Exemption from Condemnation

Thomas Manton began his exposition of Romans 8 by telling his hearers “what condemnation importeth.” The world stands under condemnation because of sin—that black backdrop has made this chapter’s “No condemnation!” all the more precious to the believer. Manton next turns the reader’s attention to union with Christ as the means by which “exemption from condemnation” occurs in the life of the sinner. The sinner becomes a saint through union with Christ.

Extolling the benefits of “no condemnation,” Manton reminds his hearers that these benefits are only for those who are in union with Christ. “This privilege is the portion of those that are in Christ (Works of Thomas Manton, 11.388).” The Westminster Shorter Catechism, written by the Westminster assembly, of which Manton was a clerk, wrote, “How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?” The answer they gave is, “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling (WSC, 30).” Manton knew that union with Christ was central to the benefits described in this chapter.

“Late Cavils”

Confusion over union with Christ is not new to our day. Hearing objections and disagreements over how this union occurs became common in the theological milieu of Manton’s social context. Manton said,

“I shall here show you what it is to be in Christ…the phrase noteth union with him. There is certainly a real, but spiritual union between Christ and his members… But late cavils make it necessary to speak a little more to that argument (The Works of Manton, 11.389).”

“Real” and “spiritual” union is central to the relationship with Christ in the union theology of Thomas Manton, but these ideas were pushed against in his time. “Late cavils” references current disruptions and objections to biblical truth surrounding the doctrine of union with Christ.[1] Manton described the greatest of these cavils as those propounding “political” union.

According to Manton, union with Christ “is more than a relation to Christ as a political head.” Manton was not the only one concerned about the “late cavil” of political union. John Owen, a colleague of Manton’s in the chaplaincy of Cromwell, also saw political union as a threat to the union with Christ taught in Scripture. Owen wrote:

"That there is such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church, and has been so in all ages. Those who seem in our days to deny it, or question it, either know not what they say, or their minds are influenced by their doctrine who deny the divine persons of the Son and of the Spirit. Upon supposition of this union, reason will grant the imputation pleaded for to be reasonable; at least, that there is such a peculiar ground for it as is not to be exemplified in any things natural or political among men" (Works of John Owen, Justification, 5:209).

Union with Christ is a spiritual union, not one merely that is declared or imputed, such as justification. Mystical, real, and spiritual union with the Lord Jesus occurs when one is “in Christ.” Manton takes time to demonstrate that union in various Scripture references. “It is represented by similitudes taken from union, real as well as relative,” he wrote, “not only from marriage, where man and wife are relatively united, but from head and members, who make one body; not a political, but a natural body” (Works of Manton, 11.389).

The body, the vines and branches, and the relationship between the Father and the Son were all used by Manton to demonstrate the “real” and “relative” union that occurs when a believer is brought into union with Christ, allowing him or her to be justified by faith:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” I Corinthians 12:12

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” John 15.1-3

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” John 17.21-23

The Spirit of God makes this real union possible. “It is begun in the soul, in heaven, for the Spirit is life to the body ‘because of righteousness’ and if the Spirit of him that raised Christ from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you (Works of Manton, 11.389).” The Spirit makes the new believer alive as well as indwells the new believer. Manton would go on to say, “…the union of every believer with Christ is immediate, person with person.” Exemption from condemnation requires personal and spiritual union with Christ. To attain salvation, a sinner needs to obtain this union.

Union Obtained

In three short reflections or meditations on repentance, Manton would go on to demonstrate how “our union with Christ should be obtained (Works of Manton, 11.391).”  The repentance described by Manton’s as the way to life are not steps towards or degrees of repentance, but are three components to that repentance which brings the benefits of Romans 8.

The first component of repentance is turning from the worship of the creation, whether it be self, pleasure, or some other false God, to the creator himself. Manton describes this as, “…a turning from the creature to God; that is from false happiness to the true—from all false ways of felicity here below, to God, as enjoyed in heaven (Works of Manton, 11.391).” The creator can bring felicity—happiness—the creature is unable to provide. He said,

“For while we are satisfied with our worldly enjoyments, we care not whether God be a friend or an enemy. Worldliness is carnal complacency or well-pleasedness of mind in worldly things, in the midst of soul dangers…And the very first faith is a recovery out of this infatuation, or a settling our minds on eternal things” (Works of Manton, 11.391).

Secondly, repentance must be “from Self to Christ.” Manton said,

“For we are to flee from wrath to come, or the condemnation deserved by our apostasy and deflection from God…They first gave themselves unto the LORD; that is, venturing on his promises, gave up themselves to the conduct of his word and Spirit, and thrust themselves entirely on Christ’s hands, while they go on with their duty and pursuit of their true and proper happiness (Works of Manton, 11.392).”

The penitent sinner must throw himself on Christ’s mercy, knowing his promises, and anticipating that Christ is the true provider of eternal happiness.

Thirdly, the sinner must, obviously, repent from sin. Manton described this as moving “from sin to holiness, both in heart and life (Works of Manton, 11.392.).” This holiness is not perfection or a sin-free life, but an initial repentance from sin which commences the Christian life—it is the beginning. The Spirit starts this...

"...as the fruit of God’s elective love; and by faith and the use of all holy means doth accomplish it more and more, for he acts in us as the Spirit of Christ, and as we are members of his body, for framing us and fitting us more and more for his use and service” (Works of Manton, 11.392).

Repentance unto life begins the Christian experience. Manton will spend many more sermons demonstrating the promises made to those who have received exemption from condemnation.

The question for today’s reader is the same: Are you exempt from this condemnation? If so, the promises are yours.

Nathan Eshelman is the pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). He studied for ministry at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Nathan co-hosts The Jerusalem Chamber” podcast, a paragraph by paragraph exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith; writes for Gentle Reformation; and has a forthcoming book on the Westminster Confession of Faith through Crown and Covenant Publications. Nathan is married to Lydia and has five children and is an avid book collector and antique aficionado.

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[1] The word cavil, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means, “a captious, quibbling, or frivolous objection.” Captious means “apt to catch our take one in; fitted to ensnare or perplex in argument; designed to entrap or entangle.”

Nathan Eshelman