William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Home
Sermons
 
Back
 
Mystic Union between Christ and the Saints


by Thomas Watson


"My beloved is mine, and I am his." (Song 2:16)

In this Song of Songs we see the love of Christ and his church running towards
each other in a full torrent.

The text contains three general parts:
1. A symbol of affection: "My beloved."
2. A term of appropriation: "is mine."
3. A holy resignation: "I am his."

Doctrine: That there is a conjugal union between Christ and believers. The
apostle, having treated at large of marriage, winds up the whole chapter thus:
"This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Eph.
5:32). What is closer than union? What sweeter? There is a twofold union with
Christ:

1. A natural union. This all men have, Christ having taken their nature on him
and not that of the angels (Heb. 2:16). But if there is no more than this
natural union, it will give little comfort. Thousands are damned though Christ
is united to their nature.

2. A sacred union. By this we are mystically united to Christ. The union with
Christ is not personal. If Christ's essence were transfused into the person of a
believer, then it would follow that all that a believer does should be
meritorious.

But the union between Christ and a saint is:

(a) Federal: "My beloved is mine." God the Father gives the bride; God the Son
receives the bride; God the Holy Ghost ties the knot in marriage - he knits our
wills to Christ and Christ's love to us.

(b) Effectual. Christ unites himself to his spouse by his graces and influences:
"of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). Christ
makes himself one with the spouse by conveying his image and stamping the
impress of his own holiness upon her.

This union with Christ may well be called mystic. It is hard to describe the
manner of it. It is hard to show how the soul is united to the body, and how
Christ is united to the soul. But though this union is spiritual, it is real.
Things in nature often work insensibly, yet really (Eccles. 11:5). We do not see
the hand move on the dial, yet it moves. The sun exhales and draws up the
vapours of the earth insensibly yet really. So the union between Christ and the
soul, though it is imperceptible to the eye of reason, is still real (I Cor.
6:17).

Before this union with Christ there must be a separation. The heart must be
separated from all other lovers, as in marriage there is a leaving of father and
mother: "Forget your own people, and your father's house." (Psa. 45:10). So
there must be a leaving of our former sins, a breaking off the old league with
hell before we can be united to Christ. "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do
any more with idols?" (Hos. 14:8), or as it is in the Hebrew, "with sorrows."
Those sins which were looked on before as lovers, are now sorrows. There must be
a divorce before a union.

The purpose of our conjugal union with Christ is twofold:

1. Co-habitation. This is one purpose of marriage, to live together: "that
Christ may dwell in your hearts" (Eph. 2:17). It is not enough to pay Christ a
few complimentary visits in his ordinances - hypocrites may do so - but there
must be a mutual associating. We must dwell upon the thoughts of Christ: "he
that abides in God" (cf. I John 3:24). Married persons should not live apart.
2. Fruit bearing: "That you may be married to another; to Him who was raised
from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." (Rom. 7:4). The spouse bears
the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness (Gal.
5:22). Barrenness is a shame in Christ's spouse.

This marriage union with Christ is the most noble and excellent union:
(a) Christ unites himself to many. In other marriages only one person is taken,
but here millions are taken. Otherwise, poor souls might cry out, "Alas! Christ
has married So-and-so, but what is that to me? I am left out." No, Christ
marries thousands. It is a holy and chaste polygamy. Multitudes of people do not
defile this marriage bed. Any poor sinner who brings a humble, believing heart
may be married to Christ.

(b) There is a closer union in this holy marriage than there can be in any
other. In other marriages, two make one flesh, but Christ and the believer make
one spirit: "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him." (I Cor.
6:17). Now as the soul is more excellent than the body, and admits of far
greater joy, so this spiritual union brings in more astonishing delights and
ravishments than any other marriage relationship is capable of. The joy that
flows from the mystic union is unspeakable and full of glory (I Peter 1:8).

