EcclesiaThe Communion of Believers with Christ and with Each Other by Wilhelmus à Brakel
The Communion of Believers with Christ and with Each Other by Wilhelmus à Brakel
In the previous chapter we discussed the nature of the church, as well as the obligation to join and remain with her. We shall now speak of the communion true members of the church have with their Head Jesus Christ and each other, and also how they must exercise this.
The Lord Jesus not only gives many and excellent benefits to His church, but He and His Church mutually belong to each other, are united with each other—and exercise communion with each other, all of which is wondrous beyond comparison. These three elements comprehend all true felicity.
All true believers are the property of Christ, and Christ is the property of all true believers. This is indicated by the possessive pronouns “mine” and “his,” which so frequently are employed in the Song of Solomon, as well as in many other texts. “My beloved is mine, and I am His” (Song 2:16); “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled” (Song 5:2).
This is first of all based and founded upon a gift. The Father has given them to the Son. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me” (John 17:6); “Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession” (Ps 2:8).
The Father has likewise given the Son to believers. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa 9:6); “And gave Him to be the head over all things to the church” (Eph 1:22).
Secondly, this is based and founded upon purchase, for Jesus obtained them at great expense. He purchased them with His blood; He has paid the price and they are thus His property in full conformity to the law. “For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood” (Rev 5:9).
Thirdly, this is based and founded upon victory. Believers were once in the power of Satan, being in his snare and taken captive by him at his will. By His death, the Lord Jesus has conquered and bound the devil, delivering the elect from his power and translating them into His kingdom. “That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:14-15); “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a
stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils” (Luke 11:21-22).
Fourthly, this is based and founded on marriage. In a marriage covenant both parties become the property of each other by way of mutual surrender. This is also true of this relationship. “Yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest Mine” (Ezek 16:8). In Hos 2:19-20 reference is made to this marriage covenant. We read there, “And I shall betroth thee unto Me for ever.” This covenant can therefore never be broken, nor can the partakers of this covenant ever be separated from Him. “Yea, I shall betroth thee unto Me in righteousness.” It has the Father’s approbation and is His delight. As a consequence of Christ’s suffering and death they have been translated into a state wherein they can approach unto God, whose justice has truly been satisfied, and become His children in Christ. “And in judgment”; that is, to keep them as the apple of His eye and to take vengeance upon all who offend them. “And in lovingkindness, and in mercies.” This entire transaction is marked by love, friendliness, goodness, and beneficence. “I shall even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness”; that is, I shall do so in truth, faithfully, and with certainty, and thus never leave you nor forsake you. “And thou shalt know the Lord.” I shall enlighten the eyes of your understanding, I shall reveal Myself to you, and cause you to see and to taste all My beauty.
Fifthly, this is based and founded upon surrender. From the side of the believer there is likewise a heartfelt, total, and absolute surrender, doing so without any reservation. They yield themselves unto the Lord (2 Chron 30:8); “One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord” (Isa 44:5); —Vol. 2, Page 89— “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance” (Ps 33:12).
This belonging to each other also implies union. The nature of this union is inexpressible, and can better be experienced by the believer than expressed in words. This union is neither one of essence as the divine Persons are one, nor personal as the human nature has been assumed by Christ as divine Person. This union is also neither one of mixture as water and wine are mixed, nor does a transformation take place as if believers would become Christ Himself, and thus would become God or Christ. This union is neither a sacramental union such as the union between the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper with the body and blood of Christ, nor is it merely an external relationship. It also does not consist in the believer’s conformity to Christ in the way of sanctification.
Rather, this union is established:
(1) by the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in believers: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” (1 Cor 3:16);
(2) by spiritual marriage (cf. Ezek 16:8; Hos 2:19-20);
(3) by faith which, by its very nature, unites: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” (Eph 3:17);
(4) by love which, due to its very nature, cannot tolerate separation, but seeks the most intimate of unions. “My Father shall love him, and We shall come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23); “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (Rom 8:35). This union is therefore real, essential, true, complete, without any reservation, eternally inseparable, spiritual, and without any corporal dimension. Scripture refers to this union by means of several expressions and explains it by way of various comparisons. Scripture refers to this union as:
(1) “being one”: “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor 6:17); “For if we have been planted together …”10 (Rom 6:5);
(2) “putting on Christ”: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14).
