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Christ's Providential Government of the World

Christ’s Providential Government of the World

Psalm, 97:1

The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.

Many persons profess to believe that there is a God who created all things, and even to credit the gospel also, who are not established in the faith of his particular providence in governing the world. Some of those who are of a speculative cast will tell us, that God acts not by particular but by general laws; that these laws were impressed in the original constitution and nature of things at the creation, and that everything must necessarily operate according to the law of its nature, without any need of divine immediate agency; just as a clock once constructed, wound up, and set a going, will move on of its own accord without any assistance of the artificer till it has run the length of its paces. They think it far beneath the Deity to be continually attentive to the concerns of his creatures, especially the particular concerns of individuals. So that their whole scheme amounts ultimately to this—that though God at first created the world, he hath left the government of it to these unmeaning sounds—nature, chance, or fate.

The text, however, gives us better information; for it declares, that the lord reigneth. He not only at first made all things, and impressed upon them laws in their original formation, but he also continues to superintend and govern all his works by his providence; and upholds, directs, and disposeth of creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the most minute; and that according to his own most perfect holiness, wisdom, and goodness. This is a most important and comfortable doctrine to the fearers of God; and so the earth is called, upon the consideration thereof, to be glad and rejoice.

I. We shall consider this as it relates to God’s providential kingdom in governing the world.

II. To the reign of the Messiah, which also includes the former as subservient to it.

III. The use to be made of this doctrine.

The whole word of God is full of this comfortable truth, that Jehovah reigneth, and that his kingdom ruleth over all, Psalm, 103:19.

1. It shews us plainly, that God not only foresees whatever comes to pass, but also determines the time, circumstances, and manner of it. So he says himself, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure,” Isaiah, 46; 9:10. Here he not only declares his foreknowledge, but his determinate counsel with regard to future events; or what is commonly called his decrees as the Sovereign of the world. But this is not all; he also declares, that he will most certainly put his determinations into execution—“My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” So he is said to “work all things after the counsel of his own will,” Eph. 1:11. and to “do according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” Dan. 4:35. True indeed, he often, nay ordinarily, uses the instrumentality of second causes and free agents to execute his purpose; nay, even the wicked intentions and actions of men he over-rules and makes subservient to his holy, just, and good designs, as in the case of Joseph and his brethren, Gen. 50:20. and in the delivering up of Christ to be crucified, Acts, 2:23. with many other instances that might be produced; but yet both these events are ascribed unto God, Gen. 45:8; Acts, 3:18. and 4:28.—He has also the particular circumstances of every event under his direction and management. It is the combination and adjustment of circumstances that, naturally speaking, produceth the event intended. If these were left loose and unsettled, so must the effect which depends upon them. Not that God is confined to one train of circumstances; he can bring about his purpose in innumerable ways: but it plainly appears from scripture, that he hath determined all the means and circumstances conducive to a purposed event, as well as the event itself, and that he uses and manages them all to that end with infinite skill. This might be clearly illustrated from the fore-mentioned accounts of Joseph and the death of Christ.—His providence is not only engaged in the great affairs of the world, such as the government and revolutions of empires and states, but it extends to the private and minute concerns of individuals. Christ says of his people, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered,” Matt. 10:30. Nay, the very smallest of his irrational creatures are the subjects of his care and goodness: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father,” Matt. 10:29. or as Luke has it, “none of them is forgotten of God,” ch. 12:6. In short, the scripture abundantly holds forth that Jehovah reigneth, not only in his miraculous providences towards his ancient people, but in his universal government of the world, Psalm, 83:18. and that not only in the great concerns of the world, but also in the particular minute concerns of individuals. Nor does he reign merely as the upholder, and preserver, and disposer of all things, but as the moral governor of his rational creatures. He judges the world in righteousness, and to him they are accountable as the Sovereign and righteous Judge of all the earth, who will do justice to every one. Indeed his government of the natural world is clearly subservient to his moral government, which makes the chief figure in revelation. Every view therefore we can take of proper reign or government is applicable in the highest degree to Jehovah.

What generally blind men’s minds as to his providential government, are—The intervention of means or second causes—Their ignorance of God’s design in many providences—And, as to his moral government, the afflictions of the righteous, and the prosperity and impunity of the wicked in this life, tend to obscure it in the eyes of many.

1. As to means or second causes—Some of them operate naturally, or according to the established course of nature, such as the sun dispensing light and heat—the regular succession of seasons, with all their effects—the propagation and death of animals—the qualities and operations of certain parts of matter, as that of fire to burn, &c. In a thousand such things men are apt to lose sight of providence on account of their being so regular and fixed; yet the scripture makes the established course of nature to depend immediately upon God—“He upholdeth all things by the word of his power,” Heb. 1:3.—He actuates all things, and gives natural causes their energy and effect. He maketh the sun to know his rising and going down, Psalm, 104:19. He maketh day and night, light and darkness, Psalm, 74:16. and 104:20. The succession of seasons is established by covenant not necessity, Gen. 8:22. and all their produce in like manner, Psalm, 104:13–16; Acts, 14:17.—It is he that multiplies the race of men; he made us and not we ourselves, Psalm, 100:3.—It is in him we live; and it is he that killeth as well as maketh alive—It is he who gave the fire its nature, and who continues its operation. The established course of nature is part of the divine government, wherein his glory is to be seen, Psalm, 19:1, 2. and he makes natural causes to fulfil his particular purposes. He has in many instances suspended and altered the course of nature at pleasure. He has arrested the sun and moon in their courses, and even made the sun go backwards. He has used the elements as instruments of his righteous vengeance, punishing a guilty city with fire and brimstone from heaven, and a wicked world with an universal deluge. When he wanted to shew his power in behalf of his people, he suspended the operations of nature; the water did not drown, nor the fire consume, nor hungry voracious lions devour them.

