|Having become one plant with Him.| -- Rom. vi.5.
Having discussed regeneration as God's act wrought in a lost, wicked, and guilty sinner, we now examine the more sacred and delicate question: How does this divine act affect our relation to Christ?
We consider this point more important than the first, since every view of regeneration that does not do full justice to the |mystical union with Christ| is anti-Scriptural, eradicates brotherly love, and begets spiritual pride.
The holy apostle declares: |I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.| The idea that a saint can have life outside of the mystical union with Immanuel is but a fiction of the imagination. The regenerate can live no life but such as consists in union with Christ. Let this be firmly and strongly maintained.
The Scriptural expressions, |one plant with Him| and |branches of the Vine,| which must be taken in their fullest significance, are metaphors entirely different from those which we use. We are confined to metaphors which express our meaning by analogy; but they can not be fully applied nor express the being of the thing; hence the so-called third term of the comparison. But the figures used by the Holy Spirit express a real conformity, a unity of thought divinely expressed in the spiritual and visible world. Hence Jesus could say: |I am the true Vine,| that is, |every other vine is but a figure. The true, the real Vine am I, and I alone.|
Being exceedingly sober and choice in His metaphorical speech, the Lord Jesus does not say that a branch is grafted into the vine, simply because this is not done in nature, i.e., in the creation of God. In John xv., Jesus does not even touch upon the question of how one becomes a branch. That is the work of the Father. My Father is the Husbandman. In John xv.3 he speaks only of a person who not abiding in Him withers and will be burned.
Even Rom. vi.5 does not speak of coming to Jesus, and Rom. xi.17-25 only partly. The former calls it to become one plant with Him, but does not tell |how|; and |grafting| is not even mentioned. And the latter, speaking of broken olive-branches, and of wild olive-branches grafted upon a good olive, and lastly of broken branches restored to the original olive, makes no reference whatever to the implanting of individuals in Christ, as we will soon prove.
And yet the figure is only partly applicable. Indeed, in Rom. xi., St. Paul, with his characteristic boldness of speech and style, for comparison's sake reverses God's work in nature; for while in reality the cultivated bud is grafted on the wild trunk, he makes in this instance the wild bud to be grafted upon the good trunk. A bold stroke indeed and very profitable to us, for by it he makes us see clearly and distinctly the general implanting in Christ. But that is all.
For, notice it well, the figure is not to be pressed too far. It is a mistake to make it refer to the regeneration of the individual sinner. For a person once implanted in Christ can not be severed from Him: |No man can pluck them out of My hand|; |Whom He has justified, them He also glorified.|
And yet, reference is made here to branches which are broken off and which were grafted in again. If this referred to particular individuals, then the Jews, who during the life of St. Paul denied the Lord, must have been regenerate persons who fell away and returned again before they died.
If this had been St. Paul's meaning, subsequent events would have belied his words, and he would have revoked the whole tenor of his other teachings. But he plainly means that the tribes of Israel, who were in the Covenant of Grace, had lost their position therein by their own fault; yet that even outside of the Covenant they should be preserved throughout the coming ages, and that in the course of history the way would be opened even for them to be reintroduced into the Covenant of Grace. And this shows that Rom. xi.17-25 does not teach the regeneration of individual persons, and that the good olive does not signify Christ, for he that is implanted in Christ can never be severed from Him, and he that is severed from Him never belonged to Him. Do we not believe in the perseverance of saints?
It may be objected that in John xv. reference is made to branches that are cast forth from the vine; to which we answer: first, that this does not remove the difficulty that the apostate Jews of St. Paul's time were never grafted in again; and second, that with Calvin we hold that Jesus, speaking of the branches cast forth, had reference to persons who, like Judas, seemed to be implanted; otherwise His own word, |No man can pluck them out of My hand,| can not stand for a moment.
We arrive, therefore, at this conclusion, that neither John xv. nor Rom. xi. has any reference to personal regeneration in its limited sense; while Rom. vi., which speaks of becoming one plant, does not introduce the idea of ingrafting, nor make the slightest allusion to the manner in which this |becoming one plant| had been accomplished.
