Charles Stanley


Chapter 13

The Church the body of Christ.

Is this held truth?

Separation from evil.

Guidance from Scripture in days of difficulty.

The ministry of John commended.

Dates of the Epistles.

Errors in the Church.

The Word of God a sure guide.

There is another subject that the humble reader of the Word is sure to find, and which may, at first, give him some perplexity; that is, if he compares what he finds in scripture with what he sees around him. I refer to the church, the body of Christ. He will find such words as these, “one body,” “one Spirit,” “one Lord.” (Eph. 4:1-5.) He will also find such words as, “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13); and many such scriptures. It will become more and more clear to him, that in the beginning all Christians formed the one body of Christ. There was only one body, as truly as there was only one Lord.

He will then say, How is this? There are now many bodies of Christians. He will soon perceive it is not one of these bodies that is the “one body,” neither is it that all these bodies compose the “one body,” as 1 Corinthians 12 will teach him that the body is composed of individual members. If simple as a little child, he will soon learn that the body of Christ, the Church, is composed of all true believers now on earth. But then he finds divisions multiplying. What is he to do? Before I close I will tell the reader a little of the Lord’s dealings with me in this matter. Very sorrowful difficulties these are, that are sure to cross the path of the servant of Christ.

The first question is this, Do I hold the truth of the one body? That all believers since Pentecost are members of that one body? That all believers now form that one body in Gods sight? The next question is this, Do I personally desire to act on that truth; to love all that are the Lord’s, and seek to serve them? Whatever others do, do I desire to shape my ways in accordance with this great truth — the truth of the “one body”? I find others do the same. Not that they, for a moment, assume to be that one body, but seek to recognise no body but the one body of Christ, composed of all that are His. If I find others desiring to walk according to the word of God, then surely I can have fellowship with them. But if wolves come in and scatter, and if men arise speaking perverse things to lead away disciples after them, then there is the necessity of separation from evil. Is the Christian who desires to walk in the fear of the Lord to give all up in despair? Or if evil abounds, is he to allow it and go on with it? He will find these questions distinctly, answered in the word of God. In the midst of all the evil of the last days, he will hear the voice of scripture, “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” “Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Give all up! No, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” (Read 2Tim. 2, 3.)

“But,” you may say, “in times of great perplexity, how am I to know who is right?” Have you noticed, in that epistle which reveals the church more than any other, which is the first precept? “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Eph. 4:25.) And read carefully every word that follows to the end of the chapter. If all believers walked according to these precepts, division would be impossible. Neither will it be very difficult to discover who do, and who do not, act on these blessed principles. Ah, it is the state of the soul that is the root cause of division. False representation, bitterness, and evil speaking, spiritual pride, vain conceit, worldliness, want of uprightness. If we walk in the fear of the Lord, we shall have no difficulty in discerning what is of the devil.

Still many a young, ah, and old Christian, too, is distressed beyond measure at the state and failure in the professing church; and many an evangelist is sorely hindered in his work. Would that I could help such. Have you had the right hope before you? Has it been the church presented glorious at the coming of the Lord? Well, that hope has not altered, and it is nearer than when we first believed. Or have you had some undefined hope of the church being restored here on earth? If this is so, no doubt you will be greatly disappointed. Or have you imperceptibly slidden into the thought, that the church has been restored, and that some one company of Christians is the church restored? No wonder if you discover your mistake. Now whilst fully maintaining the privilege of the Christian to hold fast all that he has been taught from the word of God as to the Church of God, yet I would bring a subject here before you that has been of no little comfort to my own soul, in these days of perplexity. Many of my readers will remember almost the last words of one now with the Lord, at the last reading meeting we had with him, “Brethren, do not neglect the ministry of John.”

The ministry of John, in his inspired writings, what is its place in the word? In this paper I can only just call attention to this important inquiry. You may have noticed the remarkable order, or development, of revelation in the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi. But have you carefully studied the order in which the New Testament was given, so far as the dates are known? It would be beyond the scope of this paper to go through the whole. But just observe that the church is seen in order up to about A.D. 65. This is marked in 1 Timothy and Titus. Bishops or elders, and deacons, are officially recognised. What a change had taken place in about a year, may be seen by reading 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Jude. The church, as a testimony for God on earth, had failed. Deceivers and corrupters had crept in, and for a time inspiration ceased; yes, as is generally supposed, for about twenty-five years.

We should not forget that, for all those years, declension and failure rolled on. Then the Holy Ghost spake by John. He spake of the church only as that which had failed on earth, and to be judged. (Rev. 2, 3.) One assembly is selected and described in the epistles; but an entirely new order had been established there, one person taking authority. This was so opposed to the true principles of the church of God, that this man refused even the apostle John! We are left in no uncertainty whether God, by His aged servant John, approved or disapproved of this new order, which, I doubt not, had then become general. (2 John.)

If the Spirit did not then bring the church before us, except to judge its failures, and commend a weak remnant at Philadelphia; and if it was then the last time, and antichrists abounded; and if that last time has continued through the patience of God ever since, what did the Spirit present to us, as that which would abide during this last hour? If the church had failed as a testimony, what would not fail?

The Person and glories of Christ. In the 1st epistle he says, “That which was from the beginning,” &c. In the Revelation it is, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” In the gospel it is, “In the beginning was the Word.” When all had failed, the eternal relationships and glories of the Son who never fails, were revealed. God is revealed in the Son, “The only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

Now when we are sorely tried by the failure of man, the failure of the church, as seen on earth, yea, the sad sin and sorrow of all that is of man, how blessed to turn to the last full revelation of God in Christ. This will be increasingly important as the darkness settles on this poor world and the professing church.

