SYSTEMATIC theologians have usually regarded union to Christ under three aspects, natural, mystical and federal, and it may be that these three terms are comprehensive enough to embrace the whole subject, but as our aim is simplicity, let us be pardoned if we appear diffuse when we follow a less concise method.
1. The saints were from the beginning joined to Christ by bands of everlasting love. Before He took on Him their nature, or brought them into a conscious enjoyment of Himself, His heart was set upon their persons, and His soul delighted in them. Long ere the worlds were made, His prescient eye beheld His chosen, and viewed them with delight. Strong were the indissoluble bands of love which then united Jesus to the souls whom He determined to redeem. Not bars of brass, or triple steel, could have been more real and effectual bonds. True love, of all things in the universe, has the greatest cementing force, and will bear the greatest strain, and endure the heaviest pressure: who shall tell what trials the Saviour's love has borne; and how well it has sustained them? Never union was more true than this. As the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David so that he loved David as his own soul, so was our glorious Lord united and joined to us by the ties of fervent, faithful love. Love has a most potent power in effecting and sustaining union, but never does it display its force so well as when we see it bringing the Creator into oneness with the creature, the divine into alliance with the human. This, then, is to be regarded as the day-spring of union -- the love of Christ embracing in its folds the whole of the elected family.
2. There is, moreover, a union of purpose as well as of love. By the first, we have seen that the elect are made one with Jesus by the act and will of the Son; by the second, they are joined to Him by the ordination and decree of the Father. These divine acts are co-eternal. The Son loved and chose His people to be His own bride, the Father made the same choice, and decreed the chosen ones for ever one with His all-glorious Son. The Son loved them, and the Father decreed them His portion and inheritance; the Father ordained them to be what the Son Himself did make them.
In God's purpose they have been eternally associated as parts of one design. Salvation was the fore-ordained scheme whereby God would magnify Himself, and a Saviour was in that scheme from necessity associated with the persons chosen to be saved. The scope of the dispensation of grace included both; the circle of wisdom comprehended Redeemer and redeemed in its one circumference. They could not be dissociated in the mind and will of the all-planning Jehovah.
"Christ be My first elect,' He said,
Then chose our souls in Christ, our Head."
The same Book which contains the names of the heirs of life contains the name of their Redeemer. He could not be a Redeemer unless souls had been given Him to redeem, nor could they have been called the ransomed of the Lord, if He had not engaged to purchase them. Redemption, when determined upon by the God of heaven, included in it both Christ and His people; and hence, in the decree which fixed it, they were brought into a near and intimate alliance.
The foresight of the Fall led the divine mind to provide for the catastrophe in which the elect would have perished, had not their ruin been prevented by gracious interposition. Hence followed as part of the divine arrangement other forms of union, which, besides their immediate object in salvation, had doubtless a further design of illustrating the condescending alliance which Jesus had formed with His chosen. The next and following points are of this character.
3. Jesus is one with His elect federally. As every heir of flesh and blood has a personal interest in Adam, because he is the covenant head and representative of the race as considered under the law of works; so, under the law of grace, every redeemed soul is one with the Lord from heaven, since He is the Second Adam, the Sponsor and Substitute of the elect in the new covenant of love. The apostle Paul declares that Levi was in the loins of Abraham when Melchizedek met him: it is equally true that the believer was in the loins of Jesus Christ, the Mediator, when in old eternity the covenant settlements of grace were decreed, ratified, and made sure for ever. Thus, whatever Christ hath done, He hath wrought for the whole body of His Church. We were crucified in Him, and buried with Him (read Col. ii.10-13), and to make it still more wonderful, we are risen with Him, and have even ascended with Him to the seats on high (Eph. ii.6). It is thus that the Church has fulfilled the law, and is "accepted in the Beloved." It is thus that she is regarded with complacency by the just Jehovah, for He views her in Jesus, and does not look upon her as separate from her covenant Head. As the anointed Redeemer of Israel, Christ Jesus has nothing distinct from His Church, but all that He has He holds for her. Adam's righteousness was ours as long as he maintained it, and his sin was ours the moment that he committed it; and, in the same manner, all that the Second Adam is, or does, is ours as well as His, seeing that He is our Representative. Here is the foundation of the covenant of grace. This gracious system of representation and substitution, which moved Justin Martyr to cry out, "O blessed change! O sweet permutation!" this, I say, is the very groundwork of the gospel of our salvation, and is to be received with strong faith and rapturous joy. In every place the saints are perfectly one with Jesus.
