I think it is quite unnecessary for me to spend any time by way of introduction in speaking of the object of these meetings, but rather, shall we let the meetings speak for themselves and the message which we have defined, the nature of our gathering. So, let us immediately come to the point. What we have in view is what we believe to be God's all-inclusive purpose.
Christianity has many aspects and Christian people are occupied with those various aspects: evangelism, teaching and building up Christians, contending for the faith. There are movements which are entirely occupied with prophetical matters relating to the coming again of Christ, and so on. All these are right, but they can, and often do, become things in themselves. And while being so good and right, they very often make Christians into sections, circling round some interpretation, or some teaching, or some specific object. And the inclusive and supreme object of God in, and through, and over all, is very often lost sight of. It is that we might seek to bring that object more definitely into view, that we are coming together in these evenings.
Our concern then, is with God's inclusive object. And I am sure that you will agree with me, that the value of any one aspect or side of teaching or work will very largely be governed by its relationship to the whole purpose of God. And the value will be more immediate if that whole purpose is seen, and kept all the time in view. God does not commit Himself wholly to any one part of His purpose; He only commits Himself wholly to the all of His intention. And so, if we desire to find God committing Himself, it does really become necessary for us to know that to which He will commit Himself.
The inclusive object to which we refer is inherent in the words which we are taking for our background, from the chapter which has been read this evening, the few, simple words from Ezra chapter 6 and verse 3: "Let the house be builded". That is God's all-inclusive object.
You notice that Ezra traced this decree back through and beyond the instrument, the ruler who made it. He traced it back to God. He pointed out that this decree, while made by an earthly ruler, originated with God. He said: "God put it into the heart of the king." This came from God. And, being shown that it originated with God, the rest of the story shows how God committed Himself in sovereign ways to that thing. God instigated this; God supported this; God consummated this, and that in spite of numerous and great difficulties.
If that is true, we want to discover where that can be true in our time, and how that can be true. The one thing that I believe all Christians, true Christians, people of God would seek after and know in our time, is that which God has instigated, that which God takes upon Himself to support and see through, that which, in spite of everything - a great, vast "everything" - God will finish it. I say, it is that that we want to discover: how God will commit Himself.
Now, that brings us to a vital and fundamental principle of Biblical interpretation, a thing that everybody who handles the Bible, ought to recognise, and this ought always to be present when we take up our Bibles. It is, simply:
The Eternity of God.
That perhaps does not convey very much to you as I say it. But the great fact is that there is no time with God. All time, as it is with us, is present time with God; there is no past, present, future time with God. He is the Eternal God - "from eternity to eternity Thou art God". God may accommodate Himself to the time-periods of men and this earth, but He Himself dwells in Eternity: His thoughts are eternal thoughts; His purpose is an eternal purpose. The architect has the whole plan before him; the builder only has the day-to-day part or parts. Those who only see the parts may be confused; they may not understand, they may even begin to make the part the whole. A writer of one of the New Testament letters or documents introduced his thesis in this way: "God, though at sundry times and in different manners, spake unto the fathers through the prophets... ". God did speak in time, and in different times, and in different manners and in different portions; but, with God, the whole, from eternity to eternity was present, and every part that came from God had the whole in it.
You must ever remember that when you are handling the Bible; otherwise you will "wrongly divide" the Word of Truth. The full design of God governs every part, where He is concerned. God's mind does not grow. There is no progress with God; He is full and complete and final at all times. God has brought His thoughts into time by means of models and figures, but they are only models and figures of spiritual and eternal realities. And the principle is this, that whatever comes from God, at any time, from our standpoint, from this world's standpoint - whatever comes from God, has in it the eternal and complete thought of God. It has in it the whole of the spiritual mind of God. We have to look through the immediate form of presentation, to discover that spiritual and eternal thought that lies there.
This house - "Let the house be builded" - this house... is only an earthly, temporary, limited representation of the vast, eternal, spiritual thought of God. A poor representation, it will pass; but God's thought will never pass. What lies behind it will have no end: it has come out of eternity; it will go on to eternity. And the whole Bible is just a manifold expression of this principle. From beginning to end, the Bible, in its numerous forms of presentation and representation, types, symbols and figures, the whole Bible is one comprehensive expression in numerous and various ways of this one idea, that lies here inherent in this word 'House'.
