The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Of the Communion of Saints
SECTION I: All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.
1. I John 1:3; Eph. 2:5-6; 3:16-18; John 1:16; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; 8:17; II Tim. 2:12
2. Eph. 4:15-16; I Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7, 12; Col. 2:19
3. I Thess. 5:11, 14; Rom. 1:11-12, 14; I John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10
SECTION II: Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.
4. Heb. 10:24-25; Acts 2:42, 46; Isa. 2:3; I Cor. 11:20
5. I John 3:17; II Cor. ch. 8-9; Acts 2:44-45; 11:29-30
SECTION III: This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of his Godhead; or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm is impious and blasphemous. Nor doth their communion one with another, as saints, take away, or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions.
6. Col. 1:18-19; I Cor. 8:6; Psa. 45:6-7; Heb. 1:6-9; John 1:14; 20:17
7. Exod. 20:15; Eph. 4:28; Acts 5:4
COMMUNION is a mutual interchange of offices between parties, which flows from a common principle in which they are united. The nature and degree of the communion will depend upon the nature and intimacy of the union from which it proceeds.
This chapter teaches: --
1. Of the union of Christ and his people.
2. The fellowship between him and them resulting therefrom.
3 The union between the true people of Christ growing out of their union with him.
4. The communion of saints growing out of their union with each other.
5. The mutual duties of all who profess to be saints with regard to all their fellow-professors.
1. All saints are united to the Lord Jesus. We need to know what is the foundation and what is the nature of this union, and how it is established.
(1.) As to the foundation of the union subsisting between the true believer and the Lord Jesus, the Scriptures teach that it rests in the eternal purpose of the Triune God, expressed in the decree of election (we were "chosen in him before the foundation of the world," Eph. i. 4), and the eternal covenant of grace formed between the Father and his Word as the mediatorial head of his people, treating with the Head for the members, and with the members in the Head, and providing for their salvation in him. John xvii. 2, 6.
(2.) As to the nature of this union of the believer with Christ, the Scriptures teach -- (a.) That it is federal and representative, whereby Christ acts in all things as our federal Head, in our stead, and for our benefit. Hence our legal status is determined by his, and his rights, honors, relations, all are made ours in co-partnership with him. (b.) That it is a vital and spiritual union. Its actuating source and bond is the Spirit of the Head, who dwells and works in the members. 1 Cor. vi. 17; xii. 13; 1 John iii. 24; iv. 13. Hence our spiritual life is derived from him and sustained and determined by his life, which we share. Gal. ii. 20. (c.) That it is a union between our entire persons and Christ, and therefore one involving our bodies through our souls. 1 Cor. vi. 15, 19.
(3.) As to the manner in which this union is established, the Scriptures teach that the elect, having been in the divine idea comprehended under the headship of Christ from eternity, are in time actually united to him -- (a.) By the powerful operation of his Spirit, whereby they are " quickened together with Christ" Eph. ii. 5); which Spirit evermore dwells in them as the organ of Christ's presence with them, the infinite medium through which the fullness of his love and life, and all the benefits purchased by his blood, pass over freely from the Head to the members. (b.) By the actings of faith upon their part, whereby they grasp Christ and appropriate him and his grace to themselves, and whereby they ever continue to live in him and to draw their resources from him. Eph. iii. 17.
This union is illustrated in Scripture by the relation subsisting between a foundation and its superstructure (1 Pet. ii. 4 -- 6); a, tree and its branches (John xv. 5); the members of the body and the head (Eph. iv. 15, 16); a husband and wife (Eph. v. 31, 32); Adam and his descendants. Rom. v. 12-19.
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.
2. On the basis of this union a most intimate fellowship or interchange of mutual offices ever continues to be sustained between believers and Christ.
(1.) They have fellowship with Christ (a.) In all the covenant merits of his active and passive obedience. Forensically they are " complete in him." Col. ii. 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 ii. 27; 1 Peter ii. 5; Rev. iii. 21; v. 10. They have fellowship with Christ also (b.) In the transforming, assimilating power of his life. " Of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace." John i. 16. Thus they have the " Spirit," and " the mind" of Christ, and bear his " likeness " or " image." Rom. viii. 9; Phil. ii. 5; 1 John iii. 2. This includes the bodies also, making them temples of the Holy Ghost; and in the resurrection our glorified bodies are to be like his. 1 Cor. vi. 19; xv. 43, 49. They have fellowship with Christ (c.) In all their experiences, inward and outward, in their joys and victories, in their labors, sufferings, temptations, and death. Rom. viii. 37; 2 Cor. xii. 9; Gal. vi. 17; Phil. iii. 10; Heb. xii. 3; 1 Pet. iv. 13.
(2.) 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. xix. 17; Rom. xiv. 8; 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20.
3. 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. 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. v. 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. xii. 13 -- 27.
4. Hence 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."
(1.) 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.
(2.) 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.
(3.) 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.
(4.) 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. iv. 11 -- 16; 1 Cor. xii. 4 -- 21. This shall be perfectly realized in heaven. John x. 16; xvii. 22.
5. Since this is the union of all true believers with the Lord and with each other, and since, consequently, a " communion of saints" so intimate necessarily nourishes among true believers in proportion to their intelligence and their advancement in grace, it follows that all branches of the visible Church, and all the individual members thereof, should do all within their power to act upon the principle of the "communion of saints" in their intercourse with all who profess the true religion. If the Church is one, the churches 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." Think of it! 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, in these short and evil days of earthly pilgrimage. These mutual duties are, of course, some of them public -- as between different evangelical churches -- and may of them private and personal. Many of them relate to the souls, and many also to the bodies of the saints. The rule is, the law of love in the heart, and the principles and examples of saints recorded in Scripture applied to the special circumstances of every individual case. 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.