Christ’s Partakers

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
~ 1 Corinthians 1:30

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
~ Hebrews 12:10

And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
~ 1 Corinthians 9:23

For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
~ 1 Corinthians 10:17

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
~ Ephesians 3:6

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
~ Hebrews 3:6

And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
~ Hebrews 6:11

A Commentary of Hebrews 3:14, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work.

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
~ Hebrews 3:14

I shall only consider that which our apostle here proposeth, and that in the ensuing observation:

Obs. 2. Constancy and steadfastness in believing is the great touchstone, trial, and evidence of union with Christ, or a participation of him.

So it is here proposed by the apostle. We are “partakers of Christ,” that is, declared, manifested, and evidenced so to be, “if we hold fast the beginning of our subsistence in him firm unto the end.” So our Savior, describing the great trials of men’s faith that shall befall them, adds that in the close, as the certain note of discrimination: “He that endureth to the end shall be saved,” Matthew 10:22. It is enduring faith that is true faith, and which evidenceth us indeed to be partakers of Christ. And he gives it as a mark of a false profession, that it “but dureth for a while,”

Matthew 13:21. Further to explain, evince, and improve this truth, it may be observed,

First, That there are many appearing evidences of union with Christ that may and do fail. The blade is an appearing evidence of well-rooted corn, but it often fails, and that for want of root, Matthew 13:21. Now, by such an appearance I do not intend a pretense, or that there is therein a show made of what is not; only there is something which appears to be that which it is not; or it is somewhat, but not what it appears to be. And so it is a failing sign, not a τεκμήριον , or assured, infallible token. Things of this nature may be such as to satisfy them in whom they are that they are really united unto Christ; but this through their own darkness and mistakes. And they may be such as others may, nay ought to be satisfied in, to the same purpose concerning them, as not being able to evince them to be otherwise by any rule or word of truth. So was it with many that are mentioned in the gospel. They professed themselves to belong unto Christ. This they did on some grounds that were satisfactory to themselves. They were also accepted by others as such, and that judging according to rule and as they ought. And yet, after all, they were either discovered to be hypocrites, or declared themselves apostates. Now, these kinds of signs must extend so far, as [that] there is nothing whereby union with Christ may be evidenced, nothing that is required according to rule thereunto, but there must be something in those who are thus deceived and do deceive that shall make an appearance and resemblance thereof. They must have μόρφωσιν τῆς εὐσεβείας , 2 Timothy 3:5, a complete “delineation of holiness” upon them, or they can have no pretense unto any such plea. They must be able to give an account of a work of conviction, humiliation, illumination, conversion, and of closing with Christ; as also of affections someway suitable unto such a work. If they utterly fail herein, however any out of darkness and self-love may flatter and deceive themselves, yet others have a rule to judge them by. But this now we have in daily experience, as there was the same also from the first preaching of the gospel, men may give such an account of the work of the grace of God in them as themselves may believe to be saving, and such as others who have reason to be concerned in them may rest in and approve; in this apprehension they may walk in a course of profession many days, it may be all their days, and yet at last be found utter strangers from Christ. But yet this happens not from the nature of the thing itself, as though our union with Christ in this life were absolutely indiscernible, or at least attended with such darkness and inextricable difficulties, as that it is impossible to make a true and undeceiving judgment thereof; but mistakes herein proceed from the blindness of the minds of men, and the deceitfulness of sin, with some secret inclination to rest in self or sin, that is in them. And these are such effectual causes of self-deceivings in this matter, that the Scripture abounds in commands and cautions for our utmost diligence in our search and inquiry, whether we are made partakers of Christ or no, or whether his Spirit dwell in us or no: which argue both the difficulty of attaining an assured confidence herein, as also the danger of our being mistaken, and yet the certainty of a good issue upon the diligent and regular use of means unto that purpose; for,

Secondly, There may be certain and undeceiving evidences of a present participation of Christ; or, which is all one, men may have a certainty sufficient at present to support and comfort them in their obedience, and which in the issue will neither fail them nor make them ashamed, that they are “partakers of Christ.” And this in our passage must necessarily be briefly confirmed. We speak of them who are really believers, who have received saving faith as a gift from God. “Now faith is ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις , πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων ,” Hebrews 11:1. It is that which gives subsistence unto the things believed in our minds, and is such an argument of them as will not deceive. There is nothing can possibly give the mind a more undeceiving assurance than that which causeth its object to subsist in it, which unites the mind and the truth believed in one subsistence. This faith doth in spiritual things. Hence our apostle ascribes unto it, as its effect, παῤῥησίαν καὶ προσαγωγὴν ἐν πεποιθήσει , Ephesians 3:12, a “grounded boldness,” with a“confident trust;” which are the highest expressions of the mind’s assurance. And if this be not enough, he asserts a πληροφορία , as that which it may be regularly improved into, Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22; that is,such a persuasion as fills the mind with all the assurance that the nature of it is capable of. For as a ship can have no impression from the wind further than it is able to receive in its sails, no more are we capable of any impression of the certainty of divine truths or things believed other than the nature of our minds can admit of; which is, that there must still be an allowance of some doubts and fears, by reason of its own imperfection. But if the expressions before used may fail us, it is certain that we can be certain of nothing, no, not of this that we are certain of nothing; for they are expressions of the highest certainty and assurance that the mind of man is capable of. It is, then, in the nature of faith itself, rightly exercised and improved, to evidence this matter unto our souls.

