Discourse 2 - On the Removal of Church Divisions and Application of the Doctrine
"They shall be one in mine hand" Ezekiel 37:19
Having taken a view of the scriptural unity of the Church, and of the nature and causes of those divisions by which it is broken, let us now turn our eye to a more agreeable and cheering prospect.
Removal of Divisions in the Church
III. Of the removal of the divisions of the Church, and the restoration of her violated unity.
1. A happy reunion of the divided Church is promised in the Word of God. It is implied in those promises which secure to the Church the enjoyment of a high degree of prosperity in the latter days - in which God engages to arise and have mercy on Zion, to be favorable to his people, pardon their iniquity and hear their prayers, cause their reproach to cease, and make them a praise, a glory, and a rejoicing, in all the earth; in a word, in which he promises to pour out his Holy Spirit and revive his work. God cannot be duly glorified, religion cannot triumph in the world, the Church cannot be prosperous and happy, until her internal dissensions are abated, and her children come to act in greater unison and concert. But when her God vouchsafes to make the light of his countenance to shine upon her, and sheds down the enlightening, reviving, restorative and sanctifying influences of his Spirit, the long delayed, long wished-for, day will not be far distant. It will have already dawned.
But there are, in the Bible, promises that bear directly on this part of the Church's felicity, and pledge the divine faithfulness for the restoration of her lost peace and violated unity. Some of these I shall lay before you as grounds of your faith, and encouragements to your hopes and endeavors.
I begin with the declaration of the evangelical prophet, which has been often reechoed in the prayers of the friends of Zion, and which deserves your particular attention from its occupying a place in the midst of promises referring immediately to the times of the New Testament: "Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion" (Isa. 52:8). The divisions and distractions of the Church have, in every age, been greatly owing to the conduct of her overseers and guardians. If they "follow their own spirit, and see a lying divination," how can it be expected that they shall "go up into the gaps, to make up the hedge, or stand in the battle in the day of the Lord?" (Ezek. 13:3-6). If in giving forth instructions respecting sin and duty, danger and safety, their voices be dissonant and contradictory, must they not cause great distress and perplexity to their people, and prove, instead of messengers of peace, "the snare of a fowler in all their ways, and hatred in the house of their God?" (cf. Hos. 9:8; Micah 7:4). How cheering, then, the assurance that they "shall see eye to eye" in the matters of God, and lift up their united voice in "publishing salvation, and saying to Zion, 'Thy God reigneth!' " (Isa. 52:7-8).
To this may be added another passage from the same prophecy which bears an equally undoubted reference to the latter days, although clothed in Old Testament language: "He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the enmity of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim" (Isa. 11:12-13). Then, instead of waging an unnatural war, and forming ungodly alliances to enable them the more effectually to harass one another, they shall, with united strength, assail the avowed enemies of religion: "They shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them" (Isa. 11:14).
The remark made as to the period referred to in the above predictions may be applied to the following, although some parts of the description relate more immediately to the deliverance from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities: " 'At the same time,' saith the Lord, 'will I be the God of ALL the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.' " (Jer. 31:1, 6). "For there shall be a day that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, 'Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God.' " "Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first" (Jer. 33:6-7).
Suffice it to add these two evangelical promises: "Then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent" (Zeph. 3:9). "It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord: I will go also.' Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord" (Zech. 8:20-22). "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be ONE Lord, and his name ONE" (Zeph. 14:9).
These, brethren, are "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Pet. 1:4); and do they not amply secure the attainment, in due time, of the blessing to which they all so evidently refer? Yes, "these are the true sayings of God" (Rev. 19:9) - of Him who cannot lie nor change nor call back his words. They are the sayings of him "that frustrateth the tokens of liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; that confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers" (Isa. 44:25-26). They are "written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord" (Ps. 102:18) for the fulfillment of them. Give him glory by placing your hope and confidence in his promises; and let the cheering prospect which they hold forth console and animate your hearts, amidst all the distress which you feel in contemplating the present disordered and divided state of the Church. Are you still disposed to say, "How can these things be?" Do you find it difficult "against hope to believe in hope?" (cf. Rom. 4:18). Consider what I have farther to say. [Continue reading here.]
1. See Bishop Lowth's note on the passage.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Happy Reunion of the Divided Church Promised By God's Word
Thoms M'Crie, The Unity of the Church, pp. 57-62: