1 Corinthians 12:12
For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
The apostle's discourse is of spiritual gifts. These were largely distributed among the Christians of Corinth — to largely, it would seem, for the grace that went along with them. The diversity in unity here affirmed by the apostle of the gifts communicated to the early Church, pertains to the Church in its entire structure. It is, in fact, the law of its composition — an identity of character and experience, combined with an endless diversity in the details. The most palpable exemplification of this law is that which is offered by the diverse outward forms in which the Church exists. It is not the visible Church which the apostle affirms to be one; but the true Church — the Church made up of the regenerated and saved, who are confined to no one communion, and are known to God alone. But it is not without its significance that He has permitted the visible Church to be cast in many separate moulds. He might have prescribed a polity with such distinctness, and enjoined it in such terms of authority, that all churches would have conformed to it. But He saw fit so to frame His instructions on this subject as to leave room for a diversity of interpretation. The fact is indisputable, that to one class of minds this form of worship is the more edifying; to another, that. In this view we may refer to the visible Church as illustrating the principle of diversity in unity. The principle, however, finds its legitimate sphere within the brotherhood of real believers. This phrase, in fact, defines the sense in which they are affirmed to be one; they are "real believers": this makes them one. So the apostle teaches in the passage before us: The body of Christ (the Church) is one: "for (ver. 13) by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free." It is through the anointing of the Spirit men are born again, and so engrafted into Christ as to become members of His body. This is the communicating of a new nature which makes them one, as really as the natural birth, the possession of a common humanity, makes them one. External diversities are of no consequence in either case. The child of the hovel, the wigwam, the palace, it matters not where or when he is born, he inherits the common nature and belongs to the race. So with the new birth, it merges all outward distinctions.
1. This unity includes a common head. "Christ is the Head of the Church." Union with Christ is indispensable.
2. It denotes, further, a oneness of faith. Diversities of belief there certainly are among real believers. All Christians concur in the necessity of "repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."
3. They are also of one purpose. The various members of the body, controlled by a single will, work together for the same ends. The members of Christ's mystical body have a common aim.
4. They are united, too, by the bonds of a mutual sympathy. In the human body, if one member suffers, all suffer; if one rejoices, all rejoice. But this unity is not monotony. The Church is one. But it is one as the body is one; as the animal kingdom is one; the vegetable; the mineral; the whole realm of nature. The formula of definition in all these cases is, Unity in diversity, and diversity in unity. The Christian Church began in this way, and began gloriously. The Day of Pentecost supplied the mould in which it was to be cast. "Parthians and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia. in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians." What an assemblage was this! And as it set out, so it has continued. Contemning all distinctions of climate, empire, language, and religion, the Church has gone on, gathering into its ample fold people of all lands and tongues and faiths; cementing them into one harmonious whole; and that, without disturbing the elements which mark their several nationalities. But we may see this diversity in unity without convening the Church Ecumenical. It is the law of the kingdom everywhere. In the apostolic age, the household of faith comprised persons of every rank and occupation. And this variety has been perpetuated. The ministry has never been without its Johns and Pauls, its Thomases and Peters, its sons of thunder and its sons of consolation. Let me name Baxter, Owen, Bunyan, Jeremy Taylor, Bishop Hall, the Wesleys, the Erskines, Romaine, President Edwards, Whitefield, Dwight, Robert Hall, Chalmers, Davies, Mason, the Alexanders. What a galaxy is this! Every star is brilliant; but no two shine with the same lustre. And as with the ministry, so with the people. To delineate the variety which pertains to the many members of the one spiritual body would be to describe the numerous sorts of people aggregated in a community. For the Church recruits itself indifferently from the vast outlying masses of humanity. It appropriates to itself all ages, sexes, and conditions. Of course the training to which it subjects them demands the lopping off of excrescences and the healing of disorders which, neglected, would consume the life. But within the wise and wide limitations prescribed by the Divine Husbandman, it allows all the trees and shrubs transplanted into its enclosure to follow out each the law of its own growth. The pine is not expected to become an oak; nor the orange a vine; nor the violet a rose. This rule is observed even in respect to the methods by which the dead branches are engrafted into the True Vine and made alive. It is the prerogative of the one Almighty Spirit to effect this; here is the unity. But He does it in a great variety of modes; here is the diversity. Nor in conversion only. He carries the same variety of modes and means into the culture and development of the immortal germ deposited in regeneration. The efficiency in all instances is His own. And the one agency He has Himself prescribed, in His Word. But who can describe the paths along which He leads His people, and the endless combinations of proverbial and gracious influences by which He conducts them step by step up the acclivities of the higher life, and fashions them to the "likeness of the heavenly"? The fact is patent to every one. Let us advert to a few of the more important aspects in which it offers itself to our contemplation.It will not be difficult to show that this Divine law of diversity in unity is as essential to the proper perfection of the Church as it is morally beautiful.
