But local charge is in principle distinct from the gifts which the ascended Head of the body gave for the perfecting of the saints. Never do elders or deacons appear on any such ground. For the gifts flow direct from Christ, and are for His body wherever it may be. Nor does 1 Cor. xii. differ in this from Eph. iv., or Rom. xii. from Col. ii. And for this reason what unspeakable mercy to the saints! For the supply of those gifts which are of all moment depends on His grace and faithful care Who can no more fail now that He is on high, than when He came down to accomplish redemption for God's glory. In none of these scriptures can we restrain the church or the body to a local assembly, though a local assembly was wholly wrong if it did not represent it. The assembly on earth as a whole is contemplated; and in it, manifestly one body, the gifts were set. Hence the apostle treats it as no less visible than Jews or Greeks (1 Cor. x. 32).
This is the unity which is supposed in the very weighty scripture of 1 Tim. iii. 15. "But if I delay, that thou mayest know how to conduct oneself in God's house, which is a living God's assembly, pillar and support of the truth." Invisibility is out of the question. Responsible manifestation is the essence of what the apostle has before him and urgently presses. Nor would any other thought have been entertained, but for the practical ruin which so soon ensued, and the subsequent and deeper failure when the truth got swamped under tradition which was but precepts of men. Then began the desire to plead an invisible aggregate of saints within a visible mixed multitude, as if the church were only another Israel. The truth rather is that the church has departed from manifesting its original unity, according to the sad history of all the varied trials of man under responsibility here below. Who can see independent churches in the decree of Acts xv.? Who can limit " all the flock," or " the church of God" in Acts xx. 28, to the city of Ephesus? The R. Catholics have abused the fact of the church as a visible unity everywhere to their own mere majority and the grossest sectarianism, heterodoxy, and idolatry. This does not justify Protestants in denying responsible and holy unity according to God's institution, or claiming licence to set up churches independent one of another.
Are we then helplessly, hopelessly, bound by a chain of sin, either individually, or in our corporate place? If we turn away, as we are commanded, from those that create divisions and occasions of falling (Rom. xvi. 17), is there no way by grace to stand approved when not merely schisms but sects appear (1 Cor. xi. 18, 19)? God has answered this very difficulty in 2 Tim. ii. 19-21, which contemplates a state of disorder beyond rectifying. "Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his, and, Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness. Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honour and some unto dishonour. If one therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared to every good work."
Before the church began, the Lord had given the great assuring resource for the darkest day: "where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. xviii. 20). In the brightest day no privilege more pregnant of blessing. We cannot expect all saints to recognize their relationship as members, and to refuse every body save the one body of Christ; but we can believe and act in faith ourselves. This is not a sect, but the way to be kept from it, while we look to the Lord, and own the ruin in loving sorrow. For without a real share in Christ's sense of the dishonour done thus to His name, knowing the church's privilege, and seeking to realise it, only ends in pride, evil, and worse confusion.
We are free, not to say bound, to remember Him in the breaking of the bread, but only in the unity of His body, and therefore receiving all that are His, save where His discipline intercepts. "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Matt. xii. 30). Undoubtedly we need the Spirit of God to guide us aright in the midst of the scatterings and perplexities of Christendom; but we have Him dwelling in us, that living in the Spirit we may walk in the Spirit, not only as individuals but keeping His unity in the bond of peace. Obedience, according to the word of God, is the safe-guard of holiness in every way: to this we are sanctified by the Spirit.
The Bible Treasury Vol. N1 page 372