The union of believers with Christ their Head is not effected by instilling a divine-human life-tincture into the soul. There is no divine-human life. There is a most holy Person, who unites in Himself the divine and the human life; but both natures continue unmixed, unblended, each retaining its own properties. And since there is no divine-human life in Jesus, He can not instil it into us.
We do heartily acknowledge that there is a certain conformity and similarity between the divine nature and the human, for man was created after the image of God; wherefore St. Peter could say, "That we become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter i.4); but, according to all sound expositors, this means only that unto the sinner are imparted the attributes of goodness and holiness, which he originally possessed in his own nature in common with the divine nature, but which he lost by sin.
Compared with the nature of material things, and with that of animals and of devils, there is indeed a feature of conformity and similarity between the divine and human natures. But this may not be understood as obliterating the boundary between the divine nature and the human. And, therefore, let this glorious word of St. Peter no longer be abused in order to justify a philosophic system which has nothing in common with the soberness and simplicity of Holy Scripture.
What St. Peter calls "to become partaker of the divine nature" is called in another place, to become the children of God. But altho Christ is the Son of God, and we are called the children of God, this does not make the Sonship of Christ and our sonship to stand on the same plane and to be of the same nature. We are but the adopted children, altho we have another descent, while He is the actual and eternal Son. While He is essentially the eternal Son, partaker of the divine nature, which in the unity of His Person He unites with the human nature, we are merely restored to the likeness of the divine nature which we had lost by sin.
Hence as "to be adopted as a child," and "to be the Son forever" are contrasts, so are also the following: "to have the divine nature in Himself," and "to be only partakers of the divine nature."
The friend who shares a bereaved mother's mourning is not bereaved himself, but through love and pity he has become partaker of that mourning. In like manner, accepting these great and precious promises, believers become partakers of the divine nature, altho in themselves wholly devoid, of that nature. Partaker does not denote what one possesses in himself, as his own, but a partial communication of what does not belong to him, but to another.
Hence this glorious, apostolic word should no longer be used in pantheistic sense. As it is unlawful to say that we are the essential children of God, but must humbly confess, through Christ, to be His adopted children, so it is not lawful to say that by faith we become in ourselves bearers of the divine nature; but we must be satisfied with the confession that through the fellowship of love, God makes us partakers of the vital emotions of the divine nature, so far as our human capacities are able to experience them.
This brings us back to the unio mystica with Christ, which, altho a great and impenetrable mystery, ought to be sufficiently defined to keep us from falling into error. We mention, therefore, its vital points and thus embody our confession concerning it:
1st. The first point is, that the Lord Jesus does not require us to be purified and sanctified in order to be united to His Person.
Jesus is a Savior not of the righteous, but of sinners. And for this reason He has adopted the human nature: not as the Baptist teaches, by receiving from heaven a newly created body, like the Paradise body of Adam, but by becoming partaker, as the little children, of our flesh and blood. And the same is true of His union with believers. He does not wait until they are pure and holy, then to be spiritually betrothed unto them; but He betroths Himself unto them that they may become pure and holy. He is the rich Bridegroom, and the soul the poverty-stricken bride. In the shining robes of His righteousness He comes and, finding her black, unsightly, and in her native defilement, He says not, "Get thyself clean, wise, and rich, and as a rich bride I will betroth thee unto Me"; but, "I take thee just as thou art. I say unto thee, in thy blood, Live. Tho thou art poor, betrothing thee, I will make thee partaker of Myself and of My treasure. But a treasure of thine own thou shalt never possess."
This point should be firmly established. The Lord Jesus unites unto Himself not the righteous, but sinners. He marries not the pure and the spotless, but the polluted and the unclean.
When the holy apostle Paul speaks of a bride whom he will present without spot or wrinkle, he has reference to something entirely different not to His betrothal with the individual, but to the marriage of the Lord Jesus with His Church as a whole. So long as the Church continues in the earth, separated from Him, she is His bride, until in the fulness of time, the separation ended, He will introduce her to the rich and full communion of the united life in glory.
2d. The second point to which we call attention is the time when this union begins.
To say that this unio mystica is the result of faith alone is only partly correct. For Scripture teaches very distinctly that we were already in the Lord Jesus when He died on Calvary, and when He arose from the dead; that we ascended with Him unto heaven; and that for eighteen centuries we have been seated with Him at the right hand of God. Hence we must carefully distinguish between the five stages in which the union with Immanuel unfolds itself:
The first of these five stages lies in the decree of God. From the very moment that the Father gave us to the Son, we were really His own, and a relation was established between Him and us, not weak and feeble, but so deep and extensive that all subsequent relations with Immanuel spring from this fundamental root-relation alone.
