferings of the glorious covenant Head were for His body, for His Church, on her behalf; and having borne her reproach, and endured her shame and despising it, having carried her load of iniquity, and borne it away, having satisfied law and justice on her behalf, now He lives for the sake of His Church, intercedes for her, rules all worlds for her, communicates covenant blessings to her, and will find out all her individual members, east, west, north, and south, from the remotest corners of the earth, and bring them home to Himself, and present His Church, for whose sake He lived and died, a perfect Church in the presence of His Father.
O the vast importance of having right conceptions of Christ's unparalleled sufferings. Those who would insinuate that souls can be lost for whom He died, trample the blood of the covenant under foot, and count it an unholy thing. I do not wonder at the doctrine of contingencies being held fast by Pagans, by Mahometans, by Papists, and by other free-willers, they have nothing else to cling to, it is a shame for a man to call himself a Christian, and yet hold the doctrine of contingencies. You may as well call yourself a Papist, or a Pagan, or a Mohammedan, if you like, all their doctrines are doctrines of contingencies, there is no certainty in them, they all depend upon what the creature is to do. I should not like such a doctrine as that. I come to my Bible, and there I read as a fundamental principle connected with the sufferings of Christ, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." "Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." (Rom. 9:15,16) There is no contingency about either the willing or the running, for it is "of God that showeth mercy.
Moreover, I find my precious Lord, in the immediate view of His sufferings, when about to lay down His life or His Church, saying, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out;" (John 6:37) and though He admits that no man can come except the Father draw him, He adds, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32)all descriptions of men, all the election of grace from whom He died. Moreover, I look into this precious statement, and dwell with holy delight upon the perfection of Christ's work by His sufferings, that there is nothing to fill up in a meritorious sense, as we said in our exordium, there is nothing left behind. He has conquered every foe, He has vanquished principalities and powers, destroyed death, and him that had the power of it, and brought life and immortality to light; otherwise He never could have said, as He bowed His head to give up the ghost, "It is finished."
But I proceed from this just to mark Paul's explicit meaning. He is, no doubt, adverting to his own sufferings, his own imprisonments, the cruel persecutions to which he was subjected for the Church's sake, and therefore he says, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ." (Col. 1:24) Being treated as He was treated, because "the disciple is not above his Lord, nor the servant above his Master." Now, it is a principle which we ought to lay down for the observance of all the churches, and especially of all the ministers of God, that numerous sharp exercises must be endured by all God's sent servants in behalf of His Church. Do not imagine that the life of a Christian pastor is a life of exemption from warfare. No; he is in the hottest of the battle. Do not think his position screens him from the reproach of men, and the revilings of the ungodly; far otherwise. You are to bear in mind what the apostle said, "Whether we be afflicted it is for your sakes, or whether we be comforted it is for your consolation." (2 Cor. 1:6) Look, for a moment at the ordination of Ezekiel, and you will find that, before he was qualified to go and speak to God's Israel he must hear the voice of God, as in the first chapter, giving him his commission. Then he must read a roll of lamentation and woe, written within and without, then he must eat it, must taste and partake of all the lamentation and woe, then he must be put upon a most appalling regimen for one hundred and thirty days, lying on one side, and forty days on the other, upon the same filthy regimen, which you may read of; then he must be bereaved of his wife, then he must go down to the chambers of imagery, and discover all the hidden iniquities that were there. No doubt poor Ezekiel's mind was deeply afflicted and sorely tried while he pursued the path which the Lord led him, in order to get his experience. "Now," says God, "Son of man, go and speak." He was qualified then. "I have sent you to all my colleges, and you have passed from one degree to another, made one attainment after another, and now go and deliver the message I have given thee." So you find the apostle enumerating his afflictions, his perils by land, his perils by sea, his perils among robbers, his perils among false brethren, perhaps the worst of all perils; and yet, in the midst of all these things, though bonds and imprisonments awaited him, he says, "None of these things move me." Oh! how I long for Paul's courage. "None of these things move me." Why? It is for Zion's sake. Say you, "What will be the advantage?" I will tell you. When God exercises His sent servants, after the manner I have been intimating, they are enabled so to deliver the grand truths of the gospel in an experimental form, and adapt themselves to the peculiar exercises of God's family, having passed through them themselves, that each has a portion in due season, that each has his case met, that each has his personal sorrows and cares soothed with an antidote from the precious, glorious gospel of the living God.