There are second causes which act voluntarily, or from their own choice and design, such as rational creatures. This so much resembles the Deity’s own manner of acting, that men are apt to look upon the free agent as the first cause, and so to overlook divine providence in the matter. But God rules over the spirits of free agents as well as over inanimate matter, (though in another way) and makes all their motions and determinations subservient to his purpose. Kings have the greatest power and influence in the nations of this world; but their “hearts are in the hand of the Lord; as the rivers of water he turneth them whithersoever he will,” Prov. 21:1. and this holds as well with respect to bad as to good kings. He maketh them the instruments of good or evil, of mercy or judgment, as he sees proper; witness Cyrus, Vespasian, &c. Sometimes he uses the wisdom and sagacity of men; at other times he makes very small and unlooked-for things to blast and defeat the best human plans, and the very wrath of man he makes to praise him. All that favour on the one hand, or distress on the other, which we receive by the will of man is directed by him. We may see this in the instance of Joseph, of Paul, and of others.—Some second causes appear to us fortuitous or accidental, and hence we are ready to imagine they are under no direction but pure chance. But nothing is chance with God. A man draws a bow at a venture, but it kills Ahab as the Lord purposed, 1 Kings, 22:34. Another is trodden to death in a crowd, as it were accidentally, but it is to punish his unbelief, 2 Kings, 7:19, 20. The thing that has the greatest appearance of chance to us is a lot, yet we are told that the determination thereof is of the Lord, Prov. 16:33. as exemplified in the cases of Achan, Josh. 7:18. and of Matthias, Acts, 1:24–26.

2. Ignorance of God’s design in many providences is another reason why men do not recognize his hand in them. His way is often in the sea, and his path in the deep waters, so that his footsteps are not known. And when men cannot trace how such and such dark providences tend either to the glory of God or the good of his creatures, but seem to militate against both, they are apt to entertain doubts if the Lord have them under his special direction. But it is not only unreasonable; it is arrogant to circumscribe providence by our conceptions, or to deny his government in everything which we do not understand, considering how limited our knowledge is. What conceptions could we form of the mazy, intricate, and dark providences which have issued in some of the most glorious events that ever took place in the world, such as Israel’s bondage in Egypt, the sufferings of Christ, the rejection of the Jews, &c? Is it not enough that we are told, that he reigns in the darkest providences, and will make all things work together for good to them that love him?

3. His moral government is darkened to many by the afflictions of the righteous, and the prosperity and impunity of the wicked in this life. This stumbled the Psalmist greatly, and led him to doubt the Lord’s concern in human affairs, see Psalm, 73—But it should be noticed, that the wicked have not always gone unpunished in this world. The wrath of God has not only been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men in his word, but in the most striking and signal judgments; witness the case of the old world, of Sodom, of Egypt, the Canaanites, the unbelieving Jews, &c. enough to show that God is the hater of iniquity. On the other hand, many signal and miraculous deliverances has he given to his people; witness Noah, Israel, the three children, Daniel, &c. all which openly demonstrate his love of righteousness.—The justice of the divine administration cannot be properly seen if we judge of it by what takes place in this life only. So much of it is to be seen as to make men know that God reigneth to the ends of the earth; but the scripture refers us chiefly to a future state for clearing up the justice of his moral government.—The afflictions of the people of God in this life are declared to be for their benefit in relation to another life; while the prosperity of the wicked is but of short duration, and hurtful to their eternal interests.

II. Let us consider the words as they relate to the reign of the Messiah, in which the former is included as subservient to it.

That these words do apply to the Messiah is plain beyond all dispute, provided we allow the inspired apostle to be a proper commentator; for he quotes the 7th verse of this Psalm, and applies it to Jesus as risen from the dead, and exalted far above angels, Heb. 1:6. “And when again he bringeth the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” The original is, worship him all ye gods, (elohim) which the seventy translate his angels, and the apostle, angels of God; but the sense is the same in all. As, therefore, the apostle applies ver. 7 to Christ as God’s first-begotten from the dead and heir of all things, and exalted above angels who are commanded to worship him, it is evident the first verse must apply to him; and that of him it is said, “Jehovah reigneth, let the earth rejoice, and the multitude of isles be glad thereof;” for there is no change of person intervening; nay, it is clear that the command given to angels to worship him in ver. 7. is grounded on his reign, ver. 1. The Psalm contains a grand description of the majesty and universality of Christ’s reign, who is repeatedly termed Jehovah: “The Lord (viz. the Messiah) reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.” In ver. 5. he is termed, the Lord of the whole earth, before whose presence the hills melt like wax, every obstacle giving way to him. It is added, “The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory,” ver. 6. Then follows a denunciation of confusion and shame upon idolaters or worshippers of idols, “Confounded be all they who serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols,” which was the practice of the whole heathen world; while at the same time the Messiah is pointed out as the true object of worship not only from men, but from the highest created beings; “Worship him all ye gods,” ver. 7. and the reason is given, “For thou, Jehovah, art high above all the earth, thou art exalted (viz. in consequence of his resurrection) far above all gods,” ver. 9. all the angels being made subject to him. Then the saints are called to view him as their deliverer, to rejoice in him as their king, and to give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness, ver. 10–12. All this gives us a most exalted view of the dignity of the Savior, Jehovah, the Lord of the whole earth,—the object of the religious worship of angels.

This appears to me to be the view which the apostle had of this Psalm. And if so, it gives us a most extensive view of Christ’s kingdom or dominion.

I do not intend at present to treat of Christ’s kingdom in that sense wherein it respects only his peculiar people and church whom he hath redeemed, and who shall all finally partake of his glory; nor yet of the visible appearance of that kingdom among men, which includes many false professors. This has been frequently handled agreeably to the scriptures. But what I have in view is his universal kingdom, or dominion, over the whole creation of God. Upon this I would observe,

1. That he was naturally entitled to this universal dominion as the Creator of all things: for “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made,” John, 1:3. And that not only the lower creation, but the highest intelligences in heaven; “for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him, and by him all things consist,” Col. 1:16, 17. The relation of the Creator to his creatures, gives the most undoubted right of sovereign dominion over them. But then,

2. The apostle does not adduce this Psalm to prove Christ’s universal dominion as Creator, but as the Messiah raised from the dead and exalted above angels; as Lord and heir of all things, having all things put under him, see Heb. chap. 1; 2. and 8 and that by w ay of donation from the Father who thus exalted and constituted him heir of all things. So that we must understand the Psalm speaking of him as in our nature or as the Son, when it saith, the Lord reigneth, ver. 1. and when it terms him universally “the Lord of the whole earth,” ver. 5. and not only so, but when it declares him high above all the earth, and exalted far above all gods, i. e. the angels of God in heaven who are commanded to worship him.

Some texts express the universal dominion and authority of Christ in general terms. He himself says, “All things are delivered to me of my Father,” Matt. 11:27. The Baptist says, “The Father loveth the Son, and he hath given all things into his hand,” John, 3:35. Peter says, He is Lord of all, Acts, 10:36. and Paul observes upon the universal word all in Psalm, 8:6. “For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him,” Heb. 2:8. These universal expressions therefore must be taken in an unlimited sense.

