This is the third part of a guest post by Richard Barcellos. The first and second installments can be found here and here.
No Communion and No Christ?
A response to two recent claims by Dr. R. Scott Clark:
- “In short, when we say communication we mean ‘communing.’ When the PBs say communication they seem to mean ‘the transmission of information.’”
- According to PBs, “God the Son is not actually present” prior to the incarnation.
Richard C. Barcellos
This is the third installment of my response to two recent claims offered by Dr. R. Scott Clark (found here). 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?
My second installment was an attempt to answer the first question stated above. The present installment seeks to answer the second question: Did Nehemiah Coxe teach, or does his view entail, that “God the Son is not actually present” with his people prior to the incarnation?
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.
III. Coxe’s view of the work and presence of the mediator prior to the incarnation
- Coxe, p. 34
So it must be acknowledged that it is of great use and concern for us to be well acquainted with those transactions of God with men and his dispensations toward them that are recorded in the sacred history of the first ages of the world and the church of God in it.
Comment: Here it seems Coxe distinguishes between “those transactions of God with men” and the things recorded for us in Scripture. “Transactions” here seems to entail communion.
- Coxe, pp. 39-40
But more eminently, the covenant of grace is established in Christ as its head. All its promises were first given to him and in him they are all yes and amen. It is by union to him that believers obtain a new covenant interest and from him they derive a new life, grace, and strength to answer the ends of the new covenant.
Comment: Union with Christ brings with it “new life, grace, and strength”—i.e., communion, the conveyance of the benefits of Christ to the soul.
- Coxe, p. 53
By the sin of man the frame of earth and the heavens made for his service and delight was loosed, and their foundations so shaken as would have issued in an utter ruin had not Christ interposed and upheld their pillars (Psalm 75:3 with Hebrews 1:3).
Comment: Christ’s work of mediation did not begin at the incarnation, nor did the blessings of union and communion with him. This must be the case since these blessings are included in his work of mediation.
- Coxe, p. 54
2. In pursuing this covenant of redemption and the suretyship of Christ taken in it upon the fall of man, the government of the world was actually put into the hands of the Son of God, the designed Mediator, who interposed himself for the prevention of its present and utter ruin. By him were all future transactions managed for the good of man, and all discoveries of grace and mercy were made to the children of men in him and by him. All things in heaven and earth were brought into an order subservient to the ends of the new creation and the redemption of lost man to be accomplished in the fullness of time by the Son of God incarnate. Fallen man could have no more to do with God, nor God with him in a way of kindness, except in a mediator.
Comment: The work of mediation by the Son of God began “upon the fall of man.” In his work of mediation prior to the incarnation, the Son had “the government of the world…put into…[his] hands.” Not only that, but since the fall, “By him were all future transactions managed for the good of man, and all discoveries of grace and mercy were made to the children of men in him and by him.” It seems that “all discoveries of grace and mercy” is a subset of the transactions mentioned in the prior clause. Everything “in heaven and earth” is “subservient to the ends of the new creation and the redemption of lost man to be accomplished in the fullness of time by the Son of God incarnate.” Since the fall, “man could have no more to do with God, nor God with him in a way of kindness, except in a mediator.” It is clear that Coxe viewed the Son of God as very present and active as mediator prior to the incarnation, causing some to discover “grace and mercy.” This requires union with Christ and entails that communion with him was enjoyed by some prior to the incarnation.
- Coxe, p. 58
3. Yet, the world is set under a general reprieve and the full execution of the deserved curse is delayed until the day of judgment. Until that time the children of men are under a dispensation of goodness and sparing mercy. So they are in a remote capacity or possibility of obtaining salvation by Christ where it pleases God to send the gospel, the dispensation of which is made effectual for the salvation of all the elect, who are in this way gathered into the kingdom of Christ.
4. The Lord Christ has undertaken in the close of his mediatorial kingdom, when all his sheep are brought into his fold, (for whose sake alone the day of his patience is lengthened out to the world) to raise all mankind again in an incorruptible state, prepared for that eternal duration to which they were designed in their first creation.
Comment: Once again, Christ’s work of mediation did not begin at the incarnation.
