On the Unity of the Church of God.

H. H. Snell.

Christian Friend vol. 17, 1890, p. 102.

There is no doubt that those are so far scripturally right who, while pointing out the sin of sectarianism, press the importance of subjection to the divine authority of Scripture, and of being gathered to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; but some, perhaps, have little considered what is involved in being so gathered, and this is why they are silent as to the truth of the unity of God's assembly. Since the assembly was formed by the coming and baptism of the Holy Spirit, we have really no other ground given to us for corporate action. It is by "one Spirit" dwelling in each and all that we have power for practical ways according to this unity; and the written Word enjoins us to use all diligence to keep this unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. Though Scripture speaks of our individual blessings, relationships, and obligations to Jesus our Lord, and of each local assembly being accountable to Him, as almost all the epistles show, yet they certainly do not recognize any corporate arrangement formed by anything less than the precious truths of "one body" and "one Spirit."

Hence, in Rev. 2 and 3, while each local assembly is regarded in direct obligation to Christ, yet all are held together in the unity of God's assembly - "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This unity was so practically acted on, that if a person was received into one assembly, he was virtually received into all the assemblies on the earth, and one "put away" from one meeting was excluded from all other meetings. This also is why letters of commendation were used in the case of any going from one place to another; for the action of "one Spirit" in one place, whether it were as to receiving or putting away, was everywhere recognized.

The more we search Scripture the more we shall be struck with what being gathered to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ means, whether for prayer, worship, or discipline. (Matt. 18:19-20; 1 Cor. 4:23, 1 Cor. 5:4.) It is surely to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who is glorified that the Spirit gathers. -

1. As having accomplished redemption for us, and being now crowned with glory and honour.

2. As the ascended One given to be Head over all to the assembly which is His body.

3. As having when ascended sent down the Holy Spirit to baptize us into one body.

4. As quickly coming to receive us unto Himself.

The question is, How far have we known what it is to be thus gathered and to enjoy our Lord's presence "in the midst"? for we have only to ponder the scriptures which teach us these things to see how impossible it is to be really gathered to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ without embracing the unity of God's assembly on earth, and in faith and conscience standing for it as according to His own revealed mind and will. Not a few, however, are to be found who, while admitting the truth of separation in some respects, omit the divinely given truth for the corporate ways and unity of the Church on earth till our Lord come. No failure or state of ruin can abrogate these scriptures; for if we are now told to go forth without the camp it is "unto Him;" if to purge ourselves from vessels to dishonour, it is to be with those who are characterized as calling on the Lord out of a pure heart. Whatever the state of Christians may be, these foundation principles abide, and it becomes a simple question of faithfulness to our Lord to act upon them. Is it not well then to ask ourselves how far the unity of the Church of God moulds our thoughts and ways? And if it be true that we cannot be according to His mind in a corporate sense without its frequently exercising us, how important that we should be in the current of His thoughts, feelings, affections, and ways, as to every member of His body. (2 Tim. 2:19-22; Eph. 4:3, etc.)

It is perhaps because many have before them the thought of an assembly, instead of "the assembly which is His body," that the seriousness of corporate failure seems to be so unfelt, if not overlooked, and the truth of being gathered to our Lord's name so little known, so little affecting us. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular," is a word never needed to be more pressed upon us than at this moment.

There was one special defect in the Colossian saints. Were they not true believers? Yes; for the apostle commends them for their "love in the Spirit." Were they not walking orderly? Certainly; for we read of their so walking, and of their being steadfast in the faith of Christ. Where then was that serious defect which caused the apostle such great conflict or agony? They were not, in conscience and practice, in the unity of the Church of God - one body - and therefore not in the practical administration of it, which no doubt is the special truth for this time from Pentecost onward. We read they were exposed to the snares of Rationalism or philosophy, Ritualism, worshipping of angels, etc. And why? Because they were "not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." Because of this, Paul's agony or conflict for them was intense, and Epaphras prayed that they might "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." (Col. 2:1-19; Col. 4:12.)

