The Embodying of the Spirit
Key Thought: "The church must die daily in fulfillment of the crucified life of her Head, as well as live daily in the manifestation of his glorified life. This italicized sentence, which we take from a recent book, is worthy to be made a golden text for Christians: “The Church is Christian no more than as it is the organ of the continuous passion of Christ." To sympathize, in the literal sense of suffering with our sinning and lost humanity, is not only the duty of the church, but the absolutely essential condition to her true manifestation of her Lord."
The Embodying of the Spirit
"The church, which is his body," began its history and development at Pentecost. Believers had been saved, and the influences of the Spirit had been manifested to men in all previous dispensations from Adam to Christ. But now an ecclesia, an outgathering, was to be made to constitute the mystical body of Christ, incorporated into him the Head and indwelt by him through the Holy Ghost. The definition which we sometimes hear, that a church is “a voluntary association of believers, united together for the purposes of worship and edification” is most inadequate, not to say incorrect. It is no more true than that hands and feet and eyes and ears are voluntarily united in the human body for the purposes of locomotion and work. The church is formed from within; Christ present by the Holy Ghost, regenerating men by the sovereign action of the Spirit, and organizing them into himself as the living center. The Head and the body are therefore one, and predestined to the same history of humiliation and glory. And as they are one in fact, so are they one in name. He whom God anointed and filled with the Holy Ghost is called “the Christ," and the church, which is his body and fullness, is also called “the Christ." “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ" (1 Cor. 12 : 12). Here plainly and with wondrous honor the church is named “o christos,” commenting upon which fact Bishop Andrews beautifully says: “Christ is both in heaven and on earth; as he is called the Head of his church, he is in heaven; but in respect of his body which is called Christ, he is on earth."
So soon as the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven this great work of his embodying began, and it is to continue until the number of the elect shall be accomplished, or unto the end of the present dispensation. Christ, if we may say it reverently, became mystically a babe again on the day of Pentecost, and the hundred and twenty were his infantile body, as once more through the Holy Ghost he incarnated himself in his flesh. Now he is growing and increasing in his members, and so will he continue to do “till we all come 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 G fullness of Christ." Then the Christ on earth will be taken up into visible union with the Christ in heaven, and the Head and the body be glorified together. Observe how the history of the church's formation, as recorded in the Acts, harmonizes with the conception given above. The story of Pentecost culminates in the words, “and the same day there were added about three thousand souls" (Acts 2 : 41). Added to whom? we naturally ask. And the King James translators have answered our question by inserting in italics “to them." But not so speaks the Holy Ghost. And when, a few verses further on in the same chapter, we read: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved," we need to be reminded that the words "to the church” are spurious. All such glosses and interpolations have only tended to mar the sublime teaching of this first chapter of the Holy Spirit's history. "And believers were the more added to the Lord" (Acts 5 : 14.) "And much people were added unto the Lord" (Acts 11 : 24.) This is the language of inspiration—Not the mutual union of believers, but their divine couniting with Christ; not voluntary association of Christians, but their sovereign incorporation into the Head and this incorporation effected by the Head through the Holy Ghost.
If we ask concerning the way of admission into this divine ecclesia, the teaching of Scripture is explicit: “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). The baptism in water marks the formal introduction of the believer into the church; but this is the symbol, not the substance. For observe the identity of form between the ritual and the spiritual. “I indeed baptize you in water," . . said John, “but he that cometh after me . . . shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire" (Matt. 3:11). As in the one instance the disciple was submerged in the element of water, so in the other he was to be submerged in the element of the Spirit. And thus it was in actual historic fact. The upper room became the Spirit's baptistery, if we may use the figure. His presence “filled all the house where they were sitting," and "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." The baptistery would never need to be re-filled, for Pentecost was once and for all, and the Spirit then came to abide in the church perpetually. But each believer throughout the age would need to be infilled with that Spirit which dwells in the body of Christ. In other words, it seems clear that the baptism of the Spirit was given once for the whole church, extending from Pentecost to Parousia. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4 : 5). As there is one body reaching through the entire dispensation, so there is “one baptism” for that body given on the day of Pentecost. Thus if we rightly understand the meaning of Scripture it is true, both as to time and as to fact, that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free."
