Editor's Note 126
My object is in no way to assail Dr. Stuart (of whose personal worth and piety, though myself unacquainted with him, I have no doubt) but to take up the true grounds of unity and union: points not only of great importance, but occupying the hearts and minds of Christians everywhere.
The desire of unity flows, I cannot doubt, from the Spirit of God. True unity and true union are from Him, and according to His mind. He will bring all things that are blessed around Himself as a moral centre. It evidently must be so, for He is God, and the true centre of all blessing. That according to this there is a special effectuation of this in Christ in the fulness of times, is clearly also revealed to us in scripture. Our question is: What, and of what, and how is this unity or union? How far is it unity, and how far union? These are not the same. Scripture must be our guide in the inquiry. And it is as precise as Dr. Stuart is vague. It reveals the purpose of God according to the good pleasure of His will, for the administration of the fulness of times, to gather together in one (anakephalioasasthai) all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth. It reveals an eternal state when Christ shall have given up the kingdom to God, even the Father, that God may be all in all—surely ever Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; but God as such all in all, not the subsistence of the kingdom held by Christ as man. As man the Son will then be subject, as we know He was on earth, though God over all blessed for ever, all the pleasure of the Godhead in Him bodily. I only add this to guard from error, as I have alluded to the passage in which His giving up of the kingdom and His subjection are spoken of.
There is another unity spoken of; that is, of saints on earth, and I may add in glory, and in a twofold way. First, as individual saints, a family I may call it, as it specially refers to the Father—Christ being the first-born among many brethren. Of this John speaks; of the church as the body he never does. Its second aspect is this:—those in whom the Spirit of God dwells are really united to Christ by the Holy Ghost, are members of His body, who, as man, is exalted to the right hand of God, in the glory He had with the Father before the world was. Both these will be perfected in heavenly places. The sons will be in glory conformed to the image of the Son. They have borne the image of the earthy; they will bear the image of the heavenly, made perfect in one. He will be the head of the body, the church, over all things.
I have thought it better to state briefly the scripture revelation as to unity. My statements are little more than scripture texts strung together, so as to shew what its doctrine is distinctly, before any comment on the statements of Dr. Stuart’s sermon. For the truth itself is what enables us to discern any departure from it, and ideas which are purely human in their true light. True unity is too precious a thing, too much according to the heart of God, and must be, not to seek to guard against any erroneous views as to its nature.
The passages I would refer to, some of which I shall be led to notice more fully, are John 17:11; 20, 21; 22, 23: three distinct unities. Ephesians 1:19-23. Compare Colossians 1:15-18. The same twofold headship is in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:9, 10; Romans 8:29, 30.
I am somewhat surprised, not at the sermon’s producing an impression, but that its vague statements were not estimated more justly by those who sought its publication. I suppose want of scriptural habits of thought is what accounts for it. Its references to scripture are everywhere loose and inaccurate. The text itself connects part of verse 23 of John 17 with verse 21, leaving out verse 22, which makes a total change in the phase of unity treated of, and the effect of that in verse 24 is left out, or the discrepancy would be manifest.
There are three unities spoken of in John 17. First is that of the immediate disciples of Christ. The application of this unity to them is incontrovertible, as is evident from the language of verse 12. The second (20, 21) is of those that believe through their word, “one in us,” and this was to the intent that the world may believe. The third is unity in glory, the glory given to Christ Himself of the Father, when the saints are made perfect in one, that the world may know He was sent of Him, and, seeing them in the same glory as Christ, know (most wondrous word!) that we have been loved as He was loved. May our souls admire such grace, and know what it is to dwell in it.
Dr. Stuart omits the statement of their being in glory (ver. 22), and connects the world’s believing with their being made perfect in one. This is not the right way of dealing with scripture, and scripture so solemn and precious in its import as this is.
He tells us further, “the union of the true believer to Christ is set forth in our text, and secured by the double bond of a mutual indwelling.” Now there is a mutual indwelling blessedly set forth in John 14 as known to saints when the Holy Ghost should be given, as He was on the day of Pentecost. But no union with Christ is spoken of in the text, nor indeed does John ever speak of it. It is another thought—one which in his epistle he carries on to dwelling in God and God in us, known by the Spirit He has given. Perhaps it is even a more precious thought than union, if in such infinite and unspeakable privileges, conferred by grace—of which, His grace, God will shew in the ages to come the unspeakable riches in His kindness towards us through Jesus Christ—we can speak of more and less.
