Does the Word Justify Division?

From a Letter

. . . You are quite right, I believe, in saying that the New Testament gives no sanction to division in the church, or assembly, as the word should be; indeed, nothing comes under severer condemnation than this, as we may see from the first Corinthian Epistle. Separation from evil is essential, and no one could walk in the truth apart from this, but part of that truth in which we desire to walk is that "there is one body." Knowing that all the members of Christ are united to Him, the living Head, by one Spirit, our responsibility is to use diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Here there has been great failure, for diligence has been used to keep the opinions and parties caused by the flesh instead of the unity produced by the Spirit.

We do not believe that anyone is warranted in going to the Old Testament in support of division and its maintenance. Israel was twelve tribes, not one body; they would have remained one nation under one King but for the corrupt condition into which they fell, and here there may be an analogy between them and present-day conditions. If they had obeyed the word of the Lord, there would have been no division in Israel, and if the saints of God of this church period had been subject to His word, we should not have had to mourn the divided state of things which is now so prevalent.

But if that Old Testament story be carefully considered, it will be seen that God did not forbid His people to seek a righteous way of reconciliation, or to discover why the breach had occurred, or to confess together their failure, but He did forbid them to fight with their brethren. We read; "Thus saith the Lord, GO NOT UP, NOR FIGHT WITH YOUR BRETHREN, THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL" (1 Ki. 1:12). I wish that we had all rightly learned the lesson that that bit of the story teaches so plainly. Where there has been general failure, it is as well that the sword be dropped and that all betake them to their knees. The division in Israel was God's condemnation on their evil state, and men of God who in later days were used to bring back the people in any measure to the truth confessed it to be so.

Jehoshaphat sought to obliterate the division without a change of condition, or a righteous basis upon which this could be effected, and the result was disaster. He joined with a man "who did very wickedly," and a prophet was sent to him to say, "Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works" (2 Chr. 20:35-37). But that was a very different thing from seeking to walk in the truth with all that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. When Hezekiah came to the throne and God brought him back to the truth of the passover from which the people had departed throughout the whole period of division, he made a proclamation as to it "throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba even to Dan, that they should came to keep the passover unto the Lord at Jerusalem, for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written" (2 Chr. 30:5). How could they do it in such sort as it was written, if they left out of their desires and affection any of their brethren? For the passover first recognized them as one congregation, they were one people as the redeemed of the Lord. 2 Chronicles 30 is a very encouraging chapter and shows us plainly what God can do in restoring a people to His truth and the joy that results from subjection to His word.

Did you ever see the poem said to be by Charles Wesley, written at the time of the reconciliation between John Wesley and George Whitfield? Here is part of it, and if you are like me, these lines will stir your heart, bring the tears to your eyes and make you pray.

"The Saviour saw our strife with pitying eye,
And cast a look that made the shadows fly;
Soon as the day-spring of His presence shone,
We found the two fierce armies were but one.
Common our hope, and family and name,
Our arms, our Captain, and our crown the same;
Enlisted all beneath Emmanuel's sign,
And purchased every soul with blood divine.

"Then let us cordially again embrace,
Nor e'er infringe the league of gospel grace;
Let us in Jesus' Name to battle go
And turn our arms against the common foe;
Fight, side by side, beneath our Captain's eye,
Chase the Philistine; on their shoulders fly;
And, more than conquerors, in harness die.

"Our only care, while sojourning below,
Our real faith by real love to show,
To blast the aliens' hope, and let them see
How friends of jarring sentiments agree;
Not in a party's narrow banks confined,
Not by the sameness of opinions joined,
But cemented with the Redeemer's blood
And bound together in the heart of God.

"And, jointly labouring on with jealous strife,
Strengthen each other's hands to work for life
To turn against the world our steady face,
And, valiant for the truth, enjoy disgrace."

We may be sure that the aliens and the devil himself rejoice when strife rages among the saints of God, and the heart of the Lord is grieved. Jesus died to gather together in one the children of God, and the Holy Ghost has come to give a present and eternal result to His death. "For also in [the power of] one Spirit we have been baptized into one body . . . and have all been given to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13, N.Tr.).