Speaking on the “communion of saints” from the Apostles’ Creed, Witsius talks beautifully about the ways Christians minister one to another by faith. Even those untrained, non-ordained, can – by the communing grace of Christ by the Spirit – bring tremendous growth to other believers. Think over your own life – the number of Christians who have had an inordinate impact on you, even though they might not have been a pastor, an elder, or a missionary. Nevertheless, Christians ought to follow the “one another” passages of the New Testament and remember how they can impact others with His enabling help!
That we edify one another by the communication of spiritual gifts. This is the duty not merely of Pastors, but of believers of every class. This includes: administering reproof to an offending brother (Lev 19:17) – which, when guided by prudence, and dictated by love, obtains, in the issue, greater favor than the fulsome compliments of flattering lips (Prov 28:23); the instruction of the ignorant (Rom 15:14), mutual excitement to pious zeal (Heb 3:13); holy conferences, with fellowship in prayers and hymns (Eph 4:28, 5:19; Col 3:16). The communion of saints ought, doubtless, to flourish not only in churches, but also in private houses. And it is lamentable, that in the present state of Christianity, these exercises of social piety are become so antiquated, or are sometimes so injudiciously performed, that they are even hateful and odious to many…
That we seek in this communion the solace of our souls. What can be more delightful than the mutual fellowship of brethren, mingled together, as Tertullian expresses it, in spirit and soul (Ps 133)! What more amiable than the reciprocal offices of love, and the holy familiarity of the friends of God, edifying, admonishing, and comforting one another, and uniting in the same supplications and spiritual songs! How refreshing is it to the soul of an afflicted saint, if at any time he becomes languid in prayer, to encourage himself by the thought, that there are so many myriads of believers making intercession for him with our common Father! With what cordial congratulation does he rejoice in the gifts of the Divine liberality towards his brethren when he knows are granted for this purpose, that they may prove subservient to the general good, and that their salutary fruit may extend to himself also, as a part of the whole community! For of so ingenuous a nature is Christian charity, that, on account of the gathering together of all things in Christ, she considers what belongs to each of the brethren as her own. In this communion of Saints, in fine, there is a kind of prelude of heaven, where there will be no private or separate interest, but ONE GOD SHALL BE ALL IN ALL.
Symbolum XLVII, XLVIII
Characteristic of those Reformed scholastic theologians in the Nadere Reformatie, Witsius blended the best of rigorous, academic theology with a warm, experiential praxis of the faith. A great example of this is his precision when speaking about what prayer is, which all too naturally leads Witsius to discuss the ardency with which sincere Christians approach our covenant Lord in supplication. The following is a quote from his Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer.
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In prayer itself we must observe:
- That the prayer proceed from faith (James 1:6, 7). This implies 1), some hope, at least, that our persons have been accepted by God. 2) A conviction that the thing asked is good. 3) A belief, resting on the promise of God, that it will be obtained, but accompanied by submission to the Divine wisdom and goodness, which perhaps has looked out something better for us.
The subject of the incarnation, or he who became man, is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son alone. “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). “God sent for this Son, made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (I John 4:2). Although the essence and operation of the three persons in the godhead are the same, the flesh was not assumed by the divine essence, but by a certain person. It was at least assumed by the divine essence, only as it is characterized, and, so to speak, restricted, in the person of the Son. Neither the Father, nor the Holy Spirit, indeed, was unconcerned in the incarnation of the Son. The glory of the whole adorable Trinity is displayed in the human nature of Christ (see John 14:7, 9; John 1:18; II Cor. 4:6). But though the Father is in the Son, he is not therefore incarnate with the Son; he is only in his incarnate Son (John 14:10). A body was formed to be the future residence of the Deity, by that will which is common to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But whilst it was determined by the will of the Father and the Holy Spirit that that body should belong to the Son, the Son, by the same will, determined that it should be his own; and thus by the united consent of all the Three, it could be the body of none but the Son (Hebrews 10:5).
From Witsius’ Sacred Dissertations on The Lord’s Prayer (p. 330 – 31):
The pardon of sin does not only free the sinner from the wrath of God, but restores him to the Divine favor and friendship. As it originated in a love of benevolence, and in the gracious purposes of God; so it places the sinner in such a condition that God regards him with a love of complacency, and bestows upon him the enjoyment of his grace in the most delightful manner. He is then enabled to behold the face of God as an indulgent Father, to hear his gracious voice, and in the sweetest intimacy of Divine fellowship to declare, ‘Thy love is better than wine” (Song 1:2). ‘For I will not,’ saith God, ‘contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me and the souls which I have made. I have seen his ways, and will heal him. I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners’ (Isa. 57:16, 18).
For it is utterly impossible that the decree of God should fail; that the promises of God should come to nought; that the word of salvation should be preached in vain; that the prophecies respecting the perpetuity of Christ’s kingdom should fall to the ground; or that Christ should lose the reward of His labor, and become a Master without disciples, a King without subjects, a Bridegroom without a bride, a Head without a body.
Do you share Witsius’ certainty? And perhaps even more importantly, is your certainty based on factors sociological, historical, or coincidental? Or do you, like Witsius, know the security of the Church of God rests in the infallible work of her Savior and Eternal Beloved?
(Quote: Symbolum XXIV.xxiii)
This gathering is effected by the word of the Gospel; for although God in some respect invites men to himself by the works of nature (Acts 17:27; Rom 2:4), no invitation of that sort is sufficient for constituting the Church; but the word of supernatural revelation must be added (I Cor 1:21)… The preaching of the Law, that the minds of men may be rightly prepared: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” But the preaching of the Gospel is chiefly made use of: “This only would I learn of you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” The invitation given by the Gospel is termed our Calling: “Them he also called” (Rom 8:30). Hence, too, the frequent designation of “the called,” and the very word Ecclesia, the Church.
Quoted from Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed XXIV.vi p. 352
By a DIVINE, I mean one who, imbued with a substantial knowledge of Divine things derived from the teaching of God himself, declares and extols, not in words only, but by the whole course of his life, the wonderful excellencies of God, and thus lives entirely for His glory. Such were in former days the holy patriarchs, such the divinely inspired prophets, such the apostolic teachers of the whole world, such some of those whom we denominate fathers, the widely resplendent luminaries of the primitive Church. The knowledge of these men did not lie in the wire-drawn subtleties of curious questions, but in the devout contemplation of God and his Christ. Their plain and chaste mode of teaching did not soothe itching ears, but impressing upon the mind an exact representation of sacred things, inflamed the soul with their love, while their praiseworthy innocence of behavior, in harmony with their profession, and unimpeached by their enemies, supported their teaching by an evidence that was irresistible, and formed a clear proof of their having familiar intercourse with the most holy God.
Vero Theologo p. 13