Union With Christ: The Existential Nerve Of Puritan Piety -- By: R. Tudur Jones

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 41:2 (NA 1990)
Article: Union With Christ: The Existential Nerve Of Puritan Piety
Author: R. Tudur Jones


Union With Christ: The Existential Nerve Of Puritan Piety

R. Tudur Jones

I. Introduction

J.C. Brauer of Chicago has complained recently that so little scholarly attention has been paid to the nature of Puritan piety. He finds most students of Puritanism reprehensible in this matter, not excluding such distinguished names as Perry Miller, William Haller and M.M. Knappen.1 There is a similar scarcity in New Testament scholarship. A.J.M. Wedderburn has also noted that so few monographs have been published on the Pauline formula ‘in Christ’.2 It may well be that in our activist age concentration on piety may be considered a retreat from public responsibility. All the more reason then why it might be worthwhile to examine what the Puritans had to say about union with Christ, especially since so many of the men who wrote about it were even more activist than most of our contemporaries.

II. An Old Tradition

Union with Christ has been a prominent element in Christian experience and thinking throughout the centuries. That is especially true of Mystical Theology. But it is also true of Protestantism. When extolling the blessings of faith, Luther wrote ‘The third incomparable benefit of faith is this, that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bride- groom. And by this mystery. . .Christ and the soul become one flesh.’3 Calvin similarly insists that there can be no benefit to us unless the Holy Spirit engrafts us into Christ. ‘To this is to be referred that sacred marriage, by which we become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, and so one with him’ (Eph.

5:30).4 As Peter Toon has rightly emphasised, union with Christ was of ‘supreme importance to Calvin’.5 This conviction was woven into the fabric of Protestant thinking here in Britain in the sixteenth century. It is not confined, of course, to the Puritan movement. It is proposed to concentrate on what those Puritans had to say about it in England and Wales.

III. Significance Of The Theme

At the beginning of the period, we find union with Christ being discussed in the work of William Perkins, fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, up to 1595 and after that lecturer at Great St. Andrew’s, Cambridge. In his tract, A Grain of Mustard Seed, he wrote that ‘a sinner in the very first act of his conversion is ju...

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