On this mutual indwelling of Christ and us Dr. Stuart insists much. There is not a word of it in John 17. The mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son is spoken of as “Thou Father art in Me, and I in Thee,” but not so of Christ and the believer. Dr. Stuart has been misled by the sound of the words in “I in them, and Thou in Me”; but there is no mutual indwelling here at all. It is display in glory—Christ in the saints, and the Father in Christ. The whole statement is a mistake. We have only to read the passage to see it; and in privileges so wondrous, and thoughts so deep, it behoves us to keep close to scripture. If we do not, we shall lose much, following our own thoughts. I cannot doubt that so excellent a person as Dr. Stuart has done so here in giving course to his own thoughts, instead of cleaving close to the word.
I do not dwell much on the “oneness of evil.” There is a oneness in evil in one sense. It is in man self-will departed from God, and enmity against Him, whatever its form, lawless lust, transgression of the law, and hating Christ, and therein His Father. Still the statements of Dr. Stuart seemed to me to hang little together. “The oneness of evil is among the most marked of its characteristics,” yet “sin and unity are everlasting opposites.” However, as my object is not to criticise, but to treat the subject of true unity, and there are important moral observations in the remarks of Dr. Stuart on the oneness of evil, I do not comment on it farther.
I should wholly object to his use of John 15 which is hortatory; and the true vine applies immediately to the then state of the disciples: “now ye are clean,” being really, ye are already clean (ede). Hence, as the blessed Lord knew them, verse 6 changes from “ye” to “if a man,” and returns to “ye” in verse 7, when fruit-bearing, not withering and burning, is the subject. “The true vine “refers to the vine brought out of Egypt. Israel was not the true vine, but Christ; as Christ, not Israel, was in result the servant owned of God— Isaiah 44. It is not church union. That is union of members to Christ the head in heaven, where it is not a question of cutting off, nor of fruit-bearing, nor of purging. I quite admit that there is the general analogy now, and the applicability of the exhortation. But I cannot go farther into the interpretation of the passage here. It has no application to Dr. Stuart’s object, for it is at all events an exhortation. All this part of John takes up the responsibility of saints with the Father. It is “a lower sense “in which the disciples are said to be in Christ, namely, their connection with Christ then upon earth (ede, already), not when He was the exalted man in heaven, which alone is church union, as Ephesians 1:19-23 makes evident.
But I pass on from this section, which is a matter of interpretation, on which I should be glad to hear any godly person, though not doubting the justness of what I have said: only remarking that when Dr. Stuart says “a lower sense,” it cannot have two senses, and I suppose he would not deny that, if it speaks of “temporary believers,” it cannot refer to union with Christ as members of His body.
In the following section, I admit the difference between the individuality of angels and the one race of which Adam was the head. And that Christ was the head of a spiritual race, taking Adam’s place in a higher way, every intelligent Christian taught in the word will admit, and will moreover feel the importance of it: Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are clear on the point. Dr. Stuart has given us, too, some interesting observations on the elements of all being united in Christ’s Person, the full justness of which I am not prepared to speak of without weighing them more than I have, but which are quite worthy of being weighed, and which I pass from, only to pursue my main subject, union and unity. Here all is confusion, and sometimes difficult to seize from the way it is expressed. Union and unity, as here used, have no scriptural intelligible meaning.
That God is the fountain of all angels’ good, and the source of their happiness, and the centre of their harmony, is certain. But what means their being “united to Him”? Who ever heard, in scripture at least, of angels being united to God? No trace of such a thought is in scripture. I am sure Dr. Stuart means no harm in it; but it is this loose thinking., away from scripture, which has deprived the church of so much precious truth. We, that is all those who have the Holy Ghost, are united to Christ, the glorified Man, as members of His body. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” But angels united to God is really in itself a blasphemy— though I am quite sure Dr. Stuart means such as little as I do. But the reality of union with Christ is lost through this loose way of speaking. When Dr. Stuart says, “Many of them fall away,” I thought at first it might be a misprint for “fell away,” as we read of angels, who kept not their first estate, and are reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day. But he says, the elect angels abide, in the present tense too, as is the whole statement. The rest in the paragraph is really one mass of confusion. Their everlasting union to the centre of all good appears to be increased, confirmed, and secured.
As I have already said, there is no union to God. Angels, and principalities, and powers are made subject to Christ; and the whole state of things will be reconciled to God in His fulness, and brought into order under Christ, when the fulness of time is come. God has given to Him, the exalted Man, to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all (compare Eph. 4:9, 10); but the increasing, conjoining, securing union with God, is an idea utterly foreign to scripture, and excludes what is in scripture, by what is substituted for it.
