One of the great benefits of reading the Puritans is that they open our eyes to how wonderfully useful and practical doctrine is. "Theology," William Ames famously wrote, "is the doctrine of living unto God." The doctrine of union and communion with Christ is certainly no exception to this. In their sermons on this doctrine, they provided, as they were wont to do in their sermons, a number of practical uses. Also, some harnessed this doctrine in order to bring help and comfort to Christians in their time of need. Edward Reynolds expounded it in order to assure and comfort repentant Christians who had fallen into sin. Thomas Case, a Westminster divine, explained it in a work that he wrote to bring comfort to himself and his family on the death of his 10-year-old grandson, Benjamin, whom he was raising because the boy’s mother (Case’s daughter) had died in childbirth. In this article, I want to discuss two practical uses of this great doctrine, one for non-Christians and one for Christians.
One use for non-Christians is to motivate and exhort them to be united to Christ by faith. Reynolds said that “absolute necessity lies upon us having Christ because with him we have all things, and can do all things: without him, we are poor and can do nothing.” Thomas Jacomb made a similar point in one of his sermons on Romans 8. He urged his audience “to get into Christ” because union with Christ opens the floodgates. In terms of salvation applied, it is the fundamental blessing. Jacomb wrote:
“To enforce the exhortation [to endeavour to get into Christ], I will give you but one motive, but that will be a very comprehensive and considerable one: it is this, Union with Christ is the foundation of all good by and from Christ. It is the fundamental blessing, I mean with respect to application. There can be no application of what Christ hath purchased without antecedent union with his person; it is the very basis upon which all is built—the leading blessing—the inlet to all the grace of the gospel—the ground of all communion and communication. Ah, sinner! thou canst hope for nothing from Christ unless thou beest in Christ; without Christ and without hope go together, Eph. 2:12.”
According to Reynolds, heeding the exhortation to be united to Christ is all the more necessary and the neglect of it all the more sinful because Christ will not reject any person who sincerely comes to him. Indeed, Christ calls, invites, entreats and commands all to come to him.
One use of this doctrine for Christians is to assure and comfort them when they feel burdened by their sin. Reynolds encouraged repentant Christians who were “seriously and searchingly humbled with the sense and consciousness of some great relapse” to consider their union and communion with Christ. In so doing they would be reminded that they are safe, secure and saved in Christ because in him they possess the death and merit of Christ, the life of Christ, the sonship of Christ, the victories of Christ, and the benefit of Christ’s intercession. If Christ is in us and we in him, who can be against us? Certainly not our sins. Reynolds wrote:
“The sum of all is this. Since we stand not like Adam, upon our own bottom, but are branches of such a vine as never withers; members of such a head as never dies; sharers in such a spirit as cleanseth, healeth, and purifieth the heart; partakers of such promises, as are sealed with the oath of God; since we live not by our own life, but by the life of Christ; are not led or sealed by our own spirit, but by the spirit of Christ; do not obtain mercy by our own prayers but by the intercession of Christ; stand not reconciled unto God by our own endeavours, but by the propitiation wrought by Christ, ‘who loved us when we were enemies, and in our blood’ who is both ‘willing and able to save us to the uttermost,’ and to preserve his own mercies in us; to whose office it belongs to take order that none who are given unto him, be lost:--undoubtedly that life of Christ in us, which is thus underpropped, though it be not privileged from temptations, no not from back-slidings, yet is an abiding life: he who raised our soul from death, will either preserve our feet from falling; or, if we do fall, will heal our backslidings, and will save us freely.”
In the next article, I hope to consider some more practical uses of the doctrine of union and communion with Christ.