Continuing on in Anthony Burgess’ five sermons on christian unity we come to his exposition of the benefits and necessity of unity, as well as the mischief of division. His previous sermon dealt with the nature of unity: invisible through the Spirit, visible through confession of faith, church ordinances, government, membership, and ministry.
One of the excellent features of this sermon is Burgess’ balance of unity in love and doctrine. Those two things should never be placed in antithesis to one another.
Here Burgess reminds us that Christ does not merely pray for our unity. He commands it. Christian unity is not a convenience; it is a mandatory necessity. “There is no greater scandal to Religion and holines, then when those that do believe, are as the Levites Concubine, that was cut into many peeces.”
Our unity is to be a testimony to the world. And for that reason, when doctrinal divergences arise, we are to take them seriously and deal with them carefully. Love and doctrinal unity are to be one. “We are to use Scripture-zeal and Scripture-means to convince even those that are godly, when erring in Doctrine: Therefore the Scripture doth not commend an unity and love, so as to let all errours and prohanenesse alone.”
We have been promised unity in the covenant of grace. Therefore we should pray for it, expect it, and pursue it. Why then so much division? Burgess will deal with that in another sermon.
There is safety in numbers. Unity is advantageous because it promotes accountability, mutual help, mutual concern, and mutual encouragement and edification. Consequently, any subversion of unity hurts everyone, including an instigator of disunity. “And therefore observe, whether the power of godlinesse doth not much abate, when differences do arise: There is not that heavenly communion, nor hearty concurrence in the waies of holiness. There is not that mutual helping of one another, as at other times.”
We must always be in pursuit of unity so that we will be able to withstand persecution and difficulty. In times of peace and calm, we are all the more prone to divide. God may send persecution that we might put aside petty differences and stand firm on true unity in faith, hope, and love. “And therefore if love and godlinesse do not unite you, take heed God doth not make some outward trouble and affliction to put you together; If you do not imbrace one another willingly, he may binde you in his chains together.”
Unity strengthens. A body with unbroken bones is stronger than a body of broken bones. How sad it is then, and evil, to break the unity of the brethren. “Now if not only the Wolf and the Fox, but also one Sheep shall devour another, Must not this bring utter ruine?…That which the devils of hell, and all the wicked adversaries thereof could not do, that you will do to one another.”
True unity is a beautiful thing to behold and to experience.
Unity is so beautiful that we must all strive to be peacemakers.
We should love and long for unity to such an extent that it is our natural inclination and desire in this life. We need Scripture and ministers to remind us, but let us take it to heart and pursue it from our own hearts’ compulsion not purely a mandatory obligation.
In the previous post, I mentioned that Burgess’ sermons are excellent material for associationalism. All of that remains true in this sermon. Christians have an obligation to join with other Christians, first in local churches, then as local churches. This unity is to be built on truth and love, and it its strength and beauty will grow as we stand firm on that foundation. Thus built up and solidified, we can help each other and accomplish much good, with God’s blessing. And we will be a strong testimony to the world of the life-changing power of God’s grace, and the fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant.