[K:NWTS 23/2 (Sep 2008) 14-39]

Charles Hodge on John Nevin: A Neglected Review


Benjamin W. Swinburnson

In the past few years, Reformed and Presbyterian churches have witnessed a revival of the theology of John Williamson Nevin. This revival has not been limited to one particular subset of our churches, but seems to permeate discussions on ecclesiology and worship all across the Reformed spectrum. Various writers associated with movements as apparently disparate as the “Federal Vision” and “Modern Reformation” have both self-consciously expressed dependence upon aspects of Nevin’s “Mercersburg Theology.”[1] The recent appearance of the full-length biography of Nevin by D. G. Hart, who is largely appreciative of Nevin’s analysis of the American Presbyterian tradition, is also noteworthy in this regard.[2]

But the effects of this revival are being felt not only in our theological publications, but primarily in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. In many worship services, a new emphasis is placed upon the centrality of the Lord’s Supper (even above the preaching of the word).[3] Sometimes this is even evident in the church architecture: the pulpit is moved to the side, while the Lord’s Table is moved to the center. Many are abandoning the older Reformed “plain-style” worship services for ones that reflect the heavier liturgical emphasis of Nevin. The move towards a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper can also be credited in some degree to Nevin’s influence.[4] Some ministers and laymen are even beginning to consider these practices as clear marks of a truly Reformed worship service. For many, Nevin’s sacramental emphasis is welcomed as an effective antidote to the prevailing liturgical chaos of the contemporary evangelical and Reformed churches.

However, one thing that remains unspoken in many of these contemporary discussions of Nevin’s theology is Charles Hodge’s trenchant critique of his famous book, The Mystical Presence, a portion of which is reprinted below.[5] It is not as if Hodge’s review goes entirely unmentioned. But when it does receive treatment, it is usually dismissed out of hand as an American “Puritanic” overreaction to Nevin’s alleged return to the ecclesiology and sacramentology of the Magisterial reformers, particularly John Calvin. Nevin was simply trying to recover the robust sacramentology of the Reformation (so the argument often goes), and Hodge’s reaction is simply further evidence of how retrograde American Calvinism has become! The difficulty with these analyses is that they assume that Nevin’s aim was simply to repristinate Calvin’s sacramentology and ecclesiology as a healthy (liturgical, sacramental, and ecclesiological) corrective to the revivalist impulse of 19th century Presbyterianism. Of course, when the question is framed in this way (liturgy vs. revival; catechetical instruction vs. evangelism of children), it is not difficult to see why contemporary Reformed theologians and pastors would initially be attracted to the movement. Who among us does not see the liturgical confusion in our churches and the clear lack of catechetical instruction and covenant nurture among many of our Christian families? If all Nevin were offering were a return to the basic principles of 16th century Reformed worship, sacramentology, and covenant nurture, we ourselves would greet such a proposal heartily. But as Hodge informs us, he is up to something much more revolutionary than even that.

For Hodge, Nevin’s theology was essentially a synthesis of historic Christianity with Schleiermachian theology.[6] As Hodge himself put it: “It is in all its essential features Schleiermacher’s theory.”  Thus synthesized, Hodge regards Nevin’s system as a whole to be “a radical rejection of the doctrine and theology of the Reformed church,” as well as “some of the leading principles of Protestant, and even Catholic, theology.”  According to Hodge, Nevin’s sacramentology smacks of Romanism and Lutheranism, his Christology of Eutychianism, and his Trinitarianism of Sabellianism. In short, according to Hodge, Nevin’s theology is not a return to the theology a classic Genevan Reformer, but rather to that of a modern German deformer (Schleiermacher) of both classical Calvinism in particular and orthodox Christianity in general.

These are strong accusations. And they were not easy for Hodge to make. Indeed, as he tells us in the opening paragraph, he had the book on his desk for two years before he read it for review. Why the hesitation on Hodge’s part? Was it because of the close connection between the two men—especially evident in Nevin’s substitution for Hodge at Princeton during the latter’s studies in Europe from 1826-28? Whatever the reason, Hodge’s criticisms are certainly ironic. While he was away in Germany (with Nevin substituting for him at Princeton), Hodge learned the theology of Schleiermacher firsthand, and he began to learn the dangers of the mysticism and pantheism inherent in his system.[7]  How ironic it must have been for Hodge to return to the United States and only twenty years later see the very image of his unorthodox German professor in the face of his former substitute! There was no one in America better equipped to clearly recognize and critique Nevin’s appropriation of Schleiermacher’s theology than Charles Hodge.

We do not wish to insinuate that somehow everyone who has expressed appreciation for Nevin is necessarily guilty of all that Hodge accuses him or of all that Nevin believed. Indeed, in his own critique of Nevin, Hodge is careful to point out that “we do not assume to know how all these things lie in Dr. Nevin’s mind.” We too do not claim to know how all of Nevin lies in the minds of his contemporary advocates and admirers. On the contrary, we have found that to a large degree, Nevin’s renewed rise to prominence in the contemporary Reformed world has taken place largely because of the stark alternative he provides to the contemporary worship movement that continues to dominate conservative evangelicalism. Indeed, many who are aware of some of Nevin’s “quirks” attempt to extract the more attractive aspects of his theology out of the broader context of his system. Still others are largely ignorant of his broader system. However, it is precisely for this reason that we believe a republication of Hodge’s critique of Nevin is so timely and important. Young pastors and seminary students (among whom I count myself) often lack a firm historic sense in which to contextualize and analyze contemporary discussions. With so many recommending Nevin’s ecclesiology (and particularly his liturgics) to the Reformed world, it is hard to keep a critical eye.

Hodge helps us to do just that with Nevin. He engages Nevin’s thesis on two basic fronts: historical and theological-philosophical. On the historical front (not reprinted here), Hodge tries to place Calvin’s particular view of the presence of Christ in the Supper in its historical context, particularly stressing the importance of the Consensus Tigurinus as the rapprochement between the “Zwinglian” and “Calvinian” views of the presence of Christ in the Supper. On the theological-philosophical front, Hodge demonstrates that Nevin’s point is not really to recover the pure “Calvinian” view of the sacrament, but is rather to bring the insights of continental Romanticism and Idealism (advocated particularly by Schleiermacher) to bear upon the Calvinistic system. Even Nevin’s historical analysis is slanted by his Idealistic philosophical commitments.

