UNION or, a TREATISE
of the Consanguinity and Affinity Between
CHRIST and his CHURCH
by James Relly
For as the Body is one, and hath many Members, and all the Members of that one Body being many, are one Body: So also is Christ. I Cor. xii. 12.
Providence: Re-printed and Sold by John Carter, at the Post-Office, near the State-House. 1782.
I would now consider the objections generally made unto the grace of Union, and endeavour to give them satisfactory answers.
The old trite objection of its tending unto licentiousness leads the way, saying, if Union with Christ is the ground of our acceptance with God, and our security in his favour, then the doctrine of rewards and punishments is overthrown, and man hath nothing left to stimulate him to virtue.
But the obedience of fear is diametrically opposite unto the obedience of faith: The former has its rite and maintenance from a lie, from that habit and principle which makes God a liar, by not believing the record which he hath given of his Son; but the latter springs from a belief of the truth, from a full persuasion of the love of God, and of his being reconciled in Christ Jesus. The former is doing evil, that good may come: For where the fear of punishment is judged necessary to obedience, unbelief is established, and authority given to crucify the Son of God afresh, and to put him to open shame, to trample his blood under foot, and count it an unholy thing; for all this is tacitly taught, in the fear of punishment as necessary unto obedience; and yet this manifest antichristian policy is generally taught by those conscience directors, who seek themselves, and not Christ Jesus the Lord: They very well know that ignorance, unbelief and fear, are the nerves of implicit obedience unto their doctrines and traditions. But that such an obedience is far from being compsensate for the despite done thereby to the spirit of grace, and dishonor to the crucified one, they shall sooner or later know, when all their works shall be burnt up, and they shall suffer loss. But the obedience of faith is genuine, free from artifice, without fear, dependent on the perfect amity of God; yea consists in a constant persuasion of and rejoicing in this truth, that Jesus Christ the Son of God died upon a cross, and rose again from the dead, having thereby justified us from every charge once brought against us, and sanctified us us from all out pollutions: To submit unto this, to have the conscience purified through the view and belief of this, yea to have every thought brought in captivity unto this, is the true obedience of faith. And this is so far from being urged by fear, that fear would annihilate it . And so far from having and eye to the reward, that it answers unto that charity which seeketh not its own; but says, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee; or thirsty, and gave thee drink? &c. Therefore that the grace of Union with Christ, and salvation in him, overturneth the doctrine of rewards and punishments, as that which influenceth our lives, it is a truth; but then it only overturns what the scriptures explode, and what reason confesseth mean and selfish, and not the generous disinterested service of love which it declares worthy of the divine Being, and becoming the dignity of man.
Object. But doth not the Scriptures rather establish the doctrine of rewards and punishments, as that which excites to choose the good, and refuse the evil? Is not this their express language, say ye to the righteous it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings; woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him? (Isaiah III. 10, 11) With many other texts of like import.
Answ. Unto the right understanding of the Scriptures, it is necessary to know that they consist of two parts, letter and spirit, or law and gospel; now the letter (or the law) killeth, saith the Apostle — but the spirit (or the gospel) giveth life. And as this is needful to be known, so it is also that we should be able to distinguish one from the other; else how doth it appear that we rightly divine the word of life? If the gospel be considered as God's good sayings, or glad tidings to mankind, we need only consider briefly that state and condition of man, and then what may with any propriety be called glad tidings unto one thus circumstanced, will easily appear. Man is a fallen creature, who breaking the law of his God, incurred the penalty of eternal death; and is so far from having ability to extricate himself, that all the imaginations and thoughts of his heart are continually evil, without wisdom, without strength, there being none righteous, no not one; all being shut up and concluded under sin, they have neither power to will nor to do. Now what can be called glad tidings unto a creature in this condition? Surely nothing short of that which tells him all is given, and that freely, without condition on his part, because he can perform none; without money and without price, because he hath naught wherewith to purchase; and that the grace which redresseth all his grievances, and replenished him with all good, is given him in Christ Jesus, who hath brought this life and all immortality to light by the gospel, by his birth, life, sufferings, death and resurrection; confirming all his blessing and glory unto his Church by the grace of Union: This appears to be the gospel of glad tidings, and is a doctrine with which the scriptures abound.
