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.’
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.”
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.
July 25th, 2011
Thomas Manton, in his sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:13, has a profitable word for ministers, and all believers who speak to others, to be cautious in how the threatenings of God’s word are presented to His people:
How careful we should be to support the hearts of God’s people, when we speak of his terrible judgments on the wicked. This was the practice of the apostles everywhere; as when the author to the Hebrews had spoken of the dreadful state of apostates, ‘whose end is to be burned:’ Heb. vi. 9, ‘But we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak;’ he did not condemn them all as apostates, nor would discourage them by that terrible threatening. So again, after another terrible passage: Heb. x. 39, ‘But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.’ Once more, when another apostle had spoken of the sin unto death, which is not to be prayed for, he presently addeth, 1 John v. 19, 19, ‘Whosoever is born of God, sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.’ Zuinglius saith, Bone Christiane, haec nihil ad te, &c.—Good Christian, this is not thy portion, when he had flashed the terrors of the Lord in the face of sinners. The reasons of this are partly with respect to the saints, who, sometimes out of weakness and infirmity, and sometimes out of tenderness of conscience, are apt to be startled, electorum corda semper ad se sollicite pudeant (Gregor.) We deserve such dreadful judgments, and therefore fear them; partly, with respect to ourselves, that we may rightly divide the word of truth: 2 Tim. Ii. 15, ‘Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’ Give every one his portion; make not their hearts sad whom God would not make sad, and, therefore, they are much to blame who, in reproving sinners, stab a saint at the heart, and take the doctrine but for a colour to make a perverse application. The apostle here useth more tenderness: ‘God shall send them strong delusion. But we are bound always to give thanks for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord; because the Lord hath from beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’
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.
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.
October 17th, 2010
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.”
October 17th, 2010
Awake, O man, and recognize the dignity of thy nature. Recollect thou wast made in the image of GOD, which although it was corrupted in Adam, was yet re-fashioned in Christ. Use visible creatures as they should be used, as thou usest earth, sea, sky, air, springs, and rivers: and whatever in them is fair and wondrous, ascribe to the praise and glory of the Maker. Be not subject to that light wherein birds and serpents, beasts and cattle, flies and worms delight. Confine the material light to your bodily senses, and with all your mental powers embrace that “true light which lighteth every man that cometh into this world,” and of which the prophet says, “Come unto Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not blush.” For if we “are a temple of GOD, and the Spirit of GOD dwelleth in” us, what every one of the faithful has in his own heart is more than what he wonders at in heaven. And so, dearly beloved, we do not bid or advise you to despise GOD’s works or to think there is anything opposed to your Faith in what the good GOD has made good, but to use every kind of creature and the whole furniture of this world reasonably and moderately: for as the Apostle says, “the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Hence because we are born for the present and reborn for the future, let us not give ourselves up to temporal goods, but to eternal: and in order that we may behold our hope nearer, let us think on what the Divine Grace has bestowed on our nature on the very occasion when we celebrate the mystery of the LORD ’s birthday. Let us hear the Apostle, saying: “for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in GOD. But when CHRIST, who is your life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory:” who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen.
Leo the Great, On the Feast of the Nativity, VII (Sermon 27)
October 10th, 2010
Martin Luther (On John 15:16):
Now let the monks and the whole world go ahead and boast of their merits, and let them choose as long as they please. You hear Christ say: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” He refuses to grant that He was chosen by you. All Scripture reproves and condemns any choosing on our part before and without God’s commandment. That is what the Jews did when they instituted their service of God, which they themselves chose and set apart from those ordained and established by God. They captioned it as follows: “This is the chosen service of God. Here we want to find God, reconcile Him, and obtain mercy.” That is how they treated God in everything; they always wanted to take the initiative and to decide upon what should please God. They instituted the use of incense and sacrifice in every vale and on the mountaintops, where there was a green forest or some other attractive spot; and then they boasted that there they had found the true God, who would now have to be gracious to them. Oh, how the prophets wearied themselves rebuking the people because of this abominable vice! Thus we hear Isaiah lament in chapter 66, verse 3: “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations”; and in chapter 1, verse 29, we read: “For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted, and you shall blush for the gardens which you have chosen”; and in chapter 66, verse 3, Isaiah says that he who engages in such self-chosen sacrifices and service of God reminds him of one “who offers swine’s blood; who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog’s neck.” Before God such self-chosen holiness is nothing but sheer murder or blasphemy or a denial of God; for in no circumstances will God consent to it if we presume to prescribe and choose what should please Him. We monks used to choose the things that should procure God’s mercy for us. I thought: “Oh, if I enter a cloister and serve God in cowl and tonsure, He will reward and welcome me!”
