Ques. 55. What do you understand by “the communion saints”?
Ans. First, that all and every one, who believes, being members of Christ, are in common, partakers of Him, and of all His riches and gifts; secondly, that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members.
Lord’s Day 21
I believe a communion of saints.
In spite of what people may say, and in spite of all outward appearance, there is a communion of saints, not brought about by the efforts of man but by God Himself. Just as I believe a holy, universal church, so I also believe a communion of saints. For the Son of God Who gathers, defends, and preserves His church, creates within the church a living fellowship among the members. This is a spiritual reality born out of the faith of the believers. Therefore, even as I believe that I am and forever shall remain a member of God’s holy, catholic church, I also believe that I am and forever shall remain a living part of that communion.
Members of Christ.
Our age is characterized by a striving for consolidation. We have grown accustomed to such associations as the United Nations, Labor Unions, business corporations, lodges, sports organizations, and many more. Many of these adopt letters of the alphabet or some catchy slogan to distinguish them from all others. Churches are breaking down denominational walls, denying basic Scriptural principles to unite in an outward bond of unity under the pretence of abiding by the prayer of Jesus, “That they all may be one” (John 17:21). Efforts are even put forth to undo the Reformation of the 16th century by entering into intimate fellowship with the Romish Church. All these efforts toward unification and consolidation have absolutely nothing in common with the communion of saints. They are human efforts which bring the church into the world, and the world into the church. By a growing apostasy and worldlimindedness the “church” joins the ranks of the false church and cooperates toward the development of antichrist. For what concord does Christ have with Belial, or what part does the believer have with the infidels, or the temple of God with idols? The call of Scripture rings forth clearly, “Come ye out from among them and be ye separate,” saith our God.
The communion of saints is the mystical union with Christ. The true members of the church are the elect of God, who are redeemed by the blood of Calvary and are united by a common bond of faith in Christ. They make up the fullness of the Body of Christ, they are the sheep of His fold, sons of God and heirs of salvation. These are the stones of God’s temple, His spiritual House that is founded foursquare on the foundation of the Scriptures, of which Christ Jesus is the chief cornerstone. Our gracious covenant God creates and maintains a spiritual bond of faith in His people whereby they experience covenant fellowship with Him and with one another to His glory and to their eternal salvation. We can say, this is my father, mother, sister, or brother, who does the will of our Father in heaven!
Partakers of Christ’s gifts.
Already in the Old Testament believers are referred to as saints, who are preserved by God, who rejoice in His goodness and sing His praises (I Sam. 2:9; II Chron. 6:41;Psalm 30:4). Their death is precious in His sight (Ps. 116:15). In the New Testament Paul addresses us as saintswho are called by the power of the gospel, and speaks of the many blessings that the saints experience through the ministry of the church. The Book of Revelation assures us repeatedly of the hope and glory of the saints, which will never put them to shame.
God has eternally chosen and ordained Christ to be the Head of His church, and His church to be the organism of His Body, which eternally lives, responds, and acts out of Christ. Each individual is chosen and appointed for his own place in the body, to carry out those good works which God has ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). Often in the church institute there seem to be misfits, troublesome members who seem to disrupt the harmony of the Body; and yet they also must serve their purpose. Even as in our earthly bodies there are two eyes, two ears, one mouth, ten fingers, and ten toes, all interrelated and dependent upon each other, so also God has appointed for each of us our own unique place and purpose in the Body of Christ.
God in Christ has redeemed His church, and each individual member, from the horrible bondage of sin and death by His own precious blood (Acts 20:28). He has separated her from this present evil world as sanctified in Christ, and has made her His peculiar possession to the praise of His glory. We have the adoption to sons, the right to our own individual place in the Family of God as heirs of eternal life.
Christ is our eternal Prophet, Who reveals to us through the Scriptures and by His Spirit in our hearts the riches of salvation and the wonders of God’s grace. He is our eternal Highpriest, Who intercedes for us in the sanctuary before the face of God, and pours out upon us every spiritual blessing according to our personal needs in the Body of Christ. He is also our exalted King Who rules over all creatures and over our lives in such a manner that He directs everything toward our salvation. By the power of Christ’s Spirit within us we are now prophets of God, called to witness of His Name and declare His praises. We are a priesthood of kings, capable of fighting the battle of faith in devotion to God, already now more than conquerors in a world of sin and death. We confess with the apostle Paul, “I live, yet no more I, but Christ lives in me,” thus carrying out His sufferings in our flesh to the praise of the glory of God’s grace now and eternally.
