The Unseen Company

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  • Many of us belong to churches where a creed is often repeated by the congregation.  Several of the ancient creeds include these words, “I believe in the communion of saints.”  For some the word saints means only certain specially holy people who have been officially designated as such.  For others it means those who are now in heaven.  The Bible is very matter-of-fact in showing that those who belong to Christ, i.e., Christians, are saints.  Look at Acts 9:32 and 41 for a start.  Then note the salutations in Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:2, and other places.

    Do you ever think much about that communion?  Do you actually believe in it?  I’m learning.  The communion of saints takes no notice of location.  Here or on the other side of the world or in heaven, all who love the Lord are included, bound together as a body whose Head is Christ.  The gallery of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 comprises not only those who have achieved thrilling victories through faith, but also the destitute and persecuted, those who were tortured, flogged, imprisoned, and even sawn in two—people whom the world would never deem worthy, yet the Bible says the world was not worthy of them!  And here’s something worth pausing over: all were “commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us, so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (vv.39-40).  

    When I pray I am often preoccupied and distracted, aware that my efforts are feeble and seemingly quite useless, but the thought that those distinguished heroes are to be perfected along with me (and with the writer of Hebrews, and with you and all the rest of the followers of the Lamb) changes the picture altogether and puts new heart into me.  Grand and mysterious things are in operation.  We are not alone.  My prayers are perhaps a single note in a symphony, but a necessary note, for I believe in the communion of saints.  We need each other.  The prayers of one affect all.  The obedience of one matters infinitely and forever.  

    We are told that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1)—those who found in Christ “their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might, their Captain in the well-fought fight” (to borrow the words of an old hymn) and “in the darkness drear their one true Light—Alleluia.”  

    When newly married and living in a little palm-thatched house in the jungle, Jim Elliot and I remembered that even in so remote a place we were still gathered in that great communion, and we used often to sing John Ellerton’s hymn, “the Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended.”  (Lars and I sometimes sing it now.) My favorite stanzas:

    We thank Thee that Thy Church, unsleeping,
    While earth rolls onward into light,
    Through all the world her watch is keeping,
    And rests not now by day or night.

    As o’er each continent and island
    The dawn brings on another day,
    The voice of prayer is never silent,
    Nor die the strains of praise away.

    Maybe there is a reader who is very weak and very lonely as he picks up my Newsletter today, tempted to feel that prayer is futile and goes nowhere.  Think of the great Unseen Company that watches and prays as we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb12:1)!  Think of that and be of good cheer—it’s much too soon to quit!  


    Teach us, good Lord, to serve Thee as Thou deservest; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do Thy will, O Lord our God.  Amen.

    Ignatius Loyola

    This excerpt was originally published in the January/February 1992 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.