An Urgent and Loving Appeal
The Local Assembly
Old Paths and New Ways
Union of Sects or Unity of the Spirit, Which?
H. Winfield Graham
AN URGENT AND LOVING APPEAL
By Wm. BUNTING.
IF only all assemblies which value the simplicity that is in Christ, would endeavour through grace to understand each other, and to draw more closely together in fellowship and testimony, what a power they still could be— what an attraction for saintly souls in the denominations— and what a witness to “the truth of the Gospel”, in the face of that false, deceitful movement, the predicted end of which we find in Rev. 17! And when we see the fuss the religous world makes about its ecumenicalism, which is but a shallow and counterfeit union, should not we, God’s children, be provoked unto more prayer and earnest endeavour that we may manifest true scriptural unity, which is more than mere union, and which is Divine and spiritual?
It was to make this unity possible that our dear Lord “poured out His soul unto death”. For it He most earnestly prayed on the very eve of His crucifixion (John 17). The preservation of it was also of the greatest moment to Paul. In writing to the Corinthians, the internal strife was the first wrong he corrected. Before mentioning the unjudged immorality in their midst, or the other grave evils which he later rebuked, he says, “It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, . . . that there are contentions among you” (1 Cor. 1. 11). Clearly he would be no party man—a worthy example for every preacher. All partyism is wrong, even though it operate under the guise of defending the Truth, for the Truth states that there should be no partyism. Also in writing to the Ephesians, Paul’s first sentence in the practical part of the Epistle ends with the weighty injunction, “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (ch. 4. 3). Can we sit back therefore and be indifferent about a matter which was such a burden upon the hearts of our beloved Lord and His inspired Apostle? Surely the sad history of assemblies, our reason, our hearts, and the testimony of Scripture answer with unanimous and convincing voice that we cannot.
In the case, of course, of a company imbibing fundamental error, or deliberately refusing to deal with known and proven immorality (but it must be proven); or in the case of a company definitely deciding to relinquish New Testament church principles, as for example by engaging an official pastor, division becomes imperative for all who wish to please God and be a testimony to His Truth. Even then, however, no hasty step should be taken. Every possible avenue which may lead to the restoration of the erring company should be explored in God’s fear. If all fails, it then becomes the individual responsibility of each assembly knowing the circumstances to cease fellowship with such a company.
FIRST BE RECONCILED TO THY BROTHER
It should be understood, of course, that the passages alluded to in John 17, 1 Cor. & Eph. allude primarily to our personal relations with our dear fellow believers. The necessity of these references is obvious. For how many unhappy alienations there have been and are! What misunderstandings and bitterness they have produced! In some cases the causes of these alienations are more imaginary than real, for it is amazing how much a small, morbid mind can imagine and harbour against a brother. Not a few alienations are the result of false, lying rumours, whispered into ears only too willing to hear them. Many a saint had his life-long reputation blasted by this wicked devilish work. Brethren, these things grieve the Spirit of God in our midst, hinder prayer of being answered, lower the spiritual tone of meetings, and cause God to pass us by and use others, less instructed perhaps, in bringing the blessings of the Gospel to sinners. Can it be, my dear brethren, that we have no conscience before God about these and other such like matters? What a revelation the stark disclosure of them will be in that day when “every man shall give account of himself to God”!
It would be much easier to have things adjusted NOW. Do you not think so? Well, Matt. 18. 15-17 teaches how to act towards a brother who has “trespassed against thee”; while Matt. 5. 23, 24 teaches how to act towards one against whom (so it is implied) you have committed a trespass. In either case, you are to go to your brother, and to do all that is possible to effect reconciliation. This is what our Lord and Master commands. Now, what about it, brethren? “FIRST BE RECONCILED TO THY BROTHER”. Have you gone to your alienated brother? Have you sought to be reconciled? Please do not try to excuse yourself. It is easy I make little excuses. When your brother came to you to have things made right, how did you receive him? Were you pleased? Was your heart softened? Did you shake his hand and manifest a willing and forgiving spirit? And if the breach has not been healed, can you on bended knees look up into the face of your heavenly Father, and honestly tell Him that you did your best that it might be?
