Chapter 27, Of the Communion of the Saints

Please note: The following are only rough notes for this chapter, and are not a complete commentary. But I am posting them in the event they prove useful until the commentary for this chapter is complete.

  1. All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his Spirit, and faith, although they are not made thereby one person with him[1], have fellowship in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory; and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each others gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, in an orderly way[2], as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man. ( 1 John 1:3; John 1:16; Philippians 3:10;Romans 6:5, 6;Ephesians 4:15, 16;1 Corinthians 12:7;1 Corinthians 3:21-23;1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14;Romans 1:12; 1 John 3:17, 18; Galatians 6:10 )

What is meant by communion of saints?

  • 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.[3] A. A. Hodge
  • From the Latin communio, we see more clearly the etymology of the word communion. The prefix com means “with.” The root of the word is unio, so communion means “union with.” Why add the prefix com to unio when unio expresses union by itself?  Historically, there’s an important distinction between union and communion.[4]    R.C. Sproul
  • The church has been careful to say that the goal of redemption is not unio, but communion. That means that there is a mystical union between Christ and his people. Our identity is not swallowed up in the identity of Christ, so that we become gods, rather, we enter into blessed fellowship with God. That is what communion means—being with him, not being absorbed in him.  The person who is in communion with Christ does not lose his or her personal identity.  That is the difference between union and communion.[5]   R.C. Sproul

So because the believer has union with Christ the believers have communion with each other, thus “the communion of the saints.”

It is worth noting the importance of this subject throughout church history. We see this communion of the saints in one of the earliest church creeds, the Apostle’s Creed which reached its present form and universal use around 200 A.D.  It states in the creed this:

I believe in the Holy Ghost;     the holy catholic church;     the communion of saints;

  • “The communion of the saints describes our relationship with Christ and our relationship with each other.”[6]   R.C. Sproul

 

 

All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his Spirit, and faith,

  • Since communion of the saints is based on their common union with Jesus Christ, it is necessary to know something about that union before discussing the communion of the saints.[7] Samuel Waldron

“All saints are united to Jesus Christ, their head.”  How?

“By his Spirit, and by faith.”

  • Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, Eph 4:15 (ESV)

 

 although they are not made thereby one person with him

This wording is taken from the Savoy Declaration word for word, but the Savoy Declaration’s source was the WCF.  The WCF went into a little more detail in its paragraph 3, which states:

This communion which the saints have with Christ, does 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.

What is being emphasized here?

  • 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.[8] A. A. Hodge
  • The substance of deity is not transferred to humanity. In fact, not only did God not create us as little gods, but he could not, because the essence of his deity is found only in self-existent eternal being. By definition any created being would not be self-existent and eternal, because it would be created.[9] R.C. Sproul
  • The church has been careful to say that the goal of redemption is not unio, but communion. That means that there is a mystical union between Christ and his people. Our identity is not swallowed up in the identity of Christ, so that we become gods, rather, we enter into blessed fellowship with God. That is what communion means—being with him, not being absorbed in him.  The person who is in communion with Christ does not lose his or her personal identity.  That is the difference between union and communion.[10]    R.C. Sproul

have fellowship in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory;

Along with the fellowship of the graces, the resurrection, and the glory, comes the sharing in the sufferings and death.

  • And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.   John 1:16 (ESV)
  • that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, Phil 3:10 (ESV)
  • For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:5-6 (ESV)

 

and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each others gifts and graces,

  • That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3 (ESV)
  • 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.[11]     A. A. Hodge
  • 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.”[12]   A.A. Hodge
  • Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Eph 4:15-16 (ESV)
  • To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Cor 12:7 (ESV)

 

and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, in an orderly way, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.

We are to use our gifts and grace, whether publically or privately, according the order of the Word of God, for the mutual good of the saints. This should be done for their spiritual needs and physical needs.

