Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
~ Isaiah 53:1
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
~ John 15:4-10
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
~ Hebrews 3:14, Romans 11:16-18, Romans 11:23-24
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
~ Romans 11:22, James 1:21
Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
~ Ezekiel 3:20, 1 John 2:19
Engrafted Into Christ, by Thomas Boston. This is an excerpt from his work, Human Nature in its Fourfold State, by Thomas Boston. 1720.
Doctrine. They who are in the state of grace, are engrafted in, and united to, the Lord Jesus Christ. They are taken out of their natural stock, cut off from it; and are now engrafted into Christ, as the new stock.
IV. I am now to shew how the branches are cut off from the natural stock, the first Adam, and grafted into the true vine, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks to the Husbandman, not to the branch, that is cut off from its natural stock, and grafted into a new one. The sinner, in his coming off from the first stock, is passive, and neither can nor will come off from it of his own accord, but clings to it, till almighty power makes him to fall off, John vi. 44, “No man can come unto me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.” And chap.v.40, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”The ingrafted branches are “God’s husbandry,”1 Cor. iii. 9, “The planting of the Lord,”Isa. lxi. 3.—The ordinary means he makes use of, in this work, is the ministry of the word, 1 Cor. iii. 9, “We are labourers together with God.”But the efficacy thereof is wholly from him, whatever the minister’s parts or piety be, ver. 7, “Neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”The apostles preached to the Jews, yet the body of that people remained in infidelity, Rom. x. 16, “Who hath believed our report?” Yea, Christ himself, who spoke as never man spoke, says concerning the success of his own ministry,”I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought,”Isa. xlix. 4. The branches may be hacked by the preaching of the word; but the stroke will never go through, till it is carried home by the omnipotent arm. However, God’s ordinary way is, “by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,”1 Cor. i. 21.
The cutting of the branch from the natural stock, is performed by the pruning knife of the law, in the hand of the Spirit of God, Gal. ii. 19, “For I, through the law, am dead to the law. “It is by the bond of the covenant of works, as I said before, that we are knit to our natural stock: therefore, as a wife, unwilling to be put away, pleads and hangs by the marriage tie; so do men by the covenant of works. They hold by it, like the man who held the ship with his hands; and when one hand was cut off, held it with the other; and when both were cut off, held it with his teeth. This will appear from a distinct view of the Lord’s works on men, in bringing them off from the old stock; which I offer in the following particulars:—
1. When the Spirit of the Lord comes to deal with a person, to bring him to Christ, he finds him in Laodicea’s case, in a sound sleep of security, dreaming of heaven and the favour of God, though full of sin against the Holy One of Israel, Rev. iii. 17, “Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Therefore he darts in some beams of light into the dark soul; and lets the man see that he is a lost man, if he turn not over a new leaf, and betake himself to a new course of life. Thus, by the Spirit of the Lord acting as a spirit of bondage, there is a criminal court erected in the man’s breast; where he is arraigned, accused, and condemned for breaking the law of God, “convicted of sin and judgment,” John xvi. 8. And now he can no longer sleep securely in his former course of life. This is the first stroke which the branch gets, in order to cutting off.
2. Hereupon the man forsakes his former profane courses, his lying, swearing, Sabbath-breaking, stealing, and such like practices; though they be dear to him as right eyes, be will rather quit them than ruin his soul. The ship is likely to sink, and therefore he throws his goods overboard, that he himself may not perish. Now he begins to bless himself in his heart, and looks joyfully on his evidences for heaven; thinking himself a better servant to God than many others, Luke xviii. 11, “God, I thank thee, I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers,”&c. But he soon gets another stroke with the axe of the law, shewing him that it is only he that doeth what is written in the law, that can be saved by it; and that his negative holiness is too scanty a covering from the storm of God’s wrath. Thus, although his sins of commission only were heavy on him before, his sins of omission now crowd into his thoughts, attended with a train of law curses and vengeance. And each of the ton commandments discharges thunder-claps of wrath against him for his omission of required duties.