"One in the tomb, one when He rose,
One when He triumph'd o'er His foes,
One when in heaven He took His seat,
While seraphs sang all hell's defeat.
"This sacred tie forbids their fears,
For all He is or has is theirs;
With Him, their Head, they stand or fall,
Their life, their Surety, and their all."
4. For the accomplishment of the great works of atonement and perfect obedience, it was needful that the Lord Jesus should take upon Him "the likeness of sinful flesh." Thus, He became one with us in our nature, for in Holy Scripture all partakers of flesh and blood are regarded as of one family. By the fact of common descent from Adam, all men are of one race, seeing that "God hath made of one blood all nations that dwell upon the face of the earth." Hence, in the Bible, man is spoken of universally as "thy brother" (Lev. xix.17; Job xxii.6; Matt. v.23, 24; Luke xvii.3; Rom. xiv.10, &c., &c.); and "thy neighbour" (Exod. xx.16; Lev. xix.13-18; Matt. v.43; Rom. xiii.9; James ii.8); to whom, on account of nature and descent, we are required to render kindness and goodwill. Now, although our great Melchizedek in His divinity is without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, and is both in essence and rank at an infinite remove from fallen manhood; yet as to His manhood He is to be reckoned as one of ourselves. He was born of a woman, He hung upon her breasts, and was dandled upon her knee; He grew from infancy to youth and thence to manhood, and in every stage He was a true and real partaker of our humanity. He is as certainly of the race of Adam as He is divine. He is God without fiction or metaphor, and He is man beyond doubt or dispute. The Godhead was not humanized, and so diluted; and the manhood was not transformed into divinity, and so rendered more than human. Never was any man more a portion of His kind than was the Son of man, the Man of sorrows and the Acquaintance of grief. He is man's Brother, for He bore the whole nature of man. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." He who was very God of very God made Himself a little lower than the angels, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.
This was done with the most excellent design with regard to our redemption, inasmuch as it was necessary that, as man had sinned, man should suffer; but doubtless it had a further motive, the honouring of the Church, and the enabling of her Lord to sympathize with her. The apostle most sweetly remarks, "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. ii.14, 15); and again, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. iv.15). Thus, in ties of blood, Jesus, the Son of man, is one with all the heirs of heaven: "For which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. ii.11). What reason we have here for the strongest consolation and delight, seeing that, "Both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." We can say of our Lord as poor Naomi said of bounteous Boaz, "The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen." Overwhelmed by the liberality of our blessed Lord, we are often led to cry with Ruth, "Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" and are we not ready to die with wonder when, in answer to such a question, He tells us that He is our Brother, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh?
If, in all our straits and distresses, we would always treasure in our minds the remembrance of our Redeemer's manhood, we should never bemoan the absence of a sympathizing heart, since we should always have His abundant compassion for our consolation. He is no stranger, He is able to enter into the heart's bitterness, for He has Himself tasted the wormwood and the gall. Let us never doubt His power to sympathize with us in our infirmities and sorrows.