There are other texts which mention the extensive bounds of his dominion, as well as the creatures and things which are the subjects of it. He says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” Matt. 28:18. Heaven, then, is one part of his extensive empire. He is exalted far above all heavens; there his throne is at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Heb. 1:3. All the holy angels in heaven are his subjects, as is clearly and repeatedly declared, see Eph. 1:21; Philip. 2:9, 10; Heb. 1:4. ad. ult. 1 Pet. 3:22. They had formerly dominion assigned them, but now all is immediately put under the Son, and they are his ministers, Heb. 1:14; chap. 2:5–9. The spirits of just men made perfect in heaven are all his subjects, and the purchase of his blood; and they join with the angels in worshipping the Lamb: for he is Lord of the dead as well as of the living, Rom. 14:9. Heaven itself is at his disposed; and so he appoints a kingdom to his disciples as the Father hath appointed unto him.

The earth is another part of his empire, and he has all power in it. Hence he is called “the Lord of the whole earth.” It will be owned, that he is in a peculiar manner Lord and king of his people and church on earth, as has often been shown. But this is not all; the whole world belongs to him, and “he is the governor among the nations,” Psalm, 22:28. The Father hath by grant given to his only Son, begotten from the dead, “the heathen for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession,” Psalm, 2:8. This cannot be restricted to his elect among all nations; for it includes a rightful power to punish rebels against his government, who will not have him to reign over them, ver. 9, and this plainly implies, his right of dominion over them as King. The same universal dominion is held forth, Psalm, 22:28, 29. and Psalm, 18:43–46; Psalm, 47:7, 8; Psalm, 72:8–12. where we find it attended with the destruction of all who will not submit to him as their rightful King. The Jews would not receive him as their king, nor have him to reign over them, and accordingly he brought destruction on them and on their city, Matt. 22:7. When he sends forth his apostles to preach the gospel, he bids them go into all the world, and publish it to every creature, to all nations; which shows that his dominion extends over the whole earth; and he bids them also declare universally, that he that believeth consequently submits to him as King, shall he saved; but that he that believeth not, consequently refuses subjection to him, shall be damned. This shows, that he has all power on earth and that every one is accountable to him, and so under his administration, as to be either saved or punished by him, as they receive or reject him.—

Further, He is the Sovereign of all the mighty kings on earth, Psalm, 72:11. Hence he is styled “King of kings and Lord of lords,” 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; ch. 19:16. and “the Prince of the kings of the earth,” ch. 1:5. for all the kingdoms of the world are included in his grant, Rev. 11:15. Hence the kings of the earth are admonished to be wise, and the judges to be instructed—to serve the Lord with fear, and to rejoice with trembling; and to kiss the Son (i. e. acknowledge him as their Sovereign) lest he be angry, &c. Psalm, 2:10–12. So that the nations of the earth and all their rulers are under his administration. They are all under obligation to believe in him as the Savior, and obey him as their King; and all who will not do so, shall undoubtedly be punished as rebels against their lawful Sovereign. Again, he over-rules all the revolutions, events, and commotions of this world in subserviency to the great ends of his government and kingdom. He not only opens the book with seven seals, but directs and over-rules all the events, whether of mercy or judgment, that fall out under every one of them to the end of time; for the Lord Christ reigneth, and must reign, even in the midst of his enemies, until they are finally subdued and made his footstool.

Lastly, All judgment is committed to him; “for the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son, that all men might honor the Son, even as they honor the Father—and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man,” John, 5:22, 23, 27. This includes a power to raise the dead, and cite them before his tribunal, both the righteous and the wicked: for all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive the things done in the body, according to that they have done, whether it be good or bad, 2 Cor. 5:10. Now, if all the earth are amenable to him as their Judge; if he has sovereign power to confer rewards and inflict punishment according to men’s works; then he must be King of all the earth, for these are acts of kingly government. Even the devils themselves are the subjects of his power and righteous judgment, and shall at last be punished by him.

Thus it appears that Christ is Lord over all, the supreme head of the whole creation of God; and that, in consequence of his death and resurrection, he is “highly exalted, and has obtained a name which is above every name, &c. Phil. 2:9–12. His government extends over heaven, earth and hell, angels, men and devils, the world that now is, and that which is to come; and all things in nature, providence, and grace, are committed into his hand.

Having thus briefly illustrated this subject, both as it relates to God’s providential kingdom in governing the world, and also to the reign of the Messiah, it only remains that we consider what practical improvement we should make of the doctrine. And on this I remark that

1. It should lead us to view the hand of God in everything that concerns us, as we may clearly perceive the saints of old did, particularly Jacob, David, and Job. Whether in prosperity or adversity, it is a sweet and pleasant employment to converse with God in everything that befalls us—in all the dispensations of his providence. To a mind so engaged, everything then seems full of God. When his ways are in the dark with respect to us, let us still hold fast the general conclusion, that all his ways are mercy and truth to them that fear him, and that all events shall work together for good to them that love God. This view of providence lays a solid foundation for our confidence and trust in his almighty power and goodness—of thankfulness and gratitude for his mercies—of resignation, patience and contentment under afflictions. When thus engaged, the language of our souls will be “It is the Lord! let him do what seemeth good unto him.” “I was dumb: I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” This view of the subject should also teach us to acknowledge God in all our ways, and undertakings, saying “If the Lord will, we shall do this or that.” But further,

2. In the universal reign of the Messiah, we have exhibited to our view a glorious manifestation of God, and of his goodwill to guilty men. He sent him into our world out of his great love, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life. He has exalted him as a Prince and a Savior to grant repentance and remission of sins. All power and authority are committed into his hands both in heaven and on earth; and, vested as he now is with such unlimited dominion, he is fully able to crush all his enemies, and to save to the uttermost all that trust in him. This is surely a matter of joy to the whole earth; for under his reign all nations of the earth are blessed. “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.”

3. The dominion of Christ constitutes an obligation upon all men, wherever his gospel comes, to believe in and obey him. He is their Sovereign by the universal power which is given unto him as Lord of all, and so has an undoubted right to their faith and obedience, whether they yield it or not. Consequently in rejecting him, they are rebels against his just authority, and are amenable to him as their Judge. None can plead exemption here, for he is Lord of the whole earth. Hence they are admonished to “Kiss the Son, and serve God in fear, and rejoice with trembling,” Psalm, 2.

4. Again: this doctrine may also serve to rectify various speculative errors, which abound in the professing world; such as—that is not the duty of men to believe the gospel—that none but believers are under obligations to obey Christ—that the kingdom of the Messiah has no concern with the affairs of this world—that men may do that as politicians which they could not do as Christians—and that that may be lawful in nations which would be sinful in Christians; with numerous other mistaken opinions which are but too prevalent among us.

