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III. Having shown you wherein this Unity consists, I now come to the third general thing propounded: and that is, to show you the fruits and benefits of unity and peace, together with the mischiefs and inconveniences that attend those churches where unity and peace are wanting. First . Unity and peace are duties well-pleasing to God who is styled the author of peace, and not of confusion. In all the churches, God’s Spirit rejoiceth in the unity of our spirits; but on the other hand, where strife and division are, there the Spirit of God is grieved. Hence is it that the apostle no sooner calls upon the Ephesians not to grieve the Spirit of God, but he presently subjoins us a remedy against that evil, that they “put away bitterness and evil-speaking; and be kind one to another, and tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven them.” Ephesians 4:30,32. Second . As unity and peace are pleasing to God, and rejoice his Spirit, so they rejoice the hearts and spirits of God’s people. Unity and peace bring heaven down upon earth among us. Hence it is that the apostle tells us, Romans 14:17, that “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Where unity and peace are, there is heaven upon earth; by these we taste the first fruits of that blessed estate we shall one day live in the fruition of; when we shall come “to the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Hebrews 12:23.
And the Psalmist tells us, that it is not only good but pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity. <19D301> Psalm 133. But where unity and peace are wanting, there are storms and troubles; “where envy and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” James 3:16. It is the outward peace of the church that increaseth our inward joy; and the peace of God’s house gives us occasion to eat our meat with gladness in our own houses. Acts 2:46. Third . The unity and peace of the church make the communion of saints desirable. What is it that embitters church-communion, and makes it burdensome, but divisions? Have you not heard many complain, that they are weary of church-communion, because of church contention? But now where unity and peace are, there Christians long for communion.
David saith, that he was glad when they said unto him, “Let us go to the house of God.” <19C201> Psalm 122:1. Why was this, but because (as the third verse tells us) Jerusalem was a city compact together, where the tribes went up, the tribes of the Lord, to give thanks to his name? And David, speaking of the man that was once his friend, doth thereby let us know the benefit of peace and unity. Psalm 55:14. “We took sweet counsel together,” saith he, “and walked to the house of God in company.” Where unity is strongest, communion is sweetest and most desirable. You see then that peace and union fill the people of God with desires after communion. But, on the other hand, hear how David complains, <19C005> Psalm 120:5. “Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, and that I dwell in the tents of Kedar.” The Psalmist is here thought to allude to a sort of men that dwelt in the deserts of Arabia, that got their living by contention; and therefore he adds, ( <19C006> Psalm 120:6), that his soul had long dwelt with them that hated peace.
This was that which made him long for the courts of God, and esteem one day in his house better than a thousand; this made his soul even faint for the house of God, because of the peace of it. “Blessed are they,” saith he, “that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee.” There, is a certain note of concord; as appears, ( Acts 2), where we read of primitive Christians, meeting with one accord, praising God. Fourthly . Where unity and peace are, there many mischiefs and inconveniences are prevented, which attend those people where peace and unity are wanting: and of those many that might be mentioned, I shall briefly insist upon these nine. 1. Where unity and peace are wanting, there is much precious time spent to no purpose. How many days are spent, and how many fruitless journeys made to no profit, where the people are not in peace? How often have many redeemed time (even in seed-time and harvest) when they could scarce afford it, to go to church; and, by reason of their divisions, come home worse than they went, repenting they have spent so much precious time to so little benefit? How sad it is to see men spend their precious time, in which they should work out their salvation, by laboring as in the fire, to prove an uncertain and doubtful proposition; and to trifle away their time, in which they should make their calling and election sure, to make sure of an opinion, which, when they have done all, they are not infallibly sure whether it be true or no. Because all things necessary to salvation and church-communion, are plainly laid down in scripture, in which we may be infallibly sure of the truth of them; but for others, that we have no plain texts for, but the truth of them depends on our interpretations, here we must be cautioned, that we do not spend much time in imposing those upon others, or venting those among others, unless we can assume infallibility; otherwise we spend time upon uncertainty. And whoever cast their eyes abroad, and do open their ears to intelligence, shall both see, and to their sorrow hear, that many churches spend most of their time in jangling and contending about those things which are neither essential to salvation or church-communion: and that which is worse, about such doubtful questions as they are never able to give an infallible solution of. But now where unity and peace are, there our time is spent in praising God; and in those great questions, What we should do to be saved? and, How we may be more holy and more humble towards God, and more charitable and more serviceable to one another? 2. Where unity and peace are wanting, there are evil surmising, and evil speaking, to the damage and disgrace, if not to the ruining of one another. Galatians 5:14,15. The whole law is fulfilled in one word, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another.”
