Exploring God's Amazing Word
18 Bible Studies on Positive Living in Christ.
The Word is amazing in its effect upon humanity. Lives have been changed as its truths have been applied. You will be inspired to see yourself as blessed with Heaven's best. Word studies, topical studies, expository studies. How far do you want to go with God's Word? 180 pages. IN STOCK.
From the book In Christ
by A.J. Gordon, first published in 1872.
You can save this page as a text file from your browser (File / Save As) and read it off-line. It is about 27K. This page Copyright © 1999 Peter Wade
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).
This page Copyright © 1999 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: http://www.peterwade.com/.
Would you like your own copy of books by Peter Wade and other authors? Go to our Catalog.