by A.J. Gordon
or The Believer’s Union With His Lord
“Union with Christ is the distinctive blessing of the gospel dispensation in which every other is comprised — justification, sanctification, adoption, and the future glorifying of our bodies; all these are but different aspects of the one great truth, that the Christian is one with Christ.” – Edward Arthur Litton
If this little book should be to any in reading it what it has been to the author in writing it, an aid to meditation upon one of the deepest and tenderest themes of the Gospel, it will have served the end of its publication.
It lays no claim to originality in doctrine, having sought in every line to be in humble subjection to the Word of God, and constantly to reflect whatever lesser light might fall upon it from the thought and experience of good men, since as has been fitly said, “only ‘with all saints’ can we comprehend what is the depth and length of that which is presented to us in Jesus Christ.”
If subjects have been touched upon which are still in the list of disputed doctrine, they have been brought forward, it is believed, in the love of the truth as it is in Jesus, and not in the interest of any sect or party; while to controversy, “whose rough voice and unmeek aspect” have perhaps oftener repelled from the truth than won to it, no place has been given. With the humble prayer that its perusal may help some to rest in Christ with a deeper assurance, to abide in Him in greater spiritual fruitfulness, and to wait for His appearing with a more devout watchfulness, this book is now committed to the blessing of God and the use of His Spirit.
Boston, April 19, 1872
1. In Christ — Introductory
Created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Ephesians 2:10)
Of him are ye in Christ Jesus (I Corinthians 1:30)
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
And we are in him, that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ (I John 5:20)
No words of scripture… hold within themselves a deeper mystery than this simple formula of the Christian life, “in Christ.”
…Yet, great as is the mystery of these words, they are the key to the whole system of doctrinal mysteries. Like the famous Rosetta stone, itself a partial hieroglyph, and thereby furnishing the long-sought clue to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, these words, by their very mystery, unlock all mysteries of the divine life, letting us into secrets that were “hidden from ages and from generations.” True, we may not find in them an answer to the question, “How can these things be?” but we shall see clearly that they can be. For through this “Emmanuel knot of union,” as one has quaintly called it, those great facts of the Christian life, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and redemption, are drawn up from the realm of the human and the impossible, and made fast to Him with whom “all things are possible.” So that the question now becomes reversed, and we must ask, “How can it be otherwise?”
If one is in Christ, he must have regeneration; for how can the Head be alive, and the members dead? If one is in Christ, he must be justified; for how can God approve the Head, and condemn the members? If one is in Christ, he must have sanctification; for how can the spotlessly Holy remain in vital connection with one who is unholy? If one is in Christ, he must have redemption; for how can the Son of God be in glory, while that which He has made a part of His Body lies abandoned in the grave of eternal death?
And thus, through these two words, we get a profound insight into the divine method of salvation. God does not work upon the soul by itself, bringing to bear upon it, while yet in its alienation and isolation from Him, such discipline as shall gradually render it fit to be reunited to Him. He begins rather by reuniting it to Himself, that through this union He may communicate to it that divine life and energy, without which all discipline were utterly futile. The method of grace is precisely the reverse of the method of legalism. The latter is holiness in order to union with God; the former, union with God in order to holiness. Hence the incarnation, as the starting-point, is the prime condition of reconciliation to God, since there can be, to use Hooker’s admirable statement, “no union of God with man, without that mean between both which is both.” And hence the necessity of incorporation upon Christ, that what became possible through the incarnation, may become actual and experimental in the individual soul through faith.
Nothing is more striking than the breadth of application which this principle of union with Christ has in the Gospel. Christianity obliterates no natural relationships, destroys no human obligations, makes void no moral or spiritual laws. But it lifts all these up into a new sphere, and puts upon them this seal and signature of the Gospel, in Christ. So that while all things continue as they were from the beginning, all, by their readjustment to this divine character and person, become virtually new. Life is still of God, but it has this new dependency “in Christ.” “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.” The obligation to labor remains unchanged, but a new motive and a new sanctity are given to it by its relation to Christ. “Forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
The marriage relation is stamped with this new signet, “Only in the Lord.” Filial obedience is exalted into direct connection with the Son of God. “Children obey your parents in the Lord.” Daily life becomes “a good conversation in Christ.” Joy and sorrow, triumph and suffering are all in Christ. Even truth, as though needing a fresh baptism, is viewed henceforth “as it is in Jesus.” Death remains, but it is robbed of its sting and crowned with a beatitude, because in Christ. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
Thus Christ, in taking man up into Himself, takes all that belongs to him. Instead of rending him away from his natural connections, He embraces all these with him in Himself, that He may sanctify them all. And not only is this true, but the opposite and far more wondrous fact, namely, that Christ, in raising man into union with Himself, raises him into all that belongs to Him, into His divine life, and into partnership with His divine work so that he dies in His death, rises in His resurrection, ascends in His ascension, is seated with Him in His session at the Father’s right hand, and lives in His eternal life.
So marked is this latter fact, that it has led some to speak of the events of the Christian life as affording “a striking parallel to those of Christ’s.” But there is no parallel. Parallels never meet, while the very glory and mystery of the believer’s life is that it is one with the Saviour’s and inseparable from it. It is not a life running alongside His, and taking shape and direction from it. It is His life re-enacted in His followers, the reproduction in them of those events which are immortal in energy and limitless in application.
Our Lord’s whole earthly career is one continuous and living sacrament, of which His disciples partake through faith. And if their eyes are not holden, they will discern in each great event of that life, not only the earnest and symbol of what He works in them, but they will see that only by feeding upon this Bread can they have any life dwelling in them. This — the blessed life and work of our Lord — is His “body given for us,” a body of divinity” containing all doctrine, and nourishing with all life, and of every element of it — suffering death, resurrection, and glory — we hear Him say, “Take, eat.”
