By Rev. Asa Mahan
THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT.
By the phrase, "unity of the Spirit," we are to understand that form of Divine oneness which the Holy Spirit produces among those individuals in whose heart He dwellsthat form of oneness to which our Saviour refers in those wonderful words, "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one." This unity is effected when Christ, by the Spirit, is enthroned and reigns supreme in the heart of each individual. The fact that we are required to endeavor to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," implies two things: First, that without our endeavor this unity will not be preserved; and, secondly, that this unity may exist for a certain time, and not be perpetuated. Sameness of spirit among any number of minds is one thing; this unity "in the bond of peace" is quite another. Many suppose that if the former obtains, the latter will result, as a matter of course, if not of necessity. This is by no means true universally. The oneness of heart and character which the Spirit creates tends to foster bonds of peace among the brotherhood; but, in some instances, it may, for a time at least, fail of that result from differences of opinion on important subjectsdifferences arising from a limitation of the human faculties, even in sanctified minds. Paul and Barnabas, for example, had both in common, as we have formerly said, "received the Holy Ghost since they had believed," and were by a special revelation from the Spirit separated to the work which for a long period they had jointly prosecuted; but a temporary separation, if not alienation, obtained between them, in consequence of a difference of opinion in respect to a question regarded in common as involving an essential principle of our holy religion. Paul judged, that if they received Mark a second time to a companionship in the work, they would fellowship one who, by his former conduct, had proved himself untrustworthy. Barnabas judged, that in rejecting him they would deny fellowship with one who may have had good reason for the act of which Paul accused him, who was called of God to the work of the ministry, who had special qualifications for the work before them, and had been "endued with power from on high" for its prosecution. Here was a conscientious difference of opinion, and we have no reason to suppose that either quenched the Spirit in the separation which occurred between them. In the controversy, Paul was wrong, that is, misjudged, as his subsequent testimony in regard to Mark clearly evinces: "Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable unto me for the ministry." This error in judgment, and the consequent disastrous separation from an eminent servant of Christ, was, no doubt, of great use to Paul during his subsequent life, and was unquestionably the only error of the kind that he ever fell into. To it we may refer the many exhortations to Christian forbearance with which his epistles abound, especially the exhortations in the text, "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." If two inspired men, each of whom had received the Holy Ghost after believing, did differ in judgment, and did separate the one from the other, and thereby injure the cause of Christ both in and outside of the Church; and if, as Christ affirms, visible unity in the bonds of peace among the brotherhood is the condition on which the world will believe in Him, of what infinite moment is it that all the brotherhood in the Church should endeavor each to be one with and in Christ through the Spirit, and to be at peace among themselves. The object of the present chapter is to elucidate the great doctrine of "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," and to impress upon all believers a conviction of the duty and importance of making it their study and prayerful endeavor to induce and preserve this oneness.
This unity of the Spirit of which we speak does not imply that form of sameness which excludes all peculiarities of individual character. Who would desire to find in our forests and parks, or on our prairies and in our gardens, an absolute likeness in every tree, plant, and flower to every other? Or would desire to see a similar sameness among all human forms and countenances? Equally unwise would it be in God to produce a similar unity in the realm of mind and Spirit. Thought would stagnate, and all mental activity come to a dead standstill in a universe thus constituted. The Divine Spirit, when He dwells in a diversity of hearts, does effect a unity in all essential particulars. This unity, however, will be like that which His creative and sustaining energy produces in the external universea unity in which each mind differs from the other, just as one star differs from another star in glory. Nor does the unity of the Spirit imply, among individuals in whom He dwells, an absolute sameness of thought, feeling, and judgment, on all subjects mutually deemed important. Paul and Barnabas, as we have seen, had in common received the Holy Spirit since believing, and both in common were filled with the Spirit; yet they came to opposite conclusions on a subject mutually deemed important. Here we have unity of spirit and opposition of views in an important sphere of thought and judgment. What did obtain in this case may obtain in multitudes of other cases, and thus render necessary special endeavors "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace." All who have the Spirit are in fundamental particulars "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Other departments of thought and activity, however, God has left to the discretion of individuals. In the former relations unity, and in the latter diversity of thought and judgment, are to be anticipated.
What, then, is this unity of which we are speaking?