1. Let me begin with this latter thought, the moral beauty of this arrangement. This is not a thing to be argued. Beauty is a matter not of logic, but of feeling. Its appeal is to a constitutional susceptibility. And it is a part of our constitution to crave variety. We do not want, painting to be all of one colour, nor a tune of one strain. The ocean would pall upon us if it were always still or always boisterous. We grow weary of looking day by day at the same people in the same situation, unless they are our intimate friends. And as to our friends, we would not have them all alike if we could. It is one of the charms of the domestic state, the variety there is in families. He who made man made the Church; and of course adapted it to this as well as to every other part of his nature. No one can complain of the New Testament as a monotonous book; nor feel that when be has seen one of its personages he has seen all. We love the Church all the more because its unity, like that of a garden, effloresces in a grateful variety of fruits and flowers.
2. The principle of diversity in unity upon which the Church is constructed illustrates the power and efficacy of Divine grace. The palpable fact which meets the eye is that while grace is more than a match for depravity in its worst forms, it renews and elevates all the nobler traits of humanity; and in either case, without disturbing identity of character. In man's hands these various types of character might be bent or broken; they could never be renewed. Changed they might be, but not changed without sad contortion or mutilation. Too often has the experiment been tried. A wonderful achievement it is, as wonderful in power as in love, that of imbuing a whole community with a new life, from its very nature pervading, elevating, and controlling, and yet so incorporating it with all the natural faculties and functions as to aid their proper working and their true development. We cite it as one of the fruits of that diversity in unity which enters radically into the constitution of the Church.
3. It is still more to our purpose to refer to the wisdom, perhaps we may say the necessity, of this principle, in view of the mission assigned to the Church. It is not for man to say that anything is absolutely necessary to God in effecting His purposes which He has not declared to be so. But we may speak of the perfect adaptation of the principle we are considering, to the ends for which the Church was established. Not to name other topics, the Church is appointed to be, under God, the Teacher and Guide of the world. Its business is to disciple all nations. It needs, therefore, labourers of every sort and every variety of talent. With fewer gifts in kind, some portions of its work would be neglected. If it is to carry Christianity through the globe, it must have men whose constitutions and training fit them for the various climates of the earth. It must have men of iron nerve who can face dangers. It must have men of the requisite scholarship to grapple with strange languages and preach to strange peoples. In its home-field there is room for the exercise of every kind of gift. A scheme so vast demands a corresponding variety and affluence of talents. And this want is provided for in that diversity which, as we have seen, enters into the constituency of the Church. There are ministers of every grade of culture and with every kind of gifts. How, otherwise, could the ministry fulfil its design? The people vary indefinitely. And who can survey the broad acres which the Church is cultivating, without rejoicing in the combination of gifts employed in carrying forward the work? A radical part of this agency lies in the silent power of example; the simple routine of a quiet and upright life. Some are breaking up the fallow ground. Some are sowing. Some are nurturing the precious grain. And others reaping and gathering the crop. But all are servants of the great Taskmaster.The unfolding of such a subject suggests the practical lessons which grow out of it.
1. One is a lesson of instruction and encouragement in respect to religious experience. We have seen that this is of no uniform type. Certain elements are essential, but beyond these it partakes of a very great variety. We are not, then, to set up this or that instance of conversion, nor this or that form of the Christian life, as the standard by which all others are to be tested. God has His own methods for bringing men into His kingdom. The only safe or authorised mode of trying our state is to come to the law and the testimony.
2. As unity in diversity is the law of the Church, it is the duty of all its members to cherish and promote the spirit of unity. The apostle points out the effect of a schism among the members of the body, as illustrative of a divisive spirit among the members of the Church. The divisions among Christians have always been the opprobrium of religion.
3. As diversity in unity is the law of the Church, let us try to learn what are our own gifts, and to fill each his own place. To learn what. this is, we must ask His teaching in prayer. We must consider our situation and circumstances. We must endeavour to find out what gifts we have, and how they can be used to the best purpose.
4. There is one other lesson which I would gladly enforce if the time would permit, viz., a lesson of charity in judging of the Christianity of others.
(H. A. . Boardman, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.