If we reflect upon the nature of that union into which these words which we are considering link us, we see that every possible condition and requirement of salvation are met and answered by it.
It is a union extending back of time. We find it clearly recognized in God’s eternal pre destination. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” “In him” — it would seem as though this were the focal point where alone the beams of the Father’s electing love met to bless and comfort, while all beyond it was darkness and death. So vital is the atonement that the shadow of the cross is thrown back into a past eternity to cover and justify God’s choice of the sinner (Revelation 13:8), and His very purpose of grace is wrapped up in Jesus Christ (II Timothy 1:9).
If doubt suggests the query, “How could the believer be in Christ when he did not yet exist?” the question can only be answered by another and deeper, “How could God elect and love a soul which He had not yet created?” Yet that He did is most explicitly declared in Scripture. And what David asserts of his natural body, not less emphatically does the Son of David assert of His mystical Body. “Thine eyes did see my substance yet being imperfect, and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” Is there aught more painful than the searchings of the soul in the book of God’s foreknowledge? Its irrepressible longings to know if it be written there? If it goes alone in its solemn quest, it will find no answer. But joining itself to Him who “was in the beginning with God,” it hears Him saying, “Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world,” and reverently appropriating the words in the secret right of faith, it joyfully responds, “Herein is our love made perfect; because as he is so are we in this world.” The Father’s eternal love for the Son is the pledge and certificate of His eternal love and election of those who join themselves to that Son.
But if this union runs back of time, it is not less really in time a practical and present reality — practical and present because eternal. For what is faith but the suffrage of the soul which ratifies and appropriates that election of God which was made before Creation? Very literally is it
An affirmation and an act
That bids eternal truth be present fact.
That which is given only in the divine intent and foreordination is not ours till we consciously and believingly accept it. “Faith cometh by hearing,” and possession by faith. God’s choice of us lays hold of us only through our choice of Him. And it is when the soul, waking up to the fact of its sad alienation from its Maker, and uttering its earnest, “I will arise and go unto my Father,” joins itself to that Father by a trusting faith, that the Father, who in the Christ of eternity saw him “when he was yet a great way of,” and in the Christ of time crucified and slain came out to meet him, becomes completely reconciled to him.
The first link of religion (religo, to bind back) is the incarnation, God in Christ. The last is faith, the soul in Christ. And when the last has been joined to the first, the chain is perfect. “I in them, and thou Father in me, that they may be made perfect in one.”
Again, the union of the believer with his Lord is a reciprocal union. “Ye in me, and I in you.” Through it Christ both gives and takes — gives the Father’s life and blessedness, and takes the believer’s death and wretchedness. “All that Christ has,” says Luther, “now becomes the property of the believing soul; all that the soul has, becomes the property of Christ. Christ possesses every blessing and eternal salvation; they are henceforth the property of the soul. The soul possesses every vice and sin; they become henceforth the property of Christ.”
In this is most wonderfully displayed the wisdom of the plan of redemption. Who that has pondered the nature of sin, and thought how radical, how ingrained, how thoroughly a part of oneself it is, has not almost doubted whether it could ever be taken away, its evil principle exterminated, and the soul completely disinfected of its taint? But when we remember that Christ by His cross deals not only with sin, but with the nature in which all its roots are imbedded, the way is plain; and we see with gratitude how the “body of sin,” that body which holds the germinant and fertile principle of evil, may be destroyed, and yet the sinner saved.
And who, on the other hand, that has contemplated the nature of that “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord,” and realized that it is no mere external morality, no garment of righteousness to be assumed and worn as the covering of a yet unsanctified nature, but a divine life penetrating, possessing, and informing the soul, has not asked despairingly, “How then can I, a sinner, hope to be holy?” But the Gospel answer is all in those three words, “I in you.” He who is the All-righteous “is made unto us righteousness.” So that to the soul that thirsts after righteousness, it need no longer be said, “The well is deep, and thou hast nothing with which to draw.” He is with in it, “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Thus in Christ the two-fold want of the soul is met. It is emptied of self and it is filled with His fullness “who filleth all in all.”
Can anything be so blessed for the believer to realize, as this gracious interchange of life, and character, and works, between himself and his Lord? Oh, wondrous mystery! Christ be came the “Son of man,” that we might become the “sons of God.” He took upon Himself our human nature, that we might be made “partakers of the divine nature.” He was made sin for us, that we might be made the “righteousness of God in him.”
And not less obviously do the terms of this union suggest its indissolubleness. If joined to the Lord by a mere external bond only, the believer might well live in fear of being rent from Him by the strain of fierce temptation. But so transcendently intimate is this relation that the Holy Spirit even uses Christ and the Church as interchangeable terms in the Scriptures. Now it is the human body that shadows forth the divine mystery. “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.” “Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.” And will Christ permit this Body to be dismembered? He can suffer in His members (Acts 22:7); but Faith would feel herself robbed of all her heritage of assurance were it anywhere written, He can be cut off or perish in His members. Wounds and mutilations there will be; for, in Rutherford’s strong phrase, “The dragon will strike at Christ so long as there is one bit or portion of his mystical body out of heaven.” But love cannot cherish the fear that He will heal the hurts of His people slightly, much less sunder them from Him by an eternal excision. For, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Ephesians 5:29,30).
How clearly now this relation which we bear to the Lord Jesus fixes two things: the Christian experience and the Christian walk, or the inner and outer life of the believer!
Christian experience is the making real in ourselves, of what is already true for us in Christ.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches,”says Christ. But the vine furnishes the branches, not only with the principle of life, but with the type of life. No pressure or molding from without is needed to shape them to the pattern of the parent stock. Every minutest peculiarity of form, and color, and taste, and fragrance is determined by the root, and evolved from it. A true believer, therefore, will ask no better thing of the Lord than “that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in his body.” For such a manifestation will, by a necessary law, be the unfolding within him of every needed element of joy and sorrow, of suffering and triumph.