5. Lastly: let those who profess themselves to be the subjects of Christ, and to love his kingdom, manifest their obedience, by a conscientious regard to his authority, by observing all things whatsoever he has commanded; by earnestly seeking its peace and prosperity; and by vigorous scriptural exertions to extend the knowledge of his salvation, and communicate the benefits of his government throughout every clime; that the nations who are now sitting in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death, may be blessed with the cheering beams of the Sun of Righteousness, until the whole earth be filled with glory. Amen.[1]



[1] M’Lean, A. (1823). Christ’s Providential Government of the World. In The Works of Mr. Archibald M’Lean (Vol. VI, pp. 3–18). London: William Jones. (Public Domain)

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The Unity of Christ's Disciples

The Unity of Christ’s Disciples

John, 17:21

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.

This chapter presents to our view, the Lord Jesus Christ praying to his divine Father, that not only his apostles, but that also all who should believe on him through their word, may be one. Were we to understand this merely of visible harmony, peace, and concord among his disciples, we should be at a great loss to see how this prayer of his was answered. After the first down-pouring of the Spirit there was indeed a most remarkable visible unity amongst the members of the church at Jerusalem; for it is said “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul,” Acts, 4:32. but in the course of a few years this unity was much marred by a number of Jewish converts, who were zealous for the peculiarities of Moses’ law, and strenuously urged it as a term of salvation upon the Gentile believers at Antioch, at which place, and at Jerusalem, it occasioned much disputation, Acts, 15 and notwithstanding the apostolic decrees which were delivered to the churches upon this point, ver. 24–30; ch. 16:4. yet we find in Paul’s epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, that this contest was in a great measure kept up to the subversion of some from the faith, and the marring of the unity and edification of many. In as far as this dispute affected the point of free justification by faith, the apostles reprobate it in the strongest terms; but when it respected only things indifferent, such as meats and drinks, he exhorts them to a mutual forbearance in love, Gal. 5:2–5; Rom. 14:1; 1 Cor. 1:8. In the church of Corinth there appear to be many other grounds of difference, for he charges them with envyings, contentions, strife, and divisions, 1 Cor. 1:11. and 3:3. and with a factious and party attachment to their respective leaders, glorying in them to the disparagement of others, ch. 3:4. The very gifts of the Spirit, which were conferred upon them for the edification of the body, were perverted into an occasion of envy, strife, and glorying over one another. Many other causes of discord took place in the apostolic age, and before the canon of revelation was completed. If we consult the most authentic records respecting the state of matters in the ages immediately succeeding, we shall find the causes of animosity more and more multiplied, together with a departure in many things from the purity and simplicity of the apostolic faith and order, and an addition of various inventions and traditions of men, which were stated as terms of communion, and made an occasion of dividing the disciples.—When the nations assumed a form of Christianity, and the man of sin was raised to his throne, he made use of the kings of the earth, who with (μιαγνωμη) one mind gave their strength and power to the beast to enforce a unity of opinion: but the unity thus produced was not that of the gospel, but a unity of subjection to the beast, and of opposition to the Lamb and his followers; and so we read that the effect of this union was their making war with the Lamb, and the called, chosen, and faithful that are with him, Rev. 17:13, 14.—When this diabolical union came to be broken in a great measure, and men obtained free access to the scriptures, it was far from producing that visible unity among the disciples which might have been expected. For though in protestant countries they all profess to agree that the scripture is the only rule of faith and practice, yet so different are their views and sentiments of this rule, that there never existed such a multiplicity of sects and opinions as at this very day, But what inference shall we deduce from this short sketch of church history? Is it that the disciples of Christ are not one, or that the prayer of Jesus in this particular was not heard? God forbid! for whether we consider the dignity of the petitioner’s person, his relation to the Father as his Son, his interest in his love, or his appointment to the office of mediator and advocate, we may rest fully assured that his prayer was heard and answered, and that all his people are one, whatever appearances there may be to the contrary. We are ready to fall into mistakes here, through not distinguishing betwixt visible and invisible unity, and by our making this oneness to consist of such things as are not essential to it. I shall, therefore, point out from the scripture

I. Wherein the unity of Christians does consist. And

II. Make some use of what may be said.

I. This unity consists in the following things.

1. In their being all members of Christ’s one mystical body. This is one of the unities enumerated by the apostle, Eph. 4:4. “There is one body.” To the same purport are the following scriptures: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another,” Rom. 12:4, 5, “For 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. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free,” 1 Cor. 12:12, 13. There are an innumerable company of spirits of just men made perfect in heaven, who have died in the faith from the foundation of the world, Heb. 12:23. and there are also a goodly number of believers still in this world; but the difference of place or states in heaven and on earth, does not affect their unity as the body of Christ; for the things in heaven, together with those on earth, are gathered together in one in Christ, the common head of the body, Eph. 1:10. On earth again there are various distinctions among them; some are Jews, others are Gentiles, and these are of all nations, conditions, and sexes; but with respect to the distinction of Jew and Gentile, Christ “hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition betwixt them; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, in order to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby,” Eph. 2:14–17. As for the other distinctions, the apostle reduces them all to this unity of the one body, where he tells us, “There is neither Jew, nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus, who is all and in all,” Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11. There are many visible societies of Christians upon the earth, but they are only representations of Christ’s catholic body, which at present is invisible to us; for Christ’s body is not many, but one. And though many of the children of God may not discern one another in this world, so as to feel themselves at liberty to join together in the communion of the same visible society, yet they are all one in Christ, to whom they are united as the head; they are members of his one body, and so members one of another.

