Many Members and One Body



As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

i Corinthians xii. 12.

S. Mary's Church, Glasgow, October 10, 1882, before the Representative Council of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Stagnation was not the fault of the early Church of Corinth. S. Paul had no cause .to reproach his converts with lack of zeal. There was interest, there was activity, there was life enough. If anything, there was a superabundance of zeal. But the life was a feverish, restless, turbulent life. The zeal displayed itself in contention, in self-assertion, in the war of parties.

Stagnation was a physical impossibility at Corinth. Picture to yourself a busy commercial city lying between two seas, which commanded the East and the West; the centre of the Roman Government, which attracted crowds of courtiers and officials and hangers-on; the home of a worship in which the grossest profligacy was consecrated as a religion, and whither the dissolute were drawn from all parts of the world to steep themselves in their shame; the seat of the great games, which once in two years gathered throngs of visitors to the isthmus—athletes, sightseers, traders, pleasure-seekers, loungers of all classes. Life, or that which men call life, in all its forms was exhibited here in its highest activity. In no other ancient city probably was the tension of human existence greater than at Corinth.

Here was the material prepared for the Gospel of Christ. The spark fell from heaven, and the fuel was ablaze at once. The restlessness of heathen Corinth communicated itself to Christian Corinth. The Gospel had suddenly flashed in upon them, bringing with it new interests, new ideas, new hopes. And upon these the old turbulent spirit fastened at once. The eagerness, the bustle and strife, the competition, the high pressure of life, were not less manifest in the Christian Church than in the heathen city. It was not a very edifying spectacle. The Church of Corinth was now only five or six years old, and yet it had developed a spirit of partisanship and a rancour of contention which, as we might have supposed, two or three generations would be insufficient to create.

And this spirit had intruded itself into the very holy of holies. There was nothing so sacred as to escape its debasing influence. If anything should have been spared from its profane touch, surely those special gifts and graces, which were the miraculous endowment of the infant Church, ought to have been safe. What place was there for the strife of parties where the grace of prophesying was concerned? What standing-room was there for jealousy where the gift of healing Or of speaking with tongues occupied the ground? Surely here, in the immediate and visible presence of the Holy Spirit Himself, all clamour must be hushed, all self-assertion overawed, all competition laid aside.

And yet it was far otherwise in the Church of Corinth. Men were not content with party watchwords, party preferences, party organisations. It was not enough that one should range himself under Peter, and another under Paul, and another under Apollos, though Peter and Paul and Apollos were all one in Christ. Even the gatherings for solemn worship became the scenes of discord and strife. The Eucharistic feast itself, the very bond of peace and love, was profaned by shameful scrambling and selfish greed. Last of all, they began to fight over the gifts of the Spirit. One was proud because he possessed some striking endowment; another was envious and discontented because his gift was less imposing than his neighbour's. In the Church itself there was an unseemly rivalry in the parade of their respective advantages. Thus the very gifts which were bestowed for edification tended to distraction and disorder by their abuse.

This was the crying evil in the Church of Corinth with which S. Paul found himself confronted. There was zeal enough, and zeal for religion too, but it was not a zeal after God. How must it be corrected? He could not say, as the wily modern politician is reported to have said, 'Before all things no zeal.' Zeal is the raw material of true religion. It is neither good nor bad in itself. It may be worked up into the highest goodness, as it may also be worked up into the worst form of vice. To correct, to guide, to mould, to purify it, this was the task which the apostle set to himself.

In executing this task he might have had recourse to threatenings. He might have denounced the heavy wrath of God on such shameful abuse of His best gifts. He might have pictured the horrible retribution which the offenders were storing up for S. S. 12

