“Communion with God”

Matt Pinson

In our tradition, the phrase “communion with God” is very common, as it is in the wider Puritan and Reformed tradition out of which General/Free Will Baptists emerged. Our English General Baptist forefather Thomas Grantham was very fond of the term. In one place, for example, in his massive 1678 book Christianismus Primitivus, Grantham discusses Christians’ “Heart-Prayers, or secret Devotions”; through these, “great is the communion such Souls have with God in Spirit: great also is the submission of such Souls to God, for they being truly humbled, do bear the rebukes of the Almighty with great content” (bk. 2, 85).

Communion with God is, in some ways, a euphemism for piety or what we today call spirituality. Because of our mystical, covenantal union with Christ, we are brought into communion with God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, and this is a relational, reciprocal “communing.”

As Leroy Forlines often reminded us, spirituality is about two persons relating to each other—one divine, the other human. As God’s image-bearers, with their minds, hearts, and wills, believers relate to God, fellowship with him, commune with him in their “total personality,” as Forlines says.

That is what it means to be a “person”—to think rationally, to feel deeply, and to make free choices. This is what makes us capable of personal relationships. Then this communion leads to communion—to personal relationships—with our inner self and with other image-bearers.

Of course, this communion with God also affects a fourth relationship—sometimes with other persons, sometimes with non-personal created things: how we relate to the created order, to things that are created by God, to the things that human beings create as his image-bearers.

This, by the way, is what culture consists of—things human beings create. In essence, our relationship with God affects our other interpersonal relationships, with ourselves and others, and these interpersonal relationships affect our relationship with creation and culture.

All of this came vividly to my mind recently when I was reading, during one of my own times of “secret Devotions,” Thomas Brooks’s 1652 book Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices. This is one of my friend Paul Harrison’s favorite devotional books which he gave me as a gift many years ago, and it has become one of my favorite devotional books.

At one point, Brooks says that the primary, all-encompassing way to fight against Satan’s devices is to “keep up your communion with God.” We must consistently and intentionally maintain the interpersonal relationship between ourselves and the three-personed God. This occurs primarily through prayer, being vitally related to the church and its holy ordinances, reading Holy Scripture, meditating on Holy Scripture and its teaching (which can be done with the aid of other Christians’ reflections on the Bible and biblical truth). I want to quote this section at length from Precious Remedies. In it, Brooks reflects that ordinary-means-of-grace spirituality of the Puritans that is so characteristic of the General/Free Will Baptist tradition:

If you would not be taken with any of Satan’s snares and devices, then keep up your communion with God. Your strength to stand and withstand Satan’s fiery darts is from your communion with God. A soul high in communion with God may be tempted—but will not easily be conquered. Such a soul will fight it out to the death. Communion with God furnishes the soul with the greatest and the choicest arguments to withstand Satan’s temptations. Communion is the result of union. Communion is a reciprocal exchange between Christ and a gracious soul. Communion is Jacob’s ladder, where you have Christ sweetly coming down into the soul, and the soul, by divine influences, sweetly ascending up to Christ. Communion with Christ is very inflaming, elevating and strengthening. While Samson kept up his communion with God, no enemy could stand before him—he goes on conquering and to conquer. But when he was fallen in his communion with God, he quickly falls before the plots of his enemies. It will be so with your souls. So long as your communion with God is kept up, you will be too hard for ‘spiritual wickedness in high places’; but if you fall from your communion with God, you will fall, as others, before the face of every temptation. David, so long as he kept up his communion with God, he stands, and triumphs over all his enemies; but when he was fallen in his communion with God, then he falls before the enemies that were in his own bosom, and flies before those who pursued after his life. It will be so with your souls, if you do not keep up your communion with God. Job keeps up his communion with God, and conquers Satan upon the ash-heap; Adam loses his communion with God, and is conquered by Satan in paradise. Communion with God is a shield upon land, as well as an anchor at sea; it is a sword to defend you, as well as a staff to support you; therefore keep up your communion.

Let us all commit ourselves to keeping up our communion with God.

Leave a Reply