There is one aspect of this subject of our natural union to Christ which it were improper to pass over in silence, for it is very precious to the believer. While the Lord Jesus takes upon Himself our nature (2 Peter i.4), He restores in us that image of God (Gen. i.27) which was blotted and defaced by the fall of Adam. He raises us from the degradation of sin to the dignity of perfection. So that, in a two-fold sense, the Head and members are of one nature, and not like that monstrous image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream. The head was of fine gold, but the belly and the thighs were of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet, part of iron and part of clay. Christ's mystical body is no absurd combination of opposites; the Head is immortal, and the body is immortal, too, for thus the record stands, "Because I live, ye shall live also." "As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly:" and this shall in a few more years be more fully manifest to us, for "this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." Such as is the Head, such is the body, and every member in particular; -- a chosen Head, and chosen members; an accepted Head, and accepted members; a living Head, and living members. If the Head be of pure gold, all the parts of the body are of pure gold also. Thus is there a double union of nature as a basis for the closest communion.
Pause here, and see if thou canst, without ecstatic amazement, contemplate the infinite condescension of the Son of God in exalting thy wretchedness into blessed union with His glory. Thou art so mean that, in remembrance of thy mortality, thou mayest say to corruption, "Thou art my father," and to the worm, "Thou art my sister;" and yet, in Christ, thou art so honoured that thou canst say to the Almighty, "Abba, Father," and to the Incarnate God, "Thou art my Brother and my Husband." Surely, if relationships to ancient and noble families make men think highly of themselves, we have whereof to glory over the heads of them all. Lay hold upon this privilege; let not a senseless indolence make thee negligent to trace this pedigree, and suffer no foolish attachment to present vanities to occupy thy thoughts to the exclusion of this glorious privilege, this heavenly honour of union with Christ.
We must now retrace our steps to the ancient mountains, and contemplate this union in one of its earliest forms.
5. Christ Jesus is also joined unto His people in a mystical union. Borrowing once more from the story of Ruth, we remark that Boaz, although one with Ruth by kinship, did not rest until he had entered into a nearer union still, namely, that of marriage; and in the same manner there is, superadded to the natural union of Christ with His people, a mystical union by which He assumes the position of Husband, while the Church is owned as His bride. In love He espoused her to Himself, as a chaste virgin, long before she fell under the yoke of bondage. Full of burning affection, He toiled like Jacob for Rachel, until the whole of her purchase-money had been paid, and now, having sought her by His Spirit, and brought her to know and love Him, He awaits the glorious hour when their mutual bliss shall be consummated at the marriage-supper of the Lamb. Not yet hath the glorious Bridegroom presented His betrothed, perfected and complete, before the Majesty of heaven; not yet hath she actually entered upon the enjoyment of her dignities as His wife and queen; she is as yet a wanderer in a world of woe, a dweller in the tents of Kedar; but she is even now the bride, the spouse of Jesus, dear to His heart, precious in His sight, and united with His person. In love and tenderness, He says to her, --
"Forget thee I will not, I cannot, thy name
Engraved on My heart doth for ever remain:
The palms of My hands whilst I look on I see
The wounds I received when suffering for thee."
He exercises towards her all the affectionate offices of Husband. He makes rich provision for her wants, pays all her debts, allows her to assume His name, and to share in all His wealth. Nor will He ever act otherwise to her. The word divorce He will never mention, for "He hateth putting away." Death must sever the conjugal tie between the most loving mortals, but it cannot divide the links of this immortal marriage. In heaven they marry not, but are as the angels of God; yet is there this one marvellous exception to the rule, for in heaven Christ and His Church shall celebrate their joyous nuptials. And this affinity, as it is more lasting, so is it more near than earthly wedlock. Let the love of husband be never so pure and fervent, it is but a faint picture of the flame that burns in the heart of Jesus. Passing all human union is that mystical cleaving unto the Church, for which Christ did leave His Father, and become one flesh with her.
