WHILE   the aims and purposes of believers are very mixed in their nature, and fail far below the standard which God has gathered them, and which He proposes as the influential object of their faith and consequently the motive of their conduct, yet division, and sectarianism are, even in the mercy of God’s providence, the necessary result, whether it assume the character of Establishment or of Dissent.
I am supposing here that the great truths of the gospel are the professed faith of the churches, as they are in all the genuine Protestant churches. For the just consequence of the reception of gospel facts by faith, and its end in man, is the purification of the desires in love—a life to Him who died for us and rose again—a life of hope in His glory. To suppose therefore unity where the life of the Church falls entirely short of the just consequences of its faith, is to suppose that the Spirit of God would acquiesce in the moral inconsistency of degenerate man, and that God would be satisfied that His Church should sink below the glory of its great Head, without even a testimony that He was dishonoured by it. In truth it has never been so: judgments from without for a good while marked His displeasure while it was sinking, and when it was utterly sunk in apostasy, He raised His witnesses, who should sigh and cry for the abominations that were done in it; who, in much darkness of spiritual understanding, bore testimony against the moral corruption that had overwhelmed the Church; and who, in the acknowledgment of the redemption by the Lord Jesus out of this present evil world, testified the apostasy of the professing church. When it pleased God to raise this testimony into the place of public sanction, while doctrinal truth (we may believe) was fully developed for the foundation and edification of the faith of believers, it by no means followed that the Church thereupon emerged wholly in spirit and power from the depression, and assumed the character which it has in the purpose of its Author, and became an adequate and distinctive witness of His thoughts to the world. Such indeed, however blessed, as we are all bound most thankfully to acknowledge the Reformation to have been, was not the case; it was much and manifestly mixed with human agency. And though the exhibition of the Word, as that on which the soul could rest itself, was graciously afforded, still there was much of the old system which remained in the constitution of the churches, and which was in no way the result of the development of the mind of Christ, by setting up the light and authority of the word. This gave to the state and practice of the Church (whatever the excellence of individuals may have been) a character which many discerned to be short of that which was acceptable to God; and the authority of the word having been recognized as the basis of the Reformation, many sought to follow it, as they supposed, more perfectly. Hence arose all the branches of Nonconformity and Dissent, in proportion to the secularity or alienation from God of the body publicly recognized as the Church. For it must be observed that, since the time when Popery prevailed over
the nations till lately, among those who have taken a share in the revival of religion, that has in general been called the Church which has been received as such by the rulers of this world, and not by persons who were delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, who were come to the “church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.”
These observations are in some measure applicable to all the great national Protestant bodies since the outward form and constitution became so prominent a matter, which was not the case originally while deliverance from Babylon was in question.
From all this has flowed an anomalous and trying consequence; namely, that the true Church of God has no avowed communion at all. There are, I suppose, none of its members who would not now acknowledge, that individuals of the children of God are to be found in all the different denominations, who profess the same pure faith; but where is their bond of union? It is not that unbelieving professors are mixed with the, people of God in their communion but that the bond of communion is not the unity of the people of God, but really (in point of fact) their differences.
The bonds of nominal union are such as separate the children of God from each other; so that, instead of (itself an imperfect state) unbelievers being found mixed up with them, the people of God are found as individuals, among bodies of professing Christians, joined in communion upon Other and different grounds; not in fact as the people of God at all. The truth of this, I think, cannot be denied, and surely it is a very extraordinary state for the Church to be in. I think the study of the history of the Church (bearing in mind what the true Church of God is) will enable us to account for it. Such is not my present purpose, as writing merely on the principle of that inquiring, strengthening character in which they that feared the Lord spake often one to another. But it must surely form a practical matter of great importance to the judgment of those who, loving Jerusalem, it pitieth them to see her in the dust—those who “wait for the consolation of Israel”. I do believe, indeed, that there will be a gradual development of the people of God, by a separation from the world, of which many of them perhaps now think little. The Lord will be present with His people in the hour of their temptation, and hide them secretly in the tabernacle of His presence; but it is not my purpose to follow presumptuously my own thoughts about this. We may remark that the people of God have found, since the increased outpouring* of His Spirit, a son of remedy for this disunion (manifestly an imperfect, though not an untrue one), in the Bible Society, and Missionary exertions; which gave—the one a sort of vague unity in the common acknowledgment of the word, which, if investigated, will be found to have partially inherent in it, though not recognized in its power, the germ of true unity—the other a unity of desire and action, which tended in thought towards that kingdom, the want of the Power of which was felt. And in this they found some relief for that sense of want, which the workings of the divine Spirit had produced in them.