The law is considered as the very opposite of this; consisting of commands to fulfil its precepts on pain of damnation, of threatenings and curses against all who offend it though but in one point, and never makes any promises of happiness unto mankind but upon the condition of perfect obedience, which is always implied (though not expressed) in every requisite, yea even the most minute, entitling to the inheritance of the promise. The doctrine of rewards and punishments is indeed contained in the law, but then it rewards none but such who fulfil every jot and tittle thereof; and curseth every one who cotninueth not to do all that is written in the book thereof.
The gospel gives us all, without requiring ought of us. But the law, giving us nothing, requires all of us. And this distinguishing them in our scriptures, we appeal from the law unto the gospel: Our authority for so doing is founded on what follows — whatsoever the law saith, it saith unto them that are under it; but Jesus was made of a woman, made under the law, therefore the law speaks unto him, and commands him to perfect obedience. But the law can only curse the sinner; God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, he was made sin for us, Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: The equity of which proceeding appears from the Union subsisting between Christ and his Church, of which I have sufficiently spoken. And thus, considering the whole law fulfilled in Jesus, its precepts obeyed, its penalties endured, he now inherits the promise; and apprehending ourselves to him, united unto him through all his doings and sufferings, his condition and state is ours. And thus standing in him, we can indeed read the law, or the doctrine of rewards and punishments, without fear, becauase the punishment, yea all the threatenings in the book of God, have been executed upon us (as sinners and law-breakers) in him. Hence it is we dare not read the demans of the law unto ourselves, as distinct or separate from the view of our Union and our oneness with him, because we cannot answer them; it being only designed as a ministration of death to slay us to ourselves, and to make us dependent on him. Nor dare we read any one threatening in the scriptures against the sinner and ungodly unto ourselves out of him, because we cannot endure it. And to imagine from any worthiness in ourselves, that we come not under those characters which the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against, and which are so dreadfully threatened in the word, is to be most wretchedly ignorant of the spirituality of God's law, and consequently of the condition of human nature for where the holiness of law is known, it will appear that there is not one obnoxious character in the scriptures which (according to the purity of the law) doth not belong to all makind: Nor can the most upright amongst men in justice deny its belonging unto them. Therefore our exemption from such characters, and from the punishment due unto then, is only by Union with Christ, where his character is upon us before the Father. And according to the consciousness we have of our salvation state standing here, we are free from the fear of present or future punishment; having seen the end of it in Christ Jesus, and therefore are no longer to be influenced thereby. And as to the promised reward, the promises were made unto Abraham, and to his seed; which seed (according to the Apostle) is Christ. It is also to be observed, that previous unto inheriting the promise, there must be a fulfilling of the law, to make it appear that the promises of God are not against the law. Where the promises in general speak unto man, it is unto him as willing, obedient, repentant, fearing the Lord, believing, &c. every which characterism amounts unto what the law demands of man, viz. satisfaction for its dishonor, received by sin that is past, and perfect obedience unto its precepts for the future. And although those requisites are not expressly mentioned in every promise, they are nevertheless implied, otherwise the promises of God would be against the law, which God forbids. Now if the promise only rewards the man whom the law approves of as holy, just and true, it is easy to perceive that Jesus only is the man: For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen. (2 Cor. i. 20.) Therefore the rewards are his; he as the head is crowned with glory, honor, and immortality; whilst every member, by Union with the head, partakes of his honors: Whereas to expect reward for the work of our own hands, would be to set up for ourselves, to act independent of our head, and to refuse him the pre-eminence in all things: But when we give him this, we are neither influenced by the fear of punishment or hope of reward, but by our head, Christ alone, our hearts are in his hand, and committing ourselves with all our concerns unto him, we permit him to guide us, and are passive with him. And certain it is, the more we are delivered from that religion which consists in self-seeking, the less injurious we are in this present world.
Object. Doth not your description of the peson unto whom the promises belong, make salvation conditional, by asserting that the promise rewards none, but such whom the law approves of? This contradicts the Apostles doctrine, by grace ye are saved.