themselves in the world to come. There are occasions when it is necessary to appeal to men's fears. But with S. Paul such appeals are very rare indeed. He prefers addressing himself to higher motives. He would rather speak to his hearers as sons than as slaves. So he appeals not to their terrors, but to their sense of right, to their sense of shame, to their affection, to their gratitude, to their aspirations after higher things, to the Godlike within them. It is not the terror of hell, but the love of Christ which constrains him. It is because Christ died for him, for all men—sinners, blasphemers, rebels, as they were—that he cannot choose but cling to the skirts of Christ. The dread of punishment can do very little after all as a motive. It may deter from evil, but it cannot prompt to good. It cannot instruct, cannot purify, cannot ennoble, cannot elevate. Yes, you know it, parents and teachers. If you can only secure the child's affections, if you can only reach the child's heart, if you can only inspire it with admiration for a noble ideal, if you can only lead it to feel the transcendent beauty and loveliness of goodness, if you can only make it loathe the ugliness, the vileness of sin, then you may spare the rod, for the battle is won. This was the course adopted by S. Paul here. There was strife, there was selfishness, there was indecorous rivalry and competition in the Church of Corinth. And what does he do? Why, he shows it its own ugliness. He sets before it a more excellent way. By way of contrast he draws a picture—a portrait of Divine love—so beautiful, so gracious, so winning, that all the centuries have stood entranced before it. Not all the menaces of all the sternest preachers have been half so powerful to win souls to God as this one episode on charity. What were all these endowments which excited so much dispute, even the fullest, even the highest—the gift of prophecy, the gift of healing, the gift of tongues? Partial, transitory, vanishing, valueless all, in comparison with that transcendent gift of love which they insulted, which they despised, which they trampled under foot— love most lovely, love immortal, love eternal in the heavens.

And so again with the image in the text from which these reflections started. The Corinthians were acting as if they had been isolated and independent units. Their motto was, 'Each man for himself.' Hence there was jealousy, dissension, discontent, mutual thwarting, where there should have been mutual sympathy and helpfulness. He sets before them the ideal of the Church under an expressive image. Their conduct was as unreasonable, as foolish, as fatal, as if the limbs of the human body were in a state of sedition—the eye quarrelling with the ear, the foot envying and impeding the hand. 'Now ye are the body of Christ, and members severally.'

The image was not new. The Corinthians doubtless had been reminded often of the body politic, they had been told of their corporate duties as citizens. They had heard, or they might have heard, of the famous apologue by which the Roman orator had quelled a dangerous sedition among his fellow-citizens, comparing it to a mutiny in the members of the body. The image itself was not new. The newness was in the application. This body of which they were the limbs—the eye and ear, the hand and foot—what was it?

The answer is startling. This body is Christ, nothing less than Christ Himself. I ask your attention to this point. Elsewhere S. Paul speaks of the Church as the body, whereof Christ is the Head. In such an application of the image the Church is regarded as different from, though vitally connected with, and directed by Christ. But not so here. It is not connexion, not dependence, not subordination, not any affinity, however close, which the language suggests, but absolute entire identity. 'As the body is one, and hath many members,... so also is,' not the Church, not the body whereof Christ is the Head, but 'so also is Christ.' Yes, you Corinthians, with all your jealousies and self-seeking, with all your party strife, with all your indecorum, with all your shameful profanation of sacred things, aye, and (most terrible thought of all) with all your moral profligacy, you are not only of Christ, but you are Christ. Christ is the blood that flows in your veins; Christ is the nerve that stimulates your activities; Christ is the sinew and the muscle that knits your frame. This you are collectively. And each one singly— you are His members; thou art the eye, and thou the hand, and thou the foot of Christ. And thus when you make parties among yourselves, thus when each man uses his gifts to gratify his self-satisfaction or vainglory, when each man isolates himself, what is this but to divide Christ, yes, to divide Him, to dismember Him, to mutilate, to tear asunder, to hack to pieces His limbs to His infinite anguish—a renewal of the anguish of the Cross?

Members of the Scottish Episcopal Church, as a brother to brothers I speak to you to-day. I trace back my ancestry to the same stock with you. The cradle of my spiritual race was the cradle of yours also—the storm-lashed, lonely island of Iona. May I not therefore claim at your hands the forbearance, the sympathy, the licence of speech, the generosity of interpretation, which brothers accord to brothers? How can I forget this night the deep debt of gratitude in things spiritual which Northumbria owes to Scotland? The first evangelist of my diocese—the wise, simple-hearted, saintly Aidan—received his commission from you. One after another his successors were sped from your shores to continue his work. Even when Celtic influences gave way before Teutonic, our obligations to Scotland did not cease. The one man whose memories are more closely interwoven with the fame of my own see than any other was born and educated north of the Tweed. Cuthbert, the 'shepherd-youth of Lammermuir,' the prior of Melrose, became bishop of Lindisfarne and patron saint of Durham. Happy indeed should I be, if I might entertain the hope that by any counsels of mine I might repay, in however slight a degree, the debt of gratitude under which you have laid us in the past. At all events, whether availing or not, the words shall not be unspoken. They will be a recognition of the debt, if they cannot be a repayment. Of this at least I am persuaded, that whatever may be their effect, they will not be resented.