I will just remark that goodwill to men is not the form of the angels’ words in Luke, but good pleasure (eudokia) in men. He did not take up the angels, but He took up the seed of Abraham; and it is beautiful to see the unjealous delight of these holy beings in the plans of God’s glory, though in others than themselves, for “His delight (Wisdom’s) was with the sons of men.” But the reciprocating song of earth, when He had finished His work, is all confusion. The babes and sucklings spoken of in Psalm 8 are celebrating Messiah according to Psalm 118, a prophecy of which several verses are cited as to the latter days by the Lord and the apostles, particularly by Peter the apostle of the circumcision. It is the anticipation of that day, “the day which Jehovah hath made,” when Hosanna to the Son of David will resound, not from the mouths of babes and sucklings, and the crowd that were divinely-compelled to do it, lest the stones should have to cry out, but from a people willing in the day of His power, when His heart will set Him in the chariots of His willing people. And note here, in this remarkable anticipation of that day, the expression “peace in heaven.” It is not till Satan and his angels are cast out thence, that the full accomplishment of this will take place. Then in due time they shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah. Till then their house will be left unto them desolate,, and they will not see Him. He meanwhile sits, not on His own throne, but on His Father’s, as He expressly states (Rev. 3), according to the word: Sit on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Then Jehovah will send the rod of His power out of Zion, and He will rule in the midst of His enemies.127
The Lord had not finished His work when He entered into Jerusalem. His course down here may be said, in a certain sense, to have closed. His work He was just about to accomplish. But it is here summed up by Dr. Stuart, as God in Christ reconciling all things to Himself whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. There is no such passage, no such statement in scripture. Two passages are confounded, both misapplied. God, we read in the end of 2 Corinthians 5, was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing to them their trespasses. But the world would not have Him. Then, having accomplished the work of atoning redemption, and gone into glory, having been made sin for us, He sends out His ambassadors, to beseech men to be reconciled to God. Blessed gospel testimony and grace! There is another passage on quite a different subject, in Colossians 1. All the fulness (pan tu pleroma, a word of all moment against the Gnostic heresies—compare chap. 2:9), was pleased to dwell in Him, and … by Him to reconcile all things to itself, by Him I say, whether they be things in heaven or things in earth,128 and you hath He reconciled, in the body of His flesh through death. Here the reconciliation of believers through the work of the cross is clearly distinguished from the reconciling all things. They were reconciled. “You hath he,” etc. But God was by Him to reconcile all things. That was to be done. This duality is maintained all through the passage. He is firstborn of every creature, firstborn from the dead, Head of the church, His body. This is summed up at the end of Ephesians 1. These two passages in 2 Corinthians 5, and Colossians 1 are mingled together (by Dr. S.) and connected with His going on the ass to Jerusalem; and utter confusion is the natural result.
There is an utter confusion too in all this part, one which has brought in abominable error as to Christ, in the foremost of the evangelical German divines, and in the Dutch reformed in America through them, namely, as if man was being restored. Adam was the image of Him that was to come. But all is utterly fallen and ruined in the first Adam. Now, says the Lord, is the judgment of this world; and again, now once in the end of the world (sunteleia ton aionon) hath He appeared to put away sin. The head of the blessing is man in a new state, risen and exalted. Man, as in the flesh, has seen and hated both Him and His Father.
As a general truth Dr. Stuart would not, and does not, deny that we all fell in Adam. But there is more than this. Man has been fully tested as to whether as such he could be restored. Without law he was so bad that the flood was needed even in this world; under the law his sin became exceeding sinful; and when God after this came into the world in grace, making Himself of no reputation, to bring love to sinners, and yet shewing divine presence and power in removing every effect of sin here below, they spat in His face and crucified Him. Now, says the Lord, is the judgment of this world. And we shall find that whatever God set up good, the first thing man did was to spoil all, though God went on in grace. Man himself fell the first thing. Noah got drunk the first thing. The golden calf was made before Moses was down from the mount. Strange fire was offered the first day, and Aaron never went into the holiest in his robes of glory and beauty. Solomon, son of David, departed from God; and Nebuchadnezzar put the faithful ones in the fire and became a beast. Finally, in the rejection of Christ it was (after all remedial means which were at God’s disposal) demonstrated that the mind of the flesh was enmity against God. They had seen and hated both Him and His Father. Man must be born again (anothen). It is a new creation when men were dead in sins, connected with the second Man rejected by man, and now raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God.
That the blessed Lord was a true real man in flesh and blood is as essential to Christianity as He was God. In this I trust I have no controversy with Dr. Stuart. The Word was made (egeneto) flesh and dwelt among us, and, as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death. This lies at the root, and is the essence, of Christianity, and a blessed truth it is, unspeakably so to us human beings, that, if a sinless man, He was a true man, body, and soul, and, one may add, spirit. This was called in question by heresy as soon as His deity was.
I think scripture is more guarded than Dr. Stuart here, but he is more guarded than some. Scripture never says, as some have, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; and scripture is wiser than we are. This has been used to make union in incarnation, which is quite unscriptural. It issued in Irving-ism; but the seed was under the clod in Scotch Presbyterianism, and is still cherished as a garden plant in the semi-Irvingites of that body. Dr. Stuart only goes so far as to say, flesh out of our flesh, bone out of our bone. Still it leads him half-way into the evil.