In our opinion, those interested in reviving Nevin’s theology have not done adequate work responding to the substance of Hodge’s arguments. He has at times been too easily dismissed. This is a serious oversight, even on purely historical grounds. Hodge’s review kept Nevin’s influence on the Presbyterian Church in abeyance for the rest of the 19th century. In our opinion, a careful, objective reading of the primary documents (especially Hodge’s review) will do exactly the same thing among contemporary Reformed churches today.

Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper[8]

Dr. Nevin’s Theory.[9]

Having already exceeded the reasonable limits of a review, we cannot pretend to do more in our notice of Dr. Nevin’s book, than as briefly as possible state his doctrine and assign our reasons for considering it a radical rejection of the doctrine and theology of the Reformed church. It is no easy thing to give a just and clear exhibition of a theory confessedly mystical, and which involves some of the most abstruse points both of anthropology and theology. We have nothing to do however with any thing beyond this book. We do not assume to know how all these things lie in Dr. Nevin’s mind; how he reduces them to unity, or reconciles them with other doctrines of the Bible. Our concern is only with that part of the system which has here cropped out. How the strata lie underneath, we cannot tell. Dr. Nevin, in the full consciousness of the true nature of his own system, says the difficulties under which Calvin’s theory of the Lord’s Supper labors, are “all connected with psychology, applied either to the person of Christ or to the persons of his people” (p. 156). The difference then lies in the region of psychology. That science has assumed a new form. It has made great progress since the Reformation. “Its determinations,” he says, “have a right to be respected in any inquiry which has this subject for its object. No such inquiry can deserve to be called scientific, if it fails to take them into view” (p. 162). There may be truth in that remark. It is, however, none the less significant as indicating the nature of the system here taught. It is a peculiar psychology applied to the illustration and determination, of Christian doctrine. It is founded on certain views of “organic law,” of personality, and of generic and individual life. If these scientific determinations are incorrect, the doctrine of this book is gone.  It has no existence apart from those determinations, or at least independent of them. Our first object is to state, as clearly as we can, what the theory is.

There is an organic law of life which gives unity wherever it exists, and to all the individuals through which it manifests itself. The identity of the human body resides not in the matter of which it is composed, but in its organic law. The same is true of any animal or plant. The same law may comprehend or reveal itself in many individuals, and continually propagate and extend itself. Hence there is a generic as well as an individual life. An acorn developed into an oak, in one view is a single existence; but it includes a life which may produce a thousand oaks. The life of the forest is still the life of the original acorn, as truly one, inwardly and organically, as in any single oak. Thus in the case of Adam; as to his individual life, he was a man, as to his generic life, he was the whole race. The life of all men is at least one and the same. Adam lives in his posterity as truly as he ever lived in his own person. They participate in his whole nature, soul and body, and are truly bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Not a particle of his body indeed has come down to us, the identity resolves itself into an invisible law. But this is an identity far more real than mere sameness of particles. So also in the case of Christ. He was not only a man, but the man. He had not only an individual but a generic life. The Word in becoming flesh, did not receive into personal union with himself the nature of an individual man, but he took upon himself our common nature. The divinity was joined in personal union with humanity. But wherever there is personality there is unity. A person has but one life. Adam had not one life of the soul and another of the body. There is no such dualism in our nature. Soul and body are but one life, the self-same organic law. The soul to be complete, to develop itself as a soul, must externalize itself, and this externalization is the body. It is all one process, the action of one and the same living organic principle. The same is true as regards Christ. If he is one person, he has one life. He has not one life of the body, another of the soul, and another of his divinity. It is one undivided life. We cannot partake of the one without partaking of the others. We cannot be united to him as to his body, without being united also with his soul and divinity. His life is one and undivided, and is also a true human life. This is communicated to his people. The humanity of Adam is raised to a higher character by its union with the divine nature, but remains, in all respects, a true human life.

The application of these psychological principles to the whole scheme of Christian doctrine is obvious and controlling. In the first place, the fall of Adam was the fall of the race. Not simply because he represented the race, but because the race was comprehended in his person. Sin in him was sin in humanity and became an insurmountable law in the progress of its development. It was an organic ruin; the ruin of our nature; not simply because all men are sinners, but as making all men sinners. Men do not make their nature, their nature makes them. The human race is not a sand heap; it is the power of a single life. Adam’s sin is therefore our sin. It is imputed to us, indeed, but only because it is ours. We are born with his nature, and for this reason only are born also into his guilt. “A fallen life in the first place, and on the ground of this only, imputed guilt and condemnation” (pp. 164, 191, etc., etc.).

In the second place, in order to our salvation it was requisite that the work of restoration should not so much be wrought for us as in us. Our nature, humanity, must be healed, the power of sin incorporated in that nature must be destroyed. For this purpose the Logos, the divine Word, took our humanity into personal union with himself. It was our fallen humanity he assumed. Hence the necessity of suffering. He triumphed over the evil. His passion was the passion of humanity. This was the atonement. The principle of health came to its last struggle with the principle of disease, and gained the victory. Our nature was thus restored and elevated, and it is by our receiving this renovated nature, that we are saved. Christ’s merits are inseparable from his nature, they cannot be imputed to us, except so far as they are immanent in us. As in the case of Adam, we have his nature, and therefore his sin; so we have the nature of Christ and therefore his righteousness. The nature we receive from Christ is a theanthropic nature. For, as before remarked, being one person, his life is one. “His divine nature is at the same time human, in the fullest sense” (p. 174). All that is included in him as a person, divinity, soul, and body, are embraced hi his life. It is not the life of the Logos separately taken, but the life of the Word made flesh, the divinity joined in personal union with our humanity; which is thus exalted to an imperishable divine life. It is a divine human life. In the person of Christ, thus constituted, the true ideal of humanity is brought to view. Christ is the archetypal, ideal man. The incarnation is the proper completion of humanity. “Our nature reaches after a true and real union with the nature of God, as the necessary complement and consummation of its own life. The idea which it embodies can never be fully actualized under any other form” (p. 201).

In the third place, divine human nature as it exists in the person of Christ, passes over into the church. He is the source and organic principle of a new life introduced into the center of humanity itself. A new starting-point is found in Christ. Our nature as it existed in Adam unfolded itself organically, in his posterity; in like manner, as it exists in Christ, united with the divine nature, it passes over to his people, constituting the church. This process is not mechanical but organic. It takes place in the way of history, growth, regular living, development.[10] By uniting our nature with the divine, he became the root of a new life for the race. “The word became flesh; not a single man only, as one among many; but flesh, or humanity in its universal conception. How else could he be the principle of a general life, the origin of a new order of existence for the human world as such?” (p. 210). “The supernatural as thus made permanent and historical in the church, must, in the nature of the case, correspond with the form of the supernatural, as it appeared in Christ himself. For it is all one and the same life or constitution. The church must have a true theanthropic character throughout. The union of the divine and human in her constitution, must be inward and real, a continuous revelation of God in the flesh, exalting this last continuously into the sphere of the Spirit” (p. 247). The incarnation is, therefore, still present and progressive, in the way of actual, human development, in the church.

