Final Destination

June 26th, 2015

Man’s consummation consists in the attainment of his last end, which is perfect beatitude or happiness, and this consists in the vision of God, as was demonstrated above. The beatific vision entails immutability in the intellect and will. As regards the intellect, its questing ceases when at last it comes to the first cause, in which all truth can be known. The will’s variability ceases, too; for, when it reaches its last end, in which is contained the fullness of all goodness, it finds nothing further to be desired. The will is subject to change because it craves what it does not possess. Clearly, therefore, the final consummation of man consists in perfect repose or unchangeableness as regards both intellect and will.

-Thomas Aquinas
Compendium Theologiae

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics I. pp.267-269

But when, as in Schleiermacher, feeling is detached from faith, from the religious representation, it loses its own quality and becomes completely independent of the categories of truth and untruth, good and evil. Then every individual feeling is already as such religious, true, good, and beautiful. And that was romanticism’s great fault as a whole.
One then, naturally, also slips into the error of confusing and equating religious feeling with sensual and aesthetic feeling. Known to us all from history is the kinship between religious and sensual love and the passage from the one to the other. But equally dangerous is the confusion of religious and aesthetic feeling, of religion and art. The two are essentially distinct. Religion is life, reality; art is ideal, appearance. Art cannot close the gap between the ideal and reality. Indeed, for a moment it lifts us above reality and induces us to live in the realm of ideals. But this happens only in the imagination. Reality itself does not change on account of it. Though art gives us distant glimpses of the realm of glory, it does not induct us into that realm and make us citizens of it. Art does not atone for our guilt, or wipe away our tears, or comfort us in life and death. It never turns the beyond into the here and now. Only religion does. It is and conveys reality. It bestows life and peace. It poses the ideal as the true reality and makes us participants in it. Aesthetic feeling, accordingly, can never take the place of religious feeling, any more than art can replace religion. Granted, the two are connected. From the very beginning religion and art went hand in hand. The decline of the one brought with it the decay of the other. The ultimate driving force of art was religion. In recent years this fact is being acknowledged by increasing numbers of people who keenly realize the indispensability of religion to art. In religion, specifically in worship, the imagination has its rightful place and value. “Also the imagination, mind you, is involved in the religious process, not as the generative principle, but only as the principle of experience. The power of the imagination can never do more than shape the already available materials and drives; it is powerless to give birth to religion itself.” [Nitzsch, Lehrbuch der evangelische Dogmatik] The stage is by no means cut out to be a moral institution (Schiller). The theater cannot replace the church, nor is Lessing’s Nathan a suitable substitute for the Bible (Strauss). The ideals and creations of imagination cannot compensate for the reality that religion offers. Religious feeling, however intimate and deep it may otherwise be, is pure only when it is evoked by true ideas.
The result, accordingly, is that religion is not limited to one single human faculty but embraces the human being as a whole. The relation to God is total and central. We must love God with all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength. Precisely because God is God he claims us totally, in soul and body, with all our capacities and in all our relations. Admittedly, there is order in this relation of a human being to God. Here, too, every faculty exists and functions in a person according to its own nature. Knowledge is primary. There can be no true service of God without true knowledge: “I do not desire anything I do not know” (Ignoti nulla cupido). To be unknown is to be unloved. “Whoever would approach God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). Faith comes from what is heard (Rom. 10:17). Pagans fell into idolatry and unrighteousness because they did not acknowledge God (Rom. 1:18ff). But that knowledge of God penetrates the heart and arouses there an assortment of affections, of fear and hope, sadness and joy, guilt feelings and forgiveness, misery and redemption, as these are pictured to us throughout Scripture but especially in the Psalms. And through the heart it in turn affects the will: faith is manifest in works, in love (James 1:27; 1 John 1:5-7; Rom. 2:10, 13; Gal. 5:6; 1 Cor. 13, etc.). Head, heart, and hand are all equally—though each in its own way—claimed by religion; it takes the whole person, soul and body, into its service.
For that reason religion also comes into contact with all the other cultural forces, especially science, morality, and art. Proudhon once stated: “It is astonishing how at the base of all things we find theology.” But to that statement Donoso Cortes correctly replies: “The only astonishing thing in that fact is Mr. Proudhon’s astonishment.” Religion as the relation to God indicates the place in which human beings stand in relation to all other creatures. It embraces dogma, law, and cult and is therefore closely connected with science, morality, and art. It encompasses the whole person in his or her thinking, feeling, and action, in the whole of his or her life, everywhere and at all times. Nothing falls outside of its scope. Religion extends its power over the whole person, over all of humanity, over family and society and state. It is the foundation of the true, the good, and the beautiful. It introduces unity, coherence, and life into the world and its history. From it science, morality, and art derive their origin; to it they return and find rest. “All the higher elements of human life first surfaced in alliance with religion.” [Bousset, Das Wesen der Religion] It is the beginning and the end, the soul of everything, that which is highest and deepest in life. What God is to the world, religion is to humanity.
Nevertheless, religion is distinguished from all the forces of culture and maintains its independence from them all. Religion is central; science, morality, and art are partial. While religion embraces the whole person, science, morality, and art are respectively rooted in the intellect, the will, and the emotions. Religion aims at nothing less than eternal blessedness in fellowship with God; science, morality, and art are limited to creatures and seek to enrich this life with the true, the good, and the beautiful. Religion, accordingly, cannot be equated with anything else. In the life and history of humankind, it occupies an independent place of its own, playing a unique and all-controlling role. Its indispensability can even be demonstrated from the fact that at the very moment people reject religion as an illusion they again turn some creature into their god, thus seeing to compensate for their religious need in some other way.

But when in Scripture and the church the revelation of God that appeared in Christ has become a constituent of the cosmos, a new dispensation begins. Just as up until this time everything had been prepared with a view to Christ, now everything is traced back to him. Then Christ was made to be the head of the church; now the church is made to be the body of Christ. Then Scripture was completed; now it is worked out. No new constitutive elements can any longer be added to special revelation now, because Christ has come, his work is finished, his Word completed. The question of whether the gift of prophecy (prediction) and of miracles has continued after the apostolic age and still continues is, therefore, of secondary importance. The testimonies of the church fathers are so numerous and powerful that for the most ancient times this question can hardly be answered in the negative. But even if those extraordinary gifts and powers have in part remained in the Christian church, the content of this special revelation, which is concentrated in Christ and recorded in Scripture, is not enriched by them; and if, in line with Augustine’s view, they have diminished or ceased, special revelation is not impoverished by this fact. The case is different when with Rome people believe in an ongoing progressive revelation in the tradition, or with the “enthusiasts” in a special inspiration of God in the pious individual, or with the evolutionists in the surpassibility of Christianity. Scripture clearly teaches that God’s full revelation has been given in Christ and that the Holy Spirit who was poured out in the church has come only to glorify Christ and take all things from Christ (John 16:14).

-Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I. p.347.

The Centrality of Belief

November 6th, 2011

Martin Luther on John 16:9, speaking of the Holy Spirit convicting the world “of sin, because they believe not on me.”

Thus both salvation and damnation hinge entirely on whether we believe or do not believe. The sentence that closes and denies heaven to all who have refused to accept this faith in Christ has already been pronounced with finality. For this unbelief retains all sin and cannot obtain forgiveness, just as faith delivers from all sin. Hence without this faith everything, including even the best works and life of which man is capable, is and remains sinful and damnable. Good works may be praiseworthy in themselves and commanded by God; but they are vitiated by unbelief and for this reason cannot please God just as all the works and life which spring from the faith of a Christian are pleasing to God. In brief, without Christ all is damned and lost; in Christ all is good and blessed. Therefore even the sin inherited from Adam and still dwelling in flesh and blood does not have to harm or damn us.
But one should not understand this to mean that sin is permitted, that one may sin and do evil without restraint. For since faith brings forgiveness of sin, and since Christ came to remove and destroy sin, it is impossible for anyone who lives openly, impenitently, and smugly in sin and according to his lusts to be a believing Christian. For where there is such a sinful life, there can be no penitence; but where there is no penitence, there can be no forgiveness of sin either, and consequently no faith, which received the forgiveness of sin. On the other hand, he who has faith in such forgiveness resists sin and does not give way to its lusts but contends against it until he is rid of it. And although we cannot be completely rid of sin in this life, although it still remains even in the saintliest people, yet believers have the comfort that this is covered by Christ’s forgiveness and is not reckoned for their damnation if they continue to believe in Christ. Here the words of St. Paul in Rom. 8:1,4 apply: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh.” Also the words found in Gal. 5:24: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Behold, these are the people who are told that sin will not harm or condemn them. To the others, the unbelievers and reprobates, no message is given here.

