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BY ISAAC LEWIS, A. M.
THE UNION OF BELIEVERS WITH CHRIST.
JOHN XV. 5.—I am the Vine, ye are the Branches.
THESE words plainly express the fact, that humble believers are united to the Lord Jesus Christ. They were spoken by him to his disciples; and, through them, to his faithful followers in every subsequent age. To Him all true Christians are inseparably united. And, from this union, they derive their spiritual life, their growth in grace, their Christian character, and their title to all the blessings of the new covenant. My present object will be, TO ILLUSTRATE THIS UNION OF BELIEVERS WITH CHRIST. That our sentiments on this interesting subject may not be misapprehended, it may be proper to remark, that it is neither a union of essence, nor of person.
It is not a union of essence.
Of this character is the union of the three persons in the Godhead. The Scriptures teach us, that "there are Three that bear record in heaven,--the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are One." The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are, in one sense, three: and yet "these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory." Mysterious and incomprehensible as this doctrine of the Trinity is, we are bound to receive it, because it is plainly and frequently taught in the Holy Scriptures.
Such can not be the union of Christ with his followers. This would exalt Christians to a state of equality with the infinite Saviour, and clothe them with the attributes of God: an idea too absurd-too blasphemous-to be indulged for a single moment.
It is not a union of person.
Of this character is the union of Divine and human nature in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is God, possessing the Divine nature, with all its distinguishing and incommunicable attributes. He is Man, possessing a human body and soul. These two natures constitute in him one person. He is, and will continue to be, "God and man in two distinct natures and one person for ever."
The union of believers with Christ is not of this kind. That would entirely and for ever destroy the individuality of Christians. It would make but one person of Christ and all his disciples among all nations and in all ages of the world. The absurdity of such a doctrine appears at the first glance. Merely to state it, is to refute it. The union of believers with Christ, then, is neither an essential nor a personal union.
Having made these remarks to prevent misapprehension, I would now proceed, in a plain Scriptural manner, to illustrate the real nature of this union.
1. In the text and context, the union of believers with Christ is compared to the union of the branches with the vine. "I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit for without me, ye can do nothing." "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.' As the branches are united to the vine, and in consequence of that union, receive vegetable life and nourishment; so Christians are united to the Lord Jesus Christ, in such a manner as to receive from him spiritual life and heavenly nourishment. He is the vine-the source, whence they obtain the sanctifying influences of Divine grace. By these influences they are enabled to bring forth the fruits of holiness in their life and conversation. In order to abound in the fruits of holiness, they must abide in Christ-they must live near to him; feel their unceasing dependence upon him; confide in his merits; and daily and devoutly implore new communications of his Spirit. As well may they expect fruit from the branches, when separated from the vine, as look for increase of grace in their own hearts, while departing from Christ. If they do not abide in him, they are like dead branches which can produce no fruit; and which are fit only to be gathered into bundles, and cast into the fire. But if they abide in Christ, they are like living and vigorous branches, and will be enabled to "bring forth much fruit."
2. In the Scriptures the union of believers with Christ is compared to the union of the various parts of an edifice with the foundation on which they securely rest.
"Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation." "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house." "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief-corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." As the different parts of a building are connected with each other, and all depend on the foundation for support and strength; so the different members of the Church are connected with each other, and all depend on Christ for spiritual strength. Resting on him as their firm foundation, they constitute a spiritual house, an habitation of God by his Spirit. "Other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
3. The union of believers with Christ is compared to the union of the human body with the head.
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ; who is head over all things to the Church, which is his body." "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of
his bones." As the various members of the human body are united to the head-are under its influence-and partake of the same sustenance: so true believers are united to Christ as their head; are under the influence of his Spirit; are supported by rich communications of his grace; and are members of his mystical body.
4. This union is compared to that, which, by the marriage covenant, is constituted between husband and wife.
"The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh :—this is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." As the wife is, by the marriage covenant, united to her husband; as, in some respects, "they are no more two, but one flesh;" as they are interested in each other's affections, in each other's property, and in each other's reputation: so true believers, by the covenant of grace, are made one with Christ, the spiritual Bridegroom of the Church. By this union they become interested in his affections, in his glory, and in all the blessings of his kingdom. 5. The union of believers with Christ comprises similarity of dispositions. The " same mind" is in Christians "which was in Christ Jesus." "With open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Paul said to the Romans, "Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you." And again, “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." If the same mind must be in us, that was in Christ Jesus; if we must behold the glory of the Lord, and be changed into his image from glory to glory, by the sanctifying influences of his Holy Spirit, in order to be Christians; if the spirit of Christ must dwell in us, and we must possess the same temper of love to God, and benevolence to men, which he possessed, or be none of his; then true Christians are united to Christ by similarity of disposition.
