What is the unity of the Spirit? How do we keep it? Does it mean that we have to strive for uniformity in order to keep the unity of the Spirit?
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).
Nothing is pressed more earnestly in the Scriptures, than to walk as becomes those called to Christ’s kingdom and glory. By lowliness, understand humility, which is opposed to pride. By meekness, that excellent disposition of soul, which makes men unwilling to provoke, and not easily to be provoked or offended. We find much in ourselves for which we can hardly forgive ourselves; therefore we must not be surprised if we find in others that which we think it hard to forgive. There is one Christ in whom all believers hope, and one heaven they are all hoping for; therefore they should be of one heart. They had all one faith, as to its object, Author, nature, and power. They all believed the same as to the great truths of religion; they had all been admitted into the church by one baptism, with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the sign of regeneration. In all believers God the Father dwells, as in his holy temple, by his Spirit and special grace.
However, a man can scarcely be an earnest Christian in the present day without being a controversialist. We are today as sheep in the midst of wolves: can there be agreement? We are kindled as lamps in the midst of darkness: can there be concord? Has not Christ himself said, “Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34)? You understand how all this is the truest method of endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit; for Christ the man of war, is Jesus the Peacemaker; but in order to have the creation of lasting, spiritual peace, the phalanx of evil must be broken, and the unity of darkness dashed to pieces. I pray that God will always preserve us from a unity in which truth shall be considered valueless, in which principle gives place to policy, in which the noble and masculine virtues which adorn the Christian hero are to be supplemented by an effeminate affectation of charity. May the Lord deliver us from indifference to his Word and will; for this creates the cold unity of masses of ice frozen into an iceberg, chilling the air for miles around: the unity of the dead as they sleep in their graves, contending for nothing, because they have neither part nor lot in all that belongs to living men. There is a unity which is seldom broken, the unity of demons, which, under the service of their great liege master, never disagree and quarrel: keep us from this terrible unity, oh God of heaven! The unity of locusts who have one common object, the glutting of themselves to the ruin of all around, the unity of the waves of Tophet’s fire, sweeping myriads into deeper misery: from this also, oh King of heaven, save us forevermore! May God perpetually send some prophet who shall cry aloud to the world, “Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isa 28:18). May there always be found some men, though they be rough as Amos, or as stern as Haggai, who shall denounce again and again all league with error and all compromise with sin, and declare that these are the abhorrence of God. Never dream that holy contention is at all a violation of the unity of the Spirit. The destruction of every kind of union which is not based on truth, is a preliminary to the edification of the unity of the Spirit. We must first sweep away these walls of untempered mortar—these tottering fences of man’s building—before there can be room to lay the goodly stones of Jerusalem’s walls one upon the other for lasting and enduring prosperity.
But what is this unity of the Spirit? I trust, dear friends, that we know it by having it in possession; for it is most certain that we cannot keep the unity of the Spirit, if we have it not already. Let us ask ourselves the question, “Have we the unity of the Spirit”? None can have it except those who have the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells only in new-born believing souls. By virtue of his having the Spirit, the believer is in union with every other spiritual man, and this is the unity which he is to endeavour to keep. This unity of the Spirit is revealed in love. A husband and wife may be, through providence, separated by hundreds of miles, but there is a unity of spirit in them because their hearts are one. We, brothers, are divided by many thousands of miles from the saints in Australia, America, and the South Sea, but loving as brothers, we feel the unity of the Spirit.
This unity of the Spirit is caused by a similarity of nature. Find a drop of water glittering in the rainbow, leaping in the cataract, rippling in the rivulet, lying silent in the stagnant pool, or dashing in spray against the vessel’s side, that water claims kinship with every drop of water the wide world over, because it is the same in its elements; and even so there is a unity of the Spirit which we cannot imitate, which consists in our being “begotten again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3) bearing in us the Holy Spirit as our daily quickener, and walking in the path of faith in the living God. Here is the unity of spirit, a unity of life, nature working itself out in love. This is sustained daily by the Spirit of God. He who makes us one, keeps us one. As long as there is life in my body, each part of my body must have communion with every other part of it. Here is my finger—I may discolour it with some noxious drug; my head may not approve of the staining of my finger; my head may suggest a thousand ways by which that finger ought to be cleaned, and this may be all right and proper; but my head never says, “I will cut off that finger from communion,” unless the body is willing to be mutilated and incomplete forever. Now, it is not possible to mutilate the body of Christ. Christ does not lose his members or cast off parts of his mystical body. And therefore it never ought to enter the head of any Christian whether or not he shall have communion in spirit with any other Christian, for he cannot do without it: as long as he lives he must have it. This does not check him in boldly denouncing the error into which his brother may have fallen, or in avoiding his intimate acquaintance while he continues to sin; but it does forbid the thought that we can ever really sever any true believer from Christ, or even from us, if we are in Christ Jesus.
