The Unity of the Spirit: Preface

Ephesians 4:3  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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The Unity of the Spirit is a sequel to the tract entitled There is One Body and One Spirit. Many souls have, more or less, apprehended the truth of “one body and one Spirit;” but have not yet grasped the force of the exhortation, which founds their practice on this fundamental truth.
It is hoped that, in the Lord’s rich mercy, this may be helpful to souls. “I, therefore the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:1-61I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:1‑6)).”
Here we find that there are unities connected with the Spirit, with the Lord, and with God. I treat here of the unity of the Spirit, as being specially connected with the, object of this paper. The observing of this unity is our responsibility; the others fall into their own places accordingly.
I would remark the use of an expression, which is used often to convey a right thought, but which you do not find in Scripture, that is, “the unity of the body.” “There is one body,” the unity of which is constituted by the Holy Spirit Himself; and we are exhorted to endeavor to keep this “unity of the Spirit (not ‘unity of the body) in the bond of peace.” If we were exhorted to endeavor to keep the unity of the body, we would be obliged to walk with every member of Christ, no matter in what association he might be found, or whatever his practice might be — no evil whatever would give us a warrant to separate from him. The endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit necessarily keeps us in the company and association with a divine Person here upon earth. It is not unity of spirit1, as has been put forward, but of “the Spirit” — the Holy Spirit.
Here I would note that which surely is so plain in the word as to make one almost ashamed of having to insist on it, that is, the personal presence of a divine Person — God, the Holy Spirit, here upon earth; not merely in each believer as an individual, but corporately, in the Church of God. The individual believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God — anointed, sealed (Rom. 8:99But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9), &c.; 1 Corinthians 6; 1 Cor. 12:13; 213For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Cor. 1:21,22; Eph. 1:13,1413In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13‑14), &c.), baptized by the Holy Spirit into one body, with all other believers. The baptism of the Holy Spirit does not leave him an isolated person. Its action connects him with all other believers, as a body, and with Christ the Head of His body (1 Cor. 12:12,1312For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12‑13)).2 The promise of the Lord as to the Comforter, was that he should not only be with them, but in them. The Lord was with them — the Holy Spirit in His absence, would be both with them, and in them, consequently the Holy Spirit at Pentecost not only “filled all the house,” but He “sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” &c. (Acts 2:2424Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. (Acts 2:24)). He not only filled each one, in Acts 4:3131And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31), at the gathering for prayer, but manifested His presence collectively in their midst, by shaking the place where they were assembled.
The saints are the body of Christ by one Spirit; but they are also the “habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)). God dwells amongst them, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them,” &c. (2 Cor. 6:1616And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2 Corinthians 6:16)). We have almost come to the state of the men at Ephesus (Acts 19), in being obliged to insist on this truth, when they said, “We did not even hear if (the) Holy Spirit was (come).” (Lit.) Things daily arising make it necessary to do so.
If the Church of God was in a healthy state, there would be no difference practically in the expressions “unity of the body” and “unity of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit Himself dwelling in the Church constitutes its unity, and practically embraces all the members of the body. If the Church was walking in the Spirit, the healthy action of the whole would be unimpaired. Still the unity remains, because the Spirit remains, even when the oneness, and healthy practice of the body as a whole is gone. The unity of a human body remains when a limb is paralyzed — but where is its oneness? The limb has not ceased to be of the body, but it has ceased to be in the healthy articulation of the body. Hence many Christians, while members of the body of Christ, are not endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
How, then, is the unity of the Spirit to be observed? What is “endeavoring” to do so? What is faithfulness to the nature of the Church, Christ’s body, in an evil day? It in Separation from Evil. My first duty must be to “depart from iniquity.” It may be moral, or doctrinal evil; evil assuming many shapes; I separate myself from it, to Christ. Thus separated, I find myself in the fellowship of the Spirit of God. Associated with the Holy Spirit here upon earth. He glorifies Christ, and dissociates me from everything contrary to Christ; associating me with that which is according to Christ. Thus it ceases to be a question of Christ’s members altogether, and becomes entirely a question of Christ, and of the Spirit of God, whom He glorifies. The notion that I may be wittingly associated with an evil principle, or doctrine, or practice, and undefiled, is an unholy notion. I may be perfectly free from it myself as not having imbibed it; but by practical association with it, I have left the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Thus separated into fellowship of the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of holiness and Spirit of truth, we find others who have done the same, and so we can be together happily in the fellowship of the Spirit of God. If there is a spot upon earth where the Lord can be, in unhindered blessing amongst His people, it in amongst those thus together, where there is nothing knowingly allowed inconsistent with His presence in the midst, or to grieve and hinder the Spirit of God. It is not a question merely of how the saints may be together, but of a place where the Lord Himself may be with them, in free and unhindered blessedness, to manifest His presence amongst those who seek to be faithful to Him in an evil day.