A new creation must in its nature leave out fallen man, as fallen, for he is not a new creation but the old one, that which is put off—no doubt the same person; but he is of, and lives in, a new creation, if in Christ Jesus. And what would the new creation have been, as to moral beings, if fallen man was left out as the object of it? The elect angels have not left their first estate. Dr. Stuart is as usual very vague. “The operation was to be in man, already existing, and defiled by sin, which separates while it defiles. It was from our corrupted stock He drew His holy manhood, because not merely men like us, but of us.”
What has this to do with the new creation? Was union in incarnation? Dr. Stuart does not say so, but what do his words mean? “Was Christ a new creation,” he says, “casting himself into the head of the existing family, and from it deriving his own everlasting manhood?” He does not say it was union; that he puts differently. But he states it, while admitting He was holy, harmless, undefiled, so as to lead the mind to a connection of Christ with man in incarnation, which, while from its uncertainty and vagueness it almost eludes the grasp, is perilous from the way it leads the soul to the verge of union in incarnation.
Christ assuredly was, as born into this world and ever, holy, harmless, undefiled; but it shews the habitual confusion of thought as to Christ, if we remember that this is spoken of Christ as High Priest (Heb. 7) and carefully presented as separate from sinners, in contrast too, with high priests “taken from among men.” When scripture speaks of His taking flesh, a vital truth for us as I have already said, not only is it said “a body hast Thou prepared me”: but in stating His doing so, the language is careful not to speak as Dr. Stuart speaks. The children kekoinoneke of flesh and blood of Him; metesche paraplesios is used.
Now I repeat that there may be no mistake—I hold His being truly a man in flesh and blood, and with a human soul as well as a body, to be a vital truth. It is the subject of the adoring joy of my soul; nor do I think it is half enough taught or believed, that He was a true man, while a sinless and holy man. What is false is connecting this with the idea of union with us. This vagueness as to union with man is so much the more perilous, as Dr. Stuart insists that there is a greater difference between the brutes and man, than between man and God. I suppose he refers here to the low and degraded form of infidelity called evolution. In his horror of this, perhaps for my part I should say contempt, I should heartily join Dr. Stuart. But as to our present point, he leaves out the present condition of man. Man was created for God; but, preferring to believe the deceiver, he did his own will. He has been driven out of Paradise, where he had to say to God, he was without God (atheos) in the world. His adaptation to God was eternal misery as having lost Him, and now this is not all the truth. Man, as far as his will could do it, has turned out of this world God when come into it in grace. The mind of the flesh is enmity against God. In the moral sense he is infinitely farther from God than he is from the brute. If left to himself, he can follow the brute, and worse, and as regards God has no understanding. Christ was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. Man must be born anew to have anything to say to Him, save enmity, sins, and judgment. Conscience—the knowledge of good and evil—acquired by the fall, he has. Nor does gracious invitation restore him. “Wherefore when I came, was there no man? When I called, was there none to answer?” What He had seen and heard, that He testified, says John, and no man receives His testimony. The real question is not, did Christ come in grace to such? but did He unite Himself to them? or are renewed souls united to Him when, having accomplished redemption, He is exalted to glory? Scripture speaks of the latter and positively denies the former.
As to union in life, as I have said, Dr. Stuart is vague, and uses figurative expressions, which may mean nothing or anything. But he is distinct in identifying Christ’s uniting Himself to us, and taking sinners into union with Himself. This last was the problem, he says, and solved by His uniting Himself to His people in death. Now Christ’s uniting Himself to His people is unknown to scripture. He does not unite Himself to sinners, nor does He even to saints: they are united to Him, by the Holy Ghost, when He is in glory. They are members of His body; not He members of them; members of it when the Head is glorified, and they are created again. The end of Ephesians i and early part of Ephesians 2 are clear as to this point, and how it takes place, and where this is not seen, the real truth of unity is wholly lost. How can the Holy One be united to a sinner, if the union be real and spiritual?
He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Is that true of a mere sinner? And scripture is express in denying it. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” Hence in Ephesians, where union is spoken of, He is not seen till raised from the dead and set at God’s right hand in heavenly places. And then, we being dead in sins, He hath quickened us together with Him, and made us sit in heavenly places in Him. Then only is scriptural and real union, not in Christ born into this world, united to sinners in their sins; not a Christ on the cross, and when He was most especially alone, united to those for whom He was substituted before their sins we/e cancelled by His precious blood; not even a Christ glorified, united to sinners or to any down here. Scripture never speaks of His being united to us, but, saints being united to Him in glory, in a totally new life by the Holy Ghost, so that they become risen and heavenly people.
