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Quotations Theological Reflections

The Substance of the Covenant of Grace

He covenants with the Israelites as their God and also as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the very substance of the covenant of grace on God’s part, embracing in itself the whole communication of God towards the perfecting and glorifying of sinful man. Hence he is set forth not only as the God of his people, but also as their Redeemer; as the merciful pardoner of sins; as a sanctifier, promising circumcision of the heart; as a faithful husband, having a marital care for his people; as a kind father, who begets sons, nourishes and cherishes them with paternal affection; as a gracious king, who placed his sanctuary in the midst of the people that he might dwell and walk with them, i.e., might hold communion with them, deeming them worthy of his gracious presence for direction in difficulties, protection in dangers, blessing in adversity and consolation in griefs.

Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology XII.12,10

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Quotations Theological Reflections

The Unchanging Freedom of God’s Grace

Less open to objection than all these offered solutions is the old view, according to which, reading the clause {Ehyer asher Ehyeh, Ex. 3.14} straight from beginning to end, it gives expression to the self-determination, the independence of God, that which, especially in soteric associations, we are accustomed to call His sovereignty. Considerable support this receives from the analogously-phrased sentence in Ex. 33.19, where the context seems to call rather for an affirmation of the sovereignty of God in bestowing the favour of vision of Himself than for an assurance to the effect that, promising to be gracious, He will be truly gracious. Thus taken, the name Jehovah signifies primarily that in all God does for His people, He is from-within-determined, not moved upon by outside influences.
But from this there issues immediately another thought, quite inseparable from it, viz., that being determined from within, and not subject to change within, He is not subject to change at all, particularly not subject to it in relation to His people. Thus understood, the name fits admirably into the situation of its revealing. Jehovah, the absolute God, acting with unfettered liberty, was the very God to help them in their unworthiness as regards themselves, and in their impotence as regards the Egyptians. That sovereignty underlies God’s giving Himself to Israel is stated in so many words: ‘I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah, your God’ [Ex. 6.7]. But the other element, that of faithfulness, is equally much emphasized from the beginning: ‘Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this my memorial unto all generations [Ex. 3.15]. ‘I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am Jehovah’ [Ex. 6.5, 6, 8]. In Ex. 33.19, where God gives a disclosure of His sovereignty to Moses, this is brought into connection with the name Jehovah. In the later Scriptures the second elements, that of faithfulness, is especially associated with the name [Deut.7.9; Isa. 26.4; Hos. 2.20; Mal. 3.6].

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology

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Quotations Theological Reflections

The Cross & the Problem of Evil

Horatius Bonar, “The Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ”

Such were the evil things connected with the cross, which by the work done by the Son of God have all turned into good. All our evils He took upon Him that He might secure for us all the good belonging to Himself. For condemnation, He gives us pardon; for shame, honour and glory; for weakness, strength; for pain, ease and comfort; for the curse, the blessing; for rejection, acceptance; for hatred, love; for death, life everlasting. He that believeth hath all these things. All the evil passes to Him, and all the good to us, on our crediting the testimony of the Holy Ghost to the cross and the things done there.
This cross, where so many evil things meet, is the place where all good things are to be found. God gathered all the evil to that spot, that He might utterly make away with it, through Him who took all the evil on Himself, that He might bring out of it only good. At the cross it was consumed by fire: it was buried out of sight. The crucifixion transformed evil into good.

(It is a little sad to note that Bonar did not always keep up to this level of understanding; when he is good, as here, he is wonderful, but his doctrine and thinking are so weak on certain points, it is no surprise that Dabney had occasion to criticize him in his article called “The Theology of the Plymouth Brethren”, available for download here.)

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Opening Scripture Pastoral Care Piety Practical Notes Preaching Quotations Theological Reflections

Scourging and Receiving

Augustine on Psalm 116

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful” (ver. 5).
He is gracious, righteous, and merciful. Gracious in the first place, because He hath inclined His ear unto me; and I knew not that the ear of God had approached my lips, till I was aroused by those beautiful feet, that I might call upon the Lord’s Name: for who hath called upon Him, save he whom He first called? Hence therefore He is in the first place “gracious;” but “righteous,” because He scourgeth; and again, “merciful,” because He receiveth; for “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth;” nor ought it to be so bitter to me that He scourgeth, as sweet that He receiveth. For how should not “The Lord, who keepeth little ones” (ver. 6), scourge those whom, when of mature age, He seeketh to be heirs; “for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?”