The primary step must be, “Let him that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:1919Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Timothy 2:19)). Members of Christ are mixed up with much evil on all sides. I must separate myself from such, to walk in the fellowship of, and with, the Spirit of God, who keeps me in company with Christ. To Philadelphia, Christ says, “He that is holy, he that is true” (Rev. 3). The Spirit of God is the Spirit of holiness and the Spirit of truth. Holiness will not do without the truth, or the truth without holiness. The absence of either is not the Spirit of God.
Now, in an evil day, when the faithful endeavor, through His grace, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, the practice of the fellowship and unity of the Spirit is necessarily a narrow platform, entirely apart from evil, and excluding evil from its midst, while, in the breadth of its principles, it contemplates the whole Church of God. Wide enough in principle to receive every member of Christ, all over the world; narrow enough to exclude evil most carefully from its midst. Anything short of this breadth is a sectarian principle, and ceases to be of the Holy Spirit; while the breadth of the principle contemplates every member of Christ. Those gathered thus in the unity and fellowship of the Spirit, necessarily are jealous, with godly jealousy, lest anything should be admitted, either of doctrine or practice, or witting association with such, that would put those who admitted it practically out of the fellowship of the Spirit.
[Before passing on with my subject, I would note that a person may be perfectly sound in doctrine, and holy in life and practice, and yet be a partaker of the evil deeds of another (2 John 9-119Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 10If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: 11For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (2 John 9‑11)) who brings not the doctrine of Christ. The effort is made to graduate the amount of evil by remoteness of contact with it.3 Scripture makes but two degrees: either the person who brings not the doctrine of Christ, that is, personally unsound in the faith, or in other words, a heretic; and he who shows a courtesy to such. He who does so may remain himself sound in the faith, but is treated in Scripture as partaker of the evil deeds of the other. If he has imbibed the doctrine of the other, he ceases to be a partaker, and becomes a heretic himself. These are the two degrees. Evil is evil in Scripture, be the amount great or small; and good is good. It is either of the Spirit of God, or it is not of the Spirit of God.]
Now this “endeavor” does not confine itself to those only who have come together thus in separation from evil, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is not observed merely one towards the other. Its aspect is towards, and has in view, every member of Christ, in whatsoever association he may be — even those not thus gathered in the fellowship of the Spirit. Those who are thus maintaining the truth, are by this showing their truest and most faithful love to those who are not practically with them. Abiding in the light, in uncompromising fidelity to Christ, and fellowship in the Spirit of God, is their truest love to their brethren. They do not compromise the light and truth of their position by leaving it for the darkness; but, if they have grace, they win their brethren into the light, to walk with them in the truth likewise.