I speak thus because I firmly believe that these personal animosities, quarrels, and alienations are like a dry rot in some circles. We sow much and bring in little. We mourn the dearth of conversions, yet blindly fail to perceive that the hindrance lies in ourselves. “FIRST BE RECONCILED TO THY BROTHER.” Reconciliation must have priority. Before I pray, or preach, or worship, or minister upon the Conference platform, or attend the the elders’ meeting—the word of the Lord is, “FIRST BE RECONCILED TO THY BROTHER,” I wish I could have these words printed in large capitals, framed, and hung up prominently in every assembly in the land. I heard an esteemed servant of Christ tell that after much exercise of conscience, he at last fell upon his knees and with deep contrition confessed to God that thirteen years earlier he had treated certain brethren hurtfully. Needless to say, his next act was to go to his wronged brethren and have matters made right with them. This, beloved, is the only way to blessing.
Now, to be practical, what are we prepared to do and sacrifice, beloved, that the longed-for unity which this paper advocates may be realised? Are we prepared:
- To put away all questionable things that offend the consciences of our dear brethren (Rom. 14. 13, 21; 1 Cor. 8. 13)?
- To distinguish between things which are fundamental and therefore absolutely essential to fellowship, and things concerning which we are to exercise patience, forbearance, and longsuffering, without judging one another (Rom. 14. 1-12)?
- To recognise that assemblies are the Lord’s, that they are exceedingly precious to Him (being comparable to golden vessels), and that He reserves to Himself the right to discipline them (Rev. 2 and 3), and that therefore even though we may not approve of the methods employed by some meetings, we must not use our influence to hurt them or in any way to hinder their progress?
- To recognise further that assemblies are autonomous— that each one is self-governing, and directly responsible to the Lord for all its internal affairs (Rev. 2 and 3), and that therefore no man, council of men, or group of assemblies, has any jurisdiction over it, or right to bind his or their will upon it?
- To make it a matter of urgent prayer and earnest en-devour that breaches of fellowship may be healed, and that further breaches be studiously avoided (Phil. 4. 2; 1 Cor. 1. 10)?
- To eschew that laxity in respect to godly separation which is draining some assemblies of manpower and spiritual vitality; and that on the other hand, we eschew that legality which goes beyond what Scripture enjoins, which is characterized by uncharitable and censorious criticism of others, which warps the mind and outlook, which withers up the soul, and which if carried to its logical end would deprive us of our liberty in Christ (Gal. 5. 1, 3)?
Beloved in Christ, it is for us to arise and put our house in order, and to do it NOW. The times are gravely perilous (2 Tim. 3). Injustice, violence, murder, unrest and anarchy fill the earth, The great Romeward drift increases. The nations of S.W. Europe are arming and uniting. A powerful bloc of nations to the N.E. is spreading its doctrine of atheisim and hate throughout the world. Israel is back in her own land. Peace efforts have failed, and a third World War is on the way. Authorities warn that we are threatened with the worst financial depression and food famine in human history, within the next two years. Strange sights have been seen in the heavens. Many false christs have appeared, and the love of men grows cold. Truly, “the foundations of the earth are out of course” (Ps. 82. 5). Was there ever such a time of peril? Yet the mad craze for pleasure continues. Dr. W. W. Ayre recently said in “The Midnight Cry”, that many homes are to-day “changed by T.V. into theatres, where the whole family looks in awed silence, while murder programmes and sensuous dances, which could be found in only the lowest theatres a generation ago, rage and roar through mind and soul”.