No sooner is the bond of charity broken, which is as a wall about Christians, than they begin to make havoc and spoil of one another; then there is raising of evil reports and taking up evil reports against each other.
Hence it is that whispering and backbiting proceed, and going from house to house to blazon the faults and infirmities of others. Hence it is that we watch for the haltings of one another, and do inwardly rejoice at the miscarriages of others, saying in our hearts, “Ha! ha! so we would have it.”
But now where unity and peace are, there is charity; and where charity is, there we are willing to hide the faults, and cover the nakedness of our brethren. “Charity thinketh no evil;” ( 1 Corinthians 13:6); and therefore it cannot surmise, neither will it speak evil. 3. Where unity and peace are wanting, there can be no great matters enterprised; we cannot do much for God, nor much for one another. When the devil would hinder the bringing to pass of good in nations and churches, he divides their counsels, (and as one well observes), he divides their heads, that he may divide their hands. When Jacob had prophesied of the cruelty of Simeon and Levi, who were brethren, he threatens them with the consequent of it; “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” Genesis 49:7. The devil is not to learn that maxim he hath taught the Machiavellians of the world, (divide et impera), divide and rule. It is a united force that is formidable. Hence the spouse in the Canticles is said to be but one, and the only one of her mother. Cant. 6:9. Hereupon it is said of her, (ver. 10), “That she is terrible as an army with banners.” What can a divided army do, or a disordered army, that have lost their banners, or for fear or shame thrown them away? In like manner, what can Christians do for Christ, and the enlarging of his dominions in the world, in bringing men from darkness to light, while themselves are divided and disordered? Peace is to Christians, as great rivers are to some cities, which (besides other benefits and commodities) are natural fortifications, by reason whereof those places are made impregnable; but when, by the subtlety of an adversary, or the folly of the citizens, these waters come to be divided into little, petty rivulets, how soon are they assailed and taken? Thus it fares with churches, when once the devil or their own folly divides them; they will be so far from resisting him, that they will be soon subjected by him.
Peace is to churches as walls to a city; nay, unity hath defended cities that had no walls. It was once demanded of Agesilaus, why Lacedemon had not walls; he answered, (pointing back to the city), That the concord of the citizens was the strength of the city. In like manner, Christians are strong when united. Then they are more able to resist temptation, and to succor such as are tempted. When unity and peace are among the churches then are they each like a walled town; and when peace is the church’s wall, salvation will be her bulwarks.
Plutarch tells us of one Silurus that had eighty sons, whom he called to him as he lay upon his death-bed, and gave them a sheaf of arrows thereby to signify, that if they lived in unity, they might do much, but if they divided, they would come to nothing. If Christians we all of one piece, if they were all but one lump, or but one sheaf or bundle, how great are the things they might do for Christ and his people in the world! whereas otherwise they can do little but dishonor him, and offend him!
It is reported of the leviathan, that his strength is in his scales. Job 41:15-17. “His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal; one is so near to another, that no air can come between them: they are joined together, they stick together, they cannot be sundered.” If the church of God were united like the scales of the leviathan, it would not be every brain-sick notion, nor angry speculation, that would cause their separation.
Solomon saith, “Two are better than one,” because, if one fall, the other may raise him. Then surely twenty are better than two, and a hundred better than twenty, for the same reason; because they are more capable of helping one another. If eve Christians would do any thing to raise up the fallen tabernacles of Jacob, to strengthen the weak, and comfort the feeble, and to fetch back those that have gone astray, it must be by unity.
We learn by reason, what great things may be done in worldly achievements where unity is; and shall not reason (assisted with the motives of religion) teach us, that unity among Christians may enable them to enterprise greater things for Christ? Would not this make Satan fall from heaven like lightning? For as unity built literal Babel, it is unity that must pull down mystical Babel. And, on the other hand, where divisions are, there is confusion; by this mean a Babel hath been built in every age. It hath been observed by a learned man, and I wish I could not say truly observed, that there is most of Babel and confusion among those that cry out most against it.
