VII. A Discourse. Transcribed and printed for substance in the "Churchman" of February 8, 1840. THE UNION OF THE CHURCH WITH CHRIST, NATURAL OR ESSENTIAL, RATHER THAN MORAL OR POLITICAL. "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." --JOHN vi. 54.
THE union of man with God, the avowed and constant object of all religion, is also the great mystery of the Christian faith. The Gospel reveals this union, but does not explain it; it teaches us what is required toward it on the part of man, but not the manner in which it is accomplished by God; it prescribes certain provisions which are to be embraced by faith, but the manner of their efficiency, which is an object neither of sense nor of human intelligence, it does not bring within the compass of our comprehension.
The Son of God, who was in the beginning with God, and who was God, it informs us, assumed our nature, and was made man. The two natures, the divinity and the humanity, were united in one Christ. There was no confusion of substance, but a unity of person. Jesus was not merely enlightened and actuated by the godhead, but He was Himself very God; the Son of God did not merely manifest His power and wisdom in Jesus, but was made very man. Christ in His own person was very God and very man; so that whatsoever may be affirmed of God as God, may be affirmed of Christ; and whatsoever may be affirmed of man as man, may be affirmed of Christ. Christ created and redeemed the world; Christ suffered and died on the cross.
Many things may be affirmed of our souls which are not true of our bodies, and many things of our bodies, which are not true of our souls. The soul which is immaterial and immortal, as such, can not come into local or physical contact with outward objects, can not be born or die; the body which is material and mortal, can not reason, love, or praise; can not hold communion with God and live forever, and yet we say of man, who is soul and body in one person, that he is mortal and immortal, that he can think and reason, eat and sleep; that lie can be born, and die, and live forever. We can not understand this ineffable union of the reasonable and sensual natures in our own persons. We receive it as a fact and believe it. We can not comprehend the union of the eternal reason with the man Jesus, in one person; we receive it as a fact revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and believe it.
The union of the Son of God with the man Jesus so as to make one Christ, is the foundation of our union with God. Christ in His own person holds the human nature in unity with the divine; and in virtue of this union He led a life of perfect obedience, endured without a murmur suffering in its bitterest forms, rose in victory over the grave, and ascended in glory into heaven. In Him, the triumph of the human nature over sin and death was perfect, because it was in perfect union with God.
The union of God and man in Christ is the model of our union with God. In Him the Spirit was present without measure; that is, in its infinite plenitude; it was present, not by derivation from another, but by origination in Himself; for He was not only with God, but was God. In us the same Spirit is present, not in its fullness, but in degrees; not by origination in our own nature, but by being sent to us from the Father and the Son. In proportion, then, as we are governed by this Spirit we are like Christ. For Christ is "the firstborn of many brethren;" and it became Him, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren. By following Him in a life of holy obedience and resignation, we become His brethren, and like Him, sons of God; and by imitation of Him, we, through the energy of the same Spirit, are wrought into a participation or communion of the same nature. And being His brethren, we have the assurance, that the same Spirit which has wrought in us a likeness to Him in this world, will raise our bodies from the grave, and translate them to heaven. Then shall we be wholly and forever one with the Lord; for the glory which God has given without measure to the man Christ Jesus He has given measurably and in various degrees to us; that we may be one with Him, even as He is one with God; He in us, and God in Him; that we through Him may be made perfect in one.
The principle of our new life or our union with God is the Holy Spirit. That which constitutes vegetable life, as distinguished from animal life, is called the principle of vegetable life. That which constitutes animal life, as distinguished from human life, is called the principle of animal life. That which constitutes our human or natural life, as distinguished from the divine life, is called the principle of our human or natural life. In like manner, that which constitutes the new or spiritual life, as distinguished from our natural life, the life which is recovered for us, and communicated to us by the mediation of Jesus Christ, as distinguished from the life which we inherit from Adam, is called the principle of the spiritual life. The principle of a thing is its fountain or element, that which originates and produces all the effects and manifestations which are peculiar to its kind. A stone may be enlarged by accretion, but is not capable of growth like vegetables, because it wants the principle of vegetable life. The vegetable grows, but it is incapable of sensation and locomotion, because it wants the principle of animal life. The natural man, or man endowed with reason and conscience and all other faculties which belong to him as a descendant of Adam, is totally incapable of putting forth any volitions or actions which are peculiar to the spiritual life; and it is only by receiving from God, through Christ, the Holy Spirit as the principle of the new or spiritual life that we are enabled to walk in the ways of truth, and abound in the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
By his act of disobedience, Adam lost the life in which he was created, and was thus changed from an obedient to a disobedient, from a happy to a miserable being. Into this state of apostacy, or separation from God, the descendants of Adam are born, and from this state the Son of God interposed to redeem them. He was promised to Adam immediately after the fall; and with the promise, came the thing promised, for the promises of God are never fallacious, but always true. The fallen Adam and his posterity were thus made capable of faith and repentance--acts which can not be acceptably exercised without the Holy Spirit. Thus, to those who had lost the life of perfect obedience and happiness with God, and involved themselves by disobedience in a state of eternal misery, the Holy Spirit was given as the principle of a new life, by whose powerful energy man was made capable of being reclaimed from his apostacy, restored to union with God, and in virtue of that union, serving Him acceptably in a life of faith, repentance and holy obedience.
In a restrained and qualified sense, therefore, the Son of God assumed human nature instantly on the fall of Adam. He assumed the human nature so far as to communicate to it by the energy of the Holy Spirit the capacity or principle of a new and holy life. Unless all men have this capacity, the Gospel would be preached in vain, for none could respond to its call. If man in virtue of his own will, reason and conscience, or any of the natural powers which belong to him as man, could recover himself from his apostacy, then Christ died in vain; if man, in virtue of his natural strength, could do the least conceivable thing which would be effectual toward his recovery, then would he share with Christ the merit and glory of redemption. Neither of these consequences can be admitted; and we therefore conclude that the Eternal Word, from the moment of the fall, assumed human nature for the accomplishment of his gracious purpose; so assumed it as to be in and with it, though not of it, as the principle of a new and heavenly life; bestowing on it the capacity of being reunited to God in the life of obedience and happiness which was lost by the fall.
In the fullness of time, the Son of God assumed the human nature into personal union with the divine; so as of God and man to become one Christ. When Christ had done and suffered all that to the divine wisdom seemed good and necessary for man's salvation, when He had led a life of humiliation, expired on the cross, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, to be then and thenceforward the life of His Church. In virtue of this more plentiful effusion, men are made capable of a higher and more perfect union with God. Christ has lived--the perfect model is before us; the Life of the world has been manifested; human nature recovered from the grave, and exalted to glory, has been exhibited to us; all needful truth has been revealed to us: and the Holy Spirit, not originating from us, nor forming in any way a part of our nature, is yet in and with us to new create and regenerate our nature, and transform it into union with God.
Jesus Christ, therefore, the God-Man, is the fountain and author of our union with God. He is not only the light, but eth life of the world; not only the teacher, but the truth; not only the guide, but the way to God. He communicates to us not only instruction and example, but divine life and energy; not only His humanity in a life of resignation and obedience to His father's will, but His divinity, or Holy Spirit also, by which we are wrought into imitation of His divine example. He bestows on us not merely His acting, suffering, dying humanity, but also His risen and glorified humanity; and not only His risen and glorified humanity, but His divinity or Holy Spirit also, by which, in His own good time, we shall be changed into the substance of His risen and glorified humanity, raised from the corruption of the tomb, and exalted to glory. It is, therefore, not separately the humanity, nor separately the divinity of Christ, but Christ Himself--the God-Man in one person--who is given to us as the life of our life, the light of our reason, the quickener of our affections, to vivify us here, and to raise us to glory hereafter, by the same Holy Spirit by which our Lord manifested truth and perfection in His own person while on earth, and after death raised His own body from the grave, and ascended in it to glory.
The union of God and man in Christ Jesus was personal, the divine and human nature, being here made one, not by confusion of substance, but in unity of person. The union of believers with Christ is not personal; still it is more than moral; it is natural or essential. The union of our souls and bodies is personal; it is not the body alone which is myself, nor yet the soul alone which is myself, it is in the union of soul and body that I myself exist and will and act; and this union of the rational soul with the sensitive body constitutes me a person. The union of a company or family of men actuated by common sentiments is a moral union. The strongest example of moral union is to be found in husband and wife; we say that they are one, not one in person, but one in affections. The union of the living body is a natural or essential union; all its members partake of the same life or nature; so that if a limb is cut off from the body, it loses its life, and becomes putrid. Now, the personal union between God and man exists only in Christ; but the union between Christ and His Church is more than a moral, it is a natural or essential, union.
In proof of this, I refer you to the terms in which this union is described in Holy Writ, and to the effects which we are taught to expect from it. Christ is the Head, we are the body; Christ is the Vine, we are the branches; Christ is the Firstborn, we are His brethren. These expressions are analogical, it being only by analogy from natural things that we can form any idea of spiritual things. But though analogical, they are true, and the truth which is conveyed to faith in regard to the invisible and spiritual must correspond to all that is expressed to the senses in regard to the visible and material, provided that nothing be received which is contradictory to reason and plain Scripture.
