The house of God, which is the Church of the living God—1 Tim. 3:15; see Diaglott.
The Lord's Church, the only one to which the name ecclesia … or Church, is properly applicable, is so insignificant, so unostentatious, and comparatively so poor in this world's riches, that it is not recognized nor recognizable from the worldly standpoint. It is neither man-made nor man-ruled; nor are its members enrolled on earth, but in heaven (Heb. 12:23). Its Head and Bishop is the Lord; its law is His Word; it has but one Lord, one faith, one baptism; and it is built upon the testimonies of the holy Apostles and prophets—Jesus Christ Himself being its chief Cornerstone—Z '99, 37 (R 2427).
The word "Church," in Greek, designates the elect character of God's people. They are indeed the "called out"; for they are separated by the Lord from the kingdom of darkness and the rule of Satan into the Kingdom of God's dear Son, and brought under the rule of Christ. The pillar that sustains Her and the foundation upon which She is built is Jesus Christ, Her Lord; and founded upon this Rock, She will remain to all eternity—P '26, 95.
Parallel passages: Isa. 62:12; Matt. 15:13; 16:18; Heb. 12:23; Eph. 1:22, 23; 2:20-22; 5:23-32; John 15:1-8; Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 3:9; 12:12-28; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 3:6; Rev. 21:2, 9, 10.
Hymns: 281, 6, 23, 170, 322, 58, 72.
Poems of Dawn, 13: The True Church.
Tower Reading: Z '03, 37 (R 3142).
Questions: What have been this week's experiences in respect to the Church? How did they affect me? What were the results?
ONE Sabbath morn I roamed astray,
And asked a Pilgrim for the way:
"O tell me, whither shall I search,
That I may find the one true Church?"
He answered, "Search the world around;
The one true Church is never found.
Yon ivy on the abbey wall
Makes fair the falsest Church of all."
But, fearing he had told me wrong,
I cried, "Behold the entering throng!"
He answered, "If a Church be true,
It hath not many, but a few!"
Around a font the people pressed,
And crossed themselves on brow and breast.
"A cross so light to bear," he cried,
"Is not of Christ, the Crucified!
Each forehead, frowning, sheds it off:
Christ's cross abides through scowl and scoff!"
We entered at the open door,
And saw men kneeling on the floor;
Faint candle, by the daylight dimmed,
As if by foolish virgins trimmed;
Fair statues of the saints, as white
As now their robes are, in God's sight;
Stained windows, casting down a beam,
Like Jacob's ladder in the dream.
The Pilgrim gazed from nave to roof,
And, frowning, uttered this reproof:
"Alas! Who is it understands
God's Temple is not made with hands?"
We walked in ferns so wet with dew
They plashed our garments trailing through,
And came upon a church whose dome
Upheld a cross, but not for Rome.
We brushed a cobweb from a pane,
And watched the service in the fane.
"Do prayers," he asked, "the more avail,
If offered at an altar rail?
Does water sprinkled from a bowl,
Wash any sin from any soul?
Do tongues that taste the bread and wine
Speak truer after such a sign?"
Just then, upon a maple spray,
Two orioles perched, and piped a lay,
Until the gold beneath their throats
Shook molten in their mellow notes.
Resounding from the church, a psalm
Rolled, quivering, through the outer calm.
"Both choirs," said I, "are in accord,
For both give praises to the Lord."
"The birds," he answered, "chant a song
Without a note of sin or wrong:
The church's anthem is a strain
Of human guilt and mortal pain."
The orioles and the organ ceased,
And in the pulpit rose the priest.
The Pilgrim whispered in my ear,
"It profits not to tarry here."
"He speaks no error," answered I,
"He teaches that the living die;
The dead arise; and both are true;
Both wholesome doctrines; neither new."
The Pilgrim said, "He strikes a blow
At wrongs that perished long ago;
But covers with a shielding phrase
The living sins of present days."
We turned away among the tombs—
A tangles place of briers and blooms.
