Guest Post: No Communion and No Christ? Part 2

This is the second part of a guest post by Richard Barcellos. The first installment can be found here.

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

This is the second installment of my response to two recent claims offered by Dr. R. Scott Clark. The last paragraph of the first installment reads as follows:

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?

This installment will answer the first question stated above. Did Nehemiah Coxe mean “the transmission of information” exclusively by the terms “communion,” “communicated,” “communications,” and “communicate”? I will provide examples of how Coxe 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. As with the first installment, my response is focused on historical theology, specifically on the words and their meanings as used and intended by Nehemiah Coxe.

II. Examples of how Coxe used the words “communion,” “communicated,” “communications,” and “communicate”[1]

  1. Coxe p. 36

Section 3. The general notion of any covenant of God with men, considered on the part of God or as proposed by him, may be conceived of as “A declaration of his sovereign pleasure concerning the benefits he will bestow on them, the communion they will have with him, and the way and means by which this will be enjoyed by them.”[2]

Comment: Clark’s concern is not aimed at Coxe’s use of the word “communion.” This use of the word (and others) by Coxe, however, helps us better understand his view of “communing,” a word Clark used. It seems clear that by “communion” here, Coxe does not mean “the transmission of information” but communing, the conveyance of that which is promised or, in this instance specifically, “the benefits [God] will bestow on” men. It becomes clear that Coxe distinguishes between the “declaration of his sovereign pleasure,” or as he says on the next page, “the revelation of the counsel of God’s will in a covenant proposed” and the “communion” promised in his “declaration” or “revelation” of said covenant. Divine “declaration” and divine “revelation,” in this context, are not synonymous with “communion.”

  1. Coxe, p. 43

1. This was an eternal law and an invariable rule of righteousness by which those things that are agreeable to the holiness and rectitude of the divine nature were required and whatever is contrary to it was prohibited. This law was only internal and subjective to Adam, being communicated to him with his reasonable nature and written in his heart, so that he needed no external revelation to perfect his knowledge of it.

Comment: Applying the claim of Clark, Coxe’s explanation of the law written on Adam’s heart would mean this: “This law was only internal and subjective to Adam, being information transmitted to him with his reasonable nature and written in his heart, so that he needed no external revelation to perfect his knowledge of it.” Instead, it seems clear that by “communicated” here, Coxe does not mean “the transmission of information” but that which is given, in the sense of creaturely endowment. Being made in the image of God, Adam’s existence was “communicated” to him, granted to him by his creator. And concreated with that existence was “an invariable rule of righteousness…written in his heart.” This gift of coming into existence did not require of Adam the acceptance of or belief in that which was endowed in order to Adam’s existence. Or in the language of older covenant theologians, the initial act of creational endowment did not require restipulation (a term Coxe uses[3]) by the creature. That which was endowed came with the “stuff” of Adam’s unique creatureliness. Clark’s “the transmission of information” formula seems to entail the existence of man and his receiving an extra-creational objective and propositional revelation to him from God, and a restipulation by him. Clark’s formula does not fit this use of the word “communicated” by Coxe. Recall that the specific word under dispute is a form of “communicated.”

  1. Coxe, p. 45

2. The natural inclination of men. They expect a reward of future blessedness for their obedience to the law of God and to stand before him on the terms of a covenant of works. This necessarily arises from man’s relationship to God at first in such a covenant (which included the promise of such a reward) and the knowledge of these covenant terms communicated to him, together with the law of his creation.

Comment: Applying the claim of Clark, Coxe’s explanation of the knowledge of the terms of the covenant of works would mean this: “…the knowledge of these covenant terms was transmitted as information to him, together with the law of his creation.” In the context of Coxe’s discussion, this use of “communicated” seems, indeed, to indicate “the transmission of information” which results in “the knowledge of these covenant terms” (i.e., the knowledge of the terms of the covenant of works). The various forms in which this knowledge was conveyed to Adam are discussed by Coxe in the wider context of the quote under investigation. So, while using the term “communicated,” Coxe may and does, at least once, mean “the transmission of information.

