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366

CHAPTER XXVI.

CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE.

“The Christ is the head of the Church, being Himself the Saviour of the body.... The Church is subject to the Christ in everything....

“The Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and without blemish....

“The Christ [nourisheth and cherisheth] the Church; because we are members of His body. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the Church.”—Eph. v. 23–32.

We have extracted from the apostle’s homily upon marriage the sentences referring to Christ and His Church, in order to gather up their collective import. The main topic of the epistle here again asserts itself; and under the figure of marriage St Paul brings to its conclusion his doctrine on the subject of the Church. This passage answers, theologically, a purpose similar to that of the allegory of Hagar and Sarah in the epistle to the Galatians: it lights up for the imagination the teaching and argument of the former part of the epistle; it shows how the doctrine of Christ and the Church has its counterpart in nature, as the struggle between the legal and evangelical spirit had its counterpart in the patriarchal history. 367 The three detached paragraphs present us three considerations, of which we shall treat the second first in order of exposition: Christ’s love to the Church; His authority over the Church; and the mystery of the Church’s origin in Him.

I. “Husbands, love your wives, even as the Christ also loved the Church, and gave up Himself for her.” This is parallel to the declaration of Galatians ii. 20: “He loved me; He gave up Himself for me.” The sacrifice of the cross has at once its personal and its collective purpose. Both are to be kept in mind.

On the one hand, we must value infinitely and joyfully assert our individual part in the redeeming love of the Son of God; but we must equally admit the sovereign rights of the Church in the Redeemer’s passion. Our souls bow down before the glory of the love with which He has from eternity sought her for His own. There is in some Christians an absorption in the work of grace within their own hearts, an individualistic salvation-seeking that, like all selfishness, defeats its end; for it narrows and impoverishes the inner life thus sedulously cherished. The Church does not exist simply for the benefit of individual souls; it is an eternal institution, with an affiance to Christ, a calling and destiny of its own; within that universal sphere our personal destiny holds its particular place.

It is “the Christ” who stands, throughout this context (vv. 23–29), over against “the Church” as her Lover and Husband; whereas in the context of Galatians ii. 20 we read “Christ”—the bare personal name—repeated again and again without the distinguishing article. Christ is the Person whom the soul knows and loves, with whom it holds communion in the Spirit. The Christ is the same regarded in the wide 368 scope of His nature and office,—the Christ of humanity and of the ages. “The Christ” of this epistle expands the Saviour’s title to its boundless significance, and gives breadth and length to that which in “Christ” is gathered up into a single point.141141   Compare pp. 47, 83, 169, 189.

This Christ “gave Himself up for the Church,”—yielded Himself to the death which the sins of His people merited and brought upon Him. Under the same verb, the apostle says in Romans iv. 25: He “was delivered because of our trespasses, and raised up because of our justification”—the sacrifice being there regarded on its passive side. Here, as in Galatians ii. 20, the act is made His own,—a voluntary surrender. “No man taketh my life from me,” He said (John x. 18). In His case alone amongst the sons of men, death was neither natural nor inevitable. His surrender of life was an absolute sacrifice. He “laid down His life for His friends,” as no other friend of man could do—the One who died for all. The love measured by this sacrifice is proportionately great.

The sayings of verses 25–27 set the glory of the vicarious death in a vivid light. Of such worth was the person of the Christ, of such significance and moral value His sacrificial death, that it weighed against the trespass, not of a man—Paul or any other—but of a world of men. He “purchased through His own blood,” said Paul to the Ephesian elders, “the Church of God” (Acts xx. 28)—the whole flock that feeds in the pastures of the Great Shepherd, that has passed or will pass through the gates of His fold. Great was the honour and glory with which he was crowned, when led as victim to the altar of the world’s atonement (Heb. ii. 9). Who will not say, as the meek 369 Son of man treads so willingly His mournful path to Calvary, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Is not the heavenly Bridegroom worthy of the bride, that He consents to win by the sacrifice of Himself!

He is worthy; and she must be made worthy. “He gave up Himself, that He might sanctify her,—that He might Himself present to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind,—that she may be holy and without blemish.” The sanctification of the Church is the grand purpose of redeeming grace. This was the design of God for His sons in Christ before the world’s foundation, “that we should be holy and unblemished before Him” (i. 4). This, therefore, was the end of Christ’s mission upon earth; this was the intention of His sacrificial death. “For their sakes,” said Jesus concerning His disciples, “I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John xvii. 19). His purchase of the Church is no selfish act. To God His Father Christ devotes every spirit of man that is yielded to Him. As the Priest of mankind it was His office thus to consecrate humanity, which is already in purpose and in essence “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. x. 10).

