Union with Christ In Caspar Olevianus’ Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed

Since, then, in the Articles of the Faith, which contain a summary of the gospel, Christ the King Himself offers to us that kingdom of His; and since He effectually confederates us to Himself through faith by the power of His Spirit so that He might rule in us, let us briefly explain what faith is. Once we know the will of God, faith is to assent to Him in the whole of His Word as one who is true and omnipotent. It is thus to give Him glory and not to give consideration to anything in ourselves or other creatures that appears contrary to His Word. The primary goal of faith is to look in this Word at the promise of the gospel, the promise that the Father truly presents Himself to us in Christ and through the Holy Spirit graciously justifies those engrafted into Christ, sanctifies us more and more, and preserves us by that same power by which Christ was raised from the dead and had all things subjected to Him. This is so that the hope of eternal life that is grounded in this truth and power might be most certain (p. 16

This article concerning Christ’s person — which consists of two natures, human and divine, joined together in an eternal personal union while the properties of each nature are preserved forever — contains the foundation and basis of the royal priesthood of Christ, and consequently of the eternal covenant between God and humanity. Human happiness is to be united with God, the source of all good (1 John 1[:3]). By contrast, the greatest unhappiness is to be separated from God. Humanity, however, had separated itself from God through sin and had entered into a covenant with the devil. In the same way, therefore, that there was a certain person through whom sin entered the world, and death through sin, and who thus became the cause and, as it were, foundation of the defection from God and of the covenant with the devil, so also there ought to be a certain person designated by God as the foundation and cause of an indestructible union with God, the source of all happiness (p. 67).

Moreover, the human Christ could not be a Savior by His power unless the divine nature were joined to Him in the unity of His person, from which, as from the Father at the same time, the Holy Spirit proceeds, who leads us into possession of Christ, engrafts us into Christ, and regenerates us unto eternal life (1 Cor. 15:21, 45; Rom. 8:8–9). Indeed, so that those who have once truly been engrafted into Christ by the Holy Spirit can never again be cut off from eternal life, the λογον Himself — the eternal Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, namely, the very fountain of life, in which there was life from the beginning (John 1[:4]) — must dwell σωματκως, that is, personally, in His assumed human nature for all eternity (p.72).

Our entering into covenant and reconciliation with God required that both of these natures in the Mediator be true and intact, with their properties preserved. In the same way, since the covenant and union must last for all eternity, so that even after the resurrection our true flesh and bones might enjoy happiness (Phil. 3[:21]), it is also necessary in the foundation, namely, in the Mediator, upon whom the task of saving us forever was placed, that tremain intact forever — body and soul, flesh and bones. (p. 73)

Vivification, therefore, is the second fruit of the resurrection of Christ because Christ Himself, who is always living, is our life through faith, and because, by the power that we draw from Christ our Head, we arise in this life to newness of life through the Spirit of faith. This is so that by living pure and holy lives, we might wholly consecrate ourselves to the will of God. That is what the apostle teaches in Colossians 3[:1–2]: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” That is also why he says in Romans 6[:4–5] that we were engrafted into the likeness of Christ’s death so that, as participants in His resurrection, we might walk in newness of life. With these words he is not only offering the resurrection of Christ as an example for us to imitate; he is also, and especially, teaching that this is brought about in us by the power of Christ’s resurrection so that we are able to rise again to a new life (p. 97)

Third, the ascension is the progression and continuation of His righteousness. This is primarily because He could not ascend into heaven, into that great glory, in His own body accursed in our sins, unless He had been fully justified for our sins and faith (Heb. 1:7) (p. 104).

The second fruit is that by His ascension Christ makes us to sit with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2[:6]), so that we do not simply anticipate heaven in mere hope but already possess it in Christ our Head and Brother. This is because after full expiation for our sins had been made, the Pledge, in the earthly and bodily form that He received from us, now possesses heaven on our behalf. It is also because we possess a spiritual and heavenly pledge received, in turn, from Him, namely, the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us. So we are engrafted into Him by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in the promise of the gospel (p. 105).