The typical foreshadowing, as seen in the church in the wilderness, is very suggestive at this point: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10 : 1). Baptized into Moses by their passage through the sea, identified with him as their leader, and committed to him in corporate fellowship; even so were they also baptized into Jehovah, who in the cloud of glory now took his place in the midst of the camp and tabernacled henceforth with them. The type is perfect as all inspired types are. The antitype first appears in Christ our Lord, baptized in water at the Jordan, and then baptized in the Holy Ghost which “descended from heaven like a dove and abode upon him." Then it recurred again in the waiting disciples, who besides the baptism of water, which had doubtless already been received, now were baptized “in the Holy Ghost and in fire." Henceforth they were in the divine element, as their fathers had been in the wilderness, “not in the flesh but in the Spirit" (Rom. 8:9); called "to live according to God in the Spirit" (1 Peter 4:6); to "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5 : 25); "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph. 6:18). In a word, on the day of Pentecost the entire body of Christ was baptized into the element and presence of the Holy Ghost as a permanent condition. And though one might object that the body as a whole was not yet in existence, we reply that neither was the complete church in existence when Christ died on Calvary, yet all believers are repeatedly said to have died with him.
To change the figure of baptism for a moment to another which is used synonymously, that of the anointing of the Spirit, we have in Exodus a beautiful typical illustration of our thought. At Aaron's consecration the precious ointment was not only poured upon his head, but ran down in rich profusion upon his body and upon his priestly garments. This fact is taken up by the psalmist when he sings: “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. It is like the precious ointment upon the head that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments" (Ps. 133: 1, 2). Of our great High Priest we read: “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power" (Acts 10 : 38). But it was not for himself alone but also for his brethren that he obtained this holy unction. He received that he might communicate. “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Ghost” (John 1 : 33). And now we behold our Aaron, our great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, standing in the holiest in heaven. "Thou didst love righteousness and didst hate iniquity," is the divine encomium now passed upon him, “therefore God, thy God, anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Heb. 1 : 9). He, the Christos, the Anointed, stands above and for the Christoi, his anointed brethren, and from him the Head, the unction of the Holy Ghost descended on the day of Pentecost. It was poured in rich profusion upon his mystical body. It has been flowing down ever since, and will continue to do so till the last member shall have been incorporated with himself, and so anointed by the one Spirit into the one body, which is the church.
It is true that in one instance subsequent to Pentecost the baptism in the Holy Ghost is spoken of. When the Spirit fell on the house of Cornelius, Peter is reminded of the word of the Lord, how that he said: “John indeed baptized in water, but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Ghost” (Acts 11:16). This was a great crisis in the history of the church, the opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles, and it would seem that these new subjects of grace now came into participation of an already present Spirit. Yet Pentecost still appears to have been the age baptism of the church. As Calvary was once for all, so was the visitation of the upper room.
Consider now that, as through the Holy Ghost we become incorporated into the body of Christ, we are in the same way assimilated to the Head of that body, which is Christ. An unsanctified church dishonors the Lord, especially by its incongruity. A noble head, lofty-browed and intellectual, upon a deformed and stunted body, is a pitiable sight. What, to the angels and principalities who gaze evermore upon the face of Jesus, must be the sight of an unholy and misshapen church on earth, standing in that place of honor called “his body." Photographing in a sentence the ecclesia of the earliest centuries, Professor Harnack says: “Originally the church was the heavenly bride of Christ, and the abiding place of the Holy Spirit." Let the reader consider how much is involved in this definition. The first and most sacred relation of the body is to the head. Watching for the return of the Bridegroom induces holiness of life and conduct in the bride; and the supreme work of the Spirit is directed to this end, that “He may establish our hearts unblamable in holiness before God our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (1 Thess. 3 : 13). In accomplishing this end he effects all other and subordinate ends. The glorified Christ manifests himself to man through his body. If there is a perfect correspondence between himself and his members, then there will be a true manifestation of himself to the world. As Bishop Webb put it, ”The Holy Spirit not only dwells in the church as his habitation, but also uses her as the living organism whereby he moves and walks forth in the world, and speaks to the world and acts upon the world. He is the soul of the church which is Christ's body.''—Bishop Webb, The Presence and Office of the Spirit, p. 47.