Only in this passage, where the apostle is thinking of the preparation of the Church for its perfect union with its Head, does he name Christ as our Sanctifier; in 1 Corinthians i. 2 he comes near this expression, addressing his readers as men “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” In the epistle to the Hebrews this character is largely ascribed to Him, being the function of His priesthood. One in nature with the sanctified, Jesus our great Priest “sanctifies us through His own blood,” so that with cleansed consciences we may draw near 370 to the living God.142142   Heb. ii. 9–12, ix. 14, 15, x. 5–22, xiii. 12. As Christ the Priest stands towards His people, so Christ the Husband towards His Church. He devotes her with Himself to God. He cleanses her that she may dwell with Him for ever, a spotless bride, dead unto sin and living unto God through Him.

“That He might sanctify her, having cleansed her in the laver of water by the word.” The Church’s purification is antecedent in thought to her sanctification through the sacrifice of Christ; and it is a means thereto. “Ye were washed, ye were sanctified,” writes the apostle in 1 Corinthians vi. 11, putting the two things in the same order. It is the order of doctrine which he has laid down in the epistle to the Romans, where sanctification is built on the foundation laid in justification through the blood of Christ. Through the virtue of the sacrificial death the Church in all her members was washed from the defilements of sin, that she might enter upon God’s service. Of the same initial purification of the heart St John writes in his first epistle (i. 7–9): “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.... He is faithful and just, that He should forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is “the redemption through Christ’s blood,” for which St Paul in his first words of praise called upon us to bless God (i. 7). It is the special distinction of the New Covenant, which renders possible its other gifts of grace, that “the worshippers once cleansed” need have “no further consciousness of sins” (Heb. x. 2, 14–18). In the theological use here made of the idea of cleansing, St Paul comes into line with St John and the epistle to the Hebrews. The purification is nothing else than that which he has elsewhere styled justification. He employs the terms 371 synonymously in the later epistle to Titus (ii. 14; iii. 7).

“Having cleansed” is a phrase congruous with the figure of the laver, or bath (comp. again Tit. iii. 5–7),—an image suggested, as one would think, by the bride-bath of the wedding-day in the ancient marriage customs. To this St Paul sees a counterpart in baptism, “the laver of water in the word.” The cleansing and withal refreshing virtues of water made it an obvious symbol of regeneration. The emblem is twofold; it pictures at once the removal of guilt, and the imparting of new strength. One goes into the bath exhausted, and covered with dust; one comes out clean and fresh. Hence the baptism of the new believer in Christ had, in St Paul’s view, a double aspect.143143   See Rom. vi. 1–11; Col. ii. 11, 12; 1 Cor. x. 2, xii. 13. It looked backward to the old life of sin abandoned, and forward to the new life of holiness commenced. Thus it corresponded to the burial of Jesus (Rom. vi. 4), the point of juncture between death and resurrection. Baptism served as the visible and formal expression of the soul’s passage through the gate of forgiveness into the sanctified life.

Along with this older teaching, a further and kindred significance is now given to the baptismal rite. It denotes the soul’s affiance to its Lord. As the maiden’s bath on the morning of her marriage betokened the purity in which she united herself to her betrothed, so the baptismal laver summons the Church to present herself “a chaste virgin unto Christ” (2 Cor. xi. 2). It signifies and seals her forgiveness, and pledges her in all her members to await the Bridegroom in garments unspotted from the world, with the pure and faithful love which will not be ashamed before Him at His coming. For this end Christ set up the baptismal laver. 372 Upon our construction of the text, the words “that He might sanctify her” express a purpose complete in itself—viz., that of the Church’s consecration to God. Then follow the means to this sanctification: “having cleansed her in the water-bath through the word,”—which washing, at the same time, has its purpose on the part of the Lord who appointed it—viz., “that He might present her to Himself” a glorious and spotless Church.

At the end of verse 27 the sentence doubles back upon itself, in Paul’s characteristic fashion. The twofold aim of Christ’s sacrifice of love on the Church’s behalf—viz., her consecration to God, and her spotless purity fitting her for perfect union with her Lord—is restated in the final clause, by way of contrast with the “spots and wrinkles and such-like things” that are washed out: “but that she may be holy and without blemish.”

