Human Nature in its Fourfold State
Thomas Boston (1676 - 1732)
I. The State of INNOCENCE
II. The State of NATURE
1. The SINFULNESS of man's natural state
2. The MISERY of man's natural state
3. The INABILITY of man's natural state
III. The State of GRACE
2. MYSTICAL UNION between Christ and Believers
"I am the vine you are the branches." John 15:5
Having spoken of the change made by regeneration, on all those who will inherit eternal life, in opposition to their natural real state, the state of degeneracy; I proceed to speak of the change made on them, in their union with the Lord Jesus Christ, in opposition to their natural relative state, the state of misery. The doctrine of the saints' union with Christ, is very plainly and fully insisted on, from the beginning to the eighth verse of this chapter; which is a part of our Lord's farewell sermon to his disciples. Sorrow had now filled their hearts; they were apt to say, Alas! what will become of us, when our Master is taken from our head? Who will then instruct us? Who will solve our doubts? How shall we be supported under our difficulties and discouragements? How shall we be able to live without our accustomed communication with him? Therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ seasonably teaches them the mystery of their union with him, comparing himself to the vine, and them to the branches.
1. He compares himself to a VINE. "I am the vine." He had been celebrating, with his disciples, the sacrament of his supper, that sign and seal of his people's union with him; and had told them, "That he would drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until he should drink it new with them in his Father's kingdom:" and now he shows himself to be the vine, from whence the wine of their consolation should come. The vine has less beauty than many other trees—but it is exceedingly fruitful; fitly representing the low condition in which our Lord was in, bringing many sons to glory. But that which is chiefly aimed at, in his comparing himself to a vine, is to represent himself as the supporter and nourisher of his people, in whom they live and bring forth fruit.
2. He compares them to BRANCHES; you are the branches of that vine. You are the branches knit to, and growing on this stock, drawing all your life and sap from it. It is a beautiful comparison; as if he had said, I am as a vine, you are as the branches of that vine. Now there are two sorts of branches. (1.) Natural branches, which at first spring out of the stock. These are the branches that are in the tree, and were never out of it. (2.) There are engrafted branches, which are branches cut off from the tree that first gave them life, and put into another, to grow upon it. Thus branches come to be on a tree, which originally were not on it. The branches mentioned in the text, are of the latter sort; branches broken off, as the word in the original language denotes, namely, from the tree which first gave them life. None of the children of men are natural branches of the second Adam, that is, Jesus Christ, the true vine; they are the natural branches of the first Adam, that degenerate vine: but the elect are all of them, sooner or later, broken off from their natural stock, and engrafted into Christ, the true vine.
DOCTRINE. They who are in the state of grace, are engrafted in, and united to, the Lord Jesus Christ. They are taken out of their natural stock, cut off from it; and are now engrafted into Christ, as the new stock.
In general, for understanding the union between the Lord Jesus Christ and his elect, who believe in him, and on him, I observe,
1. It is a SPIRITUAL union.Man and wife, by their marriage-union, become one flesh; Christ and true believers, by this union, become one spirit, 1 Cor. 6:17. As one soul or spirit actuates both the head and the members in the natural body, so the one Spirit of God dwells in Christ and the Christian; for, "if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," Romans 8:9. Earthly union is made by contact; so the stones in a building are united: but this is a union of another nature. Were it possible that we could eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, in a corporeal and carnal manner, it would profit nothing, John 6:63. It was not Mary's bearing him in her womb—but her believing on him, that made her a saint, Luke 11:27, 28, "A woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
2. It is a REAL union.Such is our weakness in our present state, so much are we sunk in sin, that in our mind, we are prone to suspect spiritual realities to be only a fiction. But nothing is more real than what is spiritual: as approaching nearest to the nature of him who is the fountain of all reality, namely, God himself. We do not see with our eyes the union between our own soul and body; neither can we represent it to ourselves truly, by imagination, as we do sensible things: yet the reality of it is not to be doubted. Faith is no fancy—but "the substance of things hoped for," Heb. 11:1. Neither is the union thereby made between Christ and believers imaginary—but most real: "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones," Eph. 5:30.
3. It is a most close and INTIMATE union.Believers, regenerate people, who believe in him, and rely on him, have put on Christ, Gal. 3:27. If that be not enough, he is in them, John 17:23, formed in them as the child in the womb, Gal. 4:19. He is the foundation, 1 Cor. 3:11; they are the living stones built upon him, 1 Pet. 2:5. He is the head, and they the body, Eph. 1:22, 23. Nay, he lives in them, as their very souls live in their bodies, Gal. 2:20. And what is more than all this, they are one in the Father and the Son, as the Father is in Christ, and Christ in the Father, John 17:21, "That they all may be one; as you Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us."