From the state of things of which I have spoken have resulted other efforts, either the energies of knowledge, or * I  leave this and ether incorrect expressions unchanged. the desires of spiritual life, exercising themselves, often to the peril of the individual, in (as it is conceived) mistaken efforts at producing a separation or reunion of believers, by taking a ground of their separation quite distinct from ordinary dissent as much as from Establishment. The spirit and desire in which much of this was carried on, was, doubtless, in many instances the genuine cravings of a mind actuated by the Spirit of God; but it has often been defective, in not practically waiting upon His will; and though doubtless, affording a part of that testimony to what the Church was, which was consistent with the infirmity of our nature and the actual position of the Church, yet, even when of the highest order, it has failed for the reason mentioned, as in act it ran before the general progress of the divine counsels. But those strivings of the Spirit in us (for such I believe them to be) are surely deserving of the serious attention of the people of God. This painful sense of our immense distance from that genuine exhibition of the purpose of God in His Church; this looking after His power and glory, ought to lead us to thankfulness that He still thus deals with us, and to receive it as a pledge of that faithfulness which shall make the people of God, in due time, shine in the glory of the Lord. It should lead us also assiduously to seek what is the mind of Christ as to the path of believers in the present day; that it may be, though not exactly according to their own desires, yet perfectly according to what His present will concerning them is. We know that it was the purpose of God in Christ to gather in one all things in heaven and on earth; reconciled unto Himself in Him; and that the Church should be, though necessarily imperfect in His absence, yet by the energy of the Spirit the witness of this on earth, by gathering the children of God which were scattered abroad. Believers know that all who are born of the Spirit have substantial unity of mind, so as to know each other, and love each other, as brethren. But this is not all, even if it were fulfilled in practice, which it is not; for they were so to be all one, as that the world might know that Jesus was sent of God; in this we must all confess our sad failure. I shall not attempt so much to propose measures here for the children of God, as to establish healthful principles; for it is manifest to me, that it must flow from the growing influence of the Spirit of God and His unseen teaching; but we may observe what are positive hindrances, and in what that union consisted.
In the first place, it is not a formal union of the outward professing bodies that is desirable; indeed, it is surprising that reflecting Protestants should desire it; far from doing good, I conceive it would be impossible that such a body could be at all recognized as the Church of God. It would be a counterpart to Romish unity; we should have the life of the Church and the power of the Word lost, and the unity of spiritual life utterly excluded. What ever plans may be in the order of Providence, we can only act upon the principles of grace; and true unity is the unity of the Spirit, and it must be wrought by the operation of the Spirit. In the great darkness of the Church hitherto, outward division has been a main support, not only of zeal (as is very generally admitted), but also of the authority of the Word, which is instrumentally the life of the Church; and the Reformation consisted not, as has been commonly said, in the institution of a pure form of church, but in setting up the Word, and the great Christian foundation and corner stone of “Justification  by faith”, in which believers might find life. But further, if the view that has been taken of the state of the Church be correct, we may adjudge that he is an enemy to the work of the Spirit of God who seeks the interests of any particular denomination; and that those who believe in “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” ought carefully to keep from such a spirit; for it is drawing back the Church to a state occasioned by ignorance and non-subjection to the Word, and making a duty of its worst and most antichristian results. This is a most subtle and prevailing mental disease, “he followeth not us”, even when men are really Christians. Let the people of God. See if they be not hindering the manifestation of the Church by this spirit. I believe there is scarcely a public act of Christian men (at any rate of the higher orders, or of those who are active in the nominal churches), which is not infected with this; but its tendency is manifestly hostile to the spiritual interests of the people of God, and. the manifestation of the glory of Christ. Christian  are little aware how this prevails- in their minds; how they – seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ; and how it dries up the springs of grace and spiritual communion how it precludes that order to which blessing is attached—the gathering together in the Lord’s name. No meeting, which is not framed to embrace all the children of God in the full basis of the kingdom of the Son, can find the fulness of blessing, because it does not contemplate it—because its faith does not embrace it.
Where two or three are gathered together in His name, His name is recorded there for blessing; because they are met in the fulness of the power of the unchangeable interests of that everlasting kingdom in which it has pleased the glorious Jehovah to glorify Himself, and to make His name and saving health known in the Person of the Son, by the power of the Spirit. In the name of Christ, therefore, they enter (in whatever measure of faith) into the full counsels of God, and are fellow workers under God. Thus whatever they ask is done, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. But the very foundation on which these promises rest is broken up, and its consistency destroyed by bonds of communion not formed on the scope of the purposes of God in Christ. I say not, indeed, that they may not find a feeble measure of spiritual food; which, though generally partial in its character, may be suited to strengthen their personal hope of eternal life. But the glory of the Lord is very near the believing soul, and, in proportion as we seek it, will personal blessing be found. It puts me in mind indeed (as all doubtless have some separate portion of the form of the Church) of those who parted the Saviour’s garments among them; while that inner one, which could not be rent, which was inseparably one its nature, was cast tots for, whose it should be; but in the meanwhile, the name of Him, the presence of the power of whose life• would unite them all in appropriates order, is left exposed and dishonoured. Indeed, I fear that these have fallen too much into the hands of those who care not for Him, and that the Lord will never clothe Himself with them again, viewed in their present state. Indeed, it could not be when He appears in His glory.