It is not in any conventional standard of frames and feelings that the disciple is to find the measure of attainment required of him. It is not by any painful reproducing of another’s spiritual history that he is to acquire the true comfort of spirit which he longs for. Outward imitation, though it be of the perfect Example Himself, has little place in the order of spiritual growth — little place because little possibility. “Without me [i.e., apart from me, in separation from me] ye can do nothing.” To abide in Christ is the only secret of Christlikeness; for only thus is attained the likeness of unity, which is perfect and enduring, instead of the likeness of conformity, which is only partial and transient.
How we misplace our experiences when we attempt, as mere copyists, to reproduce our Master’s life within us! We put joy where the divine order would dictate sorrow, and nurse our sorrow when the Lord would have us rejoice in Him. We reach after the unseasonable fruits of victory, when it is more needful as yet that we should endure the discipline of defeat so that divine strength may be made perfect in our weakness. Our leaf withers in sere and yellow melancholy, when He would have it green and flourishing. What we would, that we continually do not, because we lack a true and steadfast hold on strength. Blessed is he, who, instead of seeking to attain the likeness of Christ as something only without Him, realizes that he has been planted in that likeness. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
Never shall we attain a truly joyful Christian experience, therefore, till we learn that holy living is neither the realization of some ideal self, nor the imitation of some real saint. “For to me to live is Christ.” Christian progress is a growing toward Christ by growing from Him. And the Scripture exhortations to high attainment in the divine life seem to be based on this order. The believer is to have “the mind of Christ” within him, the “spirit of Christ” animating him. His development is a “growing up into him in all things who is the head, even Christ.” The limit and boundary of his attainment is “the perfect man,” “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Well may the disciple set the Lord always before him as the ideal of perfect attainment, if only he can have Him thus always within him, as the source and principle of daily growth.
We have said that our relation to Christ determines also our Christian walk. This is obvious.
A true Christian walk is a reproducing in our lives of the righteousness which is already ours in Christ.
Joined to the Lord by faith, we become “partakers of his holiness.” But not that there by we may be exempted from the necessity of personal holiness. It is rather that such personal holiness may have a new and higher obligation, since it has a new possibility. The double purpose of our union to Christ must never for a moment be forgotten, nor its heavenward and earthward aspects for an instant separated in our apprehension. It is in order that we may be as He is in the reckoning of God, and equally that we may be as He is before the eyes of men. “No condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” is one phase of this blessed truth. But, oh, believer, forget not the other, lest you bring upon yourself the curse of a dry and barren Antinomianism: “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10) .
The branches are the product and the measure of the roots, the one spreading as widely as the other strikes deeply. And how solemn the obligation resting upon those who are truly rooted in Christ, to reach forth their branches and cover that area of good works which they have underlaid, and, so to speak, pre-empted by their faith! Our privileges in Jesus are glorious beyond comparison. But they are awful when we remember that they are the pledge and measure of our obligations. Never before on earth or perhaps in Heaven was one exalted to utter so great a word as this, I in Christ. Yet if we know its meaning, we shall pause lest we speak it lightly or unadvisedly. “For he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” ( I John 2:6) .
Such are some of the germs of doctrine and life which are hidden for us in these words, and which it will be our purpose to unfold in the succeeding chapters.
If now we apprehend either the privileges or the duties into which this union brings us, we shall not be willing to regard it as a mere nominal thing, or to hold it as a cold doctrinal abstraction.
Nothing could be more real and more vital than this relationship.
We may speak of being regarded as in Him, and so having reckoned to us the benefits of His atonement. We may speak of being clothed with His righteousness, and so having His worthiness imputed to us. But true as these expressions are, they do not reach the inwardness of meaning contained in the words, in Christ, or-furnish an adequate statement of that deep, interior fellowship into which God has called us in His Son (I Corinthians 1:8).
Truly that must be a most intimate bond which, beginning in Christ and encircling the disciple with its triple cords of faith, hope, and charity, ends again in Christ. “From whom” and “into whom,” are the words that mark at once its origin and end, even that one Head who is the “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
“Here at length I beheld,” says one, “the twofold mystery of love, that the Bride is both of Christ and in Christ. For as God took Eve from out the side of Adam, that she might be joined to him again in marriage, even so He frameth His Church out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of man, that so in the sweet espousals of faith, he might ‘present her [you] as a chaste virgin to Christ’ (II Corinthians 11:2). ‘And they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church’” (Ephesians 5:31,32).
2. Crucifixion In Christ
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless 1 live; yet not 1, but Christ liveth in me (Galatians 2:20).
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Romans 6:6).
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24).
It is one of the great principles of Christianity,” says Pascal, “that everything which happened to Jesus Christ should come to pass in the soul and in the body of each Christian.”
If by faith I am one with my Redeemer, then that term, “Christ crucified,” involves another, “I, crucified with Christ.” Hence, we by no means reach the true measure of our inheritance in the cross when we regard the death of Christ as a formal transaction, by which One, nineteen hundred years ago, paid a debt that belonged to us, and thus secured our release from its obligation, we having no other connection with the event than that of recipients of its blessings. Paul saw a richer heritage for the saints than this. For with that key, in Christ, which opens for the believer all the wards of Christian doctrine and life, he lets us into “the fellowship of his sufferings.”
The great thought which filled his mind was his oneness with his Lord — a oneness not only of the present and the future, but equally of the past. And so he utters those grand but awful words, “I have been crucified with Christ,” in which he carries himself back to the cross, and conceives of himself as so identified with the Redeemer that he was with Him in His passion and obedience unto death, sharing by a mysterious fellowship not only the virtue but the endurance of the divine penalty.