(3) “being rooted in Christ”: “Rooted and built up in Him” (Col 2:7);
(4) being mutually in each other. a) Christ is and lives in believers. —Vol. 2, Page 90— “I in them” (John 17:23); “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you” (2 Cor 13:5); “Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:20). b) Believers in turn have been elected in Christ. “According as He hath chosen us in Him” (Eph 1:4). They are also baptized in Him. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death” (Rom 6:4). They live in Him. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him” (Col 2:6); “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). The Lord Jesus gives expression to this mutual indwelling when He states, “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” (John 15:5).
Scripture expresses the intimacy of this union by a variety of comparisons.
First, it compares this union to a marriage. “They two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32).
Secondly, this union is compared to the union of the body with the Head. “… and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body” (Eph 1:22-23); “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ” (1 Cor 6:15); “And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col 2:19).
Thirdly, it is compared to the union between a tree and its branches. “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (Rom 11:17); “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:5).
Fourthly, it is also compared to a house, which is built up by uniting many stones together. “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, … ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:4-5); “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:20-21). The comparisons point to a most intimate union in the natural realm. However, the spiritual union between believers and Christ is of a more intimate nature than these.
As a consequence of belonging to each other and the resulting union, there will of necessity be communion; that is, the exercise —Vol. 2, Page 91— and utilization of this relationship. This communion is both with the Person of Jesus Christ and with His benefits.
First, believers have and exercise communion with His Person. A temporal believer concerns himself only with the benefits and has no interest in Christ Himself. Believers, however, have communion with the Person of Jesus Christ, but many neither meditate upon nor closely heed their exercises concerning Christ Himself. They err in this, which is detrimental to the strength of their faith and impedes its growth. Therefore we wish to exhort them to be more exercised concerning the truth of belonging to each other, and the union and communion with Jesus Himself. They will then better perceive the unsearchable grace and goodness of God that such wretched and sinful men may be so intimately united with the Son of God. Such reflection will most wondrously set the heart aflame with love. It will strengthen their resolve to put their trust in Jesus without fear. It will give them strength and liberty to obtain everything from Him to fulfil the desires of their soul, causing them to grow in Him, which in turn will generate more light and joy. Therefore, faith, hope, and love are mentioned in reference to the Person of Christ. Scripture speaks of receiving Him, believing in Him, trusting in Him, living in Him, loving Him, and hoping in Him. This communion with the Person of Christ Himself is expressed in the following passages: “That ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3); “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9); “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of
Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16).
Secondly, believers due to being united with Christ are also partakers of all His benefits. The Lord Jesus says concerning His relationship to the Father, “And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine” (John 17:10). How we must marvel that a believer may thus say to Christ, “All that is mine is Thine, and all that is Thine is mine.” They are partakers of all that Christ is and has, and may use it as their own.
(1) They have the same human nature (Heb 2:11,14), and may have communion with Him in that capacity.
(2) They have fellowship with His Sonship, for in Him they are children of God, having one Father (John 20:17).
(3) His satisfaction of the justice of God is their satisfaction. With this they may come to God desiring that God would do justice to them according to this their righteousness. On the basis —Vol. 2, Page 92— of the resurrection of Jesus Christ they may ask with a good conscience, “Has not Christ paid for all my sins? Art Thou not therefore satisfied and reconciled with me?” The apostle confirms this in Rom 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
(4) His perfect obedience and accomplishment of the law is their holiness, and this renders them perfect before God (Col 2:10), and the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). Because of this they have a right to say, “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10).
(5) His intercession and high-priestly appearance before the throne of grace is on their behalf. “He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). They may appropriate the High-Priestly prayer of Christ which is always heard. “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me” (John 17:24).
(6) Christ’s glory is their glory, and His inheritance is their inheritance. When the head is crowned, the entire body of necessity is crowned. “And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them” (John 17:22); “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17).
(7) The Spirit of Christ is their Spirit. “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you. … Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom 8:11, 9).
