Under this head we treat of Union with Christ, Regeneration, Conversion (embracing Repentance and Faith), and Justification. Much confusion and error have arisen from conceiving these as occurring in chronological order. The order is logical, not chronological As it is only “in Christ” that man is “a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17) or is “justified” (Acts 13:39), union with Christ logically precedes both regeneration and justification; and yet, chronologically, the moment of our union with Christ is also the moment when we are regenerated and justified. So, too, regeneration and conversion are but the divine and human sides or aspects of the same fact, although regeneration has logical precedence, and man turns only as God turns him.
Dorner, Glaubenslehre, 3:694 (Syst. Doct., 4:159), gives at this point an account of the work of the Holy Spirit in general. The Holy Spirit’s work, he says, presupposes the historical work of Christ, and prepares the way for Christ’s return. “As the Holy Spirit is the principle of union between the Father and the Son, so he is the principle of union between God and man. Only through the Holy Spirit does Christ secure for himself those who will love him as distinct and free personalities.” Regeneration and conversion are not chronologically separate. Which of the spokes of a wheel starts first? The ray of light and the ray of heat enter at the same moment. Sensation and perception are not separated in time, although the former is the cause of the latter.
“Suppose a non-elastic tube extending across the
“A difficulty may here be suggested in regard to the flow or progress of events in time, if they are all simultaneous with their causes. This difficulty cannot arise as to intelligent effort; for, in regard to it, periods of non-action may continually intervene; but if there are series of events and material phenomena, each of which is in turn effect and cause, it may be difficult to see how any time could elapse between the first and the last of the series..…If, however, as I suppose, these series of events, or material changes, are always effected through the medium of motion, it need not trouble us, for there is precisely the same difficulty in regard to our conception of the motion of matter from point to point, there being no space or length between any two consecutive points, and yet the body in motion gets from one end of a long line to the other, and in this case this difficulty just neutralizes the other..…So, even if we cannot conceive how motion involves the idea of time, we may perceive that, if it does so, it may be a means of conveying events, which depend upon it, through time also.”
Martineau, Study, 1:148–150—“Simultaneity does not exclude duration,”—since each cause has duration and each effect has duration also. Bowne, Metaphysics, 106—“In the system, the complete ground of an event never lies in any one thing, but only in a complex of things. If a single thing were the sufficient ground of an effect, the effect would coëxist with the thing, and all effects would be instantaneously given. Hence all events in the system must be viewed as the result of the interaction of two or more things.”
The first manifestation of life in an infant may be in the lungs or heart or brain, but that which makes any and all of these manifestations possible is the antecedent life. We may not be able to tell which comes first, but having the life we have all the rest. When the wheel goes, all the spokes will go. The soul that is born again will show it in faith and hope and love and holy living. Regeneration will involve repentance and faith and justification and sanctification. But the one life which makes regeneration and all these consequent blessings possible is the life of Christ who joins himself to us in order that we may join ourselves to him. Anne Reeve Aldrich, The Meaning: “I lost my life in losing love. This blurred my spring and killed its dove. Along my path the dying roses Fell, and disclosed the thorns thereof. I found my life in finding God. In ecstasy I kiss the rod; For who that wins the goal, but lightly Thinks of the thorns whereon he trod?”
See A. A. Hodge, on the Ordo Salutis, in
H. B. Smith, however, in his System of Christian Theology, is more clear in the putting of
“This union [with Christ] is at the ground of regeneration and justification” (534). “The great difference of theological systems comes out here. Since Christianity is redemption through Christ, our mode of conceiving that will determine the character of our whole theological system” (536). “The union with Christ is mediated by his Spirit, whence we are both renewed and justified. The great fact of objective Christianity is incarnation in order to atonement; the great fact of subjective Christianity is union with Christ, whereby we receive the atonement” (537). We may add that this union with Christ, in view of which God elects and to which God calls the sinner, is begun in regeneration, completed in conversion, declared in Justification, and proved in sanctification and perseverance.
The Scriptures declare that, through the operation of God, there is constituted a union of the soul with Christ different in kind from God’s natural and providential concursus with all spirits, as well as from all unions of mere association or sympathy, moral likeness, or moral influence,—a union of life, in which the human spirit, while then most truly possessing its own individuality and personal distinctness, is interpenetrated and energized by the Spirit of Christ, is made inscrutably but indissolubly one with him, and so becomes a member and partaker of that regenerated, believing, and justified humanity of which he is the head.
The majority of printed systems of doctrine, however, contain no chapter or section on
1. Scripture Representations of this
A. Figurative teaching. It is illustrated:
(a) From the union of a building and its foundation.
Eph. 2:20–22—“being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit”; Col. 2:7—“builded up in him”—grounded in Christ as our foundation; 1 Pet. 2:4, 5—“unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house”—each living stone in the Christian temple is kept in proper relation to every other, and is made to do its part in furnishing a habitation for God, only by being built upon and permanently connected with Christ, the chief corner-stone. Cf. Ps. 118:22—“The stone which the builders rejected Is become the head of the corner”; Is. 28:16—“Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone of sure foundation: he that believeth shall not be in haste.”
(b) From the union between husband and wife.
Rom. 7:4—“ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God”—here union with Christ is illustrated by the indissoluble bond that connects husband and wife, and makes them legally and organically one; 2 Cor. 11:2—“I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ”; Eph. 5:31, 32—“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church”—Meyer refers verse 31 wholly to Christ, and says that Christ leaves father and mother (the right hand of God) and is Joined to the church as his wife, the two constituting thenceforth one moral person. He makes the union future, however,—“For this cause Shall a man leave his father and mother”—the consummation is at Christ’s second coming. But the Fathers, as Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Jerome, referred it more properly to the incarnation.
Rev. 19:7—“the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready”; 22:17—“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come”; cf. Is. 54:5—“For thy Maker is thine husband”; Jer. 3:20—“Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith Jehovah”; Hos. 2:2–5—“for their mother hath played the harlot”—departure from God is adultery; the Song of Solomon, as Jewish interpreters have always maintained, is an allegorical poem describing, under the figure of marriage, the union between Jehovah and his people: Paul only adopts the Old Testament figure, and applies it more precisely to the union of God with the church in Jesus Christ.
(c) From the union between the vine and its branches.
John 15:1–10—“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing”—as God’s natural life is in the vine, that it may give life to its natural branches, so God’s spiritual life is in the vine, Christ, that he may give life to his spiritual branches. The roots of this new vine are planted in heaven, not on earth; and into it the half-withered branches of the old humanity are to be grafted, that they may have life divine. Yet our Lord does not say “I am the root.” The branch is not something outside, which has to get nourishment out of the root,—it is rather a part of the vine. Rom. 6:5—“if we have become united with him [σύμφυτοι—‘grown together’—used of the man and horse in the Centaur, Xen., Cyrop., 4:3:18], in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection”; 11:24—“thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree”; Col. 2:6, 7—“As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and budded up in him”—not only grounded in Christ as our foundation, but thrusting down roots into him as the deep, rich, all-sustaining soil. This union with Christ is consistent with individuality: for the graft brings forth fruit after its kind, though modified by the tree into which it is grafted.
Bishop H. W. Warren, in S. S. Times,
(d) From the union between the members and the head of the body.
1 Cor. 6:15, 19—“know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ?.…know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God?” 12:12—“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ”—here Christ is identified with the church of which he is the head; Eph. 1:22, 23—“he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that fllleth all in all”—as the members of the human body are united to the head, the source of their activity and the power that controls their movements, so all believers are members of an invisible body whose head is Christ. Shall we tie a string round the finger to keep for it its own blood? No, for all the blood of the body is needed to nourish one finger. So Christ is “head over all things to [for the benefit of] the church” (Tyler, Theol. Greek Poets, preface, ii). “The church is the fulness (πλήρωμα) of Christ; as it was not good for the first man, Adam, to be alone, no more was it good for the second man, Christ” (C. H. M.). Eph. 4:15, 16—“grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body.…maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love”; 5:29, 30—“for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church; because we are members of his body.”
(e) From the union of the race with the source of its life in Adam.
Rom. 5:12, 21—“as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin.…that, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45, 49—“as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.…The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.…as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly”—as the whole race is one with the first man Adam, in whom it fell and from whom it has derived a corrupted and guilty nature, so the whole race of believers constitutes a new and restored humanity, whose justified and purified nature is derived from Christ, the second Adam. Cf. Gen. 2:23—“This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man”—here C. H. M. remarks that, as man is first created and then woman is viewed in and formed out of him, so it is with Christ and the church. “We are members of Christ’s body, because in Christ we have the principle of our origin; from him our life arose, just as the life of Eve was derived from Adam.…The church is Christ’s helpmeet, formed out of Christ in his deep sleep of death, as Eve out of Adam.…The church will be nearest to Christ, as Eve was to Adam.” Because Christ is the source of all spiritual life for his people, he is called, in Is. 9:6, “Everlasting Father,” and it is said, in Is. 53:10, that “he shall see his seed” (see page 680).
B. Direct statements.
(a) The believer is said to be in Christ.
Lest we should regard the figures mentioned above as merely Oriental metaphors, the fact of the believer’s union with Christ is asserted in the most direct and prosaic manner. John 14:20—“ye in me”; Rom. 6:11—“alive unto God in Christ Jesus”; 8:1—“no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”; 2 Cor. 5:17—“if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature”; Eph. 1:4—“chose us in him before the foundation of the world”; 2:13—“now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ.” Thus the believer is said to be “in Christ,” as the element or atmosphere which surrounds him with its perpetual presence and which constitutes his vital breath; in fact, this phrase “in Christ,” always meaning “in union with Christ,” is the very key to Paul’s epistles, and to the whole New Testament. The fact that the believer is in Christ is symbolized in baptism: we are “baptised into Christ” (Gal. ).
(b) Christ is said to be in the believer.
John —“I in yon”; Rom. 8:9—“ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his”—that this Spirit of Christ is Christ himself, is shown from verse 10—“And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness”; Gal. 2:20—“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me”—here Christ is said to be in the believer, and so to live his life within the believer, that the latter can point to this as the dominating fact of his experience,—it is not so much he that lives, as it is Christ that lives in him. The fact that Christ is in the believer is symbolized in the Lord’s supper: “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).
(c) The Father and the Son dwell in the believer.
John —“If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him”; cf. 10—“Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works”—the Father and the Son dwell in the believer; for where the Son is, there always the Father must be also. If the union between the believer and Christ in John 14:23 is to be interpreted as one of mere moral influence, then the union of Christ and the Father in John 14:10 must also be interpreted as a union of mere moral influence. Eph. 3:17—“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”; 1 John 4:16—“he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.”
(d) The believer has life by partaking of Christ, as Christ has life by partaking of the Father.
John , 56, 57—“Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves.…He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me”—the believer has life by partaking of Christ in a way that may not inappropriately be compared with Christ’s having life by partaking of the Father. 1 Cor. 10:16, 17—“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?”—here it is intimated that the Lord’s Supper sets forth, in the language of symbol, the soul’s actual participation in the life of Christ; and the margin properly translates the word κοινωνία, not “communion,” but “participation.” Cf. 1 John 1:3—“our fellowship (κοινωνία) is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Foster, Christian Life and Theology, 216—“In John 6, the phrases call to mind the ancient form of sacrifice, and the participation therein by the offerer at the sacrificial meal,—as at the Passover.”
(e) All believers are one in Christ.
John 17:21–23—“that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one”—all believers are one in Christ, to whom they are severally and collectively united, as Christ himself is one with God.
(f) The believer is made partaker of the divine nature.
2 Pet. 1:4—“that through these [promises] ye may become partakers of the divine nature”—not by having the essence of your humanity changed into the essence of divinity, but by having Christ the divine Savior continually dwelling within, and indissolubly joined to, your human souls.
(g) The believer is made one spirit with the Lord.
1 Cor. 6:17—“he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit”—human nature is so interpenetrated and energized by the divine, that the two move and act as one; cf. 19—“know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God?” Rom. 8:26—“the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered”—the Spirit is so near to us, and so one with us, that our prayer is called his, or rather, his prayer becomes ours. Weiss, in his Life of Jesus, says that, in the view of Scripture, human greatness does not consist in a man’s producing everything in a natural way out of himself, but in possessing perfect receptivity for God’s greatest gift. Therefore God’s Son receives the Spirit without measure; and we may add that the believer in like manner receives Christ.
2. Nature of this
We have here to do not only with a fact of life, but with a unique relation between the finite and the infinite. Our descriptions must therefore be inadequate. Yet in many respects we know what this union is not; in certain respects we can positively characterize it.
It should not surprise us if we find it far more difficult to give a scientific definition of this union, than to determine the fact of its existence. It is a fact of life with which we have to deal; and the secret of life, even in its lowest forms, no philosopher has ever yet discovered. The tiniest flower witnesses to two facts: first, that of its own relative independence, as an individual organism; and secondly, that of its ultimate dependence upon a life and power not its own. So every human soul has its proper powers of intellect, affection, and will; yet it lives, moves, and has its being in God (Acts ).
Starting out from the truth of God’s omnipresence, it might seem as if God’s indwelling in the granite boulder was the last limit of his union with the finite. But we see the divine intelligence and goodness drawing nearer to us, by successive stages, in vegetable life, in the animal creation, and in the moral nature of man. And yet there are two stages beyond all these: first, in Christ’s union with the believer; and secondly, in God’s union with Christ. If this union of God with the believer be only one of several approximations of God to his finite creation, the fact that it is, equally with the others, not wholly comprehensible to reason, should not blind us either to its truth or to its importance.
It is easier to-day than at any other previous period of history to believe in the union of the believer with Christ. That God is immanent in the universe, and that there is a divine element in man, is familiar to our generation. All men are naturally one with Christ, the immanent God, and this natural union prepares the way for that spiritual union in which Christ joins himself to our faith. Campbell, The Indwelling Christ, 131—“In the immanence of Christ in nature we find the ground of his immanence in human nature.…A man may be out of Christ, but Christ is never out of him. Those who banish him he does not abandon.” John Caird, Fund. Ideas of Christianity, 2:233–256—“God is united with nature, in the atoms, in the trees, in the planets. Science is seeing nature full of the life of God. God is united to man in body and soul. The beating of his heart and the voice of conscience witness to God within. God sleeps in the stone, dreams in the animal, wakes in man.”
A. Negatively.—It is not:
(a) A merely natural union, like that of God with all human spirits, as held by rationalists.
In our physical life we are conscious of another life within us which is not subject to our wills: the heart beats involuntarily, whether we sleep or wake. But in our spiritual life we are still more conscious of a life within our life. Even the heathen said: “Est Deus in nobis; agitante calescimus illo,” and the Egyptians held to the identification of the departed with Osiris (Renouf, Hibbert Lectures, 185). But Paul urges us to work out our salvation, upon the very ground that “it is God that worketh” in us, “both to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13). This life of God in the soul is the life of Christ.
The movement of the electric car cannot be explained simply from the working of its own motor apparatus. The electric current throbbing through the wire, and the dynamo from which that energy proceeds, are needed to explain the result. In like manner we need a spiritual Christ to explain the spiritual activity of the Christian. A. H. Strong, Sermon before the Baptist World Congress in London, 1905—“We had in America some years ago a steam engine all whose working parts were made of glass. The steam came from without, but, being hot enough to move machinery, this steam was itself invisible, and there was presented the curious spectacle of an engine, transparent, moving, and doing important work, while yet no cause for this activity was perceptible. So the church, humanity, the universe, are all in constant and progressive movement, but the Christ who moves them is invisible. Faith comes to believe where it cannot see. It joins itself to this invisible Christ, and knows him as its very life.”
(b) A merely moral union, or union of love and sympathy, like that between teacher and scholar, friend and friend,—as held by Socinians and Arminians.
There is a moral union between different souls: 1 Sam. 18:1—“the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul”—here the Vulgate has: “Anima Jonathæ agglutinate Davidi.” Aristotle calls friends “one soul.” So in a higher sense, in Acts 4:32, the early believers are said to have been “of one heart and soul.” But in John 17:21, 26, Christ’s union with his people is distinguished from any mere union of love and sympathy: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us;.…that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus’ aim, in the whole of his last discourse, is to show that no mere union of love and sympathy will be sufficient: “apart from me,” he says, “ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). That his disciples may be vitally joined to himself, is therefore the subject of his last prayer.
Dorner says well, that Arminianism (and with this doctrine Roman Catholics and the advocates of
Ritschl presents to us a historical Christ, and Pfleiderer presents to us an ideal Christ, but neither one gives us the living Christ who is the present spiritual life of the believer. Wendt, in his Teaching of Jesus, 2:310, comes equally far short of a serious interpretation of our Lord’s promise, when he says: “This union to his person, as to its contents, is nothing else than adherence to the message of the kingdom of God brought by him.” It is not enough for me to be merely in touch with Christ. He must come to be “not so far as even to be near.” Tennyson, The Higher Pantheism: “Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet.” William Watson, The Unknown God: “Yea, in my flesh his Spirit doth flow, Too near, too far, for me to know.”
(c) A union of essence, which destroys the distinct personality and subsistence of either Christ or the human spirit,—as held by many of the mystics.
Many of the mystics, as Schwenkfeld, Weigel, Sebastian Frank, held to an essential union between Christ and the believer. One of Weigel’s followers, therefore, could say to another: “I am Christ Jesus, the living Word of God; I have redeemed thee by my sinless sufferings.” We are ever to remember that the indwelling of Christ only puts the believer more completely in possession of himself, and makes him more conscious of his own personality and power. Union with Christ must be taken in connection with the other truth of the personality and activity of the Christian; otherwise it tends to pantheism. Martineau, Study, 2:190—“In nature it is God’s immanent life, in morals it is God’s transcendent life, with which we commune.”
Angelus Silesius, a German philosophical poet (1624–1677), audaciously wrote: “I know God cannot live an instant without me; He must give up the ghost, if I should cease to be.” Lowde, a disciple of Malebranche, used the phrase “Godded with God, and Christed with Christ,” and Jonathan Edwards, in his Religious Affections, quotes it with disapprobation, saying that “the saints do not become actually partakers of the divine essence, as would be inferred from this abominable and blasphemous language of heretics” (Allen, Jonathan Edwards, 224). “Self is not a mode of the divine: it is a principle of isolation. In order to religion, I must have a will to surrender.…‘Our wills are ours, to make them thine.’..…Though the self is, in knowledge, a principle of unification; in existence, or metaphysically, it is a principle of isolation” (Seth).
Inge, Christian Mysticism, 30—“Some of the mystics went astray by teaching a real substitution of the divine for human nature, thus depersonalizing man—a fatal mistake, for without human personality we cannot conceive of divine personality.” Lyman Abbott: “In Christ, God and man are united, not as the river is united with the sea, losing its personality therein, but as the child is united with the father, or the wife with the husband, whose personality and individuality are strengthened and increased by the union.” Here Dr. Abbott’s view comes as far short of the truth as that of the mystics goes beyond the truth. As we shall see, the union of the believer with Christ is a vital union, surpassing in its intimacy any union of souls that we know. The union of child with father, or of wife with husband, is only a pointer which hints very imperfectly at the interpenetrating and energizing of the human spirit by the divine.
(d) A union mediated and conditioned by participation of the sacraments of the church,—as held by Romanists, Lutherans, and High-Church Episcopalians.
Perhaps the most pernicious misinterpretation of the nature of this union is that which conceives of it as a physical and material one, and which rears upon this basis the fabric of a sacramental and external Christianity. It is sufficient here to say that this union cannot be mediated by sacraments, since sacraments presuppose it as already existing; both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are designed only for believers. Only faith receives and retains Christ; and faith is the act of the soul grasping what is purely invisible and supersensible: not the act of the body, submitting to Baptism or partaking of the Supper.
William Lincoln: “The only way for the believer, if he wants to go rightly, is to remember that truth is always two-sided. If there is any truth that the Holy Spirit has specially pressed upon your heart, if you do not want to push it to the extreme, ask what is the counter-truth, and lean a little of your weight upon that; otherwise, if you bear so very much on one side of the truth, there is a danger of pushing it into a heresy. Heresy means selected truth; it does not mean error; heresy and error are very different things. Heresy is truth, but truth pushed into undue importance, to the disparagement of the truth upon the other side.” Heresy (αἵρεσις) = an act of choice, the picking and choosing of a part, instead of comprehensively embracing the whole of truth. Sacramentarians substitute the symbol for the thing symbolized.
B. Positively.—It is:
(a) An organic union,—in which we become members of Christ and partakers of his humanity.
Kant defines an organism, as that whose parts are reciprocally means and end. The body is an organism; since the limbs exist for the heart, and the heart for the limbs. So each member of Christ’s body lives for him who is the head; and Christ the head equally lives for his members: Eph. 5:29, 30—“no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church; because we are members of his body.” The train-despatcher is a Symbol of the concentration of energy; the switchmen and conductors who receive his orders are symbols of the localization of force; but it is all one organic system.
(b) A vital union,—in which Christ’s life becomes the dominating principle within us.
This union is a vital one, in distinction from any union of mere juxtaposition or external influence. Christ does not work upon us from without, as one separated from us, but from within, as the very heart from which the life-blood of our spirits flows. See Gal. 2:20—“it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me;” Col. 3:3, 4—“For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.” Christ’s life is not corrupted by the corruption of his members, any more than the ray of light is defiled by the filth with which it comes in contact. We may be unconscious of this union with Christ, as we often are of the circulation of the blood, yet it may be the very source and condition of our life.
(c) A spiritual union,—that is, a union whose source and author is the Holy Spirit.
By a spiritual union we mean a union not of body but of spirit,—a, union, therefore, which only the Holy Spirit originates and maintains. Rom. 8:9, 10—“ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness.” The indwelling of Christ involves a continual exercise of efficient power. In Eph. 3:16, 17, “strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man” is immediately followed by “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
(d) An indissoluble union,—that is, a union which, consistently with Christ’s promise and grace, can never be dissolved.
Mat. 28:20—“lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”; John 10:28—“they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand”; Rom. 8:35, 39—“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?.…nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”; 1 Thess. 4:14, 17—“them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him..…then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Christ’s omnipresence makes it possible for him to be united to, and to be present in, each believer, as perfectly and fully as if that believer were the only one to receive Christ’s fulness. As Christ’s omnipresence makes the whole Christ present in every place, each believer has the whole Christ with him, as his source of strength, purity, life; so that each may say: Christ gives all his time and wisdom and care to me. Such a union as this lacks every element of instability. Once formed, the union is indissoluble. Many of the ties of earth are rudely broken,—not so with our union with Christ,—that endures forever.
Since there is now an unchangeable and divine element in us, our salvation depends no longer upon our unstable wills, but upon Christ’s purpose and power. By temporary declension from duty, or by our causeless unbelief, we may banish Christ to the barest and most remote room of the soul’s house; but he does not suffer us wholly to exclude him; and when we are willing to unbar the doors, he is still there, ready to fill the whole mansion with his light and love.
(e) An inscrutable on,—mystical, however, only in the sense of surpassing in its intimacy and value any other union of souls which we know.
This union is inscrutable, indeed; but it is not mystical, in the sense of being unintelligible to the Christian or beyond the reach of his experience. If we call it mystical at all, it should be only because, in the intimacy of its communion and in the transforming power of its influence, it surpasses any other union of souls that we know, and so cannot be fully described or understood by earthly analogies. Eph. —“This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church”; Col. 1:27—“the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
See Diman, Theistic Argument, 380—“As physical science has brought us to the conclusion that back of all the phenomena of the material universe there lies an invisible universe of forces, and that these forces may ultimately be reduced to one all-pervading force in which the unity of the physical universe consists; and as philosophy has advanced the rational conjecture that this ultimate all-pervading force is simply willforce; so the great Teacher holds up to us the spiritual universe as pervaded by one omnipotent life—a life which was revealed in him as its highest manifestation, but which is shared by all who by faith become partakers of his nature. He was Son of God: they too had power to become sons of God. The incarnation is wholly within the natural course and tendency of things. It was prepared for, it came, in the fulness of times. Christ’s life is not something sporadic and individual, having its source in the personal conviction of each disciple; it implies a real connection with Christ, the head. Behind all nature there is one force; behind all varieties of Christian life and character there is one spiritual power. All nature is not inert matter,—it is pervaded by a living presence. So all the body of believers live by virtue of the all-working Spirit of Christ, the Holy Ghost.” An epitaph at Silton, in Dorsetshire, reads: “Here lies a piece of Christ—a star in dust, A vein of gold, a china dish, that must Be used in heaven when God shall feed the just.”
A. H. Strong, in Examiner, 1880: “Such is the nature of union with Christ,—such I mean, is the nature of every believer’s union with Christ. For, whether be knows it or not, every Christian has entered into just such a partnership as this. It is this and this only which constitutes him a Christian, and which makes possible a Christian church. We may, indeed, be thus united to Christ, without being fully conscious of the real nature of our relation to him. We may actually possess the kernel, while as yet we have regard only to the shell; we may seem to ourselves to be united to Christ only by an external bond, while after all it is an inward and spiritual bond that makes us his. God often reveals to the Christian the mystery of the gospel, which is Christ in him the hope of glory, at the very time that he is seeking only some nearer access to a Redeemer outside of him. Trying to find a union of coöperation or of sympathy, he is amazed to learn that there is already established a union with Christ more glorious and blessed, namely, a union of life; and so, like the miners in the Rocky Mountains, while he is looking only for silver, he finds gold. Christ and the believer have the same life. They are not separate persons linked together by some temporary bond of friendship,—they are united by a tie as close and indissoluble as if the same blood ran in their veins. Yet the Christian may never have suspected how intimate a union he has with his Savior; and the first understanding of this truth may be the gateway through which he passes into a holier and happier stage of the Christian life.”
So the Way leads, through the Truth, to the Life (John 14:6). Apprehension of an external Savior prepares for the reception and experience of the internal Savior. Christ is first the Door of the sheep, but in him, after they have once entered in, they find pasture (John 10:7–9). On the nature of this union, see H. B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 531–539; Baird, Elohim Revealed, 601; Wilberforce, Incarnation, 208–272, and New Birth of Man’s Nature, 1–30. Per contras, see Park, Discourses, 117–186.
3. Consequences of this
We have seen that Christ’s union with humanity, at the incarnation, involved him in all the legal liabilities of the race to which he united himself, and enabled him so to assume the penalty of its sin as to make for all men a full satisfaction to the divine justice, and to remove all external obstacles to man’s return to God. An internal obstacle, however, still remains—the evil affections and will, and the consequent guilt, of the individual soul. This last obstacle also Christ removes, in the case of all his people, by uniting himself to them in a closer and more perfect manner than that in which he is united to humanity at large. As Christ’s union with the race secures the objective reconciliation of the race to God, so Christ’s union with believers secures the subjective reconciliation of believers to God.
In Baird, Elohim Revealed, 607–610, in Owen, on Justification, chap. 8, in
Amnesty offered to a rebellious city may be complete, yet it may avail only for those who surrender. Pardon secured from a Governor, upon the ground of the services of an Advocate, may be effectual only when the convict accepts it,—there is no hope for him when he tears up the pardon. Dr. H. E. Robins: “The judicial declaration of acquittal on the ground of the death of Christ, which comes to all men (Rom. 5:18), and into the benefits of which they are introduced by natural birth, is inchoate Justification, and will become perfected justification through the new birth of the Holy Spirit, unless the working of this divine agent is resisted by the personal moral action of those who are lost.” What Dr. Robins calls “inchoate justification” we prefer to call “ideal Justification” or “attainable justification.” Humanity in Christ is justified, and every member of the race who joins himself to Christ by faith participates in Christ’s justification. H. E. Dudley: “Adam’s sin holds us all down just as gravity holds all, while Christ’s righteousness, though secured for all and accessible to all, involves an effort of will in climbing and grasping which not all will make.” Justification in Christ is the birthright of humanity; but, in order to possess and enjoy it, each of us must claim and appropriate it by faith.
R. W. Dale, Fellowship with Christ, 7—“When we were created in Christ, the fortunes of the human race for good or evil became his. The Incarnation revealed and fulfilled the relations which already existed between the Son of God and mankind. From the beginning Christ had entered into fellowship with us. When we sinned, he remained in fellowship with us still. Our miseries” [ we would add: our guilt] “were his, by his own choice.…His fellowship with us is the foundation of our fellowship with him.…When I have discovered that by the very constitution of my nature I am to achieve perfection in the power of the life of Another—who is yet not Another, but the very ground of my being—it ceases to be incredible to me that Another—who is yet not Another—should be the Atonement for my sin, and that his relation to God should determine mine.”
A tract entitled “The Seven Togethers” sums up the Scripture testimony with regard to the Consequences of the believer’s Union with Christ: 1. Crucified together with Christ—Gal. 2:20—συνεσταύρωμαι. 2. Died together with Christ—Col. 2:20—ἀπεθάνετε. 3. Buried together with Christ—Rom. 6:4—συνετάφημεν 4. Quickened together with Christ—Eph. 2:5—συνεζωοποίησεν 5. Raised together with Christ—Col. 3:1—συνηγέρθητε 6. Sufferers together with Christ—Rom. 8:17—συμπάσχομεν. 7. Glorified together with Christ—Rom. 8:17—συνδοξασθῶμεν.
Imperfect apprehension of the believer’s union with Christ works to the great injury of Christian doctrine. An experience of union with Christ first enables us to understand the death of sin and separation from God which has befallen the race sprung from the first Adam. The life and liberty of the children of God in Christ Jesus shows us by contrast how far astray we had gone. The vital and organic unity of the new race sprung from the second Adam reveals the depravity and disintegration which we had inherited from our first father. We see that as there is one source of spiritual life in Christ, so there was one source of corrupt life in Adam; and that as we are justifled by reason of our oneness with the justified Christ, so we are condemned by reason of our oneness with the condemned Adam.
A. H. Strong, Christ in Creation, 175—“If it is consistent with evolution that the physical and natural life of the race should be derived from a single source, then it is equally consistent with evolution that the moral and spiritual life of the race should be derived from a single source. Scripture is stating only scientific fact when it sets the second Adam, the head of redeemed humanity, over against the first Adam, the head of fallen humanity. We are told that evolution should give us many Christs. We reply that evolution has not given us many Adams. Evolution, as it assigns to the natural head of the race a supreme and unique position, must be consistent with itself, and must assign a supreme and unique position to Jesus Christ, the spiritual head of the race. As there was but one Adam from whom all the natural life of the race was derived, so that there can be but one Christ from whom all the spiritual life of the race is derived.”
The consequences of union with Christ may be summarily stated as follows:
(a) Union with Christ involves a change in the dominant affection of the soul. Christ’s entrance into the soul makes it a new creature, in the sense that the ruling disposition, which before was sinful, now becomes holy. This change we call Regeneration.
Rom. 8:2—“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death”; 2 Cor. 5:17—“if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature” (marg.—“there is a new creation”); Gal. 1:15, 16—“it was the good pleasure of God.…to reveal his Son in me”; Eph. 2:10—“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” As we derive our old nature from the first man Adam, by birth, so we derive a new nature from the second man Christ, by the new birth. Union with Christ is the true “transfusion of blood.” “The death-struck sinner, like the wan, anæmic, dying invalid, is saved by having poured into his veins the healthier blood of Christ” (Drummond, Nat. Law in the Spir. World). God regenerates the soul by uniting it to Jesus Christ.
In the Johnston Harvester Works at
Tennyson: “O for a man to arise in me, That the man that I am may cease to be!” Emerson: “Himself from God he could not free; He builded better than he knew.” Religion is not the adding of a new department of activity as an adjunct to our own life or the grafting of a new method of manifestation upon the old. It is rather the grafting of our souls into Christ, so that his life dominates and manifests itself in all our activities. The magnet which left to itself can lift only a three pound weight, will lift three hundred when it is attached to the electric dynamo. Expositor’s Greek Testament on 1 Cor. 15:45, 46—“The action of Jesus in ‘breathing’ upon his disciples while he said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22 sq.) symbolized the vitalizing relationship which at this epoch he assumed towards mankind; this act raised to a higher potency the original ‘breathing’ of God by which ‘man became a living soul’ (Gen. 2:7).”
Eph. —“that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”; 2 Tim. —“the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Faith is the soul’s laying hold of Christ as its only source of life, pardon, and salvation. And so we see what true religion is. It is not a moral life; it is not a determination to be religious; it is not faith, if by faith we mean an external trust that somehow Christ will save us; it is nothing less than the life of the soul in God, through Christ his Son. To Christ then we are to look for the origin, continuance and increase of our faith (Luke 17:5—“said unto the Lord, Increase our faith”). Our faith is but a part of “his fulness” of which “we all received, and grace for grace” (John ).
A. H. Strong, Sermon before the Baptist World Congress, London, 1905—“Christianity is summed up in the two facts: Christ for us, and Christ in us—Christ for us upon the Cross, revealing the eternal opposition of holiness to sin, and yet, through God’s eternal suffering for sin making objective atonement for us; and Christ in us by his spirit, renewing in us the lost image of God, and abiding in us as the all-sufficient source of purity and power. Here are the two foci of the Christian ellipse: Christ for us, who redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us, and Christ in us, the hope of glory, whom the apostle calls the mystery of the gospel.
“We need Christ in us as well as Christ for us. How shall I, how shall society, find healing and Purification within? Let me answer by reminding you of what they did at
Acts 13:39—“by him [lit.: ‘in him’ = in union with him] every one that believeth is justified”; Rom. 6:7, 8—“he that hath died is justified from sin.…we died with Christ”; 7:4—“dead to the law through the body of Christ”; 8:1—“no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”; 17—“heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ”; 1 Cor. 1:30—“But of him ye are in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness [justification]”; 3:21, 23—“all things are yours.…and ye are Christ’s”; 6:11—“ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God”; 2 Cor. 5:14—“we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died”; 21—“Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness [justification] of God in him” = God’s justified persons, in union with Christ (see pages 760, 761).
Gal. 2:20—“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me”; Eph. 1:4, 6—“chose us in him.…to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved”; 2:5, 6—“even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.…made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus”; Phil. 3:8, 9—“that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith”; 2 Tim. 2:11—“Faithful is the saying: For if we died with him, we shall also live with him.” Prophet: Luke 2:12—“the Holy Spirit shall teach yon in that very hour what ye ought to say”; 1 John 2:20—“ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” Priest: 1 Pet. 2:5—“a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”; Rev. 20:6—“they shall be priests of God and of Christ”; 1 Pet. 2:9—“a royal priesthood.” King: Rev. 3:21—“He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne”; 5:10—“madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests.” The connection of justification and union with Christ delivers the former from the charge of being a mechanical and arbitrary procedure. As Jonathan Edwards has said: “The justification of the believer is no other than his being admitted to communion in, or participation of, this head and surety of all believers.”
(d) Union with Christ secures to the believer the continuously transforming, assimilating power of Christ’s life,—first, for the soul; secondly, for the body,—consecrating it in the present, and in the future raising it up in the likeness of Christ’s glorified body. This continuous influence, so far as it is exerted in the present life, we call, Sanctification, the human side or aspect of which is Perseverance.
For the soul: John 1:16—“of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace”—successive and increasing measures of grace, corresponding to the soul’s successive and increasing needs; Rom. 8:10—“if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness”; 1 Cor. 15:45—“The last Adam became a life-giving spirit”; Phil. 2:5—“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”; 1 John 3:2—“if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him.” “Can Christ let the believer fall out of his hands? No, for the believer is his hands.”
For the body: 1 Cor. 6:17–20—“he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.…know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you.…glorify God therefore in your body”; 1 Thess. 5:23—“And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”; Rom. 8:11—“shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you”; 1 Cor. 15:49—“as we have borne the image of the earthy [man], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [man]”; Phil. 3:20, 21—“For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.”
Is there a physical miracle wrought for the drunkard in his regeneration? Mr. Moody says, Yes; Mr. Gough says, No. We prefer to say that the change is a spiritual one; but that the “expulsive power of a new affection” indirectly affects the body, so that old appetites sometimes disappear in a moment; and that often, in the course of years, great changes take place even in the believer’s body. Tennyson, Idylls: “Have ye looked at Edyrn? Have ye seen how nobly changed? This work of his is great and wonderful; His very face with change of heart is changed.” “Christ in the soul fashions the germinal man into his own likeness,—this is the embryology of the new life. The cardinal error in religious life is the attempt to live without proper environment” (see Drummond, Natural Law in Spiritual World, 253–284). Human life from Adam does not stand the test,—only divine-human life in Christ can secure us from falling. This is the work of Christ, now that he has ascended and taken to himself his power, namely, to give his life more and more fully to the church, until it shall grow up in all things into him, the Head, and shall fitly express his glory to the world.
As the accomplished organist discloses unsuspected capabilities of his instrument, so Christ brings into activity all the latent powers of the human soul. “I was five years in the ministry,” said an American preacher, “before I realized that my Savior is alive.” Dr. R. W. Dale has left on record the almost unutterable feelings that stirred his soul when he first realized this truth; see Walker, The Spirit and the Incarnation, preface, v. Many have struggled in vain against sin until they have admitted Christ to their hearts,—then they could say: “this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). “Go out, God will go in; Die thou, and let him live; Be not, and he will be; Wait, and he’ll all things give.” The best way to get air out of a vessel is to pour water in. Only in Christ can we find our pardon, peace, purity, and power. He is “made unto us wisdom from God, and justification and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). A medical man says: “The only radical remedy for dipsomania is religiomania” (quoted in William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 268). It is easy to break into an empty house; the spirit cast out returns, finds the house empty, brings seven others, and “the last state of that man becometh worse than the first” (Mat. 12:45). There is no safety in simply expelling sin; we need also to bring in Christ; in fact only he can enable us to expel not only actual sin but the love of it.
Alexander McLaren: “If we are ‘in Christ,’ we are like a diver in his crystal bell, and have a solid though invisible wall around us, which keeps all sea-monsters off us, and communicates with the upper air, whence we draw the breath of calm life and can work insecurity though in the ocean depths.” John Caird, Fund. Ideas, 2:98—“How do we know that the life of God has not departed from nature? Because every spring we witness the annual miracle of nature’s revival, every summer and autumn the waving corn. How do we know that Christ has not departed from the world? Because he imparts to the soul that trusts him a power, a purity, a peace, which are beyond all that nature can give.”
(e) Union with Christ brings about a fellowship of Christ with the believer,—Christ takes past in all the labors, temptations, and sufferings of his people; a fellowship of the believer with Christ,—so that Christ’s whole experience on earth is in some measure reproduced in him; a fellowship of all believers with one another,—furnishing a basis for the spiritual unity of Christ’s people on earth, and for the eternal communion of heaven. The doctrine of Union with Christ is therefore the indispensable preparation for Ecclesiology, and for Eschatology.
Fellowship of Christ with the believer: Phil. 4:13—“I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me”; Heb. 4:15—“For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities”; cf. (Is. 63:9—“In all their affliction he was afflicted.” Heb. 2:18—“in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted” = are being tempted, are under temptation. Bp. Wordsworth: “By his passion he acquired compassion.” 2 Cor. 2:14—“thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ” = Christ leads us in triumph, but his triumph is ours, even if it be a triumph over us. One with him, we participate in his joy and in his sovereignty. Rev. 3:21—“He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne.” W. F. Taylor on Rom. 8:9—“The Spirit of God dwelleth in you.…if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his”—“Christ dwells in us, says the apostle. But do we accept him as a resident, or as a ruler? England was first represented at King Thebau’s court by her resident. This official could rebuke, and even threaten, but no more,—Thebau was sovereign. Burma knew no peace, till England ruled. So Christ does not consent to be represented by a mere resident. He must himself dwell within the soul, and he must reign.” Christina Rossetti, Thee Only: “Lord, we are rivers running to thy sea, Our waves and ripples all derived from thee; A nothing we should have, a nothing be, Except for thee. Sweet are the waters of thy shoreless sea; Make sweet our waters that make haste to thee; Pour in thy sweetness, that ourselves may be Sweetness to thee!”
Of the believer with Christ: Phil. 3:10—“that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death”; Col. 1:24—“fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church”; 1 Pet. 4:13—“partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” The Christian reproduces Christ’s life in miniature, and, in a true sense, lives it over again. Only upon the principle of union with Christ can we explain how the Christian instinctively applies to himself the prophecies and promises which originally and primarily were uttered with reference to Christ: “thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption” (Ps. 16:10, 11). This fellowship is the ground of the promises made to believing prayer: John 14:13—“whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do”; Wescott, Bib. Com., in loco: “The meaning of the phrase [‘in my name’] is ‘as being one with me even as I am revealed to you.’ Its two correlatives are ‘in me’ and the Pauline ‘in Christ’.” “all things are yours” (1 Cor. 3:21), because Christ is universal King, and all believers are exalted to fellowship with him. After the battle of Sedan, King William asked a wounded Prussian officer whether it were well with him. “All is well where your majesty leads!” was the reply. Phil. 1:21—“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul indeed uses the words ‘Christ’ and ‘church’ as interchangeable terms: 1 Cor 12:12—“as the body is one, and hath many members,..…so also is Christ.” Denney, Studies in Theology, 171—“There is not in the N. T. from beginning to end, in the record of the original and genuine Christian life, a single word of despondency or gloom. It is the most buoyant, exhilerating and joyful book in the world.” This is due to the fact that the writers believe in a living and exalted Christ, and know themselves to be one with him. They descend crowned into the arena. In the Soudan, every morning for half an hour before General Gordon’s tent there lay a white handkerchief. The most pressing message, even on matters of life and death, waited till that handkerchief was withdrawn. It was the signal that Christ and Gordon were in communion with each other.
