THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH.
1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in
2 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;
3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains
For there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
Among the blessings for which the believer most longeth in the present dispensation is the unity of the Church. That those who are alike 'strangers and pilgrims' here, who love and serve and follow the same Lord, and who hope to spend eternity together, should be so far separated in circumstances under which they should be closely united, is indeed most distressing. It almost seems as if this were one of the mysteries for the solution of which we had to wait till we are 'behind the veil.' Into the causes of this separation we may not enter. We are all too prone to behold the mote in our brother's eye, but to neglect the beam in our own eye. By sectarianism we too often mean another man's attachment to his special opinions. Yet he is sectarian who sees and follows only sects; who sees churches but fails to see the Church. 'Is Christ divided?' And if Christ is not, neither is His Church divided. We all know and see in part, and herein lie our divisions; we all know and see Christ, and herein lies our union. While we should all and always aim after and promote union, just as we should aim after, and seek the coming of His kingdom, it seems as if this belonged to the Church of the future rather than of the present. Unity is not uniformity. The latter, in order to be true, implies perfectness; the former, the same origin, the same life, and the same consummation. Unity does not necessarily lead to uniformity. Life is multiform, yet one. Resemblance, not identity, are the characteristics even of closest family-relationship. 'Till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.' That ' till' has not yet arrived, nor will it arrive before we come ' unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ'
Like every attempt to externalize that which is spiritual and perceived only by faith, the attempt to bring about a merely outward unity has been to many 'a delusion and a snare.' We recognise a much higher and wider union, which binds all Christ's people into one. It is union of allegiance, of experience, and of profession. 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism;' Not that we think lightly of any scriptural attempts to promote Christian union. Only, as in reference to Christian peace, the best and safest way to attain it is simply to seek Christ who giveth peace, so in reference to Christian union. The closer we keep to Christ, the more fully we realize the spiritual doctrines of His kingdom, the nearer are we to union with all the brethren. The question. Are we warranted in going apart? once answered, it is far safer to listen to the voice of conscience, than to follow the dictates of carnal policy. The points on which we are to decide must be determined solely by the Word of God. They concern the truth of God, the honour of Christ, and the spiritual wellbeing of our souls. And here no compromise is either safe or lawful. Yet that is a very narrow heart which sees Christ only in one community. Our Sun of Righteousness lights up a whole hemisphere; some more and some less, according to their relative position to the Sun.
Yet is all proper, outward unity none the less to be desired and sought after, that in its fulness it is matter of faith rather than of sight. We are one with all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity and in truth. Inward sincerity and outward truth are the bonds which connect us. We believe in the Holy Catholic Church, we see it not, and this invisible Church, which is perfect, entrances and holds our hearts much more firmly than any outward unity of man's devising. Yet is it to be remarked that most grounds of our separation depend upon points which cannot possibly apply to another and a better state. There is room for difference of opinion as to the manner in which we can best carry out the will and mind of our common Master, and advance His kingdom. Yet in purpose are we at one. And it is the mark of a carnal mind to know no other union than that which is outwardly perceptible, or to forbid them because they follow not with us.
In this prayer and song of the unity of the Church, it is noteworthy how, commencing with the fundamental idea of brethren, we rise to the realization of the Elder Brother, who is our common anointed High Priest. It is the bond of His Priesthood which joins us together as brethren. It is the common anointing which flows down even to the skirts of the garment of our High Priest which marks our being brethren. Whether we dwell north or south, meeting in Zion, and sharing in the blessings of that eternal Priesthood of Christ, we form in reality, and before our Father, but one family—' the whole family in earth and heaven.' Our real bond of union consists in the 'flowing down,' the 'running down' or ' descending' of the common blessing, which marks the step in this Psalm of Degrees (vers. 2, 3). And if 'the dew of Hermon' has descended upon 'the mountains of Zion,' long after the sun has risen shall gladsome fruit appear—in some twenty, in some thirty, and in some a hundred-fold.
Therefore let us remember these main points, and rejoice in them. 'The love of the brethren'—how good and how precious it is! We are so prone to magnify our little differences, and to diminish our great agreement, that, from love to the churches, we forget to love the Church. All these sectarian prejudices and dislikes spring from self and selfseeking. After all, we are all agreed on the main points,— on every main point,—' One Lord, one faith, one baptism.' In cherishing our separate and distinctive convictions on what are, at best, very secondary points, let us remember that God has allowed this diversity that, each in our own way—whether as churches or as individuals—we may do our
own work for Christ, 'till we all come into the unity of the faith.' In measure as we are sectarian, we are not Christian. I may love my own church very much, but I love Christ and His Church—the Church—still better. The great point is to be one of the ' brethren.' God our Father, Christ our Elder Brother, heaven our home. The love of the brethren is as sweet and precious, its odour as fragrant, before God and man, as Aaron's ointment; as refreshing and fertilizing as the dew of Hermon and of the mountains of Zion, on summer's eve or at early morn. But, oh, the heart ever points back to Zion herself,—the mother of us all, the city of the great King, where the Lord commands the blessing, even life for evermore. That is the bond, and the only true bond, for 'the brethren,'—' holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.' God commands everlasting life, with all that is needful to impart and sustain it, from Zion for all 'the brethren.' 'They dwell together;' and, if conscious of it, surely it must be ' in unity.'
1. What are my feelings towards 'the brethren,' high or low, rich or poor, attractive or repulsive? Let me study James ii. 1-16, as a much-needed warning in connexion with this matter. Do I really sympathize with every true Christian effort, no matter what name it bears? Surely, if I love Jesus, for whom and in whose name these things are done, I must do so. After all, then, love to the brethren resolves itself into love to the 'Elder Brother.' But oh, my soul, how difficult even to love Jesus, without bringing self into it!
2. Let me love my own Church, and hold firm what convictions I have, or think I have, scripturally received. But
how many of these points will hold good in or apply to heaven? Are they not all, or almost all, connected with our earthly organization, or else with the attempt to reconcile and harmonize 'things which are too high' for us? Nay, even were it otherwise, let me remember how John companied with Peter after that Friday, and the eleven with Thomas during that week of unbelief; above all, how Jesus bears with each of us. 'To bear one another's burdens,'—not to pass bye the burdened ones, nor to reproach them, far less to throw fresh burdens upon them! Let my love be without weakness, without sentimentalism, without compromise, without sectarianism, without hypocrisy, without man-seeking, without dissimulation. Least of all let it be merely in words. Let it flow, as it were, through Jesus to the brethren—from the head of our Aaron to the skirts of His garments.
3. How can I manifest my love to Jesus and the ' brethren' to-day? They are my own flesh and blood. How can I nourish and cherish them to-day? Can I do anything today, by prayer, effort, or example, to heal the breaches of Zion? Am I in the habit of evil-speaking, evil-thinking, or evil-feeling? Oh, that unruly member, the tongue! Am I a 'peace-haver, peace-bringer, peace-maker?'
4. Blessed Jesus, O that I had more love to Thee! Are they not my brethren—equally lost, sought, and saved? Thy brethren—heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Thee? I must pray more for Zion, and work more for Zion, and love Zion better, for it is Thy Zion; and I am not mine own, but Thine. O for more dew on the mountains of Zion, and for more life in mine own heart!