We have read some very labored articles which have been written against the doctrine of eternal, vital union of our Lord Jesus Christ and his mystical body, the church, in which the writers have attempted to draw a line between what they call a virtual eternal, and an actual eternal union, admitting the former, but denying the latter. Some of the less discerning of the saints have become perplexed, and we have been frequently called on to define the difference.
Before attempting to do so, we will remark, that every expression of Bible truth by which the church of the living God, which is the ground and pillar of the truth, is or ever has been distinguished from the world or anti-Christ has been assailed in the same sly and insidious manner. Predestination, election, special redemption, regeneration, final preservation of the saints in grace to glory, the resurrection of the dead, and ultimate glory of the heirs of salvation, have shared the same fate. Read to the Arminian, "Whom he [God] did foreknow, them he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son," &c. "Having predestinated us to the adoption of children," &c. "Him being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Ah, says he, I believe in predestination; but not in absolute predestination! Well, let us see: What kind of predestination can that be which is not absolute? Something like this. The Lord had a design, a purpose or a will to do certain things if men or devils would allow him to do so; but nothing in reality made certain by the counsel or predestination of God. This is in reality a flat denial of predestination in toto, yet it is what predestination must be if it be not absolute.
We believe in election. O yes, says the self-conceited freewiller, certainly, I believe election, but not eternal, sovereign, personal election. But that God chose to save all who would comply with certain terms, perform certain conditions, and make use of certain means. A man must be lamentably stupid who cannot perceive that this is a full denial of election altogether. Special redemption, yes, says Andrew Fuller, and all his motley echoes, we believe it is special in its design and in its effect, but general in its nature, and so general that all sinners, if they are so disposed, can avail themselves of its full benefit. Thus professing to believe it to be special, deny its speciality, and rest its efficacy on the will of the creature, and thereby disallow the saving virtue of the blood of Christ. Regeneration. With one voice all the work-mongrel tribes of the earth agree, the sinner must be born again, but at the same time deny that the new birth brings forth anything that the sinner did not possess before the birth; no seminal preexistence of the life which the birth brings forth: no begetting by the heavenly parent, but a mere change of purpose and pursuit, a new modeling of the carnal mind, and a new formation of the old man. Perhaps this may be a virtual, but not actual regeneration. All who are thus virtually born again, if such a thing could be, would present a race of fatherless children; bastards, and not sons. Perseverance is admitted, if they may be allowed to supply the condition, if they hold out faithful, &c. Anything that will strip the crown from the head of Christ, and crown the sinner as his own savior, they seem very willing to admit. The resurrection is only admitted with such qualifications as either, it is past already, or that it does not mean what the Scriptures affirm, that "He that raised up Jesus from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you.
We come now to our subject, and will inquire, What is meant by Eternal Vital Union?
2. Does such a Union exist? And if so,
3. Is it Actual or Virtual?
By the term eternal, we mean that which was before all time. The word vital means life, and union is oneness - identity as a unit.
What kind of life does God give to his people? Is it eternal, or is it only time-life? John says, "This is the record that God hath given us eternal life." - 1 John v; and Jesus says, "I give to them eternal life." Many other express declarations of Scripture prove that the life given to the children of God is eternal, and consequently did as fully exist before they individually and experimentally received it, as afterwards. If it did not exist before it was implanted in us, or communicated to us by the new birth, then why is it called eternal? The eternity of it is attested by the declaration that it was with the Father and was manifested. (1 John i.) This life is hid in God, those who receive it, receive by being begotten of his own will, and born of God. Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. This vitality then is eternal vitality, or eternal life, which was with God, the Father, before it was manifested.
Having then settled by Scripture testimony the two points, namely, the life and its eternal character, we come to the word union in its connection with the terms eternal, vital.
2. Did such an union exist? It seems almost like insulting the intelligence of the reader to ask, was this life a plurality, was it legions, or was it one life as it was with the Father before all worlds? Was it more than a unit, when given to us in Christ Jesus, according as we were chosen in him before the foundation of the world? If it was more than one life, perhaps some one can tell us how many lives it was, but if it was one and the self-same life as it originated in God the Father, and is hid in him, if it was but one and the same life as given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began, then the controversy on the subject of eternal vital union may cease, for one of the two propositions must be admitted or the Bible rejected. To deny that a vital union, or a union of spiritual vitality did so exist in eternity before all time, is rank infidelity, for God has so declared it. This life was and is and forever shall continue to be that which makes us one with Christ, as Christ is one with the Father, and that Christ and the church are identified in, is positively asserted by Christ himself. He is in them, they are in him. He also is in the Father, and the Father is in him, and so completely so that he that hath seen him, hath seen the Father also. And we ask, who has ever seen the Son, who hath not seen the church also? seeing that he is in the church, and the church is in him. He is the head, the church is his body; and does a head and its body make more than one man or person? "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." - 1 Cor. xii. 12. Then Christ the head, and his church with all her legitimate members, being many in membership, are but one unit in life or vitality. Christ says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me." If it be admitted that Christ is truly the life of the church, the true God and eternal life, then that same life which unites him to the church as his body, unites his body, the church, to him as her head. If it be admitted that Christ is now to-day the head of the church, will they presume to say that he was not the head of his church yesterday? Dare any one deny the announcement of the Holy Ghost? "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and forever." Of course, when we speak of Christ in his oneness with and headship of the church as his body, we speak of him in his mediatorial character as the Son of God, and so revealed with power.