Again, The Holy Ghost himself, who neither can deceive nor be deceived, gives peculiar testimony to our sonship or adoption, which is a consequent of our union with Christ; for none have any power to become the sons of God but such as are united unto him, John 1:12. This testimony is asserted, Romans 8:15-16, “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God.” And wherein soever this testimony doth consist, or by what means soever it be granted unto us, concerning which I shall not here dispute, it is a testimony sure and infallible in itself, and bringing assurance to the mind to which it is granted, sealing unto it its son-ship, adoption, and union. And when the Holy Spirit giveth this “new name,” of a son of God, unto any believer, he knows it, though others understand it not, Revelation 2:17; for he makes his own testimony evident unto us, without which his care and love towards us would be lost, and the end of our peace and comfort be frustrated. Hence we are said to

“receive the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God,” 1 Corinthians 2:12.

It is the Spirit of God whereby the good things mentioned are bestowed on us and wrought in us; but this is but part of his work and office towards us, he doth moreover distinctly satisfy and assure us that we are indeed made partakers of those good things.

Moreover, we have in this matter the examples of those who have gone before us in the faith, proposed unto our imitation and for our consolation. They had that evidence and assurance of an interest in Christ which we insist upon. So our apostle declares in the name of all believers, Romans 8:38-39: “I am persuaded,” saith he, “that nothing shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And the rejoicing, yea, triumphant man-her wherein, he expresseth this his persuasion manifests his full satisfaction in the truth which he proposed. And so the apostle John tells us, that we both “perceive the love of God” towards us, and that “we know that we have passed from death unto life,” 1Jn 3:14 ; 1 John 3:16; both which depend on our union with Christ, and which by them is made evident and sure unto us. See Psalms 23:6. Hereon is founded that great command, that we should “give diligence to make our calling and election sure,” 2 Peter 1:10; that is, unto our own souls, for in themselves they are unalterable. And if this, in the use of means, may not be effected, there were no room left for this precept or exhortation.

This is also confirmed unto us from the nature and use of the sacraments; which I know not what they think of who deny this truth. In the one of them God sets his seal unto our initiation into Christ: for it is, as circumcision was of old, the “seal of the righteousness of faith,” Romans 4:11; which, as I have showed, we obtain not but by a participation of Christ and initiation into him. And therefore is there required in us the restipulation of a good conscience, to answer the testimony of God therein, 1 Peter 3:21. The other expressly confirms our participation of Christ, and our interest in the pardon of sins through his blood; being appointed of God as the way whereby mutually is testified his grace unto us and our faith in him. See 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. And if we may not, if we ought not, to rest assured of what God testifies unto us and sets his seal unto, it cannot but be our duty sometimes to make God a liar; for so we do when we believe not his testimony, 1 John 5:10. But to preventany hesitation in this matter, he hath not left this under a bare testimony, but hath also confirmed it by his oath; and that to this end, that we might have “strong consolation,” which, without an undeceiving assurance, we cannot obtain, Hebrews 6:17-18. It is therefore certain that there maybe, and there are, infallible evidences of a present participation of Christ. But yet observe further, that,

Thirdly, No grace, no sign or mark, will any longer or any further be an evidence or testimony in this matter, but only as the soul is effectually influenced unto perseverance thereby. If any grace whatever once lose its efficacy in or upon the soul, unto all such acts of obedience as are required unto constancy and persistency in our profession, it loseth all its evidencing power as to our present state and condition. For instance, faith, as unto the nature of it, and as unto its main effect, of our adherence unto Christ, may abide in us, when yet, by reason of the power of temptation or prevalency of corruptions, it may not act effectually unto spiritual experience for the constant performance of all such duties as are required unto our persistency in Christ in a due manner, nor as unto such an abstinence from all sin as is required thereunto. But when it doth so fail, it can no longer evidence our union with Christ, but the soul wherein it is will be left unto many disquietments and uncertainties. It is faith only that is effectual, by love and in universal obedience, and only as it is so, will give in this evidence. Although, therefore, perseverance is not of the essence of faith, but is a grace superadded thereunto, yet the evidencing power of faith in this case is taken from its efficacy towards that end, namely, as it is experimentally subservient unto the power of God to preserve us unto salvation. Hence, before the completing of our perseverance, which is not to be before the full end of our course, it is the principal evidence of our union with Christ, in the ways and means whereby itself is continued and preserved.