Now the union between the head and the members is a natural union; they possess one nature; they are informed and actuated by one life; so that when the head wills, the eyes, the hands, the feet, move in obedience to its will. The union between the vine and the branches is a natural union; they are informed and actuated by one life; so that if any of the branches are lopped off from the trunk, they wither and die. The union between the older and the younger brothers is a natural union; a union of life from common parents; so that if the elder brother is an heir, the youngers are co-heirs in virtue of their birth and blood. The union, therefore, between Christ and His Church is a natural union; they are informed and actuated by one life; so that whatsoever Christ wills is willed by the living members of His Church; whatsoever members are lopped off from His Church wither and die, and whatsoever glory is inherited by Him is inherited also by His Church, in virtue of its possessing a common nature with Him. And the life of this Church, that which informs and actuates it, and imparts to it a community of nature with God, is the Holy Spirit; for the same Spirit which proceeds from Christ takes possession also of us, to transform our natures into such living and essential union with Himself as the head has with its members, or the vine with its branches.
Not only do the analogies of Scripture imply, but the declarations of our Lord affirm, as plainly as language can, that the union between Himself and believers is a union of nature. "I am the Life of the world," the fountain and origin of whatever spiritual life mankind possess. "I am the bread of life; I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh that I will give for the life of the world. Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." To Martha He said: "I am the resurrection and the life; whosoever liveth and believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;" that is to say, his soul shall be raised from the death of sin, and his body from the corruption of the grave, and he shall live, in virtue of the energy which flows from Me the Head, to him the member, a life of righteousness here and of glory hereafter. Such language can not be understood to signify a merely moral union between Christ and His Church; for what sense allows, what usage requires that any intensity of love or reverence for a person can be expressed by the eating of that person? What vigor can there possibly be in a unity of will and affection which can reach the scattered and slumbering dust of a thousand generations, collect them in their dispersion, quicken them in their putrefaction, and transmute them into spiritual and glorified bodies? We must, therefore, understand such words to express, not only a moral, but a natural union; not only a consent of will and affection, but a communion of nature and essence, the element of which is the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who in them is life unoriginated, and in us is life communicated; who manifests His energy measurably in us the members, as He did immeasurably in Christ the Head; who made Jesus the perfect example of holiness, and who enables us to imitate Him; who was, in Christ, the power by which He Himself took back from the tomb the body which He owned and had sacrificed for the sins of the world, and who was, is, and shall be, in all true believers, the the principle of life, by the energy of which they will awaken in their own bodies from the slumbers of death, and ascend to glory.
The substantial reality of this union is further declared, in the words in which our Lord instituted the holy sacrament of His body and blood: "This is my. body, this is my blood; eat ye all of this, drink ye all of this for the remission of sins." We may suppose a feast instituted in memory of Franklin, or Washington, or any sage or hero who has devoted his life to the good of his country or kind. But who ever heard of the memory of any man being perpetuated by eating his body and drinking his blood? What ignorance ever originated, what wisdom ever devised, what usage of language in any nation, barbarous or civilized, ever authorized such an expression to denote the commemoration of human virtue? Try the expression and consider it, and see if there be any possible sense in which the disciples of Socrates, or Plato, or Luther, or Bacon, can be said to eat the body and drink the blood of the man whom they respectively follow! And yet our Lord plainly, repeatedly, emphatically offered Himself to be eaten and drunk by His Church; and in our liturgy we thank God that He has given His Son to be our spiritual food and sustenance in this holy sacrament. Surely, my brethren, we may not fritter down these awful words to a low and unworthy meaning. Surely the eating and drinking of Christ must denote something more than the bare harmony of opinion and regard which may subsist, between man and man, something more than the increase of virtue and piety which results from the imitation even of a heavenly model. What less, then, can it denote than that real and natural union which consists in a participation of the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who gives to our souls the new and heavenly life which Christ procured for mankind by the assumption and sacrifice of the humanity; who will, at length, "change our vile bodies that they may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body," and who will thus transmute or transubstantiate the whole human nature of His faithful followers, body and soul, into the divine or spiritual nature?
