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The Lord's Prayer for Unity.
The most remarkable feature of this wonderful portion of the word of God is the Lord's prayer for those who would believe upon him in the coming ages. It seems as if the very climax of earnestness is reached when he travails in soul for the saints who in after times, should be gathered to him from out of the world by the preaching of the gospel. Such a prayer uttered with such heartfelt fervency, right at the foot of the cross, should have a pre-eminent sacredness for every believer in every age; in other words, for every subject of the prayer, and no one upon whose heart rests the petition that came from the Savior's heart can refuse to do all in his power to secure the results for which the Master prayed. Indeed, one who could harbor a thought in opposition to that for which the Lord travails in soul, certainly has some other spirit rather than that of Christ.
There is just one thought in this petition and that one thought is the unity 258of his people. Am analysis of the petition in their behalf will show how this burden rested upon his soul. He prays (1) “That they all may be one;” (2) “As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be one in us;” (3) He prays for the oneness “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me;” (4) “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them that they may be one, as we are one;” (5) “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one, even as we are one.” Four times the petition goes to the Father for their oneness, such unity as that of the Son and the Father, and as this divine unity is secured by a reciprocal indwelling, so he asks that believers may be in him and that he may dwell in them by the Holy Spirit, in order that they may keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Hence, as the Father hath given him glory, he imparts the same glory to them that they may be one. Finally he asks for this oneness because without it the world will not be brought to the faith.
No true disciple can appropriate this prayer without the deep conviction that all that hinders the “oneness” prayed for, is sinful, in disobedience to the will of both the Father and the Son, and calculated to defeat the object of Christ's coming into the world. What opposes this oneness is Anti-christ. It becomes him, therefore, to ascertain what this petition really asks for and to see that his own course is in harmony with the Lord's will, as revealed in the prayer. While the word church is not named, all concede that in praying for the unity of believers the Lord prays for the unity of the body into which believers are gathered. It will aid in ascertaining his meaning to see the characteristics of the early church in which we know that he dwelt by his Spirit. Its history tells that “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32), and that “walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31). Here, then, was oneness, oneness of heart and soul in one body, and the result is that the world believed upon Christ, and the believers were multiplied. These early Christians fulfilled the conditions of the Savior's prayer and the results in behalf of which he prayed, followed.
These believers, though in a few years counted by tens of thousands, composed of Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, and scattered through western Asia and southern Europe, were only one body, and the different members of this body were bound to each other by the most indissoluble ties. A favorite figure of Paul is the likeness of the church to the human body, which is composed of various members but all with one life, interest and mutual dependence upon each other. No less than twelve times be speaks of the church as the body of which Christ is the Head, often emphasizing the fact that there is but one body. “In one Spirit ye are baptized into one body and all partake of one spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Taking Jews and Gentiles Christ “makes in himself of two one new man, so making peace, that he might reconcile both to God in one body” (Eph. 2:15, 16). In the apostolic age there was no thought of bodies of Christians. The church was a unit. All the figures point to its unity. There is one kingdom; the Lord says, “I will build my church;” he is the Bridegroom and the church is the bride; “there is one fold, and one shepherd; the “one loaf” on the Lord's table Paul tells us represents the “one body;” there is one Head even as there is one body, and
Paul (Eph. 4:3–6) commands us to keep the unity of the Spirit In the bond of peace and names seven characteristics that imply and compel unity. “There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all; and in you all.”
On the one hand we have these emphatic declarations of the unity of the church, and on the other the strongest rebuke of divisions, schisms and sects. The word hairesis occurs nine times in the Greek of the New Testament, is rendered four times heresies, and five times sect. It always means a split, or sect, and is condemned as one of the works of the flesh. Anything that divides God's people is a hairesis, and a sect comes under the strongest condemnation.
It is clear from this examination of the Scriptures that the oneness prayed for by the Savior is inconsistent with the existence of denominationalism. It implies the breaking down of all divisions among the people of God as completely as those between Jew and Gentile were destroyed by the cross so as to mould them into one body. It implies such unity between all saints as exists between the various members of the human body. It implies oneness of life and of spirit, in one body under one Lord. Such a union, one that would unite all believers into one army, take away the reproach of Zion, and oppose a solid front to the adversary, would cause the world at once to believe that the Father sent Christ into the world. In order that this unity may have an effect upon the world it must be seen; hence there must be organic unity that it may be visible. Such unity did exist in the apostolic ages but then there were no sects; it has not existed since the apostasy and will not be restored until God's people all stand together as one body, having one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one calling, one hope, one Father. The fiction of an invisible church and an invisible unity does not meet the demand.
A unity that introduces religious rivalry into every country village, that refuses to unite in combined effort to save the world, that breaks up the soldiers of the cross into guerrilla bands rather than combine them into one great and invincible army, and that breaks to pieces at the door of the church or the communion table, has none of the conditions of that oneness for which the Savior prayed. Those conditions will never be met, until “all the multitude of them that believe are of one heart and soul.” For this consummation all who love the Lord ought to labor and to pray.
I am well pleased to give, as an evidence of the increasing sense of the need of unity, the following passage from a published discourse of Dr. John Fulton, a leading Episcopal minister: “Unless I have greatly misunderstood one of our Savior's most solemn utterances, I suspect that our divisions are worse than negatively unchristian; in their effects they are decidedly anti-christian. What else can our Lord have meant when he prayed to the Father, 'that they may all be one, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me?' If these affecting words mean anything, is it not that, in some way or other, the unity of Christ's followers is a divine condition of the conversion of the world? If that is his meaning, then is not every needless division treason to the 260kingdom of Christ? And, to speak very practically, what can it be but treason to permit the helplessness caused by our divisions to hand over to perdition, so far as we are concerned, perhaps more souls than our divided ministry is saving? With what consistency are we spending millions of money in foreign missions, while the wasteful wantonness of our denominational divisions, together with the crippled inefficiency which is caused by them, is virtually and needlessly consigning more thousands of our own countrymen to heathenism in one year than all our missionaries put together have ever converted in five? God forbid that I should disparage any effort to spread his Gospel at home or abroad; but while we are rejoicing over the heathen whom we save, let us not forget the account we have to give of the heathen whom our divisions are making by the thousand in every great city of this land.”—Christian Unity and Christian Faith, page 12.
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