Holiness & the Law

September 4th, 2011

Patrick Fairbairn, The Revelation of Law in Scripture

In short, the question handled by the apostle in this part of his writings upon the law, was not whether the holiness and love it enjoined were to be practised, but how the practice was to be secured. The utterance of the law’s precepts in the most peremptory and solemn form could not do it. The converting of those precepts into the terms of a covenant, and taking men bound under the weightiest penalties to observe them, could not do it. Nor could it be done by a regulated machinery of means of instruction and ordinances of service, intended to minister subsidiary help and encouragement to such as were willing to follow the course of obedience. All these had been tried, but never with more than partial success—not because the holiness required was defective, but because the moral power was wanting to have it realized. And now there came the more excellent way of the Gospel—the revelation of that love which is the fulfilling of the law, in the person of the New Head of humanity, the Lord from heaven—the revelation of it in full-orbed completeness, even rising to the highest point of sacrifice, and making provision for as many as would in faith receive it, that the spirit of this noble, pure, self-sacrificing love should dwell as a new life, an absorbing and controlling power, also in their bosom. So that, ‘what the law could not do in that, it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.’ He who is replenished with this spirit of life and love, no longer has the law standing over him, but, as with Christ in His work on earth, it lives in him, and he lives in it; the work of the law is written on his heart, and its spirit is transfused into his life. ‘The man (it has been justly said) who is truly possessor of “the spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” cannot have any other gods but his Father in heaven; cannot commit adultery; cannot bear false witness; cannot kill; cannot steal. Such a man comes down upon all the exercises and avocations of life from a high altitude of wise and loving homage to the Son of God, and expounds practically the saying of the apostle, “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not, but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”. . . . Christ’s cross, then, delivers Christians from what may be termed moral drudgery; they are not oppressed and pined serfs, but freemen and fellow-heirs, serving the Lord Christ with all gladness of heart. It magnifies the law and makes it honourable, yet delivers those who accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour from the bondage of the letter. Instead of throwing the commandments into contempt, it gave them a higher moral status, and even Sinai itself becomes shorn of its greatest terrors when viewed from the elevation of the cross. Love was really the reason of the law, though the law looked like an expression of anger. We see this, now that we love more; love is the best interpreter of God, for God is love.’

Reformed View of Science

August 22nd, 2011

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, v.1, p. 233

…in every science we may discern three fundamental principles. Here, too, God is the first principle of being (principium essendi); present in his mind are the ideas of all things; all things are based on thoughts and are created by the word. It is his good pleasure, however, to reproduce in uman beings made in his image an ectypal knowledge that reflects this archetypal knowledge (cognitio archetypa) in his own divine mind. He does this, not by letting us view the ideas in his being (Malebranche) or by passing them all on to us at birth (Plato, the theory of innate ideas), but by displaying them to the human mind in the works of his hands. The world is an embodiment of the thoughts of God; it is “a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God” (art. 2, Belgic Confession). It is not a book of blank pages in which, as the idealists would have it, we human beings have to write down the words but a “reader” in which God makes known to us what he has recorded there for us. Accordingly, the created world is the external foundation of knowledge (principium cognoscendi externum) for all science.
But that is not enough. We need eyes in order to see. “If our eyes were not filled with sunshine, how could we see the light?” There just has to be correspondence or kinship between object and subject. The Logos who shines in the world must also let his light shine in our consciousness. That is the light of reason, the intellect, which, itself originating in the Logos, discovers and recognizes the Logos in things. It is the internal foundation of knowledge (principium cognoscendi internum). Just as knowledge within us is the imprint of things upon our souls, so, in turn, forms do not exist except by a kind of imprint of the divine knowledge in things. So, in the final analysis, it is God alone who from his divine consciousness and by way of his creatures conveys the knowledge of truth to our mind—the Father who by the Son and in the Spirit reveals himself to us. “There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good!’ Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!” (Ps. 4:6).

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp.93-95

PRINCIPIA OF THE NON-THEOLOGICAL SCIENCES. These are the following three:

a. God is the principium essendi. God is the source and fountain of all our knowledge. He possesses an archetypal knowledge of all created things, embracing all the ideas that are expressed in the works of His creation. This knowledge of God is quite different from that of man. While we derive our knowledge from the objects we perceive, He knows them in virtue of the fact that He has from eternity determined their being and form. While we attain to a scientific insight into things and relations only by a laborious process of discursive thought, He has an immediate knowledge of all things, and knows them not only in their relations but also in their very essence. And even so our knowledge is imperfect, while His knowledge is all-comprehensive and perfect in every way. We are only partly conscious of what we know, while He is always perfectly conscious of all His knowledge. The fulness of the divine knowledge is the inexhaustible source of all our knowledge, and therefore God is the principium essendi of all scientific knowledge. Naturally, Pantheism with its impersonal and unconscious Absolute cannot admit this, for a God, who has no knowledge Himself, can never be the principle or source of our knowledge. In fact, all absolute Idealism would seem to involve a denial of this principle, since it makes man an autonomous source of knowledge. The origin of knowledge is sought in the subject; the human mind is no more a mere instrument, but is regarded as a real fons or source.