We repeat we must hold fast all the inspired word of God. But has not that full revelation of the Son of God, the faithful witness of God, given so long after all the rest a peculiar place? One thing is certain, we have the very desires, the breathings of His heart to the Father for us, during these scenes of failure. If everything ecclesiastical utterly breaks down, still we have the most minute instructions for the children of God. In the gospel of John it is God the Father revealed in Christ; the infinite love of God to the world, Jesus, the Lamb of God, lifted up, that whosoever believeth on Him may have everlasting life. Tell the glad tidings to every creature, yet mark divine sovereignty on almost every page. He says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Do not forget this. Then mark how God in Christ has been rejected by religious man, the Jews. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” They have rejected Him; and in this gospel they are set aside. Sovereign grace takes out a remnant. Salvation was not by incarnation; He must die or remain alone. (John 12:24.)

Then mark how much we have in John’s gospel that is omitted in the others. Take chapters 13 to 17; and if our eyes are opened we shall see all this as an answer to the errors and departures of what has been called the church in, and of, this world. Shall we notice a few? As to the Lord’s supper, the great error for centuries has been to turn it into a sacrifice for sins. He says to believers born of God, “Ye are clean every whit.” He takes the water, not blood, to wash their feet. The work of the brazen altar is finished; and now it is the laver, the washing of water by the word. (Compare Eph. 5:26.) Jesus takes the place of the paschal redemption lamb, and His redemption is eternal. It is possible that even by the time this gospel was given, the Lord’s supper may have been greatly abused. The Spirit well knew how it would be put in the place of Christ; and it (the Lord’s supper proper) is scarcely named. Chapter 13 scarcely goes beyond the Passover supper. In every way it is Himself that is before us. It is remarkable when we think of what is made of the eucharist that John, the last inspired writer, never names it!

Then how universal has been the error that true Christians should come into judgment at the great day! All this is anticipated. Jesus assures us it shall not be so. (John 5:24.) Nay, He says, “Let not your heart be troubled;” “I will come again and receive you unto myself.” (Chap. 14:1-3.)

And what is the remedy for all the conflicting ecclesiastical forms of church government. Simply the presence of the Holy Ghost on earth, as promised in chapters 14, 15, 16. What a stay and comfort, and security, to all believers if they really believed that the Holy Ghost, as a Person, was as truly on earth as Jesus was with His disciples. Could you not have trusted Christ? Can you not trust the Holy Ghost, come what may?

But, says the evangelist, the sorrow of my heart is when I see souls converted, I know not where to direct them. I see that which bears the name of the church split up into contending, and often bitter parties; some of these arrogating the title, to be regarded as the church. And the thought with many others seems to be that we are at liberty to do as we like. I am not satisfied. If you would know the mind of Christ, you will find it revealed, just meeting this very state of things. You will find that one object of His atoning death was to “gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” (John 11:52) And mark, it was after this last hour of failure and abounding of antichrists had begun, that the breathings of His heart in His prayer was recorded by inspiration. (Read John 17.) Does He not pray for all who shall believe on Him, “That they all may be one: as thou Father art in me, and I in them,” &c.? Yes, whatever may be the state of that which is called the church, surely every true believer will seek to respond to the heart of Christ. We merely give these few suggestions for the study of this last inspired utterance of the Holy Ghost — the writings of John.

What an intense interest this gives to these late epistles. How are we then always to know what is of the devil, and what is of God? Nothing can be more simple or more sure. “He that practiseth sin is of the devil,” “and whosoever is born of God does not practise sin.” These two things characterise the children of God, and the children of the devil. “In this the children of God are manifested, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.” No wickedness has ever been surpassed on earth greater than that development which began in, or before, the days of the writings of John.

It may be asked, Will this divine instruction be a sufficient and sure guide now? Not a doubt of it. If a work be of Satan it may come in by men as angels of light; but soon, very soon, it will bear the marks described in 1 John 15:6-15. The devil is a liar, and his work will show itself in misrepresentation, and a spirit of hatred against the brethren; such as are most used of God are sure to be the objects of hatred. This is invariably the case, whatever pretensions there may be to righteousness. Look through the history of that which has called itself the church, or of those true children of God all through this last hour, and you will find what is described in this epistle to have been the case. It is so at this moment; and if the children of God walk in the patience of Christ, and in His gentleness and meekness, they will find it so.

Yes, fellow labourers, let us hold fast the righteousness of God as revealed in the Romans, and the dearness of the church to Christ as in the Ephesians; the special instruction in 2 Timothy, when evil had already come in, and every truth revealed to us in the whole word of God. And let us not forget the special instruction when all had failed in the hands of man, in the writings of John. I will not here speak of the special place of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, as I have written a tract upon it, and notes in “Things New and Old,” 1885-1886. What has been written here is for the encouragement of the servants of Christ. If any would wish to read the subjects, or substances of subjects, I have been led to preach during now near 53 years, they will find them in the tracts, a list of which will be found at the end of this paper, and in “Things New and Old,” new series.

Beloved fellow labourers, our time and opportunity for service will soon have closed. How soon we shall see His face, and be with Him and like Him for ever. He says, “I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” May we be waiting as we serve. If these few incidents out of many of His goodness and mercy, shall be used in encouraging the hearts of others, it will be my joy. And to Him be eternal praise.