We have seen in the preceding paper that the Church is the Body of Christ, united to a glorified Lord by the Holy Ghost, who came from heaven at Pentecost; that all believers are now in the Church, which will be completed when our Lord will descend from heaven, call His redeemed from their graves, and the living ones from the earth, to meet Him in the air, after which the union of the Church to Christ in glory will be consummated: the marriage of the Lamb will then take place. Such connections and such a destiny, we saw, made the Church a heavenly not an earthly body, a stranger here, with hopes and affections elsewhere, expressed by "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
We now pass to the examination of a truth which grows out of the nature of the Church, and which is self-evident — its unity. Scripture has for us again a brief but most definite statement of this fact: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling" (Eph. 4:4).
Unity is here connected with three words, each of which gives us a distinct view of the same truth, yet all harmoniously blended together: we have unity of the Body, of the Spirit, and of the hope of the Church. "There is one body;" "the Church, which is His body." Who could ever, with such scriptures before him, for a moment question that the Church is one, and only one?
"He is our peace, who hath made both" (Jew and Gentile) "one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Eph. 2:14-16). Between Jew and Gentile there was a dividing wall, which separated them not merely into distinct but hostile bodies. The Jew occupied the place of nearness as to privilege; but this only emphasized the distance of the Gentile, and brought out the enmity between them.
The Cross obliterated all this; the law of commandments was taken away; the Jew was condemned by it, and the Gentile who sinned would perish without it (Rom. 2:12, etc.); Christ in grace bore the penalty of a broken law, and so established the righteousness of its claims (Rom. 3:29-31). Thus the law which kept the Gentile at a distance, while it condemned the Jew, was removed by the cross. "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross" (Col. 2: 14). The effect of this was two-fold: Jew and Gentile were both reconciled to God, but in one body; that is, they were reconciled to one another also, and all previous distinctions were taken away. So, in Christ, there is a new man, and "neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all" (Col. 3:11). The Cross makes possible the manifestation of that "mystery," "that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3:6). A "mystery" is something which has been kept secret. It is not something mysterious or vague, or mystical; it is simply a secret. How blessed a fact it is that what God hid from other ages and generations He has now made known through His servant Paul by the Holy Spirit. It is good also to remember that the truth ministered by the Spirit not only enlightens, but qualifies for enjoyment of the new relationship. This could not have been the case when men were under law.
To all this, it may be replied, Who denies it? Theoretically, perhaps none; but all these scriptures are applied to "the invisible Church," as it is called, and so lose their practical power over the hearts and consciences of God's people. We have nowhere in Scripture the expression or thought of the "invisible" Church. Our Lord's prayer for His people was that they might be one in life and nature in the family of God, not theoretically or invisibly, but "that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:20, 21). The Church was to manifest that divine unity which would be a witness to the world (divided into innumerable bodies, as self-interest would dictate), that here was a power of which it was ignorant, a power which spake of the reality of Christ's divine mission. We cannot close our eyes to the importance of this testimony, and it sweeps away at once all thought of the invisible Church.
Passing from the Cross, which has set aside man, whether Jew or Gentile, and so made unity possible, we come naturally to the resurrection, which gives us the positive side of this truth. "In Himself" the one new man is made. Christ became head of a new race only in resurrection. This is plainly shown as to individual fruitfulness (Rom. 7:4). It is equally true as to His headship over the Church (Eph. 1:19-23). As risen and ascended He has been made "head over all things to the Church which is His body." But Christ is one; He is undivided; hence His Church is also one and undivided. Who that thinks of that glorious One at God's right hand could for a moment conceive of His Church as being anything but one? He has given His name and character to it. It is one in His eyes. It all belongs to Him.
We come now to the next phrase, "There is one Spirit," the Holy Ghost sent from heaven at Pentecost, and He has formed but one Body. This is entered upon at large in 1 Cor. 12:12, 13: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." We have the oneness of the Body linked in the clearest way with that of the Spirit. The very diversity of the members — the various individuals who compose the Body — is but a confirmation of the truth that the Body is one. Most striking, too, is the expression, "So also is Christ." Reference is here made not to the person of the Lord Himself, but to Christ and the Church — He as Head, and it composed of many members, yet the whole forming one Body. What amazing grace in Him to give His name to His Church! And what room, we may add, is there for any other name or Body alongside of His?