What does it all portend? It portends this, that the Coming of our Lord is at hand. There can be no doubt, the signs are overwhelming. Are we living as if we believed it? Brethren and sisters of the last century believed it. It had laid hold upon them as a powerful truth. Many to-day are anxious to get back to the principles of early assemblies What about a restoration of soul to the Practices of early assemblies? We do not hear much about that. It was a common thing in those days to find costly personal jewellery and valuable ornaments in the Lord’s offering. An old catalogue, dated 1838, gives a list of such freewill offerings which were to be sold by public auction in a Plymouth mart. It included silver plate, paintings, table linen, china, books, etc. It required three days to sell all the lots. The proceeds went to the poor and to the Lord’s work. Yet no special appeal for any particular needs had been made. Now how can we explain the willing, spontaneous and self-denying spirit of those dear saints? The explanation is simply this. They believe th Coming of the Lord to be at hand. Do we? or, beloved brethren, is this truth but a theory to us, about which we argue and preach our clever, orderly, alliterated, intellectual, but powerless, little sermons? Think of how much money is squandered to-day by Christians upon worldly, fashionable Weddings, big Receptions, expensive floral tributes at funerals, etc., while millions die of hunger, and Missionary Work in many lands languishes for lack of financial assistance. Yet we piously say we believe the Rapture must be near. Brethren, why are we not ashamed to hold up our heads?
Let us therefore confess with true brokenness of heart to our God that our world wondering, our harsh unscriptural extremes, our divisions, and our personal alienations are our sin and shame; and let us take with us words and return unto the Lord, for He will heal our backsliding, yea, and will restore to us even at this late hour unity and harmony, which will be a pleasure to Him and a joy to us and fellow saints. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133. 1).
THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY
by WILLIAM GIBSON, Stockton-on-Tees.
I NOW want to look at one or two things in 1 Cor. 14. A lot of controversy has raged over tongues, especially with the growth of the Pentecostal movement these last forty years. I think I must be one of the simpler souls, for I satisfied myself on this subject some years ago and it never bothers me at all. But I know a brother and he can never make up his mind on things like this, they always bother him, and I think always will. This is wrong; we ought to be fully persuaded in our minds about these things and have complete rest in our spirits.
Now time will not permit us to go into detail but I hope what I do say will give you some measure of satisfaction. Tongues are mentioned only once in the Gospels, in Mark 16. The Lord says, “These signs shall follow them that believe”, etc. Matthew, Luke and John are completely silent upon the point. Strangely enough tongues are mentioned only three times in the whole of the Acts; if all the Pentecostals say is true the Acts should be full of instances of speaking in tongues, but it is not. Three times only—Acts 2, where the Spirit was first given at Pentecost; Acts 10, when the Spirit was poured upon Cornelius and his company; and again, chapter 19 where Paul met the small company who had been baptized under John’s baptism and when the Spirit was given, tongues accompanied. And then you will search the whole of the New Testament in vain for any further reference to tongues, except here in 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. So you see there is very little said about them, and in modern times they have assumed an importance out of all proportion to their mention.
Let us ask the question, what was the purpose of the gift of tongues? Well, verse 22 of our chapter provides the answer. “Tongues are for a sign”. Remember again the Lord’s words in Mark, “These signs shall follow them”. So tongues were one of the sign gifts and were not given for the edifying of the church. It is important to distinguish between sign gifts and gifts for the edifying of the church, as we shall see in a moment.
Now, let us ask another question. Who needed signs, and why? Well, our chapter here will answer part of the question. The apostle says that the tongues were a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers, and then in chapter 1. 22 he tells us it is the Jews who require the signs. And why did they require signs? Well, the sign gifts came with the giving of the Spirit, and the formation of the Church. We must remember that up to that time the only religion given to the world by God was the Jewish religion. The only people to whom God had made Himself known was the Jewish nation. Remember, when God first took them up nationally they were in bondage in Egypt. Now how did they know, and how was Pharaoh to know, that God was working on behalf of these people? By the signs that God did through Moses. So Israel’s history as a nation had its commencement in signs and throughout their history signs followed them. Therefore if God was to bring in something new, for the Jew to accept it as from God, it must be accompanied by signs. So it was absolutely essential that the introduction of the Church should be accompanied by signs, such as tongues, miracles, and the like. But once the Church was established and the preaching of the gospel moved beyond the sphere of Jerusalem and Judea—in other words the Jewish sphere—the necessity for sign gifts ceased.