Therefore does the Spirit abide in the body, that the body may be “inChristed," to use an old phrase of the mystics; that is, indwelt by Christ and transfigured into the likeness of Christ. Only thus, as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people," can it "shew forth the virtues of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light." And who is the Christ that is thus to be manifested? From the throne he gives us his name: "I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore" (Rev. i : 18). Christ in glory is not simply what he is, but what he was and what he is to be. As a tree gathers up into itself all the growths of former years, and contains them in its trunk, so Jesus on the throne is all that he was and is and is to be. In other words, his death is a perpetual fact as well as his life.
And his church is predestined to be like him in this respect, since it not only heads up in him, as saith the apostle, that ye “may grow up into him in all things which is the Head, even Christ," but also bodies itself forth from him, “from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, . . maketh increase of the body” . . (Eph. 4 : 16). If the church will literally manifest Christ, then she must be both a living and a dying church. To this she is committed in the divinely given form of her baptism. “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death; therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6 : 3, 4). And the baptism of the Holy Ghost into which we have been brought is designed to accomplish inwardly and spiritually what the baptism of water foreshadows outwardly and typically, viz., to reproduce in us the living and the dying of our Lord.
First, the living. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8 : 2). That is, that which has been hitherto the actuating principle within us, viz., sin and death, is now to be met and mastered by another principle, the law of life, of which the Holy Spirit of God is the author and sustainer. As by our natural spirit we are connected with the first Adam, and made partakers of his fallen nature, so by the Holy Spirit we are now united with the second Adam, and made partakers of his glorified nature. To vivify the body of Christ by maintaining its identity with the risen Head is, in a word, the unceasing work of the Holy Ghost.
Secondly, the dying of our Lord in his members is to be constantly effected by the indwelling Spirit. The church, which is the fullness of him that filleth all in all," completes in the world his crucifixion as well as his resurrection. This is certainly Paul's profound thought, when he speaks of filling up “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1 : 24). In other words, the church, as the complement of her Lord, must have a life experience and a death experience running parallel.
It is remarkable how exact is this figure of the body, which is employed to symbolize the church. In the human system life and death are constantly working together. A certain amount of tissue must die every day and be cast out and buried, and a certain amount of new tissue must also be created and nourished daily in the same body. Arrest the death-process, and it is just as certain to produce disorder as though you were to arrest the life-process. Literally is this true of the corporate body also. The church must die daily in fulfillment of the crucified life of her Head, as well as live daily in the manifestation of his glorified life. This italicized sentence, which we take from a recent book, is worthy to be made a golden text for Christians: “The Church is Christian no more than as it is the organ of the continuous passion of Christ." To sympathize, in the literal sense of suffering with our sinning and lost humanity, is not only the duty of the church, but the absolutely essential condition to her true manifestation of her Lord. A self-indulgent church disfigures Christ; an avaricious church bears false witness against Christ; a worldly church betrays Christ, and gives him over once more to be mocked and reviled by his enemies.
The resurrection of our Lord is prolonged in his body, as we all see plainly. Every regeneration is a pulse-beat of his throne-life. But too little do we recognize the fact that his crucifixion must be prolonged side by side with his resurrection. “If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." The church is called to live a glorified life in communion with her Head, and a crucified life in her contact with the world. And the Holy Spirit dwells evermore in the church to effect this twofold manifestation of Christ. "But God be thanked, that ye have obeyed from the heart that pattern of doctrine to which ye were delivered," writes the apostle (Rom. 6:17). The pattern, as the context shows, is Christ dead and risen. If the church truly lives in the Spirit, he will keep her so plastic that she will obey this divine mold as the metal conforms to the die in which it is struck. If she yields to the sway of “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience," she will be stereotyped according to the fashion of the world, and they that look upon her will fail to see Christ in her.
A.J. Gordon, Ministry of the Spirit, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1894), pp. 51-64.