“One in the Father and the Son” (John 17:21)
In the heart of every true believer on the Son of God, there is a desire for the manifest oneness of those who belong to our Lord Jesus Christ; for the oneness of those who are the love gift of the Father to the Son. That desire will be fully satisfied, for the Son said to the Father, “The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them, that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:22).
To be without the desire for this oneness is to be without the desire of the divine nature; and to be without that nature is to be without the true knowledge of God; for He that loves has been begotten of God, and knows God. He that loves not has not known God (1 John 4:7).
There are those who have this desire, and yet they do not practically seek after it; but in them the word is illustrated, “the soul of the sluggard desires and has nothing.” The desire is right, but it needs to be stirred into sincere and fervent activity, and this the word will do if we give earnest heed to it. “Beloved, let us love one another: because love is of God.” If this love for the brethren, for all those who are His, be lacking, how can the assurance and comfort of that other word be ours: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren”? and mark, all of them! not some of them (1 John 3:14). This love is practical: not in word or in theory only, but “in deed and in truth.” This divine love will find its outlet, not on the low lines of the organizations, unions, or combinations of the world, such can only check and chill it, but according to that which is true, permanently and incorruptibly true.
“The True” and “the Truth”
The true oneness of the saints must necessarily be according to God, for He is “the True.” The Son, as Man, is “the Truth,” for He is the expression of that which is true. As God, He also is spoken of as “the True” (1 John 5:20); as is the Father in John 17:3; but as Man here below, He perfectly expressed what is true, and is therefore personally “the Truth.” The truth, then, is divine, it is entirely of God, the manifestation of Himself, and it must necessarily follow that oneness according to what is true can only be known by us in the power of the Spirit of God. It is by Him that we are set vitally in that which is true.
The Spirit is also spoken of as “the Truth,” for He maintains and manifests what is true here below. The Son did that when He was here, but He was rejected, and now the Spirit has come to maintain the truth that the Lord revealed and to bear witness to it; so we read, “the Spirit is the truth” (1 John 4:6). The oneness, therefore, which is desired by the divine nature, is that which must be according to the Spirit, and according to the Son, that is, according to the truth, the revelation of God. The intercession of the Son with the Father as to our present oneness is—“That they may be ONE IN US” (John 17:21).
Inclusive and Exclusive
It is important, in relation to the oneness of the saints of God, to understand the truth of the one body; to grasp in faith the fact of it. “There is one body.” This is a fact whether we grasp it or not, but the Holy Spirit has given us the truth of it through Paul, in the scripture, that we might be always kept in the sense of the necessity of every member of the body of Christ, for all are included in the body. Oh! that we may learn deeply and truly this blessed inclusiveness. That teaching of exclusiveness, which says that certain members are excluded on the principle of the one body, is not the truth of God. Indeed, it is very serious error. That teaching which maintains that wicked persons (those characterized by lawlessness in word or way) are to be excluded from Christian intercourse is according to the truth. The difference between the two is very great. To use the truth of the one body for the exclusion of members, is to act ignorantly, to misapply scripture, and to injure the saints. To exclude wickedness and those characterized by it as unsuited to the holiness of God’s house, is to obey the Word and to preserve the saints, but for the latter other scriptures are needed.
As to the inclusiveness of the one body, we are told, no member can say to another, “I have no need of thee” (1 Cor. 12:21). Every member is necessary. Exclusion is not to be thought of. “God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to the part that lacked.” And the reason for this divine wisdom and care is, “That there be no division in the body” (v. 25)! Inclusiveness is the truth here. The teaching of the “one new man,” and of access to the Father by “one Spirit” in Ephesians 2:5-18 has the same end in view; as also has the fact that we are “joint heirs, and a joint body, and joint partakers of God’s promise in Christ Jesus. Indeed, the very gospel-preaching of Paul was “according to the revelation of the mystery” (Rom. 16:25); and the right effect of that would bring all the saints “to be like-minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus; that ye may with one accord, with one mouth, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Wherefore,” continues the Apostle, “receive ye one another according as the Christ also has received you to the glory of God” (Rom. 15.5-7). In this way the oneness becomes practical in the love and grace of the Truth.
