Moses = Mini-Israel = Jesus (Or, Theological Inception)

inceptionOne principle of Christian theological interpretation of Scripture is the practice of identifying typology. To over-simplify it, in the flow of redemptive-history, the sovereign God who ordains all things, prefigures the salvation to be accomplished through Jesus Christ by way of types (events, persons, symbols) to which Jesus Christ’s person and works are the anti-type.

For instance, Adam points to Jesus as Second Adam through whom God is creating a new humanity (Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15). Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac points to the true Sacrifice of God’s only Son (John 3:16). The Tabernacle and Temple where God dwells with Israel points to the ultimate Tabernacling of God with humanity in Jesus Christ (John 1:14). Once you start to think in these terms, it’s almost impossible not to see Christ on every page of the Scriptures.

A particularly important type of Christ in the OT is Israel’s greatest prophet and deliver–Moses. In various ways, the NT reveals Jesus as the New Moses. Like Moses, Jesus escapes the death at the hands of a murdering king as an infant (Matt 2:13-18); he goes up on a Mount to give a new Law (Matt 5-7), which fulfills the old Law; he also institutes a new covenant that supersedes the old one (Lk 22); he rescues his people in a New Exodus of the Egypt of sin, death, and oppression into the Promised Land of salvation (Col 1:13-14). The list could easily be expanded.

While I’d known about these typological parallels between Moses and Jesus, I was nonetheless struck by this passage drawing out the way that Moses functions as a type and representative of Israel as well:

Moses, who narrowly escapes disaster by being placed in an ark in the River Nile (Exod. 2:1-10)…Moses’ salvation echoes backwards and forwards in the text; backwards to the salvation of humanity from the judgment of the flood by Noah (Gen. 6-8), and forwards to the Israelites’ future escape from the waters of the Reed Sea (Exod 14). Significantly…the figure of Moses, this child born as a type of saviour figure, not only saves Israel but also embodies Israel at times. His rescue from the water prefigures the nation’s salvation from the water; his escape after the death of an Egptian (Exod. 2:11-15) is a prelude to the Israelites flight after the death of many Egyptians (Exod. 12:29-39); his experience of being in the desert for forty years (Exod. 2:21-25) foreshadows the same for Israel (Num, 14:33); his divine encounters before the burning bush (Exod. 3) anticipates Israel before the fire of Sinai (Exod. 19-24).

Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, pg. 94

Moses is not only a type of Christ, but a type for Israel. Israel, God’s firstborn son (Exod. 4:22) is another type of Christ, who also wanders in the desert for 40 days and is tested (Matthew 4), so on and so forth. Moses is also Israel’s embodiment at times, which is a type for Christ’s representative embodiment of his newly re-formed Israel. We could chase the connections for pages, but what I’m saying is that this is like a theological version of Inception: we have found a type within a type within a type.

The intricacy, beauty, and inter-canonical-coherence of the biblical history of redemption should lead us to awe and worship. While human authors create inter-textual resonances, the sovereign Lord of time creates inter-historical ones.

Soli Deo Gloria

Karl Barth and C.S. Lewis on the Birth of ‘Chronological Snobbery’

progressivismIn assessing various arguments across over the years, I’ve found C.S. Lewis’ notion of the fallacy of “chronological snobbery” to be extremely helpful. He describes this flawed thought process as the “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” (Surprised by Joy,  p. 207) In other words, “That’s what people a hundred years ago believed, surely you can’t expect me to agree to that?”

Although writing off an idea simply because it is old is a fairly common move in our context, ancient philosophers, theologians, and moralists regularly appealed to the antiquity of a doctrine in order to establish its authority for the present. Somewhere along the line the witness of history ceased to be a source of credibility for an idea, and in some cases, became a liability.

I was reminded of this after writing the other day about Barth’s characterization of eighteenth century man as “the absolute man.” His attitude towards life, the natural order, politics, philosophy, the inner and outer self is that of an autonomous master who has come, or is coming, fully into his own such that his power and potentiality is increasingly limitless. It is an impulse that can be traced throughout various spheres of life including, as Barth points out, his attitude towards history.