(c) This union with Christ never ceases. "Thrice happy they whom an unbroken
bond unites" (Horace). Other marriages are soon at an end. Death cuts asunder
the marriage knot, but this conjugal union is eternal. You who are once Christ's
spouse shall never again be a widow: "I will betroth you to me forever" (Hosea
2:19). To speak properly, our marriage with Christ begins where other marriages
end, at death.

In this life there is only the contract. The Jews had a time set between their
engagement and marriage, sometimes a year or more. In this life there is only
the engagement and contract; promises are made on both sides, and love passes
secretly between Christ and the soul. He gives some smiles of his face, and the
soul sends up her sighs and drops tears of love. But all this is only a
preliminary work, and something leading up to the marriage. The glorious
completing and solemnizing of the marriage is reserved for heaven. There is the
marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9) and the bed of glory perfumed with love
where the souls of the elect shall be perpetually consoling themselves. "Then
shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thess. 4:17). So death merely begins our
marriage with Christ.

Application 1: If Christ is the head of the mystic body (Eph. 1:22), then this
doctrine beheads the Pope, that man of sin who usurps this prerogative of being
the head of the church, and so would defile Christ's marriage bed. What
blasphemy this is! Two heads are monstrous. Christ is Head, as he is Husband.
There is no vice-husband, no deputy in his place. The Pope is the beast in
Revelation (Rev. 13:11). To make him head of the church, what would this be but
to set the head of a beast upon the body of a man?

Application 2: If there is such a conjugal union, let us test whether we are
united to Christ:

1. Have we chosen Christ to set our love upon, and is this choice founded on
knowledge?

2. Have we consented to the match? It is not enough that Christ is willing to
have us, but are we willing to have him? God does not so force salvation upon us
that we shall have Christ whether we want to or not. We must consent to have
him. Many approve of Christ, but do not give their consent. And this consent
must be:

(a) Pure and genuine. We consent to have him for his own worth and excellence:
"You are fairer than the sons of men" (Psa. 45:2).

(b) A present consent: "now is the acceptable time" (2 Cor. 6:2). If we put
Christ off with delays and excuses, perhaps he will stop coming. He will leave
off wooing. "His spirit shall no longer strive," and then, poor sinner, what
will you do? When God's wooing ends, your woes begin.

3. Have we taken Christ? Faith is the bond of the union. Christ is joined to us
by his Spirit, and we are joined to him by faith. Faith ties the marriage knot.
4. Have we given ourselves up to Christ? Thus the spouse in the text says, "I am
his," as if she had said, "All I have is for the use and service of Christ."
Have we made a surrender? Have we given up our name and will to Christ? When the
devil solicits by a temptation, do we say, "We are not our own, we are Christ's;
our tongues are his, we must not defile them with oaths; our bodies are his
temple, we must not pollute them with sin?" If it is so, it is a sign that the
Holy Ghost has produced this blessed union between Christ and us.
Application 3: Is there this mystic union? Then from that we may draw many
inferences:

1. See the dignity of all true believers. They are joined in marriage with
Christ. There is not only assimilation but union; they are not only like Christ
but one with Christ. All the saints have this honour. When a king marries a
beggar, by virtue of the union she is ennobled and made of the blood royal. As
wicked men are united to the prince of darkness, and he settles hell upon them
as their inheritance, so the godly are divinely united to Christ, who is King of
kings, and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16). By virtue of this sacred union the saints
are dignified above the angels. Christ is the Lord of the angels, but not their
husband.

2. See how happily all the saints are married. They are united to Christ, who is
the best Husband, "the Chiefest among ten thousand" (Song 5:10). Christ is a
Husband that cannot be paralleled:

(a) For tender care. The spouse cannot be as considerate of her own soul and
credit as Christ is considerate of her: "He cares for you" (I Pet. 5:7). Christ
has a debate with himself, consulting and projecting how to carry on the work of
our salvation. He transacts all our affairs, he attends to our business as his
own. Indeed, he himself is concerned in it. He brings fresh supplies to his
spouse. If she wanders out of the way, he guides her. If she stumbles, he holds
her by the hand. If she falls, he raises her. If she is dull, he quickens her by
his Spirit. If she is perverse, he draws her with cords of love. If she is sad,
he comforts her with promises.

