This is a continuation of Anthony Burgess’ five sermons on Christian unity. It is also a direct continuation of the previous sermon, describing the benefits of unity and the mischief of division.
Burgess here teaches us that divisions come from sin. It is our own sinfulness that produces rents in the church. He also gives a helpful caution to those who stride forth in the name of truth. However much we may have the truth on our side in any given situation, we ought to avoid pride and force. “Though a man pretend never such singular gifts, such extraordinary Teachings of Gods Spirit, yet if contentious, he is not to glory, yea, he lieth against the Truth; Thou sais, it’s for the truth thou are thus contentious, It’s for the truth thou hast made these divisions, No, the truths of Christ are to be maintained by the Spirit of Christ.”
In the ensuing passage, Burgess argues that unity is of utmost importance. The Scriptures demand and declare it plainly. And we must strive for unity. If the devils can unite against the church, cannot the church unite against the devil? There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
If all this is true, how do we account for our disunity?
First, our unity immediately implies a decisive and complete rupture from the world. Division is necessarily entailed in our unity. This comes about not because of some defect or intentional disruptiveness on the part of the gospel, but rather natural man’s enmity towards God and hatred of his truth.
It is the remnant of sin, either within believers or found in false believers, that causes divisions and disunity in the church. Divisions are evidence of the false church within the church.
If the elect cannot be deceived in fundamentals, ultimately, then a fundamental agreement is to be sought after and considered more than non-fundamental agreement.
As a side note, it’s reasoning like this that informs our perspective of why the Particular Baptists followed the form and content of the Presbyterians and Independents’ confessions of faith. They were attempting to join that fundamental unity which Burgess has been describing. They explain:
We should also remember that Christ’s prayer will be fulfilled at last in heaven when we are truly all one in every respect.
As long as we dwell here in this sinful world, and as long as sin dwells in us, we should expect a certain amount of division and disunity.
And we ought not forget that the Devil is hard at work, though he will never triumph, to subvert and disrupt the church at every turn.
Associations of churches should not be surprised when disunity arises. But they should take action, carefully and collectively, to deal with divisions so that the truth and love of God rule the day and form the foundation of our unity.