For a Day of Failure
The outward failure and breakdown as to this very truth amongst those who claim to be the church, or of the church, could not be greater, but it was all foreseen and foretold in the scripture, and provision has been made in view of the failure in the ministry given through John. So that those who are really “of the truth” may be preserved and maintained in fullness of joy, and according to the oneness of which we speak, in spite of the outward breakdown. Whilst calling attention to this precious ministry of those things that abide, we must not allow ourselves to think that there is any lack of harmony with that given by the same Spirit through Paul. He may give prominence to what is forensic, whilst John gives prominence to what is vital; but this latter is found in the epistles of Paul also, though under different figures. It is found, too, in that which was said to Peter in Matthew 16:18, to which he refers in 1 Peter 2:5, where Christ’s assembly is spoken of as a spiritual house, built up with living stones. It is a vital structure, built upon the Father’s revelation of Jesus to the soul, as the Christ the Son of the living God. It may be said that this is not corporate as in the epistles of Paul, but simply collective as in John. That does not touch the question of which we speak; for all alike have oneness in view, even if from different aspects.
No outward divisions or separations are seen by John, among the living company of true believers on the Son of God, for whom he writes. His gospel is written that they may have life (John 20:31) his first epistle that they may know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). He sees one family, all loved alike by one Father, indwelt by one Spirit. In the gospel he sees one flock, all having eternal life, and all safe in the hand of one Shepherd. The flock is identified with the assembly by Paul’s words in Acts 20:28. It is true that here, as well as in John 10, the Holy Spirit foretells trouble from those who should succeed the apostles. Grievous wolves are spoken of, and also those who would speak “perverted things”; but the one flock, the true assembly, remains.
John 10 tells of the thief coming to steal, to kill, and to destroy; but the Shepherd, the Son of God, holds all His own in the hand of omnipotence. Unlike the thief, the good Shepherd came that His sheep might have salvation, liberty, and life abundantly. The wolf worries and scatters the precious sheep of Christ, and the hireling’s heart is on his wages; he cares not for the sheep, and flees when danger comes; but the good Shepherd knows each sheep by name, and He loves each one with so great a love that He laid down His life for the eternal welfare of every one of them. Notwithstanding all the trouble the thief, the hireling, and the wolf cause, the one flock is safe, because it is in His hand, and in the Father’s hand; and He has said: “No one shall seize them out of My hand,” and “No one can seize out of the hand of My Father. I and My Father are one.” Every sheep is included in that grasp of love and omnipotence. He speaks of inclusive oneness.
Those who are excluded in John’s epistle exclude themselves—they go out. They apostatize (1 John 2:11). In the third epistle of John, Diotrephes “cast out” the brethren; this treatment was meted out to the best saints. He could only cast out of the assembly where he had usurped the pre-eminence which belongs to Christ; he could not cast them out of that of which we are speaking. But it should be a warning to us to see to it that we have more than mere talk about assembly, which is dangerous; for even in apostolic days the state in this connection could be such that an apostolic communication could be refused; and even apostles themselves: “I wrote something to the assembly; but Diotrephes, who loves to have the first place among them, receives us not” (3 John 9). Certainly it was the work of an individual whose fleshly pride had made him Satan’s tool, and who took and loved the first place among them. It is a significant fact that the only mention of the assembly in John’s writings is in connection with this evil Diotrephesian conduct; doubtless this is to cast us back upon the living and inclusive oneness, to which prominence is given in his ministry by the Holy Spirit. The violent exclusiveness of Diotrephes was evil. It excluded the best. It is therefore said to Gaius: “Beloved, imitate not what is evil, but what is good. He that does good is of God” (v. 11). That is the path which is surrounded by the abiding blessings of God.
“Thus may we abide in union
With each other and the Lord,
And possess in sweet communion,
Joys which earth can ne’er afford.”
