Personal Grace

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
~ John 14:23

He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
~ John 6:56

A Prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
~ Psalm 90:1

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
~ Romans 8:9-11

Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
~ 1 John 2:24

Personal Grace in Communion with the Lord Christ, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “Communion With God”.

Part 2. Communion With the Son Jesus Christ.

Chapter 3. Personal grace in communion with the Lord Christ –

(2.) The next thing to consider is the way we hold communion with the Lord Christ, in regard to that personal grace we spoke of. This is what the Scripture reveals to be a conjugal relationship. He is married to us, and we are married to him. This spiritual relationship is attended by suitable conjugal affections. And this is what gives us fellowship with him in his personal excellence.

The spouse expresses this in Cant. 2:16, “My Beloved is mine, and I am his.” She is saying, “He is mine. I possess him. I have interest in him as my head and my husband; and I am his, possessed by him, owned by him, and given up to him. We are in a conjugal relationship.”

In Isa. 54:5, “Your Maker is your husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; he will be called the God of the whole earth.” This is the reason why the church will not be ashamed or confounded in the midst of her troubles and trials. She is married to her Maker, and her Redeemer is her husband. In Isaiah 61:10, the prophet sets out the mutual glory of Christ and his church in their walk together. He says it is “as a bridegroom dresses himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels.” Such is their condition, because such is their relationship. He further expresses this in chap. 62:5, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” As it is with a couple on the day of their espousals, in the gladness of their hearts, so it is with Christ and his saints in this relationship. He is a husband to them, providing for them according to the estate into which he has taken them.

To this end we have his faithful engagement promise in Hos. 2:19, 20. “I will betroth you to me forever; yea, I will betroth you to me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness.” This is the main design of the ministry of the gospel. It is to prevail with men to give themselves up to the Lord Christ as he reveals his kindness in this engagement. Hence, Paul tells the Corinthians that he “espoused them to one husband, that he might present them as a chaste virgin to Christ,” 2Cor.11:2. He prevailed with them for this purpose by preaching the gospel, so that they would give up themselves as a virgin to the one who betrothed them to himself as a husband.This is a relationship in which the Lord Jesus exceedingly delights. He invites others to behold him in his glory. Cant. 3:14, “Go forth, O you daughters of Jerusalem, and behold King Solomon with the crown that his mother crowned him with on the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.” He calls the daughters of Jerusalem (i.e. all sorts of professors of Christ) to consider him as he betroths his church. When they do, he tells them that they will discover two things about him:

1. Honor. It is the day of his coronation, and his spouse is the crown with which he is crowned. As Christ is a diadem of beauty, and a crown of glory to Zion, Isa. 28:5, so Zion is also a diadem and a crown to him, Isa. 62:3. Christ makes this relationship with his saints his glory and his honor.

2. Delight. The day of his espousals, of taking poor sinful souls into his heart, is a day of gladness in his heart. John was only the friend of the Bridegroom. He stood and heard Christ’s voice when he was taking his bride to himself; and yet he rejoiced greatly, John 3:29. How much more, then, is the joy and gladness of the Bridegroom himself! Zeph. 3:17, “He rejoices with joy, he joys with singing.”

The gladness of Christ’s heart, the joy of his soul, is to take poor sinners into this relationship with him. He rejoiced in thoughts of it from eternity, Prov. 8:31, and he always expresses the greatest willingness to undergo the hard task required to do that, Ps. 40:7, 8; Heb. 10:7. He was pained like a woman in childbirth until he accomplished it, Luke 12:50. Because he loved his church, he gave himself for it, Eph. 5:25. He despised the shame, and endured the cross, Heb. 12:2. He did this so that he might enjoy his bride, that he might be for her, and she for him, and not for another, Hos. 3:3. This is joy: when his mother crowns him. Believers are the mother and brother of this Solomon, Matt. 12:49-50. They crown him on the day of his espousals, giving themselves to him, and becoming his glory, 2 Cor. 8:23.