A word here to my beloved brethren, who have been called and honored of God, to occupy such a place, in these last evil days. How deeply responsible are they that all their words and actions may so fully bear the test of the light and truth of God, that no occasion of stumbling be found in them, to hinder their brethren in any wise. Let there be such simple, blessed devotedness to Christ and His glory seen in them, that their brethren who are seeking God’s path in the labyrinth around, may be drawn towards the truth, and the place where Christ is with them so specially; and their feet guided in the path where He is, the place where He can freely be with His people. Let them be found in such a place in an evil day —and the character of their walk be simple and fervent devotedness to Christ; thoroughly dependent upon Him, as conscious of their weakness — thoroughly devoted to Him, and to that Church which He loves. I believe, if they were walking in the power and grace of the position they have been called to, that not alone their brethren, who ought to be with them, but the world itself would have to own, “If ought be true on earth, that is!” The counterfeits of the enemy, too, would expose themselves. Let them ever be prepared to make much of Christ and of the path into which He has called them in special association with Himself, in His unspeakable grace, so that He may say to them, “Thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” There would then be a savor and a power in the simple fact, that Christ was everything amongst them, that nothing could imitate?
Through the Lord’s great mercy, this endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace has been accorded to His saints, and many have had faith, in seeing the pathway, to embrace it. When such exists, the effort many have made to take a place outside, and independently of those who have been thus led of the Lord, is merely the self-will of man, and to be treated as such.
If the simplest saints, as has frequently been the case, have been drawn together in the Lord’s name — even without any intelligence of what the ground of one body, one Spirit, is — of necessity it binds them with all those elsewhere, who have been before them in the way, because subjects of like action of God’s Spirit, and who may have learned the more fully Divine ground of gathering. They may slip away very easily from it, and get linked up with evil, if not watchful; and the enemy works incessantly to this end. But it is utterly untenable to suppose that they can intelligently maintain a divine ground of gathering, and ignore what the same Spirit has wrought amongst others before them.
Scripture admits no such independency, more especially when it is coupled with the profession of the truth of one body and one Spirit, without the practice flowing from such a truth. To maintain an independent position, is to accept one which puts them practically out of the unity of the Spirit. Very probably such had come together at first in the energy of the Holy Spirit, in all simplicity, as gathering in the name of the Lord. By falling into such a course they slip away from the company and fellowship of God’s Spirit. They had begun in the Spirit, and have ended, or are on the way to it, in the flesh.
Walking in the fellowship and unity of the Spirit, involves distinct separation from all who are not in practice doing so likewise. This tries the saints much at times. The enemy uses it to alarm the weaker saints. The cry of want of charity is at once raised. But when it becomes a question of being in the fellowship of the Spirit of God, it ceases to be a question of brethren merely. If those who are otherwise holy in practice will not walk therein; and others have had light and grace to do so, it must involve separation on the part of the latter. To the flesh this is terrible. But human love must not be mistaken for divine love; and fellowship in the flesh, for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will not bend Himself to our ways, or be in fellowship with us; we must bend our ways into practical fellowship with Him. Therefore Peter bids us to add “to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:77And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. (2 Peter 1:7)). Brotherly kindness will sink into mere love of brethren, because we like their society, &c., if not guarded by the divine tie which preserves it as of God. God is love, and God is light; and, “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” To exact brotherly love in such a manner as to shut out the requirements of that which God is (as light and as love) (and He dwells in the church by His Spirit), and of His claims upon us, is to shut out God in the most plausible way, in order to gratify our own hearts.
I beseech my brethren, as they value and love the Blessed One, who gave Himself for His Church, to pause ere accepting a position which must practically put them outside the unity of God’s Spirit. The Lord Jesus gave Himself to redeem you; and not only so, but He died, “that he might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:5252And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. (John 11:52)). It ought to be on our hearts all day long, that that is scattered which Christ died to gather. He will surely gather them in heaven; but He died to gather them together in one, now. It can be but in keeping the unity of the Spirit of God; and if not thus, it is not what He died to effect. If it is not gathering with Christ, it is scattering, however plausible and well it may look in the eyes of men. God is working graciously in many places; and the enemy is working too, to try and mystify souls just emerging out of darkness, and link them up with the principles of neutrality, indifference, and independency; anything but the truth.