b. The world as God’s creation is the principium cognoscendi externum. Instead of “the world as God’s creation” we might also say “God’s revelation in nature.” Of His archetypal knowledge God has conveyed an ectypal knowledge to man in the works of His hands, a knowledge adapted to the finite human consciousness. This ectypal knowledge is but a faint reproduction of the archetypal knowledge found in God. It is on the one hand real and true knowledge, because it is an imprint, a reproduction, though in temporal and therefore limited forms, of the knowledge of God. On the other hand it is, just because it is ectypal, no complete knowledge, and since sin put its stamp on creation, no perfectly clear nor absolutely true knowledge. God conveyed this knowledge to man by employing the Logos, the Word, as the agent of creation. The idea that finds expression in the world is out of the Logos. Thus the whole world is an embodiment of the thoughts of God or, as Bavinck puts it, “a book in which He has written with large and small letters, and therefore not a writing-book in which we, as the Idealists think, must fill in the words.” God’s beautiful creation, replete with divine wisdom, is the principium cognoscendi externum of all non-theological sciences. It is the external means by which the knowledge that flows from God is conveyed to man. This view of the matter of is, of course absolutely opposed to the principle of Idealism, that the thinking man creates and construes his own world: not only the form of the world of thought (Kant), but also its material and contents (Fichte), and even the world of being (Hegel).

c. Human reason is the principium cognoscendi internum. The objective revelation of God would be of no avail, if there were no subjective receptivity for it, a correspondence between subject and object. Dr. Bavinck correctly says: “Science always consists in a logical relation between subject and object.” It is only when the subject is adapted to the object that science can result. And God has also provided for this. The same Logos that reveals the wisdom of God in the world is also the true light, “which lighteth every man coming into the world.” Human reason with its capacity for knowledge is the fruit of the Logos, enables man to discover the divine wisdom in the world round about him, and is therefore the principium cognoscendi internum of science. By means of it man appropriates the truth revealed in creation. It is not satisfied with an aphoristic knowledge of details, but seeks to understand the unity of all things. In a world of phenomena which are many and varied, it goes in quest of that which is general, necessary, and eternal,—the underlying fundamental idea. It desires to understand the cause, the essential being, and the final purpose of things. And in its intellectual activity the human mind is never purely passive, or even merely receptive , but always more or less active. It brings with it certain general and necessary truths, which are of fundamental significance for science and cannot be derived from experience. This thought is denied by Empiricism in two different ways: (1) by regarding the human spirit as a tabula rasa and denying the existence of general and necessary truths; and (2) by emphasizing analytical experience rather than synthetic reason. Dr. Bavinck points out that it ended in Materialism. Says he: “First the thought-content, then the faculty, and finally also the substance of the spirit is derived from the material world.”

Sad and Sweet

August 7th, 2011

Great theological writing often takes on some of the pregnancy of expression that characterizes Scripture itself, where each thought can be unfolded and deductions drawn from it, so that it is seen that a very great deal of truth was compressed into quite a compact form. James Durham illustrates that in this paragraph from the 22nd of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53: it is not just that there are 72 sermons on the twelve verses that take up the chapter, but that in this paragraph there are many points contained that could be set out at large.

It is hard to tell whether the subject of this verse, and almost of this whole chapter, is more sad or more sweet. It is indeed a sad subject to read and hear of the great sufferings of our blessed Lord Jesus and of the despiteful usage that he met with, and to see such a speat of malice spewed and spit out on that glorious face; so that, when he is bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, we do even then account him plagued, smitten of God, and afflicted, and in a manner look upon it as well bestowed. Yet it is a most sweet subject, if we either consider the love it comes from, or the comfortable effects that follow it; that has been the rise, the cause, and the occasion of much singing to man here below, and is the cause and occasion of so much singing among the redeemed that are this day before the throne of God. And as the grace of God has overcome the malice of men, so we are persuaded this cause of rejoicing has a sweetness in it beyond the sadness, though often we mar our own spiritual mirth, and know not how to dance when he pipes unto us.

