Karl Marx

The Union of Believers With Christ According to John 15: 1-14, Showing its Basis and Essence, its Absolute Necessity, and its Effects [198]

Source: MECW Volume 1, p. 636
Written: between August 10 and 16, 1835
First published: in Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung, 1925
Transcribed: by Adam Kubik.

Before examining the basis and essence and the effects of the union of Christ with believers, let us see whether this union is necessary, whether it is determined by the nature of man, whether man cannot by himself achieve the purpose for which God brought him into being out of nothing.

If we turn our attention to history, the great teacher of mankind, we shall find engraved there that every people, even when it had attained the highest level of civilisation, when the greatest men had sprung from its womb, when the arts had blossomed within it in their full radiance, when the sciences had solved the most difficult problems, was nevertheless unable to cast off the fetters of superstition, that it had not conceived worthy and true ideas either of itself or of the Deity, that even its morality and ethics were never seen to be free from foreign admixture, from ignoble limitations, and that even its virtues owed their origin more to a crude greatness, an unbridled egoism, a passion for fame and audacious deeds than to striving for true perfection.

And the ancient peoples, the savages, who have not yet heard the teaching of Christ, betray an inner unrest, a fear of the anger of their gods, an inner conviction of their own iniquity, by making sacrifices to their gods, imagining they can atone for their sins by sacrifices.

Indeed, the greatest sage of antiquity, the divine Plato, expresses in more than one passage a profound longing for a higher being, whose appearance would fulfill the unsatisfied striving for truth and light.

Thus the history of peoples teaches us the necessity of union with Christ.

When we consider also the history of individuals, when we consider the nature of man, it is true that we always see a spark of divinity in his breast, a passion for what is good, a striving for knowledge, a yearning for truth. But the sparks of the eternal are extinguished by the flames of desire; enthusiasm for virtue is drowned by the tempting voice of sin, it is scorned as soon as life has made us feel its full power; the striving for knowledge is supplanted by a base striving for worldly goods, the longing for truth is extinguished by the sweetly flattering power of lies; and so there stands man, the only being in nature which does not fulfil its purpose, the only member of the totality of creation which is not worthy of the God who created it. But that benign Creator could not hate His work; He wanted to raise it up to Him and He sent His Son, through whom He proclaimed to us:

“Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).
"Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4).

Having thus seen how the history of peoples and a consideration of individuals prove the necessity of union with Christ, let us examine the last and surest proof, the word of Christ Himself.

Nowhere does He express more clearly the necessity of union with Himself than in the beautiful parable of the vine and the branches, in which He calls Himself the vine and us the branches. The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, and so, Christ says, without me you can do nothing. He expresses this still more strongly by saying:

“If a man abide not in me”, etc. (John 15: 4, 5, 6).

One must, however, understand this as applying only to those who have been able to learn the word of Christ; for we cannot judge of God’s decision in regard to such peoples and individuals, since we are not capable even of grasping it.

Our hearts, reason, history , the word of Christ, therefore, tell us loudly and convincingly that union with Him is absolutely essential, that without Him we cannot fulfil our goal, that without Him we would be rejected by God, that only He can redeem us.

Thus, penetrated with the conviction that this union is absolutely essential, we are desirous of finding out in what this lofty gift, consists, this ray of light which descends from higher worlds to animate our hearts, and bears us purified aloft to heaven, what its inner nature and basis is.

Once we have grasped the necessity of this union, the basis for it - our need for redemption, our sinfully inclined nature, our wavering reason, our corrupted heart, our iniquity in the sight of God - is clearly visible to us and we have no need to investigate further what it is.

But who could express the nature of this union more beautifully than Christ did in the parable of the vine and the branches? Who in lengthy treatises could lay bare before our eyes in all its parts the innermost basis of this union as comprehensively as Christ did in the words:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman” (John 15: 1).
"I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15: 5).

If the branch could feel, how joyfully it would look at the husbandman who tends it, who carefully frees it from weeds and binds it firmly to the vine from which it draws the nourishment and sap to form more beautiful blossoms.

In union with Christ, therefore, we turn above all our loving eyes to God, feel the most ardent thankfulness towards Him, sink joyfully on our knees before Him.

Then, when by union with Christ a more beautiful sun has risen for us, when we feel all our iniquity but at the same time rejoice over our redemption, we can for the first time love God, who previously appeared to us as an offended ruler but now appears as a forgiving father, as a kindly teacher.

But, if it could feel, the branch would not only look upwards to the husbandman, it would fondly snuggle up to the vine, it would feel itself most closely linked with it and with the branches which have sprung from it; it would love the other branches if only because the husbandman tends them and the vine gives them strength.

Thus, union with Christ consists in the most intimate, most vital communion with Him, in having Him before our eyes and in our hearts, and being so imbued with the highest love for Him, at the same time we turn our hearts to our brothers whom He has closely bound to us, and for whom also He sacrificed Himself.

But this love for Christ is not barren, it not only fills us with the purest reverence and respect for Him, it also causes us to keep His commandments by sacrificing ourselves for one another, by being virtuous, but virtuous solely out of love for Him. (John 15: 9, 10, 12, 13, 14.)

This is the great abyss which separates Christian virtue from any other and raises it above any other: this is one of the greatest effects that union with Christ has on man.

Virtue is no longer a dark distorted image, as it was depicted by the philosophy of the Stoics; it is not the offspring of a harsh theory of duty, as we find it among all heathen peoples, but what it achieves it accomplishes through love for Christ, through love for a divine Being, and when it springs from this pure source it is seen to be free from all that is earthly and to be truly divine. All repulsive aspects disappear, all that is earthly is suppressed, all coarseness is removed, and virtue is more brilliant by having become at once milder and more human.

Never could it have been depicted in this way by human reason, its virtue would always remain a limited, earthly virtue.

Once man has attained this virtue, this union with Christ, he will await the blows of fate with calm composure, courageously oppose the storms of passion, and endure undaunted the wrath of the iniquitous, for who can oppress him, who could rob him of his Redeemer?

What he asks, he knows will be fulfilled, for he asks only in union with Christ, hence only what is divine, and who could fail to be uplifted and comforted by this assurance which the Saviour Himself proclaims? (John 15: 7.)

Who would not bear suffering gladly, knowing that by his abiding in Christ, by his works, God Himself is glorified, that by his perfection the Lord of creation is exalted? (John 15: 8.)

Therefore union with Christ bestows inner exaltation, consolation in suffering, calm assurance, and a heart which is open to love of mankind, to all that is noble, to all that is great, not out of ambition, not through a desire for fame, but only because of Christ. Therefore union with Christ bestows a joy which the Epicurean strives vainly to derive from his frivolous philosophy or the deeper thinker from the most hidden depths of knowledge, a joy known only by the ingenuous, childlike mind which is linked with Christ and through Him with God, a joy which makes life higher and more beautiful. (John 15: 11.)