In reading an article in the Gospel Messenger for October, 1879, written by our esteemed brother, Elder T.J. Bazemore, one of the editors and publishers of that periodical, we are led to believe that he has misapprehended the views which are entertained by us, and by those generally who hold the doctrine of the eternal, vital union of Christ and the church, and also of the true basis of the heirship of the sons of God. We do not design to inaugurate a controversy or unpleasant discussion; for widely as we may seem to disagree in our understanding of these subjects, we feel confident that a calm, dispassionate investigation will obviate our seeming discrepance of views.
If we had not on former occasions fully expressed our convictions on these two cardinal points of the doctrine of Christ, we would feel more hesitancy in entering upon a discussion of the subjects involved; but having frequently presented our views, which we presume brother Bazemore is aware of, we feel called upon to either retract or establish what we have stated, or at least to labor for a more full and clear understanding of each other. Let nothing however that we may write be construed so as to indicate any unfriendly feeling towards the publishers of the Messenger, both of whom we highly esteem and respect.
First. The heirship of the sons of God we have held to be exclusively founded upon their sonship in Christ Jesus, as made known to them by their spiritual birth, in which they receive, not the adoption, but the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry Abba, Father, [Rom.8:15;] for in verse 23 of the same chapter we are told that “we who have received the first fruits of the spirit groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” And in Eph.1:13,14, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, after that ye believed, [or were born again,] ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” In this first chapter to the Ephesians the apostle speaks of our being predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself; and in the tenth verse he says, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth, even in him; in whom also we have received an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted &c.” The reception of this spirit, by the new birth, is the earnest or certain assurance that the purchased possession [the people redeemed from the family of mankind, which is all the purchased possession of Christ that we have any knowledge of] shall be ultimately disrobed of mortality, and clothed with immortality, after they shall have been changed and fashioned like the glorious body of their risen and glorified Lord. For this adoption we are now waiting and groaning, but for it we are now sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.
If then we have rightly understood the Scriptures on the relationship of sons, that sonship develops a vital relationship to a parent in whom our spiritual vitality existed before it was made manifest by a birth. A birth is not the origin of life, either spiritual or natural; it is the bringing forth a life which existed in the parent before the birth. If life did not exist antecedently to the birth, it never could exist subsequently to the birth.
The apostle says, “For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” And, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” The heirship is thus made to depend on the vital relationship of children; and as the heirship is a joint heirship with Christ, so also must the relationship on which the heirship is predicated be a joint relationship with Christ, for he himself is the life of all who are joint heirs with him. For the life of all the saints is hid with Christ in God. “When Christ who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Col.1:3,4. If then our spiritual life, sonship, and joint heirship is so identified with Christ, as the only begotten of the Father, that our life is hid with Christ in God, it is based on what we call ETERNAL, vital union, and not on the birth either of our flesh or spirit, which develops, but does not originate, the relationship and consequent joint heirship.
But brother Bazemore says, “There is a doctrine called eternal, vital union, which is in our view a strange and unscriptural doctrine;” and asks, “How can there be a vital union between the living and the dead? How can there be a vital union between that which is, and that which is not? In a state of nature the sinner is dead in sin, without eternal life, without spiritual vitality or motion; and how, then, can there be any actual, vital union between him and Christ while he is in that state of death and sin? Christ is life, a quickening Spirit; and how can there be any vital union between him and the sinner, while the sinner is dead in sin?”
We have never understood our brethren who hold and content for the scriptural doctrine of eternal, vital union, to hold that this sacred union of life was given to the children of God in the earthly Adam, nor that it eternally united the two natures of which the children of God are partakers while in the flesh, for neither before, nor after the new birth do we find any union, harmony or agreement between the flesh and the spirit, of which two natures they are partakers; for these are contrary the one to the other, causing a continual warfare in them until their final change shall come, or until death shall be swallowed up of life - until God shall change our vile body, and fashion it like the glorious body of our risen Lord.