Of all believers with one another: John 17:21—“that they may all be one”; 1 Cor. 10:17—“we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one bread”; Eph. 2:5—“create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace”; 1 John 1:3—“that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father. and with his Son Jesus Christ”—here the word κοινωνία via is used. Fellowship with each other is the effect and result of the fellowship of each with God in Christ. Compare John 10:16—“they shall become one flock, one shepherd”; Westcott, Bib. Com., in loco: “The bond of fellowship is shown to lie in the common relation to one Lord..…Nothing is said of one ‘fold’ under the new dispensation.” Here is a unity, not of external organization, but of common life. Of this the visible church is the consequence and expression. But this communion is not limited to earth,—it is perpetuated beyond death: 1 Thess. 4:17—“so shall we ever be with the Lord”; Heb. 12:23—“to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect”; Rev. 21 and 22—the city of God, the new Jerusalem, is the image of perfect society, as well as of intensity and fulness of life in Christ. The ordinances express the essence of Ecclesiology—union with Christ—for Baptism symbolizes the incorporation of the believer in Christ, while the Lord’s Supper symbolizes the incorporation of Christ in the believer. Christianity is a social matter, and the true Christian feels the need of being with and among his brethren. The Romans could not understand why “this new sect” must be holding meetings all the time—even daily meetings. Why could they not go singly, or in families, to the temples, and make offerings to their God, and then come away, as the pagans did? It was this meeting together which exposed them to persecution and martyrdom. It was the natural and inevitable expression of their union with Christ and so of their union with one another.
The consciousness of union with Christ gives assurance of salvation. It is a great stimulus to believing prayer and to patient labor. It is a duty to “know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe” (Eph. 1:18, 19). Christ’s command, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4), implies that we are both to realize and to confirm this union, by active exertion of our own wills. We are to abide in him by an entire consecration, and to let him abide in us by an appropriating faith. We are to give ourselves to Christ, and to take in return the Christ who gives himself to us,—in other words, we are to believe Christ’s promises and to act upon them. All sin consists in the sundering of man’s life from God, and most systems of falsehood in religion are attempts to save man without merging his life in God’s once more. The only religion that can save mankind is the religion that fills the whole heart and the whole life with God, and that aims to interpenetrate universal humanity with that same living Christ who has already made himself one with the believer. This consciousness of union with Christ gives “boldness” (παρρησία—Acts 4:13; 1 John 5:14) toward men and toward God. The word belongs to the Greek democracies. Freemen are bold. Demosthenes boasts of his frankness. Christ frees us from the hidebound, introspective, self-conscious spirit. In him we become free, demonstrative, outspoken. So we find, in John’s epistles, that boldness in prayer is spoken of as a virtue, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews urges us to “draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). An engagement of marriage is not the same as marriage. The parties may be still distant from each other. Many Christians get just near enough to Christ to be engaged to him. This seems to be the experience of Christian in the Pilgrim’s Progress. But our privilege is to have a present Christ, and to do our work not only for him, but in, him. “Since Christ and we are one, Why should we doubt or fear?” “We two are so joined, He’ll not be in heaven, And leave me behind.”
We append a few statements with regard to this union and its consequences, from noted names in theology and the church. Luther: “By faith thou art so glued to Christ that of thee and him there becomes as it were one person, so that with confidence thou canst say: ‘I am Christ,—that is, Christ’s righteousness, victory, etc., are mine; and Christ in turn can say: ‘I am that sinner,—that is, his sine, his death, etc., are mine, because he clings to me and I to him, for we have been joined through faith into one flesh and bone.’ ” Calvin; “I attribute the highest importance to the connection between the head and the members; to the inhabitation of Christ in our hearts; in a word, to the mystical union by which we enjoy him, so that, being made ours, he makes us partakers of the blessings with which he is furnished.” John Bunyan: “The Lord led me into the knowledge of the mystery of union with Christ, that I was joined to him, that I was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. By this also my faith in him as ray righteousness was the more confirmed; for if he and I were one, then his righteousness was mine, his merits mine, his victory also mine. Now could I see myself in heaven and on earth at once—in heaven by my Christ, my risen head, my righteousness and life, though on earth by my body or person.” Edwards: “Faith is the soul’s active uniting with Christ. God sees fit that, in order to a union’s being established between two intelligent active beings, there should be the mutual act of both, that each should receive the other, as entirely joining themselves to one another.” Andrew Fuller: “I have no doubt that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness presupposes a union with him; since there is no preceivable fitness in bestowing benefits on one for another’s sake, where there is no union or relation between.”
See Luther, quoted, with other references, in Thomasius, Christi Person und Werk, 3:325. See also Calvin, Institutes, 1:660; Edwards, Works, 4:66, 69, 70; Andrew Fuller, Works, 2:685; Pascal, Thoughts, Eng. trans., 429; Hooker, Eccl. Polity, book 5, ch. 56; Tillotson, Sermons, 3:307; Trench, Studies in Gospels, 284, and Christ the True Vine, in Hulsean Lectures; Schöberlein, in Studien und Kritiken, 1847:7–69; Caird, on Union with God, in Scotch Sermons, sermon 2; Godet, on the Ultimate Design of Man in Princeton Rev., Nov. 1880—the design is “God in man, and man in God”; Baird, Elohim Revealed, 590–617; Upham, Divine Union, Interior Life, Life of Madame Guyon and Fénelon; A. J. Gordon, In Christ; McDuff, In Christo; J. Denham Smith, Lifetruths, 25–98; A. H. Strong, Philosophy and Religion, 220–225; Bishop Hall’s Treatise on The Church Mystical; Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ; Stearns, Evidence of Christian Experience, 145, 174, 179; F. B. Meyer, Christian Living—essay on Appropriation of Christ, vs. mere imitation of Christ; Sanday, Epistle to the Romans, supplementary essay on the Mystic Union; H. B. Smith, System of Theology, 531; J. M. Campbell, The Indwelling Christ.