And what was true for him is true for all who have come into that condition expressed by the words, “in Christ Jesus.”
That the crucifixion took place centuries ago does not separate us from it at all. While as a historical event we assign it to a specific time and place, as a moral event it belongs to all time, and is just as near to us as it was to John or the Marys. “God manifested in the flesh,” says Coleridge, “is eternity in the form of time.” Christ crucified is an eternal fact realized at a certain date, but touching all time with equal closeness. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” In the eye of the I Am, to whom all time is an ever-present now, this central fact of the ages, the crucifixion, is an ever-present reality, and all souls that stand in moral relationship to it, stand so and have stood so forever. Hence, it can matter little to have “known Christ after the flesh.” Spiritual union is entirely independent of all conditions of time and space. And in depth of intimacy there can be no difference between the believer of today and those who knew our Lord on earth, since “by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body” (I Corinthians 12:13), and therefore into one death, since “as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3).
How deeply, through the kindredship of the flesh, one could share Christ’s crucifixion, we know! That the mother, watching beneath the cross the agonies of her suffering Son, endured in her own heart all the sharpness of His death; that as the soldiers thrust the spear into His side, she knew in her own experience the bitter meaning of the aged Simeon’s prophecy, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,” we can easily believe. But since we have learned how nearer akin Christ now is to all His brethren by the Spirit, shall there seem to be anything less real in the words of one who, by faith, clasped to his heart the same cross of redemption, saying, “I am crucified with Christ”?
The mystery of that fellowship by which we become sharers in Christ’s death, we may not presume to fathom. And yet it seems clear how it must grow out of the terms of the incarnation. Christ, in becoming man, took our humanity into partnership in His sacrificial work. Hence, His death is not something merely made over to mankind as a legacy of love; it is something accruing to it in this partnership of being. But as surely as He must be one with us by incarnation in order to give us part in His dying, so surely must we be one with Him by faith, that we may take part in His dying.
There is an inner and an outer circle of redemption, if we may say so, both having a common center in the cross. The larger describes the limits of a possible and provisional salvation; the smaller, those of an actual and realized salvation. The whole world is comprehended in the one; only those who believe are included in the other: “God who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe” (I Timothy 4:10). The relationship which those in the outer circle hold to Christ is that of members of the human race to its second Head. The relationship which those in the inner circle hold to Him is that of members of the Body of Christ to the Head of the Church. The first relationship renders Christ’s redemption provisionally the redemption of every individual of the race; the second renders it actually such to every true believer. So that when the apostle says, “If one died for all, then all died” (II Corinthians 5:14), we under stand his meaning to be that all mankind died potentially in their representative. Such is the blessed provision and stipulation, if we may say so, of the atonement. But while He, who could set no limits to His love, “tasted death for every man,” alas, how many refuse to taste His death, and through faith owning themselves one with Him, to taste their own death to sin in His!
As clearly now as we are forbidden by the Scriptures to extend the possibility of a vital and saving union to Christ beyond the boundaries of this inner circle of redemption, so clearly should our faith in the reality of the Christian’s oneness with his Lord forbid us to admit such words as nominal and judicial within the limits of this inner circle. Here we are beyond all legal fictions. “We are in Him that is true.” And as fully as we believe that His death was real, and no vain proffer, so must we believe that our death in Him was real, since we are members of His Body. The cross deals not with our sins apart from ourselves. It permits us not to lay our transgressions upon the divine victim, and yet stand ourselves afar off, and without personal communion with His sufferings.
In the typical sacrifice, the hands of the offerer were laid upon the head of the offering, and thus was declared the identity of the offerer and the offering. In the antitype, faith lays its hand upon the head of the Lamb of God, not simply that it may thereby transfer guilt to the guilt-bearer, but that it may join in solemn unity of suffering, the sinner and the sin-offering. Thus the judgment of the cross is intensely personal. Not sin only, but nature; not nature only, but personality is there brought to trial. “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him” (Romans 6:6). The nail that pierced the handwriting of ordinances that was against us to blot it out, went deeper, and transfixed also the subjects of those ordinances to inflict on them the penalty it prescribed. And now henceforth we behold Christ and His Church scarred with the same wounds. And they who once could only ask of the Redeemer, “What are these wounds in thy hands?” can now answer their question by showing their own hands and saying, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
While now some reject this heritage of the cross by their denial of Christ, many also by denying Adam’s sin deny Christ’s death, and thrust it from them! The bitterest repining which the human heart has ever known has been against that utterance of the Spirit, “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). But may it not be that that solemn law, which makes the fall of one involve the fall of many, is the only law which could make the rising of one to be the rising of many? A common nature ruined would seem even by its overshadowing curse to proclaim the possibility of a common nature redeemed. Who knows whether if men could only have sinned and fallen as separate units, they must not have been restored by separate redemptions? We will not speculate on such a theme. Rather will we joyfully return to what God has revealed, that as in the sin of one “all have sinned” (Romans 5:12), so in the penal death of one “all died” (II Corinthians 5:14). All died! Wonderful words! Christ’s death does not supersede ours. It implies and recognizes it, as, in the civil compact, the vote of the representative implies the vote of the people. What Christ did for us, was done by us in the divine reckoning, because done by Him who was of us as Head and surety.
We say Christ died that we might live. In a deeper sense it is true that He died that we might die, might die a death painless to ourselves but satisfying to the law — a death of such intensity and merit that it should expiate at once the penalty of our sins, instead of requiring an eternity of woe. Oh, blessed privilege! “Ye shall indeed drink of my cup,” is a promise realized unto us as well as unto the two disciples. But it is only a cup of blessing to us. He drank the vinegar and gall of pain and agony. He leaves us only the precious wine of consolation. And thus we enter into communion with His sufferings, and become partakers of His death. “If one died for all, then all died.” But how differently the One from the all! He bore the pain of death; they bear only the merit of it. He gives infinite worthiness to the act by His divinity; they receive the purchase of the act in their humanity. And yet nothing is deducted from the full assurance that they have died. Such “is the personal initiation into the mystery of sacrifice” which we receive through faith.