4. Though it is not a mere LEGAL union—yet it is a union supported by law.Christ, as the surety, and Christians as the principal debtors, are one in the eye of the law. When the elect had run themselves, with the rest of mankind, in debt to the justice of God, Christ became surety for them, and paid the debt. When they believe on him, they are united to him in a spiritual marriage union; which takes effect so far, that what he did and suffered for them is reckoned in law, as if they had done and suffered it themselves. Hence, they are said to be crucified with Christ, Gal. 2:20; buried with him, Col. 2:12; yes, raised up together, namely, with Christ, "and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus," Eph. 2:6. In which places, saints on earth, of whom the apostle there speaks, cannot be said to be sitting—but in the way of law reckoning.
5. It is an INDISSOLUBLE union.Once in Christ, ever in him. Having taken up his habitation in the heart, he never leaves. None can untie this happy knot. Who will dissolve this union? Will he himself? No, he will not; we have his word for it; "I will not turn away from them," Jer. 32:40. But perhaps the sinner will do this mischief to himself? No, he shall not; "they shall not depart from me," says their God. Can devils do it? No, unless they be stronger than Christ and his Father too; "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand," says our Lord, John 10:28. "And none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand," verse 30. But what say you of death, which parts husband and wife; yes, separates the soul from the body? Will not death do it? No: the apostle, Romans 8:38, 39, is "persuaded that neither death," terrible as it is, "nor life," desirable as it is; "nor" devils, those evil "angels, nor" the devil's persecuting agents, though they be "principalities, nor powers" on earth; "nor" evil "things present," already lying on us; "nor" evil "things to come" on us; "nor" the "height" of worldly felicity; "nor depth" of worldly misery; "nor any other creature," good or evil, "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
As death separated Christ's soul from his body—but could not separate either his soul or body from his divine nature; so, though the saints should be separated from their nearest relations in the world, and from all their earthly enjoyments; yes, though their souls should be separated from their bodies separated in a thousand pieces, their "bones scattered, as one cuts or cleaves wood;" yet soul and body shall remain united to the Lord Christ; for even in death, "they sleep in Jesus," 1 Thess. 4:14; and "he keeps all their bones," Psalm 34:20. Union with Christ, is "the grace wherein we stand," firm and stable, "as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed."
6. It is a MYSTERIOUS union.The gospel is a doctrine of mysteries. It discovers to us the substantial union of the three persons in one Godhead, 1 John 5:7, "These three are one;" the hypostatic union, of the divine and human natures, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Tim. 3:16, "God was manifest in the flesh;" and the mystical union, between Christ and believers; "This is a great mystery" also, Eph. 5:32. O, what mysteries are here! The head in heaven, the members on earth—yet really united! "Christ in the believer, living in him, walking in him:" and "the believer dwelling in God, putting on the Lord Jesus, eating his flesh, and drinking his blood!" This makes the saints a mystery to the world; yes, a mystery to themselves.
I come now more particularly to speak of this union with, and engrafting into, Jesus Christ.
I. I shall consider the natural stock, which the branches are taken out of.
II. The supernatural stock they are engrafted into.
III. What branches are cut off the old stock, and put into the new.
IV. How it is done. And,
V. The benefits flowing from this union and engrafting.
I. Let us take a view of the natural stock, which the branches are taken out of. The two Adams, that is, Adam and Christ, are the two stocks: for the Scripture speaks of these two, as if there had been no more men in the world than they, 1 Cor. 15:45, "The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit;" verse 47, "The first man is of the earth earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven." And the reason is, there never were any that were not branches of one of these two; all men being either in the one stock or in the other: for in these two sorts all mankind stand divided, verse 48, "As is the earthy, such are they also which are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." The first Adam then, is the natural stock: on this stock are the branches found growing at first, which are afterwards cut off, and engrafted into Christ. As for the fallen angels, as they had no relation to the first Adam, so they have none to the second.
There are four things to be remembered here.
(1.) That all mankind, the man Christ excepted, are naturally branches of the first Adam, Romans 5:12, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin: and so death passed upon all men."
