That which we feel the Lord is saying to us at this time, is that that which was at the beginning, should also be at the end. It would seem that, apart from a tremendous thing going right through the whole company of the saved, it would be too much to expect that He would have His full thought represented in all. And the Word does not seem to warrant such an expectation, for wherever we look in the Word at what is an end time, it is always comparatively few who answer to God's thought. So it was in the old dispensation, and so we have it in the Book of the Revelation.
In the beginning there are those larger companies, but in the midst of them there are those who have the ear to hear what the Spirit is saying, and who are represented as overcomers even in the midst of the Lord's own people. But whether it be few or many, it does seem perfectly clear that the Lord's desire and the Lord's intention is to have at the end that which does answer to His original fulness of design and the dispensation shall not close with God being cheated of that and defeated in His intention. There shall be those in the earth who come to a fulness which means the reaching of the throne: "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on my throne...".
That is really what the Lord is seeking to say to us, that we in turn may be ministers in a spiritual way concerning the fulness of the Lord's desire and purpose and thought in His people.
I have been impressed in reading the second letter of John with the similarity of spirit, and to some extent phraseology, between John and Paul. I notice that in the introduction to the second letter John uses identical words with most of Paul's introductions to his letters: "Grace, mercy, peace". It may be that John had read Paul's letters, and had somehow or other been affected by them in this way while retaining his own personal line, but the Holy Spirit is one, and this is the thing that I have in mind in saying this: that there is a secret or a hidden oneness between John and Paul lying beneath the surface, which represents the fulness of that which came in from the beginning. Now John says, of course, nothing about the church. He says nothing about the Body. That is referred to by Paul. But John does give us the spiritual laws and principles and elements of the Body, the church, those things which lie back of the church, the Body, as basic principles and spiritual laws are John's matter, and the two form one complete ministry.
So we are not wrong when we take up these spiritual truths or principles as in John and bring them up in the light of Paul's revelation of the church, the Body of Christ. We can hardly help doing that, because in the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, who inspired both men, the thing is one. The Holy Spirit did not inspire John to one revelation and Paul to another as differing and contrasted. The Holy Spirit had the same object of the dispensation in view, and He inspired one man to present one particular aspect of that thing, and another man to bring out another aspect, but it is the same thing as a whole. Now Paul brings into view what we may call the entity, the Body of Christ. John brings before us those things which constitute that Body as spiritual things and that we shall see as we go on and consider a little more the values and functions of the life, the anointing and the blood.
The life to which John refers so much, both in his Gospel and in his letters, constitutes an organism. That is the basic reality and meaning and function and value of the life. It constitutes an organism as different from an organisation. At an end time, after all this history and all this development, and shall we say, after all this digression, it is most important that we should come back to the recognition of the fact that the Lord determined to reach His end and fulfil His purpose by an organism and not by an organisation. He could have set up an organisation. That was a popular idea as to what He was going to do. That is what men both expected and wanted Him to do, to put Himself at the head of a world movement, an organised movement, with His circle of disciples as His officers. But the Lord made it perfectly clear that that was not His thought, and not His intention. While that was in their minds, and while they were looking for that and waiting for that, waiting for the hour to strike when that course would be adopted, and thinking from time to time that that hour had struck, He was steadily, quietly but strongly seeking to get into them another conception and the things which He said are all along the lines of the organic rather than the organised. He timed some of those utterances to synchronise with the coming disillusionment. As the disillusionment of their minds drew near and shadows began to gather over their expectations, He was putting His finger upon another line of things: "I am the Vine, and my Father is the vinedresser... I am the Vine, you are the branches". That is not an organisation; that is an organism.
The central law is life: "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine..." it depends entirely upon the life flow, and that life flow is quite impossible if there is detachment, separation and apartness.
