Yesterday, at Communion Presbyterian, we had a great talk about the communion of the saints. This is a vitally important doctrine, which is confessed in the most basic creed of the Church, and yet, I believe few people ever stop to consider what it means. Below are my lecture notes, which I adopted from A. A. Hodge's Commentary on the Westminster Confession. You can also access these notes via Google Docs by clicking here.
As always, notes and handouts from previous classes can be accessed by clicking on the Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School Class tag on the right side of my blog.
WCF Chapter 26 - Of The Communion of the Saints
- All Saints are United to Christ.
- Foundation of this Union
- Rests in the Eternal Purpose of the Triune God as expressed in the Decree of Election
- Eph 1:4, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,”
- Eternal Covenant of Grace between the Father and the Son
- John 17:2, 6, “as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him...I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”
- Nature of this Union
- Federal and Representative
- Christ acts in all things as our head and representative
- All His rights, honors, relations are all made ours
- It is a vital and spiritual union--it’s actuating source is the Spirit of the Head who dwells and works in the members
- 1 Cor 6:17, “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
- 1 Cor 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
- 1 John 3:24, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
- 1 John 4:13, “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. ”
- Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
- Our bodies are involved through our souls
- 1 Cor 6:15, 19, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!...Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
- How this Union is Established (“We are united to Christ...”)
- Through the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit on the elect
- Eph 2:5, “even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), ”
- By the actings of faith on their part
- Eph 3:17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, ”
- Scriptural Illustrations of this Union
- A foundation and its superstructure
- 1 Peter 2:4-6, “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’”
- A Tree and its Branches
- John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
- The Members of the Body and the Head
- Eph 4:15-16, “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
- A Husband and Wife
- Eph 5:31-32, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
- Adam and his Descedents
- Romans 5:12-19, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”
- This Union is Mystical -- Read Hodges, 323, middle paragraph
- “This union has been called by theologians a ‘mystical’ union, because, it never could have been known unless revealed by the Lord himself, and because it is so incomparably intimate and excellent that it transcends all other unions of which we have experience. Nevertheless it is not mysterious in the sense of involving any confusion between Christ's personality and ours, nor does it make us in any wise partakers of his Godhead or to be equal with him in any respect. It is a union between persons in which each retains his separate identity, and in which the believer, although immeasurably exalted and blessed, nevertheless is entirely subordinated to and continues dependent upon his Lord.”
- On the basis of this union a most intimate fellowship or interchange of mutual offices ever continues to be sustained between believers and Christ. They have fellowship with Christ...
- In all the covenant merits of his active and passive obedience.
- Forensically they are "complete in him." Col. 2:10
- His Father, his inheritance, his throne, his crown, are theirs
- As their mediatorial Head he acts as prophet, priest, and king. In union with him they are also prophets, priests, and kings
- 1 John 2:27, “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.”
- 1 Peter 2:5, “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ”
- Rev. 3:21, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
- Rev. 5:10, “And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
- In the transforming, assimilating power of his life.
- “Of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace." John 1:16
- Thus they have the "Spirit," and " the mind" of Christ, and bear his " likeness " or " image."
- Rom. 8:9, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”
- Phil. 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, ”
- 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
- This includes the bodies also, making them temples of the Holy Ghost
- 1 Cor. 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? ”
- 1 Cor 15:43, 49, “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power...And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.”
- In all their experiences, inward and outward, in their joys and victories, in their labors, sufferings, temptations, and death.
- Rom. 8:37, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
- 2 Cor. 12:9, “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
- Gal. 6:17, “From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
- Phil. 3:10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,”
- Heb. 12:3, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
- 1 Pet. 4:13, “but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
- Christ has fellowship with them. They belong to him as the purchase of his blood. They are devoted to his service. They are co-workers together with him in building up his kingdom. They bear fruit to his praise, and shine as stars in his crown. Their hearts, their lives, their possessions, are all consecrated to him, and are held by them in trust for him.
- Prov. 29:17, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.”
- Rom. 14:8, “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
- 1 Cor. 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
- Since all true believers are thus intimately united to Christ as the common Head of the whole body, and the Source of a common life, it follows that they must be intimately united together. If they have but one Head, and are all members of one body, they must have one common life, and be all members one of another.
- The Romish and Ritualistic view is, that individuals are united to the Church through the sacraments, and through the Church to Christ.
- The true view is, that the individual is united to Christ the Head by the Holy Ghost and by faith; and by being united to Christ he is, ipso facto, united to all Christ's members, the Church.
Believer-->Holy Ghost & Faith-->Christ-->Church
- The holy catholic Church is the product of the Holy Ghost. Wherever the Spirit is, there the Church is. The presence of the Spirit is known by his fruits, which are "love, joy, peace," etc. Gal. 5:22, 23
- All believers receiving the same Spirit are by him baptized into "one body;" and thus they all become, "though many members," but "one body," "the body of Christ " and "members in particular." 1 Cor. 12:13-27.
- Thus true believers, all being united in one living body, sustain many intimate relations, and discharge many important offices for one another, which are summarily expressed by the general phrase, "The communion of saints."
- They have a common Head, and common duties with respect to him; a common profession, a common system of faith to maintain, a common gospel to preach, a common worship and service to maintain.
- They have a common life, and one Holy Ghost dwelling in and binding together in one the whole body. Hence they are involved in the ties of sympathy and identity of interest. One cannot prosper without all prospering with him -- one cannot suffer without all suffering with him.
- As they constitute one body in the eyes of the world, they have a common reputation, and are all severally and collectively honored or dishonored with each other. Hence all schisms in the body, injurious controversies, malignant representations of Christian by Christian, are self-defaming as well as wicked.
- The body of saints is like the natural body in this also, that, although one body, each several member is an organ of the Holy Ghost for a special function, and has his own individual difference of qualification, and consequently of duty. Hence, in the economy of the body, each member is to contribute his special function and his special grace or beauty, and has in his turn fellowship in the gifts and complementary graces of all the rest.
- Eph. 4:11-16, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
- 1 Cor. 12:4-21, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.””
- This shall be perfectly realized in heaven.
- John 10:16, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
- John 17:22, “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:”
- If all saints are one, and are embraced in this holy "communion," then all who profess to be saints should regard and treat all their fellow-professors on the presumption that they are saints and "heirs together with them of the grace of life."
- In spite of all controversies and jealousies, one in the eternal electing love of God! -- one in the purchase of Christ's sacrificial blood! -- one in the beatifying indwelling of the Holy Ghost! -- one in the eternal inheritance of glory!
- Surely we should be also one in all the charities, sympathies, and helpful offices possible
- But while these mutual relations and offices of the saints sanctify, they are not designed to supersede the fundamental principles of human society, as the rights of property and the family tie.
- ON THIS POINT, SEE DICKSON, CHAPTER 26, QUESTION 3
DAVID DICKSON, TRUTH’S VICTORY OVER ERROR, CH. 26, QUESTION 3
Doth not the communion of saints, which they have one with another, take away or infringe the title or property, which each man hath in his own goods and possessions?
Well then, do not the Anabaptists err, who affirm, that the goods and possessions of the saints ought to be in common?
By what reasons are they confuted?
1st, Because in the time of the primitive church, no man was obliged out of necessity to deliver his goods. Neither did believers lose their right and property which they had to them, Acts 5:4.
2nd, Because the eighth command, which is of perpetual use to all men, supposeth a distinction and propriety of goods. For it all goods were common, it were impossible to steal.
3rd, Because there should be no giving of alms, there should be no hospitality, which is contrary to the apostle, Eph. 4:28; Heb. 13:2.