A MAN must be in Christ before he can abide in Him. There must be a standing in Christ before the believer can be said to stand fast in the Lord Jesus. All real communion is founded in vital union. Many are only nominally united to Christ: there is nothing beyond the outward show and appearance. The only thing that unites such branches to the vine is, as Berridge expresses it, "the thread of profession". This can never give life: no sap is derived from the root, consequently no genuine fruit is ever produced from that kind of union.
But there is a true, vital, lasting union between Christ and those branches which the Father hath grafted into Him: such derive life and sap from Christ the root, and bear fruit in Him. Thus "the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit", as Solomon says.
This union is sometimes described as a building. Christ is the foundation, they the superstructure; living stones resting all their weight on Him. By the human body; He the Head, they the members deriving all their life and light, counsel and direction, from Him. It is also set forth under the figure of marriage. See Romans 7:1-4. The whole human race are by nature wedded to the law, and as sinners bound fast by it. They are alive to that husband, but in a state of perfect ignorance as to its real nature and extent of its demands. They are alive without the law, and sin is dead in respect to any spiritual knowledge or perception of its nature, guilt, filth, pollution, and power in and over them. But when the commandment comes home with its broad requirements, its cutting reproofs and killing authority, then sin revives and the soul made sensible of its awful situation, sooner or later dies to all hope of help, succor, or relief, from the law itself or any other quarter whatever, except in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This paves the way for an open and manifest espousal to Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, the best of husbands, the tenderest of all lovers and friends. He is pity and compassion, truth and faithfulness, grace and love, in the very essence of them. The law knows nothing of mercy, it cannot allow the smallest deviation. For one fault, however trivial it may appear to ignorant men who labor to extenuate sin, the law pronounces a dreadful, just, and eternal curse,-it wears an everlasting frown. To convince and condemn is all the legal covenant can do. But Jesus is a husband of a very different stamp. He takes His bride, not by her covenant but His own, the covenant of eternal wedlock, He feels for her infirmities. He knows her sins and sicknesses. He pities her in her griefs, succours her in her temptations and conflicts, for Himself hath borne and felt the same. Having suffered. He has the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to the weary, the afflicted, and the oppressed. He has laid up for His bride a store of endless pardons, He is her daily bread and hourly food.
"Not half so far hath nature placed
The rising morning from the west,
As His forgiving grace removes
The daily guilt of those He loves."
Marriage is the time of rejoicing and gladness. Joy is the usual attendant on such seasons. Such is the case when the believing soul is blest with sensible espousals to Christ Jesus the Lord, and this marriage union is first celebrated and that indissoluble knot tied which all the united powers of earth and hell, of sin and self, can never unloose or dissolve. The law being magnified by the Husband, hath no more threatening or curse for the wife. Justice being fully satisfied, has no payment to exact from the sinner, having obtained all its demands from the surety. Sin is found to be for ever blotted out, and is not even to be remembered against her any more. All transgressions, past, present, and future, are Cast as a stone into the depths of the sea; the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, having made an end of them for ever. The soul rejoices in that love which is from everlasting to everlasting, from which there can be no separation, It is then fully assured of the complete fruition of the Object of its affections, through all the changing vicissitudes of time and the countless ages of eternity.
The fruits of this union must not be overlooked. "Ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God" (Rom. 7:4). The first I shall mention is love. Without this, all religion is tasteless and insipid. Alas, how defective we are here! How faint and cold is our love! Lukewarmness is the epidemic disease of our day. Yet the principle of love is found in every believing soul. Genuine faith always works by love. When the grace of Christ is powerfully tasted, and His love sweetly enjoyed, it will then flow out and burst into a heavenly flame, attended with rejoicing in Him as the head and husband of the church, her Lord, her Saviour, her All in all. This fruit is attended with many others, as humility, meekness, contrition, self-loathing, faith, hope, peace, joy, etc.
By this striking figure, this chaste and elegant similitude of the marriage union and its fruits a numerous and blessed offspring it is also clearly implied that all works, however apparently good and splendid, and extolled by men, if they spring not from the grace of Christ through union to Him, are spurious progeny, illegitimate children, works of iniquity, altogether nothing but sin in God's estimation.
To revert to another figure, the branch being grafted in the true vine, derives much sap therefrom, and fruitfulness is the result. The closer the union and communion, the more sensible and constant the abiding in Him, the more abundant the fruit. In this way God is glorified, and Christ is honored and exalted (John 15:8).
