Guest Post: No Communion and No Christ? Part 1

This is the first part of a guest post by Richard Barcellos.

No Communion and No Christ?

 A response to two recent claims by Dr. R. Scott Clark:

  1. “In short, when we say communication we mean ‘communing.’ When the PBs say communication they seem to mean ‘the transmission of information.’”
  2. According to PBs, “God the Son is not actually present” prior to the incarnation.

Richard C. Barcellos

I. Introductory Comments

After reading the two claims above by Dr. R. Scott Clark (found here), I thought to myself, “Wow, that is what I believe?” I am kidding, of course. I did think to myself, “Who believes or even asserts such things?” More specifically, I thought to myself, did Nehemiah Coxe mean by communication “the transmission of information” (Clark’s words) exclusively? And did Coxe teach that “God the Son is not actually present” (Clark’s words) with his people prior to the incarnation? And are these things taught by some seventeenth-century and some contemporary Particular Baptists, though possibly unwittingly? In the “Conclusion” to Clark’s piece, he says:

When the Particular Baptists speak of the benefit of Christ being communicated, it seems as if they mean that a future reality was revealed to the Old Testament saints, which they anticipated but which was not actually present for them. (emphasis mine)

These claims were supported by Clark’s analysis of a brief section in one paragraph in 2LCF and some statements made by Coxe. I simply want to ask this question: Is Clark right? But before giving you my answer to that question, I want to state at the beginning what I understand to be the specific focus and concern of Clark. He views some of the Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century and some today as either explicitly (and intentionally) or implicitly (and unintentionally) denying that God the Son was actually present with his people prior to the incarnation. This denial is due to their seemingly (I say “seemingly” because Clark uses the word “seem” [see above]) intended meaning of the words “communication” or “communicated.” Due to Clark’s understanding of their meaning of these terms, the position of some Particular Baptists is “distinct from the Reformed” (Clark’s words). And due to their distinct seemingly intended meaning of the words “communication” and “communicated,” these Particular Baptists effectively deny the presence of Christ with his people prior to the incarnation. This, it seems to me, fairly represents the focus and concern of Clark. In fact, the title of his blog post seems to indicate this: One Important Difference Between The Reformed And Some Particular Baptists: God The Son Was In, With, And Under The Types and Shadows.

In my response to Clark, I am concerned primarily with historical theology, that is, seeking to understand rightly the theology of those in history past. To that end, I will be providing two sets of quotations by Coxe. The first set gives examples of how he used the words “communion,” “communicated,” “communications,” and “communicate.” (I could not find Coxe using the singular noun form “communication.”) This will give us a variety of contexts in which Coxe uses these terms. The second set gives examples of Coxe’s view of the work and real presence of the mediator prior to the incarnation. For each quotation in the first set I supply the words of Coxe then give brief comment in light of Clark’s claim that Coxe does not mean “communing” when he uses forms of the word communication. The second set of quotations are followed by brief comments. Any bold and italicized words are mine.

Though I will not address 2LCF 8.6 in any detail (see this post by Sam Renihan who responds to Clark on this issue), for the sake of discussion, let’s grant Clark’s claim (though I deny it) that Particular Baptists seem to mean by “communication” “the transmission of information” at 8.6 (8.6 uses the verbal form “communicated”), what does that formula look like when inserted into 2LCF? Below are two examples. I took the liberty to modernize the language of the confession a bit. The first is from chapter 8, “Of Christ the Mediator” and the second is from chapter 21, “Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience.”

Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ, till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated [i.e., the transmission of information] to the elect in all ages successively, from the beginning of the world… (2LCF 8.6a)

All which were common also to believers under the Law for the substance of them; but under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace; and in fuller communications [i.e., transmissions of information] of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the Law did ordinarily partake of. (2 LCF 21.1b)

If Clark is right, this is surely a conundrum for some Particular Baptists. God the Son was absent from the saints prior to the incarnation because only information about him was transmitted to them. When some seventeenth-century Particular Baptists use various forms of the word “communication,” while speaking of the benefit of Christ “communicated to the elect” (2LCF 8.6) prior to the incarnation, they mean “the transmission of information.” Therefore, Christ “was not actually present for” (Clark’s words) the Old Testament saints.

Clark only examined a sliver of one seventeenth-century Particular Baptist, Nehemiah Coxe, and one statement in 2CLF. To prove his assertion about Coxe, he would have to examine more of Coxe’s uses of the terms mentioned above. Assuming that would prove his case, Clark would then need to go outside of Coxe’s writings in order to substantiate his claim about other seventeenth-century Particular Baptists.