3. Upon this he turns to a positively holy course of life, he not only is not profane, but he performs religious duties: he prays, seeks the knowledge of the principles of religion, strictly observes the Lord’s day, and, like Herod, does many things, and hears sermons gladly. In one word, there is a great conformity, in his outward conversation, to the letter of both tables of the law. There is a mighty change in the man, which his neighbours cannot miss taking notice of. Hence he is cheerfully admitted by the godly into their society, as a praying person; and can confer with them about religious matters, yea, and about soul exercise, which some are not acquainted with; and their good opinion of him confirms his good opinion of himself. This step in religion is fatal to many, who never get beyond it. But here the Lord gives the elect branch a farther stroke. Conscience flies in the man’s face, for some wrong step in his conversation, the neglect of some duty, or commission of some sin, which is a blot in his conversation; and then the flaming sword of the law appears again over his head, and the curse rings in his ears, for that he “continueth not in all things written in the law, to do them,” Gal. iii. 10.
4. On this account, he is obliged to seek another remedy for his disease. He goes to God, confesses his sin, seeks the pardon of it, promising to watch against it for the time to come; and so finds ease, and thinks he may very well take it, seeing the scripture saith, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” 1 John i. 9; not considering that he grasps at a privilege, which is theirs only who are grafted into Christ, and under the covenant of grace, and which the branches yet growing on the old stock cannot plead.—And here sometimes there are formal and express vows made against such and such sins, and binding to such and such duties. Thus many go on all their days, knowing no other religion, than to perform duties, and to confess, and pray for pardon of that wherein they fail, promising themselves eternal happiness, though they are utter strangers to Christ. Here many elect ones have been cast down wounded, and many reprobates have been slain, while the wounds of neither of them have been deep enough to cut them off from their natural stock. But the Spirit of the Lord gives yet a deeper stroke to the branch which is to be cut off, shewing him, that, as yet, he is but an outside saint, and discovering to him the filthy lusts lodged in his heart, which he took no notice of before, Rom. vii. 9, “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”Then he sees his heart to be full of sinful lusts, covetousness, pride, malice, filthiness and the like. Now, as soon as the door of the chambers of his imagery is thus opened to him, and he sees what they do there in the dark, his outside religion is blown up as insufficient; and he learns a new lesson in religion, namely, “That he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly,”Rom. ii. 28.
5. Upon this he goes farther, even to inside religion; sets to work more vigorously than ever, mourns over the evils of his heart, and strives to bear down the weeds which he finds growing in that neglected garden. He labours to curb his pride and passion, and to banish speculative impurities; prays more fervently, hears attentively, and strives to get his heart affected in every religious duty he performs; and thus he comes to think himself, not only an outside, but an inside Christian.—Wonder not at this, for there is nothing in it beyond the power of nature, or what one may attain to under a vigorous influence of the covenant of works; therefore another yet deeper stroke is given. The law charges home on the man’s conscience, that he was a transgressor from the womb; that he came into the world a guilty creature; and that in the time of his ignorance, and even since his eyes were opened, he has been guilty of many actual sins, either altogether overlooked by him or not sufficiently mourned over, for spiritual sores, not healed by the blood of Christ, but skinned over some other way, so as to be easily irritated, and soon to break out again; therefore the law takes him by the throat, saying, “Pay what thou owest”, Mat. xviii. 28.