I spelled the legends on the stones:
Beneath reposed the martyrs' bones,
The bodies which the rack once brake
In witness for the dear Lord's sake,
The ashes gathered from the pyres
Of saints whose zeal our soul inspires.
The Pilgrim murmured as we passed,
"So gained they all the crown at last.
Men lose it now through looking back,
To find it at the stake, the rack;
The rack and stake are old with grime;
God's touchstone is the living time!"
We passed where poplars, gaunt and tall,
Let twice their length of shadow fall.
Then rose a meeting-house in view,
Of bleached and weather-beaten hue.
Men, plain of garb and pure of heart,
Divided church and world apart.
Nor did they vex the silent air
With any sound of hymn or prayer.
God's finger to their lips they pressed,
Till each man kissed it and was blessed.
I asked, "Is this the true Church, then?"
He answered, "Nay, a sect of men:
And sects that shut their doors in pride
Shut God and half His saints outside.
The gates of Heaven, the Scriptures say,
Stand open wide, by night and day.
So, then, to enter, is there need
To carry key of church or creed?"
Still following where the highway led,
Till elms made arches overhead,
We saw a spire and weathercock,
And snow-white church upon a rock—
A rock, where centuries before,
Came sea-tossed pilgrims to the shore.
My sandals straightway I unbound,
Because the place was holy ground.
I cried, "One church at last I find,
That fetters not the human mind."
"This church," said he, "is like the rest;
For all are good, but none is best."
Then far from every church we strayed—
Save Nature's pillared aisles of shade.
The squirrels ran to see us pass,
And God's sweet breath was on the grass.
I challenged all the creeds, and sought
What truth, or lie, or both, they taught.
I asked, "Had Augustine a fault?"
The Pilgrim gazed at heaven's high vault,
And answered, "Can a mortal eye
Contain the sphere of all the sky?"
I said, "The circle is too wide."
"God's truth is wider!" he replied.
"Though Augustine was on his knee,
He saw how little he could see;
Though Luther sought with burning heart,
He caught the glory but in part;
Though Calvin opened wide his soul,
He comprehended not the whole.
Not Luther, Calvin, Augustine,
Saw visions such as I have seen."
While yet he spake, a rapture stole
Through all my still inquiring soul.
I looked upon His holy brow,
Entreating, "Tell me, who art THOU?"
But such a splendor filled the place,
I knew it was the Lord's own face!
I was a sinner, and afraid!
I knelt in dust, and thus I prayed:
"O Christ, the Lord! end Thou my search,
And lead me to the one true Church."
He spake as never man may speak—
"The one true Church thou shalt not seek,
Seek thou, forevermore, instead,
To find the one true Christ, its Head!"
The Lord then vanished from my sight,
And left me standing in the light.
MANY OF THE LORD'S SHEEP are penned in behind various creeds of men and thus hindered from obtaining the food and exercising the liberty which Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, intended they should have. It is contrary to the will of the great Chief Shepherd that his sheep should be separated from each other by pens, and hindered from the proper liberties of the fold. There is one general enclosure behind which all the true sheep of this age and flock will be found; and to it the Lord informs us there is but the one door—himself.
We might assume that all know something about this one fold and its one door; but this would be a mistake; many are so confused by the numerous man-made folds of Christendom that they confound these with the true. Some "wolves" are disappointed to find that the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the "sheep" has provided certain limitations beyond which the sheep cannot go if they obey his voice (his Word), and beyond which they do not desire to go if they are actually his sheep.
Let those who like call this true fold, with its well-defined walls, "a man-made pen";—those who enjoy its security, enjoy also its liberty. It has one and only one wall, great and high, which so far has kept out the "wolves," except such as pretend to be sheep—who come arrayed in sheep's clothing. This wall is faith in Christ as man's ransom-sacrifice—finished at Calvary.
None whom that fence excludes are "sheep." And behind that simple, yet strong, creed-fence there is all the liberty proper for the Lord's "sheep;"—though probably not nearly enough for the "goats."
