A pure and true unity within the Visible Church seems a pipe dream to many. And yet, as Thomas M’Crie (1772-1835) reminds us below, such a work is nothing with God. If Omnipotence can devise and execute a plan of higher reconciliation, what obstacle can he face for a lower?
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Call to your minds the amazing plan, conceived by “wisdom dwelling with prudence,” for reconciling the world to himself, and for repairing and closing up the wide and tremendous breach opened by the apostasy of man from his Maker. Survey this ” wisdom of God in a mystery,” as it is now unfolded by the Gospel. Consider the disposition of its parts, the perfect adaptation of the means to the end, and the nice adjustment of each of these means to the rest. See how it tends to vindicate the authority of the divine law, to assert the honour of the supreme lawgiver, and to stamp heaven’s broadest, blackest brand of infamy on sin, at the same time that it provides a way of escape and salvation to the rebellious sinner. See those attributes of Deity, whose claims were apparently conflicting and irreconcilable, harmonising and conspiring together to promote the gracious design, reflecting lustre upon one another, mingling their rays and concentrating their lights, until at last they burst forth in one united blaze of glories more effulgent and overwhelming than is to be seen in all the other works of God. See “mercy and truth meeting together; righteousness and peace kissing each other; truth springing out of the earth, and righteousness looking down from heaven.” Surely the God of Peace, who has displayed such “manifold wisdom” in restoring us to His favour by Christ Jesus, can be at no loss to reconcile His followers, and to terminate their minor differences, in such a way as shall be fully consistent with the claims of truth and holiness.
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“Let there be no strife between us and you, for we are brethren (Gen. 13:7, 8): and is not the Canaanite and the Perizzite yet in the land? O let it not be told in Gath, nor published in the streets of Ashkelon. Let it not be said, that there can be no unity in the Church without Prelacy. Brethren I charge you by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye awake not nor stir up Jesus Christ till he please (Song. 2:7); for his rest is sweet and glorious with his well-beloved. It shall be no grief of heart to you afterward, that you have pleased others as well as yourselves, and have stretched your principles for accommodation in church government, as well as in worship, and that for the Church’s peace and edification; and that the ears of our common enemies may tingle, when it shall be said, “The Churches of Christ in England have rest, and are edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the joy of the Holy Ghost are multiplied (Act 9:31).” Alas how shall our divisions and contentions hinder the preaching and learning of Christ, and the edifying one another in love! Is Christ divided? says the apostle. There is but one Christ, yea the head and the body make one Christ, so that you cannot divide the body without dividing Christ. Is there so much as a seam in all Christ’s garment? Is it not woven throughout from the top to the bottom? Will you have one half of Israel to follow Tibni, and another half to follow Omri? O brethren, we shall be one in heaven, let us pack up differences in this place of our pilgrimage, the best way we can. Nay, we will not despair of unity in this world. Hath not God promised to give us one heart and one way (Jer. 32:39, Ezek. 11:19)? and that Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim, but they shall flee upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the East, they shall spoil them of the East together (Isa. 11:13, 14)? Has not the Mediator (whom the Father hears always) prayed that all his may be one? Brethren, it is not impossible, pray for it, endeavor it, press hard toward the mark of accommodation. How much better is it that you be one with the other Reformed Churches, though somewhat straitened and bound up, than to be divided though at full liberty and elbow room? Better is a dry morsel and quietness therewith, than a house full of sacrifices with strife (Prov. 17:1).”
– George Gillespie (1613-1648)
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In the following quote from the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, we see how vitally important the maintenance of the three marks of the Church are to its role, and for that matter to the witness of Christ in the world. The three marks constitute the ‘face’ of the Visible Church. That face of the Church, which identifies and distinguishes it among others, is the very face of Christ among men. So to the degree that the marks are compromised, the face of the Church and so of Christ are compromised. And where the marks are absent, the Visible Church is absent – and Christ walks not among such snuffed-out candlesticks.
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“The notes of the true Kirk are three: Word, sacraments and discipline: first, the true preaching of the Word of God in which God has revealed himself unto us; second, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, which are annexed to the Word and promise of God to seal and confirm them in our hearts; last ecclesiastical discipline uprightly administered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished. In the observation of these notes the true face of Jesus Christ appears. We cannot make the face of Jesus Christ appear. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ himself, made known through Word and sacraments, is the true ordinance governing the life, form, and activity of the Church. We believe in Christ in the midst of those who meet in his name and by faith hear the voice of his Spirit speaking in and through the Scriptures and obey him. We see him in the Sacraments, and walk in holiness according to the leading of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There the true Church manifests itself in the power of the presence of Christ the sole Head and Lord of the Church – there it steps forth before us, and distinguishes itself from any Church that usurps his authority.”
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