MYSTICAL UNION BETWEEN CHRIST AND BELIEVERS
How A Sinner Is Ingrafted Into Christ
by Thomas Boston
First, Christ apprehends the sinner by His Spirit, and draws him to Himself (I Cor 12-13), 'For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.' The same Spirit which is in the Mediator Himself, He communicates to His elect in due time, never to depart from them, but to abide in them as a principle of life. The soul is now in the hands of the Lord of life, and possessed by the Spirit of life; how can it then but live? The man gets a ravishing sight of Christ's excellence in the glass of the Gospel: he sees Him a full, suitable, and willing Saviour; and gets a heart to take Him for and instead of all. The Spirit of faith furnishes him with feet to come to Christ and hands to receive Him. What by nature he
could not do, by grace he can, the Holy Spirit working in him the work of faith with power.
Secondly, The sinner, thus apprehended, apprehends Christ by faith, and is one with the blessed stock (Eph 3.17), 'That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.' The soul that before tried many ways of escape, but all in vain, now looks with the eye of faith, which proves the healing look. As Aaron's rod, laid up in the tabernacle, budded, and brought forth buds (Numb 17.8); so the dead branch, apprehended by the Lord of life, put into, and bound up with the glorious quickening stock, by the Spirit of life buds forth in actual believing on Jesus Christ, whereby this union is completed. 'We having the same spirit of faith - believe' (2 Cor 4. 13). Thus the stock and the graft are united, Christ and ttie Christian are married, faith being the soul's consent to the spiritual marriage covenant, which as it is proposed in the gospel to mankind-sinners indefinitely, so it is demonstrated, attested, and brought home to the man in partcular, by the Holy Spirit: and so he, being joined to the Lord, is one spirit with Him. Hereby a believer lives in and for Christ, and Christ lives in and for the believer (Gal 2.20), 'I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.' (Hos 3-3), 'Thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be ' for thee.' The bonds, then, of this blessed union are, the Spirit on Christ's part, and faith on the believer's part.
Now both the souls and bodies of believers are united to Christ. 'He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit' (I Cor 6-117). The very bodies of believers have this honour put upon them, that they are 'the temple of the Holy Ghost' (verse 19), and 'the members of Christ' (verse 15). When they sleep in the dust - they sleep in Jesus (I Thess 4.14); and it is in virtue of this union they shall be raised up out of the dust again (Rom 8. 11), 'He shall quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.' In token of this mystical union, the church of believers is called by the name of her Head and Husband (I Cor 12. 12), 'For as the body is one, and hath many members - so also is Christ.'
Use: From what is said, we may draw the following inferences:
1: The preaching of the law is most necessary. He that would ingraft, must needs use the pruning-knife. Sinners have many contrivances to keep them from Christ; many things by which they keep their hold of the natural stock; therefore they have need to be closely pursued, and hunted out of their skulking holes, and refuges of lies.
2: Yet it is the Gospel that crowns the work: "The law makes nothing perfect.' The law lays open the wound, but it is the Gospel that heals it. The law 'strips a man, wounds him and leaves him half dead:' the Gospel 'binds up his wounds, pouring in wine and oil,' to heal them. By the law we are broken off, but it is by the Gospel we are taken up and implanted in Christ.
3: 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his' (Rom 8.9). We are told of a monster in nature, having two bodies differently animated, as appeared from contrary affections at one and the same time; but so united, that they were served with the self-same legs. Even so, however men may cleave to Christ, 'call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel' (Isa 48.2), and may be bound up as branches in Him (John 15.2) by the outward ties of sacraments; yet if the Spirit that dwells in Christ dwell not in them, they are not one with Him. There is a great difference between adhesion and ingrafting. The ivy clasps and twists itself about the oak, but it is not one with it, for it still grows on its own root: so, to allude to Isa 4.1, many professors 'take hold' of Christ, 'and eat their own bread, and wear their own apparel, only they are called by his name.' They stay themselves upon Him, but grow upon their own root: they take Him to support their hopes, but their delights are elsewhere.