We see at once where this blessed fact places us even in perfect reconciliation to a violated law. God has said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The soul has sinned, and it has died in Christ. The law has said, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” None have continued in obedience. But Christ hath been “made a curse for us”; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” Hence, crucified with Christ, we have been accursed in Him. Not one jot or tittle has then passed away from the law, but all has been fulfilled.
How affecting this perfect literalness, this rigid honesty, if we may call it so, in the dealings of our surety with the law! And with what triumphant assurance it enables us to take up and repeat that verdict of our acquittal from condemnation, “He that hath died hath been justified from sin” (Romans 6:7).
But alas, how slow is our faith to enter into the fullness of this Gospel! As that deep hunger for expiation, which the sense of sin begets, begins to gnaw the soul, many seek to appease it by mere self-crucifixion. If not with the scourge and sackcloth of the ascetic, yet with the vinegar and gall of sharp remorse, with the compunctions of a bleeding and unhealed heart, striving to satisfy that law, which, from the soul of man as well as from the statute book of God, proclaims that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. Nothing is more painful to behold than this search for the cross, which ends only in a wounded self, in a conscience that is laying on itself the chastisement of its peace, and in a broken spirit that is striving to heal itself with its own stripes. The Gospel neither demands nor will take any such offering from the sinner. Reversing that well-known sentiment of legalism, its emphatic declaration is:
The cross in thine own heart will never save thy soul,
The cross on Golgotha alone can make thee whole.
Here, as everywhere, the Master’s words meet us, to call us away from all self-help, “Without me ye can do nothing.” As high as the Heaven is above the earth, so far is the distance from the self-crucifixion to crucifixion in Christ.
How vivid a reflection of his own experience do we find in Luther’s pithy comment on these words: “I am crucified with Christ”! “Paul speaketh not here of crucifying by imitation or example; but he speaketh of that high crucifying whereby sin, the devil, and death, are crucified in Christ and not in me. Here Christ Jesus doth all Himself alone. But believing in Christ, I am by faith crucified also with Christ; so that all these things are crucified and dead with me.” (Commentary on Galatians).
To pass from the one to the other requires but a single trusting look of faith. But it is to cross “the whole diameter of being” between the spotless Lamb of God and the guilty children of men. That there is a sacrificing of self that is inseparable from the Gospel idea of discipleship is unquestionable. But it is not that which is wrought for obtaining peace with God, but that which grows out of a peace already obtained in the crucified Christ. The whole course of the divine life is from Christ to self, and not from self to Christ. To begin an expiation in one’s own sufferings, hoping that it may end in fellowship and union with Christ’s sufferings, is not only to transpose, but completely to vitiate the order of grace.
There is nothing of ours, soul, body, or spirit, that is without blemish. And when we understand that our very tears need themselves to be washed in the blood of the Redeemer, and our very penitence to be sanctified in His exceeding sorrow, we shall gladly turn wholly to the perfect offering. And so from that reliance on penance and mortification, which, however sincere, is an obtrusion of self into that realm of sacrifice which Christ alone can fill, and from that searching in a bruised and excruciated conscience for peace, which, however honest, is but an attempt to discover in self that sin-offering which can only be found in the bleeding Lamb of God, how gratefully we turn to Christ crucified as our only true resting place for comfort!
“Let me know that I have repented enough and suffered enough,” is the voice of a faith that is still in bondage to law. The voice of a faith that is free is, “Let me hear that Christ died in the stead of sinners, of whom I am chief; that He was forsaken of God, during these fearful agonies, because He had taken my place; that on His cross I paid the penalty of my guilt. Let me hear too that His blood cleanseth from all sin, and that I may now appear before the bar of God, not only pardoned, but innocent. Let me realize the great mystery of the reciprocal substitution of Christ and the believer, or rather their perfect unity, He in them and they in Him, which He has expressly taught; and let me believe that I was in effect crucified on Calvary, and He will in effect stand before the throne in my person; His the penalty, mine the sin; His the shame, mine the glory; His the thorns, mine the crown; His the merit, mine the reward. Verily, thou shalt answer for me, O Lord, my Redeemer. In Thee do I put my trust, let me never be confounded” (Bishop Le Jeune).
Do we ask then what our death in Christ has accomplished for us? What has it not accomplished? Like the flaming sword which drove man out of Paradise, and which turned every way to keep the tree of life, this weapon of redemption with which the Captain of our salvation opened the kingdom of Heaven to all believers, presents a destroying edge to every foe that stands across our track.
The world, whose friendship has been our deepest enmity to God, because drawing our best affections and diverting our truest life from Him, is at last overcome. The cross has sundered us from its enslaving bondage. “By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Allure us for a season it may; draw us to its pleasures it sometimes will. But from the moment we know ourselves dead with Christ, its tyranny is broken. “How shall we who died to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:2). To go back to the world from which we have thus been separated, we must despise the cross of our redemption, trampling on the blood of the covenant wherewith we are sanctified, and compelling our Master to retrace the Via Dolorosa of His agony, that we may crucify Him afresh, and put Him to an open shame.