What would one find by scouring the writings of other seventeenth-century Particular Baptists and their use and intended meanings of terms like “communion,” “communicated,” “communications,” and “communicate”? Would these terms mean “the transmission of information” exclusively, or even seem to mean that? These terms certainly may mean that, but do they in every instance used by Particular Baptists? The two examples from 2LCF above do not, it seems to me, substantiate Clark’s claim. In fact, it seems obvious that what the Particular Baptists meant by “communicated” in 2LCF 8.6a and “communications” in 2LCF 21.1b is simply “communing,” that is, the conveyance of that which is promised.

Thankfully, examples of the use of the terms under discussion by seventeenth-century Particular Baptists are not hard to find. While discussing the Lord’s Supper, Benjamin Keach says:

There is a mystical conveyance or communication of all Christ’s blessed merits to our souls through faith held forth hereby, and in a glorious manner received, in the right participation of it.[1]

Does Clark’s equation fit here? It would read as follows:

There is a mystical conveyance or communication [i.e., the transmission of information about] … all Christ’s blessed merits to our souls through faith held forth hereby, and in a glorious manner received, in the right participation of it.

Does Keach intend by the word “communication” “the transmission of information”? Are there any indicators before or after Keach’s use of this word in this instance which help us understand his intended meaning? I think there are. First, note the word “conveyance.” On its own, “communication” could mean “the transmission of information.” However, Keach supplies the word “or” between “conveyance” and “communication.” It seems he intends these as synonymous, at some level. Then, immediately after the word “communication,” he tells us of what it consists: “of all Christ’s blessed merits to our souls through faith…” Does it seem like Keach intends by “communication” “the transmission of information”? No. He means, rather, the “transmission” of “all Christ’s blessed merits to” the souls of gospel believers. So, I ask again, does Keach intend by the word “communication” “the transmission of information”? Again, I think not. It is very clear that by this term he means “communing,” the conveyance of that which is promised—“Christ’s blessed merits.” I give this as an example of the use and meaning of the term not to prove any Particular Baptist necessarily meant the same thing when speaking about the saints prior to the incarnation. That’s another issue, the very issue under discussion.

I could give several other examples of seventeenth-century Particular Baptists using the words “communication” and “communicated” to entail “communing.” Instead, I will mention only one more. In his commentary on the first chapter of the Song of Solomon, explaining the title, Hanserd Knollys, a seventeenth-century Particular Baptist, says this:

Solomon being now taken up in the Spirit with heavenly contemplations of the holy communion between Christ and his spouse wherein his soul had real and experimental enjoyment of his beloved, (for Solomon loved the Lord, 1 Ki. 3.3).[2]

Knollys is clear. Solomon himself “had real and experimental enjoyment of” Christ, “his beloved,” while being “taken up in the Spirit with heavenly contemplations of the holy communion between Christ and his spouse.” It seems clear that “wherein” finds its antecedent in at least “the holy communion between Christ and his spouse.” Though the noun “communion” is not technically a cognate of “communication” or “communicate,” “communing” is a cognate of “communion” and is the very term Clark used above to indicate what he means by “communication.” Recall that Solomon lived prior to the incarnation. So, does Clark’s equation fit with the intent of this seventeenth-century Particular Baptist? Are we to take Knollys to mean by “communion” “the transmission of information”? I think not. It seems clear that by “communion” he means communing, by virtue of the pre-incarnate Son of God conveying that which is promised, such that Solomon enjoyed “his beloved”—Christ. That “his” refers to Solomon and “beloved” refers to Christ is clearly what is meant by virtue of Knollys’ words in parentheses: “(for Solomon loved the Lord, 1 Ki. 3.3).”

It is time to get to the specific focus of my reply to Clark. Did Nehemiah Coxe mean “the transmission of information” exclusively by the terms “communion,” “communicated,” “communications,” and “communicate”? And did he teach, or does his view entail, that “God the Son is not actually present” with his people prior to the incarnation?

The next installment of this response will consider the following:

II. Examples of how Coxe used the words “communion,” “communicated,” “communications,” and “communicate”

[1] Benjamin Keach, Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1972), 639.

[2] Hanserd Knollys, An Exposition of the first Chapter of the Song of Solomon. Wherein the Text is Analysed, the Allegories are explained, and the hidden Mysteries are unveiled, according to the Proportion of Faith. With Spiritual Meditations Upon every Verse (London: Printed by W. Godbid, and are to be fold by Livewel Chapman at the Crown in Popeshead-alley, 1656), 3. Knollys’ commentary views “[t]he excellency of this Song” as “the great mystery of Christ and his church” and “the style thereof (though it expresses things very dark, in metaphors and allegories, yet when opened and understood) is most proper and elegant…” (2). The fact that Knollys viewed the Song as containing allegory should not deter from the point under discussion. The point is that by communion he meant Solomon was communing, receiving that which is promised, with Christ prior to the incarnation.


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