Walter Scott Union (1844)

The Protestant Unionist


Heading: Sacred Literature

U N I O N .

"That they all may be one."--John 17.

      UNION is a trite subject among Christians. We all feel it. We have written and read of it till we are tired; and although few passages of holy writ are more apt to arrest the attention of New Testament readers than that which forms the motto to this piece, and which embodies the intercessory of our great Master for the unity of his people, still we see, or think we see, such a palpable discrepancy between the prayer and the actual condition of christians, that we are shocked and dispirited, and wish to hear no more of the matter: or we say the prayer was answered in the first ages; or, doubting the validity of this interpretation, we affirm that it is yet to be verified, and will be answered in the future age!

      Now, although we cannot possibly err in believing the fact that our Lord and only Saviour prayed here for the unity of his people; yet we may, it must be granted, err in our notions of that unity which is signified, for unity is of divers kinds.--There is a unity of faith or principle; there is a unity of membership, and there is unity of character; a unity of nature, &c.

      The seventeenth chapter of John contains what is sometimes named Christ's Valedictory prayer; and it may be divided, as to the substance of it, into four distinct parts. In the first he prays for himself that he might be glorified; in the second part he intercedes for the apostles, that they might be kept from the evil in the world; which for all practicable purposes is the nearest possible approach to doing good. In the third part of the intercessory he lifts up upon the palms of his hands all saints--those who should afterwards believe on him through the apostolic testimony, that they might be one, as God and himself were one. And finally in the fourth and last portion of this holy intercessory he prays that He and they--the apostles and all saints--may meet in heaven, that they may behold his glory.

      The prayer of our Lord, in regard to all saints, is very extraordinary. It was singular and profound, that although his people were to be marked by every possible diversity of age, sex, education, prejudice and what not, he saw among them and in them, nevertheless, the rudiments of a glorious unity, and prayed for it. Let us enquire into it; and let us state in the first place what it is not, and what it cannot be.

      1. It is not that unity of a final absorption of all souls by the Deity--held and taught by certain pagan philosophers as the ultima ratio of purification and perfection, in opposition to a personal return to the divine presence, masked alike by individuality, glory and immortality; for the unity prayed for in the text is to obtain on earth, and is preparatory to our glorification in heaven.

      2. It is not unity of faith that is here asked for. It is taken for granted that the persons prayed for have all attained to the one faith, and have believed on Christ through the testimony of the holy apostles. It is then a supplication to God that believers themselves might attain something beyond mere principle, and reach the unity of God and Christ, whatever this may mean.

      Is it then the unity of aggregation that is sought in verse 21? Does the Lord pray that his people may become a single body, visible and corportae, in all the earth? Does he here deprecate ecclesiastical schism, and invoke a catholic membership throughout the world? We think not.--First, because church-membership may be secured and held by persons who have no unity with God and Christ. Secondly, the unity of the text is such as shall convince and convert the world. Thirdly, it is a unity which has glory for its motive. Fourthly, it is the unity of perfection. And lastly, it has eternal life for its reward. We conclude therefore that it is not unity of church-membership, or our visible incorporation with the people of God that is here meant, although that may be here involved. Besides, unity of membership in the visible organization of the church has never been perfected.

      We will now show what the unity prayed for is. For this purpose let it be observed that all knowledges are double. There are ever in nature something phenomenal, and something essential; the visible and the invisible; the sensible and the rational--one thing for the eye of the body, and another for the eye of the mind--that which appears to and is known to all men; and that which is seen and comprehended only by such as cultivate a higher knowledge and exercise that organ of ulterior reflection without which a profounder wisdom is inappreciable and unattainable. Thus also it is in religion; here, as in God's natural system, knowledges are double, and we have one thing for the eye of the body, and another for the eye of the mind. It is not then, as we have showed, that external and visible thing seen and understood by all men, when in a corporate capacity professors sit down around a common board to eat bread and drink wine in the name of the Lord, that our holy Redeemer prays for in behalf of his followers, John 17. It is a unity of a higher type; something more obvious to reason than to sense. It is protestant and christian, rather than papistical and Roman. In short, it is not unity of church-membership, but unity of character, that our blessed Lord intercedes for in our behalf.--There is, therefore, two sorts of unity, at least, spoken of in scripture--the sensible and the rational--the unity of external membership, and the unity of divine nature, which assimilates us to God and his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

      Now, that the unity invoked is christian and not Roman, protestant and not papistical--unity of character and not that of visible membership; and has God and his Son, and not the Pope and the church for its primordium or first rudiment, may be deduced from the very marks by which Christ himself distinguishes it.

