Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 8: The Body Of Christ
To what body are you united in baptism? Why is it called grafting into that body? And what are the chief benefits conferred by this union?
This question is founded on a figure which gives a still further and more striking illustration of the change brought about in the condition and character of every recipient of the sacrament of baptism. In baptism we are ‘grafted into the body of Christ’s Church’. And this term is synonymous with Christ’s body, because the Church is represented in the Scriptures, and in our standards, as the living and visible, though mystical, body of Christ. And in the Catechism we are taught, that by baptism we are made ‘members of Christ’. That is, we are united to a body of which Christ is the head, or, in other words, we become members of his body. This sufficiently denotes a change in the condition and character of the recipient. Baptism is called grafting, which conforms to a Scriptural equivalence of great beauty, which also shows the peculiar benefits conferred by this union.
So we turn to this Scriptural illustration, assuming that this figure of grafting is used by the Saviour himself to explain the way in which his disciples, being many, are one body. I am the vine, you are the branches, says the Saviour. How then do the disciples of Christ become one body in him? How are they, as so many individual branches, grafted into one vine? By turning to the great commission bestowed on the Apostles, at the moment of the Saviour’s ascension, we read the very act of incorporation by which this union is effected. Go ye, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It is not difficult for us to understand what he meant but how did the Apostles themselves understood this commission? What was their practice when they went out to execute it?
The Apostle’s Mission
Take their very first act after the Holy Spirit had been so abundantly poured out on them, on the day of Pentecost. How did they add to the Church, which, in the language of Scripture, is the standing and visible representation of the body of Christ; how did they engraft into this body—this vine—the first three thousand souls who gladly received the word? By baptism—They that gladly received the word were baptized, and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41) And how, in all subsequent periods, did the Apostles bring disciples into union with the body of Christ? In every instance it was by means of the same holy ordinance. It was the same, as you will well remember, with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27-39 - see Discourse 6). Indeed, so it was with the great Apostle Paul himself. Baptism was the badge and seal of their discipleship.
By baptism, they became one body in Christ. By baptism, they were as branches, engrafted into the living vine. Did St. Paul not understand it in this way? If not, what does he mean by saying that as many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ? What does he mean by speaking repeatedly of the disciples of Christ as being buried with him in baptism? These are indeed only idle words, if they do not show conclusively that disciples, being many, are engrafted in by baptism, and made one with Christ. Having seen this, we can only but perceive that this union is a great privilege. For the Apostle himself declares that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.
Branches of the Vine
In view of this privilege, however, another consideration forces itself upon the mind. The union with the body of Christ, being once effected, how is that union to be subsequently maintained so as to insure all the benefits conferred by it? And here again, the Scriptures give us a ready answer. For in all of these Scriptures we find nothing so striking and convincing as the Saviour’s beautiful figure, by which he illustrates the nature of the union already formed. Here he shows how closely every disciple is bound to his body, and what rich and abundant benefits are derived from this union. I am the vine, you are the branches. The idea is, that every branch engrafted into the stock, or, in other words, every disciple incorporated into the body of Christ, must draw from this certain source all its nourishment, strength, support and life. For, says the Saviour, pursuing this image, He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit. But severed from me, you can do nothing. We see then, that the only way in which the disciples of Christ can maintain and enjoy the benefits of their union, is by faithfully abiding in him. Abide in me, and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. (John. 15:1-4)
So what is the plain, common-sense meaning of such language as this? How is the disciple's union with Christ to be maintained so as to secure all the benefits conferred by it? Is it reasonable to suppose that a union, formed through the instrumentality of a positive ordinance of God, can be continued and maintained by any means inferior in nobility or authority? Is it not obvious, that a work, instigated solely by divine power, must by the same power, and no other, be carried on to perfection? If God has appointed the proper channels for the conveyance of his grace to the disciple’s soul, if that disciple is grafted in, like a branch, to the vine, and if that person is to draw the nutriment and support from it, by which alone they can live, who does not perceive what is meant by abiding in the vine?
Who does not perceive the impiety and folly of disturbing, or interrupting or breaking up the beneficent order of this divine appointment? If it is impossible for the branch to bear fruit when severed from the vine, so is it equally impossible for the disciple to cherish the principles of holiness unless he lives in Christ, by walking blamelessly and faithfully in all the laws of God. It is also apparent that a disciple who becomes separated from the vine deprives themselves of spiritual nourishment and will wither as a consequence of this.
On the other hand, if you believe the Saviour when he says that you faithfully live in him, through his own holy laws, is absolutely essential to your life and growth in godliness, and that severed from him you can do nothing, you must see, at once, the serious consequences of tearing yourselves from your allegiance.
