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The Completeness of the Body
“The Church is the ‘one body’ of Christ, and all Christians are individual members of that body. No one liveth to himself, no one dieth to himself; when one member suffers all members suffer with it. It is one of the sins of a self-sufficient age to deny the unity and completeness of Christ’s body, and to set up tests of unity other than those which he has appointed. In the natural body each member united with the head has vital union with every other member connected with the same head. The basis of true Christian unity is union with Jesus Christ who is the head of the body. Men lay down as the basis of their unity, union with some human leaders through the doctrines which he has proclaimed or the forms which he has instituted. They are united by external observances, by laws, forms, rites and bands. Their union is the union of staves in a barrel; Christ’s union is the union of branches in a vine. Their union is that of bones in a skeleton, joined and wired together, but destitute of vital energy; the union of Christ and his people is the union of the members of a body, joined together by those ligaments which every joint supplieth, and pervaded by the energy of a common life. The unity which Christ inaugurated embraces the whole family of God. It includes every man who has vital connection with the great Head of the Church. Men’s schemes are too narrow for this, and include only those persons who coincide in opinions, who agree in forms, who are trimmed according to a certain pattern, or shaped in conformity to certain human standards. Christ bids us to receive one another as he has received us. The fact that we have passed from death unto life, and that we are united to Christ the living Head, is proof that we are united to his people. If our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son Jesus Christ, it is also with one another. Men, however, restrict their fellowship; and hence, while Christ’s Church is inclusive and wide-reaching, their churches are narrow, and shut out more Christians than they shut in. The results of this are grievous to God’s people who are thus excluded from union with saints, but still more grievous to those who exclude them. How often we see churches crippled and helpless for lack of the labor and sympathy of Christian brethren who stand by their side ready and willing to be helpers in their toils, but are excluded by some party Shibboleth, or by some unscriptural name or form. How often we see men shut away from their proper field of Christian effort, simply because they cannot accept the unscriptural statements and arrangements, which men presume to impose before they will receive them to their fellowship. Men toil in weariness, and bring themselves to the borders of the grave, that they may do work which others would willingly and wisely do, who are not permitted to participate in the labor. Thus men virtually say to God’s children, ‘You may be members of Christ’s body, but we have no need of you or your services.’
The apostle has taught us that no member of the body can be spared from its place and its proper work, without serious injury. No man can separate himself from the body of Christ without harm; nor can any portion of Christians separate themselves from others who love the Lord, or exclude other Christians from their fellowship, without doing themselves great injury.
The union of true Christians springs from a higher than human source; and their adaptation to each other for mutual helpfulness is so complete and perfect that any separation must work harm both to those who cause it and to those who endure it. The feet may say, We are strong, we have no need of the eyes, we carry the body, and the eyes are mere useless gazers, but when the eyes are gone, and the feet are groping and floundering in the ditch, the folly of this decision is most manifest. So whenever any of the Lord’s children in their inexperience and self-sufficiency think themselves able to dispense with the presence, the service, and the loving fellowship of others of the children of the Lord, they may find sooner or later, by their weakness, inefficiency, and a thousand calamities and troubles that may come upon them, they have over-estimated their own powers, and have put away from them those members which God hath set in the body, that they might abide together in the unity of love and in mutual helpfulness. All down through the ages comes our Saviour’s parting prayer for his disciples, that “they all may be one,” and the hearts of the truly regenerate yearn and long for this unity. Deeper than the names and forms and creeds of men, throbs that inward, divine and universal life which Christ imparted, and which makes his children one.—The Armory.
— January, 1880 —