There are two remarks, however, to be here made. First, according to this system, the mystical union implies a participation of the entire humanity of Christ, for if we are joined in real life-unity with the Logos, we should be exalted to the level of the Son of God. Still it is not with his soul alone, or his body alone, but with his whole person, for the life of Christ is one. Second, this union of Christ and his people, implies no ubiquity of his body, and no fusion of his proper personality with theirs. We must distinguish between the simple man and the universal man here joined in the same person, much as in the case of Adam. He was at once an individual and the whole race. So we distinguish between Christ’s universal humanity in the church, and his humanity as a particular man, whom the heavens must receive unto the restitution of all things (p. 173).

The incarnation being thus progressive, the church is in very deed, the depository and continuation of the Savior’s theanthropic life itself, in which powers and resources are continually at hand, involving a real intercommunion and interpenetration of the human and divine (p. 248). It follows also from this view of the case, that the sacraments of the church, have a real objective force. “The force of the sacrament is in the sacrament itself. Our faith is needed only to make room for it in our souls” (p. 183). “The things signified are bound to the signs by the force of a divine appointment; so that the grace goes inseparably along with the signs, and is truly present for all who are prepared to make it their own” (p. 62).

In the fourth place, as to the mode of union with Christ, it is by regeneration. But this regeneration is by the church. If the church is the depository of the theanthropic life of Christ, if the progress of the church takes place in the way of history, growth, living development, it would seem as unreasonable that a man should be united to Christ and made partaker of his nature, otherwise than by union with this external, historical church, as that he should possess the nature of Adam by immediate creation, instead of regular descent. It is by the ministration of this living church, in which the incarnation of God is progressive, and by her grace-bearing sacraments, that the church life, which is the same as that of Christ, is continually carried over to new individuals. The life of the single Christian can be real only as born and sustained to the end by the life of the church, which is the living and life-giving body of Christ. The effect of the sacraments, therefore, is thus to convey and sustain the life of Christ, his whole divine-human life. We partake not of his divinity only, but also of his true and proper humanity; not of his humanity in a separate form, nor of his flesh and blood alone, but of his whole life, as a single undivided form of existence. In the Lord’s Supper consequently Christ is present in a peculiar and mysterious way; present as to his body, soul, and divinity, not locally as included under the elements, but really; the sign and thing signified, and inward and outward, the visible and invisible, constitute one inseparable presence. Unbelievers, indeed, receive only the outward sign, because they lack the organ of reception for the inward grace. Still the latter is there, and the believer receives both, the outward sign and the one undivided, theanthropic life of Christ, his body, soul, and divinity. The Eucharist has, therefore, “a peculiar and altogether extraordinary power.” It is, as Maurice is quoted as asserting, the bond of a universal life and the means whereby men become partakers of it.

Such, as we understand it, is the theory unfolded in this book. It is in all its essential features Schleiermacher’s theory. We almost venture to hope that Dr. Nevin will consider it a fair exhibition, not so satisfactory, of course, as he himself could make, but as good as could well be expected from the uninitiated. It is at least honestly done, and to the best of our ability.

 It is not the truth of this system that we propose to examine, but simply its relation to the theology of the Reformed church. Dr. Nevin is loud, frequent, often, apparently at least, contemptuous, in his reproaches of his brethren for their apostasy from the doctrines of the Reformation. We propose very briefly to assign our reasons for regarding his system, as unfolded in this book, as an entire rejection not only of the peculiar doctrines of the Reformed church on the points concerned, but of some of the leading principles of Protestant, and even Catholic, theology.

 First, in reference to the person of Christ. Dr. Nevin denies any dualism in the constitution of man. Soul and body, in their ground, are but one life. So in the case of Christ, in virtue of the hypostatical union, his life is one. The divine and human are so united in him as to constitute one indivisible life. “It is in all respects a true human life” (p. 167). “His divine nature is at the same time human, in the fullest sense” (p. 174).

That this is a departure not only from the doctrine of the Reformed church, but of the church universal, seems to us very plain. In one view it is the Eutychian doctrine, and in another something worse. Eutyches and afterwards the Monothelites taught, that after the hypostatical union, there was in Christ but one nature and operation. Substitute the word life, for its equivalent, nature, and we have the precise statement of Dr. Nevin’s.  He warns us against the error of Nestorius, just as the Eutychians called all who held to the existence of two natures in Christ, Nestorians. Eutyches admitted that this one nature or life in our Lord, was theanthropic. He was constituted of two natures, but after their union, had but one. He says, Omologw ek duo fusewn gegennhsqai ton kurion hmwn pro thV enwsewV meta de thn enwsin, mian fusin omologw (“I confess that our Lord was begotten from two natures before the union, but after the union I confess but one nature”). What is the difference between one theanthropic life, and one theanthropic operation? We are confirmed in the correctness of this view of the matter, from the fact, that Schleiermacher, the father of this system, strenuously objects to the use of the word nature in this whole connection especially in its application to the divinity, and opposes also the adoption of the terms which the council of Chalcedon employed in the condemnation of Eutychianism.[11] This, however, is a small matter. Dr. Nevin has a right to speak for himself. It is his own language, which, as it seems to us, distinctly conveys the Eutychian doctrine, that after the hypostatical union there was but one fusiV  (“nature”) or, as he expresses it, one life, in Christ. He attributes to Calvin a wrong psychology in reference to Christ’s person. What is that but to attribute to him wrong views of that person? And what is that but saying his own views differ from those of Calvin on the person of Christ? No one, however, has ever pretended that Calvin had any peculiar views on that subject. He says himself that he held all the decisions, as to such points, of the first six ecumenical councils. In differing from Calvin, on this point, therefore, Dr. Nevin differs from the whole church.