Barth and the ‘Absolute’ Historians

Barth notes that the Enlightenment is often unfairly criticized as being historically “deficient.” He recognizes that it was during the birth of the modern academy and the proliferation of the various fields of academic discipline which accompanied the time that much careful research into ancient history was conducted.  At the same time, and it is here that Barth sees the force of the accusation, it is at this point that the problematic “critical study of history” began:

But what else can this mean but that it was in the eighteenth century that man began to axiomatically to credit himself with being superior to the past, and assumed a standpoint in relation to it whence he found it possible to set himself up as a judge over past events according to fixed principles, as well as to describe its deeds and to substantiate history’s own report? And the yardstick of these principles, at least as applied by the typical observer of history living at that age, has the inevitable effect of turning that judgment of the past into an extremely radical one. For the yardstick is quite simply the man of the present with his complete trust in his own powers of discernment and judgment, with his feeling for freedom, his desire for intellectual conquest, his urge to form and his supreme moral self-confidence.

What historical facts, even, can be true except those which to the man of the age seem psychologically and physiologically probable, or at any rate not improbable? How, in face of such firm certainty about what was psychologically and physiologically probable and improbably could eighteenth century man conceive of the existence of historical riddles and secrets? And what else in fact could the past consist of than either of light, in so far as it reveals itself to be a preparation and mount for the ever-better present ‘You’ll pardon me–it is my great diversion, to steep myself in ages long since past; to see how prudent men did think before us, and how much further since we have advanced’–or simply of darkness–a warning counter-example and as such, if you like, a welcome counter-example–in so far as the past had not yet sense the right road to the future, or had even actively opposed it.

The third thing which this attitude precluded was that the historian should take history seriously as a force outside himself, which had it in its power to contradict him and which spoke to him with authority. One way or another the historian himself said that which he considered history might seriously be allowed to say, and, being his own advocate, he dared to set for both aspects of what he alleged history to have said, its admonitory and its encouraging aspect.

Protestant Thought: Rousseau to Ritschl, pg. 36

Apparently if we’re looking for the birthplace of chronological snobbery as a dominant intellectual instinct, we need look no farther than eighteenth century man. At root, the impulse to chronological snobbery is the absolute one; it is the confident assurance that history has been in motion leading moral and historical thought to culminate in the worldview or cultural assumptions of the critical historian. Like nature, history was the raw material of time upon which the absolute historian could impose his moral will to reshape and retell the story of his own understanding of greatness. It must be understood, not on its own terms, but from the historian’s own, critical standpoint–one which at no point could be challenged by the object of its study.

Barth draws out a number of deleterious effects this mode of historical inquiry had on this generation of historians, one of the most instructive and damning of which was that, “although as a race they were very learned in historical matters, they were at the same time singularly uninstructed, simply because their modern self-consciousness as such made them basically unteachable.” (pg. 37) When you come to believe that the judgments of this age are inherently superior to those of prior generations simply because they are further down the time-stream, you’ve rendered yourself unteachable; you can’t be corrected or called to account or caused to question any of your own assumptions by any other age than your own.

On Avoiding Snobbery

Unfortunately, the Enlightenment’s absolutist instinct towards history is alive and well in popular Western culture. The myth of progress, and the unconscious tendency to assume a posture of historical maturity and superiority towards our benighted forbears is part of the intellectual air we breathe. Of course, 200 years on some of the details are different; a certain postmodern fuzziness enters into the equation. A touch of historicism or relativism may prevent some of us from judging the past too harshly, and yet the basic structure of thought, in which our ancestors cannot speak a real word of correction or instruction to the present still dominates.

How might we avoid rendering ourselves unteachable by the past? Lewis gives us some sound advice at this point. He says that whenever we encounter an idea or an assumption that we deem regressive, passe, or “out of date”:

You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

–ibid, pg. 208

In the words of Tim Keller, be prepared to “doubt your own doubt.” Be “radical” enough to question the assumptions of the present age–even the radical, progressive ones–in order to listen to ages past, which, at times, had a better feel for what life in the “age to come” is to be.

Soli Deo Gloria

In Christ It’s All There

puzzle pieceAll of us come to God at one point or another for some sort of help; we have a need, problem, guilt, angst, or longing we think he might be able to deal with. Some of us find it and some don’t. The difference between the Christian and the seeker who eventually walks away is whether we come to see, as Calvin put it, that there is no benefit from God that isn’t attached to Christ, “as if he alone did not contain all things in himself.”