When I spoke of unity as S. Paul's charge to the Church of Corinth, the thoughts of all present must, I imagine, have fastened on one application of the apostolic rule which closely concerns yourselves. Episcopal communities in Scotland outside the organization of the Scottish Episcopal Church—this is a spectacle which no one, I imagine, would view with satisfaction in itself, and which only a very urgent necessity could justify. Can such a necessity be pleaded? 'One body,' as well as 'one spirit,' this is the apostolic rule. No natural interpretation can be put on these words which does not recognise the obligation of external, corporate union. Circumstances may prevent the realisation of the apostle's conception, but the ideal must be ever present to our aspirations and our prayers. I have reason to believe that this matter lies very near to the hearts of all Scottish Episcopalians. May God grant you a speedy accomplishment of your desire. You have the same doctrinal formularies; you acknowledge the same episcopal polity; you respect the same liturgical forms. 'Sirs, ye are brethren.' Do not strain the conditions of reunion too tightly. I cannot say, for I do not know, what faults or what misunderstandings there may have been on either side in the past. If there have been any faults, forget them. If there exist any misunderstandings, clear them up. 'Let the dead past bury its dead.' The darkest chapters in the history of the Church are the records of schisms —hopeless schisms which centuries have done nothing to heal—arising out of the over-scrupulous accentuation of minute differences on the one hand, and the over-rigorous enforcement of an absolute uniformity on the other—sad tragedies of spiritual frailty and disorder, over which angels have wept as they beheld the Son of God crucified afresh. God forbid that another such painful chapter should be added to these dark records of the past. Learn to bear and to forbear. Meet one another in a spirit of mutual trustfulness and brotherly love. Rest not day or night till this union be effected. Do this, and the crown of crowns shall rest upon your brows: 'Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.'

And while you strive and pray for union among yourselves, let your hearts overflow in sympathy with those who arc not of this fold. After all, the division in the Episcopalian ranks is only a faint shadow of the deeper rent in those great Presbyterian Churches which comprise the bulk of the people of this land. We in England have our divisions, our sects, our disorders. We dare not indulge in any self-complacency. Yet not seldom a truer idea of the relative proportions of things is obtained from a more distant point of view; and we Englishmen, regarding the ecclesiastical disputes of Scotland, are struck before all things with the disproportion between the insignificance of the motive causes and the magnitude of the severances occasioned thereby. Magnificent indeed have been the displays of self-sacrifice called forth at such crises. But no zeal, no self-denial, no marvel of rapid re-organization, no splendour of open-handed munificence, can obliterate or condone the fact that one more terrible rent is made in the seamless robe of Christ. Therefore, while you seek unity among yourselves, you will pray likewise that unity may be restored to your Presbyterian brothers. Not insensible to the special blessings which you yourselves enjoy, clinging tenaciously to the threefold ministry as the completeness of the apostolic ordinance and the historical backbone of the Church, valuing highly all those sanctities of liturgical office and ecclesiastical season which, modified from age to age, you have inherited from an almost immemorial past, thanking God, but not thanking Him in any Pharisaic spirit, that these so many and great privileges are continued to you which others have lost, you will nevertheless shrink, as from the venom of a serpent's fang, from any mean desire that their divisions may be perpetuated, in the hope of profiting by their troubles. Divide et impera may be a shrewd worldly motto; but coming in contact with spiritual things, it defiles them like pitch. Pacifica et impera is the true watchword of the Christian and the Churchman. While you seek peace yourselves, you will promote peace among others. You will not dare, for any immediate party gain, to indulge motives or feelings which are alien to the law of Christ. You will hold fast to the conviction that, however long God's purposes may be deferred, the blessing of Christ must rest in the end with those who cling most closely to the Spirit of Christ. Partyseeking is placed by the apostle in the same category with self-seeking. MrjSev Kara ipiOeLav firjSe Kara icevohoj~Lav. The spirit of partisanship, not less than the spirit of personal vanity, is a denial of the Spirit of Christ. Party-seeking is the 'last infirmity' of Christian zeal, whether in individuals or in Churches. But you have not so learned Christ. You know that 'the kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost;' and knowing this, you will above all follow after the things that make for peace.