But in the other view of this matter. What was this one life (or nature) of Christ? Dr. Nevin says: “It was in all respects a true human life” (p. 167). “Christ is the archetypal man, in whom the true idea of humanity is brought to view.” He “is the true ideal man.” Our nature is complete only in him (p. 201). But is a perfect, or ideal man, any thing more than a mere man after all? If all that was in Christ pertains to the perfection of our nature, he was, at best, but a perfect man. The only way to escape Socinianisn, on this theory, is by deifying man, identifying the divine and human, and making all the glory, wisdom, and power, which belong to Christ, the proper attributes of humanity. Christ is a perfect man. But what is a perfect man? We may give a pantheistic, or a Socinian answer to that question, and not really help the matter—for the real and infinite hiatus between us and Christ, is in either case closed. Thus it is that mysticism falls back on rationalism. They are but different phases of the same spirit. In Germany, it has long been a matter of dispute, to which class Schleiermacher belongs. He was accustomed to smile at the controversy as a mere logomachy. Steudel objects to Schleiermacher’s Christology, that according to him “Christ is a finished man.” Albert Knapp says: “He denies the human and renders human the divine.”[12] We, therefore, do not stand alone in thinking that to represent Christ’s life as in all respects human, to say he was the ideal man, that human nature found its completion in him, admits naturally only of a pantheistic or a Socinian interpretation. We of course do not attribute to Dr. Nevin either of these forms of doctrine. We do not believe that he adopts either, but we object both to his language and doctrine that one or the other of those heresies is their legitimate consequence.

 In the second place, we think the system under consideration is justly chargeable with a departure from the doctrine of the Reformed church, and the church universal, as to the nature of our union with Christ.[13] According to the Reformed church that union is not merely moral, nor is it merely legal or federal, nor does it arise simply from Christ having assumed our nature, it is at the same time real and vital. But the bond of that union, however intimate or extensive, is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, in Christ and in his people. We receive Christ himself, when we receive the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ; we receive the life of Christ when we receive his Spirit, who is the Spirit of life. Such we believe to be the true doctrine of the Reformed church on this subject.[14]  But if to this be added, as some of the Reformed taught, there was a mysterious power emanating from the glorified body of Christ, in heaven, it falls very far short, or rather is something entirely different from the doctrine of this book. Dr. Nevin’s theory of the mystical union is of course determined by his view of the constitution of Christ’s person. If divinity and humanity are united in him as one life; if that life is in all respects human, then it is this divine human life, humanity raised to the power of deity, that is communicated to his people. It is communicated too, in the form of a new organic principle, working in the way of history and growth. “The supernatural has become natural” (p. 246). A new divine element has been introduced into our nature by the incarnation. “Humanity itself has been quickened into full correspondence with the vivific principle it has been made to enshrine.” Believers, therefore, receive, or take part in the entire humanity of Christ. From Adam they receive humanity as he had it, after the fall; from Christ, the theanthropic life, humanity with deity enshrined in it, or rather made one with it, one undivided life.

That this is not the old view of the mystical union between Christ and his people, can hardly be a matter of dispute. Dr. Nevin says Calvin was wrong not only in the psychology of Christ, but of his people. Ullman, in the essay prefixed to this volume, tells us Schleiermacher introduced an epoch by teaching this doctrine. This is declared to be the doctrine of the Church of the Future. It is denied to be that of the Church of the Past. There is one consideration, if there were no other, which determines this question beyond appeal. It follows of necessity from Dr. Nevin’s doctrine that the relation of believers to God and Christ, is essentially different, since the incarnation, from that of believers before that event. The union between the divine and human began with Christ, and from him this theanthropic life passes over to the church. There neither was nor could be any such thing before. This he admits. He, therefore, teaches that the saints of old were, as to the mystical union, in a very different condition from that of the saints now. Hear what he says on that subject. In arguing against the doctrine that the indwelling of Christ is by the Spirit, he says: “Let the church know that she is no nearer God now in fact, in the way of actual life, than she was under the Old Testament; that the indwelling of Christ in believers, is only parallel with the divine presence, enjoyed by the Jewish saints, who all died in the faith, ‘not having received the promises;’ that the mystical union in the case of Paul and John was nothing more intimate, and vital, and real, than the relation sustained to God by Abraham, or Daniel, or Isaiah” (p. 195). “In the religion of the Old Testament, God descends towards man, and holds out to his view in this way the promise of a real union of the divine nature with the human, as the end of the gracious economy thus introduced. To such a real union it is true, the dispensation itself never came . . . The wall of partition that separated the divine from the human, was never fully broken down” (p. 203). It was, he says, “a revelation of God to man, and not a revelation of God in man.” Again, “That which forms the full reality of religion, the union of the divine nature with the human, the revelation of God in man, and not simply to him, was wanting in the Old Testament altogether.” Let us now hear what Calvin, who is quoted by Dr. Nevin as the great representative of the Reformed church, says on the subject. He devotes the whole of chapters 10 and 11 of the Second Book of his Institutes, to the refutation of the doctrine that the Old Testament economy in its promises, blessings, and effects, differed essentially from that of the New. The difference he declares to be merely circumstantial, relating to the mode, the clearness, and extent of its instructions, and the number embraced under its influence. He tells us he was led to the discussion of this subject by what that “prodigiosus nebulo Servetus, et furiosi nonnulli ex Anabaptistarum secta” (“that monstrous rascal Servetus and a number of madmen of the Anabaptist sect”) (rather bad company), taught on this point; who thought of the Jews no better, quam de aliquo porcorum grege (“than about some herd of swine”). In opposition to them, and all like them, Calvin undertakes to prove, that the old covenant “differed in substance and reality nothing from ours, but was entirely one and the same the administration alone being different” (10:2). “What more absurd,” he asks, “than that Abraham should be the father of all the faithful, and yet not have a corner among them? But he can be cast down neither from the number, nor from his high rank among believers, without destroying the whole church” (2.10.11). He reminds Christians that Christ has promised them no higher heaven than to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Dr. Nevin ought surely to stop quoting Calvin as in any way abetting the monstrous doctrine, that under the old dispensation, God was only revealed to his people, while under the new, the divine nature is united in them with the human nature, as in Christ (“the same life or constitution”) in the way of progressive incarnation.