(2.) The bond which knit us unto the natural stock, was the covenant of works. Adam, being our natural root, was made the moral root also, bearing all his posterity, as representing them in the covenant of works. For "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners," Romans 5:19. It was necessary that there should be a peculiar relation between that one man and the many, as a foundation for imputing his sin to them. This relation did not arise from the mere natural bond between him and us, as a father to his children; for so we are related to our immediate parents, whose sins are not thereupon imputed to us, as Adam's sin is: but it arose from a moral bond between Adam and us; the bond of a covenant, which could be no other than the covenant of works, wherein we are united to him, as branches to a stock. Hence Jesus Christ, though a son of Adam, Luke 3:23-38, was none of these branches; for as he came not of Adam, in virtue of the blessing of marriage, which was given before the fall, Gen. 1:28, "Be fruitful, and multiply," etc.—but in virtue of a special promise made after the fall, Gen. 3:15, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head," he could not be represented by Adam in a covenant made before his fall.
(3.) As it is impossible for a branch to be in two stocks at once, so no man can be at one and the same time, both in the first and second Adam.
(4.) Hence it evidently follows, that all who are not engrafted in Jesus Christ, are yet branches of the old stock; and so partake of the nature of the same.
Now, as to the first Adam, our natural stock, consider,
First, What a stock he was originally. He was a vine of the Lord's planting, a choice vine, a noble vine, wholly good. There was a consultation of the Trinity at the planting of this vine, Gen. 1:26, "Let us make man in our image, after our own likeness." There was no rottenness at the heart of it. There was sap and juice enough in it to have nourished all the branches, to bring forth fruit unto God. My meaning is, Adam was made able perfectly to keep the commandments of God, which would have procured eternal life to himself, and to all his posterity; for as all die by Adam's disobedience, all would have had life by his obedience, if he had stood. Consider,
Secondly, What that stock now is. Ah! most unlike to what it was when planted by the Author of all good. A blast from hell, and a bite with the venomous teeth of the old serpent, have made it a degenerate stock; a dead stock; nay, a killing stock.
1. It is a degenerate EVIL stock. Therefore, the Lord God said to Adam in that dismal day, "Where are you?" Gen. 3:9. In what condition are you now? "How are you turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?" Or, "Where were you?" Why not in the place of meeting with me? Why so long in coming? What means this fearful change; this hiding of yourself from me? Alas! the stock is degenerate, quite spoiled, is become altogether evil, and brings forth wild grapes. Converse with the devil is preferred to communion with God. Satan is believed; and God, who is truth itself, disbelieved. He who was the friend of God is now in conspiracy against him. Darkness is come in the place of light; ignorance prevails in the mind, where divine knowledge shone; the will, which was righteous and regular, is now turned rebel against its Lord: and the whole man is in dreadful disorder.
Before I go farther, let me stop and observe, Here is a mirror both for saints and sinners. Sinners, stand here and consider what you are; and saints, learn what you once were. You, sinners, are branches of a degenerate stock. Fruit you may bear indeed; but now that your vine is the vine of Sodom, your grapes must of course be grapes of gall, Deut. 32:32. The Scripture speaks of two sorts of fruit which grow on the branches of the natural stock; and it is plain that they are of the nature of their degenerate stock. (1.) The wild grapes of wickedness, Isaiah 5:2. These grow in abundance, by influence from hell. See Gal. 5:19-21. At its gates are all manner of these fruits, both new and old. Storms come from heaven to check them; but still they grow. They are struck at with the sword of the Spirit, the word of God; conscience gives them many a secret blow; yet they thrive. (2.) Fruit to themselves, Hos. 10:1. What else are all the unrenewed man's acts of obedience, his reformation, sober deportment, his prayers, and good works? They are all done chiefly for himself, not for the glory of God. These fruits are like the apples of Sodom, fair to look at—but full of ashes when handled and tried. You think you have not only the leaves of a profession—but the fruits of a holy practice too; but if you be not broken off from the old stock, and engrafted in Christ Jesus, God accepts not, and regards not your fruits.
Here I must take occasion to tell you, there are five faults will be found in heaven with your best fruits.
(1.) Their bitterness; your "clusters are bitter," Deut. 32:32. There is a spirit of bitterness, wherewith some come before the Lord, in religious duties, living in malice and envy; and which some professors entertain against others, because they outshine them in holiness of life, or because they are not of their opinion. This, wherever it reigns, is a fearful symptom of an unregenerate state. But I do not so much mean this, as that which is common to all the branches of the old stock, namely, the leaves of hypocrisy, Luke 12:1, which sours and embitters every duty they perform. Wisdom, which is full of good fruits, is without hypocrisy, James 3:17.
