UNION WITH CHRIST
HE degeneration of sin is to be overcome
only by regeneration from above. The
initial work of Christ's Spirit is fortunately instantaneous, though its consequences are lifelong and unspeakably blessed. We can turn over a new leaf in a moment; and, whatever may be our past, we can turn to God today, if we will only hear his voice and harden not our hearts.
Union with Christ by Faith God regenerates, only by leading us to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. Repentance and faith are the evidences in us that, having come to him, he has been faithful to his promise, and has not cast us out. Let us make sure that we know what is meant by faith. It is not simply an idea of the intellect or a stirring of the feelings. It is primarily an act of the will (Syst. Theol, 3:838, 839).
If I stood upon an islet in the middle of a rushing river at flood-tide, when there was danger that a rise in the water might sweep me away, the sight of a boat near by would be a very pleasant one. But seeing the boat will not save me, nor will my deeply feeling its value as a means of deliverance. Only my getting into the boat will avail when the stream rises to wet my feet.
So faith is not my intellectual belief that there is a Christ, nor any deep stirring of any emotions with regard to him, but only the act of my will in committing myself to him as my Lord and Savior. Obedience and reception, consecration and appropriation, giving and taking, are the essence of faith.
In other words, faith is an act of the will, more than it is an act of intellect or of emotion, and is the means of salvation, not because it is of any value in itself, but only because it joins us to Christ, our manifested God and Redeemer.
Many years ago a man who had lost a beautiful daughter wrote to me of an incident in her early life. The father was building a new house for himself and was inspecting its cellar. As yet there was no stairway, and he was there in the dark. He heard the patter of little feet over his head and he ran to the opening which the stairs were to fill. He heard a little voice ask: "Papa, are you there?" He answered: "Yes, Mary, I am here. Jump down and I will catch you." And the little child jumped down so quickly that if he had not sprung forward to receive her she would have broken her limbs upon the floor below. It was a leap into the dark. But she knew her father's voice, and had faith in his word.
Faith in Christ is, in like manner, a leap in the dark. But it is the most rational act of one's life; for it takes for granted that "as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him" (Ps. 103: 13), and that, when we cast ourselves upon Christ for salvation, we shall find "the eternal God to be our refuge, and underneath us shall be the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33: 27).
At the first World's Fair ever held in America, there was exhibited a steam-engine, all of 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 Christian, the church, humanity, the universe, are in constant and progressive movement; but the Christ, who moves them, and who furnishes all their power for the good, though not for the evil, is himself invisible.
The Duty and Depth of this Union
The merging of ourselves in Christ is therefore the first duty of man. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent," says Christ (John 6:29); "for, apart from me, ye can do nothing" (15:5). But this merging of ourselves in Christ is not pantheistic, but rather, the normal assertion of the human will, and the only way to recover its freedom. For this reason all those interpretations of Paul and of John which make our relation to Christ to be one of mere pupilage or fellowship fail to get at the secret of the gospel, which is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
Union with Christ is not a union of mere pupilage or fellowship. When Paul tells us that it is no longer he that lives, but that Christ lives in him (Gal. 2:20), when he speaks of "Christ who is our life" (Col. 3:4), when he says, " For me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21), he can only be understood as meaning that the life of the personal Redeemer subjugates and penetrates his own. And this is only what we might expect when we consider that he is already the natural life of all mankind, the incarnate head of the human race, " the root" as well as "the offspring of David" (Rev. 22: 16), standing at the door of every human heart, and asking only its assent to enter in and dwell there forever (Rev. 3 : 20).
"Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou;
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine."
The Fruits of this Union This union with Christ, as a method of salvation, shows its incomparable superiority to all other methods, by giving to the believer peace, purity and power. We call the making of peace with God, by the name of Justification. What no pretense of good works could do, the confession of sin and absolute trust in Christ does do, in restoring peace to the conscious sinner. I have One who has paid my debts and answered for me to the offended majesty of God, and since Christ is my very life, his answer is my own.
"From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hast thou, O Father, put to grief
Thy spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was laid on thee?
Turn then, my soul, unto thy rest;
The merits of thy great High Priest
Speak peace and liberty;
Trust in his efficacious blood
Nor fear thy banishment from God
Since Jesus died for thee."
"Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." But, besides Justification, we have Sanctification; by which we mean purification from inward evil, at least" in its beginning here, and certainly in its completeness hereafter. Union with Christ secures to the believer the continuously transforming and 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 (Phil. 3:21).
Here is the real truth of which so-called "Christian Science" has made so perverted a use—the influence of a converted soul on an enervated and sin-stained body.
As Alexander McLaren has said: "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 in security though in the ocean depths." Many have struggled against sin until they have admitted Christ into their hearts; then they could say: "This is the victory that overcometh the world even our faith" (1 John 5:4).
Evolution and Sanctification
Is this doctrine of Union with Christ consistent with any belief in evolution? To this I reply that it is the only logical conclusion from the theory of theistic evolution.
If it is consistent with evolution that the physical and natural life of the human 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.
Science is now tending toward belief in the origin, of humanity in a single pair, and theology is equally drawn to belief in a single transgression as the explanation of man's universal tendencies to evil. 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 one Adam from whom all the natural life of the race was derived, so there can be but one Christ from whom all the spiritual life of the race is derived (Syst. TheoL, 3:803).
Union with Christ and Mysticism
Our union with Christ is often called a mystical union. It is indeed inscrutable, since we cannot fully understand any fact of life. It is mystical, however, not in the sense of being unintelligible to the Christian or beyond the reach of his experience, but only in the sense of surpassing in its intimacy and value any other union of souls that we know" (Eph. 5: 32; Col. 1:27).
Dr. J. W. Alexander called this doctrine "the central truth of all theology and of all religion." The greatest teachers of the church in modern times, such as Calvin, Bunyan, Edwards, Fuller, have declared it to be their faith. I may well close my treatment of it with the rough but thrilling words of 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 sins, 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.' " (Syst. Theol, 3:803, 808).