Karl Marx: The Union of the Faithful with Christ
Karl Marx1 wrote a devotional commentary on abiding in Christ that was based upon the fifteenth Chapter of John’s Gospel. He wrote it on August 17, 1835 when he was seventeen years old. At that time, he was attending the Trier Gymnasium and fulfilling the Gymnasium’s religious graduation requirement. What makes this devotional commentary so significant is its stark contrast to his fame and later writings.
It was during his university years that he totally rejected Christianity. He had accepted the philosophy of Hegel, Schelling, and Kant and their arguments against the proofs for the existence of God. His youthful training had left him ill-prepared for the onslaught of skepticism that he encountered during his university years.
Karl Marx traveled down the road from "Only He can save us" to "Religion is the opium of the people." 2 Yet, this road is traveled by many who have been raised in Christian families and taught in our Sunday School. The light and trendy sermons that are preached from our pulpits each Sunday morning don’t equip our youth for the university’s intellectual battleground. Sure, the congregation’s good attendance and kind words may give the pastor a sense of success. But, let’s never forget there are youth who are being slain upon the intellectual battleground because they were not intellectually trained in their home church for the university's battlefield. As soldiers of the cross, battlefield success is the true measure of success.
In his commentary, he noted human alienation and lack of attainment. In deed, this is the condition of each person who has been born into the world. Unless a person believes the gospel of God’s grace, the person will forever be unfulfilled. As sinners, we need to see our lost and sinful condition before a Holy God. We need to believe that God sent the Lord Jesus Christ to die and shed His precious blood upon Calvary’s cross to cleanse us from our sins. The way of salvation leads us to a dying Redeemer who lovingly bears the wrath of God for our sins.
We might admire the virtues of Jesus; we might praise the kindness of Jesus to the multitude; we might be attracted to His moral teachings, and we might wish politically that Jesus were King of the world. This all might be true of us, but none of these thoughts would cause us to be one of the redeemed. To be redeemed, we must be sheltered by the precious blood of Christ. As vital as this truth is for human salvation, too often Karl-Marx-like sermons are preached from the pulpit and applauded by evangelical congregations as heartfelt and inspiring.
As you read the remarks of Karl Marx, you will notice that, while he details the lostness of humankind, he does not touch upon the true basis of union with Christ: Christ’s death and resurrection. It is not what Karl Marx wrote, but what he did not write, that shows he did not comprehend Jesus Christ’s true mission to the world.
During his philosophic studies at the university, he accepted the validity of the arguments against the existence of God. In an appendix to his doctoral dissertation, Differences Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, 3 he summarized his satirical proof of God existence, "However, what does all this say except that to him to whom the world is irrational, and who is therefore himself irrational, God is? Or irrationality is the existence of God." His point was that all arguments for God’s existence are logically incoherence; and, therefore, all arguments for God’s existence depend upon irrationality. If all arguments for God’s existence were true and were dependent upon irrationality, then it follows, Q.E.D., that irrationality is ultimately the ground and proof of God’s existence.
Now if God does not exist and humankind has not achieved utopia, it seems reasonable that man must save himself. So, it is no wonder that a passionate person like Karl Marx would seek to elevate the human race to a new stage of human development and prosperity. He believed that his philosophy of communism provided an intellectual framework that could guide humanity to an age of cultural and material prosperity.
The world might have been spared the ravages of communism, if he had understood the meaning and purpose of Christ's death and resurrection, the proper form of the logical proofs for God’s existence, and the fact that Hegel, Schelling, and Kant committed logical fallacies in their critiques of theistic proofs.
Karl Marx wrote,
The Union of the Faithful with Christ 4
By Karl Marx
BEFORE we consider the Reason and Essence and the effects of the Union of Christ with the faithful, let us see whether this Union is necessary, whether it is determined by the nature of man, whether or not it may in itself achieve the goal for which God has created him out of the Void.
If we turn to history, the great teacher of humanity, we will find there engraved with an iron stylus that all nations, even those that attained the highest levels of culture, gave birth to the greatest men, produced the most splendid arts, had the most complex scientific problems-nevertheless could not shake off the fetters of superstition, had no proper conception of themselves or the Deity, could not cleanse their morality of alien admixtures and unworthy limitations. Even their virtues were more the product of a rough kind of greatness, of unrestrained egoism, of a passion for fame and bold deeds, than a striving for true perfection.
And the ancient peoples, the savages, among whom the teaching of Christ had not yet spread, show an inner unrest, a fear of the wrath of their gods, an inner conviction of their unworthiness, while at the same time they bring sacrifices to their gods to atone for their sins.
Yes, the greatest sage of antiquity, the divine Plato, in more than one passage expresses a deep yearning for a higher Being whose appearance would fulfill the unsatisfied longing for truth and light.
Thus the history of nations teaches us the necessity of the Union with Christ.
To be sure, even when we study the history of the individual and the nature of man, we always see a divine spark in his breast, an enthusiasm for the Good, a striving for perception, a longing for truth—but the sparks of the eternal are smothered by the flame of lust. The enthusiasm for virtue is stifled by the tempting voice of sin, which is made ridiculous when the full power of life is felt. The striving for perception is replaced by the inferior striving for worldly goods; the longing for truth is extinguished by the sweet-smiling power of the lie; and so man stands, the only creature that does not fulfill its goal, the only member in all Creation not worthy of the God that created him. But the benevolent Creator does not hate his handiwork; he wanted to elevate it to his own level and He sent us his Son, through whom He calls to us: "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you [John 15:3-4]."