The saints possess a unity in a great diversity. We are all partakers of the riches and gifts of Christ as living individually out of Him. Whether boy or girl, young man or young woman, adult or aged, whether bond or free, weak or strong, rich or poor, white, red, or yellow, each must serve his own purpose in the assembly of the saints. It is certainly not accidental that we were born and reared in a covenant home instead of among the pagans of Africa. God determines our parents, the time and place of our birth, our sex, our physical characteristics, and our peculiar gifts and talents. Just as among the millions in the world there are no two people alike, not even in the same family, so also there are no two individuals alike in the organism of the Body of Christ. God entrusts to each of us our own talents, whether that be one, or five, or ten, to be used during the life span that God has determined for us. So readily we take the attitude that these are .our gifts, that we have developed, or that we have merited, and that we can use them to our own personal satisfaction. Even our possessions we claim as our personal possession to do with as we please, possibly giving a little bit to God, parsimoniously figuring out how much we can spare for God’s kingdom. God entrusts these gifts to us to be used in His fear and to His glory. The one debt that ever grows and never gets paid up is the debt of love to God, not for what He means to us, but primarily for the fact that He is the ever, blessed, adorable God, to Whom is the glory forever! What a terrible sin we commit when we fail to use our talents, neglect them, or use them in the service of sin!
Even more amazing is the fact that no one of us lives on an island. We are members of God’s covenant Family, stewards in God’s House, and therefore called to affiliate ourselves with that church which by the pure preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and ‘the proper use of Christian discipline is recognized as the true manifestation of the Body of Christ. It is only under the ministry of the Word, as pure, unadulterated Milk, that we can grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, properly train our children in the fear of God, and be equipped to carry out our calling in the church and in the midst of the world. Once more we are reminded that in the human body some members function as eyes, some as ears, some as hands, or in some other manner, but each functions for the other. The eye could not see if it were to isolate itself from the body; the ear could not hear apart from the other members. Each member of the Body of Christ functions out of Christ and by the Spirit of Christ in harmony with all the other members. One possesses the peculiar gift of wisdom, another of knowledge, another serves to express love, or joy, or peace, longsuffering or gentleness, goodness or faith, meekness or temperance (I Cor. 12; Gal. 5:22, 23). But even the lowliest members are needed for the welfare of all the rest.
“A thousand other days can yield
No gladness like one day with Thee;
Though only at Thy door I wait,
No tents of sin give joy so great.”
Those other members.
Our Catechism reminds us that we must use our gifts for the advantage and salvation of the other members, not reluctantly, not frugally, but readily and cheerfully, for God loves the cheerful giver.
Those others are very close to us, in our own home and family. A God-fearing husband has the responsibility to lead his wife with discretion, instructing, comforting, protecting her, as the head rules the body. The wife is to love her husband, honor and fear him, and be obedient unto him in all things lawful, as the Church is to Christ. The godly father is called to instruct and admonish the children God has entrusted to him, bringing them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The mother’s first responsibility is to assist her husband in this instruction. This is even more important than properly feeding, clothing, and providing for the physical needs of the child. No child who meets his parents in hell will thank them for all the luxuries they heaped upon him, while they neglected the one thing necessary for time and eternity. The child, on the other hand, owes to his parents all honor, love, and fidelity, submitting to their good instruction and correction, as unto Christ Himself. A happy home is where Christ is Lord, where His love abounds, for He bestows His blessing there.
That does not exclude our obligation to our fellow saints in the church. We must bear one another’s burdens, also our weaknesses, seeking to save the sinner rather than to destroy him. God may lay a Lazarus at our door with his emaciated body and ugly sores. There is someone waiting for a word for the weary, someone who needs Scripture read to him and needs our prayers. Out there is a person who needs to know that you care, possibly needs a listening ear. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me,” saith our Lord. (Matt. 25:40).
Freely ye have received, freely give; give something of yourself. The laborer receives the first benefit of the harvest. The ultimate blessing is the crown of life, the privilege of glorifying our God eternally in the assembly of the saints before the throne.