The Way to Unity
The need for unity is felt by every right–minded Christian today. At the same time, however, all such are well aware of the evil that is encroaching all around. The evil is too close to home, and its rapid and gigantic advances too obvious, for Christians to be blind to it, however little they may appreciate its true bearing and character. There is aroused in them the sense of the common danger in which they find themselves, and also, (as far as it is entrusted to man’s responsibility), of the danger facing God’s cause from that which would oppose.
In the midst of all these difficulties, and with this sense of a common danger, we are led to the inquiry as to where true union is to be found. There is of course a constant tendency in the mind to fall into sectarianism, and to make the basis of union a system of some kind or other to which the mind is attached, and round which the saints are gathered. This, assuming itself to be based on a true principle of unity, regards as schism whatever separates from it, thereby attaching the name of unity to that which is not God’s centre and plan of unity. I say God’s centre and plan of unity for there are many unitys of man’s devising, even those of good and sincere men. What we are concerned with is that unity which is according to God, the unity which is revealed in His Word.
Now it is obvious that God Himself must be the spring and centre of unity. Any centre of unity outside God is rebellion—an independent and rival centre of influence and power. It is a challenge to His Godhead and glory. He alone is in power—and He alone has title to be. Furthermore, when God surrounds Himself with a united and morally intelligent company He is not simply a centre but a centre of holiness and blessing. Why? Because He is a Holy God, and because He is love. Indeed, holiness in us (while it is by nature separation from evil) is simply having God, Who is holy and Who is love too, as the object, centre and spring of our affections.
So God must be the centre. Yet evil exists, the world is lying in wickedness, and at the same time the God of unity is the Holy God! Now God can have no union with evil. Separation from evil, therefore, becomes the necessary and sole basis of unity. It is the basis of all true unity. Those who are to be in God’s unity must be separate from all corruption.
God is working in the midst of evil to produce a unity of which He is the centre and the spring, and which acknowledges and submits to His authority. He does not do it yet by the judicial clearing away of the wicked as foretold in the parable of the wheat and tares, (Matt. 13: 24–30), but by separating the called from the evil: “Come out from the midst of them, and be separated, saith [the] Lord, and touch not [what is] unclean, and I will receive you; and I will be to you for a Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters, saith [the] Lord Almighty”. As God has said: “I will dwell among them, and walk among [them]”, (2 Cor. 6: 17,18, 16). This is God’s way of gathering. It was by saying, Come out from among them. He could not have gathered true unity around Him otherwise. Since evil exists, there cannot be union of which the Holy God is the centre and power but by separation from it. Separation is the first element of unity and union.
We may now enquire a little further into the manner in which this unity is to be brought about. There must be an intrinsic power of union holding it together to the centre, as well as a power separating from evil to form it. Furthermore, the centre of unity must be a sole and unrivalled centre. This need not delay the Christian long. It is CHRIST—the object of the Divine counsel—the manifestation of God Himself, the only vessel entitled to unite the Church as its redeemer, its head, its glory, and its life. He is “head over all things to the assembly, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all, (Eph. 1: 23).
There can be no moral power which can unite away from evil, but Christ Himself. He alone, as perfect grace and truth, detects all the evil which separates from God, and from which God separates. He alone can, be the attractive centre which draws together to Himself all on whom God so acts. God will acknowledge no other. He is necessarily the only centre: “he that gathers not with me scatters”, (Matt. 12: 30). Even His death was with this object “I, if I be lifted up out of the earth, will draw all to me”, (John 12: 32). He gave Himself “not for the nation only, but that he should also gather together into one the children of God who were scattered abroad”, (John 11: 52). He “gave himself for us, that he might....purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works”, (Tit. 2: 14). He was the very pattern of the divine life in man, separate from the evil by which it was universally surrounded; He was the friend of publicans and sinners, appealing in grace to men in tender love; but He was always the separate man. Thus He is as the centre of the Church and High priest: “Such a high priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners”, (Heb. 7: 26).
This separation from all else was more slow among the Jews, as having been outwardly themselves the separated people of God; but when the evil of the nation was fully exposed, the word to the disciples was, “Let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach”, (Heb. 13: 13). Indeed we have only to show that unity is God’s mind, and it is at once apparent that separation from evil is the necessary consequence; for it exists as a principle in the calling of God before unity itself. Unity is His purpose and He is the only rightful centre, but separation from evil is His very nature.
Anyone that says he has fellowship with God, and walks in darkness, is a liar and does not practise the truth. Separation from evil is the necessary first principle of communion with Him. If unity depends on God, it must be separation from darkness. So with one another. If we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, (see 1 John 1: 7).
Again, “What participation [is there] between righteousness and lawlessness? or what fellowship of light with darkness? and what consent of Christ with Beliar, or what part for a believer along with an unbeliever? and what agreement of God’s temple with idols? (2 Cor. 6: 14–16). Then, addressing the saints, the Holy Spirit adds “For ye are [the] living God’s temple; according as God has said, I will dwell among them, and walk among [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be to me a people. Wherefore come out from the midst of them, and be separated”, (vs. 16, 17). Of this unity and fellowship, I may add, the Lord’s supper is the symbol and expression. “Because we, [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf”, (1 Cor. 10:17).