Christ and Oneness
Let us consider the way that the Lord takes to gather this well-loved flock, this favoured family, these sheep of God’s pasture, the children of God. First His death was necessary, for only so could He “gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad” (John 11:52). He died to bring about this oneness. He prayed also for it, when He said to the Father: “That they all may be ONE; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be ONE IN US” (John 17:21). Terribly backslidden must be the state of any who are marked by cold indifference to this for which the Son of God both died and prayed!
If we love Him, we must love all who are His. “He that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can be love God whom he has not seen.” “Every one that loves Him that has begotten loves also him that is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1). Christ loves the assembly, the whole assembly, and the heart which knows this will love that which He loves.
To the facts that Christ died and prayed for this oneness, we must add, He lives for it. Because He lives we live also; and John 17 gives us the character of His present living intercession that we may be one. Again, all the members of His body are ministered to from Him, the living Head, and united together in consequence. Do not let our slackness and indifference to this be excused by the plea, “There can be no failure in regard to the body.” For we are warned in Colossians 2:19 against “holding fast the Head.” Laxity on our side as to this leads to utter failure.
Oneness is in view also in connection with the Lord’s coming again. He said to the Father as to that longed-for day; “The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them, that they may be one, as We are one; I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one” (John 17:22-23). What surpassing greatness! What divine grace and glory shine here! But to what end? Think of the grace and glory of it! “THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE.” May such thoughts and purposes of love stir our hearts, in the deepest depths of their divinely begotten affections. The oneness here spoken of is as sure as Christ’s glory is. Nothing can mar it, thank God. It is established in the same glory and in the same love that Christ knows. “Thou hast loved them,” He says to the Father, “as Thou hast loved Me.”
How can we be indifferent to that for which He went into death, and for which He interceded before the Father, and for which He lives at the right hand of God, and for which He will come again that it may be absolute and unbroken for ever for His joy and glory? May we respond to His great grace and love now by seeking after it even here with true purpose of heart.
There is one flock and one Shepherd; one assembly and one Head; one body and one Spirit; one family and one Father; one faith and one Lord; one circle of brethren who have passed out of death into life. As we remember these things our love will be kept in activity in a divine way, and so shall the oneness for which the Lord prayed be furthered. May we allow no subtle reasonings to rob us of these divine realities, for realities they are, but may we have grace to answer to them practically.
We need to take hold of these things firmly, lest we be lured by the devil into some by-way, for many who have learned something of them, through not seeing that all the members of Christ’s body are necessary to each other, have taken the by-path of independency; whilst others, realizing it may be a measure of gift from the exalted Head of the body, have allowed themselves to be pushed into the byway of clericalism. As both these things lead further and further from the truth they can only result in miserable disappointment to those who are true believers.
The contrast to these is to be gathered to the Lord in right assembly order, where there is freedom for the exercise of diversity of gifts in the power of the One Spirit of God, whose great aim is the edification of every member of the body of Christ. The will of God in this connection is in no wise irksome to such when rightly understood; for it is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
Legality and Lawlessness
The Scriptures warn us of two main drifts which are contrary to the oneness that is of God. The last two books of the Bible depict them in vivid colours. The one is Pharisaic and the other Babylonish. The first is the fruit of legality, and the second is the outcome of lawlessness. Amongst the assemblies the seeds of the first found soil in the Galatians, and the second among the Corinthians. The word Pharisee signifies separatist; and Jude says, “These separate themselves, natural, having not the Spirit” (v. 19). They are contrasted with those who are “beloved in God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ.” The word Babylon signifies confusion.
