The image of God and mediate communion. Or the lives, books and burials of Master William Strong

This paper argues that in the process of relating the image of God and communion with God William Strong (d. 1654) offers an inconsistent account of the Creator-creature distinction, one which sits awkwardly with his own understanding of the Creator-creature relation. Strong’s view is chiefly considered on its own terms, and is then briefly compared with that of the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document with which he himself is closely associated as a member of the Westminster assembly (1654-1653).

Full Abstract:
Outspoken puritan preacher William Strong was a late-in-life convert from presbyterianism to congregationalism, and a late-blooming theologian. Strong passed away suddenly in 1654, probably in his early to mid-forties. A well-connected minister favoured by Oliver Cromwell and his regime, Strong was given his first burial in Westminster Abbey within sight of royal tombs.

Two decades previously, nothing could have seemed less likely than such a dignified end. For soon after he had earned his degrees from the University of Cambridge, Strong had them taken away again for controversial remarks he had made as a newly-minted college fellow. Controversy was to dog his life and linger after death, as his widow would find herself opposing the printing of a pirated posthumous work, published under her husband’s name, on the image of God and communion with God.

As Strong explained in this first work, based on Exodus 2-:24, in the state of innocence Adam’s life was “a life of communion.” In fact, “in his creation he had a double excellency . . . in respect of his image” and “in respect of his communion” – and “from both of these he fell.” Since that time “Every man . . . is at a distance from God, there’s a twofold distance that is between God and the creatures. First, a distance in point of reconciliation.” Secondly, “a distance in point of communion.” As Strong put it, “there’s a naturall distance as we are creatures, and a morall distance as we are sinners.”

Another, supposedly better, work by Strong on the same subject, was rushed to the press by his widow. In this second work, this time based on Hebrews 10:22, Strong concludes that “man hath a double business by Christ, to recover his former image, and his former communion.” “The business of Christ is . . . to repair the one, and restore the other;” we are to have “a desire to have that restored which then was lost.”

In these two works Strong asserts that, after the fall of humanity into sin, our communion with God must be understood (in the words of an admirer) as a “mediate communion.” This paper argues that, in the process of relating the image of God and communion with God, William Strong offers an inconsistent account of the Creator-creature distinction, one which sits awkwardly with his own understanding of the Creator-creature relation. Strong’s view is chiefly considered on its own terms, and is then briefly compared with that of the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document with which he himself is closely associated as a member of the Westminster assembly (1654-1653).

Leave a Comment