Thus, as in the same way that the unity of Israel was founded on a separation from the heathen which surrounded them, so the Church’s union is based on the Holy Spirit come down from heaven, separating a peculiar people out of the world to Christ, and dwelling amongst them; God Himself thus dwelling and walking in them. Indeed the very name of the Holy Spirit implies separation; for holiness is separation from evil.
Having thus shown that true unity cannot exist without separation from evil, we cannot leave the subject without examining an apparent difficulty that presents itself. Supposing evil introduces itself into this one body formed by the Holy Spirit on earth, does the principle still hold good? How then can separation from evil maintain unity? I answer that this principle, flowing as it does from the very nature of God, cannot be set aside. Separation from evil is the necessary consequence of the presence of the Spirit of God under all circumstances as to conduct and fellowship. It is separation (in the power of the Holy Spirit) that maintains true unity. Condoning evil on the other hand necessarily destroys it. Hence the assembly is to put out from itself the wicked person, (1 Cor. 5: 13), and thus maintain its separation from evil. At the same time unity is maintained in the power of the Holy Spirit and a good conscience. On the other hand if the assembly refuses to answer to the very nature of God, and to the incompatibility of that nature with evil, then the same principle recurs: the evil must be separated from. Wherever the assembly declines the putting away of evil, it becomes in effect a denier of God’s character of holiness, and the path of the saint is then clear: “Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity”, (2 Tim. 2: 19). It is no good arguing that separation destroys unity, for there is no true Christian unity unless God is the centre, and God’s holiness demands that we be separate from evil.
There are some who have a kind of unity but no separation from evil. There are others who have a supposed separation yet whose outlook is as narrow as can be. Neither are right or commendable. The fact is, unity according to God is always based on separation from evil. Love to all men, and particularly to all saints, is of course a clear duty; walking in their ways is not.
The process of disease is to loosen fibre from fibre, to separate particle from particle, until death is caused, and then comes the breaking up of all that binds member to member, continuing until nothing is left but isolated particles of dust. The weakness that results from a few days illness, requiring weeks or months to regain the lost firmness of muscle, is caused by this partial disintegration, the result of some poison having entered the system, which we call disease.
Such is sin. First it severs the link between the soul and God. The moment Adam sinned his soul was separated from God. Then after separation from God there follows the separation of friend from friend, or children from parents, natural affection crumbles away, every social relationship is undermined by a gradual process of decay, until in the world before the flood “the earth was full of violence”, (Gen. 6: 11). Sin overthrew the whole social fabric, and God in judgement swept it away.
God has ever before His heart the very opposite of what sin has wrought. This we get in Eph. 1: 9, 10, “to gather together in one all things in Christ,” (AV). Such is God’s purpose; but what is Satan’s? It is to divide, to break up, to scatter if possible that which God is uniting and gathering together in one.
One of the purposes for which Christ died was, “that He should also gather together into one the children of God who were scattered abroad”; (John 11: 52), and in fulfilment of this, God is making out of Jew and Gentile “one new man” in Christ Jesus. Yes, the purpose of God is unity, a glorious, perfect, eternal unity. Notice how often in the Epistle to the Ephesians you get the word “one” “Gather together in one”, (AV), “one new man”; “one body”, “one Spirit”. “ONE” is, as it were, the keynote to the Epistle—it is God’s purpose. In pursuance of this, the mind and purpose of God, the Lord Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathers not with me, scatters”, (Matt. 12: 30, Luke 11: 23). How important, then, that we act in harmony with the purpose of God—that our service here be a gathering with Christ, and a gathering unto Christ as the one Centre and Lord.
Counterfeit has always been one of Satan’s most successful ways of opposing the work of God. If God has a unity, Satan will endeavour to put up an imitation. After the flood, we read the whole world was of one language and one speech. They had one purpose too, and to effect that they banded themselves together to build a city and a tower, and to make themselves a name lest they should be scattered. All this was without God; it was Satan’s unity. Therefore, God in judgement, and in mercy too, scattered it to the four winds.
In the last days Satan will again work on the principle of unity. Turn to Is. 8: 9: “Associate yourselves, O ye people”, (AV). Association is the great idea of the age in which we live. The universal belief is that “union is power”; hence associations of every kind, unions, clubs, etc, but only God’s purpose shall stand. The unity that He has purposed shall be brought about in the end, and every other association must perish. Further on in the same chapter we get the only principle on which real divine unity can be maintained: “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them”, (Is. 8: 20, AV). This corresponds exactly with the beseeching voice of the apostle in 1 Cor. 1: “that ye all say the same thing”. But how is this unity of speech to be secured? Only as each one speaks in accordance with God’s Word.