Let us get behind the figure, behind the representation, to the great spiritual truth and reality. Here it is. Out from eternity, out from unknowableness, out from incomprehensibleness, out from inaccessibility, God resolved to presence Himself in a creation of His own making, in something which, amongst many other titles and designations, is called a house. God determined to come out from all that vast unknowable, inaccessible, eternal and presence Himself, presence Himself to make Himself known, to make Himself accessible, to dwell in a 'house'. But as we take hold of that truth, for it is a truth, from the beginning of the Bible to the end, that is the truth that is running all the way through; that is the thing that is governing everything, which we shall see, I think, as we proceed.
As we take hold of that great truth, and move with it through the Bible, all the way through, we begin to make a discovery about it: that, while it is a wonderful idea, an amazing thought, it is something much more than a thought and an idea. It's something very much of the heart of God - not only of His mind, but of His heart; something greatly cherished by God; something with which God's greatest interests are bound up. It turns out (if I may put it like that) it turns out to be not something objective to God at all, but a very part of Himself - an organic expression of Himself, of His thought, of His heart, of His will.
I think that one of the most staggering statements in the Bible is this: "The church of God which He purchased with His own Blood". God purchased this thing called 'the Church' with His own Blood. That will defeat and defy every attempt to comprehend and fathom it. Blood is the very vitality of any organism. This 'thing' and I am calling it that at the moment, this thing has the very life of God bound up with it. God has given His life for it. That's something more than a matter of objective interest. The very heart of God is in this thing - His own life - Himself. Himself.
What is it, this thought, this thing so near to the heart of God, with which all His interests are bound up? It is God present amongst men, God related to an organism as the Inhabitant, the Occupier, the Indweller of that organism. That sure is the simple, plain meaning of a 'house', it is something to be dwelt in, to be lived in. It has no meaning unless it is inhabited. God's thought, you may call it 'house' or what you like, the Bible has many names for it, God's thought is this: to be there, present, indwelling with the object of making Himself known and understood, and with the object of having blessed fellowship with that which comprises the 'house'.
I have said that the Bible contains the history of that thought, through the ages. Yes, the Bible therefore, throughout and entirely, is the embodiment of this one eternal and Divine concept. It begins with a very simple, primal expression of the thought: in a garden, the man and the woman, and God present, walking in the garden, talking, communing, making His thoughts and intentions known. A picture of happy fellowship between God and man, man and God. Man in relationship with God, in terms (may I use the word) of friendship and on a basis of commission to be God's regent here for the development and fulfilment of His purposes. Everything speaks of peace, and order, and beauty, and all that the human heart longs for. It's there in this simple, first representation; God has created for Himself a 'house', and is in it, and is walking in it, and talking in it.
From that point, this Divine intention has a long and chequered history. All the actions of God are related to that 'thing', remember, and all the reactions in history that we have in the Bible, are against that one thing - to drive God out, to exclude God, to make a condition to which God cannot commit Himself, where He cannot be present. That's the Bible; it focuses upon this one eternal desire of the heart of God.
But where does it end? Yes, it is a long and chequered history through which this intention passes, but in the end it is realised. And it is realised in two ways: firstly, it is realised in Himself as incarnate in His Son. We have not yet recognised the supreme significance of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, until we have recognised that in Him this eternal conception finds its realisation: He is Emmanuel - "God with us"! God has reached His object. He Himself has made for Himself an Abode. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself". In that first and fundamental way, God reaches His end. And we discover that the House of God is not an 'it' - it is a 'Him'; it is a Person. And then He proceeds from the One to the many, from the individual to the corporate; and an elect Body is brought into view, in terms of a dwelling-place for God. The end of the Bible, again the end of the Bible is again in symbolism as much as the beginning was - a City and a Garden and the music of these words: "The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people, and He will be their God". That's where your Bible ends. History is consummated.
Well, I have said that this Divine intention explains the Bible from every angle; all the actions and all the reactions are centred in this one thing: that God may have a place for Himself and be there, in these terms of fellowship and peace. I say again, there is nothing in the Bible that is not related to this all-governing purpose and thought of God. Here is the object of God's concern and of God's jealousy. If God was jealous over a temple in Jerusalem, or over Jerusalem, or Zion, as the prophets so strongly said, think you that His jealousy was exhausted in an earthly, temporary representation of something? Nay, it was because of the something represented that God was jealous. And it was this.