2. This oneness consists in a unity of the Spirit. The apostle tells us there is not only one body, but also one Spirit, which as the soul animates that body, Eph. 4:4. Had the natural body different spirits, endued with different judgments, wills, and inclinations, it would create a strange unnatural schism in the body, and discord among its members; but as in the natural, so in the body of Christ, there is but one spirit, which animates, informs, and directs the whole, works effectually in the measure of every part, and gives a unity of design to all the members in their various functions. This one Spirit is the Holy Ghost, which Jesus when he ascended on high received of the Father; which dwells in him as the head of the body, and is communicated from him to all his members. So Jesus says, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified,” John, 7:38, 39. This Spirit belongs to the one body, and unites every member to it; “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit,” 1 Cor. 12:13. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” ch. 3:16. This Spirit is essential to every particular member of the body; for “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” Rom. 8:9. and is the surest evidence of our union with Christ; “By this we know that he abideth in us and we in him, because he has given us of his Spirit,” 1 John, 4:13. Indeed this participation of the Spirit of Christ constitutes our very union with him; “for he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit,” 1 Cor. 6:17. It is this which constitutes our bodies his members, ver. 15. even as in the natural body every member by virtue of the animation of one soul, make but one vital system, one whole man. Thus we are constituted “members of Christ’s body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” Eph. 5:30. Now it is this union of the Spirit with Christ the head, and with one another as his members, that Jesus in a particular manner prays for in the text. This will appear evident if we consider that he prays for a union of the same kind with that which he hath with the Father; “as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee—that they may be one, even as we are one.” This does not mean, as some have supposed, his union of nature with the Father, whereby he is one God with him; but his union with him by the Spirit, which was conferred upon the man Christ Jesus by the Father, as mediator and head of his body the church; for “it pleased the Father, in the economy of redemption, that in him all fulness should dwell,” as the head of influence, and the medium of communication to his body, which is his fullness, whilst he fills all in all, Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:19. In this capacity the Father gave him the Spirit without measure, John, 3:34. and it is out of this fullness of the Spirit dwelling in him that we all have received, and grace for grace, i. e. grace answerable to what is in him, John, 1:16. It was by this Spirit of the Father dwelling in him that he was qualified to execute his mediatorial offices: by it he was anointed to preach the gospel, Luke, 4:18.—by it he was qualified for government, Isa. 11:1–6.—and by the same Spirit he wrought miracles, Matt. 12:28. Now this Spirit dwelling in him and operating these works, he expresses by the Father’s being in him, and he in the Father, John, 10:38. and when he promises the same Spirit to his disciples, he tells them, that “in that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you,” John, 14:20. which is the very language whereby he expresses the oneness which he prays for in the text; and therefore it must be a unity arising from the same Spirit dwelling in the Father, in Him, and in them. This is put beyond all doubt by John, who uses the very same phraseology with respect to the indwelling of the Spirit: “Hereby we know that he abideth in us by the Spirit which he hath given us,” 1 John 3:24. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us; because he has given us of his Spirit,” ch. 4:13. And this is still more evident from the end of this union, which is, saith Christ, “that the world may know and believe that thou hast sent me:” for it was by virtue of this Spirit that the disciples testified and made known to the world that the Father sent the Son, John, 4:14. The apostles “were witnesses of these things, and so was the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him,” Acts, 5:32.

3. Their unity consists in all having one faith. The apostle tells us, there is but one faith, Eph. 4:5. i. e. one doctrine of faith to be believed, which is emphatically styled the truth. There are, indeed, many different opinions in the world, but there is but one faith. Many think that the true faith of the gospel cannot be attained without great study, and being thoroughly acquainted with every point of a connected system of divinity; whereas the inspired writers repeatedly reduce the faith that saves to a single plain short proposition, such as that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” or that “God raised him from the dead,” and declare that all who believe this truth upon the divine testimony shall be saved, John, 20:31; Rom. 10:9. They who believe this must necessarily believe every thing that he hath revealed as soon as they know it; but faith does not depend upon the full knowledge of every truth. The first Christians are declared to have had true faith, when they knew only the first principles. In the rest they were to grow up. The testimony of God concerning the person and mission of his Son is the one faith with which salvation is connected. This is the faith once delivered to the saints, for which they must contend earnestly, Jude 3. the faith of the gospel, for which we must jointly strive, Phil. 1:27. with one spirit and mind. Now as all the children of God are partakers of the one Spirit of truth, and taught of the Lord from the least to the greatest, they must all necessarily be possessed of this one faith; they must all have like precious faith with the apostles in the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. 1:1. They have therefore a unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, Eph. 4:13. and they count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of this knowledge, Phil. 3:8. They have, indeed, different measures of the knowledge of this truth, and different degrees of growth in the faith of it, and they are not altogether free from error in this world; but notwithstanding this, they are one in the faith that saves; they all know the truth, and that no lie is of it. They may, perhaps, have different speculations and controversies of words among themselves about what they esteem the faith, and this may greatly affect their visible unity, and lead them to look upon one another as heretics; but it will be found that these differences, ultimately are not about the faith itself, but about something which they have added to it, or some inference or deduction from it, which they hold of equal importance. The faith of the gospel is admitted on all hands, and dwells in each of their hearts, but in reasoning they may in many cases be led to different conclusions. These differences, however, it must be owned, arise from their not having attained the full perfection of this unity; and therefore Christ hath given gifts unto men for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of his body; till they all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that this is a unity into which they are to grow up till they come to the perfection of it, in opposition to their being in a state of children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. They have still room to grow in the knowledge, and in the strength and stability of their faith.

4. They have a unity of hope. So the apostle says, “ye are called in one hope of your calling,” Eph. 4:4. i. e. they have one glorious inheritance in heaven which is set before them as the object of hope, and by a metonomy is called the hope laid up for them in heaven, Col. 1:5. It is called the hope of their calling, because God hath “called them unto his eternal glory, by Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter, 5:10. and so it is termed the prize of the high calling of God, which they have in their eye in pressing forward in the Christian race, Phil. 3:14. As soon as they are called and justified they rejoice in hope of this glory, Rom. 5:1–3. To this lively hope of the inheritance they are all begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1 Peter, 1:3–6. This is the inheritance of children which they are all entitled to as joint heirs with Christ their elder brother and first born among them, who is risen from the dead to the possession of it, and who in this chapter prays that they may be with him where he is that they may behold his glory, verse 24. Of this hope the one Spirit is the earnest in their hearts, Eph. 1:13, 14. so that they are one in it. But this hope, as it is in their hearts, admits of growth; and therefore the apostle prays that they may abound in this hope through the power of the Holy Ghost, Rom. 15:13. and in his epistle to the Ephesians, ch. 1:17, 18, 19, 20. he prays for the same blessing to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They know not yet the full glory and extent of their inheritance; and they also need to be more and more established in the belief of that mighty power which raised Christ from the dead to the enjoyment of it, that their hope may be more strengthened respecting their own resurrection to it by the same power.

5. They have a unity of love to one another, from their love to him that begat, 1 John, 5:1. for the truth’s sake dwelling in them, 2 John, 1:2. and for the hope that is laid up for them in heaven, Col. 1:4, 5. This bond of union is called “the bond of perfectness,” Col. 3:14. It is love that properly emits with its object. Without it the most shining gifts, the most beneficial works, and even martyrdom will be of no avail, 1 Cor. 13:1–4. Christians cannot hate one another for the truth’s sake, like Cain, who was of that wicked one. They cannot commit this sin, because the seed of God remaineth in them, and they are born of God, 1 John, 3:9. They may have many differences and quarrels, but it is not for their adherence to the truth as such, but for something they apprehend contrary to it; for they love all that are of the truth in as far as they perceive it dwelling in them, and heartily wish grace, mercy, and peace, to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. But in this also there is room for growth and increase, 1 Thess. 3:12.