What, however, still more clearly shows the radical difference between Dr. Nevin’s theory, and that of the Reformed church, as to this point, is what he says in reference to the sacraments of the two dispensations. Romanists teach that the sacraments of the Old Testament merely prefigure grace, those of the New actually confer it. This doctrine Calvin, as we have already seen, strenuously denies, and calls its advocates miserable sophists. He asserts that “whatever is exhibited in our sacraments, the Jews formerly received in theirs, to wit, Christ and his benefits;” that baptism has no higher efficacy than circumcision. He quotes the authority of Augustine, for saying, Sacramenta Judaeorum in signis fuisse diversa; in re quae significatur, paria; diversa specie visibili, paria virtute spirituali (“the sacraments of the Jews were different in their signs, but equal in the thing signified; different in visible appearance, but equal in spiritual power”).[15] Dr. Nevin, however, is constrained by his view of the nature of the union between Christ and his people, since the incarnation, to make the greatest possible difference between the sacraments of the two dispensations. He even goes further than the Romanists, teaching that the passover, e. g. was properly no sacrament at all. “Not a sacrament at all, indeed,” is his language,” in the full New Testament sense, but a sacrament simply in prefiguration and type” (p. 251). In the same connection he says: “The sacraments of the Old Testament are no proper measure by which to graduate directly the force that belongs to the sacraments of the New. . . . To make baptism no more than circumcision, or the Lord’s Supper no more than the passover, is to wrong the new dispensation as really” as by making Christ nothing more than a Levitical priest. Systems which lead to such opposite conclusions must be radically different. The lowest Puritan, ultra Protestant, or sectary in the land, who truly believes in Christ, is nearer Calvin than Dr. Nevin; and has more of the true spirit and theology of the Reformed church, than is to be found in this book.

In the third place, Dr. Nevin’s theory, differing so seriously from that of the Reformed church, as to the person of Christ and his union with his people, may be expected to differ from it as to the nature of Christ’s work, and method of salvation. According to him, human nature, the generic life of humanity, being corrupted by the fall, was healed by being taken into a life-union with the Logos. This union so elevated it, raised it to such a higher character, and filled it with such new meaning and power, that it was more than restored to its original state. This however could not be done without a struggle. Being the bearer of a fallen humanity, there was a necessity for suffering in order that life should triumph over the law of sin and death. This was the atonement. See p. 166.

The first remark that suggests itself here, is the query, what is meant by “fallen humanity?” Can it mean any thing else than a corrupted nature, i. e., our nature in the state to which it was reduced by the fall? How else could its assumption involve the necessity of suffering? It is however hard to see how the assumption of a corrupt nature, is consistent with the perfect sinlessness of the Redeemer. Dr. Nevin, as far as we see, does not touch this point. With Schleiermacher, according to whom absolute freedom from sin was the distinguishing prerogative of the Savior, this was secured, though clothed with our nature, by all the acts or determinations of that nature, being governed in his case, by “the God-consciousness” in him, or the divine principle. This is far from being satisfactory; but we pass that point. What however are we to say to this view of the atonement? It was vicarious suffering indeed, for the Logos assumed, and by the painful process of his life and death, healed our nature, not for himself but for our sakes. But there is here no atonement, that is, no satisfaction; no propitiation of God; no reference to divine justice. All this is necessarily excluded. All these ideas are passed over in silence by Dr. Nevin; by Schleiermacher they are openly rejected. The atonement is the painfully accomplished triumph of the new divine principle introduced into our nature, over the law of sin introduced into it by Adam. Is this the doctrine of the Reformed church?

Again, the whole method of salvation is necessarily changed by this system. We become partakers of the sin of Adam, by partaking of his nature; we become partakers of the righteousness of Christ, by partaking of his nature. There can be no imputation of either sin or righteousness to us, except they belong to us, or are inherently our own. “Our participation in the actual unrighteousness of his (Adam’s) life, forms the ground of our participation in his guilt and liability to punishment. And in no other way, we affirm, can the idea of imputation be satisfactorily sustained in the case of the second Adam.” “Righteousness, like guilt, is an attribute which supposes a subject in which it inheres, and from which it cannot be abstracted without ceasing to exist altogether. In the case before us, that subject is the mediatorial nature or life of the Savior himself. Whatever there may be of merit, virtue, efficacy, or moral value in any way, in the mediatorial work of Christ, it is all lodged in the life, by the power of which alone this work has been accomplished, and in the presence of which only it can have either reality or stability” (p. 191). This is very plain, we receive the theanthropic nature or life of Christ; that nature is of a high character, righteous, holy, conformed to God; in receiving that life we receive its merit, its virtues and efficacy. On p. 189, he is still more explicit: “How can that be imputed or reckoned to any man on the part of God, which does not belong to him in reality?” “This objection,” he says, “is insurmountable, according to the form in which the doctrine of imputation is too generally held.” “The judgment of God must ever be according to truth. He cannot reckon to any one an attribute or quality which does not belong to him in fact. He cannot declare him to be in a relation or state, which is not actually his own, but the position merely of another. A simple external imputation here, the pleasure or purpose of God to place to the account of one what has been done by another, will not answer.” “The Bible knows nothing of a simple outward imputation, by which something is reckoned to a man that does not belong to him in fact” (p. 190). “The ground of our justification is a righteousness that was foreign to us before, but is now made to lodge itself in the inmost constitution of our being” (p. 180). God’s act in justification “is necessarily more than a mere declaration or form of thought. It makes us to be in fact, what it declares us to be, in Christ” (Ibid.). Here we reach the very life-spot of the Reformation. Is justification a declaring just, or a making just, inherently? This was the real battle-ground on which the blood of so many martyrs was spilt. Are we justified for something done for us, or something wrought in us, actually our own? It is a mere playing with words, to make a distinction, as Mr. Newman did, between what it is that thus makes us inherently righteous. Whether it is infused grace, a new heart, the indwelling Spirit, the humanity of Christ, his life, his theanthropic nature; it is all one. It is subjective justification after all, and nothing more. We consider Dr. Nevin’s theory as impugning here, the vital doctrine of Protestantism. His doctrine is not, of course, the Romish, teres atque rotundus (“[completely] smooth and rounded”); he may distinguish here, and discriminate there. But as to the main point, it is a denial of the Protestant doctrine of justification. He knows as well as any man that all the churches of the fifteenth century [sic! 16th century] held the imputation not only of what was our own, but of what though not ours inherently, was on some adequate ground set to our account; that the sin of Adam is imputed to us, not because of our having his corrupted nature, but because of the imputation of his sin, we are involved in his corruption. He knows that when the doctrine of mediate imputation, as he teaches it, was introduced by Placaeus, it was universally rejected. He knows moreover, that, with regard to justification, the main question was, whether it was a declaratory or an effective act, whether it was a declaring just on the ground of a righteousness not in us, or a making just by communicating righteousness to us. Romanists were as ready as Protestants to admit that the act by which men are rendered just actually, was a gracious act, and for Christ’s sake, but they denied that justification is a forensic or declaratory act founded on the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which is neither in us, nor by that imputation communicated as a quality to our souls. It was what Romanists thus denied, Protestants asserted, and made a matter of so much importance. And it is in fact the real keystone of the arch which sustains our peace and hope towards God; for if we are no further righteous than we are actually and inherently so, what have we to expect in the presence of a righteous God, but indignation and wrath?

