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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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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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Quotations Theological Reflections

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

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Piety Preaching Quotations Theological Reflections

Patience with the Provisional

The church itself is still an advent church; for we are still waiting for him who is to come in the unveiled radiance of unconditional Godhead with the eternal kingdom. And that church rightly tells the impatient who want to see God directly here and now: Prepare for this God the true way, the way of faith, of love, of humility, and the way of patience with its unimpressive provisional messengers and their poor words and small signs. For then God will certainly come. He only comes to those who in patience love his forerunners and the provisional. The Pharisees of the Gospel, however, who rejected the forerunner of the messiah because he was not the definitive reality, did not recognize him who was the definitive reality either.

Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year

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Piety Quotations Theological Reflections

Faith Must Increase

Faith and a desire for more faith frequently go hand in hand. The reason is that through faith we lay hold upon God, and in grasping the infinite object, the utter inadequacy of each single act of appropriation immediately reveals itself in the very act. It is the same in the Gospel: ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’.

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology

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Quotations Theological Reflections

God is Wisdom

Wisdom (sapientia) is predicated univocally only of God inasmuch as God alone is truly wise — and therefore is predicated equivocally of human beings. Therefore, when predicated of God, wisdom does not indicate a genus of wise things of which God is one. The divine sapientia is a proper attribute of God: it is divine wisdom in the sense of being identical with the divine essence in its utter simplicity and its freedom from all composition. The theologia archetypa, then, is God himself, the identity of self and self-knowledge in the absolutely and essentially wise God.

(Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena to Theology, p.231)

And that ought to show that the doctrine of divine simplicity is a very fruitful ground for meditation.

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Quotations Theological Reflections

Trinitarian and Christological Belief

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.

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Quotations Theological Reflections

What Remains

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)

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Quotations Theological Reflections

Baptism Now Saves

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