Remark too here that, where the Lord says He abode alone till after He had died He is speaking of the Son of man. Testimony to His being Son of God was given in the resurrection of Lazarus, to His being Son of David in His riding into Jerusalem. The Greeks come up, He says, “the hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified.” But, to take this title, according to the counsels of God He must die. Son of God according to Psalm 2 He was; King of Israel, Messiah, according to the same Psalm He was; and surely, as to His personal title to it, Son of man. But the kings of the earth stood up, and the princes took counsel together. In a word, He must be rejected to take up the place of Son of man according to Psalm 8. So in John 1 Nathanael owns Him, according to Psalm 2, Son of God, King of Israel. The Lord’s answer is, that he should see more henceforth (for Israel, in John, is rejected in the first chapter, to own those born of God alone), “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man.”
When Christ’s birth, or His so wonderfully associating Himself with the called and repentant remnant of Israel in John’s baptism, is spoken of, His title is Son of God, not Son of man. “That holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God,” and the Father’s voice, when Heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended on Him alone, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Son of man He delighted to call Himself, but to say, forbidding, when His testimony was rejected, to be announced any more as the Christ; Matt. 16, Mark 9, Luke 9. The Son of man must suffer and be rejected, put to death, and rise again the third day, that as the risen man in a wholly new position, He might take the place revealed of the Son of man in Daniel 7 and Psalm 8.
This doctrine of union of the Son of God with sinners in their sins falsifies the whole nature of Christianity, a new creation, and man in a new life, united to a glorified man in heaven, by the Holy Ghost dwelling in him, consequent on the accomplishment of redemption. Dr. Stuart says, “Christ united Himself to His people by taking them to Himself in His death on Calvary.” If this be so, all the vague language of Dr. Stuart and the plain language of bolder men, as to union in incarnation, and also the utterly unscriptural doctrine of His bearing our sins all His life is wholly set aside. But what does union here mean? “That He might receive us into oneness He stood in our place.” This I believe, but it contradicts what is said a few lines higher up. That all His people were seen as if they were there, because He represented them, and as He bore their sins, so also they died with Him is true, blessed be God. But this has nothing to do with union. It is another great and precious truth, substitution. He stood in our place, as Dr. Stuart most justly says, but this is not union but the opposite of it. He accepted our penalty; thank God, and blessed be’ the name of Him who has loved us, He did. But that is not union, but standing there for us alone. All that Dr. Stuart says of its effect as to our sins I cordially say Amen to, as a poor sinner profiting by it, though it has done far more also for us and glorified God Himself, so that man goes into His glory. But this is not union. Union with Christ is in living saints when He is exalted as man to the right hand of God, the work of redemption, of perfect redemption, being accomplished when He was alone.
All that Dr. Stuart says as to His being broken in pieces is quite wrong. A bone of Him was not to be broken. In the passage “This is my body which is broken for you,” broken is not really in the text. But on this I do not dwell further. As Dr. Stuart says, “He who was to be the bond of union for ever was left alone, as no other ever was or can be.” With what is here said my heart unites, but He was then alone. Only I must remark the customary looseness as to scriptural truth in the words “The Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world.” This is quite unsound and nowhere found in scripture. The sins of the world are not taken away, or there could be no judgment; indeed all would be saved. The end of this paragraph, in page 15,1 think very objectionable, but it does not specially bear on my subject.
But that which follows, loose and unscriptural though it be in expression, yet true in result, contradicts consequently all the statements as to union before or on the cross. “Through His death the Lord Jesus sends His Holy Spirit into the hearts of His redeemed; and by that Spirit, in the day of our effectual calling, we are brought into a wondrously high and holy union with Christ, and with God.” Now, as I have already said, in the scripture, it is by the Spirit when we have received it, we are united to a glorified Christ. The only true and scriptural union, and we may add, so of all true saints with one another, is by the same one Spirit who dwells in each of them. No doubt Christ had to die to send the Holy Spirit down here: a plain proof, if we are brought into union with Him by it, that He was not united to us in death; but “sends through His death” has really no sense. We were unfit to receive it, save as washed in His blood, and forgiven; but sending “through His death “has really no sense. “The Holy Ghost was not yet [given] (was not, as known in the New Testament, down here, though as a divine Person of course eternal in His Person, and operative in every work of God), because Jesus was not yet glorified,” is what scripture says; John 7. If He went not away, the Comforter would not come: shewing early the place Christ must come in, as man, before we could be united to Him, He the head (Eph. 1) and we the body: we, sons by faith in Jesus withal, and He, the Spirit of adoption making us, being sons, cry Abba, Father; the power, and giving the consciousness of this new relationship with the Father, and membership of Christ. But scripture never says, “His Holy Spirit.” It is incongruous, though He be called the Spirit of Christ, as present in us, in Romans 8.