In the fourth place, the obvious departure of Dr. Nevin’s system from that of the Reformed church, is seen in what he teaches concerning the church and the sacraments. The evidence here is not easy to present. As he very correctly remarks with regard to certain doctrines of the Bible, they rest far less on distinct passages which admit of quotation, than on the spirit, tenor, implications, and assumptions which pervade the sacred volume. It is so with this book. Its whole spirit is churchy.  It makes religion to be a church life, its manifestations a liturgical service, its support sacramental grace. It is the form, the spirit, the predominance of these things, which give his book a character as different as can be from the healthful, evangelical free spirit of Luther or Calvin. The main question whether we come to Christ, and then to the church; whether we by a personal act of faith receive him, and by union with him become a member of his mystical body; or whether all our access to Christ is through a mediating church, Dr. Nevin decides against the evangelical system.

It follows of necessity, as he himself says, from his doctrine of a progressive incarnation, “that the church is the depository and continuation of the Savior’s theanthropic life itself, and as such, a truly supernatural constitution, in which powers and resources are constantly at hand, involving a real intercommunion and interpretation of the human and divine” (p. 248). The church with him, being “historical must be visible.” “An outward church is the necessary form of the new creation in Christ Jesus, in its very nature” (p. 5). With Protestants the true church is “the communion of saints,” the “congregatio sanctorum,” “the company of faithful men;” not the company or organization of professing men. It would be difficult to frame a proposition more subversive of the very foundations of all Protestantism, than the assertion that the description above given, or any thing like it, belongs to the church visible as such. It is the fundamental error of Romanism, the source of her power and of her corruption to ascribe to the outward church, the attributes and prerogatives of the mystical body of Christ.

We must, however, pass to Dr. Nevin’s doctrine of the sacraments, and specify at least some of the points in which he departs from the doctrine of the Reformed church. And in the first place, he ascribes to them a specific and “altogether extraordinary power” (p. 118). There is a presence and of course a receiving of the body and blood of Christ, in the Lord’s Supper, “to be had nowhere else” (p. 75). This idea is presented in various forms. It is, however, in direct contravention of the Confessions of the Reformed churches, as we have already seen. They make a circumstantial distinction between spiritual and sacramental manducation, but as to any specific difference, any difference as to what is there received from what is received elsewhere, they expressly deny it. In the Helvetic Confession already quoted, it is said, that the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood takes place, even elsewhere than in the Lord’s Supper, whenever and wherever a man believes in Christ.[16] Calvin, in the Consensus Tigurinus, Art. xix., says: What is figured in the sacraments is granted to believers extra eorum usum (“without their use”). This he applies and proves, first in reference to baptism, and then in reference to the Lord’s Supper. In the explanation of that Consensus he vindicates this doctrine against the objections of the Lutherans. “Quod deinde prosequimur,” (“We next proceed to say”) he begins, “fidelibus spiritualium bonorum effectum quae figurant sacramenta, extra eorum usum constare, quando et quotidie verum esse experimur et probatur scripturae testimoniis, mirum est si cui displiceat” (“that the effect of the spiritual blessings which the sacraments figure, is given to believers without the use of the sacraments.  As this is daily experienced to be true, and is proved by passages of Scripture, it is strange if any are displeased with it”).[17]  The same thing is expressly taught in his Institutes, 4.14.14.

The second point on which Dr. Nevin differs from the Reformed church, as to the sacraments, relates to their efficacy. All agree that they have an objective force; that they no more owe their power to the faith of the recipient than the word of God does. But the question is, What is the source to which the influence of the sacraments as means of grace, is to be referred? We have already stated that Romanists say it is to be referred to the sacraments themselves as containing the grace they convey; Lutherans, to the supernatural power of the word, inseparably joined with the signs; the Reformed, to the attending power of the Spirit which is in no manner inseparable from the signs or the service. Dr. Nevin’s doctrine seems to lie somewhere between the Romish and the Lutheran view. He agrees with the Romanists in referring the efficacy to the service itself, and with the Lutherans in making faith necessary in order to the sacrament taking effect. Some of his expressions on the subject are the following: Faith “is the condition of its (the sacrament’s) efficacy for the communicant, but not the principle of the power itself. This belongs to the institution in its own nature. The signs are bound to what they represent, not subjectively simply in the thought of the worshipper, but objectively, by the force of a divine appointment. . . . The grace goes inseparably along with the sign, and is truly present for all who are prepared to make it their own” (p. 61). “The invisible grace enters as a necessary constituent element into the idea of the sacrament; and must be, of course, objectively present with it wherever it is administered under a true form. . . . It belongs to the ordinance in its own nature. . . . The sign and thing signified are by Christ’s institution, mysteriously tied together, . . . The two form one presence” (p. 178). In the case of the Lord’s Supper, the grace, or thing signified, is, according to this book, the divine-human nature of Christ, “his whole person,” his body, soul, and divinity, constituting one life. This, or these are objectively present and inseparably joined with the signs, constituting with them one presence. The power inseparable from the theanthropic life of Christ, is inseparable from these signs, and is conveyed with them.  “Where the way is open for it to take effect, it (the sacrament) serves in itself to convey the life of Christ into our persons” (p. 182). We know nothing in Bellarmine that goes beyond that. Dr. Nevin refers for illustration, as Lutherans do, to the case of the women who touched Christ’s garment. As there was mysterious supernatural power everpresent in Christ, so there is in the sacraments. “The virtue of Christ’s mystical presence,” he says “is comprehended in the sacrament itself.” According to the Reformed church, Christ is present in the sacraments in no other sense than he is present in the word. Both serve to hold him up for our acceptance. Neither has any virtue in itself. Both are used by the Spirit, as means of communicating Christ and his benefits to believers.  “Spiritualiter,” says Calvin, “per sacramenta fidem alit (Deus), QUORUM UNICUM OFFICIUM EST, EJUS PROMISSIONES OCULIS NOSTRIS SPECTANDAS SUBJICERE, IMO NOBIS EARUM ESSE PIONORA” (“In like manner, he nourishes faith spiritually through the sacraments, whose only office is to set his promises before our eyes to be looked upon, indeed, to be guarantees of them to us”), Institutes, 4.14.11.