"Whether Jews or Gentiles" reminds us of how completely those distinctions have been removed, in order that the Holy Spirit might link us with Christ alone. As risen with Him we have done with all other ties which would in any way be the rivals of His claims. We have not only life in Him, but a living divine Person who dwells in us and unites us with Him. The Holy Spirit not merely unites us to Christ, but by that very act puts us into His Body, unites us to one another. This unity in Christ, setting aside all previous distinctions, is dwelt upon in Gal. 3:27, 28. "For as many of you as have been baptized unto Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:27, 28). As long as the law existed, there was necessarily a distinction betwen those under it and those outside. But faith has now come, and we are no longer under a schoolmaster. Our baptism declares this, by the confession that every thing of the flesh has been set aside, and now we stand in Christ alone, and therefore all one. Thus all the seed of Abraham are in this age of grace brought together.
From this we can see the unscripturalness of the thought of a Christian voluntarily joining the Church. This is done the moment he believes; and not by himself, but by the Holy Spirit. Every believer is a member of the Body of Christ, because he has received the Holy Spirit. He has been made to drink into one Spirit, to partake of the precious ministry of the Holy Spirit, who is in him as a well of water.
Equally clear is the teaching as to the Holy Spirit dwelling in the house of God: "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:20-22). "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16.) The thought of unity is essential to the meaning of these passages. The foundation is one — Jesus Christ; and there is but One who dwells in the temple — the Holy Spirit. Every believer forms a part of this holy temple — a "living stone," as the apostle Peter says (1 Peter 2:5). We are not only builded upon the foundation by faith in Christ, but are builded together, formed into a habitation of God. Each believer's body is a temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 6:19) , but the passages we are considering go further, and show that all believers form a unity, indwelt by one Spirit.
Before leaving this part of the subject, we need but to ask, Is the Spirit of God doing contradictory work? Is He serving diverse interests? Or is His one work to glorify Christ and to secure that oneness of the Church which He died to effect?
We are called in "one hope" of our calling. The oneness of the Church is here again taught. When Christ left His own upon earth, He gave them the promise that He would come for them. Into the blessed fulness of this we will not now enter, save to touch upon some of the most striking features of "that blessed hope." Christ has gone on high, having through His death rent the veil which separated us from God. The work of redemption is completed, and we even now have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." This is for faith. But our Lord does not mean to leave His Church upon the earth and He to remain in heaven. True, He "ever liveth to make intercession for us"; He restores us if we wander, and His almighty power and everlasting love are ever engaged in our behalf. But this is only for the interval. His heart longs to have us with Himself. "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which Thou hast given Me" (John 17:24). He will not rest till the Church which He loved, and for which He gave Himself, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, is presented to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing (Eph. 5:25-27). This includes the changing of our bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto His glorious body (Phil. 3:20, 21). "It Both not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). It also includes the truth of the resurrection of the saints who have fallen asleep; these will be brought with Christ into the heavenly scene. This is the hope of our calling — a calling on high, of God (Phil. 3:14). "And so shall we ever be with the Lord."
That this hope has so largely died out of the hearts of God's people is at once their loss and shame. But God's calling remains the same, and it is the common hope for all His people. There is only one hope, one destiny. And this gives additional emphasis to the truth we are considering. With but one destiny, there can be but one Body; there will be but one heavenly bride. Ah, did we but have that blessed hope more simply before us, how clearly would be manifest that oneness! Was it not thus to link us together that our Lord set this hope before us? "The glory which Thou gayest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:22).
We have thus looked at the Scripture teaching upon Church-unity from various points of view. Let it be remembered that we are speaking of no mere unity of sentiment or affection, but distinctly of organic unity. The Church is one by its very constitution, its nature, its Head, its life, its destiny. And this unity, as we have seen, was meant to be visible. Of our personal responsibility with regard to this, it is our purpose to speak in another paper. For the present, we would submit to every thoughtful conscience that there must be immense responsibilities as well as wondrous privileges in connection with this truth. We could not, if we would, shirk these responsibilities. Let it be ours to calmly face them, asking, with subject heart, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"