(8) The power of Jesus is their power, and they may take hold thereof as their own and be active therewith. “Or let him take hold of My strength” (Isa 27:5); “Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee” (Ps 84:5); “The Lord is the strength of my life” (Ps 27:1).
(9) In one word, we may conclude that all the benefits of the covenant of grace are their benefits, and all the fullness of Christ is theirs. “And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16).
(10) Finally, they also have fellowship with His suffering and become partakers of it, which is their great glory. “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1 Pet 4:14).
Since believers are partakers of Christ and all His benefits, how heartily and continually they ought to be exercised concerning this union!
First, this is their portion and they have a right to it. Jesus Himself is their Jesus and all His benefits are theirs.
Secondly, since it grieves you, believers, to be so empty in yourself, and you desire neither not to be distracted by nor filled with anything but Jesus and His fullness, why do you remain so long in this empty frame? Arise, satisfy and fill yourself with Him; rejoice in Him and His benefits.
Thirdly, you are not ashamed of Him, are you? Is it not your greatest delight to be familiar with Jesus and to have communion with Him as with a family member?
Fourthly, Jesus Himself delights in having communion with you, extending such a friendly invitation so that you would also exercise communion with Him. “Arise, My love, My fair one, and come away … let Me see Thy countenance, let Me hear Thy voice; for sweet is Thy voice, and Thy countenance is comely” (Song 2:13-14); “Come with Me from Lebanon, My spouse, with Me from Lebanon” (Song 4:8); “Come, My beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages … there shall I give thee My loves” (Song 7:11-12).
Fifthly, in the exercise of this communion there is sweetness and overflowing delight. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine” (Song 1:2); “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love” (Song 2:34); “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures” (Ps 36:8).
Sixthly, as the countenance of Moses shone forth after He had enjoyed communion with God on the mount, the exercise of communion will likewise cause believers to shine forth with holy luster. Thus, communion with Christ will cause the soul to shine forth with holiness. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).
Seventhly, in the exercise of this communion there is a strong and loving comfort in all the circumstances believers encounter.
(1) It enables them to endure all the contempt of the world. Jesus is their glory and delight, and they know that once, before the eyes of the entire world, they will be placed at the right hand of the Lord Jesus in glory.
(2) The grievous poverty they must endure will not oppress them, for they may behold their riches in Jesus, who, though He —Vol. 2, Page 94—was rich, yet for their sakes He became poor, that they through His poverty might be rich (2 Cor 8:9).
(3) They will then not fear persecution, for they know that the Lord Jesus is as personally affected as if He Himself were being persecuted. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me” (Acts 9:4); “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps 116:15).
(4) Here they find balm for their sick soul, light to clear up their darkness, life for their deadness, food and drink for their hunger and thirst, peace for their troubled heart, blood to atone for their sins, the Spirit for their sanctification, counsel when they are at their wit’s end, strength for their weakness, and a fullness of all for their manifold deficiencies.
(5) Such communion yields comfort as a remedy for the fear of death. The exercise of this communion removes not only the fear of condemnation, but also the natural fear for natural death which at times causes considerable anxiety. For they then believe and taste the truth of Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
(6) The exercise of this communion causes them to rejoice that one day the day of general judgment will come. For this day they long and yearn. They love His appearance, for then the entire world will see their Bridegroom in His glory; then believers will see Him in close proximity, and He will usher them into the new Jerusalem.
All these glorious and delightful matters are suitable to cause a believing soul to be enamored with the exercise of communion with Christ,
and there will be a desire to understand in what manner she may exercise this communion and by which means one may engage in this.
This communion is exercised in the following manner:
(1) In beholding the Lord Jesus in his beauty, desirability, and fullness. There will be thoughtful reflection about the Counsel of Peace, in which the Son of God out of love for His elect willingly offered Himself as their Surety. From there one descends to meditate upon His assumption of the human nature, the full scope of His bitter suffering, and then His cursed death. From there one proceeds to His resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God. In all of these one beholds His love, His willingness, the efficacy of the atonement, and all His fullness unto the salvation of the sinner. Here the soul pauses with longing eyes, desiring a further, clearer, and closer view of His perfections. She desires —Vol. 2, Page 95— to find delight in such contemplation, to be ignited with love, to joyfully acknowledge and approve of Him as such, and to praise and to magnify Him. In this manner a believer beholds Jesus. Such beholding of Him stirs Jesus up to express His love towards the believer. “Thou hast ravished My heart, My sister, My spouse; thou hast ravished My heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck” (Song 4:9).
