The Beauty of the Assembly
John Heading, Aberystwyth
In the beginning God created all things beautiful; the light shone upon a perfect scene revealing that all was good and that all now existed for His pleasure. But although this creation was soon darkened by the presence of sin, the beauty originally displayed was reflecting the moral beauty of Christ later to be manifested in His people according to the purpose of God. We should view creatorial beauty as a mirror in time reflecting better spiritual realities.
The beauty of God's earthly city is displayed by psalmist and prophet in the Old Testament, while the beauty of the assembly, heavenly in character, is revealed in the New. Similar principles run through both Testaments, and although the assembly is hidden throughout the Old Testament prophetical books, yet these books provide valuable spiritual material of a suggestive character thereby to assist us in meditating upon assembly truth.
The whole concept of the assembly goes far beyond our own feeble appreciation of it. We tend to think of it merely in connection with meetings, rather than viewing the assembly according to God's mind and the eternal purpose that He purposed in Christ Jesus. The assembly was loved and pur'was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee', v. 14. This has likewise been our pathway as the assembly partakes of the beauty of Christ. The anointing, the clothing, the ornaments and the food, vv. 9-13, speak of spiritual realities granted through grace.
But Jerusalem fell because she trusted in her own beauty, v. 15. They used these God-given things for their own ends, but many times in the following verses God stresses that the property was really His. Similarly, Revelation 2-3 gives a history of the assembly throughout this dispensation, and even the last assembly, Laodicea, must have started well: 'Ye did run well', Gal. 5. 7. But beauty given through Christ was twisted and used for their own interests. 'That ye by his poverty might be enriched', 2 Cor. 8. 9, j.n.d., was turned into 'I am rich, . . . , and have need of nothing', Rev. 3. 17. This is but the further development of the Corinthian state 'Now ye are full, now ye are rich', 1 Cor. 4. 8. If we are satisfied and proud with any phase of our possessions and service, we are tending to a similar state.
Jerusalem was ready to be cast off by the Lord because she trusted in her own beauty. And if such takes place in what appears outwardly to be an assembly, the Lord, who jealously watches over His beauty placed amongst men, must reject such, Rev. 3. 16, as no longer being a suitable testimony but merely an institution of men.
The Final Loss of Testimony
Lam. 2. 15 God's governmental dealings either with Jerusalem or with a local assembly will be accomplished. This fall of Jerusalem is recorded at least four times in Scripture, and history testifies of gatherings that have ceased being candlesticks. In Lamentations, the city once full of beauteous things lies judged and forsaken. 'Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?', 1. 12, shows that there was no grief shown by the onlookers, and the 'perfection of beauty', 2. 15, in the sense known by the world, was despised. The only grief was shown by Jeremiah so characterized by the remnant spirit, reminding us of the Lord who later wept over the city. Similarly, if the world views a local assembly as being like any other religious organization, then that assembly owing to its own weakness has lost the true expression of the beauty of Christ.
The Path of Restoration
Ps. 137. 3-6 After a period of being cast aside by the rivers of Babylon, the people of God were at last exercised regarding the incon-sistency of their position in the world as contrasted to the attractive power of the city of God. This is the exercise of repentance occurring often in Revelation 2-3. Babylon was no place for the songs of Zion, vv. 3-4, since the song went with the burnt offering, 2 Chron. 29. 27, and the burnt offering could only be offered in the place of God's choice. Jerusalem once again had preference above the chief joy of the people, v. 6, and this would imply that its intended beauty was again being appreciated. With this exercise, the Lord responded and returned to the city with His people.
Today, any individual or gathering that has lost the sweetness of the beauty of Christ, and has lost the true power of testimony by being in contact with the world through pride and self-satisfaction, may be restored by that exercise before the Lord of repentance, thereby owning their false position and seeking by faith to prefer the beauty and joy of the assembly above every other occupation of life here below. For this leads us to perceive the 'beauty of the Lord' in the house of the Lord, Ps. 27. 4.
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah the restoration of the remnant to Zion was but partial; the beauty of Zion was not fully recaptured. But the coming prophetical day holds out full restoration, when the Lord shall 'appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness', Isa. 61. 3. Likewise, the full beauteous dress of the assembly will not be manifested until, with Him in His throne, 'his wife hath made herself ready', Rev. 19. 7.
In the meanwhile, we seek those spiritual exercises either to maintain or to be restored to that blessed realization of the beauty of the Lord upon His people, that the natural beauty of the creation around may but reflect the greater and eternal beauties of Christ in His assembly.