      1. It is a unity like that which subsists between God and his Son; "that they all may be one, even as we are one," v. 22. But the unity in the Godhead to which mortals may attain, cannot be that of nature essentially, but only of character practically.

      2. It is a unity which shall convince the world that God sent his Son to instruct and save us.--But has the mere visible unity of Christ's people ever done this? Or were there even but one visible communion on earth, would it effect the conversion of mankind, irrespective of our unity with God and Christ, in holiness of behaviour? Never. That the world may believe that God has sent his Son, we must therefore set forth the divine nature in our behaviour; for, if not for its establishment, at least for its propagation, christians will always have to rely for proof more on its moral than its miraculous evidence. Character, without rigid agreement in membership, may and will constrain men to confess Christ, but mere corporate unity without character never can; and so we infer it is moral conformity to the divine image, and not visible communion only with each other that is prayed for. "That the world may know that thou has sent me."

      3. It is a unity which has for its motive and reward, eternal glory. "The glory which thou gavest me I have given unto them, that they may be (become) one, even as we are one," . Again, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory," &c.

      4. It is the unity of perfection; "that they may become perfect in one." But perfection has reference to holiness, to behaviour, to character.--This is the kind of perfection to which the saints are predestined. Visible unity has been snarled by the greatest imperfections. It has never obtained. The church has been full of rents and schisms; and has always resembled the party colored coat of Joseph, rather than the seamless garment of our Lord Jesus Christ. We conclude, therefore, that when our Lord and Redeemer prays for our unity, he prays for our unity of character--that we may be like God and his Son.

      First, then, from this conclusion we deduce the fact, that God has heard his Son's prayer and answered it.

      2. We infer, also, that all true christians are and ever have been, and still will be, like God and his Son in holiness of behaviour. The resemblance may be more or less striking in one case than another, but unity of heart, unity of behaviour generally must obtain in all that shall ever be saved through Christ. They must all be renewed in the image of God in righteousness and true holiness. So that notwithstanding the infinite distance between God and his creatures, there are nevertheless in the religious system the rudiments of a blessed and glorious unity--the unity of God and his Son--the unity of character. And it is only when man attains to this character that he wins a glimpse of God and feels refreshed.

      Popery pleads for unity of membership, without regard to moral perfection. Protestants advocate character, without over-estimating visible membership.

      3. We infer also, that true christians are pretty much the same everywhere. They shall wear and bear the image of God and his Son Jesus Christ; and if they are destined to the mortification of seeing themselves few, scattered, and despised, and even shut out from personal communion with each other in the present corrupted and corrupting state of things, they cherish nevertheless, and very justly too, the happy hope that it shall not be so forever.

      Let it not be forgotten then, that if we are "destined" to eternal life at last through Jesus Christ our Lord, we are first "predestined" to be conformed to his image in all holy conversation and godliness, Rom. 8. The "destiny" and "predestiny' of man are distinct categories. And it is a fact that unity of character will lead at last to unity or communion, and God's people will thus become one finally, both in character and incorporation.

      In the mean time, we must love one another; and be holy, harmless and undefiled, for eternal life is so boundless inheritance of doves, not of dragons, of lambs and not of lions. "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory."

SEN. ED.      


["Union." The Protestant Unionist, 1 (September 25, 1844): 1.]


      Walter Scott's "Union" was first published in The Protestant Unionist, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 25, 1844. The electronic version of the essay has been produced from microfilm of the newspaper.

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. Inconsistencies in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and typography have been retained.

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
373 Wilson Street
Derry, PA 15627-9770

Created 27 January 2002.

Walter Scott Union (1844)

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