(2) When the heart of the believer goes out in love to Jesus, viewing Him as his own and as being his Bridegroom. There will be a desire to focus the eyes on the one loved, and in beholding, love will be stirred up all the more, for the loved one will behold love in the face of the beholder. This mutual beholding of each other in love is as an act of communication, whereby loving desires towards each other are maintained.
(3) By means of familiar discourse. The soul who thus beholds Jesus, the heart going out in love towards Him, will share with her Beloved the frame of her heart, her love, and her grief for not loving Him more. She will bring all her needs to Him, reveal her desires to Him, make supplication to Him, plead affectionately with Him, and beg of Him sweetly for the fulfillment of her desire. She listens to what Jesus has to say to her, turns herself to His Word, deeming it to be the voice of her Beloved. This is particularly true when with clarity, power, and sweetness He impresses a text of Scripture upon her heart, causing her to speak to Him in return, giving expression to all the questions generated by her love, which in turn causes Jesus to reply to her. In doing so the soul will lose and forget herself, and it will grieve her if this dialogue is broken off, or if her body is too weak to endure the intensity of her desires as well as the kisses and influences of His love.
(4) In dependence upon Him. In love she leans upon Him, entrusting to Him her soul, her body, and whatever she may encounter. She expresses and reveals all of this to her Bridegroom; she takes refuge under His shadow and rests in His safekeeping. Without fear she entrusts all this to her Jesus, taking refuge with Him, knowing that He will neither drive nor cast her away from Him, but that this is pleasing to Him and stirs up His desires toward her.
(5) By asking counsel. If something must be performed or refrained from, she will neither proceed blindly nor will she trust her own judgment. Much less will she follow her own will. Rather, she will ask counsel of her Lord, asking Him what is pleasing to Him, for His will is her will. And having received counsel from Him she will walk in the way of uprightness.
(6) By making use of His strength and all His benefits as her own. The —Vol. 2, Page 96— believing soul knows that she may avail herself of Jesus’ benefits, that this is pleasing to Him, and that He has given them to her for that very purpose. If a sin has been committed, she will flee to the blood of Jesus. If she has polluted herself, she will go to Him as a fountain to be washed. If she is weak, she will take hold of His strength, and in union with Jesus will overcome all resistance, doing whatever is according to Jesus’ will. By His strength she is encouraged. She boasts of His benefits as being her own, and she presents herself as possessing light, life, strength, riches, glory, and all things in Him. This causes her to have contempt for the world. Her walk will be in heaven and she manifests herself as such to the world.
Exhortation to Remain Steadfast in Exercising Communion with Christ
Anyone who wishes to be steadfast in the exercise of this communion is to consider the following:
(1) You must be very much on guard for unanticipated sins which overtake you by surprise, and even more for presumptuous sins. This is very detrimental to holy familiarity, for the holy Jesus will withdraw Himself, and the soul will lose her liberty and her suitable frame. And if one has fallen, he must hastily arise and seek atonement and satisfaction in Christ’s ransom.
(2) Behave yourself appropriately towards Jesus. If this communion has diminished for other reasons, take heed that you do not reject grace. Be not fretful, for Jesus is not to be moved by this. Also, be not insensible concerning your want of communion, as if you could do without Him, as if restoration were no longer possible, and as if this former communion could never return.
(3) Those who may enjoy such communion, must see to it that the fear of man will neither prevent you from professing Him nor from manifesting His image and true holiness; that is, be not ashamed of Christ, for this dishonors Him.
Rather, acquaint yourself with Him. Let the exercise of this communion be your daily task when you are alone, when you are in company, and when you are engaged in your profession. May Jesus always have your ear, and may there always be a view upon Him.
By faith, hold fast to the fact that you are reconciled to and are a partaker of Him and His benefits, even if you do not perceive and feel this. This belonging to Him is not based on feeling. If the soul may truly believe this and be exercised therewith, this will lead the soul toward communion with Him.