His operations are many and diverse. First, He is given so that He might bear witness in our hearts to the love of the Father (Gal. 4[:6]) and illumine the eyes of our minds with the knowledge of Christ. Thus, He engrafts me into Christ through faith, as a branch into the vine, and makes me a partaker of Christ and all His benefits (John 15[:1ff.]). The union with Christ and His benefits that the Holy Spirit brings about in us is powerfully expressed in Scripture when it says that the Holy Spirit sprinkles us with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1[:2]), makes us “members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6[:15]), feeds us with Christ (John 6[:50–58]), gives us Christ to drink (1 Cor. 10[:4, 16]; 12),1 and builds us on Christ (Eph. 2[:20]). Here the office and purpose of the Holy Spirit given to us is shown, namely, that through faith the Spirit might unite us to Christ as closely as possible and might achieve similar results in both members and Head, seeing as it is the same Spirit, the same life and glory (Rom. 8[:1–26]) (p. 124).

The communion of saints signifies first that outward fellowship by which members of the visible church are called into one body of people through the ministry of the teaching of the prophets and apostles, and through the sacraments. It also signifies that inward union by which those whom the Lord has forever chosen to be a part of this visible assembly, that is, those who truly believe, are united by the same Spirit with the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and with each other (p. 131-132)

I believe that whatever is and is called sin — whether it be original sin in the form of that transgression in Adam’s loins and the consequent corruption that I carry around in the flesh, or actual sin in the form of the wicked thoughts, words, and deeds that arise out of original sin — I believe, I say, that through faith, by which I am and remain engrafted into Christ, all of that is forgiven me by the gracious goodness of God. God does this in such a way that He erases all memory of both guilt and punishment, just as if I had never sinned or had no sin. Therefore, I trust that already now I am blessed (p. 133-134).

For those of us who are truly engrafted into Christ through faith begin to possess—in addition to that benefit of forgiveness
with which the image of Satan is covthe restoration of the image of God… (p. 134-35)

Caspar Olevianus | An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, trans. Lyle Bierma, Classic Reformed Theology, vol. 2, ed. R. Scott Clark (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009).


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  1. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks so much for these very helpful excerpts. I will definitely add this book to my “must buy” list!

  2. Dr. Clark,

    Should the last sentence read “… image of Satan is covered – another benefit at the same time: the restoration of the image of God…” ?

    Thanks for posting these! I’m planning on digging in to this soon.


  3. Dear Dr. Clark,

    Thanks very much for these excerpts. They are an excellent reminder of the nature and outcome of our union with Christ — both now and into eternity.

    I do have one question though with regard to the definition of faith articulated near the beginning of the post. It does make sense that faith must be “in” something – but is faith always and only in God’s revelation of Himself in His Word? What about the Syro-Phoenician woman, for example, that Jesus praised for her great faith? It isn’t evident from the passage that she’s responding in faith to any promise or a statement from God — at least one that she knew about. She doesn’t quote Old Testament verses about the Messiah being a light to the Gentiles, or from God’s promises to bless the whole world through Abraham’s seed. It seems rather that she has a more primal Spirit-mediated faith in God’s character.

    I admit that it’s possible that she knew more of the Scripture than is told in the story — but I also wonder if faith shouldn’t be defined a little more broadly as being the placing of one’s confidence in God’s self-revelation. Maybe, after all that’s what Olevianus had in mind when he referred to “assent to Him in the whole of His Word as One Who is true and omnipotent” — but I thought it was worth getting your read on it anyway.

    In Jesus,

    Tim Graham

    • Tim,

      We have to let the NT define faith for us and John 8:56 gives us a paradigm. Jesus says, “Abraham say my day and rejoiced.” Heb 11 says that all the typological believers were looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. Luke 24 teaches us that all the typological revelation pointed to Christ. I other words, the focus revelation is not generic, it is Christ.

      Olevianus was right. Christ is the object of faith all through redemptive history.

      Take a look at this essay on how to read the Bible

      • Thanks Dr. Clark.

        I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that true faith is always in the person of Christ. Indeed, that’s the main point I was making.

        The emphasis in the definition given (viz., “Once we know the will of God, faith is to assent to Him in the whole of His Word as one who is true and omnipotent.”) seems to be on the explicit prior revelation of God’s Will as the foundation of faith. But while it’s true that a person who believes will put believe things God says, this is more of a description of what faith DOES as opposed to a definition of what it IS.

