In his classic book, Human Nature in its Fourfold State, eighteenth century minister Thomas Boston takes a verse from John 15 as the theme of one chapter – the Saviour saying, ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches.’
It’s in this chapter that he has his famous list of ‘strokes’, the various stages which can be identified (descriptively) in the journey that a person makes in their conversion – from the first worry that they have about their soul, through to being actually savingly united to Christ. (The idea he makes use of is the metaphor of a woodsman repeatedly hitting a branch with an axe until it falls off its original tree, and then of course it’s ready to be grafted onto another tree instead.)
Now that he has reached the point of discussing the actual union which exists between the saved soul and the Saviour, he adds a new series of thoughts, including the observation that the union between Christ and the believer is ‘firm and indissoluble’:
“Were it only so that the believer only apprehended Christ, but Christ apprehended him not, we could promise little as to the stability of such a union; it might be quickly dissolved; but as the believer apprehends Christ by faith, so he apprehends him by his Spirit, and none shall pluck him out of his hand. Did the child only keep hold of the nurse, it might at length grow weary, and let go its hold, and so fall away; but if she have her arms about the child, it is in no hazard of falling away, even though it be not actually holding by her. So, whatever sinful intermissions may happen in the exercise of faith, yet the union remains sure, by reason of the constant indwelling of the Spirit.”
It’s surely important to recognise that if the grace that saves a person in the first place is sovereign, it continues to be just as sovereign for the whole of the rest of that person’s career – the person is brought into a living, saving union with the Saviour for no reason in themselves, and that sets the tone for the rest of their life in this world: it’s no qualification of the believer’s that their continuance in a state of grace or their final and complete salvation depends on, but rather the power of Christ’s intercession, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the constant faithfulness of the Father. The believer’s hold of the Saviour is not so much the issue as the hold the Saviour has of the sinner – salvation is sure not on the basis of anything in or about or belonging to the person who is saved, but entirely on the basis of what their Saviour is and has done.
(This, incidentally, was the post held over from Saturday, which got an added boost following a sermon on John 15 the very next day, although I only mentioned the metaphor of the vine to place the quote in Boston’s wider train of thought.)
Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State. First published 1720. Banner of Truth 1989 reprint, quote from p282.