Be patient and submissive if you cannot attain what others do attain. The Lord is free and is in no way obligated toward you. If He gives you less in this dispensation, this is neither a token of less —Vol. 2, Page 97— love, nor of being His property to a lesser degree. It is rather wisdom, for God wishes to be glorified by you in a different manner than in others, and your future glory will therefore not be any less.
Plead urgently before the Lord upon His promise, and show Him your desires in this matter, holding before Him that He Himself has given these promises to you.
Let the Word guide you; believe it, follow it, and wait upon the fulfillment of the promise. Be reminded that bliss is reserved for heaven, and that this life is a time of battle in which the victory is an absolute certainty. In doing so you will not stray so far, and you will time and again will be restored—until the Lord will immediately unite us to Himself in glory.
As believers have communion with their Head Jesus Christ, they likewise have communion with each other. I repeat, with each other, and thus not with other gatherings which assemble for religious purposes. From all such gatherings they separate themselves, whatever their names may be. This applies to:
(1) The heathen in all their various manifestations, as well as to Mohammedans. This also applies to the Socinians, and among them theSocinian Anabaptists and Arminians who deny the holy Trinity, the hypostatic union of the natures of Christ (that is, Christ as the eternal Son of the eternal Father having assumed a holy human nature within the unity of His Person), the true satisfaction of Christ as Surety on behalf of the elect, justification on the basis of the merits of Christ only without the good works of man, and the sealing power of the sacraments to all believers.
(2) The Papists, who have the antichrist as their head, committing heinous and abominable idolatry with a piece of bread by worshiping it
as their God. They religiously call upon angels and deceased saints for help according to body and soul. They render religious honor to images, make themselves guilty of the body and blood of Christ again by daily sacrificing Christ unto the forgiveness of sins, seeking to be justified by their own works and the works of others to merit salvation thereby. They deny the sealing power of the sacraments, attributing to them the power of the removal of sin. They are also bitter persecutors of the Lord Jesus and His church.
(3) Modern Lutherans. I am not referring to those who strictly adhere to the Augsburg Confession, but to such as they generally are today, who have the Augsburg Confession in their mouths, but depart from it and come very close to popery. These, if there arose but a small persecution against them, would perhaps soon return as —Vol. 2, Page 98— a dog to his vomit, and unite themselves again with popery. To seek fellowship with such would thoroughly corrupt the church. May the Lord keep His church from this. If they were to remain faithful to the doctrine of Luther, however, we would readily embrace them with our whole heart, and overlook their misconceptions.
(4) This lastly applies to the heretics within the church. The smoke from the bottomless pit permeates the church, causing numerous harmful and despicable sentiments to come in vogue, as well as the zealous promotion of such sentiments. If the church would have her old love and earnest concern for the truth and the purity of the church, such persons would have to be excommunicated.
Even though such persons may remain in the church, true believers will separate themselves from them as well as from the others mentioned who are outside of the church. They neither wish to have ecclesiastical fellowship with the one nor with the other. It grieves them that the church has not excommunicated such heretics. As long as they are not excommunicated, believers—in addition to being unpretentious, compassionate, helpful, etc.—may and must greet in a social manner such heretics and those who give offense. In our nation the practice of greeting is not an indication of familiarity and fellowship, for if that were the case, one would not be permitted to greet them. Rather, it is merely a social gesture which one makes even to those who are entirely unknown. However, in all social interaction and the manifestation of charity one must always demonstrate that there is a distance between them, and that one meets them only as human beings and not as believers or godly persons.
In separating themselves from them, believers thus exercise communion with the church and her members. Part of the church is triumphant in heaven and part of it is militant upon earth. A believer exercises communion with both.