Thus the entire papacy is nothing but disobedience to and enmity against God. For they are so mad and so stupid that they simply refuse to let God take the first step of seeking and electing them through His word and offering them all His mercy and His friendship through His Son’s suffering and death. All this they disdain and reject. They want to have the glory and the prerogative that God should exist by our grace and do according to our choosing.
Well, this has been the bone of contention in the world ever since the beginning, and I suppose it will remain that until the end. Cain also wanted God to conform to his pattern; he wanted God to have regard for his own work and offering and not for his brother’s. And the world has consistently followed in his footsteps up to the present hour. This is inevitable, for it cannot refrain from reversing the words of our text and saying in fact: “I do not want to be chosen by God, but I want to anticipate Him and choose Him.” But God can and will never tolerate this; He reverses the order and declares: “You cannot and shall not choose Me, but I must choose you. Things will not go as you plan, but as I will. I will be your Lord and Master; I refuse to be taught by you.”
Throughout Scripture, therefore, God condemned and rejected all such choosing without and contrary to His commandment. St. Paul, too, is a bitter enemy of this vice. In Col. 2:18 he says: “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement”; also verse 23: “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement.” Thus he described the monasticism that was to come; it would introduce nothing but the self-chosen service of God, which it would embellish and adorn by saying: “I mean well, and I am doing this out of love for God and in His honor. Therefore this will please Him, and He will be gracious to me.” Of course, God is twice as hostile to such men as He is to the others; for He Himself tells us how He wants to be served, just as He Himself called the people of Israel out of Egypt and gave them the Ten Commandments, which told them what to do and what not to do, lest they themselves devise and specify how they should serve Him.
Therefore Christ says here: “Just forget about all your boasting that you chose Me. Follow Me, and let Me choose you first. Listen to what I say to you, in order that I, not you, may have the glory of having merited this for you by My blood and death.” Thus He told them to be humble, as Christians must be, because they enjoy the high honor and the great glory of being called Christ’s and God’s friends. God wants them to know and never to forget what made them friends. They must always confess that they have not merited or earned this friendship, but that it has been given to them out of the Lord Christ’s pure grace. A friend who takes and demands nothing of us but only gives and presents everything to us deserves to be loved, cherished, and honored. In other instances, the world accepts favors gladly, but is reluctant to do them. Why, then, is this favor not welcomed? Here on earth we are ready to accept favors from everyone; here no one can do too much for us. But because God wants to give us everything good from heaven, we decline to accept it. Here we want to reverse the order and to do the poor Man, our Lord God, a favor – the One from whom we should accept favors. Here people erect buildings, endow and sacrifice abundantly, give and do what should be given and done, just in order that we may praise the service we are rendering to God. On the other hand, when we are asked to give to our neighbor who is in need of our help, and to do good to him, we will not and cannot do or give anything. In brief, we refuse to accept anything from God, and we refuse to give others anything. This is a shameful and accursed plague inflicted on the human race by the devil, who corrupts and contaminates all that is good, true, and holy.
In some ways, Luther comes very close to the regulative principle of worship here, referencing some of the same texts that would be used in subsequent discussions (the example of Cain, Colossians 2). Obviously he doesn’t quite get that far, perhaps because he is thinking so exclusively in terms of the favor of God, whether we receive it freely or acquire it by effort, that he doesn’t stop to apply his own words to the regulation of worship apart from the question of justification.
October 3rd, 2010
As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.