        In the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman, in the apparent absence of any explicit revelation of the will of God and despite the likely lack of familiarity with the written Word of God, she merely persisted in asking Jesus for something even in the face of His apparent indifference. In short, her faith looks like a Spirit-mediated form of knowledge of the nature and power of Christ, despite appearances to the contrary – that is, she persisted in her belief that he would and could help her, even in the face of Jesus’ apparent indifference.

        Said another way, the thing that seems to have made her faith so remarkable is that she had such confident faith in Christ and it was based on so little in the way of explicit revelation.

        So I guess the summary of what I was trying to say was that I prefer a definition of faith that places the emphasis on Christ the Person as the object of our faith rather than on a set of propositional truths CONCERNING Christ. It is, of course, very difficult to separate Christ Himself from the doctrinal truths concerning Christ — but when it comes to faith, the difference between the former and the latter is the difference between a “faith” of the mind, and a faith of the heart.

        I think a good analogy of this is understanding of the color red — a blind man can learn all the physics formulas concerning light and can tell you all about the properties and interactions of the red wavelengths of light — but he can’t tell you what it looks like. So it is with a faith of the mind as distinguished from faith in the person of Christ as He is revealed by the Spirit. Of course, a true faith in Christ always has as its concomitant a true knowledge of His attributes, but the converse is not true.

        So in general I prefer to think of faith in personal terms rather than propositional ones.

        And if this is what Olevianus was saying then I couldn’t agree more.

        • Well, Tim, I don’t disagree but please remember that CO was writing in the 1570s and not the 1970s! The very distinction you make was not really on anyone’s radar. Of course we’ve always known that it is Christ who is the object of faith but the same Christ who saves us is the same Christ who has revealed his law and his gospel in propositional form. Faith has an object but it also has propositional content.

          You should read the volume for yourself to see what Olevianus was saying in his own context. These selections are meant to be merely suggestive or illustrative of the way he connected faith in Christ and union with Christ and of the way he related the two things.

          • Thanks! You’ve convinced me — I’ll take the plunge into Olevianus as my next big reading project (I’m currently working on Charnock’s “Existence and Attributes of God”).

  4. Dr. Clark,

    He says, “Vivification, therefore, is the second fruit of the resurrection of Christ because Christ Himself, who is always living, is our life through faith, and because, by the power that we draw from Christ our Head, we arise in this life to newness of life through the Spirit of faith.”

    Am I reading this right that vivification is somehow a product of faith-wrought union with Christ since “we arise in this life to newness of life” “by the power that we draw from Christ our Head”? He seems to be thinking of us as the body united to Christ the head and thereby, by virtue of that union, participating in the benefits of salvation.

  5. Sure. I was just wondering if the quote I reproduced from your post is seeing the benefits of salvation as, in some way, coming to the believer by virtue of his union with Christ. In other words, is this placing union in the center of how God applies the benefits of salvation? Here, Olevianus only mentions vivification, but it seems like it could be paradigmatic.

    • Well, the point of posting these passages is to illustrate how important existential union with Christ was to Olevianus (as a representative of early Reformed orthodoxy) without EU becoming a “central doctrine” or without displacing justification and without marginalizing faith.

      Read all the quotations carefully and remember that I’ve excised them from their context. To understand them fully you need to read the book. If you do you’ll see that your hypothesis doesn’t explain the data very well.

      Even in the passages quoted it’s clear that faith is the sole instrument of justification and faith is the instrument of union (EU). The benefits flow from EU but the Spirit creates union through the Spirit-wrought gift of faith. For Olevianus, it is believers who are united to Christ and believers are justified and the justified are sanctified.

      You might also want to read Caspar Olevian”> and the Substance of the Covenant which surveys his theology.

  6. Thanks, Dr. Clark,

    You said, “Even in the passages quoted it’s clear that faith is the sole instrument of justification and faith is the instrument of union (EU). The benefits flow from EU but the Spirit creates union through the Spirit-wrought gift of faith. For Olevianus, it is believers who are united to Christ and believers are justified and the justified are sanctified.”

    That’s just what I was trying to say, only I didn’t mention the role of faith. My omission wasn’t meant as a denial. That the benefits flow from union doesn’t negate that faith is the alone instrument that brings justification, union, etc. Faith brings union which brings the others in turn, “it is believers who are united to Christ and believers are justified and the justified are sanctified.” Your sketch was exactly how I was seeing it. Thanks again.

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