Church Unity
John 17:20-21
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;…

I. WHAT IS THE ONENESS? There is a widespread tendency to confound it with uniformity. But there may be unity without uniformity, and there may be uniformity without unity. In the planks of a timber yard, sawn of equal length, breadth, and thickness, there is uniformity, but it is the uniformity of death without unity. In the trees of the wood or forest there is unity of life and general structure, with great diversity of form, fibre, and foliage. The very absence of uniformity adds to the impressiveness of the unity which responds in every trunk and branch and leaf to the quickening influences of the spring and the calm decay of autumn. The uniformity of a Church or society may be like the uniformity of a graveyard in which all the tombs, monuments, and headstones are of one pattern: but unity can be found only amongst the living. The oneness which the Saviour sought was Divine —

1. In its model: "As Thou, leather," &c. These words remind us of "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." This is a unity —

(1) Of life (John 5:26). Believers are begotten through the same word of truth, born by the grace of the same Spirit, pervaded by the same principle of spiritual life, partakers of the same Divine nature, and adopted into the same family. How diversified soever they may be in age, or station, or attainment, they possess a life in common.

(2) Of character. Jesus is "the image of the invisible God." The oneness of all Christian disciples is after this model. In so far as they are after the pattern of Christ, they see alike, feel alike, act alike on all moral questions. They must all have the Spirit of Christ, hate sin, live by faith.

(3) Of enjoyment. The joy of the Father was the delight of the incarnate Son; in blessedness they are one. So with the happiness of all His disciples. All drink of the water of that river which makes glad the city of God, and their purest joy is centred in things heavenly and Divine.

2. In its sphere — "in us." It is obvious that Christ Jesus here claims for Himself equality with God. No mere man, without blasphemy, could use such language as this. The only sphere in which Christian unity can be realized, is in the reconciling Father and the redeeming Son. Very different are the thoughts of men on this great matter.

(1) The world says, "Let nations be one in the reciprocities of commerce; let free trade bind human tribes together with the bonds of its golden girdle; let brotherhood be realized in the mysteries of freemasonry; let unity become a fact for mankind through the sceptre and shield of a universal monarchy." But the disruption and discord made by sin defy all such efforts at unification.

(2) Even the Church has said, "Let us make oneness by the bonds of the same ecclesiastical polity and by the use of the same liturgical service; let us compel men to oneness of creed and worship by the force of law, or allure them at least to the appearance of it by the power of state patronage and worldly pomp." Christ says to the Father, "Let them be one in us." Nowhere else, and in no other way, can this oneness become a spiritual fact.

II. THE GRAND PURPOSE CONTEMPLATED IN THE REALIZATION OF THIS ONENESS: That the world may believe," &c. One of the greatest obstacles to the triumphs of the gospel is in the contentions and separations which have prevailed in the Church of Christ. But when the world sees the Church, in all its sections, drawn and knit together, not to profess the same polity, and in spite of intellectual differences to show its oneness in Christ the living Head, then will the world believe that Jesus Christ has come as the sent of God for the cure of its ills and the relief of all its woes. It is not difficult to see how this spirit would operate in convincing the world. Would it not be a triumph of Christian love? "God is love," but where is the evidence of this amidst the jealousy, sectarianism, and contentions of the disciples of Christ? In the first age of the Church the evidence was often impressive, and the heathen around them were led to exclaim, "See how these Christians love each other." So it should be still.

(J. Spence, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

WEB: Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word,

Christian Unity
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