We passed by, for the moment, the concluding phrase of verse 26, with which the apostle qualifies his reference to the baptismal cleansing; we are by no means forgetting it. “Having cleansed her,” he writes, “by the laver of water in [the] word.” This adjunct is deeply significant. It impresses on baptism a spiritual character, and excludes every theurgic conception of the rite, every doctrine that gives to it in the least degree a mechanical efficacy. “Without the word the sacrament could only influence man by magic, outward or inward” (Dorner). The “word” of which the apostle speaks,144144   Ἐν ῥήματι. Λόγος is word as expressive of thought. Ῥῆμα, the utterance of a living voice,—a sentence, pronouncement, message; it is the Greek term employed in all the passages here cited. is that of chapter vi. 17, “God’s word—the Spirit’s sword”; of Romans x. 8, “the word of faith which we proclaim”; of Luke i. 37, “the word from God which shall not be powerless”; of 373 John xvii. 8, etc., “the words” that the Father had given to the Son, and the Son in turn to men. It is the Divine utterance, spoken and believed. In this accompaniment lies the power of the laver. The baptismal affusion is the outward seal of an inward transaction, that takes place in the spirit of believing utterers and hearers of the gospel word. This saving word receives in baptism its concrete expression; it becomes the verbum visibile.

The “word” in question is defined in Romans x. 8, 9: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved!” Let the hearer respond, “I do so confess and believe,” on the strength of this confession he is baptized, and in the conjoint act of faith and baptism—in the obedience of faith signified by his baptism—he is saved from his past sins and made an heir of life eternal. The rite is the simplest and most universal in application one can conceive. In heathen countries baptism recovers its primitive significance, as the decisive act of rupture with idolatry and acceptance of Christ as Lord, which in our usage is often overlaid and forgotten.

This interpretation gives a key to the obscure text of St Peter upon the same subject (1 Ep. iii. 21): “Baptism saves you—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the questioning with regard to God of a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The vital constituent of the rite is not the application of water to the body, but the challenge which the word makes therein to the conscience respecting the things of God,—the inquiry thus conveyed, to which a sincere believer in the resurrection of Christ makes joyful and ready answer. It is, in 374 fine, the appeal to faith contained in baptism that gives to the latter its saving worth.

The “word” that makes Christian ordinances valid, is not the past utterance of God alone, which may remain a dead letter, preserved in the oracles of Scripture or the official forms of the Church, but that word alive and active, re-spoken and transmitted from soul to soul by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Without this animating word of faith, baptism is but the pouring or sprinkling of so much water on the body; the Lord’s Supper is only the consumption of so much bread and wine.

All the nations will at last, in obedience to Christ’s command, be baptized into the thrice-holy Name; and the work of baptism will be complete. Then the Church will issue from her bath, cleansed more effectually than the old world that emerged with Noah from the deluge. Every “spot and wrinkle” will pass from her face: the worldly passions that stained her features, the fears and anxieties that knit her brow or furrowed her cheek, will vanish away. In her radiant beauty, in her chaste and spotless love, Christ will lead forth His Church before His Father and the holy angels, “as a bride adorned for her husband.” From eternity He set His love upon her; on the cross He won her back from her infidelity at the price of His blood. Through the ages He has been wooing her to Himself, and schooling her in wise and manifold ways that she might be fit for her heavenly calling. Now the end of this long task of redemption has arrived. The message goes forth to Christ’s friends in all the worlds: 375 “Come, gather yourselves to the great supper of God! The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready! He hath given her fine linen bright and pure, that she may array herself. Let us rejoice and exult, and give to Him the glory!” Through what cleansing fires, through what baptisms even of blood she has still to pass ere the consummation is reached, He only knows who loved her and gave Himself for her. He will spare to His Church nothing, either of bounty or of trial, that her perfection needs.

II. Concerning Christ’s lordly authority over His Church we have had occasion to speak already in other places. A word or two may be added here.

We acknowledge the Church to be “subject to Christ in everything.” We proclaim ourselves, like the apostle, “slaves of Christ Jesus.” But this subjection is too often a form rather than a fact. In protesting our independence of Popish and priestly lords of God’s heritage, we are sometimes in danger of ignoring our dependence upon Him, and of dethroning, in effect, the one Lord Jesus Christ. Christian communities act and speak too much in the style of political republics. They assume the attitude of self-directing and self-responsible bodies.

The Church is no democracy, any more than it is an aristocracy or a sacerdotal absolutism: it is a Christocracy. The people are not rulers in the house of God; they are the ruled, laity and ministers alike. “One is your Master, even the Christ; and all ye are brethren.” We acknowledge this in theory; but our language and spirit would oftentimes be other than they are, if we were penetrated by the sense of the continual presence and majesty of the Lord Christ in our assemblies. Royalties and nobilities, and the holders of popular power—all whose “names are named in this world,” along with the principalities in heavenly places, when they come into the precincts of 376 the Church must lay aside their robes and forget their titles, and speak humbly as in the Master’s presence. What is it to the glorious Church of Jesus Christ that Lord So-and-so wears a coronet and owns half a county? or that Midas can fill her coffers, if he is pleased and humoured? or that this or that orator guides at his will the fierce democracy? He is no more than a man who will die, and appear before the judgement-seat of Christ. The Church’s protection from human tyranny, from schemes of ambition, from the intrusion of political methods and designs, lies in her sense of the splendour and reality of Christ’s dominion, and of her own eternal life in Him.