6. Then the sinner says in his heart, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all;” and so falls to work to pacify an offended God, and to atone for those sins. He renews his repentance, such as it is; bears patiently the afflictions laid upon him; yea, he afflicts himself, denies himself the use of his lawful comforts, sighs deeply mourns bitterly, cries with tears for a pardon, till he has wrought up his heart to a conceit of having obtained it: having thus done penance for what is past, he resolves to be a good servant to God, and to hold on in outward and inward obedience, for the time to come. —But the stroke must go nearer the heart yet, ere the branch falls off. The Lord discovers to him, in the glass of the law, how he sinneth in all he does, even when he does the best he can; and therefore the dreadful sound returns to his ears, Gal. iii. 10, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things,”&c. “When ye fasted and mourned,”saith the Lord, “did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? “Will muddy water make clean clothes? Will you satisfy for one sin with another? Did not your thoughts wander in such a duty? Were not your affections flat in another? Did not your heart give a sinful look to such an idol? And did it not rise in a fit of impatience under such an affliction? “Should I accept this of your hands? Cursed be the deceiver, which sacrificeth to the Lord a corrupt thing,”Mal. i. 13, 14. And thus he becomes so far broken off, that he sees he is not able to satisfy the demands of the law.
7. Hence, like a broken man, who finds he is not able to pay all his debt, he goes about to compound with his creditor. And, being in pursuit of ease and comfort, he does what he can to fulfil the law; and wherein he fails, he trusts that God will accept the will for the deed. Thus doing his duty, and having a will to do better, he cheats himself into persuasion of the goodness of his state: and hereby thousands are ruined. But the elect get another stroke, which loosens their hold in this case. The doctrine of the law is borne in on their consciences, demonstrating to them, that exact and perfect obedience is required by it, under pain of the curse; and that it is doing, and not wishing to do, which will avail. Wishing to do better will not answer the law’s demands; and therefore the curse sounds again, “Cursed is every one that continueth not—to do them that is, actually to do them. In vain is wishing then. 3. Being broken off from all hopes of compounding with the law, he falls to borrowing. He sees that all he can do to obey the law, and all his desires to be and to do better, will not save his soul: therefore he goes to Christ, entreating, that his righteousness may make up what is wanting in his own, and cover all the defects of his doings and sufferings; that so God, for Christ’s sake, may accept them, and thereupon be reconciled. Thus doing what he can to fulfil the law, and looking to Christ to make up all his defects, he comes at length to sleep securely again. Many persons are ruined this way. This was the error of the Galatians, which Paul, in his epistle to them, disputes against. But the Spirit of God breaks off the sinner from this hold also, by bringing home to his conscience that great truth, Gal. iii. 12, “The law is not of faith, but the man that doeth them shall live in them.” There is no mixing of the law and faith in this business; the sinner must hold by one of them, and let the other go. The way of the law, and the way of faith, are so far different, that it is not possible for a sinner to walk in the one, unless he comes off from the other: and if he be for doing, he must do all alone; Christ will not do a part for him, if he do not all. A garment pieced up of sundry sorts of righteousness, is not a garment meet for the court of heaven. Thus the man is like one in a dream, who thought he was eating, but being awakened by a stroke, behold his soul is faint; his heart sinks in him like a stone, while he finds that he can neither bear his burden himself alone, nor can he get help under it.
9. What can he do who must needs pay, and yet has not enough of his own to bring him out of debt; nor can borrow so much, and is ashamed to beg?—What can such a one do, I say, but sell himself, as the man under the law, that was, become poor? Lev. xxv. 47. Therefore the sinner, beat off from so many holds, attempts to make a bargain with Christ, and to sell himself to the Son of God, if I may so speak, solemnly promising and vowing, that he will be a servant to Christ, as long as he lives, if he will save his soul. And here, the sinner often makes a personal covenant with Christ, resigning himself to him on these terms; yea, and takes the sacrament, to make the bargain sure. Hereupon the man’s great care is, how to obey Christ, keep his commandments, and so fulfil his bargain. In this the soul finds a false, unsound peace, for awhile; till the Spirit of the Lord gives another stroke, to cut off the man from this refuge of lies likewise. And that happens in this manner: when he fails of the duties he engaged to perform, and falls again into the sin he covenanted against, it is powerfully carried home on his conscience, that his covenant is broken; so all his comfort goes, and terrors afresh seize on his soul, as one that has broken covenant with Christ. Commonly the man to help himself, renews his covenant, but breaks it again as before. And how is it possible it should be otherwise, seeing he is still upon the old stock? Thus the work of many, all their days, as to their souls, is nothing but a making and breaking such covenants, over and over again.
