PREVIOUS CHAPTER - NEXT CHAPTER - HELP - FB - TWITTER - GR VIDEOS - GR FORUMS - GR YOUTUBE
II. I now come to show youWHEREIN THIS UNITY AND PEACE CONSIST.
And this I shall demonstrate in five particulars. 1. This unity and peace may consist with the ignorance of many truths, and the holding of some errors; or else this duty of peace and unity could not be practicable by any on this side perfection. But we must now endeavor the unity of the Spirit, till we come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Ephesians 4:13. Because now, as the apostle saith, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part,” and “Now we see through a glass darkly.” 1 Corinthians 13:9,12.
And as this is true in general, so we may find it true, if we descend to particular instances. The disciples seem to be ignorant of that great truth which they had often, and in much plainness, been taught by their Master once and again, viz: that his kingdom was not of this world, and that in the world they should suffer and be persecuted; for in Acts 1:6, we read, that they asked of him if he would at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?
And that these were important truths, appears by the 10th and 11th verses, where he is discoursing of righteousness and judgment. He then adds, that he had yet many things to say, which they could not bear; and thereupon promises the Comforter to lead them intoALL TRUTH; which implies, that they were yet ignorant of many truths, and consequently held divers errors; and yet for all this, he prays for, and presses them to, their great duty of peace and unity. John 14:27; John 17:21.
To this may be added that of Hebrews 5:11, where the author saith, he had many things to say of the priestly office of Christ, which by reason of their dullness they were not capable of receiving; as also that in the 10th of Acts, where Peter seems to be ignorant of the truth, viz: that the gospel was to be preached to all nations; and contrary hereunto he erred in thinking it unlawful to preach amongst the Gentiles. I shall add two texts more; one in Acts 19 where we read, that those disciples who had been discipled and baptized unto John’s baptism, were yet ignorant of the Holy Ghost, and knew not (as the text tells us) whether there were any Holy Ghost or no; though John did teach constantly, that He that should come after him, should baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire.
From hence we may easily and plainly infer, that Christians may be ignorant of many truths, by reason of weak and dull capacities, and other such like impediments, even while those truths are with much plainness delivered to them.
Again, we read, Hebrews 5:13, of some that were unskilful in the word of righteousness, who nevertheless are called babes in Christ, and with whom unity and peace are to be inviolably kept and maintained. 2. As this unity and peace may consist with the ignorance of many truths, and with the holding some errors, so it must consist with (and it cannot consist without) the believing and practising those things which are necessary to salvation and church communion. And they are, 1st , Believing that Christ the Son of God died for the sins of men. 2nd , That whoever believeth ought to be baptized.
The 3rd third essential to this communion, is a holy and a blameless conversation. (1.) That believing that the Son of God died for the sins of men, is necessary to salvation, I prove by those texts, which tell us, that he that doth not believe shall be damned. Mark 16:16; John 3:36; Romans 10:9.
That it is also necessary to church-communion, appears from Matthew 16:16,17,18. Peter having confessed that Christ was the Son of the living God, Christ thereupon assures Peter, that upon this rock, viz: this profession of faith, or rather this Christ whom Peter had confessed, he would build his church, and the gates of hell should not prevail against it.
And, 1 Corinthians 3:11, the apostle having told the Corinthians that they were God’s building, presently adds, that they could not be built upon any foundation but upon that which was laid, which was Jesus Christ. All which proves, that Christian society is founded upon the profession of Christ. And not only Scripture, but the laws of right reason, dictate this, that some rules and orders must be observed for the founding of all society, which must be consented to by all that will be of it. Hence it comes to pass, that to own Christ as the Lord and head of Christians, is essential to the foundation of Christian society. (2.) The Scriptures have declared, that this faith gives the professors of it a right to baptism. As in the case of the eunuch, ( Acts 8), when he demanded why he might not be baptized? Philip answered, That is he believed with all his heart, he might. The eunuch thereupon confessing Christ, was baptized.