How wondrously has man, so contemptible and sinful in himself, been exalted that he may even have communion and fellowship with angels! Due to their dissimilarity—the one being an angel and the other man, the one holy and the other sinful, the one loving God and the other hating Him—there was incompatibility and enmity between the two. The Lord Jesus, however, has removed this and has reconciled them to each other. “And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col 1:20). This is also expressed in Zech 3:7, “I —Vol. 2, Page 99— shall give thee places to walk among these that stand by.” The saints are thus fellow citizens in heaven. “For our conversation is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). The Greek word politeuma does not merely mean “to walk,” but rather “to dwell in one’s own city as a citizen,” and thus is expressive of citizenship. They are therefore included in the general assembly. “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:22-23). For this reason they are called fellow citizens. “I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 19:10). Together with the godly they have one head, Jesus Christ, and one inheritance, eternal felicity in communion with God. From their side the angels express their love towards believers in preserving and serving them, being sent forth for this purpose by God (Heb 1:14). They find delight in their worship services and are present there. They pay close attention to God’s dealings with them, and learn from this the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10).
Believers from their side acknowledge their glory, love them because they love God, are one with them and thus form as it were one assembly, and stand in awe of their presence (1 Cor 11:10). They refrain themselves, however, from rendering them religious honor and
from worshiping them.
Believers also have and exercise communion with the spirits of just men made perfect, who also belong to the general assembly to which believers who are still on earth have come (Heb 12:23). The glorified saints know that there is still a militant church upon earth. What specific knowledge they have, be it due to divine revelation, or due to being informed by the holy angels, we cannot determine as God’s Word is silent on the matter. This, however, we know: they cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth” (Rev 6:10).
Believers on earth acknowledge the glorified saints as their brothers and sisters. They love them, highly esteem them, follow their conversation upon earth, join them, jointly bowing before the throne with them, giving honor and glory to the Lord, and longing to be with them in the state of perfection. They do know, however, that the saints in heaven have not been vested with the —Vol. 2, Page 100— worthiness of being worshipped. Neither has God delegated to them the task to help others, nor has He appointed them to be intercessors. They therefore refrain from rendering any religious honor unto them or beseeching of them that they would pray for us.
How refreshing it is for God’s children, being hated by the world, to have communion with each other, to make their needs known to each other, and in love and familiarity may enjoy each other’s fellowship! They exercise communion with God’s church in general (which is dispersed over the entire face of the earth), as being the sole people of God, as being the sole adherents to the truth and the way of salvation, and as confessing Christ alone to be their Head. Since they have the same Spirit in common, as well as the same interests, they rejoice when the church prospers, and likewise grieve when elsewhere the church does not fare well. Their prayers and thanksgiving are for the church in general. They exercise communion with the church within the kingdom or republic in which they are subjects, as well as with the specific congregation of the city or village in which they reside. Yes, their communion is most specifically with the godly; however, in exercising such communion, they remain in the church. They may have a special relationship with some, which, however, does not cause them to separate themselves from the church or to cause schism within the church, since they cherish the church above their chief joy upon earth.
Thus a believer unites himself to all believers who constitute the church, whether or not he knows them. Even though he knows but few, he believes that there are thousands of believers with whom he is not acquainted. He also knows that there are many unconverted within the church, but union with them does not extend beyond a common confession. He rejoices in the fact that Christ is confessed by many, and that the church therefore has much opportunity to beget souls for Christ. The latter is the focus of the prayer which the godly offer on behalf of the unconverted in the church.
Believers have this in common that they, whether great or small, are all equally partakers of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are equal partakers of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, and are equally partakers of the fullness of Jesus and all His benefits. The principal parts of all this we have shown you previously.
This communion manifests itself in many and various deeds. First, they will diligently join the assemblies of God’s people in order to hear the Word and partake of the sacraments. They, with David, rejoice in this (Ps 122:1). They unite themselves with the church, —Vol. 2, Page 101— the congregation, and all the godly who are present there—and as fellow professors join all who profess the Lord Jesus. In doing so they bear witness that this congregation is the church of Jesus Christ; they are members of and have communion with her, have the same interests, and wish to live and die with her. In doing so they publicly testify that they confess Jesus as the only Savior, and as the only Head of the church. In this manner they reveal themselves to the world and to the congregation. In one Spirit they join her in singing the psalms, in calling upon God’s Name, in hearing God’s Word out of the mouths of His servants, and they anticipate with longing the blessing which God has promised to bestow upon such gatherings. All this is comprehended in the exhortation, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”
Secondly, with all their might they will endeavor to maintain peace. This is not accomplished by tolerating various errors, for truth and peace must go hand in hand. “Therefore love the truth and peace” (Zech 8:19). It also does not mean that they tolerate a variety of sins and offenses, for the Lord commands, “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him” (Lev 19:17). The congregation of Ephesus was praised for this. “Thou canst not bear them which are evil” (Rev 2:2). Rather, peace is maintained when:
(1) one adheres to the same truth. If one holds to a peculiar view, he ought to permit himself to be instructed by a wise person; doing so, however, by keeping this to himself so that no one will notice this. Differences of opinion result in the stirring of the emotions.