We shall not be likely to differ on the simple signification of the words - eternal, vital union. That which had its origin in God the Father, and was given to the body and members of Christ before the world began, must be eternal; and that which the inspired word of God calls eternal life, must be vital; and that which joins in indissoluble relationship the Head and body of the church of God, we call union. Can this be what our esteemed brother calls philosophy and vain deceit, and of which he warns the saints to beware? Is this doctrine taught in the Bible, and by the spirit of divine inspiration, or is it only after the traditions of men, and after the rudiments of the world? Let us see. The apostle Paul says, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life.” [Not through the earthly Adam, but] “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” When did God give us this eternal life? Rom.6:23. If eternal life is a spiritual blessing, it was given us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [not in Adam,] according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. Eph.1:3,4. The most solemnly attested record which the Bible contains, which is borne in heaven by the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and witnessed in earth by the Spirit, the water and the blood, which all agree in one, is summed up by the inspired apostle John in these emphatic words, “And this is the record, that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” I John 5:7,8,11,12,20.
We learn then that the life which was given to the saints as members of the body of Christ, was with and proceeded from God the Father, and was given to them in Christ by the Father, and is, in the unrestricted meaning of the word, absolutely eternal life; not only everlasting, but eternal, without beginning or ending, not created, but begotten of God the Father, and given to all the sons of God in Christ before the foundation of the world, and they all, in their spiritual relation to God in Christ, were sanctified or set apart by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus, and ultimately called by him; “Who hath saved us and called us with a holy calling; not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” II Tim.1:9.
Some of our brethren have admitted that all this was true in purpose, but was not actually done in eternity, before the world began; but when God has said that all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places were given us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, it seems to us presumptuous to deny that this unspeakable gift involved an act or action of God. We hold that the gift was actually given us in Christ, and safely secured to us in him, just exactly as God has stated it in the words of inspired truth. Christ himself is the life - the eternal life of all his members, and God did actually love them with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving-kindness does he draw them; and no man can come unto Christ except the Father which sent him draw them.
Now let us inquire whether this eternal life or vitality which God has given us in Christ Jesus actually unites Christ, the Head, and his church, the body of Christ; and whether it is an eternal, or only a time union. We do not ask whether this vital union was manifested and experienced by any of us here in the flesh before the world began, for that is not claimed by any. Our life which was given us in the earthly Adam is not that life which is begotten of God, and given us in Christ Jesus before the world began; for if it was, then all mankind would be the children and heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. But all the children of God are children and heirs of God by virtue of being begotten of the eternal Father, and recipients of eternal life in Christ Jesus from everlasting. And of them, as the children of God in Christ, it is said, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he [Christ] also himself likewise took part of the same.” - Heb.2:14. It was not their partaking of flesh and blood that constituted them children of God, any more than it was Christ’s “also likewise [or in like manner] partaking of the same” that constituted him the Son of God. He was as perfectly the Son of God before he partook of flesh and blood, as he was after his assumption of flesh and blood; but his being made flesh, made of a woman, and made under the law, made him manifest as the Son of man, of the seed of David, after the flesh. As his Sonship of the Father was in no sense changed by his partaking of flesh and blood, so neither was the spiritual relationship of his members changed by their partaking of flesh and blood. But his coming in the flesh of which his children are partakers, brought him under the law which they in their earthly nature had transgressed. And thus we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, taking on him, not the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham; not to make him the Son of God, for that he had always been; but as his children in their earthly nature had sinned in the flesh, he took their nature on him, that he might suffer in the flesh, and under the law which they had transgressed, and redeem them unto God by the sacrifice of himself, and rise again from the dead for their justification.
Now, we ask brother Bazemore, if the law of God could have recognized in the blessed Jesus the right to redeem them from its stern, but just demands, if they were not his property before they sinned and fell in the earthly Adam?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Son of God and life of his body, the church, is called the “only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth … and of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” John 1:14,16. In this chapter John testifies concerning him; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” And the same inspired apostle, as we have already shown, in his first epistle, first and fifth chapters, declares that this life which was and is in him, was with the Father, and was manifested, and that God hath given us [his children] eternal life, and this life which God hath given us is in his Son. Let this testimony be admitted, and we think no God-fearing man will deny that this eternal life is eternal vitality, or that this life is a unit. It is one undivided and indivisible life in its nature, because it is hid with Christ in God; and although it extends from the Head of the church to all the members, permeating the entire mystical body of Christ, it cannot be separated from him. For he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life; consequently it is the unity of Christ the Head with the church as his body, and the fulness of him that filleth all in all. This union of life in Christ Jesus is what we understand our brethren to mean by the words - eternal, vital union; and if it is not so taught in the Scriptures, and in the experience of the saints, we confess that we have read our Bible for almost four score years to but little, if any profit. If it be only philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, then we have long rested upon a fallacious hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.