But the branches are in themselves subject to decays, and they will often have to bewail their own barrenness and unfruitfulness. By many painful trials, sore temptations and heavy afflictions, will Jesus show His people that without Him they can do nothing. His intention is to make them more and more simply and entirely depend on Himself, in whom and from whom all their fruit, strength, and comfort, is found. Mere nominal branches are distinguished from genuine ones by this they derive nothing from this blessed vine-stock: they are not tried, exercised, and purified, as the living branches.
It is said: "Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." There is a most wonderful thing unfolded: perfect cleansing by a word. What virtue must there be in Christ! What efficacy in His word, when by it the souls of men as black as sin and Satan can make them, are made whiter than the driven snow! One word from the lips of the God-Man, the least of His secret whispers, washes out every stain of pollution; this will ever be found the case when they are attended by the almighty power of the Holy Spirit. The least sight of Christ is healing, the least touch of Him is saving, though it be but the hem of His garment. Ye poor trembling believers, ye self-lost, self-condemned, self-loathing sinners; ye who know your own sore and grief, who feel the burden of a loathsome body of sin and death; ye who find sin mixing itself with your prayers and confession, your praises and thanksgivings, polluting your thoughts, words, and actions, behold the wondrous efficacy of your Lord's atoning blood, the perfection of His sacrifice! Your God looks not upon you as you are in yourselves, but as complete in Christ. He reckons not with you according to your feelings and fears, the reproaches of your conscience, or the accusations of your enemies. No; He beholds you in the Son of His love, all fair, without spot, wrinkle, blemish, or any such thing! He sees no iniquity in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel, (Numbers 23:21) though Satan may stir the mighty deep of your corruptions, and excite a mutiny of unbelieving thoughts in your breast. God hath reckoned with Christ for all; and though He will chastise as a loving Father for sins, yet they are all blotted out and made an end of for ever. He made Him to be sin who was perfect purity, that you who by nature are nothing but pollution and iniquity, might be made the rightness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Wonderful grace indeed, far surpassing all description or conception.
"Abide in Me." These words are an exhortation. Exhortations manifest man's sinfulness and weaknesses, establish the Lord's authority and power over His people, and prove His love and care for them. They stir up and excite the saints to a holy walk and conversation, to fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life, and spur them on to run with zeal and alacrity the heavenly race.
Gospel exhortations may be compared to medals or coins, which have inscriptions on both sides. On one side is the precept, on the other the promise. So here, on one side is the command: "Abide in Me." On the reverse is the gracious promise: "And I in you; ye shall abide in Him" (I John 2:27). So of every other gospel precept, if thoroughly investigated, turned over, and maturely weighed, it will be discovered that some gospel principle, some gracious promise, lies hid underneath. These should be looked into, pleaded and pondered over in faith continually. Precepts should be turned into prayers, and that God looked unto and depended on who has engaged to work in His people both to will and to do according to His good pleasure, and the work of faith with power (Philippians 2:13; II Thessalonians 1:11).
Those do exceedingly wrong who confine this abiding to sensible enjoyments. Every secret look, every heart-felt sigh and inward groan, every feeble desire and earnest longing after Christ, is abiding in Him as well as rejoicing in Christ and sensible communion with Him. Is the soldier only a soldier when conquering in battle, and triumphing in victory? Is the sailor only such when the ship is riding at anchor or safely moored in harbor? By no means. A man may be a good soldier even when overcome in battle by superior strength and forces. He may be surprised, overmatched, taken captive and held as prisoner, yet still be a true soldier and faithful to his prince who will surely liberate him from captivity and use him again in his service. The sailor also is seen more in character on the wide ocean amidst storms and tempests, or sailing in those straits, shallows, and difficulties, where rocks and quicksands abound, than when he is in port. So the child of God, when tried and tempted, tossed with tempest and not comforted, but afflicted on every side, brought low and minished through oppression, affliction, and sorrow; yet if his eye is in the least degree directed to Christ as his Pilot, if he sighs and groans out desires to Him for help and relief, he abides in Christ as truly as when he is filled with the joys of salvation and the comforts of the Holy Ghost. When the soul is so favored that in reading God's holy Word every page is found more precious than the finest gold, sweeter than honey or the honeycomb; when the promises glisten more than the most brilliant diamonds, and when Christ, the root, the sum and substance of every promise, appears more valuable than rubies, and all the things that can be desired are not to be compared with Him, the believer then may abide more sensibly and comfortably in Christ, but not more truly and in fact than when tormented and harassed by the world, the flesh, and the devil; full of fears and disquietude, feeling the plague and sore of sin, and groaning under the dead body of his corruptions, he looks to, longs after, sighs for, the visits of Christ's love, the healing and cleansing power of His blood, expecting deliverance and salvation from Christ alone. Such a soul must, sooner or later, be brought to thank God for such a Saviour, as Paul did (Romans 7:25). By such things as these he proves the strength of his cable, the soundness of his anchor, and the reality of his constant abiding in Christ.