He sets out his whole communion with his church under this frequent allusion to marriage. He takes the church to himself on the day of his marriage; the church is his bride, his wife, Rev. 19:7, 8. The entertainment he provides for his saints is a wedding supper, Matt. 22:3. The graces of his church are the adornments of his queen, Ps. 45:9-14. And the fellowship he has with his saints is the same as that between mutually beloved spouses in a conjugal relationship, Cant. 1. Hence Paul, in describing these two communal relationships, makes sudden and subtle transitions from the earthly to the spiritual in Eph.5, from verse 22 to verse 32. He concludes by applying this relationship to Christ and the church.

The next inquiry is how we hold communion in these conjugal relationships and affections, and what they consist of. In this, there are some things common to Christ and the saints, and some things unique to each, as the nature of this relationship requires. These fall into two parts: committing themselves to one another, and their consequential, conjugal affections for one another.

(1.) There is a mutual commitment to one another.

This is the first act of communion under the personal grace of Christ. Christ makes the soul his, with all the love, care, and tenderness of a husband; and the soul gives itself wholly to the Lord Christ, to be his with all the loving, tender obedience required. In this we see the main part of the espousals between Christ and the saints. This is presented in a parable of himself and a harlot in Hos. 3:3. “You shall abide for me;” he says to her. “You shall not be for another, and I will be for you.” “Poor harlot.” The Lord Christ says in effect, “I have bought you for myself with the price of my own blood; and now, this is what we will consent to: I will be for you, and you shall be for me, and not for another.

(2) There is consequential affection for one another.

(1st). Christ gives himself to the soul, with all his excellence, righteousness, preciousness, graces, and eminence. He does so to be its Savior, head, and husband, and to dwell with it forever in this holy relationship. He looks upon the souls of his saints, likes them well, and considers them fair and beautiful, because he has made them so. Cant. 1:15, “Behold, you are fair, my companion; behold, you are fair; you have doves’ eyes.” Let others think what they please, Christ repeats that the souls of his saints are very beautiful, even perfect, through his own attractiveness that he puts upon them. Ezek. 16:14, “Behold, you are fair, you are fair.” He remarks in particular that their spiritual light is excellent and glorious, like the eyes of a dove. It is tender, discerning, clear, and shining. Therefore, he adds a touching wish to enjoy his spouse. Cant. 2:14, “O my dove,” he pleads, “that is in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see your countenance, and let me hear your voice. For your voice is sweet, and your countenance is attractive;” He is telling her, “Do not hide yourself like one that flies to the clefts of the rocks. Do not be dejected, like one that hides behind the stairs, and is afraid to enter the company of someone who asks for her. Do not let your spirit be cast down at the weakness of your supplications. Let me hear your sighs and groans, your breathing and pantings to me. They are very sweet, very delightful. Your spiritual countenance, your appearance in heavenly things, is attractive and delightful to me.” Nor does he leave her this way. In chap. 4:8 he presses her hard to come closer to him in this conjugal bond: “Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse… Look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Herman, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards.” He is telling her, “Like the Israelites of old, you are wandering among lions and leopards, sins and troubles; come away from there to me, and I will give you refreshment,” Matt. 11:28.

At this invitation, the spouse boldly concludes in Cant. 7:10, that Christ desires her, that he does indeed love her, and that he aims to take her into this fellowship with him. So, in pursuing this union, Christ freely bestows himself upon the soul. Precious and excellent as he is, he becomes ours. He makes himself ours, along with all his graces. Hence, the spouse says, “‘My Beloved is mine; in all that he is, he is mine.” Because he is righteousness, he is “The LORD our Righteousness,” Jer. 23:6. Because he is the wisdom of God, and the power of God, he is “made wisdom to us…,” 1 Cor. 1:30. Thus, “the branch of the LORD is beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth is excellent and attractive for those of Israel who escape,” Isa. 4:2. This is the first thing done on the part of Christ. He freely donates himself to be our Christ, our Beloved, for all the purposes of love, mercy, grace, and glory. To this end, his mediation is designed for a marriage covenant that is never to be broken. In summation, the Lord Jesus Christ is fitted and prepared to be a husband to his saints, his church. This is accomplished by his being equipped as mediator, and by his large purchase of grace and glory. He tenders himself to the saints in the promises of the gospel, and in all of his desirability. He convinces them of his good will towards them, and his all-sufficiency to supply their wants. Upon consenting to accept him, which is all he requires or expects from them, he engages himself to be theirs forever in a marriage covenant.