Objection. Some perhaps will say, “Who liveth, and sinneth not? Who is there that faileth not of the duties he has engaged to? If you reject this way as unsound, who then can be saved?” Answer. True believers will be saved, namely, all who do by faith take hold of God’s covenant. But this kind of covenant is men’s own covenant, devised of their own heart; not God’s covenant, revealed in the gospel of his grace: and the making of it is nothing else but the making of a covenant of works with Christ, confounding the law and the Gospel; a covenant he will never subscribe to, though we should sign it with our heart’s blood. Rom. iv. 14, 16, “For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.—Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.”Chap. xi. 6, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace, otherwise work is no more work.”God’s covenant is everlasting; once in and never out of it again; and the mercies of it are sure mercies, Isa. lv. 3. But that covenant of yours is a tottering covenant, never sure, but broken every day. It is a mere servile covenant, giving Christ Service for salvation; but God’s covenant is a filial covenant, in which the sinner takes Christ, and his salvation freely offered, and so becomes a son, John i. 12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God and being become a son, he serves his Father, not that the inheritance may become his, but because it is his, through Jesus Christ. See Gal. iv. 24, and onward. To enter into that false covenant, is to buy from Christ with money; but to take hold of God’s covenant, is to buy of him without money and without price, Isa. Iv. 1, that is to say, to beg of him. In that covenant men work for life; in God’s covenant they come to Christ for life, and work from life. When a person under that covenant fails in his duty, all is gone; the covenant must be made over again. But under God’s covenant, although the man fail in his duty, and for his failure falls under the discipline of the covenant, and lies under the weight of it, till such time as he has recourse anew to the blood of Christ for pardon, and renew his repentance; yet all that he trusted to, for life and salvation, namely, the righteousness of Christ, still stands entire, and the covenant remains firm. See Rom. vii. 24, 25; and chap. viii. 1.
Now, though some men spend their lives in making and breaking such covenants of their own, the terror on the breaking of them be coming weaker and weaker, by degrees, till at last it creates them little or no uneasiness; yet the man, in whom the good work is carried on, till it be accomplished in cutting him off from the old stock, finds these covenants to be as rotten cords, broken at every touch; and the terror of God being thereupon redoubled on his spirit and, the waters at every turn getting in unto his very soul, he is obliged to cease from catching hold of such covenants and to seek help some other way.
10. Therefore the man comes at length to beg at Christ’s door for mercy; but yet be is a proud beggar, standing on his personal worth. For, as the papists have Mediators to plead for them, with the one only Mediator, so the branches of the old stock have always something to produce, which they think may commend them to Christ, and engage him to take their cause in hand. They cannot think of coming to the spiritual market, without money in their hand. They are like persons who have once had an estate of their own, but are reduced to extreme poverty, and forced to beg. When they come to beg, they still remember their former character; and though they have lost their substance: yet they retain much of their former spirit: therefore they cannot think that they ought to be treated as ordinary beggars, but deserve a particular regard; and, if that be not given them, their spirits rise against him to whom they address themselves for a supply. Thus God gives the unhumbled sinner many common mercies, and shuts him not up in the pit according to his deserving; but all this is nothing in his eyes. He must be set down at the children’s table, otherwise be reckons himself hardly dealt with, and wronged: for he is not yet brought so low, as to think God may be justified when he speaks against him, and clear from all iniquity, when he judgeth him according to his real demerit, Psalm li. 4. He thinks, perhaps, that, even before he was enlightened, he was better than many others; he considers his reformation of life, his repentance, the grief and tears which his sin has cost him, his earnest desires after Christ, his prayers and wrestlings for mercy; and uses all these now as bribes for mercy, laying no small weight upon them in his addresses to the throne of grace. But here the Spirit of the Lord shoots his arrows quickly into the man’s heart, whereby his confidence in these things is sunk and destroyed; and, instead of thinking himself better than many, he is made to see himself worse than any. The faults in his reformation of life are discovered; his repentance appears to him no better than the repentance of Judas; his tears like Esau’s, and his desires after Christ to be selfish and loathsome, like those who sought Christ because of the loaves, John vi. 26. His answer from God seems now to be, Away, proud beggar, “How shall I put thee among the children? He seems to look sternly on him, for his slighting of Jesus Christ by unbelief, which is a sin he scarcely discerned before. But now at length he beholds it in its crimson colours, and is pierced to the heart, as with a thousand darts, while he sees how he has been going on blindly, sinning against the remedy of sin, and, in the whole course of his life, trampling on the blood of the Son of God. And now he is, in his own eyes, the miserable object of law vengeance, yea, and gospel vengeance too.