Fourthly, It is an evidence of union, in that it is an effect of it; and there is a good demonstration of a cause from its proper and peculiar effect. Where an effect is produced that cannot be wrought but by such a cause, it is declared and manifested thereby; as even the magicians concluded from the miracles of Moses, that “the finger of God” was in them. Now, our constancy and perseverance, as I have showed, are an effect of our union with Christ, and from no other original can they be educed. And this doth most eminently appear in the time and case of trials and oppositions, such as was the season and condition that the Hebrews were under at present. When a believer shall consider what difficulties, distresses, and spiritual dangers he hath passed through, and been delivered from, or hath prevailed against; and withal that he hath in himself no power, strength, or wisdom, that should procure for him such a success, but rather that on the contrary he hath been often ready to faint, and to let go the “beginning of his confidence;” it will lead him to a discovery of those secret springs of supplies that he hath been made partaker of; which are nothing but this union with Christ, and participation of him. Besides, this perseverance is the due issue and exsurgency of grace constantly exercised, with an improvement and growth thereby. And all growth in grace, in what kind soever it be, is an emanation from this one foundation of our union with Christ, which is therefore manifested thereby.

Fifthly, This also may be added, Whatever profession hath by any been made, whatever fruits of it have been brought forth, whatever continuance in it there hath been, if it fail totally, it is a sufficient evidence that those who have made it were never “partakers of Christ.” So our apostle, having declared that some of great name and note were apostatized and fallen off from the gospel, adds that yet “the foundation of God standeth sure,” that “the Lord knoweth them that are his,” 2 Timothy 2:17-19; manifesting that those who did so, notwithstanding their profession and eminency therein, were never yet owned of God as his in Christ. And another apostle tells us, that those who went out from them, by a defection from the faith, were in truth none of them, or really united unto Christ with them, 1 John 2:19. And where there are partial decays in faith and profession, it gives great ground of suspicion and jealousy that the “root of bitterness” is yet remaining in the heart, and that Christ was never formed in it. Let not men, therefore, please themselves in their present attainments and condition, unless they find that they are thriving, growing, passing on towards perfection; which is the best evidence of their union with Christ.

Obs. 3. Persistency in our subsistence in Christ unto the end is a matter of great endeavor and diligence, and that unto all believers. This is plainly included in the expression here used by the apostle, ᾿Εάνπερ τὴν ὑπόστασιν βεβαίαν κατάσχωμεν . The words denote our utmost endeavor to hold it fast, and to keep it firm and steadfast. Shaken it will be, opposed it will be; kept it will not, it cannot be, without our utmost diligence and endeavor. It is true our persistency in Christ doth not, as to the issue and event, depend absolutely on our own diligence. The unalterableness of our union with Christ, on the account of the faithfulness of the covenant of grace, is that which doth and shall eventually secure it. But yet our own diligent endeavor is such an indispensable means for that end, as that without it will not be brought about; for it is necessary to the continuance of our subsistency in Christ, both “necessitate praecepti,” as that which God hath commanded us to make use of for that end, and “necessitate medii,” as it is in the order and relation of spiritual things one to another ordained of God to effect it. For our persistence in our subsistence in Christ is the emergency and effect of our acting grace unto that purpose. Diligence and endeavors in this matter are like Paul’s mariners, when he was shipwrecked at Melita. God had beforehand given him the lives of all that sailed with him in the ship, Acts 27:24; and he believed that it should be even as God had told him, Acts 27:25. So now the preservation of their lives depended absolutely on the faithfulness and power of God. But yet when the mariners began to flee out of the ship, Paul tells the centurion and the soldiers that unless those men stayed they could not be saved, Acts 27:31. But what need he think of shipmen, when God had promised and taken upon himself the preservation of them all? He knew full well that he would preserve them, but yet that he would do so in and by the use of means. If we are in Christ, God hath given us the lives of our souls, and hath taken upon himself in his covenant the preservation of them; but yet we may say with reference unto the means that he hath appointed, when storms and trials arise, unless we use our own diligent endeavors, “we cannot be saved.” Hence are the many cautions that are given us, not only in this epistle wherein they abound, but in other places of Scripture also, that we should take heed of apostasy and falling away; as, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall;” and, “Take heed that we lose not those things which we have wrought;” and, “Hold fast that thou hast, lest another take thy crown,” with the like innumerable.

