THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT.
"Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3 KJV.)
The apostle Paul beseeches the Ephesian church to be diligent, to be constantly keeping that essential unity which the personal Holy Spirit originates in the true Church of Christ. The element of principle in which this oneness is maintained is peace, "the bond of peace." The exhortation to diligence implies that in keeping this unity human agency must be vigorously applied. Why cannot the Holy Spirit alone continue that unity of which He is the sole author? We answer, that [where] there is an obedient will He could preserve that concord which He has produced, if it were the province of the divine Spirit to assimilate intellects as well as hearts. Grace does not harmonize divergent reasons and conflicting judgments. We are to think and let think, and accept the honest conclusion within the limits of Christian orthodoxy. We must within this sphere agree to disagree, as did John Wesley and George Whitefield on the five points of Calvinism, while still loving each other. The hearts of Barnabas and Paul were united while a practical question on which they differed made it expedient for them to labor for a season in different fields. The diligent endeavor which Paul urges the Ephesians to make is to be directed against magnifying differences of opinion on minor questions into causes of heart alienation. It requires constant effort to keep this threefold maxim:
"In non-essentials liberty;
In essentials unity;
In all things charity."
The various sects which divide the Christian world can keep the unity of the Spirit and dwell in peace so long as they are filled with true charity. How can this fulness be insured? Can we originate Christian love? Can we love at will? No. But having in the divine promises a sufficient ground for faith in Jesus Christ, we may ask for the presence of the Comforter in our hearts, whose office it is "to shed abroad the love of God," which is always attended by love to all who bear His natural image, and especially to all who bear His moral image restored by the new birth. Here is the real basis of Christian unity. It is spiritual and not ecclesiastical; not theological beyond the basal truths of orthodoxy; not sacramental and ceremonial. The manner and significance of water baptism, the Lord's Supper and the number and gradation of ordinations should be regarded as in the sphere of liberty. Is God revealed in His divine Son, Jesus Christ, the only Saviour, and does He communicate Himself to believers in the personal Holy Spirit, the only Sanctifier? This is a doctrinal basis sufficient for the unity of all Christians. It is not possible to dwell in Christian unity with those who deny these fundamentals. They do not dwell in the same sphere with us, since they disclaim belief in the offices of the personal Holy Spirit and disbelieve in the Godhead of Jesus Christ, through whom we receive the Paraclete, who implants regenerating love and perfects sanctifying love, the element of Christian unity. Yet we should, without regard to religious belief, co-operate with all good citizens to abate and abolish evils which prey upon society, to enlighten the ignorant, to lift up the fallen and to remove snares from the feet of the tempted. While we believe that society can be most effectively regenerated by regenerating the individual, we should, while applying the truth to secure this end, cherish and express a lively sympathy with all who, though they "follow not us," are trying to cast out devils in the name of Jesus regarded as a mere religious teacher and reformer. They are, so far as the moral well-being of society is concerned, our allies in the great battle with the hosts of the evil one, though they are fighting with bows and arrows when they might be firing Remington rifles. But it must be borne in mind that Christian unity, as Dean Alford well says, "is conditioned and limited by the truth; and is not to be extended to those who are enemies and impugners of the truth;" who reject the real Christ and preach a phantom Jesus, and whose morals are as corrupt as their faith is false. To have fellowship with such a man is "to be a partaker of his evil deeds" (II John ix. 11).
It is alleged by some that the fulness of the Holy Spirit received by faith in Christ's Pentecostal promise does not unite, but rather divides local churches. This is not true where the entire membership receive their full heritage. The members of such churches are welded together in the closest possible unity, such as extorted admiration even from persecutors. "Behold how these Christians love one another." Such a church is indeed a spiritual brotherhood.
"One with our brethren here in love,
And one with saints that are at rest,
And one with angel hosts above,
And one with God forever blest."
But where part of a church are only nominal Christians, baptized worldlings, who either never knew the Lord Jesus as their Saviour or have fallen from grace, there arises a division, caused not by the Holy Ghost, but by those professors who resist Him in His work of purification. This is what Christ Himself predicted. The founder of Christianity, in putting down the kingdom of Satan whose works He came to destroy, brought disturbance and division to every family, every synagogue, every city and every social organization, a part of whose members rejected Him while a part received Him as both Saviour and Lord. Real living Christianity is always a disturber of worldliness and sin, bringing a sword on the earth.
It is the mission of the Paraclete to reprove the world of sin, and if the world has been received into the Church it must be convicted of sin wherever it is found. Otherwise the Spirit would be unfaithful to His mission. He did not come down from heaven to promote discord, but peace on the basis of truth and purity. The resisting party desires peace by being let alone in sin. On whom should the blame rest? Who is responsible for the division and contention? Certainly not those who receive the message which is promotive of the object for which the Church was founded. This is to help its members to become Christlike. Those who reject this office of the Spirit to conform believers to the image of the Son of God are the disturbers of the unity and peace of the Church, and not those who live in harmony with the purpose of its founder. It often is true that a part of a church, frequently a small minority, have the scriptural ideal of what constitutes true prosperity and real strength, namely, a firm grip upon God's promises and the presence in the church of the converting and sanctifying power from week to week; a zeal for the salvation of souls however poor and submerged in vice; a willingness to give for the support of the gospel from love to its author; and an abhorrence of worldly devices for raising money by appealing to selfishness, to appetite, to frivolity and doubtful amusements. Christ is dishonored when His gospel is treated as not worthy of support for its own sake. The Holy Spirit is grieved when various sensual lures and baits, often in their character repugnant to the spirit and purpose of Christianity, are employed to support the gospel of Christ. When the spiritual few lift up their voice, protesting against yoking the world and the Church to draw the car of the gospel, instead of cheerful though self-denying gifts, the majority often are disposed to unfavorable criticism of their conscientious and spiritual brethren, creating a chasm between the members. In such a case, which is not imaginary, the Holy Spirit is not the cause of the division, but rather the absence of the Holy Spirit from the hearts of a part of the church creates the schism in the body of Christ, the visible Church. The cure is a universal baptism of the Spirit. There are other occasions for dissensions threatening the unity of the Church. One of these is partialities and preferences for preachers, one running to hear logical Paul and another desiring to listen to rhetorical Apollos, and still another admiring the earnest and impulsive Cephas. The remedy is to turn the thoughts away from the heralds of salvation to the divine personage who is dwelling in the temple of each believing heart. This was Paul's remedy for the strifes and divisions in Corinth. "Know ye not that ye are temples of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (I Cor. iii. 16). When the Church knows experimentally the indwelling Paraclete, dissensions cease and unity is insured.
