“Unity in Christ”

"Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4.3)

     INTRO. A song which encourages us to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is "Unity in Christ." The text was written and the tune was composed both by Palmer Esker Wheeler, who was born on July 11, 1904, at Millport, AL, in a four-room cabin, the third child of William David and Gertrude Jane Tate Wheeler. The family lived on five different farms in the community of Simmon Town near the old Pollard school house, but when he was thirteen they moved to a farm near Columbus, MS. Then in 1922, they moved to southeastern Oklahoma where he atttended Southeastern Oklahoma Teacher’s College at Durant, OK, for one year. Times were so hard that when he was offered a job with the Stamps Music Co. he took it. The Wheelers had been a singing family, the children having been tutored in music by their father, and by 1924 the whole family had made music their vocation. That year, Palmer took his first harmony class from Newton W. Allphin in Whitesboro, TX, and went on to have other training in music at such schools as the Stamps School of Dallas, TX, and the Vaughan School of Music in Lawrenceburg, TN, and with such teachers as R. B Vaughan, G. K. Vaughan, W. B. Walbert, C. C. Stafford, and Homer Rodeheaver. However, to meet the bills and pay for their music lessons, the family sometimes had to pick cotton, work in the hay, and do other jobs of that nature. Wheeler taught his first singing school in 1925.

     In 1927, with his brothers J. E. and Roy, Palmer joined the Stamps Quartet, which soon became the famous Stamps All-Star Quartet with Frank Stamps singing the bass. The group made records for Victor in 1927 and 1928, but the Great Depression separated them. On June 21, 1929, Palmer married Lena Bandy of Scottsville, KY, and that same year was baptized into Christ by Clarence Williams at Hugo, OK. Later, Lena was baptized by G. K. Wallace at Wheeler, TX. Palmer spent 1930 through 1933 in Kentucky teaching singing schools, leading singing for religious meetings, and working with the Sunshine Quartet. In 1935 he joined the Vaughan Quartet and sang first tenor in this famous group with Keiffer Vaughan, John Cook, and Jim Waits for nearly three and a half years, gaining the distinctive title of "The Golden Voice Tenor of Tennessee" in the middle thirties, but left to teach music in public schools. For two years he was Director of Music at Freed Hardeman College in Henderson, TN, but left that work to go into full time evangelistic song leading. After that, he taught in more than 500 singing schools and vacation Bible schools, and led singing in meetings with N. B. Hardeman, G. C. Brewer, E. R. Harper, and Foy E. Wallace Jr. This work took him into 27 states, from San Francisco, CA, to Washington, DC.

     Wheeler produced more than fifty songs, most of them for children, and in 1955 edited a book, Youth Melodies and Action Songs, with 148 selections "designed for the edification of our youth, to be used especially in Vacation Bible Schools, Singing Schools, Song Drills and Chorus Work." The song of which he said that he was the proudest was the books of the New Testament which he set to music. I can recall singing this song frequently in Bible classes and vacation Bible schools when I was growing up, and even now when I say the books of the New Testament, its melody still runs through my mind. "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Acts, and the letter to the Romans…." It appears that Wheeler is largely responsible for the popularity of the song "I Know the Lord Will Find a Way for Me" among churches of Christ by his 1965 arrangement of it in Into All the World.  Other arrangements have been made since then, but Wheeler’s is the one that I remember singing when I was growing up. A 1970 invitation song by Wheeler, "Tomorrow May Be Too Late," has achieved some degree of use. I have not been able to find a date for "Unity in Christ." Wheeler lived in Dallas, TX, for many years before his death in 1983. His son, Tommy, born in 1931, and a cousin, Max Wheeler, born in 1932, are also songwriters. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Unity in Christ" appeared in Wheeler’s Youth Melodies and Action Songs; and in the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie.

    The song emphasizes the importance of seeking for unity among God’s people.

I. Stanza 1 says that this unity must be in Christ
"Unity in Christ, our Lord, Christians are as one.
Unity in Christ, His Church of God’s own blessed Son.
Neither Jew nor Greek in Him, neither bond nor free,
All are one in His dear fold; ‘Tis for you and me."
 A. God planned for this unity to exist in the body of Christ, which is the church over which He is head: Eph. 1.22-23
 B. Unity means that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free: Gal. 3.28
 C. Rather, it means that, just all of a shepherd’s sheep are in one fold, so it is for faithful Christians: Jn. 10.16

II. Stanza 2 says that this unity must be in hope
"Unity on hope we stand, fighting for the right
Adding courage to our faith with lamps all trimmed and bright;
Neither high nor low in Him, all are made the same,
Trusting all He bids us do in His blessed name."
 A. One thing that helps us maintain unity in our hope is adding to our faith virture or courage: 2 Pet. 1.5
 B. With the hope that God gives us, we can have the same mind and judgment: 1 Cor. 1.10
 C. This hope also unites us in striving to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus: Col. 3.17

III. Stanza 3 says that this unity must be in love
"Unity in love for all, working for the crown,
All the humble lifted up, the mighty are brought down;
Equal ranks in Christ, our Lord, oneness in this realm.
All must seek this unity ere we go to heaven."
 A. When we are truly united in love, the humble are lifted up and the mighty are brought down: Jas. 1.9-10
 B. This love will help us develop a true oneness, even as Christ and the Father are one: Jn. 17.20-21
 C. All who desire to go to heaven must seek this unity by entering the strait gate and travelling the narrow way: Matt. 7.13-14

     CONCL.: The chorus reminds us of the importance of maintaining the unity of the Spirit and of what we must do to accomplish this aim.
"Unity in Christ, there’s unity in Christ,
One faith, one church taught in His word, There’s unity in Christ;
Unity in Christ, there’s unity in Christ,
‘Twas purchased with His precious blood, There’s unity in Christ."
This is a good song with a very singable melody that deserves more use than it has received. Certainly there is a need occasionally for spiritual songs which will point people’s minds to the need for "Unity in Christ."


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