Now that we have seen how the history of nations and the consideration of the individual prove the necessity of a union with Christ, let us consider the last and most difficult proof of all, the word of Christ himself.
And where does He express the necessity of the union more clearly than in the beautiful comparison between the vine and the branch, where He calls himself the vine and us the branch? The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, and likewise, says Christ, you can do nothing without Him. He states this even more strongly when he says: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered [John 15:5-6]."
But it should be kept in mind that this applies only to those who have succeeded in understanding the word of Christ; as for others, who have not been able to comprehend Him, we cannot judge the decree of the Lord over such nations and individuals.
Our heart, our reason, history itself, and the word of Christ, all call to us loudly and decisively that a union with Him is an absolute necessity, that without Him we cannot attain our goal, that without Him we are rejected by God, and that only He can save us.
Thus penetrated by the conviction that this union is an absolute necessity, we are eager to learn the meaning of this high gift, this ray of light from a loftier world which falls upon our ear and ringingly raises us to heaven, and to discover its inner Being and its Essence.
Once we have comprehended the necessity of the union, the basis for it-our need for salvation, our sinfully inclined nature, our uncertain reason, our corrupted heart, our unworthiness in God's presence-is clearly revealed before our eyes, and we need search no more.
But who could express the essence of the union more beautifully than did Christ in his comparison of the vine and the branch? Who, even in great treatises, could lay before the eye the innermost parts that are at the basis of this union better than Christ did in these 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 were sentient, how joyously would it look to the gardener who tends it, who anxiously clears it of weeds and ties it to the vine from which it derives nourishment and sap for its beautiful blossoms.
In the union with Christ, therefore, we turn, before everything, our loving eye toward God, feel for Him an ardent gratitude, sink joyfully on our knees before Him.
Then, after a beautiful sun has risen through our union with Christ, when we feel our total unworthiness and at the same time exult over our salvation, then only can we love God, who formerly appeared to us as an offended lord but is now a forgiving father and a benevolent teacher.
But the branch, if it were sentient, would not only look up to the vine dresser, but would also fervently cling to the vine stock and feel the closest relation to the branches around it; it would love the other branches, because a gardener tends them and a stock gives them vigor.
Thus the union with Christ means a most intimate and vital companionship with Him, keeping Him before our eyes and in our hearts, and being permeated by the highest love, so that we can turn our hearts toward our brothers, united with us through Him, and for whom He had sacrificed himself.
But this love for Christ is not fruitless; it fills us not only with the purest reverence and highest respect for Him, but also has the effect of making us keep his commandments in that we sacrifice ourselves for each other and are virtuous, but virtuous only out of love for Him: "Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you [John 16:9-14]."
This is the great chasm which separates and elevates Christian virtues from others; this is one of the greatest effects brought out in men by the union with Christ.
Virtue is not the gloomy caricature found in the Stoic philosophy; it is not the child of the harsh doctrines of duty found among all heathen nations. It is, rather, the consequence of the love for Christ, love for a divine Being; and when it derives from such a pure source, it appears free of everything earthly and is truly divine. Then every repulsive aspect is submerged, everything earthly suppressed, everything crude extinguished, and virtue is more enlightened as it becomes milder and more humane.
Never before had human reason been able to present it so; previously virtue had been a limited, an earthly quality.
Once a man has attained this virtue, this union with Christ, he will quietly and calmly bear the blows of fortune, bravely meet the storms of passions, and fearlessly endure the rage of evil-for who could then oppress him, who could deprive him of his Savior?
His prayers will then be answered, for he prays only for the union with Christ, that is, only for the divine, and how can it fail to elevate and to comfort when one proclaims the Savior himself? "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you [John 16 7] ."
And who would not gladly endure pain, knowing that through his abiding in Christ and through his works, God Himself is honored, that his consummation elevates the Lord of Creation? "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment [John 16:8]."
Thus the union with Christ imparts an inner exaltation, comfort in suffering, calm trust, and a heart full of love for humankind, open to everything noble, everything great, not out of ambition but for the sake of Christ. Thus the union with Christ imparts a joyousness which the Epicurean in his frivolous philosophy and the deep thinker in his most arcane science have vainly tried to snatch at, but which the soul can attain only through its unrestrained and childlike Union with Christ and God, which alone makes life more beautiful and exalted. "Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged [John 16:11]."
1 Karl Marx(1818-1883), "The Union of the Faithful with Christ," The Karl Marx Library, Volume V, On Religion, Translated by Saul K. Padover, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, NY, 1974, p.3-6.
2 Karl Marx (1818-1883), A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher, February, 1844. (Quotation from the Introduction).
3 Karl Marx(1818-1883), "Proof of the Existence of God," The Karl Marx Library, Volume V, On Religion, Translated by Saul K. Padover, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, NY, 1974, p.7-8.
4 "The Union of the Faithful with Christ, according to St. John 15: 1-14, presented in its Reason and Essence, in its Absolute Necessity and its Effects."