The separatist may persuade himself that he is insisting on right order as he stands stiffly apart from others in his legal self-righteousness; but the confusionist also thinks that his all-embracing church system, which amalgamates all sorts of religious societies and orders, is the right and proper thing. The first is called “natural” (N.Tr.); the second is devilish. This will lead eventually to “the habitation of demons and the hold of every foul spirit” (Rev. 18:2). The true assembly, however, is spiritual, and is built together in the Lord, for a habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
The Babylonish confusionists mix religion and state together. This is clearly pictured for us in Revelation 17, where we see symbolized the unfaithful intimacy of the church with the state in the woman and the Beast. Lawlessness as systematized in Babylon brings about human debasement and bondage. In contrast to this, the liberty which is in Christ Jesus both elevates and gives freedom to true believers. All worldly religious systems have Babylon as their “mother” (Rev. 17:5); her principles come from beneath. On the other hand, true believers have as their “mother,” Jerusalem which is above (Gal. 4:26); and it is said of her, she is “free.” Her children partake of the same character. Freedom pervades the whole system of administration of which she is the metropolis. At the present time it is “God’s administration which is in faith” (1 Tim. 1:4), and we are to further that.
To lay down as a hard and fast principle, in the present state of things, that “separation from evil” is the one and only essential for unity, as some have done, is purely Pharisaic. There surely must be separation from evil to realize the divine oneness which is according to the truth; but that is not the way Scripture puts it. It is by what is positive that the soul is formed, and it is this that is before the mind of the Lord. His sheep FOLLOW HIM out of the fold. We are to go forth “TO HIM!” without the camp. We call on THE LORD out of a pure heart, as we follow righteousness, faith, love, and peace together, having purified ourselves from what is contrary. In this positive position, the Lord Himself, and the fullness which is in Him, is to be our resource; and grace and peace in the knowledge of Him will be needed by us constantly from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, that we may be maintained for God’s glory. No rigid rules or principles can take the place of that. We have to do with persons, not simply principles. Grace and wisdom are therefore necessary, as well as knowledge and understanding: forbearance as well as integrity: long-suffering as well as righteousness: lowliness and meekness as well as truth and uprightness: kindness, and love which never fails, as well as justice and holiness.
To the censorious Pharisees, who complained because the hungry disciples ate of the ears in the cornfields on the Sabbath, our Lord Jesus Christ said, “If ye had known what this means: ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice’, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matt. 12:1-8). He reminded them of what David and his companions did when hungry; also of the fact that the service of the temple even involved the priests in profaning the Sabbath, and yet they were blameless. Further, He Himself was greater than the temple; and He was also Lord of the Sabbath; therefore even if His disciples were guilty (which they were not) He was above the rules and principles for which they professed such zeal; and they were His followers, and He would deal with them. Mercy was not in all their thoughts; and the fruit of their legality and self-righteousness found them to be opponents of our Lord Jesus Christ and His own. It is the same today There is a zeal for place and principle, which is pressed in a spirit the very opposite to that of Christ and to the character and nature of God. It is a drift which is contrary to the oneness of which the Son speaks to the Father, “That they may be one in Us.” It is not the spirit of the faithful and prudent servant, who uses diligence to the end that suitable and seasonable food should be given to all those who are the Lord’s; but that of the evil and oppressive servant, whose unreality gains him a place with the hypocrites (Matt. 24:45-51).
Lawlessness, on the other hand, leads to Babylon, as we have seen; to a system of organized confusion. To be caught by either the legal or the lawless current, is to be spoiled for faithful and fruitful service to the Lord.
The New Movement
The new movement, which will end in the manifested oneness of all the saints, is the true movement. In another sense it is the old movement; but that only relates to time, for in the true sense it never can be old. It began with Christ in resurrection, after He had secured eternal redemption for us, and made peace by the blood of His cross. He is “the Beginning, Firstborn from among the dead” (Col. 1:18). He is the Head of the body, the assembly. That movement which began then will go on until we are all gathered together to Him in glory. The Lord’s prayer will be answered. We shall be perfected into one in glory, that the world may know that the Father sent the Son, and loves us as He loves Him (John 17:23). The Holy Spirit will not turn aside from this movement for some other. May we have grace not to be turned aside either. It is abidingly true as we have said, there is one body and one Spirit. Christ is the one Head of that body, even as He is the one Shepherd of the one flock. Parties, schools, orders, sects or organizations are therefore sinful.