It is then Christ who is the life of the world and the bread of life to His Church. It is from the union of the human and divine nature in His person that the Holy Spirit, who is the giver of life, is derived to mankind. How the Holy Spirit communicates to us the sacred humanity of Christ, we may in part comprehend. The courage and constancy, the meekness and resignation, the humility and fortitude, the spotless purity and unwearied charity of our blessed Lord, were human virtues, part of His sacred humanity; and these the Holy Spirit really and substantially communicates to the penitent and faithful members of the Church. Though human, these virtues in Christ were also divine, by reason of the divinity of His person; and thus, by meditating on His virtues, we "become partakers of His divine nature.'' The blessed words, also, which He has spoken to us, they are spirit and they are life; and by receiving them in our heart, and acting them out in our lives, we can perceive that we are quickened by their holy energy, and transformed into newness of nature. But even these facts, though obscurely comprehensible, by reason of their similarity to the laws and modes of earthly existence, involve a depth of meaning in which our finite faculties are speedily lost, or arrested only by that bound and mystery of our faith, the true divinity of Jesus Christ. For He who gives us not only the outward example, but the inward grace and ability to imitate it; He, whose words are very spirit and very truth, and who is ever in this sense the life and the bread of life to His Church, to as many as are saved from sin and error in this world, and from perdition and misery in the next, can surely be none other than God. But when we reflect that it is not only the imitable virtues of our Lord, not only the outward manifestations of His humanity, but its inward essence and vitality, His very body and blood, His very flesh and life, which are given for the salvation of man, for the remission of sins in this world, and for the resurrection and glorification of the body in the world to come, we must feel and own the presence of a mystery which our finite faculties can not comprehend. But how the Holy Spirit communicates to us the sacred humanity of Christ, so as to justify our persons, and glorify our bodies, is a part of our redemption which the human reason can never fathom, and which no earthly or natural similitude can adequately explain. As surely, however, as our hearts are purified, and our lives reformed by the words and example of the man Christ Jesus, so surely is our death reversed, and as it were extinguished by His death, our resurrection involved in His resurrection, our ascension to heaven involved in His ascension, our inheritance of glory connected with His inheritance. His humanity is communicated to us more mysteriously, but with equal reality for the consummation as for the commencement and progress of the renovation of our nature. In this life, we know that we are wrought into the likeness of Christ's humanity, as it was manifested in Jerusalem, and made thereby the sons of God in faith, suffering and obedience. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be," but we know that when He shall appear we shall then also be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is, and that, therefore, we shall then be wrought into the likeness of Christ's humanity, as it exists in heaven, where the favored apostle beheld it, in a glory beyond the brightness of the sun. Thus real and substantial, thus heavenly and eternal is the union with God, derived to us through the humanity of Christ; for whoso eateth His flesh and drinketh His blood, i. e., whosoever partakes of His humanity, is thus changed into His nature, and has in him the principle of eternal life; and Christ, by the operation of the same spirit which communicated the life, will raise him up at the last day.
The signs of this union with Christ, and the chief means by which it is wrought in us, are the sacramental body and blood of Christ dispensed to us in the Eucharist. As bread and wine are incorporated by eating and drinking into our nature, to strengthen and refresh it, to cheer our spirits and recruit our bodies, so Christ Himself, the God-Man, is incorporated into our nature, to strengthen and refresh it, to become the principle of life eternal to our souls and bodies.
Without the godhead in His person, the humanity of Christ were no more than our humanity; but in virtue of the godhead which is united to it, the humanity of Christ, His flesh, His body and blood, become the life of the Church, and the energy of the godhead causes the life to pass from the humanity of Christ to us, even as from the head to the members. It is this life and spirit, this new creative and renovating principle, both for our souls and bodies, of which the sacrament is the sign and which it is the means of accomplishing in us. The Son of God made man, doing His Father's will, obedient unto death, expiring on the cross, rising from the grave, and ascending into heaven, is the life of the Church. In the sacrament, the body and blood, that is, the humanity of Christ, are spiritually present, and spiritually given and spiritually taken to be the life of our souls and bodies in the new or spiritual existence. His meekness and love, His patience and submission, His constancy and obedience, His life and immortality, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, all that belonged to His humanity, are made over to us, to be incorporated in the living members as they exist in Christ, the Head. And as we manifest the power and presence of this spirit in a life of holiness here, so shall we manifest its power and presence in a life of glory hereafter. The bread and wine are most lively representations of the body and blood which constitute the humanity, and, therefore, they are called the body and blood; not that they are the body and blood substantially, but that they contain them in a mystery. Nay, more, they are the appointed means of conveying to us the thing they signify. In us, doubtless, Christ is present; in us the change is made; to us he communicates the life that flows from His own divine humanity. But as the bread and wine are not only the signs of the change, but the means also by which it is wrought in us, so it is, when, in compliance with the divine institution, we take and eat the bread and wine, that Christ gives us Himself, His divinity and humanity, to be in us the principle of eternal life, and to carry forward the regeneration of our fallen nature. The bread and wine, therefore, are to the worthy receiver the effectual presence of Christ; for under them as signs or symbols, and through them as means, Christ becomes to the faithful the bread of life, and by the omnipotent energy of His spirit renews their nature, and transforms them into a living union with Himself.