Answ. That God is soverign I grant; but that he saves mankind from meer sovereignty, or arbitrary grace, without having respect unto his law as a transcript of his own perfections, I think I ought to deny: Because he hath pledged his faithfulness and truth unto his law, that the transgressor should be punished; and that it should be established rather than made void, by the faith of the gospel: Whereas the law would be against such promises, as hath no respect unto its justice and purity. But the Lord is well pleased for his righteousness sake, he will magnify the law, and make it honorable (Isaiah xlii. 21.) Again, grace without truth, or salvation without respecting the purity and justice of the law, would be to pour contempt upon the death and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, as not necessary unto salvation; and to make it either meerly accidental, from the rage of his enemies, or at farthest exemplary only, which supposition would overturn and invalidate the testimony of the scriptures concerning his fulfilling all righteousness, enduring the curse of the law, and washing us from our sins by his own blood. Again, to suppose that makind are saved by any new law, consisting of repentance, faith and new obedience, substituting sincerity in the stead of perfection; I say, to suppose this, would be to make God changeable; first giving a law as a rule of righteousness, and a standard whereby to know good and evil, and in process of time giving another upon easier terms, which could not be without a change in his perfections: His nature and perfections being the original of every law given by him to mankind. But I would not multiply words, to confute what hath not the least shadow of reason or foundation in the scriptures: For Jesus says, think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil: For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass till all be fulfilled. (Mat. v. 17, 18.) It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. (Luke xvi. 17.) It is evident that our Saviour means by this law, that which was given upon Sinai; nor did he give any new commandment which was not included in that law, as appears from his testimony elsewhere. But when I assert that the promises are only fulfilled on such whom the law approves of, and that Jesus only was the man thus approved of God, I consider him under the capacity of the second Adam, including the people in himself, who by Union with him inherit the blessing. And though they can upon this consideration claim the forgiveness of sin as an act of justice in God, yet are they saved by grace: Their election in Christ, their Union with him, their eternal life, with all the blessings thereof, was God's purpose and grace given them in Christ Jesus before the world began, according to which grace they are saved. Again, as it was grace that was founded, so was it grace that executed this plan of salvation; we being passive in the hand of grace: When he washed us from our sins in his own blood, when he created us anew, and presented us unto himself a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; we as in him being in passivity, inactive and incapable of merit, makes that to be meer grace unto as as individuals, which unto him, as including makind, was conditional.
Obect. The doctrine of Union with Christ (before faith) and the salvation in him, tends to make faith or believing void; because, if I am united unto Christ, justified, forgiven, and accepted in him before I believe, where is the necessity of believing at all?
Answ. To build without a foundation, is to labor in vain. How shall they believe, except they hear? Saith the Apostle: And what shall they hear, if the truth to be believed hath no existence until it be believed? but having spoken unto this under the articel of Union before faith, I wave it here.
I would only ask, is it from the belief of our Union with Christ, and salvation in him, or from the disbelief thereof, that occasion is taken to live in unbelief, and believing counted unnecessary? Not the latter according to the objection, because to disbelieve a falsehood is negative orthodoxy; and to say it is from the former is the most palpable contradiction, because whosoever believeth that, believeth what the gospel proposes to be believed, therefore the objection of course falls unto the ground.
Every man proposing a system unto his fellow creatures, doth it with a view that they should believe it, be it true or false; so also, when Union with Christ, and salvation in him before they apprehend him, is taught the people, is it not with a view that they should believe it, and believing rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory? It certainly is; and therefore is not designed to keep them in unbelief. Again, it is the word of God whereby faith comes; the declaration, even unto unbelievers, of their warfare accomplished, and their iniquities pardoned, as well attested in the scriptures, hath certainly a more genuine tendency to produce faith and confidence in God, than to tell them if they will believe &c. they shall be justified, their sins be expiated and forgiven. However smoothly and artfully this may be worded, it is impossible to free it from the idea of condition, and what is yet worse, such a condition as man hath neither wisdom, will nor power to fulfil, yea it is still in effect to preach the law. Believe and thou shall be saved, is certainly familiar unto do this and live; Man himself being as capable of doing one as the other. When mankind are taught that their eternal salvation depends upon believing (and what is yet more strange, believing a matter which is not fact until believed) it is natural for every man, whose conscience is alarmed to attempt it; but the more he endeavours the farther he is off, like rowing against a violent stream: the dread of coming short through unbelief, and his weakness and utter incapacity to believe, rushes upon him like a torrent, bears him back