Of all the sentiments which impel to great and heroic action, there is none more potent or more effective than the stimulus which arises from a sense of corporate duty and honour. One man is descended from an illustrious family which has won for itself a name in the annals of his country. The championship of liberty or the devotion of loyalty is hereditary with it. He holds it a shame to degenerate from the character which he has received as a heirloom. Another is a member of a great college or university, the fertile mother of men famous in literature or in science. It is a point of honour with him to prove no unworthy son of such parentage. Another serves in a brave regiment which has stormed the breaches of Badajoz, or climbed the heights of Alma, or flung itself against the walls of Delhi. To such a man it is almost difficult to be a coward. Such a sentiment is patriotism. A man belongs to a great nation—a power which claims to rule the seas, a soil on which whatever slave sets foot by that very act becomes free, an empire on which the sun never sets; and if he is at all worthy the name of an Englishman, he will before all things be careful that England shall suffer no dishonour in his person. He can trace to his nationality a certain breadth of soul, a certain magnanimity, which is not his own; he is conscious, if I may so say, of a communicated virtue which he owes to it.

We cannot suppose that S. Paul was indifferent to such sentiments. When he asks, 'Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman?' when he cries out, 'But I was free-born,' we cannot mistake the honest pride of citizenship which speaks through these words. When again he enumerates the special privileges of the Jewish race, or when he declares himself to be of the faithful tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, we detect the natural feeling of a true son of Abraham, albeit he counts all this as refuse, as nothing, as less than nothing, as sheer loss, compared with the gain of the unspeakable riches of Christ. To be an Israelite, and to be a Roman, these were not privileges which the great apostle could disdain. But now he speaks of a higher nationality and a larger citizenship—higher, for it stretches through the heavens to the eternal throne; larger, for it comprises Roman and Jew, Greek and Scythian, all the peoples and nations of the earth.

Higher and larger, but yet withal closer. This is the point to which I would ask your attention in the moments that remain—a closer, more intimate, more sympathetic union than any nationality. 'Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it: or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it' Even the material world is so constituted that not one particle, however small, can change its place without affecting the whole. I cannot stir a hand without setting in motion pulses which vibrate to the faintest star that glimmers in the midnight sky. I cannot stretch out a foot without a disturbance which makes the boundaries of the universe to quiver. And so it is in the moral world; and so it is above all things with the Church of Christ, which is an intensification of the moral world, where the sympathy is more sympathetic, where all the impulses are quicker and keener than elsewhere. There is in the Church of Christ a force akin to the force of gravitation in the material world. Each moral atom acts upon each other moral atom, and is itself acted upon in turn. Here is the solidarity in the Church of Christ of which the text speaks. I have used the image of the material universe bound together, as it were, by the force of gravitation; but the image in the text—the image of the human body—is far more expressive. The sympathy of the different parts of the body is a matter of common observation. One eye receives an injury, and the sight of the other is endangered. A leg is lamed, and the proper exercise is stopped, and the general health is affected. An abscess is formed in some remote part, and the strength of the whole is drained. So with the body of Christ. Our contentiousness, our self-will, our inconsistency, our superstition, our carelessness, our hypocrisy, our vice—yes, ours, insignificant units as we are—propagates itself by a thousand unseen channels, in a thousand unsuspected ways, quietly, subtlely, relentlessly, like the single drop of poison, bearing no relation in itself to the bulk of the whole body, which nevertheless it taints with the taint of death. It is the tiny pebble dropped in the pool which stirs the waters in ever-widening circles to the extreme verge.

Here then is our grave responsibility as members of the Church of Christ; but here also is our unspeakable privilege, our glory, our strength, our health, our life. We are sons of a family, students of a school, soldiers of an army, citizens of a kingdom, such as never has been and never will be besides. This family, this school, this army, this country, is the Church of Christ, is the body of Christ, is Christ—He in us, and we in Him.