We here leave Dr. Nevin’s book; we have only one or two remarks to add not concerning him, nor his own personal belief, but concerning his system. He must excuse our saying that, in our view, it is only a specious form of Rationalism. It is in its essential element a psychology. Ullman admits that it is nearly allied to pantheistic mysticism, and to the modern speculative philosophy. In all three the main idea is, “the union of God and man through the incarnation of the first and deification of the second.”[18] It has, however, quite as strong an affinity for a much lower form of Rationalism. We are said to have the life of Adam. He lives in us as truly as he ever lived in his own person; we partake of his substance, are flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bones. No particle of his soul or body, indeed, has come down to us. It all resolves itself into an invisible law. This and little more than this, is said of our union with Christ. What then have we to do with Christ, more than we have to do with Adam? or than the present forests of oak have to do with the first acorn? A law is, after all, nothing but a force, a power, and the only Christ we have or need, is an inward principle. And with regard to spirits, such a law is something very ideal, indeed. Christ by his excellence makes a certain impression on his disciples, which produced a new life in them. They associate to preserve and transmit that influence. A principle, belonging to the original constitution of our nature, was, by his influence, brought into governing activity, and is perpetuated in and by the church. As it owes its power to Christ, it is always referred back to him, so that it is a Christian consciousness, a consciousness of this union with Christ. We know that Schleiermacher endeavored to save the importance of a historical personal Christ; but we know also that he failed to prevent his system taking the low rationalist form just indicated. With some it takes the purely pantheistic form; with others a lower form, while others strive hard to give it a Christian form. But its tendency to lapse into one or the other of the two heresies just mentioned, is undeniable.

We feel constrained to make another remark. It is obvious that this system has a strong affinity for Sabellianism. According to the Bible and the creed of the church universal, the Holy Spirit has a real objective personal existence. There are three distinct persons in the Godhead, the same in substance and equal in power and glory. Being one God, where the Spirit is or dwells, there the Father and the Son are and dwell. And hence, throughout the New Testament, the current mode of representation is, that the church is the temple of God and body of Christ, because of the presence and indwelling of the Holy Ghost, who is the source of knowledge, holiness, and life. What the Scriptures refer to the Holy Spirit, this system refers to the theanthropic nature of Christ, to a nature or life “in all respects human.” This supersedes the Holy Spirit. Every reader, therefore, must be struck with the difficulty Dr. Nevin finds from this source. He does not seem to know what to do with the Spirit. His language is constrained, awkward, and often unintelligible. He seems, indeed, sometimes to identify the Spirit with the theanthropic nature of Christ. “The Spirit of Christ,” he says, “is not his representative or surrogate simply, as some would seem to think; but Christ himself under a certain mode of subsistence; Christ triumphant over all the limitations of his moral (mortal?) state (xwopoihqeiV pneumati [“made alive in the Spirit”]) received up into glory, and thus invested fully and forever with his own proper order of being in the sphere of the Holy Ghost” (p. 225). The Spirit of Christ, is then Christ as exalted. On the following page, he says: “The glorification of Christ then, was the full advancement of our human nature itself to the power of a divine life: and the Spirit for whose presence it [the glorification of Christ] made room in the world, was not the Spirit as extraanthropological simply, under such forms of sporadic and transient afflatus as had been known previously; but the Spirit as immanent now, through Jesus Christ, in the human nature itself—the form and power, in one word, of the new supernatural creation he had introduced into the world.” Again, “Christ is not sundered from the church by the intervention of the Spirit. . . . No conception can be more unbiblical, than that by which the idea of Spirit (pneuma) in this case, is restrained to the form of mere mind, whether as divine or human, in distinction from body. The whole glorified Christ subsists and acts in the Spirit. Under this form his nature communicates itself to his people” (p. 229). But according to this book, the form in which his nature is communicated to his people is that of “a true human life;” it is a human nature advanced to a divine power, which they receive. The Spirit is, therefore, not the third person of the Trinity, but the theanthropic nature of Christ as it dwells in the church. This seems to us the natural and unavoidable interpretation of these passages and of the general tenor of the book. We do not suppose that Dr. Nevin has consciously discarded the doctrine of the Trinity; but we fear that he has adopted a theory which destroys that doctrine. The influence of his early convictions and experience, and of his present circumstances, may constrain him to hold fast that article of the faith, in some form to satisfy his conscience. But his system must banish it, just so far as it prevails.  Schleiermacher, formed under different circumstances, and less inwardly trammeled, openly rejected the doctrine. He wrote a system of theology, without saying a word about the Trinity. It has no place in his system; he brings it in only at the conclusion of his work, and explains it as God manifested in nature, God as manifested in Christ, and God as manifested in the church. With him the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit which animates the church. It had no existence before the church and has no existence beyond it. His usual expression for it is, “the common spirit” (Gemeingeist) of the church, which may mean either something very mystical, or nothing more than we mean by the spirit of the age, or spirit of a party, just as the reader pleases. It is in point of fact understood both ways.

[1]  Lawrence R. Rast, Jr. “A ‘Whole Babel of Extravagance’: Confessional Responses to American Revivalism.”  Modern Reformation 7/4 (1998) 18-23. Jason J. Stellman. “Where Grace is Found.” Modern Reformation  16/4 (2007) 17-20. Jeffrey Meyers. The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship (2003) 401, 423-24, 428. It is widely known and admitted that many of the advocates of the current “Federal Vision” theology look to the Mercersburg theologians (Nevin and Schaff) as a chief source of inspiration.

[2]  D. G. Hart, John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist (2006).

[3]  Among some advocates of this practice, the appeal to Calvin is extremely strange, considering that he himself said: “…nothing is more absurd than to extol the sacraments above the word, whose appendages and seals they are” (Calvin’s Tracts, Containing: Treatises on the Sacraments, Catechism of the Church of Geneva, Forms of Prayer, and Confessions of Faith [1849] 2:227). The high-church Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud (1573-1645), declared, “I say [the sacrament is] the greatest, yea greater than the pulpit; for there it is hoc est corpus meum [‘this is my body’]; but in the pulpit, it is hoc est verbum meum [‘this is my word’].”

[4]  In our opinion, the wise judgment of the Westminster Divines ought to be heeded by all in this debate: “The communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated; but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers, and other church-governors of each congregation, as they shall find most convenient for the comfort and edification of the people committed to their charge. And, when it shall be administered, we judge it convenient to be done after the morning sermon.”

