Presently, the Church and Body of Christ is without guilt, but not without the old man and sin. For now, grace suffices us, as we are no longer considered “in the flesh” (sin nature, old man – Ro 8:9)—but “in the Spirit,” and in the Father and the Son! But at the resurrection we will no longer be indwelled with the old man; for the resurrection will not include it; and so shall Christ “present us to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

Growth for the Present

The Church, the Bride, has never yet been manifested (shown to all as Christ’s Body—NC), for she is not yet fully formed (yet fully His as the resurrection and “marriage supper” will prove out—NC). She is now passing through the time of her espousals, the time of discipline and preparation, that when she is married, she may be ready for her Lord, and fitted for abiding everlasting union with Him. She is during this age or dispensation on her journey to meet Him (finally be with Him—NC). She is like Rebecca under the charge of Abraham’s servant, having left her father, her kindred and her country, as the espoused of the distant and as yet unseen Isaac. She has committed herself to the care of a stranger, One Who is not known in this Mesopotamia of ours; One “Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him” (Jn 14:17).

But she knows Him, and trusts Him, and believes the report that He has brought her about her Isaac, and that His Father has given Him all the wealth of His house (Gen 24:36; Jn 16:15). And though she, like Rebecca, has not seen Him, yet she loves Him; though as yet she sees Him not, yet believing, she rejoices (1Pe 1:8). Her eye is toward Canaan, and her heart upon Isaac. But she has not yet reached Sarah’s tent, Isaac’s desired dwelling-place; she is still only on her way. Blessed it is when our hearts are in the way, when we are contented to know that to the end it is but a journey. We must take heed, lest, like Israel, we “become discouraged because of the way” (Num 21:4). For the will of the Father must first be done, and then the promise (“then the promise” i.e. the physical occurrence of the resurrection - Heb 10:36—NC).

Thus it is with us—it is a going from strength to strength through the valley of Baca. It is the way before, as well as behind us, but still the way. So does the Word of God describe it for us; and it also describes this dispensation to us under the figure of the vestry to the church, so to speak, where the guests are putting on their wedding garments in preparation for the marriage. It is a kind of anteroom to the King’s palace (Mat 22:11); a day of espousals, in which the Bride is learning the mind of the Bridegroom, and the ways of His house.

“I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Co 11:2). Note, “That I may present you.” The marriage is but in prospect. Personal individual union of the saints with their Head, so as to bring forth fruit unto God, there is now—as well as the baptism of all by the Spirit into one Body (saved and reborn, which is the preparation of the Bride—NC), but presenting the Bride unto the Bridegroom there is not yet (Rev 19:7-9).

Adam was cast into a deep sleep, and of the rib taken from his side while thus asleep, was made a woman. But not till she was fully made, and Adam had awaken was she brought to him. So in the mystery. The act of forming the Bride is now going on (progressively manifesting what we already are in Him—NC); but the presentation cannot be till that act is competed (union before presentation—NC), and Adam awakes: till “the whole body be fitly joined together and compacted” (Eph 4:16), and the Lord arise, and show Himself (Rev 1:7), and takes His prepared and loved Bride; and this mystery, the love and marriage of the Bridegroom and the Bride, in three stages of it, is beautifully disclosed to us in Ephesians 5:25-27.

1 - “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.” That is, loving before the world was, He said, “Lo, I come”; and His delights, as He speaks, “were with the sons of men” (Pro 8:31). Then did He set His love upon the Church, and in due time He gave Himself for it, sold all that He had that He might possess her—His pearl of great price.

2 - “That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word.” That is, during the present dispensation, He is forming the Church for Himself by the virtue and continuous ministry of His Word and Spirit, till she is prepared as a bride for her husband.

3 - “That He might present it to Himself a glorious Church.” That is, after this dispensation, when He will have taken His Bride, the Church (Col 1:24), then formed and ready, and made glorious like unto Himself; that He may find her His helpmeet, and be satisfied with her forever.

But the common error of looking upon the Church as though she had been already manifested and married has been the occasion of giving her a very undue place and condition in the world. With Israel it was so, for the earth was Israel’s home; but the Church is a stranger here. It is not to be expected in this dispensation a perfect exhibition of the Church, but only as the time for her forming and fashioning after the mind and counsel of God. For the purpose of the Divine Former of the Bride is to have saints grow up in the life and strength of fellowship with the Lord Jesus, through the Spirit, rather than to assume any consistency and order, however good for present credit and security, which would not stand the light and purity of that day.

Let us have grace to cultivate our readiness for the Bridegroom. It depends on our fellowship with Him, while He is absent; and on our minds and hearts being “kept in the simplicity that is in Christ,” on their being formed only in and for Him. When God fashioned Eve, His design was to make her a helpmeet for Adam. His eye rested on Adam’s joy, and on that only, all the while. Had any other design intruded, it would have been a corruption of the fair workmanship. But the Father was true to the counsels of His love toward Adam. And so as Adam found it; for when Eve was brought to him, he said, “This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh”; expressing thus his complacency in her, and thus owning that the Father had prepared her for him in perfect love and wisdom.

And so with the Spirit now. His purpose is to get the Bride ready for her Bridegroom. We have been espoused to one husband that we may be presented to the Lord Jesus Christ; and how jealous we should be lest anything should be formed in our minds and hearts for any other than Himself! The gifts that have been sent down are only for uniting us in the knowledge of the Son, and that “in all things we may grow up in Him” (Eph 4:15).

Any other attempt is but the sleight of man and cunning craftiness. It may be fair and boastful of great and good things, but it is a deceiving angel of light if it be not forming Christ in us. It may appear to be wisdom, or knowledge, or religion, or order, or some other thing of esteem; but it matters not—it is deceitful and corrupting, if it exercises any art but that of making us to grow up into Christ. We need the broken heart, the fragments of which the Lord Jesus can take up. We are to dismiss all confidence in the flesh, for that He cannot use. We want to know more of the widowhood, the longings of one who waits for her Lord. He is absent from here, and many things solicit us the while, but we are to keep ourselves for Him.

Will it not be enough to find ourselves by His side forever? Will it not be enough to see Him rejoicing over us as His “pearl of great price,” for the sake of which He had parted with all that He had? Oh! If the sweetest joy of a faithful wife be this, to know that she has the abiding and best love of her lord; will not this be ours, saints, without fear of change forever? May we be true to Him who never can be false to us, Who “nourisheth and cherisheth” us as His own flesh (Eph 5:29)!

—J G Bellett (1795-1864)

Online MJS devotional excerpt for December 8

“You might be secretly attempting to correct and improve yourself, and suffering a good deal of private vexation and disappointment on account of the futility of your struggles. It was at a moment when I was utterly discouraged, and ready to give up the whole thing in complete despair, that the Father showed me how I was attempting to work upon the old material which He could only condemn, and had, and that my disgust and despair as to myself were only a feeble echo of His.

“My Father was not looking for any good in me, and had the Lord Jesus Christ before Him, the perfect and infinitely acceptable Object of His heart. And I, in my nothingness, had ceased to look for good in myself, and began tasting the deep joy of being in Christ, and free to have Him as my Object; while as to life, I enter in some degree into the blessedness of knowing that it was ‘not I, but Christ liveth in me.’“ -C.A.Coats

The Christian life is not our living a life like Christ, or our trying to be Christ-like, nor is it Christ giving us the power to live a life like His; but it is Christ Himself living His own life through us; 'no longer I, but Christ.’” -MJS