God has, in His mercy to His Church, gathered many saints together in the truth and unity of the Spirit, to the name of the Lord.4 They have, through much deep mercy, and failings and shortcomings innumerable, been maintained in it. A merciful Lord has sustained them in the pathway, through evil report and good report. To accept ground independently of that to which God had already by these truths recalled souls to walk in and act upon, is to forfeit the place in the truth and unity of the Spirit which has been accorded of the Lord, and to slip away from the fellowship of the Spirit of God.
The saints may be assured of this, that they will find, on the one hand, that there is no barrier placed by those who occupy this place which God has graciously given, to their walking in the truth; they will find, on the other, there is nothing that can be a bar to their being with them. The platform is as wide as the Spirit of God — wide enough for them all in principle. But it cannot admit of that which would exclude the free action of the Holy Spirit in the truth. They will find it to be a place, however feeble and little they are, that He owns and blesses. Sustaining His feeble ones in it, in richest mercy, and according to them the divine consciousness that it is His pathway in an evil day.
In conclusion, I add a word as to the reception of our brethren amongst us. The simple and blessed title to be with us at the Lord’s Table is, The confession of, and membership of Christ, with holiness of walk. There is no other — no inner circle. The intelligence of those received, while good in its place, has nothing whatever to do with their reception. Those that receive should be intelligent in what they are doing. The moment they look for intelligence in those who seek communion, it is they who cease to be intelligent. But there is a distinction to be observed in dealing with those who have had to do with evil associations, in jealous care for the Lord’s name; those who are wittingly associated with evil, and those unwittingly linked up with it. We read “of some have compassion, making a difference, and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 2222And of some have compassion, making a difference: (Jude 22),23). Then again, there is surely a wide difference between those who have been mixed up with an ecclesiastical mistake (as the Established systems,5 &c.), and those who have been associated with what assumes a divine position, as of God; and have been false to it. Each has to be treated as he deserves.
The basis and principle of the unity of the Spirit, thus contemplated, embrace the whole Church of God. The fact of those who have been mixed up with evil, or worldly systems, seeking fellowship, shows that they are separating themselves to the Lord. This should meet with a ready response. The more deeply we become conscious of the divine character of the place we have been called into by the Lord’s grace, the more ready will be the response of our heart towards all Christ’s members. At the same time, we will grow in the strength and conviction of the holiness that belongs to God’s habitation through the Spirit; and, by His grace, we will watch against the wiles of the enemy in seeking to let in that which would grieve the Spirit of God, and hinder the Lord in identifying Himself with us, and manifesting His presence in our midst.
The Lord in His mercy keeps His faithful ones true and devoted to Him in these evil days. They may be but a remnant; but there were two things which ever marked the faithful remnant at any time,
1st, Devotedness to the Lord;
2nd, Strict attention to fundamental principles. We find, too, that they were ever the objects of His special attention and care. Their very feebleness drew this forth the more strikingly. It was with them He identified Himself most specially. They have but a “little strength” — but through His mercy they have used it; and it has brought them into the spot where He is. The Lord give them to keep His word, and not deny His name — to hold fast that which they have, that no man take their crown. Amen.
1. Many an assemblage of Christians is but the ‘unity’ of the human spirits.
2. See footnote 3.
3. This is seen in objectors who sarcastically speak of defilement carried ad infinitum.
4. A mighty effort of the enemy was put forth to ruin and destroy that which God had, some years before, brought to light, and had committed to His people. (I refer to a now well-known crisis ——1845 — 1850). A mightier effort of the Spirit of God preserved the truth amongst a remnant of those who had been together, in separating them from the mass. (The reference is first, to B. W. Newton, whose teaching put Christ at an “unspeakable circumstantial distance from God,” a teaching he held and taught throughout his life; and second, to the unholy reaction to this by Bethesda, England assembly — the origin of Open Brethrenism.}
5. That is, national church systems, established by the government.