11. The man being thus far humbled, will no more plead, “he is worthy for whom Christ should do this thing but, on the contrary, looks on himself as unworthy of Christ, and unworthy of the favour of God. We may compare him, in this case, to the young man who followed Christ, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; who, when the young men laid hold of him, left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked,” Mark xiv. 51, 52. Even so the man had been following Christ, in the thin and cold garment of his own personal worthiness: but by it, even by it, which he so much trusted to, the law catches hold of him, to make him prisoner; and then he is fain to leave it, and flees away naked—yet not to Christ, but from him. If you now tell him he is welcome to Christ, if he will come to him; he is apt to say, Can such a vile and unworthy wretch as I, be welcome to the holy Jesus? If a plaster be applied to his wounded soul, it will not stick. He says, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” Luke v. 8. No man needs speak to him of his repentance, for his comfort; he can quickly espy such faults in it as makes it naught: nor of his tears; for he is assured they have never come into the Lord’s bottle. He disputes himself away from Christ; and concludes, now that he has been such a slighter of Christ, and is such an unholy and vile creature, that he cannot, he will not, he ought not to come to Christ; and that he must either be in better case, or else he will never believe. Hence he now makes the strongest efforts to amend what was amiss in his way before: he prays more earnestly than ever, mourns more bitterly, strives against sin in heart and life more vigorously, and watches more diligently, if by any means he may at length be fit to come to Christ. One would think the man is well humbled now: but, ah! deep pride lurks under the veil of this seeming humility; like a kindly branch of the old stock, he adheres still, and will not submit to the righteousness of God, Rom. x. 3. He will not come to the market of free grace, without money. He is bidden to the marriage of the King’s Son, where the bridegroom himself furnishes all the guests with wedding garments, stripping them of their own: but he will not come, because he wants a wedding garment; although he is very busy in making one ready. This is sad work; and therefore he must have a deeper stroke yet, else he is ruined. This stroke is given him with the axe of the law, in its irritating power. Thus the law, girding the soul with cords of death, and holding it in with the rigorous commands of obedience, under the pain of the curse; and God, in his holy and wise conduct, withdrawing his restraining grace, corruption is irritated, lusts become violent; and the more they are striven against the more they rage, like a furious horse checked with the bit. Then corruptions set up their heads, which he never saw in himself before. Here oft-times, atheism, blasphemy, and, in one word, horrible things concerning God, terrible thoughts concerning the faith, arise in his breast; so that his heart is a very hell within him. Thus, while he is sweeping the house of his heart, not yet watered with gospel grace, those corruptions which lay quiet before, in neglected corners, fly up and down in it like dust. He is as one who is mending the bank of a river, and while he is repairing breaches in it, and strengthening ‘ every part of it, a mighty flood comes down, and overturns his works, and drives all away before it, both that which was newly laid, and what was laid before. Read Rom. vii. 8—13. This is a stroke which goes to the heart: and by it, his hope of making himself more fit to come to Christ, is cut off.
