The Puritan’s distinguished a multifaceted union that every believer had with Christ. Do you think there is any validity to their teaching??????
Union with Christ and oneness with Him was the guarantee of eternal security. The idea did not depict a ‘moment’ in the application of salvation. Michael Horton said, “. . . it is a way of speaking about the way in which believers share in Christ in eternity (by election), in past history (by redemption), in the future (by glorification).” Union with Christ was a blessing from the Father. Without that blessing one could not see justifying faith.
“In the judgment of several significant Puritan theologians, union with Christ, not justification by faith, is the chief blessing a Christian receives from God. The believer’s union with Christ enables him to receive all the benefits of Christ’s work, including justification, adoption, and sanctification. To have Christ is to have all.” The Puritans emphasized that justifying faith was given by God through effectual calling, which included regeneration; that was a vitalizing union with the risen Christ through the sovereign work of the Spirit, from which, as a work of new creation, flowed the sinner’s response to the Gospel.
Before the Puritans, the Reformers had not elaborated a covenantal system, although the Puritans did have a distinguishing emphasis upon the individual’s union with Christ. If that union was an eternal union past and future, something needed to make a distinction. Beeke and Jones stated, “The Reformed orthodox typically held to the threefold distinction of God’s immanent, transient, and applicatory acts.” Thomas Goodwin held,
There are three sorts of works whereby our salvation is completed and accomplished. 1. Immanent in God towards us, as his eternal love set and passed upon us, out of which he chose us, and designed this and all blessings to us. 2. Transient, in Christ done for us; in all he did or suffered representing of us, and in our stead. 3. Applicatory, wrought in us and upon us, in the endowing us with all those blessings by the Spirit; as calling, justification, sanctification, glorification.
In addition to Goodwin’s comments concerning the Puritan understanding of union with Christ, Peter Bucklely considered justification first “as purposed and determined in the mind and will of God. . . . Secondly, as impetrated [requested] and obtained for us by the obedience of Christ. . . . Thirdly, as actually applied unto us.” The Puritans saw a fundamental difference between what God did in Christ and through Christ, what God did in Christ on our behalf, and then applied to us through the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian aspect to salvation littered their preaching and teaching. The idea of in, for, and through Christ was prominent in their sermons. When the Word speaks of in Christ, it speaks of Christ as a common head, whom God looked at as such, and He endowed us with all the blessings in Him by way of the covenant. In addition, for Christ meant Christ as the efficient cause, for whose sake we obtain those blessings. Finally, through Christ, meant Christ as the capable cause, that dispenseth that grace to us. A result led them to distinguish a doctrine they called “eternal justification.” To understand how Christ’s righteousness applied to the redeemed was important to be able to recognize the reality of the union of Christ with His elect. The Father presented the elect to the Son.
The Lord Jesus taught that they (the elect) had been given to Him by the Father (John 6:37-39). They were chosen in Him ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4). So important is the union of Christ with His people that ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ is central to Paul’s theology of salvation. He can say that the death of Christ was his death (Galatians 2:20), and the resurrection of Christ his own resurrection (Ephesians 2:6). The relationship between Christ and His people is so close that Paul can use the marriage relationship between man and woman as an example of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:35-32).
The Puritans agreed on the necessity of union with Christ, and for Owen, union with Christ became, “principle and measure of all spiritual enjoyments and expectations.” The immanent union with Christ referred to God’s election of those who unite with Christ. The idea led them straight to their doctrine of election and God’s choosing the elect before the foundation of the world. Paul stated, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has pleased us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:3-4, NASB). Thomas Goodwin wrote, “. . . according as he hath chosen us afore the world, even at election; that first, original, and universally fundamental grace of all the other that follow, that vast womb of eternity, in which all blessings were conceived and shaped before the world was . . . thence descends to redemption, regeneration, seal of the Spirit.”
The basis of the immanent union was God’s election. He did not distinguish anything good about anyone in His choosing. The Puritans sought to explain and preach the perfect electing work of God, freed from the merit or reward of free will. With God’s election the rest of God’s mercies and blessings flowed upon the sinner.
The transient union referred to believers’ union with Christ in past time, in His mediatorial work of death and resurrection.
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11, NASB).
When Christ died, there was a transient union made between Him and God’s elect. John Flavel described the mediating work of Christ as, “A Mediator, a middle person. So the word imports a fit, indifferent, and equal person, that come between two persons that are at variance, to compose the difference and make peace.” Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, a new aspect to the elected sinners union opened up. Flavel also said, “. . . Christ was invested with this office and power virtually, soon after the breach was made by Adam’s fall; for we have the early promise of it, Gen. iii. 15. Ever since, till his incarnation, he was a virtual and effectual Mediator. . . . Jesus Christ is the true and only Mediator betwixt God and men.” The union, already established before the foundation of the world, took one step closer to the last stage in the union of Christ with the elect.
The applicatory union referred to the believer’s experience of union with Christ in the present time. “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . .” (Ephesians 2:5-6, NASB). Christ held forth the necessity of the application of His death to our souls, in a way of believing, if he would have any saving benefit.
The final aspect of the union of Christ with the elect was application. The application of that union already established before the foundation, and mediated on their behalf through the blood of Christ, was applied through repentance and faith. Owen said, “Now our union with Christ, our participation of him, consists in the inhabitation of the same Spirit in him and us, and the first work of this Spirit given unto us, bestowed upon us, is to form Christ in us, whereby our union is completed.” The Holy Spirit resides in us as with Christ, and therefore completing the threefold union with Christ. The applicatory union with Christ allows the overflow of God’s blessings to the newly regenerated individual. The agent at work in solidifying this union was the Holy Spirit. Sibbes said, “So that Spirit which is in Him, a full running over fountain, dropping down and being also infused in us, unites us unto him; yea, that very Spirit communicated to me in some measure, which is in him in such fullness, that Spirit which doth ties me as fast unto Christ as any joint ties member to member . . .” The Holy Spirit once again showed immense responsibility in the work of salvation.