In contemplating the present condition of the professing church, we may discern two very distinct classes. In the first place, there are those who are seeking unity on false grounds. And, secondly, those who are seeking it on the ground laid down in the New Testament. This latter is distinctly a spiritual, living, divine unity, and stands out in vivid contrast with all the forms of unity which man has attempted, whether it be national, ecclesiastical, ceremonial, or doctrinal. The church of God is not a nation, not an ecclesiastical or political system. It is a body united to its divine Head in heaven, by the presence of the Holy Ghost. This is what it was, and this is what it is. ” There is one body and one Spirit.” This remains unalterably true. It holds good now just as much as when the inspired apostle penned Ephesians iv. Hence anything that tends to interfere with or mar this truth must be wrong, and we are bound to stand apart from it and testify against it. To seek to unite Christians on any other ground than the unity of the body, is manifestly opposed to the revealed mind of God. It may seem very attractive, very desirable, very reasonable, right, and expedient; but it is contrary to God, and this should be enough for us. God’s word speaks only of the unity of the body, and the unity of the Spirit. It recognizes no other unity; neither should we.
The church of God is one, though consisting of many members. It is not local, or geographical; it is corporate. All the members have a double responsibility; they: are responsible to the Head; and they are responsible to one another. It is utterly impossible to ignore this responsibility. Men may seek to shirk it; they may deny it; they may assert their individual rights, and act according to their own reason, judgment, or will; but they cannot get rid of the responsibility founded upon the fact of the one compact body. They have to do with the Head in heaven, and with the members on earth. They stand in this double relationship they were incorporated thereinto by the Holy Ghost, and to deny it is to deny their very spiritual existence. It is founded in life, formed by the Spirit, and taught and maintained in the holy scriptures. There is no such thing as independency. Christians cannot view themselves as mere individuals as isolated atoms. ”We are members one of another.” This is as true as that ”we are justified by faith.” No doubt there is a sense in which we are individual: we are individual in our repentance; individual in our faith ; individual in our justification; individual in our walk with God and in our service to Christ; individual in our rewards for service, for each one shall get a white stone and a new name engraved thereon known only to himself. All this is quite true; but it in nowise touches the other grand practical truth of our union with the Head above, and with each and all of the members below.
And we would here call the reader’s attention to two very distinct lines of truth flowing out of two distinct titles of our blessed Lord, namely, Headship and Lordship. He is Head of His body the church ; and He is Lord of all, Lord of each. Now, when we think of Christ as Lord, we are reminded of our individual responsibility to Him, in the wide range of service to which He, in His sovereignty, has graciously called us. Our reference must be to Him in all things. All our actings, all our movements, all our arrangements, must be placed under the commanding influence of that weighty sentence (often, alas! lightly spoken and penned), ”If the Lord will.” And, moreover, no one has any right to thrust himself in between the conscience of a servant and the commandment of his Lord. All this is divinely true, and of the very highest importance. The Lordship of Christ is a truth the value of which cannot possibly be over-estimated.
But we must bear in mind that Christ is Head as well as Lord. He is Head of a body, as well as Lord of individuals. These things must not be confounded. We are not to hold the truth of Christ’s Lordship in such a way as to interfere with the truth of His Headship. If we merely think of Christ as Lord, and ourselves as individuals responsible to Him, then we shall ignore His Headship, and lose sight of our responsibility to every member of that body of which He is Head. We must jealously watch against this. We cannot look at ourselves as isolated independent atoms; if we think of Christ as Head, then we must think of all His members, and this opens up a wide range of practical truth. We have holy duties to discharge to our fellow members, as well as to our Lord and Master; and we may rest assured that no one walking in communion with Christ can ever lose sight of the grand fact of his. relationship to every member of His body. Such a one will ever remember that his walk and ways exert an influence upon Christians living at the other side of the globe. This is a wondrous mystery ; but it is divinely true. ”If one member suffer, all the members. suffer with it.” (1 Cor. xii. 26.) You cannot reduce the body of Christ to a matter of locality; the body is. one, and we are called to maintain this, practically, in every possible way, and to bear a decided testimony against everything which tends to hinder the expression of the perfect unity of the body, whether it be false unity, or false individuality. The enemy is seeking to associate Christians on a false ground, and gather them round a false centre; or, if he cannot do this, he will send them adrift upon the wide and tumultuous ocean of a desultory individualism. We are thoroughly persuaded, before God, that the only safeguard against both these false and dangerous extremes is divinely wrought faith in the grand foundation-truth of the unity of the body of Christ.
It may here be proper to inquire what is the suited attitude of the Christian in view of the grand foundation truth of the unity of the body. That it is a truth distinctly laid down in the New Testament, cannot possibly be questioned. If any reader of these pages be :not fully established in the knowledge and hearty belief of this truth, let him prayerfully study 1 Corinthians xis. and xiv.; Ephesians ii. and iv.; Colossians ii. and iii. He will find the doctrine referred to in a practical way in the opening of Romans xii., though it is not the design of the Holy Ghost, in that magnificent Epistle, to give us a full unfolding of the truth respecting the church. What we have to look for there is rather the establishment of the soul’s relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Christ, We might pass through the first eleven chapters of Romans, and not know that there is such a thing as the church of God, the body of Christ; and when we reach chapter xii., the doctrine of the one body is assumed, but not dwelt upon.
