Where’s Waldo Wednesday: Too Much of a Good Thing?

. . . In the fifth place, is it wise to use the language which is often used in the present day about the doctrine of “Christ in us”? I doubt it. Is not this doctrine often exalted to a position which it does not occupy in Scripture? I am afraid that it is. That the true believer is one with Christ and Christ in him, no careful reader of the New Testament will think of denying for a moment. There is, no doubt, a mystical union between Christ and the believer. With Him we died, with Him we were buried, with Him we rose again, with Him we sit in heavenly places. We have five plain texts where we are distinctly taught that Christ is “in us.” ( Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; 4:19; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 3:11.) But we must be careful that we understand what we mean by the expression. That “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith,” and carries on His inward work by His Spirit, is clear and plain. But if we mean to say that beside, and over, and above this there is some mysterious indwelling of Christ in a believer, we must be careful what we are about. Unless we take care, we shall find ourselves ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit. We shall be forgetting that in the Divine economy of man’s salvation election is the special work of God the Father – atonement, mediation, and intercession, the special work of God the Son – and sanctification, the special work of God the Holy Spirit. We shall be forgetting that our Lord said, when He went away, that He would send us another Comforter, who should “abide with us” forever, and, as it were, take His Place. ( John 14:16.) In short, under the idea that we are honoring Christ, we shall find that we are dishonoring His special and peculiar gift – the Holy Spirit. Christ, no doubt, as God, is everywhere – in our hearts, in heaven, in the place where two or three are meet together in His name. But we really must remember that Christ, as our risen Head and High Priest, is specially at God’s right hand interceding for us until He comes the second time: and that Christ carries on His work in the hearts of His people by the special work of His Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left the world. ( John 15:26.) A comparison of the ninth and tenth verses of the eighth chapter of Romans seems to me to show this plainly. It convinces me that “Christ in us” means Christ in us “by His Spirit.” Above all, the words of St. John are most distinct and express: “Hereby we know that He abides in us by the Spirit which He has given us.” ( 1 John 3:24.)

In saying all this, I hope no one will misunderstand me. I do not say that the expression, “Christ in us” is unscriptural. But I do say that I see great danger of giving extravagant and unscriptural importance to the idea contained in the expression; and I do fear that many use it now-adays without exactly knowing what they mean, and unwittingly, perhaps, dishonor the mighty work of the Holy Spirit. If any reader think that I am needlessly scrupulous about the point, I recommend to their notice a curious book by Samuel Rutherford (author of the well-known letters), called “The Spiritual Antichrist.” They will see there that two centuries ago the wildest heresies arose out of an extravagant teaching of this very doctrine of the “indwelling of Christ” in believers. They will find that Saltmarsh, and Dell, and Towne, and other false teachers, against whom good Samuel Rutherford contended, began with strange notions of “Christ in us,” and then proceeded to build on the doctrine antinomianism, and fanaticism of the worst description and vilest tendency. They maintained that the separate, personal life of the believer was so completely gone, that it was Christ living in him who repented, and believed, and acted! The root of this huge error was a forced and unscriptural interpretation of such texts as “I live: yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20.) And the natural result of it was that many of the unhappy followers of this school came to the comfortable conclusion that believers were not responsible, whatever they might do! Believers, forsooth, were dead and buried; and only Christ lived in them, and undertook everything for them! The ultimate consequence was, that some thought they might sit still in a carnal security, their personal accountableness being entirely gone, and might commit any kind of sin without fear! Let us never forget that truth, distorted and exaggerated, can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies. When we speak of “Christ being in us,” let us take care to explain what we mean. I fear some neglect this in the present day. (From the Introduction to Holiness, by J. C. Ryle; tip of the hat to our southern correspondent)

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2 Comments

  1. Jim Basinger
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I read through the latest Waldo without first looking at who said it (normally I begin from the end). Was I surprised! An Anglican – and a bishop no less. I guess Bp Ryle would agree that Frances Havergal was a bit over the top when she wrote – “Take my will, and make it Thine: it shall be no longer mine.” Not union with but absorption into Christ. That hymn is found in the Trinity Hymnal, by the way.

  2. dgh
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Jim, no church is perfect. Trinity Hymnal also has “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”

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