It is unnecessary to say that not a few exegetes judge the translation, |One plant with Him,| incorrect, omitting the words italicized. We do not express here an opinion regarding this rendering; but it shows clearly that Rom. vi. has nothing to say concerning the manner in which our union with Christ is effected.
In fact, Scripture never applies the figure of grafting to regeneration. Rom. xi. treats of the restoration of a people and nation to the covenant of grace; Rom. vi. speaks only of a most intimate union; and John xv. never alludes to a wild branch which became good by being planted in Christ. These figures set forth the union with Christ, but teach nothing concerning the manner in which this union is effected. Scripture is utterly silent concerning it; and since there is no other source of information, mere human inventions are utterly useless. Even Christian experience does not throw any light upon it, for it can not teach anything which Scripture has not taught already; and again, we can easily perceive the union with Christ where it exists, but we can not see it where it does not exist, or where it is just forming.
And yet this union with Christ must be strongly emphasized. The theologians who represent divine truth most purely lay most stress upon this matter. And altho Calvin may have been the most rigid among the reformers, yet not one of them has presented this, unio mystica, this spiritual union with Christ, so incessantly, so tenderly, and with such holy fire as he. And as Calvin, so did all the Reformed theologians, from Beza to Comrie, and from Zanchius to Köhlbrugge. |Without Christ nothing, by this mystical union with Christ all,| was their motto. And even now a preacher's value is to be strictly measured by the degree of prominence, accorded to the mystical union with Immanuel, in his presentation of the truth. The strong utterance of Köhlbrugge, |One may be born again, one may be a child of God, one may be a sincere believer, yet without this mystical union with Christ he is nothing in himself, nothing but a lost and wicked sinner,| was always the glorious confession of our churches. In fact, it is what our form for the administration of the Lord's Supper so well expresses: |Considering that we seek our life outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death.|
But it is wrong on this ground to teach -- as some of our younger ministers are reported to teach -- and derogatory to the work of the Holy Spirit, that regeneration accomplishes nothing in us, and that the whole work is performed completely outside of us as some have said, |That we need not even be converted, for even that has been done for us vicariously by the Lord Jesus Christ.| To say that there is no difference between a regenerate person and an unregenerate is to contradict Scripture and to deny the work of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore we strongly oppose this notion. There is indeed a difference. The former has entered into the union with Christ, and the latter has not. And upon this union everything depends; it makes a difference in men, as between heaven and hell.
Nor may it be said, on the contrary, |That a regenerate person, even without the union with Christ, is other or better than an unbeliever|; for this puts asunder what God has joined together. Outside of Christ there is in man born of a woman nothing but darkness, corruption, and death.
Hence we firmly maintain the indissoluble oneness of these two: |There is no regeneration without establishing, the mystical union with Christ|; and again: |There is no mystical union with Immanuel but in the regenerate.| These two may never be separated; and on the long way between the first act of regeneration and completed sanctification, the unio mystica may not for a moment be lost sight of.
The Ethical theologians will probably assent to all that we have said on this subject; and yet, according to our deepest conviction, they have wholly bastardized and misapprehended this precious article of faith. Assuredly they strongly emphasize the union with Christ; they even tell us that they do this more than we, maintaining that it is immaterial whether a man is sound in the Scripture or not so long as he is united with Christ. In that case there is no more need of any formula, confession, articles of faith, or even faith in the Scripture. A prominent Ethical professor at the University of Utrecht has openly declared: |Altho I should lose the entire Scripture, yea, tho the truth of not one of the Gospel narratives could be verified, I would not be in the least affected, for I would still possess union with Christ; and having that, what more can a man desire?| And this has such a pious ring, and taken in the abstract is so true, that many a conscience must agree with it, not having the faintest suspicion of the apostasy from the faith of the fathers contained in it.
If one should ask us whether we do not believe that the soul united with Jesus possesses all that can be desired, we would almost refuse an answer, for he knows better. No, indeed, favored soul, having that you need no more; depart in peace, thrice blessed of God.
But because the mystical union with the Son of God is so weighty and precious an article of faith, we desire that every man should treat it most seriously, and examine whether the union which he says he possesses is actually the same mystical union with the Lord Jesus Christ which the Scripture, promises to the children of God, and which they have enjoyed throughout the ages.