Whenever the Free Grace Broadcaster comes in the mail, I read it through right away. Most of the excerpts from great Christian writers of the past are worth taking time to read again (or for the first time). The last issue (Winter, No. 214) had some very interesting articles, especially that by Jonathan Edwards on the doctrine of Union with Christ.
Admittedly, this is a difficult doctrine to explain; and, obviously, Edwards had problems with it as well as many others. But it is his solution to the problem of communicating the meaning of the doctrine that I wish to mention. He says
If any are disgusted at the word union as obscure and unintelligible, the word relation equally serves the purpose. . . . there is a peculiar relation between true Christians and Christ, which there is not between Him and others. . . signified by those metaphorical expressions in Scripture of being in Christ, being members of Christ, etc.
He solves the problem of the meaning of such expressions by calling the union (or relation) to Christ by referring to it as the “ground” of the Christian’s right to His benefits. “First, we must be in Him, and then He will be made righteousness or justification to us,” he writes. He says that this union is also the “ground of our being accepted.” And he speaks of it as a “legal union between Christ and true Christians.” This leads to a situation where “one, in some respects, is accepted for the others by the Supreme Judge.” He does not further explicate this thought.
He does, however, go on to say that
Faith is the qualification in any person that renders it [fitting] in the sight of God that he should be looked upon as having Christ’s satisfaction and righteousness belonging to him . . . because it is [faith] in Him that, on his part, makes up this union between him and Christ.
Although he doesn’t say so in this excerpt, surely, he would look on faith as the gracious gift of God. Furthermore, he maintains,
I suppose there is nobody [who will not agree] that there may be something that the true Christian does on his part, whereby he is active in coming into this relation of union . .. Now faith I suppose to be this act.
He maintained that the soul which had been alienated from Christ, now “unites itself to Him.” And as a result the alienation becomes a state of “union or relation” to Him. For Edwards, John 5:43, 44 and 1:12 set forth this truth. But how is the “relation” Christ described? He writes, that those who before union occurred, were separated from Christ, but that now, through it they “cease to be any longer at such a distance and come into that relation and nearness . . . so that they should be looked upon as one.” And he believed that “It is by faith that we have a title to eternal life,” citing 1 John 5:12 for support to this claim. And, to conclude, speaking of Christ and the Christian, he said, “. . . they are so united in the sight of the Judge that they may be looked upon and taken as one.”
I thought that readers of this blog would be interested in Edwards’ view of “union with Christ” as a “relation” to Him. Once so close that a difference cannot be ascertained for purposes of acceptance in all respects by God the Father. Indeed, the relation of which he speaks is, for him, in all respects what makes it possible for God to look upon the believer as though He has done and is doing all that Christ does. Plainly, he speaks of no organic, ontological union, but purely of a relational one, which for him, it seems, is altogether a matter of the Judge viewing the Christian as perfect as Jesus.