In general, let us say that it implies that expression of oneness of thought, feeling, and sentiment on moral and spiritual subjects, which produces the highest possible forms of moral and spiritual excellence in the individual, and in the social relations of life. Character adorns itself with the loftiest attributes of beauty and perfection, when, amid a great diversity of minds, each exercises, to the fullest extent, the prerogatives of independent thought and action; at the same time all having a supreme respect for the judgment of God, and regarding it as a small matter to be judged by man's judgment, even that of the brotherhood; and meanwhile, on subjects of essential importance, all are perfectly "joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment," no diversity or opposition obtaining, but in respect to things non-essential, and this diversity and opposition creating no discord. Now this is the Divine unity which the Spirit always effects when His influence gains complete ascendancy. To be somewhat particular, this unity of the Spirit implies:
1. A common and readily understood likeness of spirit and character to those of Christ. "We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image." Converse with any number of believers you please who "have received the Holy Ghost since they believed," and however diverse their circumstances, capacities, natural dispositions, and attainments, you will easily notice in all an essential and predominant unity in one important pointa spirit and temper, views and aims, altogether Christ-like. In all there will appear the same meekness and gentleness, the same patient endurance of wrong and afflictive providences, the same spirit of condescension and universal philanthropy, the same love to God and love of truth, the same purity of life and uncompromising opposition to sin in all its forms, the same unconditional subjection to the will of God, and the same implicit obedience to the law of duty, that dwelt in Christ, and beautified His life and character. In these respects there will be in all a fundamental unity or likeness, because that each takes his nature and form from a common origin and pattern which is all-powerful to conform every honest mind that submits to it as it is, to its own resemblance. Everyone who has received the Holy Ghost possesses and exhibits that Spirit in such measure and degree as to show Him to be the leading and all-controlling power of his life and character. Here we have "the unity of the Spirit" in its most important characteristics and manifestationsa common oneness with Christ, and likeness to Him.
2. Another peculiarity of this "unity of the Spirit" of which we speak is found in the supreme affection and regard that all have for Christ. All have in Christ one and the same common center, about which their thoughts, affections, and activities perpetually revolve in similar supreme love and devotion. Through Him all have a crucifixion to the world, and the world to them. In Him all have common hopes and joys, which never "make ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given unto us." They alike lean upon their Beloved. The voice of each is to Him, "Draw us, and we will run after Thee; my Beloved is mine, and I am His." Ritual names, all that is human and earthly, are lost sight of in Him.
"Names, and sects, and parties fall, And Christ, our Lord, is all in all."
3. A third feature of this "unity of the Spirit" is, all have in common "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ:" "Christ in you, the hope of glory;" "I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and be their God, and they shall be My people;" "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one;" "We will come unto Him, and make our abode with Him." What a divine and blessed unity must be induced in kindred minds, all of whom have such identical inward experiences and fellowships as these!
4. The last element and characteristic of "the unity of the Spirit" to which we would refer, is this: a common and superlative regard for the image and Spirit of Christ in whomsoever it may exist, and from whomsoever it may be reflected. That, in character, which a truly sanctified mind esteems and values above all other things, is the image and Spirit of Christ, the beauty of holiness manifested and reflected in the inward experience and outward life. "Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother and sister, and mother." This was the Spirit of Christ, and this is the ruling spirit and leading sentiment of all in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells. It is this spirit of impartial regard for moral purity in character that lays the foundation for that Divine form of Christian practice and experience denominated Christian fellowship, or brotherly love.
We have dwelt sufficiently upon the doctrine of the unity of the Spirit to show what it is. The next thought which demands attention is that form of oneness represented by the words,
"unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
Peace exists where harmony prevails to the exclusion of discord, and the bitterness of strife and division. "Bond of peace" implies a form of unity which not only excludes strife and discord, but resists and overcomes the strongest temptations to division and separation. Friendship is strong when neither absence nor the tongue of slander, diversity of opinion, nor seeming opposition of interest, can sunder or weaken the ties which unite loving hearts together. Take, for example, the friendship of David and Jonathan. Absence could not cool the ardor of their mutual love; nor could the tongue of envy, or rivalry of interest, sunder the bonds of peace by which their hearts were united. Christian unity and brotherly love imply friendship in the strongest form in which kindred minds can, by any possibility, be brought together. It is love, the same in kind as that which unites in one the ever blessed Persons of the sacred Trinity: "As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they may be one in us;" "That they may be one, as we are one." Worldly minds may be at peace one with the other, and may be united by ties of friendship apparently tender and strong. Such bonds, however, will stand but a feeble test. Slight cues of discord will sunder completely and forever such minds one from the other. The same holds true of that form of friendship which has its basis and source in the domestic affections. Fraternal love here will seldom endure even a division of a parental estate. But brotherly love, which has its basis and source in the "unity of the Spirit," is a bond of peace that endures to eternity, and which can by no possibility be sundered but by one of two causes, or both united a loss of Christian virtue, or an eclipse of Christian characterin which, from misunderstanding, or other reasons, sanctified minds for a time appear to each other as they are not. "The unity of the Spirit" not only induces peace among the brotherhood, but "bonds of peace." "The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" is kept when sanctified minds maintain their oneness with Christ, and have "fellowship one with another."