It is obvious from the reading of the latter part of the Acts and the Epistles that the sign gifts were disappearing. Take as a classical example “Ephesians”, where we read of the Lord giving the gifts for the edifying of the Church; not a single sign gift is mentioned. I am quite satisfied in my own mind that the sign gifts are no longer with us because they are no longer required, and it is quite obvious as we read this chapter that the apostle is playing down the tongues. Says he, “I would rather speak five words to be understood, than ten thousand in a tongue”.
Now chapter 14 is entirely one of order. The chapter ends: “Let all things be done decently and in order”. Again it would seem that there had been disorder with regard to the exercise of the gifts, and so the apostle writes to correct it. It would seem that with regard to ministry, no more than two or three at the most should take part in any one meeting. The Spirit knows the capacity of the saints, even if we don’t. Again says he, “The spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets”, that is, the natural spirit of the prophet which might lead him to speak when he should be silent, or lead him to say more than he ought to say, should be in subjection and under the control of the spiritual gift he is exercising, so that at all times it is the gift in exercise that is to the fore, and not the man who is exercising it. The primary objective of all ministry is to edification. May those of us who seek to do a little in this line, remember we are not here to air our knowledge, or to magnify ourselves in the presence of our brethren, but to seek humbly and in the fear of God to exercise the gift given, that He might use it to the edification and blessing of the saints, and that all things be done decently and in order.
God loves order in the assembly. Let me give you an illustration of this. When the prophet Baalam was hired to curse God’s people (Numbers 24), he saw the camp of Israel spread out in the valley, the tabernacle in the centre and the godly ordering of the camp, and the Spirit of God came upon him, and falling down as in a trance he exclaimed, “I have not seen iniquity in Jacob nor perverseness in Israel”. Again, when the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon and she saw the meat of his table, the ordering of his servants and their apparel, and finally the ascent by which he went up to the house of God, we read, “there was no more spirit in her”, she was bowed before such beautiful godly order. And says the apostle here in verses 23-25, “If one comes into the assembly and beholds the godly order, he will fall down and admit that God is among you of a truth”. So whether it be a tabernacle, temple or assembly, God requires order, and where godly order obtains the presence and blessing of God are assured. (To be continued).
OLD PATHS AND NEW WAYS
By ANDREW BORLAND, M.A.
DEPARTURE IN CHURCH LIFE
IF there has been decline in personal piety and decay of family religion, these have had their reflection in departure in Church Life. There is a wide-spread testimony to communal impotence and to weakness in assembly witness. In some places it is becoming exceedingly difficult to muster a representative band of the assembly to carry the gospel to the open-air, and that often not withstanding the fact that there is considerable gift connected therewith.
There is a tolerance in assemblies of practices at one time wholly condemned. That there is the possibility of becoming narrow-minded and supra-puritanical is conceded, but that there is the opposite danger of becoming too latitudinarian must not be forgotten. Are our assemblies warned against the possibilities of extravagance in dress, of copying the world’s fashions, of indulgence in the expensive and unbecoming cosmetics of gay society, of the folly of pandering to fleshly vanities? Who to-day lifts up his voice against the useless and hurtful practice of travelling about on the Lord’s Day? Who condemns a practice that is becoming more prevalent every year, that of trading on the first day of the week? Is it not possible that our assemblies are suffering from what an eminent teacher among us recently described as the disease of ignorance of the demands of the moral code as given by Moses? The grace of the New Testament has not abrogated the claims of the Law of the Old.
Do our preachers of to-day raise a protest against the still prevalent habit of smoking? Perhaps we have succumbed to the inevitable! Who dares to condemn the constant round of social entertainments connected with the various branches of assembly work? Have these come to stay? The old-fashioned Sunday-School treat has given place to the more expensive Christmas Tree and party (not always spiritual in its tone) or to the performance of a programme so elaborate as almost to be theatrical. No one who has had experience of controlling such gatherings would minimise the difficulties connected therewith, but that they can be conducted successfully without pandering to the tastes of the worldly-minded cannot be gainsaid. In all work for God the spiritual factor would always be the deciding one. The senselessness that has crept into these entertainments would not have been tolerated in earlier days. The question that presents itself is, Are the assemblies better for the change?