(2ndly) What is required on the part of the saints is their free, willing consent to receive, embrace, and submit to the Lord Jesus as their husband, Lord, and Savior. They are to abide with him, subject their souls to him, and be ruled by him forever. This commitment is either initial, solemn consent when they are first united to Christ, or it is consequential consent, reflected in renewed acts of consent all of their days. I speak of it especially in this ongoing sense that applies to communion, rather than a single event which primarily applies to union.

There are two things that complete this commitment of the soul:

(1.) Commitment means liking Christ for his excellence, grace, and suitability far above all other beloveds. It means preferring him in our judgment above all of them. In Cant. 5:9, the spouse is earnestly pressed by other professors of Christ, to give her thoughts concerning the excellence of her Beloved compared to other loves. She expressly answers that he is “the chief of ten thousand,” 5:10, “altogether lovely,” 5:16. He is infinitely beyond comparison with the choicest created good or affection imaginable. The soul views all that is in this world “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” and sees that it is all vanity. “The world passes away, and the lust of it,” 1 John 2:16, 17. These other loves are not to be compared to Christ in any way. The soul also views legal righteousness, blamelessness before men, living uprightly, and duties of conviction; it draws the same conclusion that Paul did in Phil. 3:8, “Doubtless, I count all these things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” The church does the same in Hos. 14:3. It rejects all appearing assistance, whether as good as Asshur or as promising as idols, so that God alone may be preferred. This is our introduction to conjugal communion with Jesus Christ in personal grace. It means constantly preferring him above all pretenders to our affections. It is counting everything loss and dung in comparison to him. Beloved peace, beloved natural relationships, beloved wisdom and learning, beloved righteousness, and beloved duties are all considered loss when compared with Christ.

(2.) Commitment means accepting Christ, by an act of the will, as our only husband, Lord, and Savior. This is called “receiving” Christ, John 1:12. It is not only the solemn act by which we first close with him, but the constant frame of mind to abide with him, and own him as our husband, Lord and Savior. We consent to take Christ on his own terms, and to be saved by him in his own way. We say, “Lord, I would have taken you and salvation in my own way, so that I might have attained it in part by my own endeavors and works of the law. I am now willing to receive you and be saved by you in your way, which is merely by grace. Though I would have walked according to my own mind, I now give myself up to be entirely ruled by your Spirit. In you have I righteousness and strength. In you I am justified. And in you I glory.” Then we are carrying on communion with Christ in the grace of his person. This is receiving the Lord Jesus in his attractiveness and eminence. Believers should exercise their hearts in this commitment abundantly. This is having choice communion with the Son Jesus Christ. Let us receive him in all his excellence as he bestows himself on us. We should be frequent in our thoughts of faith, comparing him with our other beloveds, with sin, the world, and legal righteousness. We should prefer him above all of those things, counting them loss and dung by comparison. We should be persuaded of his sincerity, of his willingness to give himself up for us, and of all that he is as our mediator. Let us give our hearts to him. Let us tell him that we will be for him, and not for another. Let him know it from us. He delights to hear it. In fact, he says, “Sweet is our voice, and our countenance is attractive” (Cant.2:14). We will not fail to receive sweet refreshment from him.

I will now turn aside to a fuller description of some of the personal excellences of the Lord Christ, which endear the hearts of his saints to him. These strengthen our hearts in committing ourselves to the Lord Christ as our husband, and they make way for stirring up those consequential conjugal affections that were mentioned earlier.