  1. Coxe p. 48

Because as Adam’s sin is imputed to all that were in him, and so judgment to condemnation comes on all that were represented by him, so also the obedience of Christ is imputed to all that are in him, and the free gift redounds on them to the justification of life by virtue of their union to and communion with him.

Comment: Though Clark’s claim does not refer to Coxe’s use of the word “communion,” once again, it is interesting to note its use in this instance. It seems clear that by “communion” here, Coxe means benefits conveyed to those in union with Christ and the same benefits enjoyed by them. The benefits of Christ are imputed to them by virtue of their union with Christ, which union entails “communion with him.” Union with Christ entails communion with him, according to Coxe.

  1. Coxe p. 51

And now instead of that original righteousness with which he was first beautified, there was nothing to be found in him but abominable filthiness and horrid deformity. His mind was covered over, even possessed with hellish darkness. Hatred of God reigned in his heart and his affections were no longer subject to right reason but became vile and rebellious. It is evident that in this state he must be utterly incapable of communion with God and of the enjoyment of him in whom alone the true happiness of a reasonable creature consists.

Comment: Here is another instance where, though Clark’s claim does not refer to Coxe’s use of the word “communion,” it is interesting to note its use. By “communion” here, Coxe means the reception and enjoyment of the divine goodness and its appropriate creaturely responses. This clearly refers to something more than “the transmission of information.

  1. Coxe p. 62

The violence and corruption of mankind abounded and even the sons of God were taken with the bait of sensual delights. Those who had formerly kept up a pure and distinct communion for the solemn worship of God by calling on his name (and so also had his name called on them, Genesis 4:26, being denominated the sons of God) now lost the sense of religion and broke the bounds of their just separation and mingled themselves with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:24).

Comment: Again, Clark’s claim is not aimed at Coxe’s use of the word “communion.” It seems clear, nevertheless, that by “communion” here, Coxe means the sharing of the blessing of public worship among men. By the way, assuming the worship Coxe is referencing was acceptable religious worship (which seems clear in context), the assumption is that it had been instituted by God “by his own revealed will” (2LCF 22.1) and was “not without a mediator, nor in the mediation of any other but Christ alone” (2LCF 22.2).

  1. Coxe pp. 63-64

Thus the ark was an extraordinary sacrament, or prefiguring, of the church’s redemption and salvation by the death and resurrection of Christ and of her union and communion with him that died and rose again, so as to enjoy all the benefits of his death and resurrection.

Comment: Again, “communion” here is especially instructive for our purposes. Believers are in “union” with Christ and, therefore, enjoy “communion with him.” What is it to have union and communion with Christ according to Coxe? He defines it as enjoying “all the benefits of his death and resurrection.” Union with Christ entails communion with Christ, “so as to enjoy all the benefits of his death and resurrection” before and after the incarnation.

  1. Coxe p. 81

3. The sum of all gospel blessings is comprised in this promise. Therefore it will follow that the proper heirs of this blessing of Abraham have a right (not only in some, but) in all the promises of the new covenant. This is true not in a limited sense, suspended on uncertain conditions, but in a full sense and secured by the infinite grace, wisdom, power, and faithfulness of God. Accordingly, they are in time made good to them all. And this will be more manifest if we consider that all the blessings of this covenant redound on believers by means of their union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the Head and Root of the new covenant, and the Fountain from which all its blessings are derived to us. Since these blessings were entirely purchased by him, so are they entirely applied to all that are in him and to none other.

Comment: Clark’s claim is that it seems that some Particular Baptists mean by “communication” “the transmission of information” and that, as a result of this, they effectively deny the presence of Christ with his people prior to the incarnation. I think Clark’s claim may be put in this form: Because for some Particular Baptists “communication” seems to mean “the transmission of information,” there is no “communing” with Christ prior to the incarnation. The various uses of the word “communion” by Coxe, however, indicate very clearly that he did not deny communion with Christ prior to the incarnation. In fact, the evidence clearly and emphatically indicates just the opposite. Union and communion are covenantal blessings, the application of redemption.

  1. Coxe p. 99

Section 6. To confirm this I will offer these things. First, circumcision was the entrance into and boundary of communion in the Jewish church.