12. Now the time is come, when the man, between hope and despair, resolves to go to Christ as he is; and therefore, like a dying man, stretching himself just before his breath goes out, he rallies the broken forces of his soul, tries to believe, and in some sort lays hold on Jesus Christ. And now the branch hangs on the old stock by one single tack of a natural faith, produced by the natural vigour of one’s own spirit, under a most pressing necessity, Psalm lxxviii. 34, 35, “When he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned and inquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their Redeemer.”Hos. viii. 2, “Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee.”But the Lord, never failing to perfect his work, fetches yet another stroke, whereby the branch falls quite off. The Spirit of God convincingly discovers to the sinner his utter inability to do any thing that is good, and so he dieth, Rom. vii. 9. That voice powerfully strikes through his soul, “How can ye believe?”John v.44. Thou canst no more believe, than thou canst reach up thine hand to heaven, and bring Christ down from thence. Thus at length he sees, that he can neither help himself by working, nor by believing; and having no more to hang by on the old stock, he therefore falls off. While he is distressed thus, seeing himself likely to be swept away with the flood of God’s wrath, and yet unable so much as to stretch forth a hand to lay hold of a twig of the tree of life, growing on the bank of the river, he is taken up, and ingrafted in the true vine, the Lord Jesus Christ giving him the Spirit of faith.
By what has been said upon this head, I design not to rack or distress tender consciences; for though there are but few such at this day, yet God forbid that I should offend any of Christ’s little ones. But, alas! a dead sleep is fallen upon this generation, they will not be awakened, let us go ever so near to the quick: therefore I fear that there is another sort of awakening abiding this sermon-proof generation, which shall make the ears of them that hear it tingle. However, I would not have this to be looked upon as the sovereign God’s stinted method of breaking off sinners from the old stock. But this I maintain as a certain truth, that all who are in Christ have been broken off from all these several confidences; and that they who were never broken off from them, are yet in their natural stock. Nevertheless, if the house be pulled down, and the old foundation razed, it is much the same whether it was taken down stone by stone, or whether it was undermined, and all fell down together.
Now it is that the branch is ingrafted in Jesus Christ. And as the law, in the hand of the Spirit of God, was the instrument to cut off the branch from the natural stock; so the Gospel, in the hand of the same Spirit, is the instrument used for ingrafting it into the supernatural stock, 1 John i. 3. “That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”See Isaiah Isi. 1—3. The Gospel is the silver cord let down from heaven, to draw perishing sinners to land. And though the preaching of the law prepares the way of the Lord; yet it is in the word of the Gospel that Christ and a sinner meet. Now, as in the natural grafting, the branch being taken up is put into the stock, and being put into it, becomes one with it, so that they are united; even so in the spiritual ingrafting, Christ apprehends the sinner, and the sinner, being apprehended of Christ, apprehends him, and so they become one, Phil. iii. 12.
First, Christ apprehends the sinner by his Spirit, and draws him to himself, 1 Cor. xii. 13, “For by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body.”The same Spirit which is in the Mediator himself, he communicates to his elect in due time, never to depart from them, but to abide in them as a principle of life. The soul is now in the hands of the Lord of life, and possessed by the Spirit of life; how can it then but live? The man gets a ravishing sight of Christ’s excellence in the glass of the gospel: he sees him a full, suitable, and willing Saviour; and gets a heart to take him for and instead of all. The Spirit of faith furnishes him feet to come to Christ, and hands to receive him. What by nature he could not do, by grace he can, the Holy Spirit working in him the work of faith with power.
