February 19, 1880 Unity of the Church
As all the different members of the human system unite to form the body, and each performs its office in obedience to the intelligence that governs the whole, so the members of the church of Christ should be united in one symmetrical body, subject to the sanctified intelligence of the whole. The advancement of the church is often retarded by the wrong course of its members. Uniting with the church, although an important and necessary step, does not make one a Christian or insure salvation. We cannot secure a title to Heaven by having our names enrolled upon the church book, while our hearts are not in unison with Christ and his people. We should be his faithful representatives on earth, working in harmony with him. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God." We should keep in mind this holy relationship, and do nothing to bring dishonor upon our Father's cause.
Our profession is an exalted one. As Christians, we profess to obey all of God's commandments, and to look for the coming of our Redeemer. A most solemn message of warning has been intrusted to God's faithful few. We should show by our words and works that we recognize the great responsibility laid upon us. Our light should shine so clearly that others can see that we glorify the Father in our daily lives; that we are connected with Heaven and are joint heirs with Jesus Christ; that when he shall appear in power and great glory, we may be like him.
We should feel our individual responsibility as members of the visible church and workers in the vineyard of the Lord. We should not wait for our brethren, who are frail as ourselves, to help us along; for our precious Saviour has invited us to join ourselves to him, and unite our weakness with his strength, our ignorance to his wisdom, our unworthiness to his merits. None of us can occupy a neutral position. We are active agents for Christ or for the enemy. We either gather with Jesus or scatter abroad. True conversion is a radical change. The very drift of the mind and bent of the heart should be turned, and the life should become new in Christ.
God is leading out a people to stand in perfect unity upon the platform of eternal truth. Christ gave himself to the world "that he might purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." This refining process is designed to purge the church from the spirit of discord and contention and from all unrighteousness, that they may build up instead of tearing down, and may concentrate their energies on the great work before them. God designs that his people should all be joined together in unity of faith. The prayer of Christ just before his crucifixion was, that his disciples might be one, even as he was one with the Father, that the world might believe that the Father had sent him. This most touching and wonderful prayer reaches down the ages, even to our day; for his words were, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." How earnestly should the professed followers of Christ seek to answer this prayer in their lives. Many do not realize the sacredness of the church relation, and are loth to submit to restraint and discipline. Their course of action shows that they exalt their own judgment above that of the united church; and they are not careful to guard themselves lest they encourage a spirit of opposition to its voice.
Those who hold responsible positions in the church may have their faults in common with other people, and may err in their decisions; but, notwithstanding this, the church of Christ on earth has given them an authority that cannot be lightly esteemed. Christ, after his resurrection, delegated power to his church, saying, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." A relation to the church is not to be easily canceled; yet some professed followers of Christ will threaten to leave the church when their path is crossed, or their voice has not the controlling influence which they think it deserves. But in doing this they would themselves be the greatest sufferers; for in withdrawing beyond the pale of the church's influence, they subject themselves to the full temptations of the world.
Every believer should be whole-hearted in his attachment to the church. Its prosperity should be his first interest, and unless he feels under sacred obligations to make his connection with the church a benefit to it rather than to himself, it can do far better without him. It is in the power of all to do something for the cause of God. Some spend a large amount for needless luxuries and to gratify their appetites, but feel it a great tax to contribute means to sustain the church. They are willing to receive all the benefits of its privileges, but prefer to leave others to pay the bills. Those who really feel a deep interest in the advancement of the cause, will not hesitate to invest money in the work whenever and wherever it is needed. They should also feel it a solemn duty to illustrate in their characters the teachings of Christ, being at peace one with another and moving in perfect harmony as an undivided whole. They should waive their individual opinion to the judgment of the church. Many live for themselves alone. They look upon their lives with great complacency, flattering themselves that they are blameless, when in fact they are doing nothing for God, and are living in direct opposition to his expressed word. The observance of external forms will never meet the great want of the human soul. A mere profession of Christ is not enough to prepare one to stand the test of the Judgment. There should be a perfect trust in God, a childlike dependence upon his promises, and an utter consecration of self to his will.
God has ever tried his people in the furnace of affliction, in order to prove them firm and true, and purge them from all unrighteousness. After Abraham had borne the severest test that could be imposed upon him, God spoke to him by his angel as follows: "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me." This great act of faith causes the character of Abraham to shine forth with remarkable luster. It forcibly illustrates his perfect confidence in the Lord, from whom he withheld nothing, not even his son of promise.
There is nothing too precious for us to give to Jesus. If we return to him the talents of means he has intrusted to our keeping, he will give more into our hands. Every effort we make for Christ will be rewarded by him; and every duty we perform in his name will minister to our own happiness. God surrendered his dearly beloved Son to the agonies of the crucifixion, that all who believe on him should become one through the name of Jesus. When Christ made so great a sacrifice to save men and bring them into unity one with another, even as he was united with the Father, what sacrifice is too great for his followers to make, in order to preserve that unity?
If the world sees a perfect harmony existing in the church of God, it will be a powerful evidence to them in favor of the Christian religion. Dissensions, unhappy differences, and petty church-trials dishonor our Redeemer. All these may be avoided, if self is surrendered to God, and the followers of Jesus obey the voice of the church. Unbelief suggests that individual independence increases our importance, that it is weak to yield to the verdict of the church our own ideas of what is right and proper. But to cherish such feelings and views will only bring anarchy into the church and confusion to ourselves. Christ saw that unity and Christian fellowship were necessary to the cause of God, therefore he enjoins it upon his disciples. And the history of Christianity from that time until now proves conclusively that in union only there is strength. Let individual judgment submit to the authority of the church.
The apostles felt the necessity of strict unity, and they labored earnestly to this end. Paul exhorted his brethren in these words: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
He also writes to his Philippian brethren: "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
To the Romans he writes, "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus, that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God." "Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits."
Peter wrote to the churches scattered abroad: "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise, blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing."
And Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians says: "Finally,
brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live
in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you."