Further, it is pertinent to inquire if our assemblies are maintaining a New Testament standard in worship. True, we cling to a New Testament form, but have we retained the New Testament spirit? The element of adoration is conspicuous by its absence from many of our gatherings. A wearisome reiteration of pet phrases and an unwarranted overuse of the hymnbook bespeak a shallowness of conception as to the purpose of our coming together on the first day of the week. Thus these gatherings are deprived of their meaning and spoiled of their intention. The nature of the meeting is altogether misconstrued, and while we gather to remember the Lord in His own prescribed way, the very purpose for which the saints have come is oftentimes perverted into an opportunity for unsuitable ministry of the Scriptures. Perhaps, too, the recurring frequency of the service has, to a great extent, blurred the moral significance of the remembrance. It is a solemn reminder to us of our indebtedness to Christ and of our obligation to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we have been called. There is an imperative need for a revival of that deep emotional type of experience which moves a man to the innermost core of his being, and which expresses itself in spontaneous words of worship.
Again, it seems fitting to ask if we are acting in assembly matters as the New Testament suggests? Take the matter of ministry. Compare what we get ordinarily with what was given in earlier days. Perhaps it is more varied, perhaps cleverer and more involved and polished, but is it as effective? Does it have the same influence upon the conduct of the audience? Does it search as it ought to do? Perhaps too there is more of it second-hand and less the result of personal experience and study. Because of that much of it seems to have less pith and to be less practical. That there are exceptions is a matter for which to be thankful, but it is to be feared that these are in the minority in a rising generation. Ministry can only be of value if it has first of all shaped the life of the preacher. The dearth of acceptable speakers in the judgment of overseeing brethren is evident from the fact that there is a constant duplication of names on conference platforms.
Is our system of ministry New Testament in its character? We assert that we believe in Apostolic methods, but do we allow our beliefs to materialise in Apostolic practice? Do we believe as we ought to believe that the risen Head has given specific gifts to individual members of His Church? All are not alike, neither in experience nor in ability. The Lord has made distinctions, and to some He has given the ability to minister publicly to His saints. Spiritual qualifications are the indispensable essentials in that matter, and no amount of capability in other walks of life can compensate for their absence. Difficulties arise where there is difference in judgment as to what is the true standard demanded. Godly life, depth of conviction, whole-hearted pursuit of the will of God, unswerving concern for the welfare of the saints, unquestionable affection for the Lord and His cause, disregard for popular applause, a mind well stored with the truths of the Scriptures, ability to give lucid expression to one’s thoughts, and a personality that commands, are some of the necessary qualifications to be sought in those who seek the place of public ministry. Gifts must be developed to be of any worth; and the Scripture asserts that a man’s gift will make room for itself.
The chief place of exercise for a gift to the Church is in the local assembly, but conditions prevailing to-day in many an assembly almost preclude that possibility. The system of arrangements has crushed out the local gift. In many places there is systematic control either by an individual or by a committee appointed for that purpose. Such an arrangement, admirable in some ways, works in a deleterious fashion in other directions. It kills exercise. It destroys fellowship. It fosters jealousy. It promotes partisan feeling. It encourages a disastrous rivalry.
This rivalry is the result of desire to obtain the best. And that best is often judged by the standard of eloquence reached by the preacher. Local responsibility is reduced to a minimum, and oftentimes unnecessary expense is incurred. By all means let the saints have the best ministry available, but let brethren upon whom falls the responsibility of caring for the assembly jealously guard against evils into which their position may lead them. This constant change of speaker by invitation to an outside brother may unconsciously create wrongs that are not easily detected. It may induce in the speaker who has a gift an indifference to the claims of his local assembly. He may, as not infrequently happens, put a premium upon the claims of a neighbouring gathering, exert himself to be of help there, and even when at home disengaged, neglect the less conspicuous but oftentimes more essential services of the prayer meeting and open-air testimony. It is so easy to be swamped by the desire for popularity that the best of us must fight against it.