Above the mists there are altitudes of Christian experience where believers see eye to eye. Intellectual differences which once stood between them like impassable mountains now seem to their downward gaze like molehills. It is possible to dwell amid the Alpine sublimities of truth so long as to drop our small measuring rods and to acquire larger ones commensurate with the grandeurs about us. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to lift aspiring believers to such Pisgah heights as Paul was familiar with when he prayed that the Ephesians "might be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and heighth and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God." Wherever this prayer is answered there will be Christian unity.
"Plunged in the Godhead's deepest sea,
And lost in its immensity."
Trifles will not unhinge and divide a company of such believers.
In His high-priestly prayer (John xvii.) Jesus prays for His disciples, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." There are two kinds of church unity – mechanical like the staves of a barrel held together by the external pressure of hoops; and vital, like the roots, trunk and branches of a tree unified by the mysterious inward force which we call life. For which of these did Jesus pray? We find our answer in these words which He had just uttered, "I am the true vine" (John xv. 1). He prayed for vital unity, the only oneness worth praying for. This is infinitely superior to that illusory thing after which many are striving, a church unity through an exterior governmental uniformity. Partisan unity is a good machine for developing political power, but it cannot be used by the great unifier, the Giver and Lord of life, the Holy Spirit. It is He who unites all regenerate souls to Christ, and hence to one another, by His creative and vitalizing touch, drawing all into a marvelous oneness, "a oneness spiritually organic, in which each personality, while quite exempt from invasion, falls under the power of a divine cohesion whose results in spiritual harmony of life and action will develop forever." (Moule.) The invisible church is always one body, of which the risen Christ is the Head. It would be a pleasant thing to have the invisible exactly commensurate with the visible containing all the members of the invisible church and no others. But under the present dispensation this can never be, because the doorkeeper of the invisible is the heart-knowing Spirit, and the doorkeepers of the visible Church are fallible men. This is hinted at very strongly by Christ in the parable of the tares and the wheat growing together until the harvest. He evidently had in mind the visible Church, also, when He compared the kingdom of heaven to "a drag-net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; . . . and they gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away" (Matt. xiii. 47). Such an instrument the Holy Spirit does not use. He takes the fish individually one by one; and no sorting is required. There is no discount of His results.
There can be no substitute for the Spirit in producing that unity which will endure all the changes and adversities of life, which will gain the approval of God as realizing His ideal of the Church, and which will savingly influence the world in answer to Christ's prayer for the oneness of all His disciples, "that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." This was the power which conquered the unbelief of the persecutors of the primitive Church. "Behold how these Christians love one another!" This love did not arise from similar intellectual tastes, nor from assent to the same creed, but from the indwelling in their hearts of the same Holy Spirit inciting to mutual love. When love declines through a relaxation of faith and the uprising of selfishness because of the withdrawal of the Spirit from His conscious indwelling, divisions, parties, cliques and sects arise. When we walk along the shore of the sea we observe pools here and there with their inhabitants separated from each other by rocks and stretches of sand, preventing communication between them. This is because the tide is out. But when it again rises and floods the beach the separate pools are swallowed up in the one great ocean. When the Spirit pours floods upon the dry grounds, self is submerged and Christian unity is restored.
The maxim of Protestantism of the low-church, nonritualistic type is this, "Where the Spirit is, there is the Church": The maxim of the Papist and sacramentarian is, "Where the Church is, there is the Spirit." In the first case the Spirit creates the Church; in the other the Church professedly insures the presence of the Spirit. But He dwells only in hearts, not in sacraments or in organizations. Hence no organization, however apostolic its history and successive in its ordinations, can secure the Holy Spirit. Paul exhorts believers "earnestly to strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit (the oneness which He brings about) in (or within) the bond of peace," i. e., the bond by which peace is conserved, which is love. As Christ came to establish peace on earth, so the Holy Ghost, "another Comforter," came to execute Christ's purpose, not by treaties formed by diplomats, but by "shedding abroad the love of God" in the hearts of men. Says Chrysostom, "The Spirit unites those who are widely sundered by nationality and different manners."
We profess to desire earnestly the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but we shall do well to note that one of the first things which the Holy Spirit will aim to produce in us will be this Christlike love to the brethren. How many brethren in Christ are now effectively separated from you by a high wall of social position, a wall of conventionality that has been reared by Christian pride? Were Christ's mysterious and unfathomable love to them to find its way, perchance, into your heart, how it would laugh at the huge hindrance of this wall, and by a breath cause it to dissolve into the ambient air! This is no hypothesis. In lands where the Spirit of God is poured out we are told of the sudden and beautiful flowing together of social streams that have flowed separately on for generations. Love like that which Jesus manifested to the Samaritan woman and to the woman who was a sinner, has now found new exhibitions of itself. (G. Bowen.)