Secondly, The sinner, thus apprehended, apprehends Christ by faith, and is one with the blessed stock, Eph. iii. 17, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”The soul that before tried many ways of escape, but all in vain, now looks with the eye of faith, which proves the healing look. As Aaron’s rod, laid up in the tabernacle, budded, and brought forth buds, Numb. xvii. 8; so the dead breach, apprehended by the Lord of life, put into, and bound up with the glorious quickening stock, by the Spirit of life buds forth in actual believing on Jesus Christ, whereby this union is completed. “We, having the same Spirit of faith—believe, “2 Cor. iv. 13. Thus the stock and the graft are united, Christ and the Christian are married, faith being the soul’s consent to the spiritual marriage covenant, which as it is proposed in the gospel to mankind-sinners indefinitely, so it is demonstrated, attested, and brought home to the man in particular, by the Holy Spirit: and so he, being joined to the Lord, is one Spirit with him. Hereby a believer lives in and for Christ, and Christ lives in and for the believer, Gal. ii. 20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Hos. iii. 3, “Thou shalt not be for another man, so will I also be for thee.”The bonds, then, of this blessed union are, the Spirit on Christ’s part, and faith on the believer’s part.
Now both the souls and bodies of believers are united to Christ. “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit,”1 Cor. vi. 17. The very bodies of believers have this honour put upon them, that they are “the temple of the Holy Ghost,”ver. 19, and “the members of Christ,”ver. 15. When they sleep in the dust, they sleep in Jesus, 1 Thess. iv. 14; and it is in virtue of this union they shall be raised up out of the dust again, Rom. viii. 11,”He shall quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”In token of this mystical union, the church of believers is called by the name of her Head and Husband, 1 Cor. sii. 12, “For as the body is one, and hath many members—so also is Christ.”
Use. From what is said, we may draw the following inferences:
1. The preaching of the law is most necessary. He that would ingraft, must needs use the pruning-knife.—Sinners have many contrivances to keep them from Christ; many things by which they keep their hold of the natural stock; therefore they have need to be closely pursued, and hunted out of their skulking holes, and refuges of lies.
2. That it is the Gospel that crowns the work: “The law makes nothing perfect.”The law lays open the wound, but it is the Gospel that heals it. The law “strips a man, wounds him and leaves him half dead the Gospel “binds up his wounds, pouring in wine and oil,” to heal them. By the law we are broken off, but it is by the Gospel we are taken up and implanted in Christ.
3. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his, “Rom. viii. 9. We are told of a monster in nature, having two bodies differently animated, as appeared from contrary affections at one and the same time; but so united, that they were served with the self-same legs. Even so, however men may cleave to Christ, “call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel,” Isa xlviii. 2, and may be bound up as branches in him, John xv. 2, by the outward ties of sacraments; yet if the Spirit that dwells in Christ, dwell not in them, they are not one with him. There is a great difference between adhesion and ingrafting. The ivy clasps and twists itself about the oak, but it is not one with it, for it still grows on its own root: so, to allude to Isa. iv. 1, many professors “take hold” of Christ, “and eat their own bread, and wear their own apparel, only they are called by his name.” They stay themselves upon him, but grow upon their own root: they take them to support their hopes, but their delights are elsewhere.
4. The union between Christ and his mystical members is firm and indissoluble. Were it so that the believer only apprehended Christ, but Christ apprehended not him, we could promise little as the stability of such a union; it might quickly be dissolved: but as the believer apprehends Christ by faith, so Christ apprehends him by his Spirit, and none shall pluck him out of his hand.—Did the child only keep hold of the nurse, it might at length grow weary, and let go its hold, and so fall away: but if she have her arms about the child, it is in no hazard of falling away, even though it be not actually holding by her. So, whatever sinful intermissions may happen in the exercise of faith; yet the union remains sure, by reason of the constant indwelling of the spirit. Blessed Jesus! “All his saints are in thy hand, “Deut. xxxiii. 3. It is observed by some that the word Abba, is the same whether you read it forward or backward: whatever the believer’s case be, the Lord is still to him, Abba, Father.
5. They have an unsafe hold of Christ, whom he has not apprehended by his Spirit. There are many half marriages here, where the soul apprehends Christ, but is not apprehended of him. Hence, many fall away, and never rise again; they let go their hold of Christ; and when that is gone, all is gone. These are “the branches in Christ that bear not fruit, which the husbandman taketh away,”John xv. 2. Question. How can that be? Answer. These branches are set in the stock by a profession, or an unsound hypocritical faith; they are bound up with it, in the external use of the sacraments; but the stock and they are never knit; therefore they cannot bear fruit. And they need not be cut off, nor broken off; they are by the Husbandman only taken away; or, as the word primarily signifies, lifted up, and so taken away, because there is nothing to hold them; they are indeed bound up with the stock, but were never united to it.
