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och, to denote their subjection to him? Is Christ divided? And how many Christ's have ye? Into how many fractions have ye divided your blessed Saviour? and into how many more will you yet divide him, before your di visions shall have an end? Know ye not that the church constitutes but one body, of which Christ himself is the head, and of which you are all members? Have read in the Scriptures that there must be no divisions among you?
Were there room for any remaining doubt whether the division into sects is a violation of its constitutional unity, we might adduce further evidence, from a more particular consideration of the figures of speech, employed by the Saviour and his apostles, to express the unity of the church.
When our Lord represents himself as the vine, he represents his disciples as the branches. Hereby is expressed, not only an intimate union between himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches, but also, an intimate and inseparable union between the branches themselves. While the branches remain attached to the vine, they draw their nourishment from it, and each branch communicates of its support to all the rest; but by detaching one of the branches, its union with the vine and the other branches is destroyed, and its nourishment from the parent stock, and the benefit it receives from the other branches must cease. How absurd would be the idea, that this detached branch should still claim to derive its nourishment from the parent stock, and to be yet united to the other branches! Not less absurd is the idea, that a portion of the church, after it is detached from the rest by its formation into a distinct sect, should yet claim to be united to those from whom they are torn away.
Another figure employed to represent the unity of the church, as we have already had occasion to remark, is that of the human body composed of all its various members. There is an intimate union between all the parts of the body; the severance of one of the members is the destruction of that member, and mutilates the body. Between all the members too, there is a mutual dependence; one cannot say to the other, I have no need of thee; and when one suffers, the others also suffer with it, as is beautifully and strongly illustrated in the first epistle to the Corinthians, already referred to. It would be most absurd for the foot or any other member to insist on a severance from the body, because of a lack of harmony between it and the other members; and after its severance to claim that it still maintains its former union with the body. Equally absurd is it for any one or any number of believers to separate themselves from the church because of the want of union in feeling, mind, opinion, counsel or action between them and the other members of the church; and alike absurd is it that those who are thus separated should claim that they are, notwithstanding, still maintaining their union with those from whom they have been severed.
Again, believers are called the family of God on earth. A well ordered family will be harmonious in their feelings, views, plans, and actions. So long as it is the design of the institution, that a human family shall remain together, they will so remain, promoting each other's comfort and happiness, and qualifying the different members of it for the parts they are expected to act in life, after their retirement at the proper time, from the family circle. They do not separate for the reason that they cannot live together in peace and love. When
ever a separation for this cause actually takes place, the design of the institution of families is subverted, the family loses its character, and is disgraced even in the eyes of the world. It was the design of God, clearly expressed in the Scriptures, that the church should always be one; that all Christians in every place should worship, pray, render thanksgiving and praise together, except only where numbers and distance of place prevent; that they should counsel and act together, for the salvation of sinners, for promoting the welfare of the whole family of believers, and qualifying each member for a place, which, after their removal from the family of the saints below, they hope to occupy in the family of God in heaven. There ought not to be a breaking up of the family of God's church for the reason that its members cannot harmonize together, and whenever such an event does in point of fact occur, the family is disgraced in the eye of God, forasmuch as they have subverted the constitution which he has himself ordained for his church.
Another expressive figure employed by the Holy Spirit in speaking of the church, is that of a sheepfold. Mark the expression, a sheep fold. Not an enclosure for dogs, wolves, or tigers, between whom it is necessary to build walls of great strength and height to keep them from biting, tearing, and destroying one another; but of harmless, peaceable sheep, that may safely be kept together in flocks, be they never so large, and which are divided into several folds, only for the purpose of supplying to them with more facility their food, and their other necessities and conveniences. And must it be confessed, that the sheep of Christ cannot live together in peace? Do they embody so much of the nature of the ferocious brute, as that the only means of preventing
one from destroying another, is to keep them at a safe distance? Even thieves and robbers can live in bands of brotherhood in the same den, with nothing but the tie of interest and common danger to keep them together. But the children of Christ's kingdom cannot live in a state of union, although they are exposed to hosts of common enemies, and all have the same everlasting interests, and ought to be bound in the same bond of love, and all the holy ties of religion. What a libel on the character of christianity! What a perverted exhibition of its nature and influence !
THE BOND OF UNION.
We have thus seen that God tolerates no divisions in his church, having constituted it one and indivisible. He well knew at the same time that the church was composed and would be composed of fallible men, who needed every guard and help to keep them in the bond of unity, and preserve them from the danger of schism. He has, therefore, given abundant directions in his holy word, to provide against this danger, and which, had they been obeyed, in the measure in which men have ability to obey them, would have preserved the unity of the church.
The great principle inculcated in the Scriptures for maintaining the unity of the church, is love.
God himself is love. The union between the believer and his Lord, is a union of love and confidence; and Christians are bound to live in love to each other in the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace. The last command of the Saviour to his disciples was, that they should love one another. The apostle John declares the love of the brethren to be the great test of Christian character, and argues that it is wholly vain for a man to
pretend that he loves God, if he does not evince love for his brother. The exercise of love required among the members of God's family, is not merely an abstinence from hatred and hostility, but the exercise of affection, the feeling and manifestation of kindness, the desire of maintaining intercourse with each other; nay, of being together, counselling and acting together, honouring their master and head together, suffering together, rejoicing together, rendering thanksgiving together, worshipping and praying together, and holding communion together at the Lord's table.
The truth of all this will not be denied; but how, it will be asked, is this principle of love to be maintained, while there is so much in the infirmities, not to say vicious propensities of men to impair and expel it?
We answer that the great secret for the preservation of love in the church and in every other community, is forbearance. Where this duty is not religiously observed, love cannot long subsist among sinful mortals; but where the duty is recognised, appreciated and performed, love and unity will be maintained, until the offending party shall wholly forfeit his character as a member of the community, and not only authorize, but demand an expulsion.
The Scripture abounds in its requisitions of this duty of forbearance. The Lord Jesus Christ inculcates it, both by precept and example. He inculcates it by precept, in commanding his disciples to practice the mutual forgiveness of injuries, not only once, but an indefinite number of times; by diverting the attention of his followers more to the beam in their own eye, than to the mote in the eye of their brother; by cautioning against the exercise of a rash and uncharitable judgement of