In Christ, holiness is the great principle of moral action. So is it, also, in Christians. This is evinced by the precious fruits of holiness which are visible in their conversation and conduct. To abandon the love and practice of sin; to exercise evangelical repentance; to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and to render sincere and persevering obedience to the commandments of God; are, evidently, effects of holiness. For "the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Sinners can not be brought to the exercise of genuine repentance for sin, living faith in Christ, and cordial
obedience to the commands of God, without holiness in their hearts. Their hearts must be renewed and made holy, or they will remain impenitent, unbelieving, and disobedient. Hence Christ said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God." And Paul taught, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, that, "without holiness, no man shall see the Lord." Christians, then, are "born again." They are regenerated by the powerful operations of the Holy Ghost. They are made holy in heart and life. Their holiness is perfectly similar in its nature, though vastly inferior in degree, to the holiness of Christ. Being conformed to the moral image of Christ; being holy, in some measure, as he is holy; and having his Spirit dwelling in them; they are actuated by the same principles, and, of course, are united to him in the disposition of their hearts.
6. The union of believers with Christ implies a fraternal relation. Christians are united to Christ by adoption of the Father.
By an act of God's free and sovereign grace, he has adopted all penitent and believing sinners into his own family. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts." "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God.". "As many as received Christ, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." In these passages of Scripture we are clearly taught that Christians are God's adopted children. He is their Father, and Christ is their Brother. In consequence of their adoption, Christ calls them his brethren. "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father, and to my God and your God." "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in Heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Christ and all true believers constitute but one family. Jehovah is their common God and Father. United to Christ by adoption, all real Christians will share with him in the glorious inheritance which God has provided for them in heaven-" an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away."
7. This union with Christ includes sameness of interests.
Christ and believers have one and the same cause at heart. The manifestation of God's glory, and the salvation of perishing sinners, were the great objects which induced the Son of God to come down from heaven, and to take into union with himself the nature of man. These were the objects which he constantly sought during his residence on the earth. These are now the principal objects of his pursuit, while, enthroned in glory, he is
acting as the Advocate and Intercessor of his people. And these very objects are sought, with supreme solicitude, by all the humble and faithful disciples of Christ. They can not be true Christians who have not supreme regard to the glory of God; and to whom the salvation of sinners, and the interests of Christ's spiritual kingdom are not peculiarly precious. These sublime objects are exceedingly precious in the estimation of all consistent Christians. With fervent zeal, and with holy and increasing delight, they labour to advance the Redeemer's kingdom-to save guilty and perishing men-and to extend Jehovah's glory. They love to exalt, and praise, and magnify, the Lord their God, and to "worship at his footstool." As in heaven, among angels, and "the spirits of just men made perfect"-s0 among devout Christians on earth, there is joy over sinners who repent, and turn to God, and "do works meet for repentance." With "joy unspeakable and full of glory," they exult in the prosperity of Zion. Their purest and highest happiness is like the happiness of Christ. Their best friends are the friends of Christ. They have the same enemies to encounter which Christ is successfully opposing. His interests and theirs, in every important respect, are the same. And, by these interests, he and they will for ever remain inseparably united.
8. The union of believers with Christ is produced by mutual and solemn covenant stipulations.
It is proposed, by Christ, to sinners, in the precious invitations of the Gospel "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." "Look unto me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else." "My oxen and my fatlings are killed; all things are ready; come unto the marriage." "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." In these invitations we are assured that the price of our redemption is paid; that Divine Justice is satisfied; and that a door is opened for the free and full exercise of mercy to all repenting and believing sinners. Here Christ makes a kind and gracious offer of himself, and of all the blessings of heaven, to sinners of every description. He promises that all who will repent of their sins, embrace him in the arms of faith and love, and render holy obedience to the Law and the Gospel, shall receive pardon, and sanctification, and eternal life.
When sinners cordially submit to this plan of salvation-when they abandon their iniquities, and exercise "repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," they accept and confirm the offered covenant. In this covenant, thus confirmed, they are united to Christ, interested in his merits, and entitled to all the benefits of his mediation.
The union of believers with Christ, which is produced by these covenant transactions, is the basis of their title to the blessings of salvation. The