(2.) Their ill savor. Their works are abominable, for they themselves are corrupt, Psalm 14:1. They all savor of the old stock, not of the new. It is the peculiar privilege of the saints, that they are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, 2 Cor. 2:15. The unregenerate man's fruits savor not of love to Christ, nor of the blood of Christ, nor of the incense of his intercession; and therefore will never be accepted in heaven.
(3.) Their unripeness. Their grape is an unripe grape, Job 15:33. There is no influence on them from the Sun of righteousness to bring them to perfection. They have the shape of fruit—but no more. The matter of duty is in them—but they lack right principles and ends: their works are not in God, John 3:21. Their prayers drop from their lips, before their hearts are impregnated with the vital sap of the Spirit of supplication: their tears fall from their eyes before their hearts are truly softened; their feet turn to new paths, and their way is altered, while their nature still is unchanged.
(4.) Their lightness. Being weighed in the balances, they are found lacking, Dan. 5:27. For evidence whereof, you may observe that they do not humble the soul—but lift it up in pride. The good fruits of holiness bear down the branches they grow upon, making them to salute the ground, 1 Cor. 15:19, "I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I—but the grace of God which was with me." But the blasted fruits of unrenewed men's performances, hang lightly on branches towering up to heaven, Judges 17:13, "Now know I, that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite as my priest." They look, indeed, too high for God to behold them: "Why have we fasted, say they, and you see not" Isaiah 58:3. The more duties they do, and the better they seem to perform them, the less are they humbled, and the more are they lifted up. This disposition of the sinner is the exact reverse of what is to be found in the saint. To men, who neither are in Christ, nor are solicitous to be found in him, their duties are like floating bladders, wherewith they think to swim ashore to Immanuel's land; but these must needs break, and they consequently sink, because they take not Christ for the lifter up of their heads, Psalm 3:3, 5. They are not all manner of pleasant fruits, Cant. 7:13. Christ, as a king, must be served with variety. Where God makes the heart his garden, he plants it as Solomon did his, with trees of all kinds of fruits, Eccl. 2:5. Accordingly, it brings forth the fruit of the Spirit in all goodness, Eph. 5:9. But the ungodly are not so; their obedience is never universal; there is always some one thing or other excepted. In one word, their fruits are fruits of an evil tree, which cannot be accepted in heaven.
2. Our natural stock is a DEAD stock, according to the threatening, Gen. 2:17, "In the day you eat thereof, you shall surely die." Our root is now rottenness; no wonder the blossom goes up as dust. The stroke has gone to the heart, the sap is let out, and the tree is withered. The curse of the first covenant, like a hot thunderbolt from heaven, has lighted on it, and ruined it. It is cursed now as that fig-tree, Matt. 21:19, "Let no fruit grow on you henceforward forever." Now it is good for nothing—but to cumber the ground, and furnish fuel for Tophet.
Let me enlarge a little here also. Every unrenewed man is a branch of a dead stock. When you see, O sinner, a dead stock of a tree, exhausted of all its sap, having branches on it in the same condition, look on it as a lively representation of your soul's state.
(1.) Where the stock is dead, the branches must needs be barren. Alas! the barrenness of many professors plainly discovers on what stock they are growing. It is easy to pretend to faith—but "I can't see your faith if you don't have good deeds." James 2:18.
(2.) A dead stock can convey no sap to the branches, to make them bring forth fruit. The covenant of works was the bond of our union with the natural stock; but now it is become weak through the flesh; that is, through the degeneracy and depravity of human nature, Romans 8:3. It is strong enough to command, and to bind heavy burdens on the shoulders of those who are not in Christ—but it affords no strength to bear them. The sap, that was once in the root, is now gone: the law, like a merciless creditor, apprehends Adam's heirs, saying to each, "Pay what you owe;" when, alas! his effects are riotously spent.
(3.) All pains and cost are lost on the tree, whose life is gone. In vain do men labor to get fruit on the branches, when there is no sap in the root. The gardener's pains are lost: ministers lose their labor on the branches of the old stock, while they continue on it. Many sermons are preached to no purpose; because there is no life to give sensation. Sleeping men may be awakened; but the dead cannot be raised without a miracle; even so the dead sinner must remain, if he be not restored to life by a miracle of grace.
The influences of heaven are lost on such a tree: in vain does the rain fall upon it; in vain is it laid open to the winter cold and frosts. The Lord of the vineyard digs about many a dead soul—but it is not bettered. "Bruise the fool in a mortar, his folly will not depart." Though he meets with many crosses—yet he retains his lusts: let him be laid on a sick bed, he will lie there like a sick beast, groaning under his pain—but not mourning for, nor turning from, his sin. Let death itself stare him in the face, he will presumptuously maintain his hope. Sometimes there are common operations of the divine Spirit performed on him: he is sent home with a trembling heart, and with arrows of conviction sticking in his soul; but at length he prevails against these things, and becomes as secure as ever. Summer and winter are alike to the branches on the dead stock. When others about them are budding, blossoming, and bringing forth fruit, there is no change on them: the dead stock has no growing time at all.