(b) For ardent affection. No husband loves like Christ. The Lord says to the
people, "I have loved you," and they say, "In what way have you loved us?" (Mal.
1:2). But we cannot say to Christ, "In what way have you loved us?" Christ has
given real demonstrations of his love to his spouse. He has sent her his Word,
which is a love-letter, and he has given her his Spirit, which is a love-token.
Christ loves more than any other husband:

Christ puts a richer robe on his bride: "For He has clothed me with the
garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a
bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with
her jewels." (Isa. 61:10). In this robe, God looks on us as if we had not
sinned. This robe is as truly ours to justify us, as it is Christ's to bestow
on us. This robe not only covers but adorns. Having on this robe, we are
reputed righteous, not only as righteous as angels, but as righteous as
Christ: "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

Christ gives his bride not only his golden garments but his image. He loves
her into his own likeness. A husband may have a dear affection for his wife,
but he cannot stamp his own image on her. If she is deformed, he may give her
a veil to hide it, but he cannot put his beauty on her. But Christ imparts
"the beauty of holiness" to his spouse: "Your fame went out among the nations
because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had
bestowed on you," (Ezek. 16:14). When Christ marries a soul, he makes it fair:
"You are all fair, my love" (Song 4:7). Christ never thinks he has loved his
spouse enough till he can see his own face in her.

Christ discharges those debts which no other husband can. Our sins are the
worst debts we owe. If all the angels should contribute money, they could not
pay one of these debts, but Christ frees us from these. He is both a Husband
and a Surety. He says to justice what Paul said concerning Onesimus, "But if
he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account." (Philem. 1:18).
Christ has suffered more for his spouse than ever any husband did for a wife.
He suffered poverty and ignominy. He who crowned the heavens with stars was
himself crowned with thorns. He was called a companion of sinners, so that we
might be made companions of angels. He was regardless of his life; he leaped
into the sea of his Father's wrath to save his spouse from drowning.

Christ's love does not end with his life. He loves his spouse for ever: "I
will betroth you to me forever" (Hos. 2:19). Well may the apostle call it "a
love which passes knowledge" (Eph. 3:19).

3. See how rich believers are. They have married into the crown of heaven, and
by virtue of the conjugal union all Christ's riches go to believers: "communion
is founded in union." Christ communicates his graces (John 1:16 ). As long as
Christ has them, believers shall not be in want. And he communicates his
privileges - justification, glorification. He settles a kingdom on his spouse as
her inheritance (Heb. 12:28). This is a key to the apostle's riddle, "as having
nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6:10). By virtue of the marriage
union, the saints have an interest in all Christ's riches.

4. See how fearful a sin it is to abuse the saints. It is an injury done to
Christ, for believers are mystically one with him: "Saul, Saul, why do you
persecute me?" (Acts 9:4). When the body was wounded, the Head, being in heaven,
cried out. In this sense, men crucify Christ afresh (Heb. 6:6), because what is
done to his members is done to him. If Gideon was avenged upon those who slew
his brethren, will not Christ much more be avenged on those that wrong his
spouse (Judges 8:21)? Will a king tolerate having his treasure rifled, his crown
thrown in the dust, his queen beheaded? Will Christ bear with the affronts and
injuries done to his bride? The saints are the apple of Christ's eye (Zech.
2:8), and let those who strike at his eye answer for it. Isa 49:26 "I will feed
those who oppress you with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their
own blood as with sweet wine" (Isa. 49:26).

5. See the reason why the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because
here they meet with their Husband, Christ. The wife desires to be in the
presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides,
the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ
displays the banner of love (Song 2:4). The Lord's Supper is nothing other than
a pledge and earnest of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with
Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so
sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him
by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven
when we see him face to face and are for ever in his loving embraces!
Application 4: This mystic union affords much comfort to believers in several
cases:

1. In the case of the disrespect and unkindness of the world: "in wrath they
hate me" (Psa. 55:3). But though we live in an unkind world, we have a kind
Husband: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you" (John 15:9). What
angel can tell how God the Father loves Christ? Yet the Father's love to Christ
is made the copy and pattern of Christ's love to his spouse. This love of Christ
as far exceeds all created love as the sun outshines the light of a torch. And
is not this a matter of comfort? Though the world hates me, Christ still loves
me.