6. They have all one Lord, viz. Jesus Christ the Savior, Eph. 4:5. the only Sovereign and Head of his church, who purchased it by his own blood, Acts, 20:28. to whom all authority and power is given both in heaven and in earth, Matt. 28:18. and to whom, therefore, the church is bound to be subject in all things, even as the wife is to her own husband, Eph. 5:23, 24. This one Lord they confess to the glory of God the Father, as “the Lord their Righteousness,” their alone King, Lawgiver, and Judge, acknowledging no other Lord or Master in his kingdom, Matt. 23:8–12. esteeming all his laws of indispensable obligation—laws which they are bound to obey from the heart; and so studying to observe all things whatsoever he hath commanded, Matt. 28:20.

7. Their union consists in having all one God and Father, who is “above all,” as the Father of the whole family, Eph. 3:15. and even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the economy of redemption, ver. 14. who is “through all,” by his Son as the medium of his grace; and “in them all,” by the inhabitation of his Spirit, ver. 16. according to the Savior’s prayer, “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us—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,” John, 17:21, 23.

II. I come now to consider how this unity becomes visible in the world, and what belongs to it in that view.

1. This union becomes visible to us in the outward profession of the one faith and hope of the gospel. Though the children of God are all one in the particulars mentioned in the first head, and are all visible to the omniscient God, who searcheth the heart, and knoweth them that are his; yet to us, who can only judge by outward appearances, this unity is not visible till with the mouth men make a scriptural confession of the faith and hope that is in them. Accordingly we find that the apostles admitted none into the visible unity of Christ’s body, but such as made this profession. When they confessed with the mouth that Jesus was Lord and Christ, and gave his death and resurrection as the reason of the hope that was in them, both for acceptance and eternal life, then, and not till then, did they acknowledge them as members of Christ’s one body, Acts, 8:37; Rom. 10:9. This confession must be scriptural in its matter, and couched in such a form of sound words, as is expressive of the faith once delivered to the saints.—It must appear to be hearty, and the effect of a person’s own knowledge and inward conviction from the word of God, in opposition to an implicit assent to custom, traditions, or the authority of men. In short, it must appear to be the effect of divine teaching, in so far as we can judge the state of the mind from the expressions of the mouth.

2. Another thing which belongs to the visible unity of Christ’s disciples is the one baptism. The apostle tells us there is but one baptism, Eph. 4:5. This is not the baptism of the Spirit, as some affirm; for the apostle mentions the one Spirit before, ver. 4. and therefore cannot be supposed to repeat it again in this enumeration. It is distinguished from the Spirit in several places as the outward sign is from the thing signified. So the subjects of Christ’s kingdom are said to be born of water, as well as of the Spirit. John, 3:5. and to have the washing, laver, or bath of regeneration, as well as the renewing of the Holy Ghost, Tit. 3:5. Regeneration was an epithet applied to baptism in water by the first Christians, as is plain from Iræneus, Justin Martyr, and Clemens of Alexandria. Though it is essential to every member of Christ’s body to have the Holy Ghost in his enlightening, comforting, and sanctifying influences; yet that which the scripture calls baptism in the Holy Ghost, properly signifies those miraculous and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit which were given to the first Christians for the spread and confirmation of the Gospel; compare Acts, 1:4, 5. with ch. 2:33. and ch. 11:15–18. with ch. 10:44–47. and therefore, in this view, cannot be the one baptism which belongs to the whole body. But supposing the term baptism applied to the ordinary gift of the Spirit common to all believers, yet this is so far from superseding baptism in water as needless, that Peter considers it as the strongest argument for it; and that the refusal of it upon such a clear call would be no less than a withstanding God. Acts, 10:47; ch. 11:17. Those then who make light of water baptism from a presumption that they are baptized in the Spirit, would do well to consider what they are about. But the baptism in water must be the one baptism, because it is the only baptism which Christ hath instituted, and commanded to be administered to those who are made disciples in every nation of the world, Matt. 28:19. Antichrist hath indeed changed both this ordinance and its subjects, and hath invented many things falsely called baptism; but Christ has instituted only one baptism to be observed to the end of time; and that is the immersion of believers in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the one baptism which belongs to Christ’s one church, or spouse, which he loved; for the Apostle says, Ephes. 5:25, 26. he “gave himself for her, that he might sanctify her, i. e. cleanse her in the laver of water by the word.” Three things are mentioned here in sanctifying and cleansing the church.—1. Christ’s giving himself for her to sanctify and cleanse her by his blood; so he suffered without the gate that he might sanctify the people, Heb. 13:12. i. e. separate them from all others to himself, and also wash them from their sins.—2. The laver of water in baptism as the sign, pledge, and visible application of this; and so they are said to be baptized for the remission of sins, Acts, 2:38. 3. The word of the truth of the gospel, which reveals the truth and import of the two former, and by the Spirit brings the believer under the influence and enjoyment of them. Thus we are clean through the word which Christ hath spoken, John, 15:3. and sanctified through the truth, which is his word, ch. 17:17. Let none think that this is making too much of baptism; for our Lord places it in the very entry to his kingdom, John, 3:5. and joins it in the commission with believing and being saved, Mark, 16:16. and so in executing this commission, the apostles call upon men to be baptized for the remission of sin, Acts, 2:38. or that they may wash away their sins, ch. 22:16. and baptism is said to save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. 3:21. Surely, such expressions place it in a very important point of view; and though it is fully granted that it is neither our faith nor baptism that properly saves; but that which we believe, or the thing signified in baptism, yet to separate what God hath so connected, is both daring and dangerous, and this after our Lord hath declared, that it is he that believeth and is baptized that shall be saved.