[5]  John W. Nevin, The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (1846). Charles Hodge, Essays and Reviews (1856) 341-92; originally published in The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 20 (April 1848): 227-78. Nevin wrote a lengthy response to the first portion of Hodge’s review (dealing with the historical question of the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper) in the following essay: John W. Nevin. “Doctrine of the Reformed Church on the Lord’s Supper.”  The Mercersburg Review 2/4 (1850) 421-548. All three of these documents are publicly available online at books.google.com. To our knowledge, Nevin never directly gave a public answer to the second portion of Hodge’s essay (reprinted here), dealing with the Schleiermachian underpinnings of his entire theology.

[6]  At his “presuppositionalist best,” Hodge clearly shows that he is very much aware of the role of philosophical presuppositions in aberrant theological systems!

[7]  His mature analysis and critique of Schleiermacher can be found in outline form in his Systematic Theology (II:138-140).

[8]  Taken from Charles Hodge’s Essays and Reviews, 373-92. We have made slight changes in the original format of this article, including modernizing archaic spellings and providing English translations of the foreign language citations. We have also made some minor corrections and expansions of the citations. But we have not altered the content of what Hodge wrote.

[9]  In calling the theory in question by Dr. Nevin’s name, we do not mean to charge him with having originated it. This he does not claim, and we do not assert. It is, as we understand it, the theory of Schleiermacher, so far as Dr. Nevin goes.

[10]  Schleiermacher says, in his second Sendschreiben to Lücke, “Wo Uebernatüliches bei mir vorkommt, da ist es immer ein Erstes; es wird aber hernach ein Natürliches als Zweites. So ist die Schöpfung übernatürlich; aber sie wird hernach Naturzusammenhang; so ist Christus übernatürlich seinem Anfang nach, aber er wird natürlich als rein menschliche Person, und ebenso ist es mit dem heiligen Geiste
und der christlichen Kirche (“Where I meet the supernatural, there is always a first but there would afterwards be the natural as a second. So creation is supernatural; but afterwards it would be a natural relation; so Christ is supernatural according to his origin, but he would be natural as a pure human person, and it is even so afterwards with the Holy Spirit and the Christian church”). Somewhat to the same effect, Dr. Nevin somewhere says, The supernatural has become natural.

[11]  Schleiermacher, Glaubenslehre, § 97 (English translation: The Christian Faith [1928] § 97 [389-413], esp. 410-13).

[12]  F. W. Gess: Uebersicht über Schleier. System. p. 225 (Friedrich W. Gess, Deutliche und möglichst vollständige Übersicht über das theologische System Dr. Friedrich Schleiermachers und über die Beurtheilungen, welche dasselbe theils nach seinen eigenen Grundsätzen, theils aus den Standpunkten des Supranaturalism, des Rationalism, der Fries’schen und der Hegel’schen Philosophie erhalten hat, 1837).

[13]  It is important to note that the issue between Hodge and Nevin is not whether Union with Christ is a foundational principle of Reformed soteriology. Hodge heartily affirmed this: “Can any reader of the Bible, can any Christian at least, doubt that union with Christ was to the apostles one of the most important and dearest of all the doctrines of the gospel? a doctrine which lay at the root of all the other doctrines of redemption, the foundation of their hopes, the source of their spiritual life?” (Essays and Reviews, 160). Rather his difficulty with Nevin lies is the nature of that union. As Hodge argues, some of the Reformed found that union to be the fruit and effect of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, whereas others also included the additional idea of a mysterious power emanating from Christ himself. Though Hodge favors the former as the best representation of the Reformed view, his difficulty with Nevin is not simply his embrace of the latter. Nor does the question concern the relationship between unitive and forensic categories in the ordo salutis. Rather, as elsewhere, Hodge’s concern is that Nevin’s doctrine of the mystical union is controlled by unbiblical Schleiermachian psychological-philosophical categories. For Hodge, Nevin’s doctrine is thus fundamentally antithetical to both of the past Reformed formulations of the doctrine of union with Christ.

[14]  In the first half of the article (not printed here), Hodge added these words describing his acceptance of the historic Reformed doctrine of the mystical union: “The subject itself is mysterious. The Lord’s Supper is by all Christians regarded as exhibiting, and, in the case of believers, confirming their union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever obscurity rests on that union, must in a measure rest on this sacrament. That union, however, is declared to be a great mystery. It has always, on that account, been called the mystical union. We are, therefore, demanding too much when we require all obscurity to be banished from this subject. If the union between Christ and his people were merely moral, arising from agreement and sympathy, there would be no mystery about it; and the Lord’s Supper, as the symbol of that union, would be a perfectly intelligible ordinance. But the Scriptures teach that our union with Christ is far more than this. It is a vital union: we are partakers of his life, for it is not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us. It is said to be analogous to our union with Adam, to the union between the head and members of the same body, and between the vine and its branches. There are some points in reference to this subject, with regard to which almost all Christians are agreed. They agree that this union includes a federal or representative relation, arising from a divine constitution; and on the part of Christ, a participation of our nature. He that sanctified and they who are sanctified are all of one. On this account he calls them brethren. Inasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also, himself, likewise took part of the same (Heb. 2:11-14). It is in virtue of his assumption of our nature that he stands to us in the intimate relation here spoken of. It is agreed, further, that this union includes on our part a participation of the Spirit of Christ. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ, and dwells without measure in him as our head, who dwells also in his people, so that they become one body in Christ Jesus. They are one in relation to each other, and one in relation to him.  As the human body is one by being animated and pervaded by one soul, so Christ and his people are one in virtue of the indwelling of one and the same Spirit, the Holy Ghost. It is further agreed that this union relates to the bodies as well as the souls of believers. Know you not, asks the apostle, that your bodies are the members of Christ; know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, who dwelleth in you? The Westminster Catechism, therefore, says of believers after death, that their bodies being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves until the resurrection. This union was always represented as a real union, not merely imaginary nor simply moral, nor arising from the mere reception of the benefits which Christ has procured. We receive Christ himself, and are in Christ, united to him by the indwelling of his Spirit and by a living faith. So far all the Reformed at least agreed” (Essays and Reviews, 342-43).

[15]  Institutes, 4.14.26.

[16]  Second Helvetic Confession, chap. 21 (cf. A. C. Cochrane, Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century [2003] 286).

[17]  John Calvin, Calvin’s Tracts, Containing Treatises on the Sacraments, Catechism of the Church of Geneva, forms of Prayer, and Confessions of Faith, “Exposition on the Heads of Agreement” (1849) 2:236.

[18]  Preliminary Essay, p. 45.