with violence, until discouraged and enervated he sinks overwhelmed with fear and bondage. Indeed where believing is only respected as a bare assent unto a proposition, mankind may with some shadow of reason talk of their abilities, and of the easiness of their condition, pretending that it is an instance of the richest, freest grace, where salvation is promised upon believing. But it is not always practicable with a mind that is in earnest, to assent unto a human proposition without demonstration; much less respecting divine things, because the difficulty in believing increases in proportion to the magnitude and concernment of the matter believed, which difficulty is owing unto the propensity of human nature, to an evil heart of unbelief, unto the remoteness of heavenly things from our natural ideas, and their contrariety unto our senses. Believe and thou shalt be saved (equal to any other law-precept) when enforced upon the mind of man, generating with his weakness, begets unbelief and fear, but never produceth faith: That comes only by the word of life, that word which bringeth salvation, which preaches peace by Jesus Christ, declaring him as made of God unto us, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, that whosoever glorieth should glory in the Lord. The belief of the truth cometh by hearing of its perfection, reality and immutability, of our being saved in him with an everlasting salvation, of his being such an high-priest as becometh us; in brief, our oneness with him, and indisputable right from thence to consider ourselves according unto him, as our head and husband. This whilst men are not put upon believing, in order to save themselves, but are taught calmly to hear the word that bringeth salvation, they, according to the power of the Holy Ghost, either instantaneously or gradually credit the report, and consequently enter into the belief of the truth, without their once attempting to believe, or troubling or perplexing themselves about it. Whilst such who are more concerned about their believing than the truth of Christ, are distressed under the difficulty, yea the impossibility of their performing it, when they have exerted themselves to the ustmost. Therefore as the doctrine of Union with Christ (before faith) and salvation in him, appear in this light, viz. the word by which faith cometh, nothing is more notorious than the unreasonableness of the objection that it makes void faith.
Object. But doth not such an Union with Christ destroy his pre-eminence, tending to exaly man, to the degrading of Christ?
Answ. By no means, it rather establisheth his pre-eminence; where the people as the members, by Union with him the head, are chosen, beloved, called, saved and accepted of God. They receive no honor, grace or blessing, but by him; and being apprised of this, he is all their hope and salvation. They look unto the Father by him, nor dare they at any time approach him, but in him. He hath done all, suffered all, and obtained all. But the glory which he hath received he freely gives unto them; whilst they confess him their head and Saviour, and as such they honor him, and eternally give him praise. Christ in his office capacity answers unto the idea of the human body, which being one, is composed of many members: The church being his body, is composed of many people, of which he himself is a member, viz., the head, the pre-eminent and most highly exalted, upon whom all the members are dependent for honor — the head only wearing the crown; for unction, the head only was anointed; for all blessings, the head only receives them immediately from God, being always the medium between him and the body, and appointed to guide, influence and nourish it. Every member brings its tribute whilst the head is not ashamed to call them brethren. The more highly they perceive themselves exalted, the more glorious end eminent the head appears before them; forasmuch as through all exaltations, in time and eternity, a just and proportionable distinction is kept up and maintained between the head and members, in dignity, beauty and glory, and this all the members must know, when influenced by their head, therefore the doctrine of Union with Christ doth not destroy his pre-eminence, nor exalt mankind unto his dishonor.
Object. But doth not the doctrine of Union, which supposes Christ to suffer under the character of the sinner, contradict the Apostle? who saith, Christ also hath once suffered for sin, the just for the unjust . (1 Pet. iii. 18.)
Answ. To intimate that Jesus was a sinner, in thought, word, or deed, is what I never intended, but would abhor the thought as highly blasphemous; nay the prince of this world, when he came, having nothing in him, was therefore constrained to appear in visible form, and tempt him by his outward senses. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, made higher than the heavens; this was his proper, personal, individual character, and in this sense the Apostle is to be understood speaking, when he saith the just died for the unjust. But then we are told by another Apostle, that he (viz. God) hath made him sin for us, who knew not sin; (2 Cor. v. 21.) from which it appears that he, who in his individual character was sinless, was yet notwithstanding as the head and representative of the Church made sin, yea made a curse for us; and under that character to man's offence. And this accounting of him as a sinner, in the eye of justice, as it was equitable, so it was not from any personal guile, for he knew no sin; but from his Union unto the sinful people, which rendered the punishment of their sin upon him an act of divine and strict justice. Thus it appears that the doctrine of Union, which represents Jesus suffering under the character of the sinner, doth not suppose him such in his own particular person; nay strongly witnesseth the contrary, and respects him only thus by such an imputation as (considered on the article on Union) is just and true, with God and man.