What then, is the House of God? The question is raised, Isaiah raised it: "Thus saith Jehovah, 'The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto Me, and what place shall be My rest? For all these things hath Mine hand made...'". You remember Stephen, in that magnificent message which cost him his life - so significant in this very connection - quoted these words from Isaiah. It was almost the culmination of that great discourse; working up, heading up to this. He says in Acts chapter 7, as you know, verses 47 to 50: "Solomon built himself... But... but... what manner of house will ye build Me, saith the Lord? The Heaven of heavens cannot contain Him".
What manner of house? There are some things there to take note of. Firstly, it is an intimation of the infinite, infinite greatness of God requiring something infinitely great. No magnificent temple of Solomon or of any other builder, can answer to this demand. It requires something very great, that, in other words, which will show forth the greatness of God. The apostle Paul, more than anyone else in the Bible, saw the meaning of this House; and exhausted all the language at his command to try and speak about it. And you know, the Greek language is a very comprehensive language, it has a tremendous number of words and ideas, far, far more than our English. And Paul was hard put to it with his knowledge and command of that language, to put into expression this House - the breadth and the length and the height and the depth, the unsearchable... and so on. These are the words in this language with which He is wrestling, he cannot express how great this is.
But note - and here is the wonderful thing, where we are getting very near to it, or it is getting very near to us - there are two or three things that the apostle Paul makes perfectly clear as defining the nature and purpose of this house.
Firstly, that it is that in which this knowledge-surpassing love of God is manifested. God conceived this objective order, that in it the knowledge-surpassing love of His heart should be manifested. And then Paul passes on to grace - the "riches of His grace", the "glory of His grace" and he brings that all into relationship with this House, that "in the ages to come" in that House, Body (call it what you will), in that the infinite grace of God should be displayed to a wondering universe. He does not stop there: he passes to wisdom - the infinite wisdom of God to be shown to 'principalities and powers' - in this House! It wants a big House to comprehend that: the greatness of His love, the greatness of His grace, the greatness of His wisdom - God present in such terms of Self-manifestation!
Is it not all language? You have it, it's here, plainly stated in the Scripture. But I must pause there because another thing is implied here. It is the implied misapprehension of man. Man has a way, you know, of 'catching on' with big ideas, wonderful conceptions, and taking hold of them. Man has got the idea, he has taken it up, this idea of a 'house for God', a 'dwelling for God', but man has given it a twist and brought into it a false interpretation. Man has tried to capture God and put Him into a house of man's own making. By so doing, limiting God, confining God, possessing God, and making God exclusive to some particular 'house' - made by man - a building on the earth, an institution - something like that. And then, this terrible propensity of man to make God his property, and the property of his particular kind of house, the uprise of a terrible exclusivism that, if you don't belong here, and go this way, then you are outside the pale. You see what I mean? It's an idea taken hold of, but misapplied - a false interpretation.
You see, that was Israel's tragic blunder, against which the prophets raged and stormed. It was that into which Jesus came. And like new wine in old wineskins, burst the whole thing; but in so doing, lost His life. They had made God's house an exclusive thing, their own - they 'possessed' God. That was their blunder. And, as Jesus was walking away into the eternal, spiritual reality, He said, "Your house is left unto you desolate" - your house, your house! That's an awful indictment - your house!
We must take this all very seriously, because it was, from one point of view, in relation to this misapprehension, this false interpretation, this caricature, that Jesus came to correct it. He did so in two ways, as we have pointed out, He corrected it, firstly, in His own Person.
In His Own Person
Do you want to see the House of God, what it is? Look at Him! And then, He did it in His teaching. The gospel by John, if you did but recognise it, stands in the whole Biblical purpose to show how Jesus supplants and transcends all earthly and material representation. It makes perfectly clear that He supplants and takes the place of the temple in Jerusalem. He supplanted and took the place of the priesthood, and became the High Priest Himself and offered Himself a sacrifice acceptable to God, thus not only fulfilling all types, but showing that God had never been satisfied until Christ offered Himself. He supplanted and transcended all the Jewish feasts: you notice through John's gospel the feasts of the Jews are constantly referred to, and Jesus figures in them over against them!
Jesus takes the place of the manna in the wilderness and is the "Bread of God come down from Heaven". Jesus takes the place of the water from the smitten rock and says: "He that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst... He that believeth on Me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water". He takes the place of the lights in the temple, and says: "I am the light of the world". He takes the place of all the old shepherds of Israel, and says: "I am the good Shepherd." He takes the place of Israel, and builds a new flock out of His own blood: "I lay down My life for the sheep." Yes, Jesus is the answer to God's eternal quest.
