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Union with Christ: Historically Most Basic (Part 1)

Two notable works have come out fairly recently: A Puritan Theology edited by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones (see sample chapter on union with Christ, justification, and regeneration here), and Calvin and the Reformed Tradition by Richard Muller. Part of what makes these works notable are the conclusions found in both works regarding union with Christ for salvation. In this first post, I’ll simply offer the spadework of quotations from each of these books. (The italics within each quote is my emphasis.) In a second post, I hope to answer how these historical examples, summaries, and conclusions function. In a third and final post, I comment on why this topic matters for your Christian walk.

A Puritan Theology:

  • “In the judgment of several significant Puritan theologians, union with Christ, not justification by faith, is the chief blessing a Christian receives from God. The believer’s union with Christ enables him to receive all the benefits of Christ’s work, including justification, adoption, and sanctification.” (487)
  • “Owen claims that union with Christ is the cause of all other graces a believer receives: ‘Hence is our adoption, our justification, our sanctification…our perseverance, our resurrection, our glory.’ Therefore, union with Christ is the ground of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers. Owen’s lengthy work on justification (volume 5) confirms the logical priority of union with Christ before other graces such as justification.” (489)
  • “Ball affirms that faith is the ‘band whereby we are united unto Christ; after Union followeth Communion with him; Justification, Adoption, Sanctification be the benefits and fruits of Communion.’” (490)
  • “John Preston (1587–1628) likewise affirms that ‘to be in Christ is the ground of all salvation.’” (490)
  • Thomas Cole (1627–1697) “has carefully noted how all these benefits come from Christ, and therefore regeneration must be seen in the light of our union with Christ.” (491)
  • “William Bridge (1600–1671) said that ‘union is the root of communion’ and ‘union is the ground of communion.’ In context, Bridge is explaining the benefits of our union with Christ.” (491)
  • “Obadiah Grew (1607–1689) said, ‘Union is the ground of all our comfort, and privilege we have by the Lord Jesus Christ: Our communion springs from our Union with him.’” (491)

Calvin and the Reformed Tradition

  • “Calvin was hardly an isolated figure in the early development of Reformed thought on union with Christ and that the Reformation-era connection of the doctrine of union with Christ with the earliest forms of what has come to be called the ordo salutis was an exegetical conclusion that did not disappear from Reformed approaches to the application of salvation in the era of orthodoxy, only to be replaced by a rigid chronological ordering of the stages of redemption, but was in fact incorporated carefully into Reformed orthodox language of the application of salvation.” (204)
  • For Beza, “both justification and sanctification follow on union with Christ” and “both justification and sanctification arise from union with Christ” (224)
  • For David Pareus, “Union with Christ and ultimate conformity with Christ, therefore, are the theme of the chapter and the sequence of the application of salvation rests on it” (227)
  • For Daniel Featley, “Ingrafting into Christ, then, sums up the entire initial argument of the epistle [of Romans] and appears as the foundation of the order or application of salvation.” (228)
  • “The works of theologians like William Perkins, Amandus Polanus, and William Ames in the era of early orthodoxy evidence a continuing emphasis on the doctrine of union with Christ and on an understanding of the union as foundational to the work of salvation in believers.” (229)
  • “Ames understands union with Christ as the proximate ground or cause of the work of salvation.” (234)
  • “The union, however, precedes and stands as the foundation of the other aspects or parts of the of the application of Christ. Indeed, all that follows—in Ames’ series, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification—are understood as ‘blessings flowing from union with Christ.’” (235)
  • “Of the full series of theological loci written in the seventeenth century, several follow out the argument found in Ames’ Medulla in grounding the entire sequence of salvation in union with Christ.” Downame, Ainsworth, Edward Leigh, Edward Polhill. (236-37)
  • “Thomas Goodwin firmly grounded his understanding of the application of salvation in union with Christ.” (238)
  • “All acts of God’s justifying us depend upon union with Christ.” (238)
  • “All of the formulations that we have examined identify union with Christ as the basis of the work of salvation.” (239)
  • “Union with Christ was not understood as a final product of the ordo salutis dependent on completion of all steps in the series—rather it was understood and typically explicitly identified as the very basis of the sequence of the application of salvation.” (240)
  • “In a large number of the later writers, union with Christ remained foundational to the entire sequence of the application of Christ’s work.” (243)

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