4: The union between Christ and His mystical members is firm and indissoluble. Were it so that the believer only apprehended Christ, but Christ apprehended not him, we could promise little as to the stability of such a union, it might quickly be dissolved; but as the believer apprehends Christ by faith, so Christ apprehends him by His Spirit, and none shall pluck him out of His hand. Did the child only keep hold of the nurse, it might at length grow weary, and let go its hold, and so fall away: but if she have her arms about the child, it is in no hazard of falling away, even though it be not actually holding by her. So, whatever sinful intermissions may happen in the exercise of faith, yet the union remains sure, by reason of the constant indwelling of the Spirit. Blessed Jesus! 'All his saints are in thy hand' (Deut 33-3). It is observed by some that the word Abba, is the same whether you read it forward or backward: whatever the believer's case be, the Lord is still to him Abba, Father.
5: They have an unsafe hold of Christ, whom He has not apprehended by His Spirit. There are many half marriages here, where the soul apprehends Christ, but is not apprehended of Him. Hence ' many fall away, and never rise again; they let go their hold of Christ; and when that is gone, all is gone. These are 'the branches in Christ that bear not fruit, which the husbandman taketh away' (John 15.2). Question: How can that be?
Answer: These branches are set in the stock by a profession, or an unsound hypocritical faith; they are bound up with it, in the external use of the sacraments; but the stock and they are never knit; therefore they cannot bear fruit. And they need not be cut off, nor broken off; they are by the Husbandman only taken away; or, as,the word primarily signifies, lifted up,and so taken away, because there is nothing to hold them; they are indeed bound up with the stock, but were never united to it.
Question: How shall I know if I am apprehended of Christ? Answer: You may be satisfied in this inquiry, if you consider and apply these two things:
I : When Christ apprehends a man by His Spirit, he is so drawn, that he comes away to Christ with his whole heart: for true believing is believing with all the heart (Acts 8.37). Our Lord's followers are like those who followed Saul at first, men whose hearts God has touched (I Sam 10.26). When the Spirit pours in overcoming grace' they pour out their hearts like water before Him (Psa 62.8). They flow unto Him like a river (Isa 2.2.), 'All nations shall flow unto it,' namely, to the 'mountain of the Lord's house.' It denotes not only the abundance of converts, but the disposition of their souls in coming to Christ; they come heartily and freely, as drawn with loving-kindness (Jer 31.3), 'Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power' (Psa 110- 3), that is, free, ready, open-hearted, giving themselves to Thee as free-will offerings. When the bridegroom has the bride's heart, it is a right marriage; but some give their hand to Christ, who give Him not their heart. They that are only driven to Christ by terror, will surely leave Him again when that terror is gone. Terror may break a heart of stone, but the pieces into which it is broken still continue to be stone: terrors cannot soften it into a heart of flesh. Yet terrors may begin the work which love crowns. The strong wind, and the earthquake, and the fire going before, the still small voice, in which the Lord is, may come after them. When the blessed Jesus is seeking sinners to match with Him, they are bold and perverse: they will not speak with Him till He has wounded them, made them captives, and bound them with the cords of death. When this is done, then it is that He comes to them, and wins their hearts. The Lord tells us (Hos 2.16-20), that His chosen Israel shall be married unto Himself. But how will the bride's consent be won? Why, in the first place, He will bring her into the wilderness, as He did the people when He brought them out of Egypt (verse 14). There she will be hardly dealt with, scorched with thirst, and bitten of serpents: and then He will speak comfortably to her, or, as the expression is, He will speak unto her heart. The sinner is first driven, and then drawn unto Christ. It is with the soul as with Noah's dove; she was forced back again to the ark, because she could find nothing else to rest upon: but when she returned, she would have rested on the outside of it, if Noah had not 'put forth his hand and pulled her in' (Gen 8.9). The Lord sends His avenger of blood in pursuit of the criminal, who with a sad heart leaves his own city, and with tears in his eyes parts with his old acquaintances, because he dare not stay with them, and he flees for his life to the city of refuge. This is not at all his choice, it is forced work; necessity has no law. But when he comes to the gates, and sees the beauty of the place, the excellency and loveliness of it charm him; and then he enters it with heart and good-will, saying, 'This is my rest, and here I will stay;' and, as one said in another case, 'I had perished, unless I had perished.'