3. Is this union of oneness of life in Jesus Christ actual or only virtual? As neither of these words are used in the inspired writings in connection with the union of Christ and the church, we must depend upon our lexicons for their signification; Webster's Dictionary is the recognized standard of our language in the principal colleges of our country. His definition is: Actual: 1. real or effective, or that exists truly and absolutely; 2. exists in act; real; in opposition to speculative.
Virtually: In efficacy or effect only; by means of some other influence, or the instrumentality of something else.
According therefore to the established and acknowledged laws of our language, those who hold the doctrine of eternal, actual, vital union, believe that the life of the church of God is one life, and that it really, effectively, truly and absolutely did exist in eternity, before the world began, in a sense opposite to that of mere speculation.
While those who deny that it was actual, deny that it was real, or that it existed truly and absolutely, in a sense opposed to that which is only speculative. And those who deny that this union was actual before the world began, but admit that it was virtually existing in eternity, deny that it was really, truly or absolutely so, but in efficacy or effect only; and that efficacy or effect could only be developed or produced by the means or instrumentality of something else.
Now which of these positions, if either, do the Scriptures and the teaching of the Spirit in our experience establish? To us it is very clear that if this union of the life of the church in Jesus Christ existed in him before the world began, it was more than a speculation; that it was a reality. If it was not then a reality, a fact, what is there in the communication of that eternal life to us experimentally in the new birth, that can make the life what it was not before we were made to feel its power? But one will say, the word actual signifies an act or action. This Webster admits in a secondary sense, not in its primary signification. Well, be it so; are we not told that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord? Does not the giving a thing imply an act or an action? Certainly it does. Well, when was the act or action of giving us eternal life in Jesus Christ performed? We are told that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. Is eternal life a spiritual blessing? It certainly is not a mere temporal blessing, then it was actually given us in him before the foundation of the world. God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The gift, not gifts of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is given us in him, and through him it is in due time communicated to all the members of his body, when they pass from death unto life, are born again, and brought into the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. If the work of the Spirit in the new birth is the action which makes this union actual, then we set aside the reality of grace given us in Christ before the world began, and instead of the gift of God is eternal life, we should read it, the gifts of God, there are as many distinct gifts as there are members in the body. And as the relationship of nearest of kin could not exist in reality before the life union existed, the consequence must be that when the Lord Jesus died for his members on the cross, we, who now live upon the earth, were not really, truly and absolutely so united with and related to him, as to allow us any part or lot in the atonement.
Much confusion prevails where brethren confound this vital union with our individual experience of it when brought into it. The union, spiritually, was as perfect before we were brought experimentally into the enjoyment of it, as it is now, or ever will be. But in our earthly, carnal, sinful nature, we had no union with Christ, but were children of wrath even as others; nay, we were dead in sins, and enmity against God, and enemies to him by wicked works. But although the holy law of God cursed us in the earthly Adam, yet for the great love wherewith he loved us in Christ Jesus, even when we were in ourselves, that is in our earthly nature, dead in sins, he hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in him, and thus by grace are we saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk therein.
We all know that our earthly nature is estranged from God, and in it we are strangers and foreigners, requiring to be redeemed from the earth, called by grace, quickened by the Spirit and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. This gift of God, which is eternal life, was not given us in the earthly Adam, neither was our earthly, carnal and corrupt nature given to us in Christ. The first Adam is of the earth, earthy, and as is the earthy, such also are they that are earthy. But it was given us in the Son of God, who is the Lords from heaven: as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly. Our natural birth develops us in the one life in which we were created in the earthly Adam, and a spiritual, new and heavenly birth, develops or makes manifest in us, experimentally that one life which was hid in God, and which is now made manifest by the appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, we do not regard either the words actual or virtual as necessary, or they would have been supplied in the divine volume, but when men deny the reality of this eternal, vital union, or oneness of life, and say it is only virtual, or that it is not so in fact or in truth, we are compelled to resist them, and contend that it is an eternal reality.
Middletown, N. Y.
March 1, 1860.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 315 - 322