Nor is “union with God” a thought known to scripture. A common one, I grant it, but common to the unscriptural carelessness so usual among Christians. All this is loose confusion. And let it not be supposed that these things are immaterial. The true consciousness of our relationships with God, and the Father, and with Christ, is the atmosphere in which our Christian affections breathe and are developed. Communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, and with God, scripture speaks of (and it is our highest blessedness), but of union with God never. It is unintentional blasphemy. Union is with Christ, the man in glory. Speaking of union with God only destroys the very idea of union.
The statements of Dr. Stuart on the Trinity are hazarded, going beyond scripture; but I suppose he means what is truth, and it is not my present subject: so I leave it there. The history of the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost, which professedly divided the Greek and Roman churches, and which was a metaphysical novelty, forbidden even at Rome, in the time of Leo the Great, ought to have taught Christians in these days, whilst holding the doctrine of the Trinity personally, and unity in the Godhead without wavering, to avoid metaphysical theology in such holy matters, for this question of procession is mere metaphysics in divine things.
I now turn to “some of the great properties of this oneness.” Now in Dr. Stuart’s remarks on these, I gladly recognize piety and personal delight in Christ. But true union is lost in his remarks. He speaks of gathering together in one all the redeemed in earth and heaven. Of this scripture never does speak. It speaks of heading up all things under Christ; and it speaks of dying, not for the Jews only, but to gather together in one the children of God, which were scattered abroad. So that then they had not hitherto been gathered.
The unity of God’s children down here is spoken of in a double way: the unity of children in a family, in their relationship with a holy Father, as in John 17, Christ the pattern among many brethren; and the unity of the body united to Christ, the head in glory. But this scriptural unity and oneness is lost in the vagueness of “all the redeemed in heaven and earth.” That the unity of the saints in the New Testament will not cease when they are in glory, I surely believe (they will then be made perfect in one); that the body will then be complete, also the church of the firstborn, and the just men (the saints of the Old Testament) perfected, I do not doubt, though God has reserved some better thing for us.
But the unity spoken of in scripture is by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. As to the body, by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, barbarian or Scythian. This clearly could not be before. The Jew, on the contrary, was strictly bound to keep up the middle wall of partition—sinned if he did not. Now, by the cross, it is broken down, and He has made both one and reconciled both in one body to God, having slain the enmity, and we are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. There is one body and one Spirit. There was the unity of a nation before, the great body of whom were not converted at all. The glorified head, the man in glory, did not yet exist, who is head over all things, head of the body. It is not as the creating life-giving word and Son of God, that Christ is the Head over all things, and to the church His body. It is, as is evident from Ephesians 1, the man whom God has raised and set at His right hand. Then only too the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven. He could not be (John 7) till Jesus was glorified. And as we have seen from 1 Corinthians 12, then it was by the baptism of the Holy Ghost that the saints were baptized into one body.
So also it is as to known sonship, and the unity connected with it. “The heir so long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant though he be lord of all… But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons; and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying, Abba, Father,” Gal. 4. Thus they are brought into known relationship with the Father, to be fully accomplished in glory, when they will be made perfect in one, Christ the firstborn among many brethren.
Here are unities, that is, of the family and of the body: one a relationship with the Father, Christ being the firstborn; the other true union with Christ, the head formed by the Holy Ghost come down from heaven, consequent on His being glorified as man—unities, of which Christians were bound to maintain the manifestation on earth, according to John 17 and Ephesians 4. In both respects they have failed. The wolf has caught the sheep and scattered them (thank God, he cannot pluck or catch them out of the good Shepherd’s hand); and he has set up the travesty of unity in popery, and all sorts of churches, first national, and then free, among those who could no longer bear the corruptions of Romanism.
Scriptural unity and union is lost, nor scarce cared for, save that God is awakening a craving after it in these last days. It is confounded with communion, and union of organizations; which cannot be the unity of the body nor of the family of God. Duty as to it is forgotten, and men are content to leave it to be fulfilled in another world. Let us see what Dr. Stuart makes of it in these last pages of his sermon. The bond of children is confounded with the membership of the body, and this is said to be similar to the union between the Father and the Son, a gross and utter mistake; as if the analogies of John 17 could be applied to the union of the members with the head. Apply only the teaching of Ephesians or 1 Corinthians 12 to the wondrous statements of John 17, and see how it offends every moral sense and feeling.
The rest of this paragraph describing communion, I have not a word to say against. Only in strange confusion, using an account of the state of the world (habitable earth) under Christ’s reign, Dr. Stuart makes the spiritual flock to be a “mingled” one, composed of wolves and lambs together!—a sentence which I profess myself wholly unable to comprehend. If he had merely used it as a vague statement of peace, I should; but he says, it is a mingled flock. I first thought it meant unconverted and converted together, but he goes on to speak of spiritual communion together, and what the mingling is I do not know.