2: When Christ apprehends a soul, the heart is disengaged from, and turned against sin. As in cutting off the branch from the old stock, the great idol self is brought down, the man is powerfully taught to deny himself; so, in apprehending the sinner by the Spirit, that union is dissolved which was between the man and his lusts, while he was in the flesh, as the apostle expresses it (Rom 7-5). His heart is loosed from them, though formerly as dear to him as the members of his body, as his eyes' legs, or arms; and, instead of taking pleasure in them as before, he longs to be rid of them. When the Lord Jesus comes to a soul in the day of converting grace, he finds it like Jerusalem in the day of her nativity (Ezek 16.4), with its navel not cut drawing its fulsome nourishment and satisfaction from its lusts: but He cuts off this communication, that He may impart to the soul His own consolations, and give it rest in Himself. And thus the Lord wounds the head and heart of sin, and the soul comes to Him, saying, 'Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit' (Jer 16.19).
v: I proceed to speak of the benefits flowing to true believers from their union with Christ. The chief of the particular benefits which believers have by it, are justification, peace, adoption, sanctification, growth in grace, fruitfulness in good works, acceptance of these works, establishment in the state of grace, support, and a special conduct of providence about them. As for communion with Christ, it is such a benefit, being the immediate consequence of union with Him, as comprehends all the rest as mediate ones. For as the branch, immediately upon its union with the stock, has communion with the stock in all that is in it, so the believer, uniting with Christ, has communion with Him; in which he launches forth into an ocean of happiness, is led into a paradise of pleasures, and has a saving interest in the treasure hid in the field of the Gospel, the unsearchable riches of Christ. As soon as the believer is united to Christ, Christ Himself, in whom all fulness dwells, is his (Cant 2.16), 'My beloved is mine, and 1 am his.' And 'how shall he not with him freely give us all things? (Rom 8.32), 'Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours' (I Cor. 3.22). This communion with Christ is the great comprehensive blessing necessarily flowing from our union with Him. Let us now consider the particular benefits flowing from it, before mentioned.
The first particular benefit that a sinner has by his union with Christ is justification; for, being united to Christ, he has communion with Him in His righteousness (I Cor 1.30), 'But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness! He stands no more condemned, but justified before God, as being in Christ (Rom 8.1), 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.' The branches hereof are pardon of sin, and personal acceptance.
1: His sins are pardoned, the guilt of them is removed. The bond obliging him to pay his debt is canceled. God the Father takes the pen, dips it in the blood of His Son, crosses the sinner's accounts, and blots them out of His debt-book. The sinner out of Christ is bound over to the wrath of God; he is under an obligation in law to go to the prison of hell, and there to lie till he has paid the utmost farthing. This arises from the terrible sanction with which the law is guarded, which is no less than death (Gen 2.17). So that the sinner, passing the bounds assigned him, is as Shimei in another case, a man of death (I Kings 2.42). But now, being united to Christ, God says, 'Deliver him from going down to the pit; 1 have found a ransom, (Job 33.24). The sentence of condemnation is reversed, the believer is absolved, and set beyond the reach of the condemning law. His sins, which were set before the Lord (Psa 90.8), so that they could not be hid, God now takes and casts them all behind His back (Isa 38.17). Yea, He casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7- 19). What falls into a brook may be got up again, but what is cast into the sea cannot be recovered. But there are some shallow places in the sea: true, but their sins are not cast in there, but into the depths of the sea; and the depths of the sea are devouring depths, from whence they shall never come forth again. But what if they do not sink? He will cast them in with force, so that they shall go to the ground, and sink as lead in the mighty waters of the Redeemer's blood.