  • We can’t hate someone for whom Christ died. We can be irritated or offended by them, or we can offend them and have altercations, but there is a limit to that hostility beyond which we can’t go without at the same time denying Christ.[13] R.C. Sproul
  • Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thess 5:11 (ESV)
  • And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.   1 Thess 5:14 (ESV)
  • that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:12 (ESV)
  • But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18 (ESV)
  • So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.   Gal 6:10 (ESV)

__________________

 

  1. Saints[14] 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, according to the rule of the gospel[15], though especially to be exercised by them, in the relation wherein they stand, whether in families, or churches, yet, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended to all the household of faith[16], even all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus; nevertheless[17] their communion one with another as saints, doth not[18] take away or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions. ( Hebrews 10:24, 25;Hebrews 3:12, 13;Acts 11:29, 30;Ephesians 6:4;1 Corinthians 12:14-27;Acts 5:4;Ephesians 4:28 )

 

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;

 

Saints by profession

  • “The Confession is dealing with the more formal expression of this communion in the visible church.[19]   Samuel Waldron

Remember the qualifications for the visible saint and church in chapter 26, section 2:

 

All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints;

  • And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Heb 10:24-25 (ESV)

 

as also in relieving each other in outward things according to their several abilities, and necessities;

According to our abilities we should meet the needs of the professing saints.

  • So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:29-30 (ESV)

 

which communion, according to the rule of the gospel, though especially to be exercised by them, in the relation wherein they stand, whether in families, or churches, yet, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended to all the household of faith, even all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus;

Here is what the modern version of the 1689 Confession states:

  • According to the rule of the gospel, this type of fellowship [or communion], while it particularly applies to the family and church relationships of saints, is to be extended, as God gives opportunity, to the whole household of faith, that is to say, to all who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.[1]

So it means that the communion of fellowship extends not only those to those in the local visible church, but also to those outside the local church, to the universal visible church.

 

nevertheless their communion one with another as saints, doth not take away or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions.

  • The confession reaffirms the principle of private ownership. This may seem insignificant, but it isn’t simply a statement on economics or political theory. The authors of the confession were concerned about Christian ethics and the Christian faith. They wanted to maintain the right of private ownership as an ethical principle.[2]  R.C. Sproul
  • 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.[3] A. A. Hodge
  • While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Acts 5:4 (ESV)
  • Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.   Eph 4:28 (ESV)
  • There is a difference between community and communalism. We are to show love and concern to our neighbors, but that does not require of us to divest ourselves of private property.[4] R.C. Sproul

___________

[1] The 1689Confession adds this to the WCF. The source is the Savoy Declaration.

[2] The 1689 Confession adds this to the WCF and the Savoy Declaration. The source is presumably Collins.

[3] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh), pg. 321.

[4] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess (P&R Publishing, New Jersey), Volume III, page 62.

[5] Ibid, pg. 64.

[6] Ibid, pg. 62.

[7] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Evangelical Press, Darlington, England), pg. 333.

[8]A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh), pg. 323.

[9] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess (P&R Publishing, New Jersey), Volume III, page 74.

[10] Ibid, pg. 64.

[11] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh), pg. 324.

[12] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh), pg. 324.

[13] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess (P&R Publishing, New Jersey), Volume III, page 64.

 

[14] The 1689 uses ‘Saint’ which is follows the WCF, but does not follow the Savoy Declaration. The Savoy states ‘All Saints.’  I see no relevance doctrinally, but it does show the 1689 framers are not blindly following another confession.

[15] The 1689 adds this to the WCF and the Savoy Declaration. The source is presumably Collins.

[16] The 1689 Confession adds this to the WCF and the Savoy Declaration. The source is presumably Collins.

[17] The 1689 adds this word to the WCF. The source is presumably Collins.  The entire section of: “nevertheless their communion one with another as saints, doth not take away or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions” is not at all in the Savoy Declaration, but other than ‘nevertheless’ it is all from the third paragraph of the WCF.  You will note that the 1689 Confession only has two paragraphs in this chapter.

[18] The 1689 Confession adds this to the WCF, and it appears to be for clarification. The source is presumably Collins.

[19] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Evangelical Press, Darlington, England), pg. 335.

[20] The 1689: A faith to Confess (Carey Publications Ltd., Leeds), Chapter 27, Section 2.

[21] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess (P&R Publishing, New Jersey), Volume III, page 74-75.

[22] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh), pg. 326.

[23] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess (P&R Publishing, New Jersey), Volume III, page 76.

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