A Probing Self-Examination
But you ask, perhaps, if it can be expected that weak and imperfect creatures, such as the disciples of Christ must necessarily be, can exhibit in their lives anything like a faithful copy of his example? Or whether they may not substitute something else for this holy living? Or whether faith may not possess such a wonder-working power as to assume the place of all the other Christian graces, even of love and obedience? The answer to the latter question is short, and is provided by the Apostle, in referring to his own case: though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 3:2) Observe Christian disciple, you can substitute nothing for those peculiar graces which your blessed Master exhibited in his life. And suppose you cannot equal his example in degree, is this any reason why you should not imitate and conform to it, to the extent that an imperfect copy can resemble a perfect original? Do not be deceived by such excuses. You plead that you cannot, at all times, effectually resist adverse temptations and this is true. However this is very different from living in a way that pays heed to divine laws. Instead be ever ready to open your arms and your hearts to receive Christ, to yield to his suggestions, to listen to his promises, and to fall down and worship him. Admittedly it is common to fall into sin but does it follow, that you may continue in it willingly, or persist in it wilfully, without surrendering your hold on the life-giving spirit of Christ?
Again, you plead that you cannot renounce the world as the Saviour renounced it. There are many cares which you cannot put aside. There are things you enjoy and various recreations in which you almost unavoidably participate. Yet is this any reason why you should so eagerly covet their riches, and pursue their pomps and vanities, and conform to its maxims and customs, and fashions, to the extent of violating not only the Spirit, but the very letter of the bond of your discipleship?
Again, because the Christian is not now required to surrender their life for their religion, is this a reason why you should not crush your unholy passions, and crucify your sinful appetites? Is this a reason why you should not die to sin, so that you may rise again to righteousness, and live in Christ, both here and hereafter? Because you cannot equal your Saviour’s perfect example in degree, will you therefore excuse yourselves from any effort to bring your copy into some close resemblance of the original?
Every such excuse would be worse than idle. Instead of resting in self-deception, then, let every disciple of Christ sit calmly down, with the fair record of their Master’s life before them. Each should carefully compare their daily walk and conversation with this perfect example. Each should determine how far they can discover any resemblance between their life and Christ’s, and then seriously meditate on the result. Such an exercise would certainly be profitable. For although it may cause some to blush, and give a severe touch of compunction to the heart, it would, nevertheless, like the painful probing of the skilful surgeon, prove in the end healthful and beneficial.
Where would the worldly-minded disciple find, in such a comparison, anything to foster or gratify their self-complacency? Where would he find, in the Saviour’s example, a single trait of selfishness? Or any indication of that love of wealth which absorbs every other passion, renders the heart callous, blunts all the finer feelings, and gives a sordid cast to every transaction? Where would they look for an example of extortion? Where would they see their great exemplar turning from his Father’s business, and devising means for laying up a perishing treasure on earth? Or could they search, with better hope of success, for any evidence of unholy ambition? Where would they find a trait, of one aspiring thought, or word, or deed? Where could they trace a record of self-exaltation? And surely they would not expect to find any trace in his example for sensual gratification; nothing to sanction luxury or extravagance, or to the habits of frivolous or corrupting diversion. They would never see the Saviour participating of the pleasures and vanities of the world. He, who came to deny himself, to suffer hardships and privations, to endure persecutions and trials, and to give his life a ransom for sinners, could never be found grovelling in sensuality, or leading his followers into the slightest conformity to the degrading practices of self-indulgence. No such trace could be found in the whole record of the Saviour’s life.
From Darkness into Light
Such a self-examination is indeed a probing one yet one can rise from it more determined than before to diligently walk in Christ’s footsteps.
Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Rom. 13:12)
It is too easy to seek and to believe we have found the joys of the Christian life through prayer, praise and worship. Yet without meaningful self-examination it is always too easy to deceive ourselves that an adequate Christian life is being followed and there is no need, nor benefit to be obtained, by being challenged further. It is all too easy to feel that one is in the Light when, in reality, they are still in comparative darkness. There is always a far more beautiful and brilliant Light ahead. It is all too easy to believe that one has arrived when the journey has just begun. — It is all too easy to believe that we have experienced the love of God when we have experienced only the smallest taste of its sublime and profound fullness.
In the next and finally discourse of our Spiritual Foundation programme the spiritual technique of ‘watchfulness’ will be explained. This will help you to more easily put into practice much of what has been explored to this point. You will also be invited to join us on Spiritual Pilgrimage, an extended programme in which we seek to journey together ever deeper into God.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 8