Further, while it is wrong for under-shepherds or anyone else to erect denominational fences inside this true fold, or to entice the "sheep" into them, and thus to restrain their liberties within the fold,—it is not only proper, but a part of the true under-shepherd's duty to protect the flock within the true enclosure of the true fold, from the "wolves in sheep's clothing" wherever found. No doubt it was as a type of the true Shepherd of the Lord's flock, that David [i.e., the Beloved], while defending his flocks, slew a lion, and a bear, and delivered the sheep of his charge.
Our Lord, the great Chief Shepherd, set an example to the under-shepherds; and all true ones of his appointment must needs have the same spirit or soon lose their office. It was he who forewarned the true sheep, saying, "Beware of false prophets [teachers], which come to you in sheep's clothing [professing to be of the Lord's flock, but in reality not such, because they do not trust in the great sacrifice offered once for all for their sins], but inwardly they are ravening wolves [who would destroy your faith in the ransom, and thus destroy you as "sheep"]. But he that is a hireling and not the shepherd, … seeth the wolf [the false teacher] coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf [the false teacher] catcheth them and scattereth the sheep. …I lay down my life for the sheep."—Matt. 7:15; John 10:12-15.
It is not the approval of the "wolves," in sheep's clothing or without it, that is to be courted by the true under-shepherd. He will, however, have the approval of the Chief Shepherd, and of all the developed sheep who have their senses exercised by reason of use. The Apostle Paul battled hard against such false teachers, who affected to be believers, "sheep," while they were not such. Speaking on this subject he said to the Elders (under-shepherds) of the Church at Ephesus:—
"I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all. …Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves and to all the flock, over which the holy Spirit hath made you overseers [shepherds], to feed the Church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood [—faith in which purchase constitutes them 'sheep']. For I know this, that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you [in sheep's clothing, of course, otherwise they would not be received], not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking contrary things [things different from what I, Paul, have taught] to draw away disciples [followers] after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."—Acts 20:26-31.
The Apostle Peter, too, made a similar appeal to the under-shepherds, saying, "The elders which are among you I exhort. …Feed the flock of God, as much as in you is, taking oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a willing mind." "But as there were false prophets [in the past—'wolves in sheep's clothing'] even so there shall be false teachers among you, who privily [deceptively, covering the real purport of their teachings] shall bring in [to the fold] damnable heresies [errors leading to condemnation and rejection] even denying the Lord that bought them. …And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of."—1 Pet. 5:1-4; 2 Pet. 2:1, 2.
The Apostle John also cautions us, saying: "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. …He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ [that the Son of Man came to give himself a ransom for all—Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:6] he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you [as a would-be teacher of the 'sheep'] and bring not this doctrine [of the ransom, taught by Christ], receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed [or who even indirectly helps to spread the 'damnable heresy' that we were not bought by the Lord] is partaker of the evil work [of him who publicly and openly does so]."—2 John 8-11.
Thus we see that the duty of under-shepherds to protect the flock from deceptive wolves, as well as to feed them meat in due season, has been recognized from the start;—because from the start there have been such wolves. And since the holy Spirit gave special warnings that in the end of the age "evil men and leaders astray" would wax more and more bold, and that through their instrumentality Satan would propagate error, and affect to be a messenger of light, is it not due time for all the sheep to recognise these facts, and not to be deceived by "feigned words" and "fair speeches"? The true sheep must not judge of fellow sheep by the pelt; for a wolf can wear a sheep's pelt: they must learn to note the Shepherd's voice and manner—directly through his Word, and indirectly through those whom he shall use as his representatives to "feed the flock over which the holy Spirit hath made them overseers [shepherds]."
Not only did the Apostle Paul thus direct the under-shepherds, but he points out the advisability of this to the flock, since it is thus that the Chief Shepherd leads and feeds and keeps his flock.—Heb. 13:17; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12:27-31; Psa. 91:11, 12.
Let us stand fast, therefore, in that liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free;—allowing no one to pen us up by human creeds;—neither allowing any to lead us out beyond the bounds fixed for us by the Chief-Shepherd, into liberties, licenses and speculations that he never authorized. Let us abide in Him, keeping ourselves in the love of God, as saith the Apostle.