2. In the case of weakness of grace. The believer cannot lay hold on Christ,
except with a trembling hand. There is a "spirit of infirmity" on him, but oh,
weak Christian, here is strong consolation: there is a conjugal union. You are
the spouse of Christ, and he will bear with you as the weaker vessel. Will a
husband divorce his wife because she is weak and sickly? No, he will be the more
tender with her. Christ hates treachery, but he will pity infirmity. When the
spouse is faint and ready to be discouraged, Christ puts his left hand under her
head (Song 2:6). This is the spouse's comfort when she is weak. Her Husband can
infuse strength into her: "My God shall be my strength" (Isa. 49:5).

3. In the case of death. When believers die, they go to their Husband. Who would
not be willing to cross the gulf of death that they might meet with their
Husband, Christ? "I desire to loosen anchor" (Phil. 1:23), and be with Christ.
What though the way is dirty? We are going to our friend. When a woman is
engaged, she longs for the day of marriage. After the saints' funeral, their
marriage begins. The body is a prison to the soul. Who would not desire to
exchange a prison for a marriage bed? How glad Joseph was to go out of prison to
the king's court! God is wise; he lets us meet with changes and troubles here,
so that he may wean us from the world and make us long for death. When the soul
is divorced from the body, it is married to Christ.

4. In the case of passing sentence at the day of judgment. There is a marriage
union and, oh Christian, your Husband shall be your judge. A wife would not fear
appearing at the bar if her husband was sitting as judge. What though the devil
should bring in many indictments against you? Christ will expunge your sins in
his blood. Could he possibly say, "I shall condemn my spouse?" Oh, what a
comfort this is! The Husband is judge. Christ cannot pass sentence against his
spouse without passing it against himself. For Christ and believers are one.
5. In the case of the saints' suffering. The church of God is exposed in this
life to many injuries, but she has a Husband in heaven who is mindful of her and
will "turn water into wine" for her. Now it is a time of mourning with the
spouse because the Bridegroom is absent (Matt. 9:15). But shortly she shall put
off her mourning. Christ will wipe the tears of blood off the cheeks of his
spouse: "He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears
from all faces" (Isa. 25:8). Christ will comfort his spouse for as much time as
she has been afflicted. He will solace her with his love; he will take away the
cup of trembling and give her the cup of consolation. And now she shall forget
all her sorrows, being called into the banqueting house of heaven and having the
banner of Christ's love displayed over her.

Application 5: Let me press several duties upon those who have this marriage
union with Christ:

1. Make use of this relationship in two cases:

(a) When the law brings in its indictments against you. The law says, "Here
there are so many debts to be paid," and it demands satisfaction. Acknowledge
the debt, but turn it all over to your Husband, Christ. It is a maxim in law
that the suit must not go against the wife, as long as the husband is living.
Tell Satan when he accuses you, "It is true that the debt is mine, but go to my
Husband, Christ; he will discharge it." If we took this course, we might relieve
ourselves of much trouble. By faith we turn over the debt to our Husband.
Believers are not in a state of widowhood but of marriage. Satan will never go
to Christ - he knows that justice is satisfied and the debt book cancelled - but
he comes to us for the debt so that he may perplex us. We should send him to
Christ and then all lawsuits would cease. This is a believer's triumph. When he
is guilty in himself, he is worthy in Christ. When he is spotted in himself, he
is pure in his Head.

