“Thirdly, It is the first and principal grace, in respect of causality and efficacy. It is the cause of all other graces that we are made partakers of; they are all communicated unto us by virtue of our union with Christ. Hence is our adoption, our justification, our sanctification, our fruitfulness, our perseverance, our resurrection, our glory. Hence is our adoption; for it is upon our receiving of him that this right and privilege is granted unto us of becoming the sons of God, John 1:12. No man can be made the adopted son of God but by an implantation into him who is the natural Son of God, John 15:1–6, 20:17. And thence also are the consequent privileges that attend that estate; for “because we are sons, God sends forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father,” Gal. 4:6,—that is, to own God, and address ourselves unto him under the consideration of the authority and love of a father. And hence is our justification: for,—1. Being united unto Christ, we are interested in that acquitment from the condemning sentence of the law which was granted unto himself when he satisfied it to the utmost, Rom. 1:3, 4; Isa. 50:8, 9. For he was acquitted as the head and surety of the church, and not on his own personal account, for whereas he did no sin, he owed no suffering nor satisfaction to the law; but as “he suffered for us, the just for the unjust,” so he was acquitted as the representative of his whole church. By our union, therefore, unto him, we fall under the sentence of acquitment, which was given out towards whole Christ mystical, head and members. 2. Our union with him is the ground of the actual imputation of his righteousness unto us; for he covers only the members of his own body with his own garments, nor will cast a skirt over any who is not “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh.” And so he is “of God made unto us righteousness,” 1 Cor. 1:30. Hence also is our sanctification, and that both as to its principle in a new spiritual nature, and as unto its progress in fruitfulness and holiness. The principle of it is the Spirit itself of life, holiness, and power. This God sheds on us through Jesus Christ, Tit. 3:6, or on the account of our interest in him, according to his promise, John 7:38, 39. And for this cause is he said to be “our life,” Col. 3:4, because in him lie the springs of our spiritual life, which in and by our regeneration, renovation, and sanctification is communicated unto us. And its progress in fruitfulness is from thence alone. To teach this, is the design of the parable used by our Saviour concerning the vine and its branches, John 15; for as he showeth our abiding in him to be as necessary unto us, that we may bear fruit, as it is unto a branch to abide in the vine to the same purpose; so without our so doing we are of no more use, in the ways of God, than a branch that is cut off and withered, and cast aside to burn. And men do but labour in the fire, who, in the pursuit of their convictions, endeavour after holiness or the due performance of good works, without deriving strength for them from their relation unto Christ; for all that they do is either nothing in itself, or nothing as unto acceptation with God. “We are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” Eph. 2:10. Becoming new creatures by our inbeing in him, 2 Cor. 5:17, we are thereby enabled unto those good works, or fruits of holiness, which God hath ordained that we should walk and abound in. And hence on many accounts is our perseverance; for, 1. By virtue hereof we are interested in the covenant, which is the great means of our preservation, God having engaged therein so to write his law in our hearts as that we shall not depart from him, Jer. 31:33. Now, this covenant is made with us under this formal consideration, that we are the children and seed of Abraham, which we are not but by our union with Christ, the one seed, to whom the promises of it were originally made, as our apostle declares, Gal. 3:16. 2. His care is peculiar for the members of his body: for as “no man hateth his own flesh, but loveth and cherisheth it,” nor will suffer any of his members to perish, if by any means he can prevent it; so is the heart of Christ towards those that are united to him, and therein are “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” Eph. 5:29, 30. And therefore, 3. The care of giving out supplies unto us for assistance against opposition and strength for duties, which is the grace of perseverance is incumbent on him. Our resurrection also depends on this union,—I mean, a blessed resurrection in joy and glory unto light and life eternal; for this resurrection is nothing but the entire gathering up together of the whole body of Christ unto himself, whereof he gave us a pledge, example, and assurance, in his own person. So the apostle assures us, Rom. 8:11, “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you” (which, as hath been showed, is the means of our union with him), “he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” And this he expressly proveth at large, 1 Cor. 15. And this lands us in eternal glory; which, as was observed before, is nothing but the consummation and perfection of this union with Christ. And hence it appears on how many accounts it is the principle and measure of all other graces and privileges whatever.
And we may see hence how great our concernment is to inquire diligently into this foundation of all grace, mercy, and glory. If we fail here, as too many seem to do, we do but run in vain, and build in vain, and boast in vain, for all will be lost and perish. We may do well to remember what became of the house that was built on the sand, when its trial came: it fell, and its fall was great and irreparable. Such will be the end of the profession of men that doth not spring and arise from union with Christ.
John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 21, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1854), 149–151.