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THE IMPORTANCE OF UNION AMONG CHRISTIANS.
John xvii. 20, 21. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
IN the former part of this chapter our Lord has been interceding principally for his own immediate Disciples: but here he intercedes for all his people to the end of time. Who the particular persons were, is known only when the word of God reaches their hearts, and they are made obedient to the faith of Christ. But the substance of the petition is evidently most important; because our Lord had before made the same request in behalf of his own Disciples; and because he repeats it again more strongly in the two verses following our text.
We will endeavour to shew,
I. What is that union which Christ prayed for in our behalf
If we should interpret the union spoken of in ver. 11, as relating only to the testimony which the Apostles were to bear concerning Christ, still we cannot possibly limit the import of the text to that sense the terms are too varied and too strong to admit of such a limitation. The comparison instituted between Christ's union with the Father, and ours with each other in him, leads our thoughts into a far different channel; a channel mysterious indeed, but deeply fraught with the richest instruction. Christ is one with the Father, in essence and in operation; being "the brightness of his Father's glory and the express image of his person," and at the same time acting in every thing in perfect concert with the Father, having no will but his, speaking nothing but according to his commands, doing nothing but by his direction, and seeking only the glory of his name.
This fitly illustrates the union which his people have with each other in and through him:
1. They are formed into one body
[Sometimes they are represented as a temple, composed of living stones, and having a living stone for its foundation, even Jesus Christ himself; and built up as an habitation for God himself a. At other times they are spoken of as a body, of which Christ is the Head, and all the different individuals are members". Thus whilst they are united with each other, they are united also with the Father and the Son: "the Father is in Christ, and Christ is in them; and thus they are made perfect in one," ever "growing up into Christ as their Head," and contributing to each other's perfection, till they arrive at "the full measure of the stature of Christ"."
How earnestly the Lord Jesus Christ desired this, may be gathered from the frequent repetition of it before noticed: and well he might plead for it in this manner, since the accomplishment of it was the principal design of his death, and the great end of God the Father in the whole economy of redemption.]
2. They are all animated by one Spirit
["He that is joined to the Lord," says the Apostle, "is one Spirit." This is true of every individual, and of the whole collective body of believers. "Christ dwells in all of them ;" and "as Christ himself lived by the Father, so do they live by him." Hence, as there is no distraction in the body, but, in consequence of its being under the controul of one living and governing principle, its powers are all harmoniously exerted for the attainment of the same object; so the members of Christ's mystical body are one in sentiment, in affection, and in the scope and tenour of their lives.
In sentiment they are one: for though, in matters of inferior moment, there may be a wide difference between them, yet in the fundamental points, such as our fall in Adam, our recovery by Christ, our renovation by the Spirit, the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, the security of believers, and many other points connected with the spiritual life, there is no difference: all that are taught of God agree in these things; or, if they differ a little in modes of expression, when disputing for opinions, they agree perfectly when they come upon their knees before God; which shews that their differences are rather
imaginary than real. There is "an unity of faith" to which they all come; and which the untutored Indian attains as easily as the most learned philosopher; for it is learned by the heart rather than the head; and it is God alone that can guide us to the knowledge of it.
In affection also they are one, being "kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love," and "loving one another with a pure heart fervently." They are all "taught of God to do sok." What the real tendency of Christianity is may be seen in the effects produced on the first Christians1: and if there is not the same measure of love among Christians of the present day, it is not owing to any want of efficacy in the grace of God, but to the slender measure in which it is possessed: for, in proportion as the grace of Christ abounds in the soul, will ever be the measure of our faith and love m.
Moreover, in the scope and tenour of their lives also they are one. They all acknowledge the Scriptures as the one directory which they are to follow; and, according to their several attainments," they walk by the same rule ni - Without this, all other "unity," whether "in the faith," or "in the Spirit," is of no avail.
This "holding of the Head" by faith, this ministering to each other by love, and this progressive increase of the whole body in the ways of holiness, constitutes that true union which the Gospel produces, and which our Lord so earnestly desired in our behalf.]
Let us now consider,
II. The unspeakable importance of it
Truly it is of the utmost importance: for on it depends,
I. The honour of Christ
[In the days of the Apostles, the Messiahship of Christ was abundantly proved by the most stupendous miracles wrought in confirmation of it. But it was the design of God, that, when Christianity was once established, it should carry its own evidence along with it, and convince men by producing such effects in the world as would demonstrate to all its Divine origin. The perfect consistency which there was in the testimony of all the Apostles and of the first teachers of Christianity shewed, that they must have been inspired by the same Spirit; who kept them all from error, and guided them into all truth. In the whole apostolic age we read of but one
h Eph. iv. 13.
i 1 Cor. ii. 14.