The flesh, warring against the Spirit, violating every truce with conscience, breaking every covenant which we have made with God — behold, this enemy from whom we cannot flee, has yet received his death wound. Christ put a nail through him when He gave His own body to the smiters. “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Wounded unto death, yet struggling for his lost dominion, he will never wholly leave us, till the grave closes over him. But in God’s reckoning we are even now delivered. “Ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Upon our natural and guilt-attainted man, justice has executed his death-warrant, and is satisfied. In words traced by the infallible spirit of truth, we have the record of his decease: “Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
When the Judge calls for us now as He did of old for Adam, saying, “Where art thou?” He will no longer seek the living among the dead. Our life, the life of which He now takes cognizance, is hid in Christ. In Him will He find it, and not in the charnel-house of our dead man. What are these evil habits that are still clinging about us, but the relics of that old and crucified nature! What are these sins that pain us and make us cry out with sorrow, but the motions and death throes of that body that has been doomed by the decree of the cross! Confess them sorrowfully and with shame we must; but we may triumphantly own that “they belong to the old man, and we are carrying them to the grave to be buried with their owner.”
Even Satan, the head and instigator of all other enemies, has been disarmed and doomed. Christ took on flesh that 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.”
Rejoice then, O saint, in your rescue from “the Terrible Captain and his standard-bearer.” On Calvary, Christ triumphed over death by becoming the victim of death. That eternal terror that was once before you, He by His cross has put forever behind you. It cannot cast one threatening shadow across your path way now. It cannot wring one pang of foreboding agony from your soul. “Death stung itself to death, when it stung Christ.” (Romaine) .
Recognizing now the reality of this union with Christ in His death, and the fullness of blessing that grows therefrom, the believer needs to make the truth real to his own experience. Beholding how God has set Christ’s death to our account, through our partnership with Him, set it also yourself to your account and take possession of the riches of grace and mercy which are thus made yours. “In that he died, he died unto sin once… Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin.”
We will by no means say that this reckoning will be painless. Adam’s nature dies hard within us; and before we can own the justice of its sentence, or acquiesce in its condemnation, there will doubtless be wrought within us, by the Holy Spirit, some bitter experimental fellowship with Christ’s sufferings. Our sins will find us out, and the death that is by sin. We shall feel the terrible dealing of our Judge with our consciences. There will be strong crying and tears; perhaps the darkness of desertion, the rending of the rocky heart, and the sense of deserved wrath piercing the soul as with a two-edged sword. It may be long before we can yield up the ghost of the natural man and renounce all trust in him forever. But once enabled to account ourselves dead in Him, what a deliverance is ours!
Standing by the cross now, we discern in the gloom and power of darkness that gather round it, that “outer darkness” which had been ours forever out of Christ. In that plaintive “Eloi, Eloi,” we hear what had been our cry of despair unanswered forever, except we had been found in Him. In that dreadful rending cry which delivers up the spirit, we own the due reward of our deeds, while confessing that this man hath done nothing amiss. But now all these things are passed forever both for Him and for us, as soon as the, “It is finished,” has been spoken. And lo! the foregleams of the resurrection break upon us. The light of a certain and triumphant hope enters our heart. Remembering that we are joined to Him who said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again,” we cease from tears and follow Him, saying as we hasten onward, “Now if we be dead with him, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
3. Resurrection In Christ
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1).
God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:4-6).
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses (Colossians 2:13).
One with Christ in His dying, we must be one with Him also in His resurrection, for the bands of this mystic union are not dissolved or weakened while the Saviour lies in the tomb. Joined to His people, that He might carry them with Him through the pains and penalties of death, He now in the same gracious partnership of being brings them up again from the dead. And so “He spreads the mighty miracles of His own regeneration from the dead, along the whole line of history. He repeats it in every true believer. The Church’s is an everlasting Easter” (Archer Butler).
There is doubtless the same theoretical difficulty in conceiving of the believer as having been raised in Christ’s resurrection, as there is in conceiving of Him as having died in His crucifixion. And hence, as some read that very striking and explicit word of the Spirit, “If then ye were raised together with Christ” (Colossians 3:1), they find it much easier to remand the expression to the realm of metaphor, than to accept it literally and without condition.
But we are to remember that the resurrection is not merely a historical fact, the transcendent miracle and mystery of the apostolic age. Certainly it is all that. But it is more. It is a moral event, a principle of spiritual energy, as well as a fact of human history. While to those, therefore, who see Christ only from the outer court of knowledge, and whose faith ends in the bare belief that “he died and rose again according to the scriptures,” the mystery may remain: to those who press into the inner sanctuary of fellowship, praying that they may “know him and the power of his resurrection,” it will be more and more laid open to them as they advance. What the power of Christ’s resurrection is, we may infer from the closeness of its relation in the Gospel to spiritual renewal and justification, as well as to physical reanimation.
It is a judicial power, and it is a regenerative power, the first only as crowning and sealing the judgment of the cross, so that whereas Christ’s death was our justification procured, His rising was our justification justified. And the second only as related to the Spirit, so that while it is the Holy Ghost that renews, it is clearly only from the risen Christ that the soul derives its life in renewal. “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
Let us trace these two thoughts into their details. How clearly our resurrection is linked with Christ’s, for the assurance of pardon, in this passage: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13)! That forgiveness was fully accomplished when He had pronounced the, “It is finished,” on the cross. For then had He blotted out the dark score of disobedience that was against us, having nailed it to the cross. And this verily was decisive and final, “a nail fastened in a sure place.” But the pardon thus written in His blood waited to be sealed and attested by His resurrection. For though He had spoiled principalities and powers by His death, only by bursting the bars of the grave could He “make a show of them, openly triumphing over them in himself.”
And so, while in the blood of the dying Christ we see the title of our pardon, we wait for a luminous glance from the risen Christ to bring it out into full distinctness and significance. An inheritance may be ours and yet not ours; ours in effect, because the deed of it has been executed; but not ours to certain knowledge and apprehension, since we have not received it. The heritage of peace which became ours by the death of the Testator, faith cannot take while He lies in the grave.
