Monday, August 18, 2008

Sacramental Union in Christ

At Stockbridge in 1751 Edwards preached to both the Indian and English congregations. The sermon was composed during the visit – he had not foreseen the need to officiate at the administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The text for the sermon is 1 Corinthians 10:17 – For we being many are one body, and one bread: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Noting the context of the verse Edwards develops four doctrinal aspects which he see in it. First, the christians’ union with Christ; second, the union of Christians with one another; third, the high nature of this union with Christ; finally, how this is ‘exhibited and manifested [in the] partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

He offers this developed doctrine: The Lord’s Supper was instituted as a solemn representation and seal of the holy and spiritual union of Christ’s people [to] Christ, and one to another.

The doctrine of union with Christ is central to Edwards’ applied soteriology, yet there are numerous divergent readings of the unio Christi in Edwards. In this sermon Edwards just outlines his thinking.

This is what Edwards says:
This union begins with a ‘mutual complacence (585)’. Christ loved his people from eternity (he cites here 1 John 4:19; Ephesians 5:25-27) and believers have their hearts drawn to Christ in response. So he says ‘This union of hearts is the first thing, the foundation.’ He then states a threefold analysis of this union, which is relative, legal, and vital.
I think it is of particular note that Edwards does not develop the thoughts concerning the union in the manuscript. The relative, legal, and vital, are stated, then given the barest exposition in the second part of the first proposition. There is a relative union because they are united to Christ as their head; there is a legal union because they are espoused to Christ as one spouse; and a vital union because they receive all spiritual life directly from Christ.
Consequently, ‘they must inevitably’ love one another: ‘being all so strictly united to Christ, they must in many other respects have a very close union with one another (586).’

The result is aesthetic:

‘Consequent on those things, there must be a sweet harmony among all the members as to temper and conversation; and a natural inclination to sweet society and mutual converse one with another. This union of Christians one with another is [represented] most beautifully in several texts of Scripture …’

The second proposition in the sermon concerns the nature of the sacrament as a seal. It is a confirmation God’s love for his people, and their ‘solemn declaration and open testimony and confirmation’ of their faith in the Christ of the covenant. This ‘solemn declaration’ takes place through ‘[t]heir eating and drinking’ because taking the ‘bread and wine’ ‘opening professes their union of heart, their faith and love.’ This eating and drinking is ‘their own free act and deed.’

Edwards makes a number of applications. First, (588) those who do not profess Christ as Lord should not come to the Lord’s Supper. So there are strong echoes of all the problems he experienced in Northampton in the 1740s. Every action of the Lord’s Supper are seals of ‘acceptance’, therefore those who do not accept Christ in their heart should not feign to accept him in their actions.

Moreover, ‘[t]he very notion of a church sitting down together at the Lord’s table is God’s family sitting down at this table as his children. Therefore, the design is not to make men children [who] ben’t admitted into the family that they may be received into the family.’

OK, the first application of this sublime aesthetic theology is negative! There are other applications – ‘Let the approaching feast be indeed to us a feast of love’ (589) – but these applications are clearly less significant than the warning. So the only reading of this lovely sacrament sermon is that Edwards is warning the English congregation that he holds fast to the theology that lost him the pulpit in Northampton.


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