Doing Christ a Favor

July 18th, 2011

James Durham, Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, speaking of that phrase in Isaiah 53:11, He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied has this to say:

There is here a sweet word of consolation to poor souls, that fain would have sin taken away and are afraid to presume. Our Lord will never be angry, that you make use of his sufferings for your own good; nay, he accounts it a satisfaction to him, that you improve them; that, when you find yourselves arrested for sin, you put it on his score, and draw a bill on him to pay your debt; that, when you find yourselves under them, which, to you, looks like the dominion of sin, you look to his cross for virtue to crucify, kill and subdue it. If therefore (as I have often said), you would do him a favor or pleasure, make use of him. Be assured, that the more weight you lay on him, you do him the greater pleasure; and this is all the amends that he seeks for all the wrongs you have done to him, and all the satisfaction that he seeks for all the good turns he has done to you, that you come to him, thus to make use of him. And it is good reason, even all the reason in the world, that he get this amends made to him, and this satisfaction granted to him.

The return we make to Christ for his work on our behalf, is to make use of it. It is not presumption, as the weak in conscience sometimes think, to stake a claim to the advocacy of Christ: on the contrary, refusal to use him is the ultimate insult to his grace. Would you please Christ? Then trust him alone for all your salvation and take each qualm of conscience and pang of guilt about your sin to him to deal with.

The Most Blissful State

July 10th, 2011

I think that Topic 20 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology may well contain the most beautiful and moving words about the final state that I have ever read. By themselves they can stand as a complete refutation of the silly theory that academic theologians must necessarily have cool and withered hearts, or can only produce dry and dusty writings. What follows is only a small excerpt from a much longer section.

But in order to understand more fully that most blissful state, we think the three things are to be united here which inseparably cohere with each other in happiness: sight, love, joy. From these effloresces that ineffable glory with which the blessed will shine for ever on account of their fruition of the supreme good. For as that happiness is the full and ultimate perfection of the soul and all its faculties, so it requires the operation of all the powers, every imperfection having been removed (i.e., perfect vision, and from it supreme joy and consolation). Sight contemplates God as the supreme good; love is carried out towards him, and is most closely united with him; and joy enjoys and acquiesces in him. Sight perfects the intellect, love the will, joy the conscience. Sight answers to faith, which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, which will then be changed into sight because we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight, beholding God face to face. Love consummated, by which we will be united with God, will answer to love begun, which sanctifies the heart. Joy answers to hope, which accompanies the fruition of the thing hoped for. Vision begets love. God cannot be seen without being loved; love draws joy after it because he cannot be possessed without filling with joy. Vision is opposed to the banishing of the damned from his face and to the most dense darkness of ignorance in which they lie; love the most furious hatred which they cherish toward him; joy to the dreadful despair and wailing which will arise from the multiplicity and continuity of the torments they will feel.

That God gives Himself to man is a fundamental point of religion. Christian theology has also insisted that God gives Himself undividedly, and not merely to the church as a whole, but particularly to each individual believer. Here are three witnesses asserting that each believer can say, “God is mine” meaning, “God is wholly mine”.

Augustine, Confessions, briefly asserts the point.

O Thou Good omnipotent, who so carest for everyone of us, as if Thou caredst for him only; and so for all, as if they were but one!

Geerhardus Vos, Grace & Glory, demonstrates the point from the prophet Hosea.

In the third place the fruition of Himself granted by God to us is individual. There can be no division to it; each must of necessity receive the whole, if he is to receive it at all. This follows from the nature of the gift itself. If the gift consisted of impersonal values, either material or spiritual, the supply might be quantitatively distributed over many persons. But being, as it is, the personal favor of God, it must be poured as a whole into the receptacle of the human heart. The parable of marriage not only teaches that the covenant relation is a monogamic one, but implies besides that it is a bond binding unitary soul to soul.

And to make the matter firm, Henry P. Liddon (quoted in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 63), gives textual proof and theological proof.
[Of the phrase ‘O God, thou art my God’]

The word represents not a human impression, or desire, or conceit, but an aspect, a truth, a necessity of the divine nature. Man can, indeed, give himself by halves; he can bestow a little of his thought, of his heart, of his endeavour upon his brother man. In other words, man can be imperfect in his acts as he is imperfect and finite in his nature. But when God, the Perfect Being, loves the creature of his hand, he cannot thus divide his love. He must perforce love with the whole directness and strength and intensity of his Being; for He is God, and therefore incapable of partial and imperfect action. He must give Himself to the single soul with as absolute a completeness as if there were no other being besides it, and, on his side, man knows that this gift of himself by God is thus entire; and in no narrow spirit of ambitious egotism, but as grasping and representing the literal fact, he cries “My God.” (…) Therefore we find St. Paul writing to the Galatians as if his own single soul had been redeemed by the sacrifice of Calvary: “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”