Salvation in Living Color

Rembrandt sketchHebrews 10:1 says that “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”

Commenting on this truth, Calvin expands on the relation between Law and Gospel given in this verse:

He has borrowed this similitude from the pictorial art; for a shadow here is in a sense different from what it has in Colossians 2:17; where he calls the ancient rites or ceremonies shadows, because they did not possess the real substance of what they represented. But he now says that they were like rude lineaments, which shadow forth the perfect picture; for painters, before they introduce the living colors by the pencil, are wont to mark out the outlines of what they intend to represent. This indistinct representation is called by the Greeks σκιαγραφία, which you might call in Latin, “umbratilem“, shadowy. The Greeks had also the εἰκὼν, the full likeness. Hence also “eiconia” are called images (imagines) in Latin, which represent to the life the form of men or of animals or of places.

The difference then which the Apostle makes between the Law and the Gospel is this, — that under the Law was shadowed forth only in rude and imperfect lines what is under the Gospel set forth in living colors and graphically distinct. He thus confirms again what he had previously said, that the Law was not useless, nor its ceremonies unprofitable. For though there was not in them the image of heavenly things, finished, as they say, by the last touch of the artist; yet the representation, such as it was, was of no small benefit to the fathers; but still our condition is much more favorable. We must however observe, that the things which were shown to them at a distance are the same with those which are now set before our eyes. Hence to both the same Christ is exhibited, the same righteousness, sanctification, and salvation; and the difference only is in the manner of painting or setting them forth.

 –Commentary on Hebrews 10:1

rembrandt-paintingMy wife and I went to the Getty Museum a couple of years ago to see the Rembrandt exhibit. There was a room full of his marvelous sketches, each one distinct and the result of crushing brilliance. I could have studied them for hours to great profit. And yet, when we stepped into the room with his finished products, the difference was unmistakable. Where before was the outline, here was the fullness, the brilliance, the subtle extravagance of his handiwork. Both unmistakably came from the same hand, while the one clearly outshone the other.

Calvin tells us here that in the same way, the Law is good and true, pointing forward to Christ. But the Gospel sets out a salvation in “living colors” that is “graphically distinct”, where there were only “lineaments” before. As different and superior as the sketch is to the finished product, so Christ’s work is from the sacrifices that prefigured it. In fact, I would argue that that even that picture falls short of what Hebrews or Calvin are teaching us here. Instead, as far as the sketch is from the living model, so the shadow of heavenly realities found in the Law, while faithful, inevitably falls short of the beauty of our living, breathing salvation in Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

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