Comment: Here “communion” seems to indicate the shared blessings of those within the Jewish church.

  1. Coxe p. 111

But still God’s communications to them and acts for them, both in regard to the blessings he will bestow and the terms and conditions on which they will be bestowed, are limited by the covenant he has made with them and the nature and extent of the promises of it.

Comment: Applying the claim of Clark, Coxe’s explanation of “I will be their God” (see the context of the Coxe quote above), specifically “the [covenant] blessings…and the terms and conditions on which they will be bestowed” would mean this: “But still God’s transmission of information to them and acts for them, both in regard to the blessings he will bestow and the terms and conditions on which they will be bestowed…” Instead, it seems clear that by “communications” here, Coxe does not mean “the transmission of information” but “communing,” the conveyance of things promised.

  1. Coxe p. 111

Either God is obliged by this promise to communicate himself in the highest degree possible to all those to whom it is made, and to do the utmost for them that may be done (without implying a contradiction to his being and infinite perfections) and to bring them absolutely to the utmost degree of happiness that omnipotent goodness can raise them to, or else the promised good must fall under some particular limitation.

Comment: Applying the claim of Clark, Coxe’s explanation of “I will be their God” (see the context of the Coxe quote above) and what it promises would mean this: ““Either God is obliged by this promise to the transmission of information [about] himself in the highest degree possible to all those to whom it is made, and to do the utmost for them that may be done (without implying a contradiction to his being and infinite perfections)…” Instead, it seems clear that by “communicate” here, Coxe does not mean “the transmission of information” but “communing,” the conveyance of that which is specifically promised.

  1. Coxe p. 129

This communion that believers have with Christ in his benefits through the faith of the operation of God, is in a lively manner held out and signified to them in their baptism, in which they are said to be both buried and risen together with him (Colossians 2:12).

Comment: Here is another use of “communion” by Coxe that helps us understand his intended use of this term. It seems clear that by “communion” here, Coxe intends the conveyance of that which is promised, signified in baptism.

What can be said in light of the Coxe statements above? It seems to me that Coxe means by “communicated” (or other forms of this word) “the transmission of information” only once. Because the revealed word of God is a means of grace by the blessing of the Spirit to the elect, however, Coxe surely would and did acknowledge that, though “communion” requires “the transmission of information” it is not exhausted by it. I think the statements by Coxe above amply prove these assertions.

But what about Clark’s other claim? Is it true that some seventeenth-century Particular Baptists believed in some sort of “real absence” view of Christ concerning the Old Testament saints? I have already provided a little evidence to the contrary, but since Clark’s focus was on Coxe, it will do us well to examine some statements by him which, in my view, prove that Clark’s claim is found wanting.

My third installment will consider the following:

III. Coxe’s view of the work and presence of the mediator prior to the incarnation

[1] This is the order of which these words occur in the Coxe work Clark critiqued.

[2] All quotations of Coxe are taken from Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, ed. Ronald D. Miller, James M. Renihan, and Francisco Orozco (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005).

[3] Coxe uses this term in Coxe and Owen, Covenant Theology. At its first use on p. 35, this footnote gives its definition: “[The Oxford English Dictionary indicates this rare word carries the sense “to promise or engage in return; a counter-engagement.” It cites an occurrence from Thomas Adams’ commentary on 2 Peter 2:9 to make the point:  “If he covenant with us, ‘I will be your God’; we must restipulate, ‘Then we will rest upon you’.” “Restipulation” appears to have a technical use in covenant theology closely related to the fœdus dipleuron (the two-sided covenant) which describes “the relationship of God and man together in covenant, and particularly the free acceptance on the part of man of the promise of God and of the obedience required by the covenant” (Muller, Dictionary, 120, 122). The same covenant viewed as the declaration and imposition of God’s will toward man is the fœdus monopleuron (the one-sided covenant). These standard Protestant covenant theological terms are clearly behind Coxe’s thinking in this section.]” The footnote references Richard A. Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms in its first edition. The entry for fœdus dipleuron is on p. 127 of the second edition.

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