Now, that baptism is essential to church-communion, I prove from <461201> Corinthians 12. There we shall find the apostle laboring to prevent an evil use that might be made of spiritual gifts, as thereby to be puffed up, and to think that such as wanted them were not of the body, or to be esteemed members. He thereupon resolves, that whoever did confess Christ, and own him for his Head, did it by the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:3, (though they might not have made such a visible manifestation of it as others had), and therefore they ought to be owned as members, as appears Corinthians 12:23. And not only because they have called him Lord by the Spirit, but because they have by the guidance and direction of the same Spirit been baptized, 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit, we are all baptized into one body,” etc. I need not go about to confute that notion that some of late have had of this text, viz: that the baptism here spoken of is the baptism of the Spirit; because you have not owned and declared that notion as your judgment; but on the contrary, all of you that I have ever conversed with, have declared it to be understood of baptism with water, by the direction of the Spirit. If so, then it follows, that men and women are declared members of Christ’s body by baptism, and cannot be by scripture reputed and esteemed so without it. This farther appears from Romans 6:5, where men by baptism are said to be “planted” into the likeness of his death; and Colossians 2:12, where we are said to be “buried with him” by baptism. All which, together with the consent of all Christians, (some few in these later times excepted), do prove that baptism is necessary to the initiating of persons into the church of Christ. (3.) Holiness of life is essential to church-communion. Because it seems to be the reason why Christ founded a church in the world, viz: that men might thereby be watched over and kept from falling; and that if any be overtaken with a fault, he that is spiritual might restore him; that by this means men and women might be preserved without blame to the coming of Christ. And the grace of God teacheth us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly and uprightly in this present evil world. Titus 2:11,12. “And let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2:19.
And James tells us, (speaking of the Christian religion), that “pure religion, and undefiled before God, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.” James 1:27.
From all which (together with many more texts that might be produced) it appears, that an unholy and profane life is inconsistent with Christian religion and society; and that holiness is essential to salvation and churchcommunion.
So that these three things, faith, baptism, and a holy life, as I said before, all churches must agree and unite in, as those things, which when wanting, will destroy their being. But let not any think, that when I say, believing the Son of God died for the sins of men, is essential to salvation and churchcommunion, that I hereby exclude all other articles of the Christian creed, as not necessary; as the belief of the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment; etc., which for want of time, I omit to speak of particularly; and the rather, because I understand this great article of believing the Son of God died for the sins of men, is comprehensive of all others, and is that from whence all other articles may be easily inferred.
And here again, I would not be mistaken, as though I held there was nothing else for Christians to practice, when I say this is all that is requisite to church-communion. For I very well know that Christ requires many other things of us, after we are members of his body, which if we knowingly or maliciously refuse, may be the cause, not only of excommunication, but damnation. But yet those are such things as relate to theWELL-BEING and not to theBEING of churches. As laying on of hands in the primitive times upon believers, by which they did receive the gifts of the Spirit: this, I say, was for the increase and edifying of the body, and not that thereby they might become of the body of Christ, for that they were before.
And do not think that I believe that laying on of hands was no apostolical institution, because I say men are not thereby made members of Christ’s body, or because I say that it is not essential to church-communion. Why should I be though to be against a fire in the chimney, because I say it must not be in the thatch of the house?
Consider, then, how pernicious a thing it is to make every doctrine (though true) the bond of communion. This is that which destroys unity. And by this rule all men must be perfect before they can be in peace. For do we not see daily, that as soon as men come to a clearer understanding of the mind of God, (to say the best of what they hold), that presently all men are excommunicable, if not damnable, that do not agree with them? Do not some believe and see that to be pride and covetousness, which others do not, because (it may be) they have more narrowly and diligently searched into their duty of these things than others have? What then! Must all men that have not so large acquaintance with their duty herein, be excommunicated? Indeed it were to be wished that more moderation in apparel and secular concernments were found among churches: but God forbid if they should come short herein, that we should say, as one lately said, that he could not communicate with such a people, because they were proud and superfluous in their apparel.
Let me appeal to such, and demand of them, if there was not a time, since they believed and were baptized, wherein they did not believe laying on of hands a duty? And did they not then believe, and do they not still believe, they were members of the body of Christ? And was there not a time when you did not so well understand the nature and extent of pride and covetousness as now you do? And did you not then believe, ad do you not still believe, that you were true members of Christ, though less perfect?