The second stage is in the Incarnation, when, adopting our flesh, entering into our nature, He made that preexisting, essential relation actual; when the bond of union passed from the divine will, i.e., from the decree, into actual existence. Christ in the flesh carries all believers in the loins of His grace, as Adam carried all the children of men in the loins of his flesh. Hence, not figuratively nor metaphorically, but in the proper sense, Scripture teaches that when Jesus died and arose we died and arose with Him and in Him.
The third stage begins when we ourselves appear not in our birth, but in our regeneration; when the Lord God begins to work supernaturally in our souls; when in love's hour Eternal Love conceives in us the child of God. Until then the mystic union was hid in the decree and in the Mediator; but in and by regeneration the person appears with whom the Lord Jesus will establish it. However, not regeneration first and then something new; viz., union with Christ, but in the very moment of completed regeneration that union becomes an internally accomplished fact.
This third stage must be carefully distinguished from the fourth, which begins not with the quickening, but with the first conscious exercise of faith. For, altho in regeneration the faculty of faith was implanted, it may for a long time remain inactive; and only when the Holy Spirit causes it to act, producing genuine faith and conversion in us, is the union with Christ established subjectively.
This union is not the subsequent fruit of a higher degree of holiness, but coincides with the first exercise of faith. Faith which does not live in Christ is no faith, but its counterfeit. Genuine faith is wrought in us by the Holy Ghost, and all that He imparts to us He draws from Christ. Hence there may be an apparent or pretended faith without the union with Christ, but not a real faith. Wherefore it is an assured fact that the first sigh of the soul, in its first exercise of faith, is the result of the wonderful union of the soul with its Surety.
We do not deny, however, that there is a gradual increase of the conscious realization, of the lively feeling, and of the free enjoyment of this union. A child possesses its mother from the first moment of its existence: but the sensible enjoyment of its mother's love gradually awakens and increases with the years, until he fully knows what a treasure God has given him in his mother. And thus the consciousness and enjoyment of what we have in our Savior becomes gradually clearer and deeper, until there comes a moment when we fully realize how rich God has made us in Jesus. And by this many are led to think that their union with Christ dates from that moment. This is only apparently so. Altho then they became fully conscious of their treasure in Christ, the union itself existed (even subjectively) from the moment of their first cry of faith.
This leads to the fifth and last stage, viz., death. Rejoicing in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory, altho not seeing Him, much more remains to be desired. Hence our union with Him does not attain its fullest unfolding until every lack be supplied and we see Him as He is; and in that blissful vision we shall be like Him, for then He will give us all that He has. Therefore faith makes us partakers first of Himself and then of all His gifts, as the Heidelberg Catechism clearly teaches.
3d. The third point to which we call attention is the nature of this union with Immanuel.
It has a nature peculiar to itself; it may be compared to other unions, but it can never be fully explained by them. Wonderful is the bond between body and soul; more wonderful still the sacramental bond of holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper; equally wonderful the vital union between mother and child in her blood, like that of the vine and its growing branches; wonderful the bond of wedlock; and much more wonderful the union with the Holy Spirit, established by His indwelling. But the union with Immanuel is distinct from all these.
It is a union invisible and intangible; the ear fails to perceive it, and it eludes all investigation; yet it is very real union and communion, by which the life of the Lord Jesus directly affects and controls us. As the unborn babe lives on the mother-blood, which has its heart-beat outside of him, so we also live on the Christ-life, which has its heart-beat not in our soul, but outside of us, in heaven above, in Christ Jesus.
4th. In the fourth place, altho the union with Christ coincides with our covenant-relation to Him as the Head, yet it is not identical with it. Our relations of fellowship to Christ are many. There is a fellowship of feeling and inclination, of love and attachment; we are disciples of the Prophet; we are His blood -- bought possession; the subjects of the King; and members of the Covenant of Grace of which He is the Head. But instead of absorbing the "unio mystica," they are all based upon it. Without this real bond all the others are only imaginary. Hence, while we know, feel, and confess that it is glorious to be safely hid in our Covenant-Head, it is sweeter, more precious and delightful to live in the mystical fellowship of Love.