It may produce a kind of mental lethargy on the part of the unwary preacher. Sermons well prepared and memorised by constant repetition in various places tend to become the stock in trade of the itinerant minister. Consequently there may be less exercise and less exacting study in responding to the constant invitations from abroad than there can be in the utilisation of his gift in a series of meetings in the local assembly. As a result one has often felt that brethren who thus neglect their local responsibility by acceding to every request from the outside, do not even give the same serious consideration to their ministry at home as they do to that which takes them away. And our assemblies suffer.
Because of such arrangements the style of ministry has changed considerably. It has lost consecutiveness. There is little or nothing in our assemblies to-day corresponding to the ministry of Lincoln or Kelly or Muller, whose weekly opening up of the Scriptures did so much to build up the assemblies with which they were associated. It has become less expository and more hortative. It has become a regular custom to take a text out of its context as a pretext to say something which might as well have been attached to almost any other text. The ministry has become less intensive as its variety has become more extensive. And yet with all its variety it does not seem to touch upon the great fundamentals of the faith. Where in the weekly ministry of assemblies do we get a regular declaration of those things most surely believed among us? Where do we have constant affirmations regarding the nature, position, witness and destiny of the Church? In what assemblies is there regular instruction given with regard to the correct use of money, a subject that has no inconsiderable portion of the Scriptures devoted to it? Where is there time devoted to the opening up of the Scriptures on the prayer life of the Christian, not in a haphazard way, but in a series of addresses by a gifted local brother? And so on, question after question might be asked, often, it is presumed to our own discomfiture.
What is the remedy, what should be done? The remedy is the old one of Jeremiah’s day. Ask for the old paths, walk in the good way. And what are these old paths, what is that good way? Revert to the primitive ideas of the Church. Get back to Apostolic methods and practice. Revive Apostolic preaching. Recognise men with gifts corresponding to those of Apostolic days. Avoid systematising that which the Scripture leaves free. Make no compromise with that which prejudices the growth and well-being of the assembly. Covet and cultivate the spirit of co-operation within the ranks of the saints; avoid controversy on points that are of no moment; walk humbly with God, and as often as opportunity serves, strive earnestly to maintain at as high a level as possible the local testimony with which you are associated. Utilise as far as you may the larger gifts given by Christ, those whose lives are wholly devoted to public ministry and whose prolonged opening up of the Word will do infinitely more permanent good than the sporadic ministry fostered by the week-end habit.
Old paths are not always bad, but where these are God-appointed ones they are bound to be good. Jeremiah’s advice is as appropriate to-day as it was in his own day, “Ask for the old paths and walk therein.”
UNION OF SECTS OR UNITY OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH?
By H. WINFIELD GRAHAM.
THE reunion of Christendom has become the theme of conversation and discussion in the religious world of our day. The idea has long been dormant but suddenly it has come out into the light. It is almost unanimously acclaimed by the unregenerate mass of all creeds and classes. Even some uninstructed Christians have been carried away by it. When it comes about it will be a real hotch potch of error, for to bring it about, every fundamental doctrine of Christianity will have to be given up. Protestantism and Romanism, clerisy and priestcraft will all be amalgamated in one great religious organization.
The label has long since been written by God in Rev. 17. 5: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth”. God’s command is: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18. 4). The Christian’s place, even now, is outside all that will finally end up as that religious brothel.
The reunion of the sects, composed almost entirely of unbelievers, is of no direct interest to the Christian. “Let the dead bury their dead” could well express his attitude. He is interested, and rightly so, in the unity of Christians, the unity of the Spirit. His exercise is described as “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4. 3-6).
The unity of the Spirit has not to be made, but it has to be “kept”. Its maintenance depends, not on the surrender of truth, not on the suppression of certain subjects; but on learning, holding and teaching the truths of Scripture and very especially of the seven truths named in this passage.
ONE BODY. Here is a union forged by God, unbreakable and unending. Every believer in the Lord Jesus is a member of His body, His Church. He is united to Christ the Head, as each member of the physical body is vitally united to the head. It is a union of individuals not of organizations. Being united to Christ, he is also united to every Christian, even when completely separate from any organization to which he may belong. “All one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3. 28) is not something that exists on special occasions, in certain gatherings. It exists always and universally, and depends not on uniformity or unity. It exists as much between those separated by distance as between those who meet daily.