We need not enlarge upon that. To mention it is enough, but we must stress the fact that the Lord determined to reach His end and fulfil His purpose through the dispensation by an organism, and not by an organisation. The very existence of Christ through the dispensation in this world is based upon the law of life. Christ and His members are represented as one entity now for this dispensation, so far as this world is concerned, and that existence, that collective, corporate existence of Christ is upon the basis of life: that is, we cannot "join" Christ, we cannot adhere to Christ; and if Christ and His members are the church, then we cannot "join" the church, we cannot adhere to the church. That is an organisation. We cannot, from the outside, come and affix ourselves to what is Christ personally or collectively. The only kind of union that can be, the only kind of connection, is that which grows out of Christ by His life passing into members, which grow out of Christ. So that the very beginning is by life, and is the expression of life.
(1) Growth is by Life
Then growth is by life. The growth, both of the individual member and of the church, is by life. Keeping to the corporate expression of Christ, the church, the Body itself, growth is by the energy of divine life. All expansion and all increase is the result of the functioning of divine life. There is no other kind of development or expansion in the New Testament according to God's mind. It is simply that this life goes out and becomes the basic constituent of man, and by that life which is imparted, which is put into them, they are joined to the Lord, they are one with the Lord. Then they are not so many individuals as such, but they are parts of one great corporate Person.
A medical student may be given a box of bones and told to articulate those bones into the human frame. He gets to work, and he quietly and steadily, perhaps laboriously, builds up a skeleton and when he has articulated this whole framework and got his skeleton, are you going to say he has got a man? Surely not! He has got so many bones put together, a framework. It may be perfect, but that is not how men are made. Men grow, and what is the law of the production of a man? It is the operation of a vital energy, and man is the product of that.
You cannot build the church or the Body of Christ by bringing so many members and articulating. You will get something, but you will get an organisation without life. You cannot put life into the skeleton. You may have the most perfect framework, nothing out of place, but you cannot put life into it. The Lord never intended that to be the method of the fulfilment of His purpose in this dispensation. He never intended to be represented in this universe by any such means as bringing people together on a common basis and trying to organise them into a unity. The Lord's way is from the inside by the expression, impartation and functioning of life. Any other kind of building up is false. It will be proved to be not of God but of man.
(2) Order is by Life
There is a divine order. That order is referred to in many places in the Word, and Paul especially brings out the divine order. Sometimes he makes it perfectly clear what that order is in certain connections. Sometimes he strongly emphasises the fact that there is a divine order and sometimes he hints at or intimates an order in a mysterious way, but he does it so that you have to take note of it. What is the meaning of all this about: "...because of the angels"? What is the meaning of the covering of the head, the place of the sisters in the assembly, and ministry? Things are being said in connection with some mysterious realm, the angels, and heavenly factors. What is he hinting at? Undoubtedly he is hinting at the fact that in God's mind there is an order, and it is exceedingly dangerous to violate that order. A great deal may be lost if God's order is not recognised. So he brings all that home to the Corinthian church, which was a most disorderly church, and puts his finger very strongly upon the whole question of order.
I am not one who believes that sisters have no ministry in the assembly, and I do not believe that Paul believed that, but what Paul was pointing out was that it is a question of order, that any ministry out of order means disaster, whether it is man's or woman's, and he is just as straight with the men as with the women in this matter. Let us read Paul in the light of this. God has an order, and if you want to look into that more closely, read what Paul has to say about the Body and the members, and all the members not having the same office, but all being related to one another and indispensable to one another. By reason of every member being in its right place and functioning according to its own purpose, and not someone else's, means the building up of Christ and the increase of the Body. This is the way in which the Lord comes to His end in fulness.
These are not extra things for the people of God to consider, they are basic things, and I am not taking up some line of truth, but coming to the thing which has come in by divine revelation at the beginning and saying that if the Lord is going to have a full expression of His mind at any time, these are things that have got to be taken notice of and are a tremendous thing unto spiritual fulness and growth and increase in divine order amongst His people.