The saints have many enemies to contend with. These will try hard and long, with persevering assiduity, by every stratagem that art can devise and power can use, to bring about a separation between them and Christ. No stone will be left unturned to destroy the comfortable enjoyment of their abiding in Him. But the enemies of the church can never prevail in bringing about a separation between the head and members, the vine and the branches. Indeed a vine without branches is an incongruity: the head with the least member lacking is not a perfect body, but a defective one. But there is not the slightest ground to apprehend any such thing here. Christ hath almighty power and infinite wisdom, which are set on motion by boundless and eternal love, to overturn and defeat the enemies of His church, and render all their plots useless and abortive.
In this way and by such means He manifests to them their glorious state and standing in Him, and their perfect security. They are surrounded by walls of salvation which are impregnable to all the artillery of earth and hell, of sin and death. Christ will strengthen their weakness, enlighten their darkness, banish their complaints, disperse all their fears, dry up all their sorrows, empty them of their own stores, till them with His invaluable treasures, expose to them the baseness of their unbelief, and show them how utterly groundless are all their doubts of Him and His faithful word of promise. In this way does the Bridegroom prove His love to His bride to be unchangeable, and her union to Him to be eternal.
Therefore, let all the saints of God, however weak and feeble, cleave close to Christ, listen only to Him, believe and trust in Him. Let them reject the wily counsels of carnal and corrupt reason, never judging of themselves, much less of their Lord, by sense and feeling. Let them account Him to be true and faithful, but Satan, the world, and unbelief, liars; upon whose high-places the Lord hath promised all His chosen shall tread, and at last eternally triumph over all their enemies.
It is God's work to form this union, and also to keep and maintain it. Yet He has ordained means for the knowledge and comfort of it, and promised to accompany those means by the mighty workings and refreshing influences of His most holy and blessed Spirit. Among these, meditation and prayer, faith and hope, the communion of the saints, all public and private ordinances, stand pre-eminent. Without the Spirit, and a living faith, there can be no manifest union, no abiding at all. The abundant communications of the Holy Ghost, and strong faith, are needful to the sensible abiding, particularly in seasons of trial and darkness. Measure not His infinite merits by your dreadful demerits His boundless riches by your wretchedness and poverty: they are but as a drop to the ocean. The grace of Christ is free as the light of heaven, as the air we breathe--He gave not Himself for our goodness, for we have none, but for our sins, to purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Go then to Him in the sight and feeling of your unworthhiness and vileness, baseness and sinfulness, saying with Cennick:
"Lo, glad I come and Thou, blest Lamb,
Shalt take me to Thee as I am;
Nothing but sin I Thee can give,
Nothing but love shall I receive."
Be found in the diligent use of all the means of God's appointment. Search His Word, as a mine of inexhaustible treasures, always looking for Christ, the pearl of great price. A Christian, and especially a Christian minister, should have his eyes and heart in his Bible day and night. "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing: in everything give thanks:" (I Thessalonians 5:16-18) Renounce self in every form, and in all things. Seek communion with the saints, especially such as are full of Christ, out of whose mouths flow rivers of living waters. It is as true that "the diligent soul shall be made fat", as that " an idle soul shall suffer hunger" (Proverbs 13:4; 19:15). Many a poor saint knows the latter to his cost.
Abide, then, in Christ. This is the only place of safety and comfort, of rest and peace, of joy and gladness, of usefulness and fruit, the only source of holiness and happiness, of that obedience that springs from love, that service which is in the newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. Hart has beautifully described and enforced a close abiding in Christ in the following lines:
"Keep close to Me, thou helpless sheep,
The Shepherd softly cries.
Lord, tell me what 'tis close to keep,
The listening sheep replies.
Thy whole dependence on Me fix,
Nor entertain a thought
Thy worthless schemes with Mine to mix,
But venture to be naught.
Fond self-direction is a shelf;
Thy strength, thy wisdom flee:
When thou art nothing in thyself,
Then thou art close to Me."