It is clear then that we cannot be right with the members of the body unless we are holding the Head. And observe, this is not merely holding the doctrine of the Head, however orthodox; but it is having heart-felt communion with Him who is the Head, in His thoughts, feelings, and affections, touching all the members of His body. The idea, therefore, of separation merely from evil, important as it is, falls short of meeting the Lord's mind; for He would have us also be in communion with Him the Head, touching the whole assembly of God. Every saint would then be an object of our hearts' interests, and prayers. It is this positive and divine side of the truth we are in danger of letting slip. We may be sure that where this is not held and cultivated the best local meeting will not rise morally beyond a sect, with a little more truth than is held by some others. If the Head and members have not their true place in our hearts and ways - "one body" - we cannot be keeping the "Spirit's unity" as we are enjoined. Those who in faithfulness return to that which was from the beginning of Christianity, and not merely to the Reformation, blessed as the action of the Spirit then was, will have the sweet consciousness of being on the divine ground of God's assembly, and will own their obligation to use diligence to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace."

When we think then of God's assembly on earth, it seems impossible that we can have a right view of it if our souls are not taken up with Him who is the Head of it. It is not only the path into which the Spirit leads, but it is connected with untold blessing to our souls. Nothing else, we are persuaded, can effectually deliver us from sectarianism; and nothing else can give full scope to our hearts touching the whole Church of God.

There is another point. Christ's heart is set upon all His saints. He nourisheth and cherisheth all the members of His body. Gifts too from Christ in ascension are not merely for the benefit of this or that meeting, but for "the building up of the body." Hence we read that "God hath set some in the Church," or assembly, including all saints on earth, "first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers," etc. (Eph. 5:29-30; Eph. 4:12; 1 Cor. 12:28.) No doubt there are local offices, as, for instance, "elders;" but gifts are for the benefit of the whole Church of God; and this is why we never read in Scripture of a pastor of a church, or a member of a church. We belong to the whole Church of God by union with Christ; for, as we have seen, "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." In point of fact, the life and walk of a Christian is largely formed and fashioned by the precious truth of the "one body." (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:11-12; Col. 2:19.)

It is important to remember that the one bread or loaf on the Lord's table is calculated to bring constantly to our remembrance the unity of the Church of God.

"For we being many are one bread [loaf], one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread" or loaf. (1 Cor. 10:17.) The unity of the Church of God is in this way remarkably expressed. It is well known that the loaf also is the memorial of Christ's body which was given for us. However the Church may be practically divided, it must be always "one body" before God, because it is so by the work and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All sectarianism of every shade not only denies the unity of the Church of God - one body - but also denies the exquisite workmanship of the union by the Holy Spirit given unto us, thus making us "members of His body" and "members one of another."

Moreover, looking back upon the illustrative history of God's earthly people, we find that the unity of the nation, if we may so speak of it, was set forth by twelve loaves (expressive of the twelve tribes) being always on the table of shewbread before Jehovah. This was of God's ordering. When, however, through man's failure, sin and corruption had so come in that Elijah, a faithful man, felt himself alone in Israel, and the time came for him to build an altar to Jehovah, we find he took twelve stones. And why? Because he knew that in God's mind the tribes, however then divided and torn asunder, were always twelve. Further on, when Ezra returned from the captivity with a handful of only two of the tribes, we are told that he "offered for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel." (1 Kings 18:19; Ezra 6:17.) Later still, when corruption and evil had so set in that the glory of Jehovah departed from Israel, the prophet Ezekiel is instructed to map out the land for the possession of the twelve tribes in the day of Messiah. Long after this, when the nation had been given up to judicial blindness till the Deliverer shall come, the apostle Paul on one occasion said, "Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come." (Acts 26:7.) And only a little before this James wrote his epistle to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. Both Paul and James knew that in God's mind the people were twelve tribes.

Is it then too much to say that we cannot be fully according to God's mind as to position, walk, or service, unless we are in conscience in the unity of the Church of God through holding the Head? Can any failure of man undo this divinely-formed unity? Granted the professing Church has ruinously fallen away from the blessings in which God set it, and that there is no hope from Scripture of its ever being re-constructed on earth, are we not clearly taught that separation from evil, the principles of holiness, and keeping the unity of the Spirit are to be faithfully maintained? H. H. S.

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The completeness of God's love, its perfectness, was shown in a double way: He could not give more, He would not give less. It is infiniteness in the fact and perfectness of the will - I mean of the will in love.

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It is a blessed thing to see that what saves us - the death and resurrection of Christ - takes our affections also clean out of this world, and places them wholly, as to the very nature of them, in life and object elsewhere.