How wholly union, in the scriptural sense, is lost in the thought of the state of the soul, is seen in what follows. That Adam was the head of his fallen race, no Christian denies; but what union to a covenant is, what “as in Adam all die” has to do with dissolving union with his covenant, I know not. Next, it is union to the world in its allurements and power. What has this to do with the reality of union? Then we have union to sin, which has no sense at all. Sin in the flesh we read of, captivity to it, deliverance from it; but union to it only bewilders the mind. It is there always in the flesh, though we are no longer under the law of sin and death, Christ having died to sin once, and He being our life in the power of the Spirit. Then, we read of union to self. Self is self. I do not live to self if I know the power of redemption; but all this has nothing to do with union or unity. It is my personal state as having died in Christ, and the risen Christ being now my new life.
As to crucifying being a lingering death but a certain one, it is all a mischievous delusion. If I am crucified with Christ, I am dead—dead with Christ, dead to the law; ye are dead, crucified with Christ, nevertheless alive, but not me, but Christ living in me. There is no lingering or gradual death spoken of in scripture. I am to reckon myself dead, and then for practice bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. Only when actually dead, can it be said there is no sin in me. The whole theory here is unscriptural. But this by the bye. Union is lost in the vague use of it for the state of the soul. Union with Christ is not simply life; “as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” This is divine work. Union is connected with Christ, seen as a man whom God has raised from the dead, and of us together with Him. In connection with union He is not seen as life-giving Son, but as a man raised by God when He was dead. Hence, in Colossians, it is also connected with our having been forgiven all trespasses.
As to the vine, Dr. Stuart is contradicting himself, for he has recognized in this sermon that there are temporary branches which are taken away. I believe no member of His body will ever be separated from Him; but the application of the vine does not hold good.
How we get strength from His crucifixion in weakness I know not, save perhaps by moral experience realizing it. Scripture does not speak of it. We abide in Him, if we eat His flesh and drink His blood, and in this sense eating Him, live by Him. But it is never said that we derive our strength from His crucifixion. Joy and fruit are our state. Union is another thing. Such statements deny its reality, and confound communion and union.
The last paragraph is sorrowful—sorrowful that Dr. Stuart’s heart and conscience were not affected by what he speaks of. He recognises that the world’s admiration has been turned into a taunt, with a saying sometimes “Behold, how they hate one another.” “Yet their mutual love is as genuine, and in the same circumstances would prove as intense as eighteen hundred years ago.” This is to be power for the salvation of the world. What is? That it would prove as intense in the same circumstances. Does the world say now, “Behold how these Christians love one another”? Does it not mock at their divisions? Is not corrupt Christianity taunting them with it? Is not the world turning openly infidel? What is this change of circumstances but the worldliness and scattering of Christians? Besides, how is it to be power for the conversion of the world, when, “in the loftiness of his heart, he (the worldly man) would count it despicable in himself to be capable of such an affection “? “It speaks as a living witness in the hour when the Spirit moves on his heart.” No doubt, but then it is not by it he was attracted when worldly. It is the individual already under the influence of the Spirit who is attracted by it. “To the world,” Dr. Stuart tells us, “Christian love is incomprehensible.” Yet it has great power in converting the world! It is “despicable “in the world’s eyes, but it is an “attractive spectacle, ordained for the world’s salvation! “
The next property or power in it is “in our seen union on earth to Christ in heaven.” What this means I know not. Men may see the fruits of it perhaps, but as distinct from these where the affections are set on heavenly things, it cannot be seen at all. There is nothing, in the passage Dr. Stuart quotes, to say to it. The chief priests, etc., took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus, that is, when on earth. The general effect of communion with the Lord, I surely do not question; but this confusion of communion with union, both in its reality and in its forming one body on earth, is one of the great evils of the day. It really denies union and promotes dis-union among saints. If they can have communion from time to time, shake hands across the hedge, as has been said, they are content.
But there is a craving, and from God. Union has therefore been sought in other ways. Of this even the Evangelical Alliance was, and is, a witness; but the name betrays its true character. For an alliance there must be two or more. They agreed to remain sects, and to meet notwithstanding. Indeed they confessed they had pretended to attain to too much unity, and they must be content with union. In America it has been sought by interchanges of pulpits. But there error and truth are all mingled together, and indifference to truth cultivated. In the English Establishment unity is sought in the same way. The most marked effort at unity is in the Presbyterian body. In Canada they have coalesced; in the United States the new school and the old school, that is Arminians and Calvinists, have joined. Dr. Stuart alludes to the union of the Reformed Presbyterians with what is called the Free Church of Scotland.