How is the order brought about? Again, not by organisation, not by our placing or displacing, arranging and appointing. What a loss there has been because of that manipulating of the Lord's people and because the Lord's people have not recognised that this is the way of vital function! Unless we are going to function by the very life of the Lord in us, it will be a poor lookout for us if we get into responsibility in the things of God. We shall find that we cannot function, and sooner or later we shall want to resign, it will be too much for us, or else we shall simply go on by our own resources and the ends of the Lord will not be reached.
For those who have any place of responsibility in the things of God, it is a most important thing to recognise that God has a heavenly order for His church; that every member of Christ has a particular function and a specific place in the Body of Christ relative to other members and that we have to come into that by life. We can, and shall, come into it by life; that is, if the life of the Lord is working in us unhindered, we shall find ourselves spontaneously functioning in a certain direction and we shall say in the long run: "Well, I never sat down to think out what my work would be, I never chose that, but I found myself being energised in that direction and urged in that way and that became my work, that became my function, and then I saw that it was related to other things." How important such a principle, such a law is in the relationship of fellow-members, fellow-workers. The Lord knows whom He will put together, and when He does it, it is on a basis of life, and there is value. One of the great difficulties in organised Christian work has been the absolute inability of certain people ever to work together, because God never put them together. Now Paul says: "God has appointed in the church..." (1 Cor. 12:28). That is the point. "The whole body, being framed and fitted and held together by that what every joint supplies..." (Eph. 4:16). We cannot do that. If that does not work out by the energy of something that is more than our wit and wisdom and ability, then it is impossible. Only God can do that.
You see it in the growth of the human frame. We never need to sit down for five minutes and worry as to whether our right arm should grow out of our right shoulder, as to whether it might somehow or other go down out of our hip. You say that is absurd. That is just it. The whole thing is in its place and works properly because life is uninjured, life has not been damaged, and while the life is free and undamaged, you get proper order. It just works from the inside. That is an organism. It takes the Lord to produce an organism. Man can produce other things, but the Lord alone can produce organisms. Where the life is injured or where the life is insufficient, you will get disorder.
It is no use our going to a disordered or disrupted company of the Lord's people and trying to set them right from the outside, we have got to get down to the root and say, "Look here, the life of the Lord is arrested, the life of the Lord is hindered. You, by this or by that, are injuring that which would result in a better state of things." It is no use trying to put things right by dealing with them on the outside, you must get down to the root of this matter, where the Lord has a free way, a clear way, and absolute sovereignty in the heart. All that is personal and all that is fleshly has got to go, and the Lord has to have a clear way for His life. When the life of the Lord has its chance, you will find the order will spontaneously come about. There will be a sensing of things being wrong, and there will be a sensing of what is wrong. Order is tremendously important unto fulness, unto effectiveness, unto the reaching of God's end.
(3) Function is by Life
How shall we fulfil our ministry? How shall we function according to God's will? If we are full of life we shall just function, that is all. Go back to the beginning, that which was from the beginning. We do not read of any of those things which are common amongst us today as to functioning. They were filled with the Spirit, there was an abundance of life, and they functioned. They did not ask anybody for a job in the church, and nobody gave them a job; they did it. It was done under that divine government, so that there was no discord, there was no jealousy, no one's personal interests were injured. They did it in a wonderful harmony, and they continued in fellowship, in prayer and in the breaking of bread. It was spontaneous.
Oh, for more of that which is spontaneous! What a lot we should be delivered from of anxiety and trouble, because of this accepted state of things which leaves so much with man, and which is so little the outworking of the life within. I believe that really if we are governed by the Lord as our life, we shall not get far into disorder. Somehow or other there is a tendency to think that unless you govern things in the church, you are bound to have disorder. That means that you do not trust the Lord. You do not get disorder by keeping your hands off and trusting the Lord. You cannot always get order when you try to arrange it; it does not work.
It is true that the Spirit of life works and constitutes order, and causes relative functioning. You fulfil your ministry in that way, but it is a walk of faith and sometimes it is a test of faith to fulfil your ministry on that line. The Lord holds you to Himself, and then it proves all right.