We are not contending for an eternal, or even a time union, between the flesh and spirit of the children of God and heirs of glory, for such a union has not yet taken place in us. We find no harmony between our flesh and that spirit which we hope and trust we received when we were born of the Spirit; but from that hour when Christ, who is our life, was revealed in us, we have felt most painfully and continuously the warring of our flesh against the spirit, and a law in our members warring against the law of our mind, bringing us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members.
But can this doctrine of vital union of the Head and body of the church, which we have so sweetly enjoyed so many years, now that we are about to lay off our mortal tabernacle, be but a delusive phantom? Have we in melody of heart, in joyful and melting strains, joined with the poet in the delightful theme of his songs;
“Twixt Jesus and the chosen race,
Subsists a bond of sovereign grace,
That hell, with its infernal train,
Can ne’er dissolve or rend in twain.”
“In union with the Lamb;
From condemnation free,
The saints from everlasting were,
And shall forever be.
In cov’nant from of old,
The sons of God they were;
The feeblest lamb in Jesus’ fold,
Was bless’d in Jesus there.
Its bonds shall never break,
Tho’ earth’s old columns bow;
The strong, the tempted, and the weak,
Are one in Jesus now.”
And this oneness of vital relationship is in Jesus, not in the earthly nature, which has yet to be changed, and fashioned like Christ’s glorious body. Adam, we are told, [Rom.5:14,] is the figure of him that was to come. And if there had not been a union of natural life extending to his posterity, his transgression could not have involved them in the condemnation and death that by his offense passed upon all of his undeveloped race. “Therefore, as by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; EVEN SO by the righteousness of One, the free gift came upon all men to justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” As in Adam, who is the figure of Christ, God made of one blood [or life] all the nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation, &c., [Acts 22:26,] so that eternal life which is begotten and born of God, which was given to the heirs of God in Christ their Head, is one life - a unit, and not a plurality of lives. It was given to them in the Son of God, as the same eternal life which was with the Father, and is the same in all the members of the body of Christ. It is in Christ, and it is Christ. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:6. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Gal.2:20. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Phil.1:21. “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Col.3:2-4.
These scriptures, if we rightly understand them, prove two important propositions; first, that our life which is in Christ Jesus is eternal life, or vitality; and secondly, that this eternal life, being in Christ as the Son of God, and with him hid in God from everlasting, is a unit of life; and Christ, who is our life, although living in all his members, is not divided. As there is but one Head of the church, so there is but one body belonging to that one Head. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Eph.4:4-6. The apostle speaks of those who would beguile the saints, by “not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” Col.2:19.
Our natural life, on which death has passed by reason of sin, was given us in that Adam which is of the earth, earthy; but our spiritual - eternal life was given to us and securely preserved for us in that Adam which is the Lord from heaven. Our natural or earthly life began when man became a living soul; but our life which is in Christ Jesus is as ancient as eternity, for it is eternal life, and has its origin in God. Therefore that life which is born of the flesh is born of corruptible seed, and is mortal. But they who are the subjects of regeneration and the new birth, are born of God, of an incorruptible seed, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever; and they are a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.” And, “Now are they the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what they shall be; but we know that when he [Christ] shall appear they shall be like him;” for God has predestinated those whom he did foreknow to be conformed to the image of his dear Son, that he may be the first-born among many brethren. I John 3:2; Rom.8:29. In the vital unity of this eternal life, between the Head and body of the church, Christ is not ashamed to call his members brethren; for in his Mediatorial relation to them he claims them as his body, his flesh, and his bones.
“Hail, sacred union, firm and strong,
How great the grace! How sweet the song!
That worms of earth should ever be,
One with incarnate Deity.”
Again we will assure brother Bazemore, that notwithstanding the seeming difference in our views on the doctrine of the eternal, vital union of Christ and his body, the church, and the basis of the heirship of the saints, we esteem him as a beloved brother in Christ; and we have read many of his articles in the Gospel Messenger for the year past with pleasure, and this is the first we have noticed from his able pen from which we seriously dissent. And we hope and believe that on more mature consideration of the subject, he will greatly modify the doom to which he has [we think unintentionally] consigned us, together with a very large majority of the Old School or Primitive Baptists of our acquaintance, who hold the doctrine of eternal, vital union as the very foundation of our hope of that inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and which cannot fade away.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Signs of the Times
November 1, 1879 Vol 48.