If this be the union which subsists between our souls and the person of our Lord, how deep and broad is the channel of our communion! This is no narrow pipe through which a thread-like stream may wind its way, it is a channel of amazing depth and breadth, along whose breadth and length a ponderous volume of living water may roll its strength. Behold, He hath set before us an open door; let us not be slow to enter. This city of communion hath many pearly gates, every several gate is of one pearl, and each gate is thrown open to the uttermost that we may enter, assured of welcome. If there were but one small loophole through which to talk with Jesus, it would be a high privilege to thrust a word of fellowship through the narrow door; how much we are blessed in having so large an entrance! Had the Lord Jesus been far away from us, with many a stormy sea between, we should have longed to send a messenger to Him to carry Him our love, and bring us tidings from His Father's house; but see His kindness, He has built His house next door to ours, nay, more, He takes lodgings with us, and tabernacles in poor humble hearts, that so He may have perpetual intercourse with us. Oh, how foolish must we be, if we do not live in habitual communion with Him! When the road is long, and dangerous, and difficult, we need not wonder that friends seldom meet each other; but when they live together, shall Jonathan forget his David? A wife may, when her husband is upon a journey, abide many days without holding converse with him; but she could never endure to be separated from him if she knew him to be in one of the chambers of their own house. Seek thy Lord, for He is near; embrace Him, for He is thy Brother; hold Him fast, for He is thine Husband; press Him to thine heart, for He is of thine own flesh.
6. As yet we have only considered the acts of Christ for us, whereby He effects and proves His union to us; we must now come to more personal and sensible forms of this great truth.
Those who are set apart for the Lord are in due time severed from the impure mass of fallen humanity, and are by sovereign grace engrafted into the person of the Lord Jesus. This, which we call vital union, is rather a matter of experience than of doctrine; it must be learned in the heart, and not by the head. Like every other work of the Spirit, the actual implantation of the soul into Christ Jesus is a mysterious and secret operation, and is no more to be understood by carnal reason than is the new birth of which it is an attendant. Nevertheless, the spiritual man discerns it as a most essential thing in the salvation of the soul, and he clearly sees how a living union to Christ is the sure consequence of the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, and is indeed, in some respects, identical with it.
When the Lord in mercy passed by and saw us in our blood, He first of all said, "Live"; and this He did first, because, without life, there can be no spiritual knowledge, feeling, or motion. Life is one of the absolutely essential things in spiritual matters; and until it be bestowed, we are incapable of partaking in the things of the kingdom. Now, the life which grace confers upon the saints at the moment of their quickening is none other than the life of Christ, which, like the sap from the stem, runs into us, the branches, and establishes a living connection between our souls and Jesus. Faith is the grace which perceives this union, and proceeds from it as its firstfruit. It is, to use a metaphor from the Canticles, the neck which joins the body of the Church to its all-glorious Head.
"O Faith! thou bond of union with the Lord,
Is not this office thine? and thy fit name,
In the economy of gospel types,
And symbols apposite -- the Church's neck;
Identifying her in will and work
With Him ascended?"
Faith lays hold upon the Lord Jesus with a firm and determined grasp. She knows His excellence and worth, and no temptation can induce her to repose her trust elsewhere; and Christ Jesus is so delighted with this heavenly grace, that He never ceases to strengthen and sustain her by the loving embrace and all-sufficient support of His eternal arms. Here, then, is established a living, sensible, and delightful union, which casts forth streams of love, confidence, sympathy, complacency, and joy, whereof both the bride and Bridegroom love to drink. When the eye is clear, and the soul can evidently perceive this oneness between itself and Christ, the pulse may be felt as beating for both, and the one blood may be known as flowing through the veins of each. Then is the heart made exceedingly glad, it is as near heaven as it ever can be on earth, and is prepared for the enjoyment of the most sublime and spiritual kind of fellowship. This union may be quite as true when we are troubled with doubts concerning it, but it cannot afford consolation to the soul unless it be indisputably proven and assuredly felt; then is it indeed a honeycomb dropping with sweetness, a precious jewel sparkling with light. Look well to this matter, ye saints of the Most High!