Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Bride of the Lamb by Hamilton Smith (Chapter 1)

CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE
Ephesians 5:22-32

In this very practical portion of the Epistle to the Ephesians the Apostle is exhorting us as to the conduct that becomes believers in the marriage relationship. In so doing he shows the intimate character of the relationship. There are other relations in life, as parents and children, and brothers and sisters, but in no relationship is the link so close as in that of husband and wife. The Apostle says, "they two shall be one flesh:" again he says, "so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies." They are viewed as one; hence the Apostle argues, for a man to hate his wife would be to hate his own flesh, an unheard-of thing. On the other hand to love his wife is to love himself.

To enforce these exhortations and show the true character of this time-relationship of husband and wife, the Apostle turns to the eternal relationship of Christ and His Church. This leads to a very beautiful unfolding of the love of Christ for His Church viewed under the figure of a Bride, of which Eve, in the garden of Eden, is used as a striking type. The Apostle passes before us the love of Christ that secures the Bride for Himself; then, possessing the Bride, the love that forms her in suitability to Himself; and finally, having prepared the Bride, the love that will present her to Himself.

First we read, "Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it" (v. 25). The source of all blessing for the Church is the motiveless love of Christ. Before ever the Church was brought into being He loved it with a perfect, divine, and infinite love. He did not first die for it, and cleanse it, and then love it; but He first loved it and died for it, and then cleanses it. And loving the Church He gave Himself for it. He did not only do something for it; He did not simply give up something for it. His love went a great way further than doing something, or giving up something, for the Church. His love went to the uttermost: He gave Himself. All that He is in His infinite perfections; nothing was held back. He gave Himself; more He could not give. And by giving Himself for the Assembly He secures it for Himself, and possesses it by a perfect title. The Church actually exists as the result of Christ's work. Christ has purchased the Church for Himself. Hence, though the marriage has not yet taken place, the relationship between Christ and the Church already exists. The Church is not a company of people who are being put to the test by commands which they have to obey in order to gain the relationship. Christ has brought us into relationship with Himself wholly by His own work, the fruit of His own love. The responsibilities and privileges of the Church flow from the relationship that has already been formed. We belong to Christ, and it is our privilege, as well as our obligation, to be entirely His, and entirely for Him. Christ, we need not say, has ever been faithful in His changeless love, though, alas, how much the Bride has failed in devotedness to the Bridegroom!

Secondly, having so touchingly presented the love of Christ in giving Himself for the Church in the past, the Apostle proceeds to speak of the activities of the love of Christ for His Bride in the present. He tells us that Christ has secured his Bride in order "that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." The love that by death secured the Bride is now occupied in preparing her for the supreme happiness of being with Himself in glory. The Bridegroom would make her a suited object for His love, and capable of responding to His love. To this end love is occupied in sanctifying and cleansing the Bride. The cleansing is not in order that we may belong to Him, but because we are His; and being His He would have us suited to Himself. He would have us in devoted affection set apart entirely for Himself, and cleansed from all that is contrary to Himself.

The means used to bring this about is "the washing of water by the word." The Lord expresses this in His prayer to the Father when He prays "Sanctify them through the truth, Thy word is truth . . . for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." The Lord sets Himself apart in heaven, that, like Stephen, we might look up through the opened heavens and find in Christ in glory a sanctifying Object. Gazing upon Him in the glory we see what He would have us to be, and beholding the glory of the Lord we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, and thus realize the transforming power of a perfect Object. The "word" too, while directing our gaze to Christ, gives us a true revelation of the perfections of the One we gaze upon, so that we are not left to any sentimental imaginations of our own hearts. On the other hand the word detects and condemns in us, and around us, all that is contrary to Christ and the place where He is.

What a value this gives to the "word"! For it is the "word" which He uses for the cleansing of His Church. What confidence should this give in applying the word to our own souls, or in ministering the word to one another — the confidence that we are using that which in grace He uses.

In the light of this Scripture which discovers to us what Christ is occupied with from His place in heaven, we may well challenge our hearts as to what we are occupied with down here. Occurring in the practical part of the Epistle, this unfolding of the love of Christ for His Bride is surely intended to have a very practical effect upon our lives. The question for us all is, Have we before our hearts what Christ has before His? Do we desire to be made suitable to Him, and capable of enjoying, and responding to, His love even now, so that, in the time of His absence, we may be faithful to Christ as a waiting Bride for her absent Bridegroom.

Thirdly, the present activities of the love of Christ for His Bride are in view of what is yet future — "the marriage of the Lamb" — when He will present the Church to Himself a glorious Church, "not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." It is not only that the Church will be in glory, but it will be "glorious." It will be like Christ, fit for His glorious presence. Thus He secured His Bride by Himself; He is preparing her for Himself; and will present her to Himself. His love is the source of all, and what love commenced at the cross, love will complete in the glory.

There is, however, further important truth concerning Christ and the Church in this instructive passage. The Apostle proceeds to tell us that Christ nourishes and cherishes the Assembly, treating us as "members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones." This brings before us another precious truth, distinct from that which we have been considering. We have seen that Christ is fitting His Bride for heaven; now we learn that He is also caring for His Bride on earth. Sanctifying and cleansing are in view of the presentation in glory; nourishing and cherishing have reference to our pilgrim journey on earth. His love not only looks on to the glory, but watches over us as we pass through this dark world from which He is absent, on our way to glory. He knows the circumstances we are in, the trials we have to meet, our weaknesses and infirmities, and in them all He cares for us and meets our needs; and thus it is He nourishes us. But He also cherishes us; that is He not only meets our needs, but He does so as those who are cherished as being very precious in His sight.

In order to give us a sense of how precious we are in His sight — of the value He sets upon His Assembly — He speaks of us as members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. That is to say, He views us as Himself, for a man's flesh is himself. So that in caring for His Assembly He is caring for Himself. Thus He can say to Saul, "Why persecutest thou Me?" Saul was indeed persecuting the Church, but in so doing he was persecuting Christ.

How precious, as another has said, that "the wants, the weaknesses, the difficulties, the anxieties of the Assembly are only opportunities to Christ for the exercise of His love. The Assembly needs to be nourished, as do our bodies; and He nourishes her. She is the object of his tender affections; He cherishes her. If the end is heaven the Assembly is not left desolate here. She learns His love where her heart needs it. She will enjoy it fully when need has passed away for ever."

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