But then it must here be carefully noticed, that this one baptism belongs only to the visible members of Christ’s body. For this I need produce but one argument which amounts to a demonstration, namely, that the administration of it is committed to men. Now as men cannot discern the members of Christ’s body, but by the confession of the one faith, it follows, that they cannot according to the scripture administer baptism to any of them but such as make this confession. It is plain then, that baptism belongs to the visible unity of Christ’s members. It also appears to be an essential article in that union; because of the authority of Christ who hath expressly appointed it as the one baptism of all his visible members; the first sign of their union with him in his death, burial, and resurrection, and whereby they visibly put him on, Gal. 3:27. and because the apostles admitted none into the visible unity of Christ’s body without it. Though men, therefore, should make an unexceptionable profession of the faith—though their conduct should in general correspond with that profession—and though we must unavoidably respect them in so far as we perceive their conformity to Christ; yet should they either make light of the one baptism which Christ hath appointed, or content themselves with that which Antichrist hath substituted in its place; however honest and sincere we may suppose them in this matter; and whatever allowances we may make for the prejudices of education and their mistaken views of some texts of scripture, we can have no visible church union, or fellowship, with them according to the New Testament.

Let none say, that by this partition of baptism we break the Christian unity and separate the body of Christ; for this partition is not set up by us, but by the great head of the church; and for us to break it down would be to shew less regard to his authority, than complaisance to the ignorance and prejudices of men. The absurdity and impiety of such complaisance will appear the more striking if we extend it to other things; for by the same rule we ought to give up with every article of visible unity that any professor of the faith has not light to comply with. The Christian visible church unity is broken not by those who stand to the rule, but by those who depart from it, or come not up to it. We are grieved that the children of God should be divided about this ordinance wherein they ought to be one—we exhibit unto them the primitive institution both in our doctrine and practice; we earnestly invite them to visible unity and fellowship with us therein; and we pray to their Lord and ours, that he would dispel the mist of ignorance and prejudice from their hearts in this respect. But we dare not meet them any nearer, or step over the boundaries which Christ hath prescribed, in order to give them the right-hand of fellowship.

3. A third thing which belongs to the visible unity of the disciples, is their separation from the world in their religious fellowship. When God chose Israel of old for his peculiar people, he separated them from all the nations of the earth, and prohibited them under the severest penalties to have any intercommunity of worship with the Heathens; so that it was said of them, “the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations,” Num. 23:9. When the Lord delivered them out of the Babylonish captivity he called them again to this separation, Isa. 52:11. But this was only a type, or figure, of the New Testament separation. God doth not now separate any particular nation of the world from the rest as he did the nation of Israel; nor does he take all the nations of the world for his people; in which case there could be no visible separation, nor any peculiar people. But when he broke down the middle wall of partition betwixt Jews and Gentiles, and visited the nations to take out of them a people for his name, then he established another visible distinction betwixt the true Israel and the world; and so he calls the disciples to separate both from the Jewish church and heathenism, 2 Cor. 6:14–18. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temples 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. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Agreeable to this call, we find the Apostles separating the disciples, Acts, 19:9. and exhorting them to go forth to Jesus without the camp, bearing his reproach, Heb. 13:13. The laws and ordinances which Christ hath enjoined his disciples suppose this separation, and are calculated to preserve it. Nor are they called to separate merely from professed Jews and Heathens, but also from the corrupt professors of Christianity. So we find the Lord calling his people to separate from the false church that bears the Christian name, even as he formerly called Israel out of heathen Babylon, Rev. 18:4. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” It may be asked, Have not the Protestant nations obeyed this call in separating from the communion of the Romish church? I answer, No. That separation is not the visible separation of Christ’s people from the world pointed out in the New Testament, and exemplified in the days of the Apostles. Protestant nations are as really the world as Popish nations are, though their professed creed may in some particulars be more scriptural, and their political principles more tolerant. Any nation of this world professing to be the spouse, or church, of Christ, must be antichristian; because her establishment and form as a church must be derived from the civil power, in direct opposition to Christ’s kingdom which is not of this world. Because the greater part of such a church must appear visible infidels, which Christ hath expressly excluded from his church.—And because the very constitution of such a church visibly joins the children of God with the world in their religious fellowship, in direct opposition to Christ’s call to them to come out from among them and be separate.—Lastly, Because the peculiar love which Christ hath enjoined his disciples to one another, the mutual offices of this love, together with the order, laws, and ordinances which he hath instituted for them as his visible body, cannot be exercised or observed in such an unscriptural connection, which is formed in direct contradiction to every law of his kingdom. Though, therefore, the people of God should make a scriptural confession of the one faith—though they should be baptized according to our Lord’s institution; yet while they continue joined with the world in their religious fellowship, they can have no visible church unity with the body of Christ.

4. Another thing necessary to the visible union of the disciples, is, their being formed into visible church order. As scattered individuals among the nations, their unity cannot appear, nor can they in that situation represent the one body of Christ. Indeed their unity is never brought to a proper test till they are visibly joined together, as members one of another, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one mind, Phil. 1:27. and 2:2. In this view the union of a company of disciples who come together into one place to observe Christ’s institutions and the purposes of public worship, is compared to that union which subsists between the different members of the human body; which, though many in number, and variously disposed, constitute one whole man.—“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, so we being many, are one body, and every one members one of another,” Rom. 12:4, 5. The same subject is beautifully illustrated by this apostle, 1 Cor. 12 and the inference which he deduces from it is, “that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another; and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or if one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” This visible union constitutes them “the body of Christ,” and each of them members in particular, ver. 27. The union of believers in a church state is but little accounted of by many in the present day, and the reciprocal duties and privileges connected with it, perhaps still less so. Yet the Psalmist, anticipating it by the Spirit of prophecy, could exclaim, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore,” Psalm, 133. A great part of the apostolic precepts are founded upon this state of union, and plainly imply it: nor can any proper view of their meaning be taken abstractedly from it. Such as the following: “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,” 1 Cor. 1:10. “Be perfect, (or perfectly joined together) be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you,” 2 Cor. 13:11. See also Phil. 1:27–30. and 2:15, 16.—Col. 3:12–14.—1 Thess. 5:11–15.—Heb. 3:12–14. and 10:23–25–1 Pet. 5:5. It is with a particular view to this state of things that Christ bestows gifts upon men for the work of the ministry, the perfecting (or bringing into joint) the saints, and edifying his body,” Eph. 4:11, 12. And when these gifts are exercised agreeably to his will, by “speaking the truth in love, they grow up into Christ, their head, in all things,” and thus, “the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, to the edifying of itself in love,” ver. 15, 16. Peculiar consolations are promised to disciples, thus walking together in love.—“He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him,” John, 14:21. “Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,” 2 Cor. 6:17, 18.

