1. Union With God in Submission
The first degree may be described as union with the divine will in submission. Submission is a relative term, and always implies, when employed in a religious sense, a reference to a divine arrangement or order of things. It is acquiescence in, or conformity to, such arrangement; and is, consequently, the opposite of rebellion. Accordingly, it may always be said, when there is no element of positive resistance, no actual rebellious movement against the order of things, that there is submission to it. And this can be said without impropriety and with entire truth, even if it should be the case that the submissive state borders so closely on the line of resistance as to require all our powers of thought and of the will to keep it where it is.
Illustrations of this state of mind are very frequent. Occasion is furnished for them by events which are constantly taking place, — such as the loss of property and reputation, and the experience of physical sufferings, either by ourselves, or by those who are dear to us. If those, who are the subjects of these trials, are truly submissive, their minds are brought by divine grace into such a position, that there is actually no resistance, no rebellious movement, of the heart. And this is so much the case, that we can probably say of them, that their wills are in union with the divine will.
And still their own consciousness tells them, even if it is not obvious to the observation of others, that it is the union of simple acquiescence rather than of positive desire; the union of submission to suffering rather than of love to suffering. The fact of obedience, however sincere and true the obedience itself may be, does not prevent their saying with equal truth, that it is hard for nature to yield it. The tears flow, even when the heart does not murmur. There is submission in fact, but a submission which costs a struggle in the beginning, and watchfulness and struggles in the maintenance of it.
2. Union With God by Choice.
The second degree may be described as union with the divine will with choice. That is to say, we not only submit, but submission is our pleasure, our delight. The endurance of loss and suffering is not, and cannot ordinarily be, so great as to prevent a true and substantial joy of the heart. It is said of the early Christians, not merely that they submitted to suffering with patience, but that they rejoiced that they were accounted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. [Luke 5:42.] It ought, perhaps, to be added, that persons in this state are not insensible to sufferings. On the contrary, they feel them; probably as much so as others. But while they submit to them by enduring them with entire patience, they also, in the exercise of a full and victorious faith, rejoice in them as expressions of the divine will. They have. learned to love the cross, as well as to bear it.
3. Union With God Perfected by Habit.
This last state of mind may assume a new character, and may present the union of the will in a new aspect, by becoming invigorated and perfected by habit. It may ultimately become so well established and strong that the effect of antecedent evil habits, which generally remains for a long time, and greatly perplexes the full sway of holiness in the heart, shall be done away entirely. And this is not all. In the course of time, our perceptions of the transcendent beauty and excellence of the will of God may become so increased in clearness and strength, that the pleasure of doing and suffering his will, increased in the same proportion, may entirely absorb and take away our sense of suffering. The suffering will be lost in the joy. "Death," a name which includes all temporal evil, "will be swallowed up in victory."
It was thus, in the experience of this higher degree of volitional union, that Paul and Silas sung songs in prison. It was thus that martyrs of every age have illustrated the stake and the cross with their triumphs. It was thus that Jesus Christ, though a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, "endured the cross, despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God." [Heb. 22:2.]
— adapted from A Treatise on Divine Union (1851) Part 5, Chapter 5.