Why then should you not judge of those that differ from you herein; as you judged of yourselves when you were as they now are? How needful then is it for Christians to distinguish (if ever they would be at peace and unity) between those truths which are essential to church-communion, and those that are not? 3. Unity and peace consist in making one shoulder, in practice and put in execution the things we do know. “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, and mind the same things.” Philippians 3:16.
How and is it to see our zeal consume us and our precious time, in things doubtful, and disputable, while we are not concerned nor affected with, the practice of those indisputable things we all agree in! We all know charity to be the great command, and yet how few agree to practice it? We all know they that labor in the word and doctrine are worthy of double honor; and that God hath ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. These duties, (however others have cavilled at them), I know you agree in, and are persuaded of your duty therein. But where is you zeal to practice? O how well would it be with churches, if they were but half as zealous for the great and plain, and indisputable things, and the more chargeable and costly things of religion, as they are for things doubtful or less necessary, or for things that are no charge to them, and cost them nothing but the breach of contention — though that may be too great a price for the small things they purchase with it!
But further, Do we not all agree, that men that preach the gospel, should do it like workmen that need not be ashamed? and yet how little is this considered by many preachers, who never consider before they speak, of what they say, or whereof they affirm? How few give themselves to study that they may be approved? How few meditate, and give themselves wholly to these things, that their profiting may appear to all?
For the Lord’s sake let us unite to practice those things we know; and if we would have more talents, let us all agree to improve those we have.
See the spirit that was among the primitive professors. Knowing and believing how much it concerned them, in the propagating of Christianity, to show forth love to one another, (that so all might know them to be Christ’s disciples), rather than there should be any complainings among them, they sold all they had. Oh how zealous were these to practice, and as with one shoulder to do, that that was upon their hearts for God!
I might further add, how often have we agreed in our judgment, (and hath it not been upon our hearts?) that this and the other things is good to be done, to enlighten the dark world, and to repair the breaches of churches, and to raise up those churches that now lie gasping, and among whom the soul of religion is expiring? But what do we more than talk of them? Do not most decline these things, when they either call for their purses or their persons to help in this and such like works as these? Let us then, in what we know, unite, that we may put it in practice; remembering, that if we know these things, we shall be happy if we do them. 4. This unity and peace consist in our joining and agreeing to pray for, and to press after, those truths we do not yet know. The disciples in the primitive times were conscious of their imperfections, and therefore they with one accord continued in prayer and supplications. If we were more in the sense of our ignorance and imperfections, we should carry it better towards those that differ from us. Then we should abound more in the spirit of meekness and forbearance; that thereby we might bring others (or be brought by others) to the knowledge of the truth. This would make us go to God, and say with Elihu, ( Job 34:32), “That which we see not, teach thou us.” Brethren, did we but all agree to go to God, and pray for more wisdom and revelation of his mind and will concerning us.
But here is our misery, that we no sooner receive any thing for truth, but we presently ascend the chair of in fallibility with it, as though in this we could not err. Hence it is we are impatient of contradiction, and become uncharitable to those that are not of the same mind. But now a consciousness that we may mistake, or that if my brother err in one thing, I may err in another; this will unite us in affection, and engage us to press after perfection, according to that saying of the apostle, Philippians 2:13-15. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: But this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded. And if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” O then that we could but unite, and agree to go to God for one another, in confidence that he will teach us; and that if any one of us want wisdom, (as who of us does not?) we might agree to ask of God who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth no man! Let us, like those people spoken of in Isaiah 2, say one to another. “Come, let us go to the Lord; for he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” 5. This unity and peace mainly consist in unity of love and affection. This is the great and indispensable duty of all Christians. By this they are declared Christ’s disciples. And hence it is that love is called “the great commandment,” “the old commandment,” and “the new commandment;” that which was commanded in the beginning, and will remain to the end, yes, and after the end. See 1 Corinthians 13:8. “Charity never faileth; but whether there be tongues, they shall cease; or whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
And 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” And Colossians 3:14, “Above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
Because charity is the end of the commandment, ( 1 Timothy 1:5), charity is therefore called “the royal law;” as though it had a superintendency over other laws. And doubtless it is a law to which other laws must give place, when they come in competition with it. “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8. Let us therefore live in unity and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with us.