(2) one endures maltreatment by his neighbor without making it known that he is being maltreated, and without manifesting that he is enduring this. “With longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (Eph 4:2); “Forbearing one another” (Col 3:13).
(3) one always esteems and behaves himself as being the least, rejoicing in the fact that we may behold God’s children, be in their presence, and serve them. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil 2:3).
(4) the evil of fellow members is concealed, is not spoken of behind their backs, and is not listened to in the gossip of others. Rather, attention will be focused upon someone’s virtues, and how he is esteemed by us and others. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Lev 19:16); “Charity … beareth all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Thirdly, they will endeavor to have, manifest, and show love. “Charity … is the bond of perfectness” (Col 3:14). Love binds together. “Being knit together in love” (Col 2:2). If we may have our spiritual origin in —Vol. 2, Page 102— God, who is love, we will also have a loving heart, and if we love God we shall also love His children. “Every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1). If a believer meets someone whom he perceives to be a person loved by God and loving God in return, it cannot be but that his heart will go out in love towards such a person. If this love is sufficiently strong, it will not be impeded if it perceives a weakness in such a person. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor 13:4-5). One must not only have love in the heart, but also manifest this by the expression of joy when meeting such persons—in friendliness when speaking to them, in unity when interacting with them, in the rendering of service when the opportunity presents itself (albeit that others could assist likewise), and in familiarity when counseling each other.
Fourthly, communion is exercised by being good examples to each other, and by following each other’s example in doing good. Exemplary behavior is marvelously effective in attracting others. Christ is the perfect example, “leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Believers, however, in whom Christ has been formed, must manifest the image of Christ, also with the objective of being a good example to others. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16); “In honour preferring one another” (Rom 12:10); “Shew me thy faith without thy works” (James 2:18); “So that ye were ensamples to all that believe” (1 Thess 1:7); “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7). As one must endeavor to be a good example to others, one must also endeavor to follow the good examples of others whom the Lord has given to us within His church. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1); “That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:12); “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Phil 3:17). There is the happy advantage that one can be an example in the congregation whereby others can be stirred up unto godliness, and that one may also himself be stirred up to follow the examples of others. When both of these aspects are practiced, there is communion of saints.
Fifthly, communion of saints is practiced by mutually promoting one another’s spiritual growth.
(1) This occurs by helping each other to arise again after having —Vol. 2, Page 103— fallen, and to correct someone who is in error. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal 6:1).
(2) This also occurs by encouraging and exhorting one another. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).
(3) This occurs by comforting each other in times of discouragement. “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:18). The apostle joins several of these duties which necessarily must flow out of the communion of saints unto the upbuilding of the church. “And to esteem them [the ministers] very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (1 Thess 5:13-15).
Sixthly, communion of saints is exercised by faithfully assisting each other in times of perplexity. If someone is in need of counsel, counsel him according to your ability. Your counsel will either be right, or he will receive light in consequence of your counsel. If he is slandered, defend his good name; if he is ill, visit him; if he is poor, assist him with your means, or assist him in other ways, doing so while manifesting all love, compassion, and diligence.
(1) Job is here an example to us. “I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth” (Job 29:15-17).
(2) These virtues will publicly be extolled by the Lord Jesus on the day of judgment. He will show that His elect have exercised these virtues during their life. He who wishes to hear of them then, must practice them now. “For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me” (Matt 25:35-36).
Question: Must believers have all temporal goods in common?