The unity of the Spirit is preserved by the Holy Spirit infusing daily life floods into the one mystical body; and in proportion as the life floods become stronger, that union becomes more obvious. Let a spirit of prayer be poured out on all our Churches, conventionalities will be dashed down, divisions will be forgotten, and locked in each other’s arms, the people of God will show to the world that they are one in Christ Jesus.
The unity of the Spirit is a very difficult thing to maintain, and that for several reasons. Our sins would, very naturally, break it. If we were all angels, we would keep the unity of the Spirit, and not need even the exhortation to do so; but, alas! We are proud, and pride is the mother of division. Envy, too, how that separated very friends! When I cannot be satisfied with anything which is not hammered on my anvil or poured in my mould; when another man’s candle grieves me because it gives more light than mine; and when another man troubles me because he has more grace than I have—oh! There is no unity in this case. Anger—what a deadly foe is that to unity! When we cannot brook the smallest disrespect; when the slightest thing brings the blood into our face; when we speak unadvisedly with our lips: but surely I need not read the long list of sins which spoil this unity of the Spirit, for they are legion. Oh, may God cast them out from us, for only in this way can we keep the unity of the Spirit.
The unity of the Spirit ought to be kept, dear friends, because Satan is so busy to mar it. He knows that the greatest glory of Christ will spring from the unity of his Church. “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). There is no Church happiness where there is no Church unity. Let a Church be disaffected and divided, the schism in the body is death to all hallowed fellowship. We cannot enjoy communion with each other unless our hearts are one. How feebly our work for God is done when we are not agreed! The enemy cannot desire a better ally than strife in the midst of our camp. Christians, can you not agree to keep the unity of the Spirit when a destroying Satan is always on the watch seeking to drag immortal souls down to perdition? We must be more diligent in this matter; we must seek to purge out from ourselves everything which would divide, and to have in our hearts every holy thought which would tend to unite us with our brothers.
Beloved, there should be much peace, perfect peace, unbounded peace between the people of God. We are not aliens; we are “fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). Realise your fellow citizenship; do not treat Christian people as foreigners, and this bond of fellow-citizenship will be one bond of peace. We are not enemies. Men may be fellow citizens and yet hate one another, but we are friends, we are all friends to Christ, and in him we are all friends to one another; let that be another bond. This is not all; we are nearer than this; we are members of the same body. Shall this mysterious union fail to be a bond of peace for us? Will we, being the foot, contend with the eye? Or will we, being the eye, contend with the hand, and say, “I have no need of you?” If it is indeed the truth that we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones, let it never be said of the mystical body of our blessed Lord, that there was such a monstrous thing in it that the various parts would not co-work, but, started to battle with each other.
If we are to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in the same Church, then we must avoid everything that would mar it. Hence, let us cultivate everything that would tend to unity. Are any sick? Let us care for them. Are any suffering? Let us weep with them. Do we know one who has less love than others? Then let us have more, to make up the deficiency. Do we perceive faults in a brother? Let us admonish him in love and affection. We should all be peacemakers. Let us remember that we cannot keep the unity of the Spirit unless we all believe the truth of God. Let us search our Bibles, therefore, and conform our views and sentiments to the teaching of God’s Word. I have already told you that unity in error is unity in ruin. We want unity in the truth of God through the Spirit of God. Let us seek after this; let us live near to Christ, for this is the best way of promoting unity. Divisions in Churches never begin with those who are full of love for the Saviour. Cold hearts, unholy lives, inconsistent actions, neglected prayer closets; these are the seeds which sow schisms in the body; but he who lives near to Jesus, wears his likeness and copies his example, will be, wherever he goes, a sacred bond, a holy link to bind the Church together more closely than ever. May God give us this, and henceforth let us endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Didn’t our Lord Jesus Christ liken God’s Spirit to the wind (cf. John 3:8)? I like the song “Colours of the Wind” because it presents a spiritual dimension to earthly things which can only be perceived by those who are regenerated by the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 2:12-14). It also reminds me that no matter how different we are in our upbringing and appearance, we are all connected to each other if God’s Spirit dwells in us (cf. John 17:21).