Question. How shall I know if I am apprehended of Christ? Answer. You may be satisfied in this inquiry, if you consider and apply these two things:
1. When Christ apprehends a man by his Spirit, he is so drawn, that he comes away to Christ, with his whole heart: for true believing is believing with all the heart, Acts viii. 37. Our Lord’s followers are like those who followed Saul at first, men whose hearts God has touched, 1 Sam. x. 26. When the Spirit pours in overcoming grace, they pour out their hearts like water before him, Psalm lxii. 8. They flow onto him like a river, Isa.ii. 2, “All nations shall flow unto it,” namely, to the “mountain of the Lord’s house.” It denotes not only the abundance of converts, but the disposition of their souls in coming to Christ; they come heartily and freely, as drawn with loving-kindness, Jer. xxxi. 3, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,”Psalm cx. 3, that is, free, ready, open-hearted, giving themselves to thee as free-will offering. When the bridegroom has the bride’s heart, it is a right marriage: but some give their hand to Christ, who give him not their heart. They that are only driven to Christ by terror, will surely leave him again when that terror is gone. Terror may break a heart of stone, but the pieces into which it is broken still continue to be stone: terrors cannot soften it into a heart of flesh. Yet terrors may begin the work which love crowns. The strong wind, and the earthquake, and the fire going before; the still small voice, in which the Lord is, may come after them. When the blessed Jesus is seeking sinners to match with him, they are bold and perverse: they will not speak with him, till he has wounded them, made them captives, and bound them with the cords of death. When this is done, then it is that he comes to them, and wins their hearts. The Lord tells us, Hos. ii. 16—20, that is chosen Israel shall be married unto himself. But how will the bride’s consent be won? Why, in the first place, he will bring her into the wilderness, as he did the people when he brought them out of Egypt, ver. 14. There she will be hardly dealt with, scorched with thirst, and bitten of serpents: and then he will speak comfortably to her; or, as the expression is, he will speak unto her heart. The sinner is first driven, and then drawn unto Christ. It is with the soul as with Noah’s dove, she was forced back again to the ark, because she could find nothing else to rest upon: but when she returned, she would have rested on the outside of it, if Noah had not “put forth his hand and pulled her in,”Gen. viii. 9. The Lord sends his avenger of blood in pursuit of the criminal, who with a sad heart leaves his own city, and with tears in his eyes parts with his old acquaintances, because he dare not stay with them, and he flees for his life to the city of refuge. This is not all his choice, it is forced work; necessity has now law. But when he conies to the gates, and sees the beauty of the place, the excellency and loveliness of it charm him; and then he enters it with heart and good-will, saying, “This is my rest, and here I will stay and, as one said in another case, “I had perished.”
2. When Christ apprehends a soul, the heart is disengaged from, and turned against sin. As in cutting off the branch from the old stock, the great idol self is brought down, the man is powerfully taught to deny himself; so, in apprehending the sinner by the Spirit, that union is dissolved which was between the man and his lusts, while he was in the flesh, as the apostle expresses it, Rom. vii. 5. His heart is loosened from them, though formerly as dear to him as the members of his body; as his eyes, legs, or arms; and, instead of taking pleasure in them as before, he longs to be rid of them. When the Lord Jesus comes to a soul, in the day of converting grace, he finds it like Jerusalem, in the day of her nativity, Ezek. xvi. 4, drawing its fulsome nourishment and satisfaction from its lusts: but he cuts off this communication, that he may impart to the soul his own consolations, and give it rest in himself. And thus the Lord wounds the head and heart of sin, and the soul comes to him, saying, “Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit,” Jer. xvi. 19.