Therefore, says Paul, it is "for His body's sake." Often have I been called calmed down with a feeling of this sort, when old nature has been very turbulent. Why these afflictions? why these trials? why these sorrows? why these cares? I know if I ask an Arminian he will say, "Why, they are God's punishment for your wickedness, to be sure." That is just like the father of lies. All the judicial punishment is laid upon Christ. I know, and many of you know, to your comfort had consolation, that the tasting and handling, and going to the house of the potter, and hearing God's voice there, and having to wrestle with the powers of darkness, "the world, the flesh, and the devil," furnishes the minister of Christ more and more to come forth and edify the body of Christ. I do not like to dwell long on this point, because it may seem egotism to some, but it is in my text, and therefore I could not do wrong in dwelling a little upon it. And where is the man of God that would not readily say, "Let me endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." (2 Tim. 2:10) If, indeed, the mystical body of Christ is to increase in strength, to increase in health, and become more vigorous, if the graces are to be called into exercise by a ministry thus drilled and prepared, if indeed, unbelief is to get a death-blow, if, indeed, the assurance of faith is to be called forth, if, indeed, the spirit of adoption is to be nourished, and cultivated, and cherished, and sustained in the soul, if, indeed, the powerful grasp of faith can lay hold of the promises, and call them his own, and plead them before God till they are fulfilled, the minister of God may well say, "Let me endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." I remember the case of a godly man, now in glory, I believe under a fit of paroxysm, under shameful and reproachful treatment, almost too scandalous to be named, he was getting into old Adam's fit, and was beginning to think of revenge, and how to recompense himself, and the like. A godly brother, a minister, standing by, said, "Peace, my brother, a moment, and remember Him who endured the contradiction of sinner against Himself, lest ye be weary, and faint in your mind." "Ah! but," says he, "I have got to endure the contradiction of saints too." Forgetting that they also are still sinners in their old Adam nature.
Now just hasten on to observe, that not only are the afflictions and sufferings of Christ and the afflictions and sufferings of His ministers "for His body's sake which is the Church," but I learn from the blessed Book that all things are for her sake: Paul, Apollos, Cephas, life and death, things present and things to come, time and eternity, friends and foes, all things are for your sakes, that the abundance of grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. O how blessed the fact, that while our precious Christ endured all His sufferings for the sake of His Church, and moves and enables His sent ministers to endure a multitude of afflictions, and trials, and sharp exercises for the sake of His body the Church, He so moves, orders, arranges, and controls all things and all events in this wilderness, that His body His Church shall be profited thereby. Affliction and health, poverty and wealth, noble attainments circumscribed minds, and dispositions, and knowledge, friends or foes, angels or devils, must all do just so much and no more than my precious glorious covenant Head has appointed, settled, fixed, decreed, and ordered, and is managing hour by hour. Beloved, what should interrupt your comfort or mine? What should cast us down? Oh! but that man frowns! Well, let him frown till he frowns himself into hell. Oh! but that temptation is strong. Jesus is stronger than that, and he says He will lift up a standard for you. Oh! but that trial is so heavy, I can never go through it. He will give strength equal to the day. Oh! but there is nothing but dark clouds around me. Cannot you see the bright spot in it? Job says there is never a dark cloud without a bright spot in it. Come, sing with one of our poets
One thought more, and I close. While we note that all things are for the sake of Christ and His mystical body, and work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose, we cannot but note the identity of head and members. There is "no separation" as well as "no condemnation" written in His word. Jesus and His Church are so emphatically one, that He would not be glorified, He would not accept of all the glory in heaven, without His Church. His Church is so emphatically one with Him, that His body would be a mangled body if one member were missing. If the very least were wanting it would be a mangled body, and not as He says a perfect body, complete in Him. If my little finger were cut off every one would allow that mine would be a mangled body. One member would be wanting. If the weakest, most humble, most timid of Christ's mystical body could by possibility perish, it would be a mangled body, an object of pity to all the angels in heaven for ever. Glory to His name, that He says of all the members of His mystical body, "Where I am there shall my servants be."
May He command a blessing on His word, and His great name shall have all the glory.