John of Damascus provides a concise overview of what to believe about the Trinity and the person of Christ.

We, therefore, both know and confess that God is without beginning, without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, unchangeable, invariable, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribed, infinite, incognizable, indefinable, incomprehensible, good, just, maker of all things created, almighty, all-ruling, all-surveying, of all overseer, sovereign, judge; and that God is One, that is to say, one essences; and that He is known, and has His being in three subsistences, in Father, I say, and Son and Holy Spirit; and that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, except in that of not being begotten, that of being begotten, and that of procession; and that the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God, in His bowels of mercy, for our salvation, by the good pleasure of God and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, being conceived without seed, was born uncorruptedly of the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit, and became of her perfect Man; and that the Same is at once perfect God and perfect Man, of two natures, Godhead and Manhood, and in two natures possessing intelligence, will and energy, and freedom, and, in a word, perfect according to the measure and proportion proper to each, at once to the divinity, I say, and to the humanity, yet to one composite person; and that He suffered hunger and thirst and weariness, and was crucified, and for three days submitted to the experience of death and burial, and ascended to heaven, from which also He came to us, and shall come again. And the Holy Scripture is witness to this and the whole choir of the Saints.

What Remains

May 24th, 2010

In his Reformed Dogmatics, Heinrich Heppe collects statements on what was lost to humans of the image of God as a result of the fall, and what still lingers:

All later Reformed dogmaticians adhere to the distinction established in Melanchthonian theology between the substance and the virtutes of the divine image, and they accordingly teach that the original virtus and the imago has been irretrievably lost.
Cf. Polan (VI, 5): “From this it is plain what of the divine image is left in corrupt man. There remained the substance of the soul; there remained the essential faculties of the soul, knowledge and will; there remained the essential attributes, as a kind of natural knowledge, reasoning power, judgement and thought, freedom from compulsion in the will; there remained natural life and the immortality of the soul. Therefore the image of the nature is not utterly destroyed by the sin of Adam and Eve; this must be credited to the mercy of God towards the human race. Nevertheless it has been lost in part and what is left is wretchedly corrupt and misshapen. Moreover all the rightness, i.e., the sanity and integrity of the perception and recognition of God and divine things, the original righteousness and holiness by which in particular man was a partner in the divine nature, has been completely destroyed, extinguished and left out”.
Hence this point of doctrine also belong to those who represented the difference between the Reformed and the Lutheran systems.
So, e.g., Wendelin (Systema, p.508): “There remains in man corrupted by Adam’s lapse a rational soul, which is an immortal spirit; there remain the faculties, thought and will; in thought there remain as though inborn the theoretical and practical principles of truth.—In short there is still some portion of dominion. Meanwhile none of these has been so acquired that by it fallen and corrupt man is able either to rise again or to prepare himself to receive the offer of grace, or to co-operate with God even when He is laying the first foundations of grace”.
Similarly in the Collatio, p.125: “We assert that the principal part of the divine image, namely original righteousness, was plainly lost and abolished through the fall and sin of origin. Meanwhile we deny that the entire image of God in all its parts was utterly lost and abolished, which those will easily concede who recognise part of the divine image in the rational soul as an immortal spirit endowed with thought and will. By the fall man did not cease to be man, although he did cease to be righteous”.

(“The Violation of the Covenant of Works”, slightly edited)

There is much in Coventry Patmore that is superficial or wrong or even abominable, but from time to time there is a good remark as well. Here is one such, from the “Magna Moralia” section XXXII in The Rod, the Root, and the Flower:

The world is not scandalised by anything so much as by the inconsistencies of believers, which it attributes to hypocrisy. But a great deal of ‘inconsistency’ and shortcoming is consistent with an entire absence of hypocrisy. The world having to do only with objects of the senses, discerns and believes a thing fully or not at all, and acts accordingly; and expects that Christians should do the same. But God and the truths of faith are ‘infinitely visible and infinitely credible’; and discernment and belief vary infinitely in degree, from the obscure longing which cries, ‘O God, if Thou be a God, save my Soul, if I have a Soul’, to that of the Saint who sees God, as it were, face to face; and as faith thus varies, so varies the life which comes of it.

Prophecy, not Prediction

May 9th, 2010

Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 2, Chapter 8:

Of two passages in his own Old Testament Scriptures the Evangelist sees a fulfilment in these events. The flight into Egypt is to him the fulfilment of this expression by Hosea, ‘Out of Egypt have I called My Son’ (Hos. 11:1). In the murder of ‘the Innocents,’ he sees the fulfilment of Rachel’s lament (Jer. 31:15, who died and was buried in Ramah) and there was bitter wailing at the prospect of parting for hopeless captivity, and yet bitterer lament, as they who might have encumbered the onward march were pitilessly slaughtered. Those who have attentively followed the course of Jewish thinking, and marked how the ancient Synagogue, and that rightly, read the Old Testament in its unity, as ever pointing to the Messiah as the fulfillment of Israel’s history, will not wonder at, but fully accord with, St. Matthew’s retrospective view. The words of Hosea were in the highest sense ‘fulfilled’ in the flight to, and return of, the Saviour from Egypt.[53] To an inspired writer, nay, to a true Jewish reader of the Old Testament, the question in regard to any prophecy could not be: What did the prophet—but, What did the prophecy—mean? And this could only be unfolded in the course of Israel’s history. Similarly, those who ever saw in the past the prototype of the future, and recognised in events, not only the principle, but the very features of that which was to come, could not fail to perceive, in the bitter wail of the mothers of Bethlehem over their slaughtered children, the full realisation of the prophetic description of the scene enacted in Jeremiah’s days. Had not the prophet himself heard, in the lament of the captives to Babylon, the echoes of Rachel’s voice in the past? In neither one nor the other case had the utterances of the prophets (Hosea and Jeremiah) been predictions: they were prophetic. In neither one not the other case was the ‘fulfilment’ literal: it was Scriptural, and that in the truest Old Testament sense.

[53]In point of fact the ancient Synagogue did actually apply to the Messiah Ex. 4:22, on which the words of Hosea are based. See the Midrash on Ps. 2:7. The quotation is given in full in our remarks on Ps. 2:7 in Appendix 9.

Baptism Now Saves

May 2nd, 2010

Principal Fairbairn speaks of the connection between Noah’s Flood and Christian baptism:

In the personal experience of believers, as symbolized in that ordinance, there is a re-enacting substantially of what took place in the outward theatre of the world by means of the deluge. “The like figure whereunto (literally, the antitype to which, viz., Noah’s salvation by water in the ark) even baptism doth also now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. iii. 21) Like the Apostle’s delineations generally, the passage briefly indicates, rather than explicitly unfolds, the truths connected with the subject. Yet, on a slight consideration of it, we readily perceive, that, with profound discernment, it elicits from the ordinance of baptism, as spiritually understood and applied, the same fundamental elements, discovers there the same twofold process, which appeared so strikingly in the case of Noah. Here also there is a salvation reaching its accomplishment by means of a destruction “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” not so superficial a riddance of evil, but one of a more important and vital character, bringing “the answer of a good conscience,” or the deliverance of the soul from the guilt and power of iniquity. The water of baptism let the subject be plunged in it ever so deep, or sprinkled ever so much can no more of itself save him than the water of the deluge could have saved Noah, apart from the faith he possessed, and the preparation it led him to make in constructing and entering into the ark. It was because he held and exercised such faith, that the deluge brought salvation to Noah, while it overwhelmed others in destruction. So is it in baptism, when received in a spirit of faith. There is in this also the putting off of the old man of corruption crucifying it together with Christ, and at the same time a rising through the resurrection of Christ to the new and heavenly life, which satisfies the demands of a pure and enlightened conscience. So that the really baptized soul is one in which there has been a killing and a making alive, a breaking up and destroying of the root of corrupt nature, and planting in its stead the seed of a divine nature, to spring, and grow, and bring forth fruit to perfection. In the microcosm of the individual believer, there is the perishing of an old world of sin and death, and the establishment of a new world of righteousness and life everlasting.
Such is the proper idea of Christian baptism, and such would be the practical result were the idea fully realized in the experience of the baptized. But this is so far from being the case, that even the idea is apt to suffer in people’s minds from the conscious imperfections of their experience. And it might help to check such a tendency; it might, at least, be of service in enabling them to keep themselves well informed as to what should be, if they looked occasionally to what actually was, in the outward pattern of these spiritual things, given in the times of Noah. Are you disinclined, we might say to them, to have the axe so unsparingly applied to the old man of corruption? Think, for your warning, how God spared not the old world, but sent its mass of impurity headlong into the gulph of perdition. Seems it a task too formidable, and likely to prove hopeless in the accomplishment, to maintain your ground against the powers of evil in the world? Think again, for your encouragement, how impotent the giants of wickedness were of old to defeat the counsels of God, or prevail over those who held fast their confidence in His word; with all their numbers and their might, they sunk like lead in the waters, while the little household of faith rode secure in the midst of them. Or does it appear strange, at times perhaps incredible, to your mind, that you should be made the subject of a work which requires for its accomplishment the peculiar perfections of Godhead, while others are left entire strangers to it, and even find the word of God, the chosen instrument for effecting it, the occasion of wrath and condemnation to their souls? Remember “the few, the eight souls” of Noah’s family, alone preserved amid the wreck and desolation of a whole world: preserved, too, by faith in a word of God, which carried in its bosom the doom of myriads of their fellow-creatures, and so, finding that which was to others a minister of condemnation, a source of peace and safety to them. Rest assured, that as God Himself remains the same through all generations, so His work for the good of men is essentially the same also ; and it ever must be His design and purpose, that Noah’s faith and salvation should be perpetually renewing themselves in the hidden life and experience of those who are preparing for the habitations of glory.

Typology of Scripture V.1, P.2, C.6, S.2