As an outward thing, one may rejoice in seeing less division among Protestants. As far as my acquaintance with their statement, the Covenanters were perhaps from their small numbers, and adherence to principle, as a general thing, the most godly living of the Presbyterian bodies. I trust they may not lose it by being swamped in a larger one. But it has nothing to do with the unity of the body of Christ. Imperfect as the views of Dr. Stuart as to unity are, as he sees merely the binding Christians together as the children of their heavenly Father (a blessed union surely, but not the body of Christ: union by the Holy Ghost to the man Christ Jesus in glory, so as to form his body); inadequate and defective as is his general idea of “gathering into one all the redeemed in heaven and in earth,” of which indeed scripture does not speak, the unity he does know is wholly inapplicable, and indeed contrary, to these unions of ecclesiastical bodies. For they have not the pretension to be all saints.
I do not now discuss whether multitudinous bodies are right or wrong, but they are multitudinous bodies, not a gathering of saints, as such, to Jesus’ name. They are not— cannot pretend to be—the body of Christ, nor a part of it, nor even the true family of God. Further, their object is to impose religion on the state, to make the state act on Christian principles. The gathering together in one the children of God, which were scattered abroad, does not enter their minds, but getting the state to act Christianly; and they insist on the authority and independence of the church exactly on popish grounds, not that of a little despised flock suffering under its persecution, but pressing its own principles on the state. That Christianity has modified men’s habits is quite true. Men do not do in the light what they do in the dark. But making the world Christian in its ways is not gathering together the children of God. It is a return to Judaism,129 as indeed the Covenanters, true-hearted people as they were, clearly did. They took the sword, and perished by the sword.
As to the unity of the body, it does not seem to cross their minds, formed on earth as it was by the baptism of the Holy Ghost. But the whole Free Church principle was a delusion: Christ is not the King of the church. Where is such a thought in scripture? “King of saints,” in the Revelation, is a false reading for “king of nations,” borrowed from Jeremiah. King of the Jews, scripture and the world’s mockery owns Him to be. That He will rule over the nations is clearly revealed; He will take to Him His great power and reign, when divine wrath comes. The kings of the earth did rise up against the Lord, and against His anointed; they will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is King of kings and Lord of lords. But Christ is not now sitting on His own throne at all, but on the Father’s; Rev. 3:21. God has said to Him, “Sit on my right hand till I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And there the blessed One is in glory, gathering now His joint-heirs by the Spirit sent down from heaven, through the gospel, joint-heirs, once all united, and the manifested body of Christ, but whom the wickedness of man and craft of Satan have long ago scattered, caught the sheep and scattered them; yea, made of that which was the church, the most heinous corruption under heaven.
The union of Presbyterian or other bodies may remove partially the reproach of Protestantism; with the unity of God’s children as a family it has nothing to do; and, as to the unity of the body of Christ by the Holy Ghost here below, wholly ignores it. “King of the church “is an utterly anti-scriptural thought. When He shall reign, we shall reign with Him. He is now sitting at the Father’s right hand awaiting that time. Meanwhile, as children of one heavenly family, in relationship with the Father, as members of one only body, the body of Christ, the church, we should be one by the Holy Ghost. For Christians the crucial truth now is the unity of the body formed on earth. Where is it? As I have often said, if Paul addressed a letter to the church of God which is at Edinburgh, who would get it? It would go to the dead letter office. Alas that it is so! May our hearts and consciences feel for the ruin of the Lord’s once beautiful flock, for the unity of the scattered sheep and the unity of His Spirit manifesting His body on earth. The arrangements of ecclesiastical bodies cannot effect this.
That I have not misstated the link of church and state as desired by free and reformed churches, we have only to read Dr. Goold claiming acceptance of Covenanters’ principles, Dr. Rainy, and Mr. M’Dermid, where it is stated in language stronger and more positive than that which I have said. The church claimed to have free entrance into every chamber of the national life. They are to bring nations in their national capacity into religious subjection to God, and conformed to His will. I only notice it now, not to controvert it as a system, a system in which popery has a far better chance, but to shew that their system, and their unity have nothing whatever to do with gathering together in one the children of God, which were scattered abroad, or with the unity of the body of Christ formed by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
126 Being a review of Dr. A. Moody Stuart’s sermon— “Jesus Christ the Bond of the Holy Universe” —preached at the opening of the Free Church General Assembly, Edinburgh, on Thursday, 18th May, 1876.
127 The careful reader of scripture will see that, where rejected. His God and Father took care that testimony should be rendered to Him as Son of God in the resurrection of Lazarus, Son of David in riding into the city, Son of man when the Greeks came up. The last involved death; John 11 and 12.
128 Note here, when it is declared all knees to bow, a third class is added, ta katachonia, infernal beings. They are gone out of heaven and earth, and are not put in the classes reconciled.
129 For the American war, no suitable hymns, we read, were found; they were obliged to use the Psalms. Then, as Israel, they could sing and fight. So indeed it was in Scotland.