But Jesus, as the New Testament goes on to show, does not stand alone. Jesus in corporate, organic expression is the House of God.
Where and What is the House of God?
It is where there is spiritual, organic, vital union with Christ; no more, no less. Says Paul: "We were all baptized in one Spirit into one body." Jesus fulfils all the functions, and expresses all the features, of God's presence - God's presence in the midst of men.
This is a statement, but this is a challenge. How great is His House - but how spiritually definite is His House! It is built upon the love of God. That's testing enough. The very object and purpose, let me repeat, of this House is for the expression of the love of God! And if that love of God is not present, is contradicted, the House ceases to be what God intended it to be. It's the explanation of Israel, who were once called 'God's House' as a nation, it's the explanation of why they were set aside. Here is the infinite love of God, the infinite grace of God, brought into the world in the Person of His Son and what does He meet? Infinite hate! Love cast out! "Your house is left unto you desolate".
The infinite grace of God... all this theology and doctrine - about justification, not by works but by faith, and so on - it can be so cold, after all; it can become legalistic and 'righteous' in a sense of hardness. Yes, but remember that all that is there in the Word of God in order to magnify the grace of God! "Not of works..." - the grace of God!
The House of God, dear friends, exists therefore on the basis that men and women have discovered that their deepest and most terrible need is the grace of God, and they have come into the knowledge of that grace. And the one word uppermost in their vocabulary is the word 'grace' - it's the most wonderful word in the language of earth and Heaven. Grace, grace, grace! It is that that constitutes the House of God. If you and I are living in the meaning of that wonderful word 'grace', God is very near to us. That's where we shall find Him. God "beholdeth the proud afar off", because the proud have no sense of their need of grace. Pride is an abomination to God, simply because it is such a contradiction to the grace of God. "To this man will I look (here's your House of God) him that is of a broken, a humble, a contrite spirit, and that trembles at My word". That's the atmosphere of the House of God.
And so, you see, it is not a 'thing', it is not a place, it is not something that man makes; it is a spiritual thing. On what ground does it rest? It rests on the ground of the Cross. The Cross... the House ever came after the Altar, and stood as the background to the Altar. The Church of the New Testament is the background to the Cross of Christ, it comes by the Cross.
The Cross, what does it do? It sets aside man and makes room for God. It puts man out, that God may be all and in all. The intention of the Cross is to make possible the realisation of God's eternal thought: to be there. Where the Cross is wrought most deeply into the life of a people, there, most fully, you will meet the Lord. You will not meet the Lord in uncrucified men and women. In the presence of the flesh, God stands back.
I close with asking one more question. What then is the dominant necessity? The answer is twofold. The dominant necessity for the realisation of God's desire - the bringing in of this House, in its beauty, in its love, in its grace, in its fellowship, in its peace, in its order, in its Divine manifestation - is a Christ-consciousness.
A Christ-consciousness. Oh, that does not convey much I know, as it's stated, but dear friends, what you and I need more than anything else perhaps, is more of this Christ-consciousness. Are we not ever and always rebuked when we hear Paul saying, "the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that One died for all, therefore all died... that they which live should henceforth live not unto themselves, but unto Him... henceforth (again) we know no man after the flesh". I say, we are always rebuked by that; I am, are you not? Do we not know one another so much after the flesh? Instead of laying hold on whatever there may be, even remotely, of Christ in one another and making the most of that, we do the other thing: we make the most of one another's faults and weaknesses and un-Christlikeness - and there is plenty of it, God knows!
But oh, for this Christ-consciousness - that we would give ourselves more to this: the laying hold of what there is, be it very small, of Christ and making the most of that. Christ-consciousness. The House will be built, God will find His House and commit Himself if we will do that. God help us! And having said Christ-consciousness, it means House-consciousness. House-consciousness... is that the wrong word? It's fellowship-consciousness, it's relatedness-consciousness, that we are members one of another, and the hand cannot say to the foot, "I don't need you! I can do without you". Call it "House", call it "Body", call it what you will, it's this corporate consciousness that is needed today, to destroy, destroy all this disintegrating and divisive kind of thing.
Well, we must leave it there tonight, but would to God that something of the impact of this might come upon our hearts, and lift us out of our all-too-small conceptions of God's House and govern our attitudes in relation to all - all who rest upon the love of God, all who rest upon the grace of God, all who have come to see and to acknowledge that it is by the wisdom and only by the wisdom of God, in solving all the human problems, their own and others, that God will at last find what He is seeking: a place to dwell.