Look again now at Satan’s unity: In Rev. 17: 12–14 we read concerning the ten kings that “These have one mind ... These shall make war with the Lamb.” Such is the end of this world’s associations: enmity against God and His Lamb. The same satanic unity is witnessed in Acts 7, where it is written that, at the stoning of Stephen, they “rushed upon him with one accord”, (v57). Just as by the Spirit of God the multitude of them that believed were of one heart for the Lord Jesus, so the multitude that resisted the Spirit of God were of one heart in their purpose of destruction; it was the unity of the spirit of Satan.
We might pursue this line of truth much further, but it is sufficient that we should see clearly the principles that are at work in the world. How important it is in these days of the mighty energy of the spirit of Satan that the saints should not be ignorant of his devices; that they should not be found in any way furthering Satan’s plans to break up every effort at divine unity, and construct a unity of his own; but rather intelligently working in with the glorious purpose of God, which shall be perfected in the ages to come, to the glory of Him who planned it and wrought it out.
The beseeching exhortation in 1 Cor 1: 10 clearly shows that it is no light matter that the children of God should all say the same thing; that to be saying different things, contrary the one to the other, each holding and propagating his own opinions, is not the mind of God. There is unity in the membership of the human body, and yet what variety! Again, it is written, “The heavens declare the glory of God”, (Ps. 19: 1). We look up at the night sky, and what at once strikes us is the variety; yet at the same time, what unity! What harmony! As we sing together there is harmony and yet variety: different parts can be taken by different voices, yet all can harmonise together in one perfect chord. Yet let a note be struck that is out of tune, and we no longer call it variety, but discord. So in the Church of God. It is a unity, but there is also variety. Variety there ought to be; discord there ought not to be. Harmony is what God desires. All speaking the same thing, because all speaking according to the Word of the Lord. All of “one mind”, because all having “the mind of Christ”.
There might be a company of Christians all of one mind, having articles of faith signed and adhered to by every member; but this, instead of being God’s unity, might be brought about by Satan’s device. God’s unity is where God’s mind is the mind of each one, and where God’s Word is the word of each one. Nothing less than this is divine.
Let us now refer to a few other Scriptures bearing on this subject to show the importance God attaches to this manifested oneness, and how essential it is that it be sought after and prayed for by us.
Rom. 15: 5, 6: “Now the God of endurance and of encouragement give to you to be like-minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus; that ye may with one accord, with one mouth, glorify the God and Father,” etc. Mark where like–mindedness is to be found, “according to Christ Jesus.” Only as we have His mind, His thoughts, His spirit, and follow His example, can we be so like-minded as to glorify God “with one accord.”
2 Cor. 13:11: “Be perfected; be encouraged; be of one mind; be at peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” It is significant that such words close the Corinthian epistles. They contain two couplets of exhortation: first as to our individual souls, “be perfected”, then, be encouraged. The second couplet concerns the saints as gathered together “Be of one mind: be at peace.” A common thought, and perhaps well meant, is that on occasion it is best to differ even where GOD HAS SPOKEN? He says, “Be of one mind.” Are we willing to bow before God, saying in our hearts, “Lord, I want to have no mind of my own; show me Thy mind in Thy Word.” God will indeed show us His mind if we are willing to bow to his will. “If any one desire to practise his will, he shall know....” (John 7: 17).
Phil. 1: 27: “stand firm in one spirit, with one soul labouring together...”. “fulfil my joy, that ye may think the same thing, having the same love, joined in soul, thinking one thing”, (Phil. 2: 2). “As many therefore as [are] perfect, let us be thus minded”, (Phil. 3: 15). This is not each one holding his own opinions and perhaps sinking differences for a time. Paul sought more than a temporary unity, that each one might have the mind of the Master and speak His truth.
1 Pet. 3: 8 “Finally, [be] all of one mind, sympathising, full of brotherly love.....”
Many other Scriptures might be referred to, but these will suffice to show how God’s desire for real, practical, manifested unity among his children is breathed throughout Scripture.
Whilst in the Church of God there will be distinctions and varieties that are right, and which harmonise together, yet ought we not to grieve and mourn over every instance of difference of mind, of speech, and judgement? God would have us content with nothing less than being of one heart and soul, of one mind and speech. But the exhortation is stronger still, “that ye be perfectly united in the same mind and in the same opinion,” (1 Cor. 1: 10). It is not merely putting up with one another. How perfectly is every bone, joint, muscle and nerve in the body joined together! What pain is caused by even the separation of a hair from the skin! We are thus indeed, by God’s grace, one in Christ; but Satan has succeeded in getting many to accept it quite as a doctrine that it is not intended that we should be ONE in the eyes of the world. Not that we are taught in Scripture that a united Church will be seen again on earth as it was in Pentecostal times. Only when the Lord comes and gathers His redeemed to Himself in the skies, will the glorious unity of the Head and the members, be seen. Then there will be diversity, and yet unity—variety, and yet harmony. Every saint will reflect the likeness of Christ, and every heart will beat in loyal subjection to His will. That is the unity God delights in. Though it may not be realised till the appearing of our Lord Jesus, be it ours meantime to learn His mind, and to be subject to Him as our lord in all things, and seek earnestly to maintain the unity of His Spirit.