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we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the sleight of man and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive : but speaking the truth in love may grow up into him in all things which is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
Leaving the figure of the candlestick, the apostle here comes to the figure of the human frame, in order to illustrate the compactness and the nature of the unity and efficacy of the services which God has appointed in his church on earth. Here we have that by which saints åre to be perfected for ministration,—that ministry to which the resurrection of the Saviour has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, who join together the whole body, and compact it in all it's joints, that it may be supplied with that which neither prophet nor teacher could give, of which He is only the channel,--that life-giving unction and life-sustaining power of God's Holy Spirit, by which alone the church can grow.
We do not read here of one head on earth, but of one head in heaven; one Lord, one faith, one baptism ; for the unity of the body of Christ centres around her a living, glorified head in heaven, and not some wretched, decrepid head on earth. Putting these descriptions together, therefore, we are enabled to see what our blessed Saviour meant when he spoke of the kingdom of heaven being like unto ten virgins, each of whom had her lamp for oil, and her vessels which were to supply that lamp with oil. Those who neglected the vessels, their lamps had gone out; and those who had brought oil in their vessels, their lamps were burning brightly and they were ready to meet the Lord.
Now, here we are met with the rebuke of that foolish, and worse than foolish, Church of Rome, which makes people think themselves right if built up in what they call church principles; for what did these foolish virgins need ? Nothing of office—they were virgins; nothing of preparation for the spirit—they had lamps ; nothing but the oil; but, needing that, they needed everything; and when the bridegroom came they were shut out.
Brethren, it is just as foolish to trust in a church because it is a church, or to trust in a ministry because it is a ministry, or to trust in sacraments because they are divinely-appointed ordinances, as it would be to trust in a sheepfold where there are walls and gates, and a shepherd, but no grass to feed the sheep within. But, on the other hand, it is not the mind of the spirit to despise the church, to despise her ordinances, and to reject her ministry, and to cast away that which the head of the church has given us for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Our blessed Saviour, therefore, directs our thoughts to the vessels that are to contain the oil, and to the lamp that is to contain the kindled light—that is to give light in the darkness, and to be the light that is to guide the bride and the bridegroom to their return and rest.
Here we have indeed a most blessed subject for our thoughts, that we may ask ourselves in our dispensation, what are those vessels for oil that the great head of the church has provided for us? There is one thing,—the unity of the body: could a human body retain its existence if it were a dissevered body? It could not. And the church cannot maintain its corporate existence if it be a distracted and disordered church. We must bear in mind that it is of communities that the scripture speaks here, and not of individuals; it would indeed be a very untrue inference from this parable if we were to suppose that no individual could maintain his life except he were to be found in a corporate body of the church; that is, the terrible error of Romanism, and of those who lean towards Romanism. We must evermore bear in mind that the individual soul that is able to look up to Heaven and Paradise, and to trust in the Saviour's love, and to seek for the Saviour's spirit, if he were on a rock in the ocean—if he were in the midst of a desert, he would obtain everlasting life from serving the Son and believing on him, as truly and as fully as if he were placed in the midst of the greatest privileges which the most blessed state of the Church of Christ could give him on earth ;—that is, if God deprived him of outward means, God's blessed spirit can more than supply those means, sending down from heaven into his soul the life-giving power of his own indwelling spirit; so that it is not of individual religion that this parable speaks, but of the corporate character of the Church of Christ, and in this it is indeed true that were a church not a united company, it could not maintain its corporate existence by division and distraction. Here, therefore, we have much need to ask ourselves, are we endeavouring to preserve the unity of the church ? are we endeavouring to preserve the discipline of the church ? are we standing in God's word ? and what is the nature of that unity of which the apostle says, “ one body with its head in heaven, with its members on earth, - apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and
saints, compacted together by that which every joint supplieth and thus bound together as one community.
On future occasions I hope to be able to bring this important subject before your thoughts and your consciences too, for indeed we are all far short of even endeavouring to be what the Scripture represents the community of the body of Christ to be. We ought, ourselves, as one congregation, to be more completely a Christian body than we are. We ought to be more fully realizing the
power of the Christian unity than we are even endeavouring to be now.
But let us pass on from the unity of the body to the other means which the New Testament, as well as the Old, concurrently declare to be the means of giving God's spirit to the light and the life of His church. These anointed ones pour the golden oil out of themselves through golden pipes into the bowl of the golden candlestick, and so the light of that candlestick is fed.
Brethren, it is an important office to attach to a human being :—that olive tree struck its roots into the earth and grew out of the earth; it was moistened and watered by the rain from heaven; it was fertilized and warmed by the sun of heaven, or it could be no olive tree to bear the oil which it could send into that golden candlestick. And now the minister of God strikes his roots into the earth; he is but an earthen vessel, and he needs the refreshing streams of a heavenly spirit, and the bright shining of the sun of righteousness or he could be no channel of God's oil to God's people in his candlestick on earth. It is not too much to attribute this office to man, for, if we look at the history of the Church of Christ, do we not see that where there is no praying priesthood, there is no praying people as a public worshipping assembly; that where there is no teaching prophet there is no instructed people as concerns public teaching? We may indeed, and do find individuals in retirement, in the darkest spots of this world—souls who are deeply taught of God where there is neither priest to worship nor prophet to teach; but we do not find this true of any community. Take a darkened priesthood and we have a degraded church: take an ignorant prophet and we have an uninstructed congregation. The Lord has, in his inscrutable wisdom made man in this respect outwardly at least dependant upon his fellow man; and is not this what the apostle declares to Timothy, to belong to his office, as you will read in the last verse of the 4th chap. of the 1st Epistle to Timothy ? “ Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine, continue in them, for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” And for this cause it was that when the blessed Saviour saw the multitude scattered abroad like sheep having no shepherd, he not only spent a whole night himself in prayer to God, but when he came down from that mount of prayer, he said to his disciples, “ Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” Now, if we thus take the priestly and the prophetic office of the church, let us see in what it could be that without oil “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” It was well said by an eminently useful writer of old, “a dead minister speaking to a dead people the living truths of the living God, is indeed an awful sight.” It is not the letter of prayer that can give us the spirit of prayer; it is not the correctness of orders that can give us the living priesthood. We do well to take and to keep to the form of sound words; we have much reason to bless God for that apostolically descended