Our English histories tell us, that after Austin the monk had been some time in England, that he heard of some of the remains of the British Christians, which he convened to a place which Cambden in his Britannis calls “Austin’s oak;” here they met to consult about matters of religion; but such was their division, by reason of Austin’s imposing spirit, that our store is tell us, that council was only famous for this, that they only met and did nothing. This is the mischief of divisions, they hinder the doing of much good; and if Christians that are divided be ever famous for any thing, it will be, that they have often met together, and talked of this and the other thing, but they did nothing. 4. Where unity and peace are wanting, there the weak are wounded, and the wicked are hardened. Unity may well be compared to precious oil. <19D302> Psalm 133:2. It is the nature of oil to heal that which is wounded, and to soften that which is hard. Those men that have hardened themselves against God and his people, when they shall behold unity and peace among them, will say, ‘God is in them indeed;’ and on the other hand, are they not ready to say, when they see you divided, that the devil is in you that you cannot agree! 5. Divisions, and want of peace, keep those out of the church that would come in; and cause many to go out that are in. “The divisions of Christians (as a learned man observes) are a scandal to the Jews, an opprobrium to the Gentiles, and an inlet to atheism and infidelity:” insomuch that our controversies about religion (especially as they have been of late managed) have made religion itself become a controversy. O then, how good and pleasant a thing is it for brethren to dwell together in unity! The peace and unity that were among the primitive Christians drew others to them.
What hinders the conversion of the Jews, but the divisions of Christians? ‘Must I be a Christian?’ says the Jew. ‘What Christian must I be? What sect must I be of?’ The Jews (as one observes), glossing upon that text in Isaiah 11:6, where it is prophesied, That the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and that there shall be none left to hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain: they, I say, interpreting these sayings, to signify the concord and peace that shall be among the people that shall own the Messiah, do from hence conclude, that the Messiah is not yet come, because of the contentions and divisions that are among those that profess him.
And the Apostle saith ( 1 Corinthians 14:23), that if an unbeliever should see their disorders, he would say they were mad. But where unity and peace are, there the churches are multiplied. We read ( Acts 9) that when the churches had rest they were multiplied; and ( Acts 2:47,47), when the church was serving God with one accord, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
It is unity brings men into the church, and divisions keep them out. It is reported of an Indian, passing by the house of a Christian, and hearing them contending, being desired to turn in, he refused, saying, “Aabamach dwells there,” meaning that the devil dwelt there. But where unity and peace are, there God is; and he that dwells in love dwells in God. The apostle tells the Corinthians, that if they walked orderly, even the unbelievers would hereby be enforced to come and worship, and say, God was in them indeed. And we read ( Zechariah 8:23) of a time when ten men shall take hold of a Jew, and say, “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”
And hence it is that Christ prays ( John 17:21), that his disciples might be one, as the Father and he are one, that the world might believe the Father sent him. As if he should say, ‘You may preach me as long as you will, and to little purpose, if you are not at peace and unity among yourselves.’
Such was the unity of Christians in former days, that the intelligent heathen would say of them, that ‘though they had many bodies, yet they had but one soul.’ And we read the same of them, Acts 4:32, that “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.”
And as the learned Stillingfleet observes in his Irenieum: “The unity and peace that were then among Christians, made religion amiable in the judgment of impartial heathens. Christians were then known by the benignity and sweetness of their dispositions, by the candor and ingenuousness of their spirits, by their mutual love, forbearance, and condescension to one another. But ether this is not the practice of Christianity, (viz: a duty that Christians are now bound to observe), or else it is not calculated for our meridian, where the spirits of men are of too high an elevation for it. For if pride and uncharitableness, if divisions and strifes, if wrath and envy, if animosities and contentions, were but the marks of true Christians, Diogenes need never light his lamp at noon to find out such among us. But if a spirit of meekness, gentleness, and condescension, if a stooping to the weaknesses and infirmities of one another, if pursuit after peace, when it flies from us, be the indispensable duties, and characteristical notes of Christians, it may possible prove a difficult inquest to find out such among the crowds of those that shelter themselves under that glorious name.”
It is the unity and peace of churches that bring others to them, and make Christianity amiable. What is prophesied of the church of the Jews, may in this case be applied to the Gentile church ( Isaiah 66:12), that when once God extends peace to her like a river, the Gentiles shall come in like a flowing stream. Then (and not till then) the glory of the Lord shall arise upon his churches, and his glory shall be seen among them; then shall their hearts fear and be enlarged, because the abundance of the nations shall be converted to them. 6. As want of unity and peace keeps those out of the church that would come in, so it hinders the growth of those that are in. Jars and divisions, wranglings and prejudices, eat out the growth, if not the life of religion.
These are those waters of Marah, that embitter our spirits, and quench the Spirit of God. Unity and peace are said to be like the dew of Hermon, and as a dew that descended upon Sion, where the Lord commanded his blessing. <19D303> Psalm 133:3.
Divisions are to churches like wars in countries: where wars are, the ground lieth waste and untilled, none takes care of it. It is love that edifieth, but division pulleth down. Divisions are as the north-east wind to the fruits, which causeth them to dwindle away to nothing; but when the storms are over, every thing begins to grow. When men are divided, they seldom speak the truth in love; and then no marvel they grow not up to him in all things, who is the head.