Having thus shewn wherein all Christ’s disciples are one, and what is necessary to their visible unity, viz. The confession of the one faith—their partaking of the one baptism—their separation from the world in religious fellowship—their joining together as a visible body in church order—their joint observance of the ordinances and laws of Christ as a body their walking together in love among themselves, and standing fast in one spirit with one mind, jointly striving for the faith of the gospel—I come now to conclude the whole by a few observations and practical uses. And I remark, that when we compare the true invisible unity of Christ’s body with its visible appearance in this world, we shall find the former far excelling the latter. For,

Visible unity is founded in the agreement of our sentiments about the rule of God’s word, and our outward conformity to that rule as we understand it. But real invisible unity is founded on our connection with Christ, and our conformity to him in the hidden man of the heart, whose praise is not of men, but of God. Hence it follows, on account of our inability to discover the real state of men,

That we must, according to the rule of God’s word, join in visible unity with some who are not really united to Christ. Many are now united with the churches of the saints, and have a very fair appearance, who are not members of Christ’s true body, animated by his Spirit, or possessed of the faith, love, and hope of the gospel, and whom Christ will disown in that day when he makes up his jewels, and severs the goats from the sheep, and that notwithstanding all their knowledge, and gifts, and zeal about the externals of religion. Such may get access into visible churches, notwithstanding all their vigilance and care either in admission or discipline to prevent or rectify it. But they shall not enter within the gates of the Now Jerusalem; for no unclean thing can have access there, or elude the scrutiny of omniscience. The use we ought to make of this consideration, is to examine ourselves with respect to these things wherein the reality of our connection with Christ consists. Hence it also follows, on the other hand,

That many cannot join in visible unity who yet may be really united to Christ. This arises either from their not being able to discern one another, or, if some of them should, from their not being of the same mind in the things which belong to their visible unity. All Christians have the one faith; but all are not alike clear and consistent in the confession of this faith so as to satisfy others. All of them are subject to the authority of Christ; but they do not all alike know their master’s will. All of them have his law of love written in their hearts; but from various causes they may be led to differ about such of his ordinances as depend upon positive institution. Visible unity, however, requires that they should be agreed in all these things wherein they are to walk together as a body, and keep the ordinances of Christ as his apostles delivered them to the churches. A society united together upon the professed principles of forbearing one another in the neglect of what they esteem the plain laws of Christ, is a monstrous absurdity; and is so far from being a visible unity of subjection to Christ, that it is a visible combination against him, or an agreement to dispense with his laws. The children of God may honestly differ in their judgments about some of Christ’s ordinances; but to unite upon the avowed principle of dispensing with them, is inconsistent with subjection to Christ, brotherly love, or the visible unity of saints. But though the children of God, cannot according to the scripture thus join together in visible union, but arc obliged to be separate upon the common principle of subjection to Christ; yet Christ by an invisible bond unites them all in himself. He hath indeed circumscribed the terms of our visible fellowship by the open rule of his word, and we are still farther circumscribed by the imperfection of our own knowledge; nay, we are even obliged by his express authority to cut off some whose spirits may be saved in the day of the Lord. But his omniscience discerns, and his generous heart contains all those for whom he laid down his life, however much they may differ and lose sight of one another in this world. And when he shall at last collect the whole redeemed company into one general assembly, and present them to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; then I make no doubt we shall be agreeably surprised, and happy to find many united to that blessed society with whom we could have no visible fellowship here. This consideration ought to make us beware of judging anything before the time, until the Lord come; “who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart; and then shall every man have praise of God,” 1 Cor. 4:5. This is, indeed, the time to judge of the objects of our visible fellowship, or those that are within, 1 Cor. 5:12. for a great part of our obedience to Christ depends on this judgment. But it is before the time to judge those that are without, or to determine their final state by present appearances. Their judgment belongs only to God who shall judge us all, and the time of this judgment is when the Lord comes. We cannot indeed help having a good or bad opinion of men according as they appear to us to approach to, or recede from, the rule of the scripture in their principles and practice, whether they are connected with us or not. This is a necessary consequence of our love to the truth itself. But we are not called to form any determinate judgment respecting such, as our visible union is not concerned in it. How unbecoming is it then to unchristianize all who are not connected with us in visible unity! and how much more so to have the strongest opposition to those who make the nearest approaches to the rule, unless they see with us in everything! We are ready to excuse ourselves here by alleging that such are the more inconsistent and inexcusable, and that they must be willfully resisting the light. Their inconsistency is allowed; but that they are resisting the light as it shines in their own minds, is what only God and their own consciences can certainly determine. Such a conduct as this arises from a party spirit; and we may know this spirit by the following marks—It leads us to think more of that particular wherein we differ from all other professors than we do of all the other things wherein Christ’s people are one.—It makes us run everything into this one, and to make it the sole test of visible Christianity, and so judge of men accordingly.—It makes us to see with pain, or disposes us to disparage every other part of Christianity as it appears in those who agree not in this; and on the other hand, it makes us put up with a very superficial form of Christianity in such as agree with us upon our favorite point. But what is worst of all—It tends to deceive us with respect to our own state, by leading us to plume ourselves upon what distinguishes us from others, and to be less attentive to real communion with, and conformity to Christ wherein others may far outstrip us.

Visible unity may fluctuate and decrease, but invisible unity is still advancing, and will continue its progress till all the saints are gathered in and perfected. The antichristian apostacy has proved fatal to the visible union of Christ’s people in the world, by drawing a corrupted form of Christianity over whole nations, and connecting it with the political constitutions of the various kingdoms and states which were subject to the man of sin. And even since they have begun to cast off the yoke imposed on them by that monstrous power, they are still partially suffering from its baneful influence. But we are not left destitute of hope, that even in this world, a period will arrive, when the sanctuary shall be cleansed, and the watchmen of Zion see eye to eye—then will the worship, order, and discipline be restored to their primitive purity, and reduced to the standard of the New Testament, in a much greater degree than at present, though it does not appear that there will be any perfect state of the church on earth, Matt. 13:24–39. and 25:32. But I conclude with one observation more; which is this;

Visible union will come to an end in this world; but invisible unity will continue for ever. The true church’s union with Christ is indissoluble. She shall at last be presented unto him as a bride adorned for her husband. Having loved her and given himself for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her, he will then present it to himself a glorious church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; and then shall the marriage be solemnized in endless felicity, when she shall be brought into the palace of the king, to behold his glory and to be for ever with him. Then, too, shall the children cf God be one among themselves. Now they see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now they know only in part; but then shall they know, even as also they are known. “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” Rev. 3:12, 13.[1]



[1] M’Lean, A. (1823). On the Unity of Christ’s Disciples. In The Works of Mr. Archibald M’Lean (Vol. VI, pp. 84–110). London: William Jones. (Public Domain)

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