There is, then, ”one body” actually existing on this earth, formed by the ”one Spirit,” and united to the Living Head in heaven. This truth cannot be gainsaid. Some may net see it; some may find it very hard to receive it, in view of the present condition of things; but, nevertheless, it remains a divinely established truth that ”there is one body,” and the question is, how are we individually affected by this truth? It is as impossible to shake off the responsibility involved therein as it is to set aside the truth itself. If there is a body of which we are members, then do we, in very truth, stand in a holy relationship to every member of that body on earth as well as to the Head in heaven; and this relationship, like every other, has its characteristic affections, privileges, and responsibilities.
And, be it remembered, we are not speaking now of the question of association with any special company of Christians, but of the whole body of Christ upon earth. No doubt, each company of Christians, wherever assembled, should be but the local expression of the whole body. It should be so gathered and so ordered, on the authority of the word, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, as that all Christ’s members who are walking in truth and holiness might happily find their place there. If an assembly be not thus gathered and thus ordered, it is not on the ground of the unity of the body at all. If there be anything, no matter what, in order, discipline, doctrine, or practice, which would prove a barrier to the presence of any of Christ’s members, whose faith and practice are according to the word of God, then is the unity of the body practically denied. We are solemnly responsible to own the truth of the unity of the body. We should so meet that all the members of Christ’s body might, simply as such, sit down with us and exercise whatever gift the Head of the church has bestowed upon them. The body is one. Its members are scattered over the whole earth. Distance is nothing; locality, nothing. It may be New Zealand, London, Paris, or Edinburgh; it matters not. A member of the body in one place, is a member of the body everywhere, for there is but ”one body and one Spirit.” It is the Spirit who forms the body, and links the members with the Head and with one another. Hence, a Christian coming from New Zealand to London ought to expect to find an assembly so gathered as to be a faithful expression of the unity of the body, to which he might attach himself: and, furthermore, any such Christian ought to find his place in the bosom of that assembly, provided always that there be nothing in doctrine or walk to forbid his hearty reception.
Such is the divine order, as laid down in 1 Corinthians xii. and xiv.; Ephesians ii. and iv.; and assumed in Romans xii. Indeed we cannot study the New Testament and not see this blessed truth. We find, in various cities and towns, saints gathered by the Holy Ghost in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; as, for example, at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica. These were not independent, isolated, fragmentary assemblies, but parts of the one body, so that a member of the church in one place was a member of the church everywhere. Doubtless, each assembly, as guided by the one Spirit, and under the one Lord, acted in all local matters, such as receiving to communion, or putting away any wicked person from their midst, meeting the wants of their poor, and such like; but we may be quite assured that the act of the assembly at Corinth would be recognized by all other assemblies, so that if any one was separated from communion there, he would, if known, be refused in all other places; otherwise it would be a plain denial of the unity of the body. We have no reason to suppose that the assembly at Corinth communicated or conferred with any other assembly previous to the putting away of ”the wicked person” in chapter v.; but we are bound to believe that that act would be duly recognized and sanctioned by every assembly under the sun, and that any assembly knowingly receiving the excommunicated man would have cast a slur upon the assembly at Corinth, and practically denied the unity of the body.
This we believe to be the plain teaching of the New Testament scriptures this the doctrine which any simple, true-hearted student of these scriptures would gather up. That the church has failed to carry out this precious truth is, alas! alas! painfully true; and that we are all participators in this failure is equally true. The thought of this should humble us deeply before God. Not one can throw a stone at another, for we are all verily guilty in this matter. Let not the reader suppose, for a single moment, that our object, in these pages, is to set up anything like high ecclesiastical pretensions, or to afford countenance to hollow assumption, in the face of manifest sin and failure. God forbid! we say with our very heart of hearts. We believe that there is a most urgent call upon all God’s people to humble themselves in the very dust on account of our sad departure from the truth so plainly laid down in the word of God.
Thus it was with the pious and devoted king Josiah, whose life and times have suggested this entire line of thought. He found the book of the law, and discovered in its sacred pages an order of things wholly different from what he saw around him. How did he act? Did he content himself by saying, ”The case is hopeless; the nation is too far gone; ruin has set in, and it is utterly vain to think of aiming at the divine standard, we must only let things stand, and do the best we can?” Nay, reader, such was not Josiah’s language or mode of action; but he humbled himself before God, and called upon others to do the same. And not only so, but he sought to carry out the truth of God. He aimed at the very loftiest standard, and the consequence was that, ”From the days of Samuel the prophet, there was no passover like to Josiah’s kept in Israel; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover.”