Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity

An Address on Psalm 133

I would call your attention to the fact that when we take up the Scriptures to read them, we are not reading the words of men, no matter how good or wise, but we are reading the words of God. That is a fact acknowledged by us as a point of doctrine, but how little we appreciate the tremendous import of it. God has been pleased to express His thoughts for our guidance and our blessing, and we have those thoughts in the Bible. It is the Word of God. If it is the Word of God it carries authority; if it is the Word of God it must be absolutely and infinitely wise; if it is the Word of God it cannot be improved upon; if it is the Word of God we must take heed to it and do it. To cherish a spirit that is foreign to it or to act in a way contrary to it means to set ourselves in opposition to the revealed will of God.

Keeping these things in mind, let us consider Psalm 133. It says, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" To whom is it good and pleasant? Surely to all those who love what is of God. But not to them only; the Psalm shows us that it is good and pleasant to God Himself. That when He looks down on this world, filled as it is with hatred and strife, and in which there roll waves of blood-lust, there is something that is good and pleasant to Him in the midst of it, and that is unity among brethren. Let us not introduce any of our "buts" into the passage, but let us take it as it stands, and consider it as the word of God to us, then the beauty and power of it will not fail to affect us.

But who are these "brethren"? How wide is the sweep of that good word? We who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity present in this hall are included in it, surely, but it goes out wider. Let us stand in thought and listen to Him, saying, as He did to Mary, "Go to My brethren." We are in such danger of that withering sectarianism that talks about our brethren, and that thinks along narrow lines and in limited circles, that we need constantly to turn back to His words, and to let the love with which they are vibrant thrill and enlarge our souls. He speaks of "My brethren," and when we understand the meaning of that word, and who they are of whom the Lord thus speaks, let us know that God says that it is good and pleasant to Him when they dwell together in unity.

What Unity is like

"It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments" (v. 2).

This precious ointment, the holy anointing oil, is described for us in Exodus 30. If we read from the 22nd verse to the 33rd, we shall find how definite and particular were the instructions given by God to Moses regarding it. And we learn that it was to be for God's sanctuary alone. It had not to be imitated nor had any of the Israelites to have it in their houses. God reserved it for Himself and His own pleasure. He surrounded Himself with its fragrance in His own dwelling, and the reason for this was that it told forth in a type the preciousness of Christ to God as He lived His life of holy devotedness to Him on earth. When men saw Him they discerned no beauty in Him that they should desire Him; but there never was a moment that His Father's eye saw anything else but beauty. From the start of His life to the close of it, it was all beautiful and fragrant: every moment of it, on all occasions, in public and in private, entirely and altogether it was perfect. His words and works that men could hear and see, and the thoughts and the feelings behind the words and works that men could not see yielded alike infinite delight to the Father's heart. We can understand that. We delight to know that that was so — we are assured that nothing but that could be true.

Is it possible that there could be anything like that in the world now? I want you to notice that I am asking a question, and I want you to consider the question well and weigh your answer before you give it. Is it possible that there can be anything in this world today fragrant to God as was the life of Jesus? Yes, thank God, it is possible. Lest you should think that I am saying something that I am not warranted in saying, I will quote the words of the Psalm again; "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments."

It is evident then that the blessedness of unity amongst brethren cannot be exaggerated, and as we consider the way that God looks upon it, we shall all be ready to admit that we should each endeavour with a whole-hearted and continual diligence to avoid everything that would mar it where it does exist, and to restore it where, through folly or self-will, it has been broken. To do other than this would be to manifest a sinful indifference to that which is pleasurable to God.

How the Unity can be maintained

The question naturally arises, How, then, can this most desirable unity be obtained and maintained? Well, it cannot be formed, kept, or restored by ecclesiastical rules or regulations, nor by acting upon precedent or tradition. It is not an ecclesiastical unity at all in the sense in which we understand the word. In the government of this land there is a legislative body and an administration for the carrying out of the laws that it places upon the statute book. Now in the Scripture we have administration connected with the assembly of God, but never legislation. The assembly has to give effect to the purposes and the will of God, and these are clearly given in the Word. It has not to form rules and laws for itself. When it began to legislate — supposing that the Word of God alone was not sufficient for its guidance in every time of difficulty, then began the era of its greatest sorrows; and whenever any part of it, any group of men within it, has set about to legislate for itself divisions have become permanent. I suggest to you that you should carefully consider this, and I think that you will find in it the cause of much discord and many unhappy divisions in the church of God. It is a matter of intense seriousness, nor can the evil of it be exaggerated. Think of men making rules and laws for God's assembly in which the Holy Ghost is! What presumptuous folly is this! No wonder that out of it should come the devil's own discord, instead of that harmony which is of God.

If the Lord had to rebuke the Scribes of old because they made the Word of God of none effect by the tradition of the elders, how much more does such folly call for censure today, since in addition to the Word of God we have the Holy Ghost within the assembly to give effect to the Word He has written.

This unity can only be secured and maintained in the life of Christ expressed in us in the power of the Holy Ghost. Christ is our life, and God's thought for us is that that precious and perfect life, which was so fragrant to Him, should be reproduced in us who are members of the body of Christ, and it is as that life expresses itself in one way in one member and another way in another that the unity of the whole goes up in fragrance to God. Colossians 3 gives it to us. Read first chapter 1:27, "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Lay hold upon the words, "Christ in you." Now read the third verse of chapter 3, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God, and when Christ, who is our life" — keep that in mind, that Christ is our life. Now look at the ninth verse; "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called IN ONE BODY; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."