Perhaps it may be difficult to know, in the winter, what trees are dead, and what are alive; but the spring plainly discovers it. There are some seasons wherein there is little life to be perceived, even among saints; yet times of reviving come at length. But even when "the vine flourishes, and the pomegranates bud forth," when saving grace is discovering itself by its lively actings wherever it is, the branches on the old stock are still withered. When the dry bones are coming together, bone to bone among saints, the sinner's bones are still lying about the grave's mouth. They are trees that cumber the ground, ready to be cut down; and will be cut down for the fire, if God in mercy does not prevent it—by cutting them off from that stock, and engrafting them into another.
3. Our natural stock is a KILLING stock. If the stock dies, how can the branches live? If the sap is gone from the root and heart, the branches must needs wither. "In Adam all die," 1 Cor. 15:22. The root died in Paradise, and all the branches in it, and with it. The root is poisoned, and from thence the branches are infected; "death is in the pot;" and all that taste of the pottage, are killed.
Know then, that every natural man is a branch of a killing stock. Our natural root not only gives us no life—but it has a killing power, reaching to all the branches thereof. There are four things which the first Adam conveys to all his branches, and they are abiding in, and lying on, such of them as are not engrafted in Christ.
(1.) A corrupt nature. He sinned, and his nature was thereby corrupted and depraved; and this corruption is conveyed to all his posterity. He was infected, and the contagion spread itself over all his descendents.
(2.) Guilt, that is, an obligation to punishment, Romans 5:12, "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned." The threatenings of the law, as cords of death, are twisted about the branches of the old stock, to draw them over the hedge into the fire. And until they be cut off from this stock by the pruning-knife, the sword of vengeance hangs over their heads, to cut them down.
(3.) This killing stock transmits the curse into the branches. The stock, as the stock (for I speak not of Adam in his personal and private capacity), being cursed, so are the branches, Gal. 3:10, "For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse." The curse affects the whole man, and all that belongs to him, everything he possesses; and works three ways.
[1.] As poison, infecting; thus their blessings are cursed, Mal. 2:2. Whatever the man enjoys, it can do him no good—but evil, being thus poisoned by the curse. His prosperity in the world destroys him, Proverbs 1:32. The ministry of the gospel is a savor of death unto death to him, 2 Cor. 2:16. His seeming attainments in religion are cursed to him; his knowledge serves but to puff him up, and his duties to keep him back from Christ.
[2.] It works as a moth, consuming and wasting by little and little, Hos. 5:12, "Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth." There is a worm at the root, consuming them by degrees. Thus the curse pursued Saul, until it wormed him out of all his enjoyments, and out of the very show he had of religion. Sometimes they decay like the fat of lambs, and melt away as the snow in the sunshine.
[3.] It acts as a lion rampant, Hos. 5:14, "I will be unto Ephraim as a lion." The Lord "rains on them snares fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest," in such a manner, that they are hurried away with the stream. He tears their enjoyments from them in his wrath, pursues them with terrors, rends their souls from their bodies, and throws the dead branch into the fire. Thus the curse devours like fire, which none can quench.
(4.) This killing stock transmits death to the branches upon it. Adam took the poisonous cup, and drank it off: this occasioned death to himself and us. We came into the world spiritually dead, thereby exposed to eternal death, and absolutely liable to temporal death. This root is to us like the Scythian river, which, they say, brings forth little bladders every day, out of which come certain small flies, that are bred in the morning, winged at noon, and dead at night: a very lively emblem of our mortal state.
Now, sirs, is it not absolutely necessary to be broken off from this our natural stock? What will our fair leaves of a profession, or our fruits of duties, avail—if we be still branches of the degenerate, dead, and killing stock? But, alas! of the many questions among us, few are taken up about these, "Whether am I broken off from the old stock, or not? Am I engrafted in Christ, or not?" Ah! why all this waste of time? Why is there so much noise about religion among many, who can give no good account of their having laid a good foundation, being mere strangers to experimental religion? I fear, if God does not in mercy undermine the religion of many of us, and let us see that we have none at all, our root will be found rottenness, and our blossom go up as dust, in a dying hour. Therefore, let us look to our state, that we be not found fools in our latter end.
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