There is one peculiarity which distinguishes this unity from worldly friendship in all its forms. The broken ties of the latter form of love are seldom or never reunited. A friend once cooled repels all attempts at a reunion. Not so with Christian fellowship or brotherly love. Broken ties, rejoined, live when the causes of separation are fully removed, and reunited bonds of peace remain stronger than they ever existed before. The duty enjoined next claims our attentionviz., to make it our constant endeavor
"TO KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE"
Obedience to this principle implies two things: that it be our constant aim and endeavor to preserve in our own hearts, and in all sanctified minds around us, "the unity of the Spirit," or the oneness with the Spirit," or the oneness with Christ before described, unalloyed and untarnished, and to perpetuate among such this unity in the bond of peace: that is, to preserve Christian character wherever it exists untarnished, and to blend and keep all Christian minds in the one accord of Christian fellowship or brotherly love. Conceive of a certain number of associated minds and hearts, each "walking in the light as God is in the light," and all "having fellowship one with another;" while it is the steady endeavor of each and all to perpetuate and cement more and more this oneness with Christ on the one hand, and this mutual fellowship on the other, while all are watchfully guarding against all causes of corruption and discord from within and without this sanctified circle. We have here the identical state intended by the apostle when he penned the words of the text. That each believer should make it his steady and prayerful endeavor to induce and perpetuate among all the members of the household of faith "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," will appear evident from the following considerations:-
1. It is, in itself, the highest, the most perfect, and the most blessed state in which rational beings can exist and act. In this state, such minds not only have fellowship "one with another," but they all in common "walk with God, their fellowship being with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." There is no other state conceivable so exalted, so perfect, or so blessed as that. Now, if we ought to aim to induce in ourselves, and among the household of faith, the most perfect forms of virtue and the highest blessedness attainable, it should be our fixed and prayerful endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" among believers in all churches of the Redeemer.
2. The importance which Christ attaches to this state should impel every believer to use his constant and best endeavors to induce and perpetuate it. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one toward another." "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also that 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. And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me." Who, in the presence of such melting revelations, would sow discord in the household of faith? Who can avoid making it his constant endeavor to cherish and perpetuate a state, for the existence and continuance of which Christ thus intercedes with "His Father and our Father, and with His God and our God?" especially when, according to the judgment of Christ, the destiny of the world is suspended upon the existence and action of such unity among believers.
3. The revealed example of God Himself should be to us an all-constraining motive to influence us to the most earnest, constant, and prayerful endeavor to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." "Be ye, therefore, followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savor." "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." When a duty lies before us, upon the object of which the interests of the world are suspended, and obedience to which is urged upon us by such motives and by such an example, we surely should be prompt and tireless in its performance.
4. We urge, as another reason for the duty before us, the fact that without our watchful endeavor "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" will not be kept among the brotherhood of the household of faith. Unless believers "watch unto prayer," "the serpent who beguiled Eve will corrupt their minds from the simplicity of Christ." So without their prayerful endeavor to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," "that old serpent the devil," will create misunderstandings, and strife, and discord in the family of Christ. A purposeless life never was, and never will be, a loving or a peaceful one. Let it, then, be our fixed and prayerful endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
"Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love,"
And palsied be the tongue or the hand that shall sow discord and strife among the children of God.
5. We remark, finally, we should endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," because that when we cease to walk in the light, so as to have fellowship one with another, we lose all proper evidence of Christian character. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." "If any man love not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?" "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." "He that hateth his brother is a murderer, and we know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." Here, then, we have a fundamental test of Christian character. "Love is of God, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him." "He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love." In the conscious exercise of brotherly love, we have the witness of the Spirit that "we are the children of God." In the absence of such love, we lose all proper evidence that we are of God. In the opposite state, we have absolute proof that we have not eternal life abiding in us. How important, then, that we endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
1. In conclusion, we perceive clearly, in the light of our subject, that the duty imposed in the text has a far wider application than is commonly supposed. The words "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" imply "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" in the first case, and "fellowship one with another" in the next. Universal unity in both these respects is, according to the text, to be the object of our constant endeavor. Brotherly love merely is commonly understood as referred to in this passage. The keynote of Christian fellowship or unity is a common oneness with and in Christ: "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one."
2. We see, also, how discord in the household of faith should be regarded. It is in itself the root and consummation of all evil, and should be so considered, and that for two reasons. It tends to break up fellowship with God in the first case, and in the next, eclipses the glory of the gospel of Christ before the world.
3. We are now prepared to state definitely the true and proper conditions of Christian fellowship. It is not a mere profession of Christian character, but the presentation of valid evidence of the possession of genuine Christian virtue, or oneness with God. Sin is to be tolerated nowhere, and especially not within the Church of Christ. If an individual professes Christianity, and yet "walks disorderly," we are absolutely commanded to disfellowship him. If, on the other hand, an individual gives valid evidence that he has "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ," we must receive him into cordial fellowship, whatever his peculiarities in other respects may be; or we are in peril of parting company with God.