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Quotations Theological Reflections

The Beginning of Repentance

Hosea 6:1
Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.

The Prophet means by these words, that God does not so punish men as to pour forth his wrath upon them for their destruction; but that he intends, on the contrary, to promote their salvation, when he is severe in punishing their sins. We must then remember, as we have before observed, that the beginning of repentance is a sense of God’s mercy; that is, when men are persuaded that God is ready to give pardon, they then begin to gather courage to repent; otherwise perverseness will ever increase in them; how much soever their sin may frighten them, they will yet never return to the Lord. And for this purpose I have elsewhere quoted that remarkable passage in Psalm 130, ‘With thee is mercy, that thou mayest be feared;’ for it cannot be, that men will obey God with true and sincere heart, except a taste of his goodness allures them, and they can certainly determine, that they shall not return to him in vain, but that he will be ready, as we have said, to pardon them. This is the meaning of the words, when he says, Come, and let us turn to the Lord; for he has torn and he will heal us; that is, God has not inflicted on us deadly wounds; but he has smitten, that he might heal.

John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Hosea, Lecture 16

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Opening Scripture Piety Practical Notes Quotations Theological Reflections

The light shineth in darkness

Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, (on Isaiah 9:1):

As always the people of God must decide what reading of their experiences they will live by. Are they to look at the darkness, the hopelessness, the dreams shattered and conclude that God has forgotten them? Or are they to recall his past mercies, to remember his present promises and to make great affirmations of faith? Isaiah insists here that hope is a present reality, part of the constitution of the ‘now’. The darkness is true but it is not the whole truth and certainly not the fundamental truth.

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Practical Notes Quotations

Stoicism is not patience

You see that to bear the cross patiently is not to have your feelings altogether blunted, and to be absolutely insensible to pain, according to the absurd description which the Stoics of old gave of their hero as one who, divested of humanity, was affected in the same way by adversity and prosperity, grief and joy; or rather, like a stone, was not affected by anything. And what did they gain by that sublime wisdom? they exhibited a shadow of patience, which never did, and never can, exist among men. Nay, rather by aiming at a too exact and rigid patience, they banished it altogether from human life. Now also we have among Christians a new kind of Stoics, who hold it vicious not only to groan and weep, but even to be sad and anxious. These paradoxes are usually started by indolent men who, employing themselves more in speculation than in action, can do nothing else for us than beget such paradoxes. But we have nothing to do with that iron philosophy which our Lord and Master condemned — not only in word, but also by his own example. For he both grieved and shed tears for his own and others’ woes. Nor did he teach his disciples differently: “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice,” (John 16:20.) And lest any one should regard this as vicious, he expressly declares, “Blessed are they that mourn,” (Matthew 5:4.) And no wonder. If all tears are condemned, what shall we think of our Lord himself, whose “sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground?” (Luke 22:44; Matthew 26:38.) If every kind of fear is a mark of unbelief, what place shall we assign to the dread which, it is said, in no slight degree amazed him; if all sadness is condemned, how shall we justify him when he confesses, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death?”

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.8.9.

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Quotations Theological Reflections

Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude

The Heidelberg Catechism explicitly adopts a threefold structure in its treatment of Christian doctrine.

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

Francis Turretin demonstrates the benefits of knowing those three things, and finds them exhibited in the OT ceremonial law:

With regard to the covenant of grace, there was a use of the law to show its necessity by a demonstration of sin and of human misery; of its truth and excellence by a shadowing forth of Christ and his offices and benefits; to seal his manifold grace in its figures and sacraments; to keep up the expectation and desire of him by that laborious worship and by the severity of its discipline to compel them to seek him; and to exhibit the righteousness and image of the spiritual worship required by him in that covenant. Undoubtedly three things are always to be specially inculcated upon man: (1) his misery; (2) God’s mercy; (3) the duty of gratitude: what he is by nature; what he has received by grace; and what he owes by obedience. These three things the ceremonial law set before the eyes of the Israelites, since ceremonies included especially these three relations. The first inasmuch as they were appendices of the law and the two others as sacraments of evangelical grace. (a) There were confessions of sins, of human misery and of guilt contracted by sin (Col. 2:14; Heb.10:1-3). (b) Symbols and shadows of God’s mercy and of the grace to be bestowed by Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:13,14). (c) Images and pictures of duty and of the worship to be paid to God in testimony of a grateful mind (Rom. 12:1). Misery engendered in their minds humility; mercy, solace; and the duty of gratitude, sanctification. These three were expressly designated in the sacrifices. For as they were a “handwriting” on the part of God (Col. 2:14) representing the debt contracted by sin, so they were a shadow of the ransom (lytrou) to be paid by Christ (Col. 2:17, Heb. 10:5,10) and pictures of the reasonable (latreias logik?s) and gospel worship to be given to God by believers (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5)