1. He is exceedingly excellent and desirable in his Deity and glory. He is “Jehovah our Righteousness,” Jer. 23:6. It is the reason for Zion’s rejoicing at his coming to her, “Behold your God!” Isa. 40:9. “We have seen his glory,” says the apostle. What glory is that? “The glory of the only-begotten Son of God,” John 1:14. The best of the saints have been afraid and amazed at the beauty of an angel. The stoutest sinners have trembled at the glory of one of these creatures that present only the back parts of their glory. Yet angels themselves cover their faces at the presence of our Beloved. They are conscious of their utter disability to bear the rays of his glory, Isa. 6:2; John 12:39-41. He is “the fellow of the Lord of hosts,” Zech. 13:7. Though he once appeared in the form of a servant, yet “he thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” Phil. 2:6. In the glory of this majesty, he dwells in inaccessible light. We “cannot find out the extent of the Almighty by searching: it is as high as heaven; what can we do? It is deeper than hell; what can we know? The measure of it is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea,” Job 11:79. We may all say to one another, “Surely we are more brutish than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. We neither learned wisdom, nor did we have the knowledge of the holy. Who has ascended up into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if you can tell,” Prov. 30:2-4.

If anyone should ask, as did those in the Canticles, what is in the Lord Jesus, our beloved, more than in other beloveds, that makes him so desirable, and amiable, and worthy of acceptance? What is he more than others? Then I will ask in return, “What is a king more than a beggar?” He is much more in every way; and yet there is nothing more. The king and beggar were born alike, and must die alike; after that is the judgment. “What is an angel more than a worm?” A worm is a creature, and an angel is a creature; God has made the one to creep in the earth, and the other to dwell in heaven. There is still a difference in extent between them. They may agree in some things, but compared to the infinite they are nothing. And what are all the nothings of the world to the God who is infinitely blessed forevermore? Will the dust in the balance, or the drop in the bucket, be placed in the scale against Christ? This is the one whom the sinners in Zion are afraid of, and who cry, “Who among us will dwell with the devouring fire, who among us will dwell with everlasting burnings?” I might give you a glimpse of his excellence in many of those properties and attributes by which he reveals himself to the faith of poor sinners. But it would be like someone who goes into a garden where there are innumerable flowers in great variety. He cannot take in all he sees, except one crop here and another there. I will try to open a door and give an inlet to the infinite excellence of the graces of the Lord Jesus as he is, “God blessed forevermore.” I will present the reader with one or two examples, leaving him to gather whatever else he pleases for his own use.

So then, observe the endless, bottomless, boundless grace and compassion that is in the one who is our husband, as he is the God of Zion. All the grace that can possibly dwell at once in a created nature cannot serve our need. We are too indigent to be suited with such a supply. There was a fullness of grace in the human nature of Christ. He did not receive “the Spirit by measure,” John 3:34. It was a fullness like that of the light in the sun, or of the water in the sea as far as its sufficiency. It was a fullness incomparably above the measure of angels. Yet it was not properly an infinite fullness. It was a created, and therefore a limited fullness. If this grace could be separated from the Deity, then surely so many thirsty, guilty souls who drink deep and large draughts of grace and mercy from him every day, would drain him to the very bottom. It would be no supply at all, except in a moral way. But when the conduit of his humanity is inseparably united to the infinite, inexhaustible fountain of the Deity, who can look into its depths? If there is grace enough for sinners in an all-sufficient God, then it is in Christ. Indeed, there cannot be enough in anyone else. The Lord gives this reason for the peace and confidence of sinners in Isa. 54:4-5, “You shall not be ashamed, neither be you confounded; for you shall not be put to shame.” But how will this be? So much sin, and not ashamed! So much guilt, and not confounded! “Your Maker,” he says, “is your husband; the LORD of hosts is his
name; and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; he will be called the God of the whole earth.” This is the basis of all peace, confidence, and consolation. This is the grace and mercy of our Maker, the God of the whole earth. Kindness and power are so tempered in him that he makes us, and he mars us he is our God and our Goel (OT:1350), our Redeemer. “Look to me,” he says, “and you will be saved; for I am God, and none else,” Isa. 45:22, “Surely, one will say, ‘In the LORD I have righteousness’” verse 24.