ONE SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit of God forms the union already mentioned by baptizing every believer into the one body (1 Cor. 12. 13). He regenerates all (John 3. 6); seals all (Eph. 1. 13); and indwells all (Rom. 8. 9, 11). All these are from the moment of conversion.
ONE HOPE. The Church which is Christ’s Body is not hoping for the reunion of Christendom, nor the conversion of the world. “Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3. 20). We wait for God’s Son from heaven (1 Thess. 1. 10). When the last member has been added and the Church is complete, at a moment unknown, but which may be near, Christ will come to the air and call her away. Every member, sleeping or alive, will be resurrected or transformed, and all together caught up to be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4. 13-17). Blessed hope!
It must be evident that these three truths have a unifying effect on the saints of God. The next three emphasise and indicate how the believer has been brought into the enjoyment of the first three.
ONE LORD. Every child of God gives allegiance to one and the same Lord. As rebel sinners they were brought at conversion to Jesus, to confess Him as Lord and believe on Him as Saviour (Ro. 10. 9). The entire Christian life is a submitting to that Lordship, so that the more obedience there is to the Lord, the more unity will be manifest among all such. That “Christ died and rose that He might be Lord” (Ro. 14. 9), is presented as the means of promoting unity among those who have divergent views on non-essential details of behaviour. The confession that “Jesus is Lord” is the result of the Spirit’s working (1 Cor. 12. 3); and a yielding to the Spirit’s fulness will lead us to “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3. 15). To confess: “Jesus is Lord” cost much in a day when the Roman Empire demanded the confession “Caesar is Lord”.
ONE FAITH. Confession of Christ as Lord is accompanied by faith in Him as Saviour (Ro. 10. 9). Every saved person has been saved by the same faith. As sinners guilty, condemned and helpless, each one has found rest in the One who died on the cross and lives in glory. Each testifies with Paul: “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2. 20). Each acknowledges as true and faithful the saying”: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1. 15). However different their origin and background, all tell a similar tale of the time and place and manner in which they reached saving faith in Christ.
ONE BAPTISM. One Lord and one faith are both related to one baptism. “Baptized in (or unto) the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 2. 38; 8, 16; 19. 5) indicates that baptism was the way of owning His lordship. “Many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18. 8). This tells us that faith cometh by hearing and followed by baptism. This is the only non-figurative baptism which the New Testament teaches, and the carrying out of it would remove one cause of the lack of unity. Agreement to keep back all mention of baptism is no evidence of unity, it indicates that the disobedient do not wish the subject to be ventilated.
ONE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL. The first and last words of the phrase stress unity. All (believers) have one “God and Father”. The same One is both God and Father to all. Each one knows Him in this two-fold character through the same Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 14.1; 17.3).
Here then is a “Christian Endeavour” to which all Christians should belong. Here is an activity in which all diligence should be shown. If the children of God would desist from unscriptural efforts to form unions, organizations and societies; if they would persist in learning, holding, practising and propagating these fundamental truths, there is no doubt that a much greater degree of unity would be manifest. It would be unity in truth, not unity in error; the unity of a living organism, not membership of a dead organization; the unity of the Spirit, not the united cry: “We will not have this man to rule over us”.
Let us see to it that we are “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4. 3).
THE GIRDED ONE
- “He, of old the Man of Sorrows,
- Pleads before the FATHER’S face,
- Knowing all the needed solace,
- Claiming all the needed grace.
- We, so faithless and so weary,
- Serving with impatient will—
- He unwearied in our service,
- Gladly ministering still.
- Girded with the golden girdle,
- Shining as the mighty sun.
- Still His pierced hands will finish
- All His work, of love begun,
- On the night of His betrayal,
- In the glory of the throne,
- Still with faithful patience washing
- All defilement from His Own.
- When the FATHER’S House resoundeth
- With the music and the song;
- When the bride in glorious raiment
- Sees the One Who loved so long :
- Then for new and blessed service
- Girt afresh will He appear:
- Stand and serve before His angels
- Those who waited for Him here.”
(Hymns of Ter Steegen and Suso)