These verses unfold for us the character of the new man in which Christ is all and in all. The graces of which they speak have to be put on, they are to be seen externally, but they are the result of life within. They describe for us things that came out in all their perfection in Christ, and they are now to be the adorning of those who form His body. The fragrant oil of the sanctuary was poured upon the head of Aaron, but it went even to the skirts of his garments. Christ is the Head of the body, and the fragrance of all that is delightful to God is upon Him in perfection, but the whole body must be characterized by the grace of the Head: that very fragrance must flow to the most extreme member of His body here below. It is this that these verses teach us. May we all earnestly seek to have our full part in it.

But how will this work out in practice? Simply enough. If there is a Christian upon earth with whom you have a quarrel forgive him, and do it at once. If there is one who tries and irritates you, show forbearance, put on with regard to him bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind, meekness and long-suffering; let love cover all your actions to all who are fellow-members with you of the body of which Christ is Head. Take this group of heavenly graces, make them your study daily, and determine by the grace of Christ that they shall be your standard, even though you fail, for you had better stumble aiming at the highest than walk securely on a lower plane.

It should be abundantly clear to the youngest and the least intelligent Christian that if we abounded towards all who love the Lord in these precious graces discord would be impossible, and that the blending of these things together in the power of the Spirit would be most fragrant to God as being the reproduction of the life of Christ in His members below. And, thank God, every one of us may have a part in this.

A Sovereign Cordial against Fainting Fits and other Nervous Disorders

But you may say: "No doubt, unity amongst brethren is most blessed and desirable, but the brethren with whom I have to do are so difficult to get on with; they are cantankerous, self-opinionated, and unspiritual, so that I have despaired of ever being able to dwell in unity with them. In such circumstances what should I do?"

One thing I would ask in answering such a question. Do those brethren earnestly desire to walk in the truth? Do they love the Lord Jesus in sincerity? If so, and if you are like-minded in purpose with them as to this, it is evident that you have grown weary in well-doing, and that you need a spiritual cordial to revive your fainting spirit, and to put fresh energy into your endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit.

Turn to Psalm 45:8. It may be that in this verse we shall find something that will meet the need. "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia out of the ivory palaces where they have made thee glad." You will notice that in this psalm the Lord is spoken of as being glorious and precious in the estimation of those who in grace have been brought to know Him, and in this verse He possesses a fragrance to them that none else can. Some of the ingredients that make up that fragrance are the same as those given in Exodus 30. There, as we have seen, it is what He is to God; here it is what He is to us. But there is one ingredient here, the aloes, that is not found in Exodus 30. This arrested my attention in considering the passage, and made me search to see how this special perfume was procured. I found in an old dictionary the following account of it. It was the inner wood, or heart of a tree that grew in India, exceedingly fragrant, worth more than its weight in gold, and said to be a sovereign cordial for all fainting fits and nervous disorders. If the learned compiler of that old dictionary had intended to give a description of the love of Christ, he could not have succeeded better.

The aloe tree had to be cleft if the fragrance of its heart was to be disclosed, and it was at Calvary, when cleft by the sword of God's judgment against sin, that the heart of Christ disclosed all the greatness of its love, and there is nothing in the universe more fragrant than that — the love of Christ, which passes knowledge. Further, His love is far more precious than gold. If the world could bring all the gold that it possesses and could place it upon that table, none of us who know the love of Christ would exchange that knowledge for that great price, it is more precious than gold. And it is said to be a sovereign remedy for all fainting fits. This is the answer to your need. You say your brethren are difficult to get on with; that you have done your best to dwell in unity with them, but you have found that it is of no use. You have grown weary in well-doing, and are suffering from a spiritual fainting fit. What is the remedy? This is the remedy — the love of Christ. To come more under its influence and to know it better is what you need. To receive in a fuller measure into your own heart this sovereign cordial, this is the only remedy that I know of.

There seems to be a condition spiritually that answers to the very common nervous breakdown. Spiritual neurasthenia is a serious trouble, and causes much disquiet and trouble in God's family; how irritable, how sensitive, how quick to take offence — how short of patience we often are. But there is a sovereign remedy. It is the love of Christ. How it quietens and soothes us to get near the Lord; how it allays the fever, throws things into their proper perspective, removes fears and suspicions, invigorates and strengthens us, and makes us able to meet the things that otherwise would irritate us, enables us to meet them in the grace of Christ. When we are drawn into His company and begin to realize what His love is — that love that He bears to all His own even to the end, we become ashamed of our selfishness, our impatience, our irritability, and our hearts warm towards even the most unlovely of our brethren. This makes us strong to serve others in their weakness, as He did when He bent at the feet of His disciples and washed their feet, though He was their Lord and Master. What love was His, and He has left us an example that we should follow in His steps.

It is in the power of His life which has become our life, and as we are maintained by the Holy Spirit in the consciousness of His love to us that we shall set ourselves with renewed purpose of heart to dwell together in unity with our brethren.