'I will for they are not only forgiven, but forgotten (Jer 31-34), give their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.' And though their after-sins do in themselves deserve eternal wrath, and do actually make them liable to temporal strokes, and fatherly chastisements' according to the tenor of the covenant of grace (Psa 89-30-33), yet they can never be actually liable to eternal wrath, or the curse of the law; for they are dead to the law in Christ (Rom 7-4). They can never fall away from their union with Christ; neither can they be in Christ, and yet under condemnation at the same time (Rom 8.1), 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.' This is an inference drawn from the doctrine of the believer's being dead to the law, set forth by the apostle (chap 7. 1 -6); as is clear from the second, third, and fourth verses of this eighth chapter. In this respect the justified man is the blessed man, to whom the Lord imputes not iniquity (Psa 32-2); as one who has no design to charge a debt on another, sets it not down in his account-book.
2: The believer is accepted as righteous in God's sight (2 Cor 5.21). For he is 'found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith' (Phil 3-9). He could never be accepted of God, as righteous, upon the account of his own righteousness; because, at best, it is but imperfect; and all righteousness, properly so called, which can abide a trial before the throne of God, is perfect. The very name of it implies perfection: for unless a work is perfectly conformed to the law, it is not right, but wrong, and so cannot make a man righteous before God, whose judgment is according to truth. Yet if justice demand a righteousness of one that is in Christ, upon which he may be accounted righteous before the Lord, 'Surely, shall' such a one say, 'In the Lord have I righteousness' (Isa 45.24). The law is fulfilled, its commands are obeyed, its sanction is satisfied. The believer's Surety has paid the debt. It was exacted, and He answered for it.
Thus the person united to Christ is justified. You may conceive of the whole proceeding herein, in this manner. The avenger of blood pursuing the criminal, Christ, as the Saviour of lost sinners, does by the Spirit apprehend him, and draw him to Himself, and he, by faith, lays hold on Christ. So the Lord our Righteousness, and the unrighteous creature, unite. From this union with Christ results a communion with Him in His unsearchable riches, and consequently in His righteousness, that white raiment which He has for clothing of the naked (Rev 3. 18). Thus the righteousness of Christ becomes his; and because it is his by unquestionable title, it is imputed to him; it is reckoned his in the judgment of God, which is always according to truth. And so the believing sinner, having a righteousness which fully answers the demands of the law, is pardoned and accepted as righteous. (See Isa 45.22-25; Rom 3.24; and chap 5.1) Now he is a free man. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of those whom God justifies? Can justice lay any thing to their charge? No; for it is satisfied. Can the law? No; for it has obtained all its demands on them in Jesus Christ (Gal 2.20), 'I am crucified with Christ.' What can the law require more, after it has wounded their head, poured in wrath in full measure into their soul, and cut off their fife, and brought it into the dust of death, by doing all this to Jesus Christ, who is their head (Eph 1.22), their soul (Acts 2.25-27), and their life (Col 3-4)? What is become of the sinner's own handwriting, which would prove the debt upon him? Christ has blotted it out (Col 2.14). But it may be, justice may get its eye upon it again. No; He took it out of the way., But 0 that it had been torn in pieces I may the sinner say. Yea, so it is; the nails that pierced Christ's hands and feet are driven through it; He nailed it. But what if the torn pieces be set together again? They cannot be; for He nailed it to His cross, and His cross was buried with Him, and will never rise again, seeing Christ dies no more. Where is the face-covering that was upon the condemned man? Christ has destroyed it (Isa 25-7). Where is death, that stood before the sinner with a grim face, and an open mouth, ready to devour him? Christ has swallowed it up in victory (verse 8), Glory, glory, glory to Him that thus 'loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.'
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