III. We come now to the profound mystery disclosed, or half-disclosed at the end of this section, that of the origination of the Church from Christ, which accounts for His love to the Church and His authority over her. He nourishes and cherishes the Church, we are told in verses 29, 30, “because we are members of His body.”

Now, this membership is, in its origin, as old as creation. God “chose us in Christ before the world’s foundation” (i. 4). We were created in the Son of God’s love, antecedently to our redemption by Him. Such is the teaching of this and the companion epistle (Col. i. 14–18). Christ recovers through the cross that which pertains inherently to Him, which belonged to Him by nature and is as a part of Himself. From this standpoint the connexion of verses 30 and 31 becomes intelligible.145145   The words “of His flesh and of His bones,” following “members of His body” in the A.V., appear to be an ancient gloss adopted by the Greek copyists, which was suggested by Gen. ii. 23. They are unsuitable to the idea of a spiritual union, and interrupt rather than help the apostle’s exposition. It is not, strictly speaking,377 “on account of this”; but “in correspondence with this”146146   St Paul changes the Ἕνεκεν τούτου of the original to Ἀντὶ τούτου, which conveys the idea that marriage has its counterpart in the fact that we are members of Christ. says the apostle, suiting the original phrase to his purpose. The derivation of Eve from the body of Adam, as that is affirmed in the mysterious words of Genesis, is analogous to the derivation of the Church from Christ. The latter relationship existed in its ideal, and as conceived in the purpose of God, prior to the appearance of the human race. In St Paul’s theory, the origin of woman in man which forms the basis of marriage in Scripture, looked further back to the origin of humanity in Christ Himself.

The train of thought that the apostle resumes here he followed in 1 Corinthians xi. 3–12: “I would have you know that the head of every man is the Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.... Man is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.” So it is with Christ and His bride the Church.

“The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man, made He a woman, and brought her to the man. And the man said,

This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh:

She shall be called Woman [Isshah], because she was taken out of Man [Ish].

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife:

And they shall be one flesh” (Gen. ii. 21–24).

378 Thus the first father of our race prophesied, and sang his wedding song. In some mystical, but real sense, marriage is a reunion, the reincorporation of what had been sundered. Seeking his other self, the complement of his nature, the man breaks the ties of birth and founds a new home. So the inspired author of the passage in Genesis explains the origin of marriage, and the instinct which draws the bridegroom to his bride.

But our apostle sees within this declaration a deeper truth, kept secret from the foundation of the world. When he speaks of “this great mystery,” he means thereby not marriage itself, but the saying of Adam about it. This text was a standing problem to the Jewish interpreters. “But for my part,” says the apostle, “I refer it to Christ and to the Church.” St Paul, who has so often before drawn the parallel between Adam and Christ, by the light of this analogy perceives a new and rich meaning in the old dark sentence. It helps him to see how believers in Christ, forming collectively His body, are not only grafted into Him (as he puts it in the epistle to the Romans), but were derived from Him and formed in the very mould of His nature.

What is affirmed in Colossians i. 16, 17 concerning the universe in general, is true in its perfect degree of redeemed humanity: “In Him were created all things,” as well as “through Him and for Him.” Eve was created in Adam; and Adam in Christ. We are “partakers of a Divine nature,” by our spiritual origin in Him who is the image of God and the root of humanity. The union of the first human pair and every true marriage since, being in effect, as Adam puts it, a restoration and redintegration, symbolizes the 379 fellowship of Christ with mankind. This intention was in the mind of God at the institution of human life; it took expression in the prophetic words of the Book of Genesis, whose deeper sense St Paul is now able for the first time to unfold.

In our union through grace and faith with Christ crucified, we realize again the original design of our being. Christ has purchased by His blood no new or foreign bride, but her who was His from eternity,—the child who had wandered from the Father’s house, the betrothed who had left her Lord and Spouse. In regard to this “mystery of our coherence in Christ,” Richard Hooker says, in words that suggest many aspects of this doctrine: “The Church is in Christ, as Eve was in Adam. Yea, by grace we are every one of us in Christ and in His Church, as by nature we are in our first parents. God made Eve of the rib of Adam. And His Church He frameth out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of man. His body crucified and His blood shed for the life of the world are the true elements of that heavenly being which maketh us such as Himself is of whom we come. For which cause the words of Adam may be fitly the words of Christ concerning His Church, ‘flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones—a true native extract out of mine own body,’ So that in Him, even according to His manhood, we according to our heavenly being are as branches in that root out of which they grow.”147147   Ecclesiastical Polity; v. 56 7.


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