Answer: This thought was conceived and advanced by such people who were too lazy to work. In this way they tried either to get into the mainstream of or acquire the necessities of life. This was practiced in ages past by the Anabaptists under the leadership of Knipperdollinkand Jan van Leiden, and currently the Boehmists —Vol. 2, Page 104— desire this, especially those who are the least among them. The Labadistsalso pretended to practice this, but in reality those who did not contribute had to work hard, but received little food and sleep. However, upon separating from each other, everyone, as much as possible, took his own property again. Everyone was not able to retrieve all that he had contributed, so that several were reduced to beggary. We do maintain that believers, according to their means, must support believers who are subject to poverty. Everyone, however, must retain possession and control of his own assets, for:
First, even during the time of the apostles, there have been both rich and poor. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit” (James 2:15-16). There were poor as well as rich believers. The rich possessed and controlled their own assets, and were obligated to share these in a generous manner with the poor. The women with means possessed and governed their belongings and served the Lord Jesus with their goods (Luke 8:3). This was likewise true of Dorcas (Acts 9:36), and Lydia the seller of purple (Acts 16:14-15). Philemon was a wealthy man who retained possession of his assets as is evident in Paul’s letter to him. The believers in the congregation of Ephesus had gold and silver. Paul says concerning this in Acts 20:33, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.”
Secondly, if all assets were to be held in common, the giving of alms would cease and could not occur. It is, however, evident from the collections which were held, and from the exhortations towards liberality, that the giving of alms was not meant to cease. Concerning collections Scripture says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 Cor 16:1-2). Consider also the exhortations to liberality. “Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality” (Rom 12:13); “And let us not be weary in well doing” (Gal 6:9); “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb 13:16).
Objection #1: The original apostolic church had all things in common. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common” (Acts 2:44); “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32); “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses —Vol. 2, Page 105— sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (Acts 4:34-35). Ananias and Sapphira were even punished with death because they had withheld something (Acts 5:1-10).
Answer: We have shown that in the first church everyone owned and controlled his own assets. This was an extraordinary situation due to the large multitude of strangers which were in Jerusalem at that time, who, upon having believed, remained with the church and did not return to their place of origin. An extraordinary persecution was also imminent, whereby everyone was in danger of being deprived of his possessions. These extraordinary circumstances are not normative for all times and localities. It is evident from the examples of Dorcas and Lydia that some also retained possession of their assets. Philip the evangelist also had a house and belongings where he welcomed Paul at that time and those who accompanied him. Ananias could also have kept his gifts for himself. He was not punished for this, but rather for his lie.
Objection #2: Believers may not possess gold and silver, but whatever they possess, they must sell and give the money to the poor. “Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses” (Matt 10:9); “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven” (Matt 19:21).
Answer (1) The Lord Jesus gave a special command to His disciples whom he had sent forth to preach. This command was in force only for the duration of their journey, in order to demonstrate to them that He would care for them. He also did this to prepare them for their labors after His ascension, in order that they would do this, trusting in the Lord. This text neither pertains to the entire congregation and all her members nor to all ministers in every age, for they are not forbidden to have possessions. Rather, they are forbidden to preach for the purpose of material gain and for filthy lucre.
(2) The command to the rich young man was given to him in order to convince him of the fact that he was miserly, and that material possessions were his idol. Special injunctions given in a particular situation are not normative for everyone under all circumstances.
We have discussed with you the communion of saints. Everyone will have to agree that the church that functions in such a manner is blessed indeed, while praising everyone who is thus engaged. A true believer, with shame, will be convinced of his neglect in this —Vol. 2, Page 106— area. May everyone therefore be stirred up to exercise communion of saints in such a fashion.
(1) The entire congregation will thereby shine forth as a light upon a candlestick. She will be as a city upon a hill, render honor and glory to Christ, and be respected by all who are without.
(2) The congregation will be built up by this; the godly will be stirred up by the examples of others to walk likewise; and many will be converted as a result of this. One would observe a great influx of those who are without who would acknowledge that God dwells in her midst and she is truly the church.
(3) It will engender great mutual joy and union. Love and peace will so refresh believers that they would readily do without the love of those who are of the world. Yes, they will be able to courageously endure and ignore all contempt, slander, and persecution of the world.
(4) The Lord will richly pour out His blessing upon such a congregation. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! … for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Ps 133).
(5) Such will hear the declaration of this delightful voice, saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I shall make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt 25:21).