The Larger Catechism, #69, pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Questions 69

69.       Q. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?

A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification,[283] adoption,[284] sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.[285]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[283] Romans 8:30. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. [284] Ephesians 1:5. Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. [285] 1 Corinthians 1:30. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

Introduction

Most commentators give very little attention to this question because it introduces the subsequent questions on justification, adoption, etc. Ridgeley gives it half a page and Vos addresses it even less. Vos does, however, add the following helpful notation: “This question is of the nature of a summary of the contents of questions 70-81. Therefore we shall consider it only briefly and then pass on to question 70.” (Vos, 151)

Vos is correct as to its function in the Catechism but what the question assumes is of great significance. It focuses on the union believers have with Christ and the graces we receive from that union. Much is implied in the question and answer. Furthermore, the question will also help us to address a few matters we have briefly touched upon in our study of effectual calling. Those questions may be best addressed here.

Communion in Grace?

In LC #65, it says that the “members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.” Question 69 explains what “communion in grace” means while questions 82-83 develop what “communion in glory” entails. Apart from those references, the particular language is absent in the rest of the Westminster Confession and the Catechisms. We have hinted at its meaning in our study of LC #65 but will need to develop it more here.

Ridgeley explains it in the following manner: “Communion with Christ does not in the least import our being made partakers of any of the glories or privileges which belong to him as Mediator; but it consists in our participation of those benefits which he hath purchased for us.” Communion in grace is nothing less than participating in those benefits our Lord has purchased for us. Vos, on the other hand, does not explain this peculiar language.[1]

The language of “communion of graces” (communication gratiarum) is found in traditional reflections on Christology (communion of properties or communicatio idiomatum) in which the human nature benefits from its union with the divine nature. The human nature “is greatly exalted in its degree of excellence by its union with deity, but not changed in kind.”[2] This may be a helpful way of better understanding the point of the LC. There is an inevitable benefit that flows to those who are united to Christ.

In our union with Christ, we commune with Christ and all His benefits. Brakel says, “Union with Christ will necessarily result in communion with Christ.”[3] That is, if we are united to Christ in our effectual calling, we will by necessity commune with Him, “that is, the exercise and utilization of this relationship. This communion is both with the Person of Jesus Christ and with His benefits.”[4]

James Ussher’s warm words are helpful. “What are the special comforts of this communion with Christ? That we are sure to have all graces and all good things from him, and that both our persons are beloved, and our services accepted in him and for him; John 1.16, 17. 1 Cor. 1.30. Eph. 2.4, 5.13. 1 Pet. 2.5.”[5]

So communion in grace means that all the benefits and graces that are Christ’s are ours (“the members of the invisible church”). The answer further states that it “is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation.” That is, we partake of all that Jesus accomplished, all the benefits and power that come from HIs mediation (what He did as our Savior, as the Mediator of the New Covenant).

The answer lists three graces in particular (justification, adoption, and sanctification) “and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.” Because believers are united to Christ, these graces, benefits automatically come to us — remember, if Jesus is yours, then all that He has is yours. Christ and His benefits are the believer’s portion; “this is their portion and they have a right to it. Jesus Himself is their Jesus and all His benefits are theirs.”[6]

The passages used (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; 1Cor. 1:30) list those graces we receive in our union with Christ. Ussher says justification and glorification are the “main benefits” of the believer’s union with Christ (using Rom. 8:30). Paul lists various graces or benefits believers receive (adoption is not listed in Rom. 8:30 and 1 Cor. 1:30 while other graces are not listed in Eph. 1:5, etc.).[7] These cluster of benefits or graces are our through our union with Christ.

Ordo Salutis or Historia Salutis?[8]

Reformed theologians are fond of speaking about the ordo salutis, the order of salvation (John Murray). Recently, questions have been raised as to their significance and faithfulness to Scripture. Union with Christ suggests that all these graces come to us as we commune with Him. Greater emphasis is placed on the history of salvation, the once for all salvation that has come to believers. The concern some have with the order of salvation is that we focus too much on particular steps and experiences rather than on Christ. Berkouwer, as a result, argued for the via salutis, the way of salvation. But an order of salvation is inevitable. We cannot talk about glorification without justification or adoption, calling, etc. There is a “coherence” or logical order to our salvation. We “recognize an order when we consider salvation in its internal coherence.”[9] Though we ought not to see all these graces as merely chronological, yet we should see them as logically coherent.

Admittedly, differences have been raised as to the order within the Reformed circle but most of those differences centered on different definitions. It is proper therefore to speak of the order of salvation as long as we do not slavishly presume mere chronological order at the expense of our union with Christ. I do not believe they are mutually exclusive (the Puritans certainly did not).

Manifesting our Union with Christ

The catechism, after listing the three graces also notes,  “and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.” That is, the innumerable benefits of our union with Christ will manifest themselves in our lives. Without going into all the particulars, we should note that whatever we need from the Lord will be ours and those graces will manifest our union with Him. Power in our weakness, joy in our suffering, new life, adoption, abiding in Him, etc. Ridgeley says, “He has received those blessings for us which he purchased by his blood; and, accordingly, is the treasury, as well as the fountain of all grace; and we are therefore said to ‘receive of his fullness, grace for grace’ [John 1:16].” (Ridgeley, 2:80)

Lessons

1. Therefore, we have nothing to boast about (1Cor. 1:31). Any change, any “manifestation” of our union with Christ should compel us to praise Christ. Our immediate reflex should be one of humility and not of pride. [1Cor. 15:10, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.]

2. We must more firmly accept the truth of Jesus’ statement, “…for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) We find that in and of ourselves, we are really nothing. It is our union with Christ and His effectual work in us through the power of the Spirit that enables us to make progress in holiness.

3. Doesn’t our union with Christ make more sense of Paul’s longing in Phil. 3:8-11? The more we know by faith (and by experience) of the power and reality of our “connection” or union with Christ, the more we will desire Him.

4. Is there any manifestation of union with Christ in your life? If you are truly united to Him, then you will of necessity commune with His person and graces. It is inevitable. A fruitless tree means the professing believer is not vitally united to Christ. Something must manifest itself, either our union with Christ or our union with the first Adam. Union with Christ will necessarily manifest the graces come from our communing with Him, our Redeemer and Lord.


[1] Some theologies do not seem to spend any time developing the doctrine of union with Christ. It is not treated in Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966);  J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics, trans. Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008); Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank, 2 vols. (London: R. Baynes, 1822).

[2]W. G. T. Shedd, review of The Humiliation of Christ, by A. B. Bruce, in The Presbyterian Review II (July 1881): 619. I deal with communion of properties in my notes on Christology (§ The Unipersonality of Christ).

[3] Wilhemus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. P, trans. Bartel Elshout, 4 vols. (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992-95), 2:90.

[4] Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2:90-91.

[5] James Ussher, A Body of Divinitie (London: Printed by William Hunt for Theodore Crowley, 1653), 191.

[6] Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2:93.

[7] Paul does not give an exhaustive list in these passages. He seems to list only those “graces” that are particularly relevant to the situation.

[8] I develop this issue more thoroughly in my notes on Soteriology.

[9] J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics, trans. Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), 577.

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