Movements to amalgamate parties and sects together must likewise be wrong. On what ground can two parties approach each other, when their very existence is contrary to what is divinely true as to the assembly? For such to combine is confusion—Babylonish. It may be said, They never ought to have existed as parties. Very well; then let them cease to be so; and as saints, beloved of God, brethren in the Lord, let them call on Him together out of a pure heart. Let party positions and party histories be abandoned; and let Christ, the one Head of the assembly, be returned to. If some have no party position, but are simply holding to Christ as the Head of the whole body, then such will rejoice to find others doing the same, without making demands concerning the party positions and divisions in which they have been entangled, and which should never have been. This would not be carelessness, but zeal for what is good. In all that we do we must have the Lord and all that are His in view. The Spirit works thus. All His works are done in truth. The new movement of the Spirit at the beginning is still going on; and it will go on, till every saint is gathered to Christ in glory. We cannot expect the support of God for any other movement. It is on the line of new creation and eternal life, and therefore the oneness of it is in the Father and the Son. It is constituted in what is true, and so expresses the truth. This could be said of no other movement; and no other movement, therefore, is worthy of our attention.
Those who seek this divine integration in Christ, and faithfully refuse that which makes for disintegration, ought to be together for God’s glory, so that with one heart, and one mind, and one mouth they may glorify Him. The disintegrating forces, briefly stated, are false doctrines dishonouring to the Father and to the Son, the formation of sects, and the practice of wickedness. True integration finds its centre in Christ, the Son of the living God. All of us are called into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9). Let it be once clearly understood that this is the fellowship into which GOD calls, then all sects and parties will be repudiated. Nor will any say, “I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12), to the exclusion of other saints, for all are of Him; and the Christ is not divided.
“Lord Jesus are we one with Thee!
O height! O depth of love!
And crucified and dead with Thee,
Now one in heaven above.”
Soon, soon shall come that glorious day,
When, seated on Thy throne,
Thou shalt to wondering worlds display
That we with Thee are one.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ loved the assembly, not a part of it, but in its oneness and entirety; and He gave Himself for it. The day will soon dawn when He will present it to Himself without spot or wrinkle, but wholly glorious within and without, for the everlasting joy of His own heart.
As a pearl of great value, she attracted His desire to possess her, and He gave all that He had to make her His; yea, more, He gave Himself. He loved the assembly; and when in glory she shall shine with Him He will still love her; but even now, as the lily of the valleys among the thorns of this world’s testings and trials, He loves her with a present, perfect love, and His present service of love towards her will not cease.
Every believer on Christ, the Son of God, sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, belongs to this assembly. Every one redeemed by the blood of Christ is indwelt by the Spirit; and He gives the precious cry of relationship in their hearts—“Abba, Father.” They are spoken of as the children of God in John. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1). Our Lord Jesus Christ is constantly engaged for the present welfare of these; as their Advocate with the Father, and as their High Priest before God; as their Lord and their Head; and as Son of God, He ever lives to make intercession for them, for all of them.
The Flock, the Assembly
The one Shepherd of the flock, raised from among the dead, is called the great Shepherd; even as laying down His life for us, He is called the good Shepherd; whilst in connection with His coming again He is the chief Shepherd. Every precious sheep of God’s flock is a special object of His thought and care. He calls each one by name. The peculiarities of each one are known to Him. Other shepherds may fail the flock of God, but this perfect Shepherd never fails. Each believer on Him can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd”; and as following Him find abundance of blessing.
There is “one Shepherd,” and there is “one flock.” As Jehovah’s Shepherd He bore the smiting of the sword upon the cross; then the sheep were scattered (Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31); but in resurrection He gathers them together. (Indeed, the day will come when, as the national Shepherd, He will hold the nations together, in a system which Ezekiel calls “Eden, the garden of God”). The truth as to the Shepherd gathers into itself offices and glories far beyond that which is generally understood. Each believer can individually say, He is “my” Shepherd. We may know Him as the great, and good, and chief Shepherd; as the King who will shepherd the nations and as Jehovah’s Shepherd too; but then we are told He is Jehovah’s Fellow. He is Man truly; but He is also God. What a glorious Shepherd! What a privilege to belong to the one flock of which He is the living Shepherd at this present moment! to the living flock to which He has given eternal life! the one flock for which He died.