(Institutes of Elenctic Theology XI,24.9, punctuation slightly modified for clarity)

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Luther Preaching Quotations Theological Reflections

The Listener from All Eternity

If He is to come or, as Christ said earlier, if He is to be sent or to proceed, also to hear and to speak, He must, of course, be something. Now He surely is not the Father, since the Father does not come and is not sent. Nor is He the Son, who has already come and now returns to the Father, and of whom the Holy Spirit will preach and whom He will glorify.
But Christ point in particular to the distinctive Person of the Holy Spirit or His attribute, also to His divine essence together with the Father and the Son, when He says: “Whatever He hears He will speak.” For here Christ refers to a conversation carried on in the Godhead, a conversation in which no creatures participate. He sets up a pulpit both for the speaker and for the listener. He makes the Father the Preacher and the Holy Spirit the Listener. It is really beyond human intelligence to grasp how this takes place; but since we cannot explain it with human words or intelligence, we must believe it. Here faith must disregard all creatures and must not concentrate on physical preaching and listening; it must conceive of this as preaching, speaking, and listening inherent in the essence of the Godhead.
Here it is relevant to state that Scripture calls ou Lord Christ – according to His divine nature – a “Word” (John 1:1) which the Father speaks with and in Himself. Thus this Word has a true, divine nature from the Father. It is not a word spoken by the Father, as a physical, natural word spoken by a human being is a voice or a breath that does not remain in him but comes out of him and remains outside him. No, this Word remains in the Father forever. Thus these are two distinct Persons: He who speaks and the Word that is spoken, that is, the Father and the Son. Here, however, we find the third Person following these two, namely, the One wh hears both the Speaker and the spoken Word. For it stands to reason that there must also be a listener where a speaker and a word are found. But all this speaking, being spoken, and listening takes place within the divine nature and also remains there, where no creature is or can be. All three – Speaker, Word, and Listener – must be God Himself; all three must be coeternal and in a single undivided majesty. For there is no difference or inequality in the divine essence, neither a beginning nor an end. Therefore one cannot say that the Listener is something outside God, or that there was a time when He began to be a Listener; but just as the Father is a Speaker from eternity, and just as the Son is spoken from eternity, so the Holy Spirit is the Listener from eternity.
Earlier we heard (John 14:26; 15:26) that the Holy Spirit is sent not only by the Father but that He is also sent by, and proceeds from, the Son. Therefore this Listener must be called the Listener of both the Father and the Son, not of the Father alone or of the Son alone. Christ has stated plainly: “The Comforter, whom I shall send to you from the Father.” The expression “to send” has the very same connotation that the expression “to proceed from” has. For he who proceeds from someone is sent. Conversely, he who is sent proceeds from him who sends him. Consequently, the Holy Spirit has His divine essence not only from the Father but also from the Son, as the followings words will illustrate further.
Thus these words confirm and teach exactly what we confess in our Creed, namely, that in one divine essence there are three distinct Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is illustrated by means of a metaphor, or a picture of natural things, in order that we in our weakness may be able to know what is meant and to talk about it. But we cannot search it our or understand it. We must believe, and cling to, these words which we hear from Christ Himself, just as Christendom and especially the holy fathers and bishops did. They had disputations about this article, and they fought for and preserved it against the heretics and lying spirits who made bold to meditate on and to affect wisdom concerning these sublime, inscrutable matters beyond and apart from Scripture.

Martin Luther, on John 16:13

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Children of Gladness

Understand, then, ye children of gladness, that the good Lord has foreshown all things to us, that we might know to whom we ought for everything to render thanksgiving and praise. If therefore the Son of God, who is Lord of all things, and who will judge the living and the dead, suffered, that His stroke might give us life, let us believe that the Son of God could not have suffered except for our sakes.

The Epistle of Barnabas