The Holy Assembly
John Heading, Aberystwyth
The word holy and its various derivatives appear to enter the description of Old Testament ceremony many more times than other words. And whereas the material aspects of these types are translated into spiritual meaning in the New Testament, yet now there can be no possibility of things being less sanctified than previously. Grace does not do away with holiness, although the somewhat cold sanctity under law has given way to warmth under grace. Peter's quotation in 1 Peter 1.16 from Leviticus 11, 'Be ye holy; for I am holy' shows that the same character is enjoined upon us now, though on a different basis. Holiness marks the divine character on high. It pervades eternity, since He is 'the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy', Isa. 57. 15; there is no rest by day nor night in the eternal theme 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty', Rev. 4. 8. Likewise this character marked the Son when manifest here in flesh; He was the 'holy thing . . . born', Luke 1. 35, and He was 'holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners', Heb. 7. 26. With this character now the Lord examines the testimony and work of assemblies here below, since He is the One walking amongst them 'that is holy', Rev. 3. 7.
The assembly now, manifesting Him on earth as His body, should have a similar holy character, thereby to be the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit may work in order to continue the testimony and work of the Lord Jesus below. True prosperity can only come to a holy assembly; activity of other types can never make up for lost spirituality and sanctity. This alone can bring God pleasure; anything else demands judgment or corrective dealings on His part with a local gathering.
Origin in Holiness
'The tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation', Exod. 29. 43, 44. The reason for this glowing description is that the whole plan was of God, that it was accomplished by the Spirit, and that it was put into effect by faithful men of God. It was in the light of 'the glory of the Lord' like devouring fire, Exod. 24. 17, that Moses received from God 'the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, 25. 9. Bezaleel and Aholiab were filled 'with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge', 31. 3, to accomplish the building, and when completed, Moses saw that 'they had done it as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it', 39. 43. Finally, 'on the day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle', he anointed and sanctified it, Num. 7. 1. Hence, because God was well satisfied, His glory filled the tabernacle, Exod. 40.34, thereby sanctifying it. Prosperity reigned amongst the work of the priests, the first black spot arising because men failed to put a 'difference between holy and unholy', Lev. 10.10. One New Testament counterpart is found in Ephesians 2. 20-22. In Christ, all the building 'groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord'. This is a result of the master-plan of God, this epistle bringing out the eternal character of the plan. In finite time, man cannot add one iota to the details of this holy construction. By one Spirit, the plan is made known to teachable hearts by the writings of Paul. By faithful servants, the holy temple originated practically in Acts 2, and locally too, as Paul, for example, laboured for three years in Ephesus. With thing would be holy that was embraced within the precincts of the house; 'holiness unto the Lord' was to characterize the house of the Lord of hosts, Zech. 14. 21, with all in Jerusalem. Several epistles likewise treat of practical declension in local gatherings and of corrective exhortation unto holiness. 1 Corinthians 3 includes the solemn statement, 'If any man de-file (better, destroy) the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are', v. 17. In chapters 2 and 3, we find three classes of workmen: (i) good workmen who do good work, 'he that is spiritual', 2. 15; (ii) good workmen yet not doing good work, babes in Christ who are carnal and building 'wood, hay, stubble', 3. 12; (iii) bad workmen doing bad work, the 'natural man', 2.14, defiling the temple of God. God guards against the latter, and gives corrective grace to the second class to recognize the holiness of assembly service, that 'the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy'.