(b) In the case of desertion. Christ may (for reasons best known to himself)
step aside for a time: "my beloved had withdrawn himself" (Song 5:6). Do not
say, therefore, that Christ has gone for good. It is a fruit of jealousy in a
wife, when her husband has left her a while, to think that he has gone from her
for good. Every time Christ removes himself out of sight, it is wrong for us to
say (like Zion), "The Lord has forsaken me" (Isa. 49:14). This is jealousy, and
it is a wrong done to the love of Christ and the sweetness of this marriage
relationship. Christ may forsake his spouse in regard of comfort, but he will
not forsake her in regard of union. A husband may be a thousand miles distant
from his wife, but he is still a husband. Christ may leave his spouse, but the
marriage knot still holds.

2. Rejoice in your Husband, Christ. Has Christ honoured you by taking you into
the marriage relationship and making you one with himself? This calls for joy.
By virtue of the union, believers are sharers with Christ in his riches. It was
a custom among the Romans, when the wife was brought home, for her to receive
the keys of her husband's house, intimating that the treasure and custody of the
house was now committed to her. When Christ brings his bride home to those
glorious mansions which he has gone ahead to prepare for her (John 14:2), he
will hand over the keys of his treasure to her, and she shall be as rich as
heaven can make her. And shall not the spouse rejoice and sing aloud upon her
bed (Psa. 149:5)? Christians, let the times be ever so sad, you may rejoice in
your spiritual espousals (Hab. 3:17,18). Let me tell you, it is a sin not to
rejoice. You disparage your Husband, Christ. When a wife is always sighing and
weeping, what will others say? "This woman has a bad husband." Is this the fruit
of Christ's love to you, to reflect dishonour upon him? A melancholy spouse
saddens Christ's heart. I do not deny that Christians should grieve for sins of
daily occurrence, but to be always weeping (as if they mourned without hope) is
dishonourable to the marriage relationship. "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil.
4:4). Rejoicing brings credit to your husband. Christ loves a cheerful bride,
and indeed the very purpose of God's making us sad is to make us rejoice. We sow
in tears, so that we may reap in joy. The excessive sadness and contrition of
the godly will make others afraid to embrace Christ. They will begin to question
whether there is that satisfactory joy in religion which is claimed. Oh, you
saints of God, do not forget consolation; let others see that you do not repent
of your choice. It is joy that puts liveliness and activity into a Christian:
"the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). The soul is swiftest in duty
when it is carried on the wings of joy.

3. Adorn this marriage relationship, so that you may be a crown to your husband.

(a) Wear a veil. We read of the spouse's veil (Song 5:7). This veil is humility.

(b) Put on your jewels. These are the graces which for their lustre are compared
to rows of pearl and chains of gold (Song 1:1O). These precious jewels
distinguish Christ's bride from strangers.

(c) Behave as becomes Christ's spouse:

In chastity. Be chaste in your judgments; do not defile yourselves with error.
Error adulterates the mind (1 Tim. 6:5). It is one of Satan's artifices first
to defile the judgment, then the conscience.

In sanctity. It is not for Christ's spouse to behave like harlots. A naked
breast and a wanton tongue do not become a saint. Christ's bride must shine
forth in gospel purity, so that she may make her husband fall in love with
her. A woman was asked what dowry she brought her husband. She answered that
she had no dowry, but she promised to keep herself chaste. So though we can
bring Christ no dowry, yet he expects us to keep ourselves pure, not spotting
the breasts of our virginity by contagious and scandalous sins.

4. Love your Husband, Christ (Song 2:5). Love him though he is reproached and
persecuted. A wife loves her husband when in prison. To inflame your love
towards Christ, consider:

(a) Nothing else is fit for you to love. If Christ is your Husband, it is not
fit to have other lovers who would make Christ grow jealous.

(b) He is worthy of your love. He is of unparalleled beauty: "altogether lovely"
(Song 5:16).

(c) How fervent is Christ's love towards you! He loves you in your worst
condition, he loves you in affliction. The goldsmith loves his gold in the
furnace. He loves you notwithstanding your fears and blemishes. The saints'
infirmities cannot wholly remove Christ's love from them (Jer. 3:1). Oh then,
how the spouse should be endeared in her love to Christ! This will be the
excellence of heaven. Our love will then be like the sun in its full strength.

 

Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Discovery of the Americas