(4) Fellowship is by Life
That works both ways. If the life is injured or arrested in any member, fellowship becomes difficult and strain in fellowship increases. Fellowship is arrested as the life is arrested. You can see that between two who are together. One is open and going on with the Lord, the other is not so open, a little more closed, not so living, so responsive, holding back a bit... What happens? Fellowship comes under arrest. You have seen that in families, in human relationships, and so it is between the Lord's people.
While we stand for fellowship, and stand against breaches of fellowship, we must remember that life governs fellowship, and that if we are going to have fellowship maintained and deepened and strengthened, it can only be by increase of life and as we go on growing according to the laws of that life. We shall be fighting a very hard battle in the matter of fellowship unless there is life, and that in increasing measure.
All this that we have said, then, has to do with the Lord's means; that He has determined to reach His end by an organism. The Lord's method is to have that organism represented in different localities. The organism is one. There are not churches from heaven's point of view, there are local assemblies which are, in those localities, the church. There is no such thing from the divine standpoint as the Chinese church, or the ֻEnglish church, or the Indian church. There is nothing of that in the Word of God, but the church in China and the church in England, is another thing altogether. From the divine standpoint the church is one, but represented in localities, and this is the divine method. The local organism is the fulcrum of divine activities in that area: that is, it is the basis, the footing, the leverage of God in that area, and it requires an organism of this kind in that locality for the purpose of God.
Again, you see the reason. The Lord does not send so many people into an area to arrange and organise His work, and in any way like that carry on His interests. What the Lord's object is, is to plant in different places a living organism, and then out from that organism express Himself in terms of life, His own mighty risen life. It may be necessary for that organism, as in two or three or a little company, simply to live there; unable to do anything for a long time, but to live Christ's risen life there. They may not be able to do anything but live, and live mightily. You will find it needs the life of the Lord to do it. The enemy will try to make it impossible for you not only to be there, but to live there. It is a question of living in a place, not of working in a place. God works through life, God's work is life, and this life is terrific when it really is free. That is the Lord's method, not to organise schemes, campaigns and so on, but to live, to testify in life. We never know what the effect of that is. We have it hinted in the Word that that reaches beyond the range of this earth, that even unto principalities and powers in the heavenlies now by the church, the manifold wisdom of God is being shown. It is not always what we can see, but life is effective.
The fact is that Satan makes this organism in any location, when it is a true organism, the target of all his malice and all his attention, as we have said, either to clear it out or to destroy its testimony of life there. And sometimes it calls for all the grace and all the strength that can be got from God simply to stay, simply to keep your footing. Every force is at work to try to drive you out, or to drive you under and to destroy the life in some way. That is Satan's testimony to the value of an organism.
While life produces the organism, the organism must care for the life, above all else. We have a responsibility in relation to the life, and whatever we care for or whatever we do not care for, it must be our business to see that the one thing which is maintained unhindered and uninjured is this life of the Lord. We must constantly be testing things by life; not by orthodoxy, not doctrine, not truth, but life - of course, life related to the truth, but life as the impact of truth, the life which determines the value of our truth so far as the practical side of it is concerned. We can settle in on our doctrine, we can get a circle of truth and simply move within that circle and become locked up and very dead within the limits of truth. The value of truth is its registration of life. As in everything else, the test is the life of the risen Lord amongst us and with us, and to that we must give the main attention. And if we have any reason whatever to suspect that while we are going on in our wonderful ideas and conceptions of truth there is not a commensurate impact of life, then we ought to stop and go back to the Lord and have real dealings with Him. If our many activities are feverish activities and our programmes of work fall short of the mighty impact of divine life, then it is time we stopped. The enemy is only too fond of dragging the Lord's servants out into endless activity and work, so that they have no time to get back to see to the quality of things and the real vitality of things. So the work runs out in a wide area, but is very superficial and becomes largely ineffective, and we become worn out and our labour is in vain... carried on by the numerous demands, the endless requirements, and the real life may really be passing underground.
We must watch that whatever else there is, that the life is looked after and that life is always regnant, strong, and clear.