These warnings are not given merely to professors in general, whose condition is dubious whether they are true believers or no; nor unto those that are entering only on the ways of Christ, lest they should recoil and desert them; but they are given unto all true believers, those of the greatest growth and attainments, Philippians 3:11-13, that they may know how indispensably necessary, from the appointment of God and the nature of the thing itself, our watchful diligence and endeavors are unto our abiding in Christ. And they are thus necessary,

First, Upon the account of the opposition that is made thereunto. In this one thing, namely, to separate us from Christ, is laid out all the skill, power, and craft of our spiritual adversaries. For this end are the “gates of hell” that is, the power, counsel, and strength of Satan peculiarly engaged. His great design is to cast them down and prevail against them who are built upon the Rock; that is, who are united unto Christ. Our Savior, indeed, hath promised that he shall not prosper, Matthew 16:18; but it is that he shall not “prevail;” which argues a disappointment in a fight or contest. So the “gates of hell shall not prevail;” but we are to watch and contend that they may not. This also is the principal design of the world upon us and against us. It sets all its engines on work to separate us from Christ. Our apostle reckons them up, or at least gives a catalogue of the principal of them, Romans 8:35-36; and gives us assurance that they shall never be able to attain their end, or to dissolve the union between Christ and us, But yet he lets us know that our success is a conquest, a victory, which is not to be won without great care and watchfulness, undergoing many difficulties, and going through many hazards, Romans 8:37. And, which is worst of all, we fight against ourselves; we have lusts in us that “fight against our souls,” 1 Peter 2:11, and that in good earnest. Yea, these are the worst enemies we have, and the most dangerous, as I have elsewhere declared. This opposition to our persistency in Christ makes our diligence for the continuance and preservation of it necessary.

Again, It is necessary upon the account of our peace, consolation, and fruitfulness in this world. And these belong to our subsistence in Christ. Without the two former we have no satisfaction in ourselves, and without the latter we are of no use to the glory of God or good of others. Now, as our eternal happiness depends on this diligence as the means of it, so do these things as their condition; which if we fail in, they also will fail and that utterly. It is altogether in vain to expect true peace, solid consolation, or a thriving in fruitfulness, in a slothful profession. These things depend wholly on our spiritual industry. Men complain of the fruit, but will not be persuaded to dig up the root. For all our spiritual troubles, darkness, disconsolations, fears, doubts, barrenness, they all proceed from this bitter root of negligence, which springs up and defiles us. Those, then, that know how to value these things may do well to consider how the loss of them may be obviated. Now this spiritual diligence and industry consisteth,

1. In a watchful fighting and contending against the whole work of sin, in its deceit and power, with all the contribution of advantage and efficacy that it hath from Satan and the world. This the apostle peculiarly applies it unto, in the cautions and exhortations given us, to “take heed” of it, that we be not “hardened” by it, seeing its whole design is to impair or destroy our interest and persistency in Christ, and so to draw us off “from the living God.”

2. In a daily, constant cherishing and laboring to improve and strengthen every grace by which we abide in Christ. Neglected grace will wither, and be “ready to die,” Revelation 3:2; yea, as to some degrees of it, and as to its work in evidencing the love of God unto us, or our union with Christ, it will utterly decay. Some of the churches mentioned in the Revelation had lost their “first love,” as well as left their “first works.” Hence is that command that we should “grow in grace;” and we do so when grace grows and thrives in us. And this is done two ways:

(1.) When any individual grace is improved: when that faith which was weak becomes strong, and that love which was faint and cold becomes fervent and is inflamed; which is not to be done but in and by the sedulous exercise of these graces themselves, and a constant application of our souls by them to the Lord Christ, as hath been before declared.

(2.) By adding one grace unto another: 2 Peter 1:5, “And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge.” This is the proper work of spiritual diligence, namely, to add one grace unto another. This is the nature of gospel graces, because of their concatenation in Christ, and as they are wrought in us by one and the self same Spirit, that the exercise of one leads us to the stirring up and bringing in the exercise of another into the soul. And the graces that in order of practice lie as it were behind, will not be taken notice of or known, but by the due improvement of those whose practice is antecedaneous unto them. Hence some good men live all their days and never come to the actual exercise of some graces, although they have them in their root and. principle. And the reason is, because way is not made unto them by the constant improvement of those other graces from out of whose exercise they do spring. And is it any wonder if we see so many either decaying or unthrifty professors, and so many that are utterly turned off from their first engagements? For consider what it is to abide in Christ; what watchfulness, what diligence, what endeavors are required thereunto! Men would have it to be a plant that needs neither watering, manuring, nor pruning, but that which will thrive alone of itself; but what do they then think of the opposition that is continually made unto it, the endeavors that are used utterly to root it out? Certainly, if these be not watched against with our utmost industry, decays, if not ruin, will ensue.

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