Week 6 of 8 in Bunyan: Rightly Appraising Union With Christ

I was delighted again to discover Bunyan’s esteem for the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ in this week’s assignment (paragraphs 215-253 of Grace Abounding), in paragraph 233:

Further, the Lord did also lead me into the mystery of union with the Son of God, that I was joined to Him, that I was flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone, and now was that a sweet word to me in Eph. 5.30. By this also was my faith in Him, as my righteousness, the more confirmed to me; for if He and I were one, then His righteousness was mine, His merits mine, His victory also mine. Now could I see myself in heaven and earth at once; in heaven by my Christ, by my head, by my righteousness and life, though on earth by my body or person.

Bunyan, like every believer, found no peace of conscience until he was assured that he was indeed a recipient of the grace of Christ. He started gaining his footing with John 6:37 (paragraph 215) after his protracted, twelve month season of despair during which he thought himself guilty of the unpardonable sin. But, surprisingly enough, the passage that afforded him the most assurance was Joshua 20 in regard to the terms of entry into the city of refuge (paragraphs 219-222). Bunyan’s pilgrimage is an illustration of Martin Luther’s observation that “The heart of religion lies in its personal pronouns.” That is, in the reality of being able to say truly that the Lord is my God.  Or, as Calvin put it (Institutes, 3.1.1, online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.ii.html, emphasis added):

We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him. And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that we enjoy Christ and all his blessings.

Calvin went on to define saving faith to include a “sure knowledge” of God’s benevolence towards us (3.2.7, available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.iii.html, emphasis added):

We shall now have a full definition of faith if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.

I encourage you again, as I did in this past week’s Midweek Rambling (previous post), to listen to the talk Dr. Derek Thomas gave on union with Christ as you have opportunity (http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9111491210).

Reformed confessions and catechisms include several references to the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ (see WSC Q30; WLC Q66; HC Q1 & Q54), and hymnody abounds with them. I leave you with the first stanza from the hymn Loved with Everlasting Love as a prime example:

Loved with everlasting love,

Led by grace that love to know;

Spirit, breathing from above,

Thou hast taught me it is so.

Oh, this full and perfect peace!

Oh, this transport all divine!

In a love which cannot cease,

I am His, and He is mine.

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