It is on this ground that all the world should prepare to drink free grace, mercy, and pardon, drawing water continually from the wells of salvation. They should be prepared to draw from one single promise, which is an angel standing by crying, “Drink, O my friends. Drink abundantly. Take enough grace and pardon to suffice for the world of sin which is in every one of you.” They would not be able to deplete the grace of the promise one hair’s breadth. There is enough for millions of worlds, if they existed, because it flows from an infinite, bottomless fountain. “Fear not, O worm Jacob: I am God, and not man.” This is the basis of sinners’ consolation. This is that “head of gold” mentioned in Cant. 5:11, that most precious fountain of grace and mercy. This infinite grace, as to its spring and fountain, will answer all objections that might hinder us from drawing close to communion with him, and from freely embracing him. Will it not suit us in all our distress? What is our finite guilt before it? Show me the sinner that can spread his iniquities to the same dimensions of this grace. Here is mercy enough for the greatest, the oldest, and the stubbornest transgressor. “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” Beware those who would rob you of the Deity of Christ. If grace for me was limited to what can be stored in a mere man, then I would rejoice to be under rocks and mountains (Rev.6:16).

Hence, consider his eternal, free, unchangeable love. If the love of Christ for us were the love of a mere man, however excellent, innocent, and glorious, then it must have a beginning and an ending, and perhaps it would be fruitless. The love of Christ in his human nature towards his own is exceeding, intense, tender, precious, compassionate, abundantly heightened by a sense of our miseries, the feeling of our wants, and the experience of our temptations. It all flows from that rich stock of grace, pity, and compassion, which was bestowed on him on purpose, for our good and our supply. Yet this love, as such, cannot be infinite or eternal, nor from itself can it be absolutely unchangeable. If it were it no more than this, though it is not to be paralleled or fathomed, our Savior could not say, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” John 15:9. His love could not be compared with the divine love of the Father in those properties of eternity, fruitfulness, and unchangeableness, which are the chief anchors of the soul. Instead, his love is:

(1.) Eternal: “Come near to me and hear this. I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from that time, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, has sent me,” Isa. 48:16. He is himself “yesterday, today, and forever,” Heb. 13:8; and so is his love. It is the love of the one who is “Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the ending, which is, was, and is to come,” Rev. 1:11.

(2.) Unchangeable. Our love is a reflection of ourselves as we are, and so are all our affections. The love of Christ is also a reflection of himself. We love someone one day, and hate him the next. He changes, and we also change. Today he is our right hand, our right eye; the next day we say, “Cut him off, pluck him out.” But Jesus Christ is still the same, and so is his love. “In the beginning he laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of his hands; they will perish, but he remains, they all will wax old like a garment; and he will fold them up like a garment. They will be changed, but he is the same, and his years do not fail,” Heb. 1:10-12. He is the LORD, and he changes not. Therefore we are not consumed. Whom he loves, he loves to the end. His love never had a beginning, and it will never have an ending.

(3.) Fruitful. It is fruitful in all its gracious issues and effects. A man may love another like he loves his own soul, yet perhaps that love cannot help the other. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him; he may bemoan him in misery, but not help him; he may suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor can we love mercy into a friend. We cannot love them into heaven, even though it may be the great desire of our soul. It was love that made Abraham cry, “O that Ishmael might live before you!” but it may not be. But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effectual and fruitful in producing all the good things that he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace, and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, and he loves us into heaven. Love in him is willing good to someone. And whatever good Christ wills for someone by his love, his willingness effects that good.

These three qualifications make the love of Christ exceedingly eminent, and they make him exceedingly desirable. How many millions of sins has this love overcome in every one of the elect, each one enough to condemn them all! What mountains of unbelief has it removed! Look at the life of any one saint, consider the frame of his heart, see the many stains and spots, the defilements and infirmities that contaminate it, and tell me whether the love that bears with all this is not to be admired. And is his love not the same towards thousands every day? What streams of grace, purging, pardoning, quickening, assisting, flow from it every day! This is our Beloved, O you daughters of Jerusalem.