- Coxe, p. 59
But by the covenant of grace and redemption, the relationship and previous acceptance of the person in Christ was the reason of the good acceptance of all their sincere though imperfect obedience which now sprang from faith. And so it is said in Hebrews 11:4, “God had respect to Abel and his offering;” first to the person and then to his work. This order and way of salvation in its general nature always was and must be the same and invariable in all ages and under all different dispensations of God toward his church.
Comment: The way of salvation is the same and invariable “under all dispensations of God toward his church.” Therefore, the experience of union and communion with Christ by faith predates the incarnation.
- Coxe, p. 63
For this is to be observed concerning the state of the church before Christ came in the flesh: that as the gospel was preached to them by types and dark shadows, so this kind of instruction was afforded them not only by the stated ordinances of ceremonial worship, but also by many extraordinary works of providence. These were so ordered by divine wisdom that they might bear a typical relationship to and be an apt representation of spiritual things. This may be observed in many instances in the history of Abraham and his offspring, the children of Israel. On this account the manna they ate in the wilderness is called spiritual meat; the water of the rock which they drank, spiritual drink; and the rock, Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3, 4).
Comment: Types were “an apt representation of spiritual things.” Types can be symbols signifying a present reality (i.e., Christ communicated to the souls of the elect). This communication of the benefits of Christ to the people of Christ predates the incarnation of Christ.
- Coxe, p. 79
Section 9. Fifthly, the last thing I will note is the eternal settlement of the way of salvation according to the character of this covenant which is by faith in Christ. This is a covenant that conveys the grace of life to poor sinners by a free and gracious promise which admits of no other restipulation in order to covenant interest except believing. It is of faith because it is of grace (Romans 4:16) and this way is the only way of life. There is but one covenant of spiritual and eternal blessing in Christ Jesus, founded in the eternal decree and counsel of God’s love and grace, which is now revealed to Abraham.
Comment: The “covenant of spiritual and eternal blessing in Christ Jesus” which “was revealed to Abraham” “conveys the grace of life to poor sinners” through faith. “Conveys” is a way of affirming communion.
- 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: Gospel promises are made good to “the proper heirs of this blessing of Abraham,” more manifest in this: “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.” Note the language of “union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Coxe clearly affirms present union and communion with Christ prior to the incarnation.
- Coxe, p. 82
None are washed by him but those that are in him as the second Adam. It is by union to him as the root of the new covenant that the free gift comes on them to the justification of life. And none can have union to him but by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Wherever the Spirit of God applies the blood of Christ for the remission of sins he does it also for the purging of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. As certainly as any derive a new covenant right from Christ for pardon, they also receive a vital influence from him for the renovation of their natures and conforming their souls to his own image.
Comment: Interest in Christ comes by “union to him by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit.” These words by Coxe come in the context of the promise of Christ given to Abraham before circumcision. Believers were united to Christ by his Spirit. Union and communion go together, and these two benefits of Christ were experienced by gospel-believing sinners prior to the incarnation.
- Coxe, p. 108
2. In the establishment of this covenant there was a seed promised to him that would certainly inherit its spiritual and eternal blessings. The promise was sure to all the seed. But this was a seed of believers collected out of all nations and united to Christ by faith, and not the children of Abraham according to the flesh. This is manifest in almost every page of the New Testament.
Comment: Here Coxe asserts that only those “united to Christ by faith” inherit spiritual and eternal blessings. In the context, this includes believers prior to the incarnation. With union comes communion, both upon and prior to the incarnation.
- Coxe, p. 128
To prevent their being ensnared with this corrupt doctrine, he informs them how Christ was the end and substance of all those shadows and that all fullness dwells in him in whom they were complete.
Comment: Here Coxe is explaining Colossians 2:11. Note that he asserts Christ as the end and “substance” of the Old Testament shadows. Given the previous quotations of Coxe, it is clear that believers before the incarnation communed with the substance of the covenant of grace—Christ.
Dr. Clark has made two claims: first, that by “communication” Coxe and other seventeenth-century Particular Baptists seem to have meant “the transmission of information” and second, due to the first claim, Coxe’s and other seventeenth-century Particular Baptists’ view entails that “God the Son is not actually present” with his people prior to the incarnation. The saints prior to the incarnation did not enjoy union and communion with our Lord. These two claims were the focus of my response. There were other issues I initially thought about discussing but decided it best to limit myself to these two claims by Clark. In my next installment, I will attempt to bring the issues discussed to a reasonable conclusion.
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