We must see our Eliakim, who openeth and no man shutteth, returning from the tomb with the key of the house of David laid upon His shoulder (Isaiah 22:22), before we can enter with Him into our purchased possession. So vital is this to our assurance of faith that Paul says, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17). You died with Christ, you in Him and He in your sins that were upon Him; you were buried with Christ, you in Him still, and He in your sins still.
If He lies yet in that dark unopened grave, you lie there yet, in your sins, because you are in Him who went down into the tomb with those sins upon Him. Faith cannot place the disciple above his Master. It can only make him to be as his Master, a sharer in His condition, a partner in His destiny.
Now while our Lord’s sufferings in the flesh were completed when He yielded up the ghost, He was not disentangled from our guilt so long as He lay in the tomb. How then shall our faith outrun Him, and reach the vantage ground of the resurrection, while the grave still holds Him in its grim imprisonment? How shall we break the bands of condemnation and cast away its cords from us, if it be possible for Him to be “holden of death”? And yet He is so holden, if a single item of the debt of sin is left uncancelled. “The wages of sin is death”; and that wages must be paid to the full. “Thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,” says an inexorable law; and if He is holden, we are holden with Him, because of that faith that has linked us into indissoluble partnership with His destiny. Such is the certain inference from that dreary hypothesis, “If Christ be not raised.”
“But now is Christ risen from the dead.” And since we are risen with Him, we are not in our sins. In his renewal from the dead, we were lifted forever from their dark enfolding condemnation. They cannot bind a single fetter on us now; they cannot remand us for a single instant to the prison-house of despair. Because “the God of peace has brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of the sheep,” all the flock folded in Him by faith are safe. “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of his hands.”
That the remains of sin are still clinging to us, we are only too painfully conscious. Not like the sinless Lord have we put off all the cerements of our body of death. Walking with Him in the same resurrection, we are as yet like Lazarus bound hand and foot with the graveclothes the habits of sin that still cling to us, the power of evil that enthrals us; and we wait in eager expectancy the last resurrection word that shall say, “Loose him, and let him go.” But not the less truly are we alive with Christ from the dead, and death, the penalty of sin, can have no more dominion over us.
This truth is most strikingly told again in those words of the apostle, “Who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification” — literally, “delivered because of our offenses, and raised because of our justification.” So enwrapped was He in our sins that were upon Him that He could not escape from death. But when the justification of us who are in Him had been accomplished, He could not be detained by death. And so because our justification was completed, He was raised again. What an affecting emphasis is here again laid upon the doctrine of our Lord’s union with His people! Their cause is so thoroughly His own that He cannot outstrip them a single step in the path of redemption.
Opener of the prison doors to them that are bound, He yet waits till the last demand of justice has been satisfied before He comes through the gate of the grave to lead them out. The members must be with their Head. They are His fullness, and without them He cannot be made perfect. He waits till the weary hours of their prison service are completed in their surety. He cannot accept deliverance while they are under condemnation. But when the full acquittal has been secured, the glorious promise is fulfilled, “The third day I shall be perfected.” Yes, Thou mighty Captain of our salvation, Thou first-begotten from the dead, because Thou wilt then have “perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
I am aware of a certain holy jealousy for the honor of the cross that restrains some from ascribing justifying efficacy to the resurrection of Christ. But let it be marked that it is not atoning justification which we attribute to it, but “manifestive justification,” as Edwards so exactly names it. And a guilty conscience needs this as well as the other. The prisoner does not know himself free, though he has served out to its last day and hour his term of sentence, if the prison doors still remain shut upon him. Prisoners of hope, bound with Christ under the law, we are not fully assured of our deliverance, when we can reckon ourselves dead with Him, though justice is thereby satisfied. We wait for the angel to descend from Heaven — messenger of peace to us because deputy of justice to Him — to roll back the stone from the door of the sepulcher. The wounded hands and feet, the dying cry that yields up the Spirit, and the lifeless body at last lying in the tomb are the tokens of the price paid. But the empty tomb, the folded napkin, and the linen clothes laid by themselves, these are the tokens of the price accepted, of the prisoner’s discharge, and of the loosing of the pains of death forever, from all who died in Christ. And so to all questionings of a timid or doubting conscience, the answer now is, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).
But not only does our resurrection in Christ raise us out of condemnation, it also lifts us into a new life in Him. In Christ crucified we put off the old man, in Christ risen we put on the new man. The cross was for the destruction of the body of sin; the resurrection was for imparting to us the principle of divine life. By His crucifixion, our Redeemer accomplished a twofold death for us. He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3), exhausting at once the eternal penalties that were menacing the soul of man, and inflicting on the body that death sentence which will be fully consummated for every believer when he lies down in the grave. By His resurrection He makes us the subjects of a twofold regeneration — the regeneration of the soul in this life, and that of the body in the life to come, both of which are expressly said to make us sons of God, because the one only completes and consummates the other; and in both of which we are “the children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
For the renewed body we still wait with all saints in eager longing till we be clothed upon at the resurrection. The renewed soul we already have in Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). Wonderful words! It is not merely a potential renewal that is here indicated, the laying of a basis for a possible but still future regeneration. We that believe are already “risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God.” The old life, with its kindredship to Adam, with its heritage of his curse, with its clinging incubus of his death, is put off at his grave. In the second Adam we now live. And “as he is, so are we in this world.” He is “the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20). “And if the firstfruits be holy, so also is the lump.” He is “declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” In the same divine recognition do we likewise receive the adoption of sons. Willingly as He endured the cross, despising the shame, did He say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” making no mention of us for whom He was forsaken. But now, as He is about to sit down at the right hand of the throne of God, bringing all the members of His mystical Body to be seated with Him in the heavenly places, we hear Him saying, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, unto my God and your God,” thus suggesting with the most exquisite tenderness their oneness with Him in His now recovered fellowship.