It is a sad presage of an approaching famine, (as one well observes), not of bread nor water, but of hearing the word of God, when the thin ears of corn devour the plump, full ones; when the lean kine devour the fat ones; when our controversies about doubtful things, and things of less moment, eat up our zeal for the more indisputable and practical things in religion; which may give us cause to fear, that this will be the character by which our age will be known to posterity, that it was the age that talked of religion most, and loved it least.
Look upon those churches where peace is, and there you shall find prosperity. When the churches had rest, they were not only multiplied, but walking in the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost, they were edified. It is when the whole body is knit together, as with joints and bands, that they increase with the increase of God.
We are at a stand sometimes why there is so little growth among churches, why men have been so long in learning, and are yet so far from attaining the knowledge of the truth. Some have given one reason, and some another; some say pride is the cause, and others say covetousness is the cause. I wish I could say these were no causes; but I observe, that when God entered his controversy with his people of old, he mainly insisted upon some one sin, as idolatry, and shedding innocent blood, etc., as comprehensive of the rest; not but that they were guilty of other sins, but those that were the most capital are particularly insisted on. In like manner, whoever would but take a review of churches that live in contentions and divisions, may easily find that the breach of unity and charity is their capital sin, and the occasion of all other sins. No marvel then, that the Scripture saith, the whole law is fulfilled in love: and if so, then where love is wanting, it needs must follow the whole law is broken. It is where love grows cold that sin abounds; and therefore the want of unity and peace is the cause of that leanness and barrenness that is among us. It is true in spirituals as well temporals, that peace brings plenty. 7. Where unity and peace are wanting, our prayers are hindered. The promise is, that what we shall agree to ask, shall be given us of our heavenly Father. No marvel we pray and pray, and yet are not answered; it is because we are not agreed what to have.
It is reported that the people of Lacedemonin, coming to make supplication to their idol god, some of them asked for rain, and others of them asked for fair weather. The oracle returns them this answer, that they should go first and agree among themselves. Would a heathen oracle refuse to answer such prayers, in which the supplicants were not agreed, and shall we think the true God will answer them?
We see then that divisions hinder our prayers, an lay a prohibition on our sacrifice. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave thy gift, and go, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Matthew 5:23,24.
This hindered the prayers and fastings of the people of old from finding acceptance. Isaiah 58:3. The people ask the reason wherefore they fasted, and God did not see nor take notice of them? He gives this reason, Because they fasted for strife and debate, and hid their face from their own flesh.
Again, ( Isaiah 59.) the Lord saith, his hand was not shortened, that he could not save; nor his ear heavy, that he could not hear: but their sins had separated between their God and them. And among those many sins they stood charged with, this was none of the least, viz: that the way of peace they had not known. You see where peace was wanting, prayers were hindered, both under the Old and New Testaments.
The sacrifice of the people, (in the 65th <236501> Isaiah), that said, “Stand by thyself, I am holier than thou,” was a smoke in the nostrils of the Lord. On the other hand, we read, how acceptable those prayers were that were made with one accord. ( Acts 4:24, compared with Acts 4:31). They prayed with one accord, and they were all of one heart, and of one soul. And see the benefit of it: “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the word with all boldness;” which was the very thing they prayed for, as appears Acts 4:29. And the apostle exhorts the husband to dwell with his wife, according to knowledge, that their prayers might not be hindered. Peter 3:7. We see then the want of unity and peace, either in families or churches, is a hindrance of prayer. 8. It is a dishonor and disparagement to Christ, that his family should be divided. When an army falls into mutiny and division, it reflects disparagement on him that hath the conduct of it. In like manner the divisions of families are a dishonor to the heads, and those that govern them. And if so, then how greatly do we dishonor our Lord and governor, who gave his body to be broken, to keep his church from breaking; who prayed for their peace and unity; and left peace at his departing from them for a legacy, even a peace which the world could not bestow upon them. 9. Where there are no peace and unity, there is no sympathy with each other; that which is the want of one, will not be the want of all. “Who is offended,” saith the apostle and I burn not?” We should ever “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being ourselves also of the body.” Hebrews 13:3.
But where the body is broken, or men are not reckoned or esteemed of the body, nor marvel we are so little affected with such as are afflicted. Where divisions are, that which is the such as are afflicted. Where divisions are, that which is the joy of the one, is the grief of another; but where unity, and peace, and charity abound, there we shall find Christians mourning with them that mourn, and rejoicing with them that rejoice; then they will not envy the prosperity of others, nor secretly rejoice at the miseries or miscarriages of any.