The wrong translation of John 10:16 has done incalculable harm. The reading “one fold” instead of “one flock” has been used to justify the most corrupt and the most superstitious of religious systems. Many pious believers have been enslaved by the idea of a fold; and many who should have known better have formed organizations and party folds, and ensnared therein true believers to their hurt. Some who have helped to form folds may have sincerely desired to preserve the sheep from other evils; but they must have failed to see that preservation is in Christ Jesus. Their work, however well meant, hinders the true sheep from simply following Christ, and from growing in the knowledge of Him, in the enjoyment of the liberty, life, pasture and salvation which He came to make theirs.
To one who vehemently insisted that folds were necessary the reply was made recently: “When your fold is made, and all sorts are gathered into it, Christ will come, and do as He did before; He will call His own sheep by name, and lead them ‘OUT’ of the fold (John 10:3); and when His own are outside, you will only have left inside your fold those who are not His.” So true is this principle, that when the final assembling call of the Lord is given to His own, the folds of Christendom will be left behind, to be treated as the world, falling under the judgment of Babylon (Rev. 19); whilst the one flock, the assembly in its entirety, is happily and manifestly one with the Lord above. How constantly we are exhorted to express this unity in a practical way now, and how sinful must every tradition or effort be that would maintain or form saints into parties or folds which are a denial of it. We are to “all say the same thing, and that there be not among you divisions; but that ye be perfectly united in the same mind and in the same judgment”; and the Apostle prayed that our “hearts may be encouraged, being united together in love”; and he also desires that we “stand firm in one spirit, with one soul, labouring together in the same conflict with the faith of the glad tidings”; and even for two sisters, that they “be of the same mind in the Lord.” Ephesians 4:3 has been much discussed, but it would be better to put it into practice than to talk about it. “Bearing with one another in love; using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” This is inclusive of all the children of God; and this is the one way to realize the oneness of which we have spoken.
It is no question of church reconstruction. It would be pride on the part of any one to attempt to reconstruct that into which failure came, even when apostles were living amongst the saints. Who are we to think we can do better? We can, however, follow the Lord and keep His commandments, also His new commandment; and as to assembly building, we can rely upon Him to build His assembly according to His word to Peter upon the Father’s revelation to him of Himself, the Christ the Son of the living God (Matt. 16).
It is the blessed Lord Himself then to whom we are called. It is Himself we are to follow. He is our Shepherd, our Head, and our Centre. He has given us eternal life. We are to let that which we have heard from the beginning abide in us, and so we shall “abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which He has promised us, life eternal” (1 John 2:24-25). It is here divine oneness is realized; one in the Father and the Son. To such, how precious is the new commandment, “LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (John 13:34 and 1 John 2:8). Where this is answered to in the light and in the truth, those who are not “of the truth” will not abide. They “go out,” as John tells us. Those who are “of the truth” can therefore go on together in love, in the oneness which every true believer desires. The divine nature is there; and the Holy Spirit is there; we have therefore the power to walk in the truth, as well as the nature which both desires and delights to do so. “Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:2-3). How can they be to those who have the divine nature, and walk in love and truth. The commandments of harsh men may be grievous; but not those of Him whose love the Son has revealed to us. They indicate the blessed channels into which our activities are to be directed. They preserve us in true love to God and to each other, in a circle of holy liberty, life and love.
Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. There He commanded the blessing, even eternal life (Ps. 133). Finally, let us remind our hearts again that our Lord Jesus Christ died to gather us all into one; also that He prayed to the Father in those never-to-be-forgotten words: “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them, that they may be one, as We are one; I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one, and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and that Thou hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me” (John 17:21-23).
“Let, Lord, Thy living word abide in me,
And may it be in joy to feed on Thee,
To find my all in all in Thee to be,
Lord, now and evermore.”