What a place then does the sepulcher of Jesus occupy! It is the border line and meeting place of law and grace. It is the solemn pause, “the divine ellipsis” in the work of redemption, whence we look back upon the old nature, the old sin, and the old curse, and forward upon the “all things” that “are become new.” Standing here and looking either way, we see how Christ’s work divides itself into what He did as the Sinbearer, and what He did as the Lifegiver.
In His crucifixion, He was –
“Delivered for our offenses.”
“Put to death in the flesh.”
“In that he died, he died unto sin once.”
“He was crucified through weakness.”
In His resurrection, He was –
“Raised again for our justification” (Romans 4: 25).
“Quickened in the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18).
“In that he liveth, he liveth unto God” (Romans 6:10).
“Yet he liveth by the power of God” (II Corinthians 13:4).
By His death, He became the “end of the law to every one that believeth”; by His resurrection, He became “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” There the root of the first Adam was wounded unto death. Here humanity springs up anew, and from a new and incorruptible seed. “I am the true vine,” says Christ. All the culture and pruning of Judaism had failed to bring the stock of the first Adam to any satisfying fruitfulness. “I had planted thee a noble vine,” says Jehovah, “wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jeremiah 2:21). Christ risen from the dead was given to be a new stock, the elect and best of all the vineyard of Heaven.
The crucifixion was the uprooting of the old, the crushing of its very roots as well as the clusters of its grapes in the wine press of the wrath of God. The resurrection was the up springing of the new, the true vine. And all who are truly renewed are shoots and branches of that. To be incorporated upon that vine — to abide in it — this is the only way of life, because the only way to become a partaker of the divine nature. And yet how many are trying today to revive the old, digging about that scathed and unfruitful stump of Adam’s nature, hoping to restore it; the sacramentarian, sprinkling it with the “baptismal dew,” thinking that “through the scent of water it may bud and bring forth boughs like a plant”; not remembering that by the death and burial of our Lord, the “root thereof has waxed old in the earth, and the stock thereof has died in the ground”; the moralist, lopping off dead branches and pruning away excrescences, hoping to make it nobly productive; not remembering that by the crucifixion of Christ, “the axe has been laid at the root of the tree.”
To be in Christ the risen Man, then, is to have eternal life. We no longer trace our genealogy back to Adam now. That registry has been annulled for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. The night that covered Joseph’s tomb was the last of the old dispensation. The resurrection light that broke at length upon that tomb was the day dawn of the new. Only from that day does the Church of the redeemed begin. “Date it rather from the day of Pentecost,” does someone say? But resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost would seem to be only successive stages of the same great transaction, the bringing of the Church into the fullness of the divine life. For Christ’s ascent bodily marks His descent spiritually; His taking our nature up unto God the bringing down of God’s life to us, and the commencement of His dwelling in us by his Spirit.
And this is our risen life, however we conceive or speak of it, that we are in Him and He in us. It is a life as far removed from that of Adam as the Heaven is from the earth, the constant partaking of Christ who is the Life. And this is our righteousness, not the name or the credit of holiness merely, but the righteousness of God perpetually upon us, because of our identification with Him who is made unto us righteousness.
The resurrection of our Lord, then, is not merely a pledge of our own; it is our own if we are His. And our unbelief is naught else than a guilty forfeiture of what has been graciously bequeathed to us by Christ, a refusal to be embraced in that resurrection which has already in the intention and provision of God embraced us. George Herbert touches this thought very delicately in these lines:
Arise sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,
Christ’s resurrection thine may be;
Do not by hanging down break from the hand,
Which, as it riseth, raiseth thee.
All that it did for Him, we may boldly say it did for us if we are in Him. True, in experience much of its blessing is yet future and embryonic to us, as it is not to Him. But because of our perfect identity with Him, with Him to whom the possible and the actual are ever the same, all is counted as present to us. With Him we are “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” With Him we are “seated in the heavenly places.” Hence, that same strenuous demand which the Scriptures lay upon us for realizing our death in Christ: “Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed,” they lay upon us for realizing our resurrection in Him: “Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”
And can we conceive of any more effective motive to Christian attainment than this? In Christ Jesus we work no longer for life, but from life. Our high endeavor is not to shape our actual life in the flesh into conformity to an ideal life that is set before us in Him. It is rather to reduce our true life now hid in Christ to an actual life in ourself. And so the summons of the Gospel is not that we behold what is possible for us in Christ, and reach forth to it; but rather that we behold what is accomplished for us in Christ, and appropriate it and live in it. Risen with Christ, the firstfruits of our spirits already carried up with Him into glory, our life hid with Him in God, how shall not our heart be where our treasure is? How shall not our love be ever kindling and burning upwards, purging itself of all earthly dross, till it is wholly intent on Him? Why hang the damps and corruptions of the grave about us still, earthliness and sinful affections, and all these clinging accompaniments of moral death, from which our Lord has ransomed us? It is ours even now to walk with Him in white, and to be ever “breathing with Him the freshness of the morning of the resurrection and of endless life.”
Risen with Him, how shall we not more and more recognize our life as in Heaven, and be waiting for Him who is our life to appear? Not as the sorrowing Man of Nazareth, not as the sinless sufferer of Calvary, do we wait to see Him now. “The root and the offspring of David,” for awhile “cut off, though not for himself,” He comes again to sit upon the throne of His father David. “The bright and morning star,” hidden now behind that cloud that has for a little time received Him out of our sight, He soon shall startle the world by the “brightness of his coming.” And because we are seated with Him now in the heavenly places, we shall be seated with him in the earthly, because our life is one with His now, His manifestation shall be our manifestation. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
And so we wait patiently till the “day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts.”