1 Acts ii. 44, 45. and iv. 32. n Phil. iii. 16. Gal. vi. 16.
k 1 Thess. iv. 9. Eph. iv. 3, 4, 7.
point of difference that arose, namely, Whether the believing Gentiles should be required to submit to circumcision or not; and even that was discussed, not for the satisfaction of any of the Apostles, but only of some of the less-enlightened converts. And the agreement which there was in doctrine, was rendered still more manifest by the wonderful unity which was displayed in the life and conversation of the whole Church. There were indeed spots and blemishes in many; but these were reproved by the authorised teachers of religion, and served to illustrate more clearly the proper efficacy of the Gospel". Twice does our Lord suggest, that this union of his people would confirm the truth of his mission. And certain it is that the same effects are produced by it at this time. Where shall we look for such an union of sentiment, of affection, and of conduct, as is to be found in the Church of Christ? Hence believers are marked as a peculiar people; and the very peculiarity which pervades the Church of God, makes an impression on the hearts of thousands, who, if they could in an instant attain to the measure of peace and holiness which they see in the true believer, would willingly sacrifice all that they have in the world for it: and though, from the inveteracy of their corruptions, they are determined to go on in sin, they are constrained to acknowledge, that the Gospel of Christ is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.]
2. The credit of the Church
[God the Father "loveth his people, even as he loveth his only dear Son'." But how is it to be known that he loves them? Who can look into their hearts, and see those manifestations which he makes of himself there, as he does not unto the world? When "he sheddeth abroad his love there," who can discern it, but the persons themselves? or, as Solomon expresses it, who can "intermeddle with their joy?" But it is to be discerned by the effects it produces on their lives, just as the irradiated countenance of Moses attested the intercourse he had held with God. Accordingly, where the piety of any person is of an exalted kind, it carries with it a conviction to the minds of others; it makes religion itself appear honourable, and induces many to say, "We will go with you; for we perceive that God is with you of a truth."]
3. The welfare of the world at large
[The world in general "hate the light, and will not come to it, lest their deeds should be reproved." But Christians, when truly exemplary, are living witnesses for God: they
p 1 Cor. xi. 19.
Compare ver. 23. with the text. r See ver. 23.
are epistles of Christ, known and read of all men; and their whole spirit and conduct is a sermon to all around them. St. Peter tells us, that many unbelieving people, who utterly despise the word of God, are " won by the good conversation" and conduct of their pious friends. On the other hand, we know that divisions or scandals in the Church are the means of casting before many a stumbling-block, over which they fall, to their eternal ruin. What can more strongly manifest the importance of union in the Church, than such considerations as these? Surely, if the welfare of the world so much depends upon it, we cannot wonder that our Lord offered such repeated supplications for it in our behalf; nor should there be any intermission to our exertions for the advancement of it in the Church of God.]
From this subject we may SEE,
1. The duty of the world to unite themselves to the Church
66 one fold under one
[The Church is represented as Shepherd." To that fold we must be gathered: nor must we decline that open profession that shall distinguish us for his sheep. If we are ashamed of Christ and his people, Christ will be ashamed of us. We must not only "believe with our hearts unto righteousness, but make confession with our mouths unto salvation." As Judah and Israel are to become one at the latter day, like the two sticks in the prophet's hand, so are Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, to be all one in Christ Jesus. I call on all therefore " to give themselves unto us," as St. Paul expresses it, but first to give up their whole selves to the Lord"."]
2. The duty of the Church to be united among themselves
[Who that hears our blessed Lord pleading so earnestly for this object, can doubt what his duty is in relation to it? If a doubt remain, let the Apostle Paul determine it: so desirable was this object in his eyes, that he seemed as if he could never be sufficiently urgent with his converts to cultivate it with all their hearts. Let us then beg of God to "give us one heart and one way:" thus shall the sweetest fellowship be produced, not only with each other, but with the Father and with Christ; and "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son shall cleanse us from all sin "."]
8 Ezek. xxxvii. 16-22. t Gal. iii. 28. * 1 Cor. i. 10. Phil. ii. 1—4.
u 2 Cor. viii. 5.
y 1 John i. 3, 7.