In order to show the futility of such thinking Calvin’s comments expansively on 1 Corinthians 1:30 (“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption”) and demonstrates that the sum of our salvation–our righteousness, wisdom, holiness, and redemption–are only had in Christ. Christ does not simply give these differing elements to us as separate gifts, but rather, he gives us himself, he unites us to his glorious person and in him we have and become all of these things. They are not infused from without or accounted to us in an external, extrinsic fashion, but are made ours because we have been knit by the Spirit through faith into Christ’s living body:

  1. First, he is made unto us wisdom, by which he means, that we obtain in him an absolute perfection of wisdom, inasmuch as the Father has fully revealed himself to us in him, that we may not desire to know any thing besides him. There is a similar passage in Colossians 2:3: “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Of this we shall have occasion to speak afterwards when we come to the next chapter.
  2. Secondly, made unto us righteousness, by which he means that we are on his account acceptable to God, inasmuch as he expiated our sins by his death, and his obedience is imputed to us for righteousness. For as the righteousness of faith consists in remission of sins and a gracious acceptance, we obtain both through Christ.
  3. Thirdly, he calls him our sanctification, by which he means, that we who are otherwise unholy by nature, are by his Spirit renewed unto holiness, that we may serve God. From this, also, we infer, that we cannot be justified freely through faith alone without at the same time living holily. For these fruits of grace are connected together, as it were, by an indissoluble tie, so that he who attempts to sever them does in a manner tear Christ in pieces. Let therefore the man who seeks to be justified through Christ, by God’s unmerited goodness, consider that this cannot be attained without his taking him at the same time for , or, in other words, being renewed to innocence and purity of life. Those, however, that slander us, as if by preaching a free justification through faith we called men off from good works, are amply refuted from this passage, which intimates that faith apprehends in Christ regeneration equally with forgiveness of sins...
  4. Fourthly, he teaches us that he is given to us for redemption, by which he means, that through his goodness we are delivered at once from all bondage to sin, and from all the misery that flows from it. Thus redemption is the first gift of Christ that is begun in us, and the last that is completed. For the commencement of salvation consists in our being drawn out of the labyrinth of sin and death; yet in the meantime, until the final day of the resurrection, we groan redemption, (as we read in Romans 8:23.) If it is asked in what way Christ is given to us for redemption, I answer — “Because he made himself a ransom.”

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:30

Calvin concludes that in the end, “we must seek in Christ not the half, or merely a part, but the entire completion. For Paul does not say that he has been given to us by way of filling up, or eking out righteousness, holiness, wisdom, and redemption, but assigns to him exclusively the entire accomplishment of the whole.” This is why we place our faith in Christ alone. God can deal with our issues, but he does it through Christ. The Christian is the one who looks to Christ and finally confesses with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68)

In Christ it’s all there.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Gospel–It’s a Union Thing

One more bit from Letham:

Indeed, the Christian faith can be summed up as, inter alia, a series of unions. There is the union of the three persons in the Trinity, the union of the Son of God with our human nature, the union of Christ with his church, the union established by the Holy Spirit with us as he indwells us. Each of these unions preserves the integrity of the constituent elements or members, being at once a real union and simultaneously not absorbing the one into the other.

Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, pp. 37-38

You could spend the rest of your Christian life simply studying the various unions mentioned by Letham and still not come to the end of the grace and glory of the Gospel. The Triunity of God alone ought to, and will, delight us for all eternity, before we even get to the unions whereby God includes us in that life, becomes our brother, makes us part of the church, or sets us free from sin. Simply put: the Gospel is a union thing.

Soli Deo Gloria

Letham on Union with Christ and Salvation

unionRobert Letham briefly summarizes the connection between union with Christ and our justification, sanctification, and resurrection:

Union and Justification

According to Paul in Romans 5:12-21, just as Adam plunged the whole race into sin and death because of their relationship of solidarity with him, so the second Adam brings life and righteousness to all who sustain a relationship of solidarity with him

If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of gracee and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17 ESV)

Here Paul reflects on his previous statement of the one way of salvation from sin by the propitiatory death of Christ, which avails for all who believe (Rom. 3:21ff). Justification is received only by faith and is grounded in what Christ did once for all in his death and resurrection (4:25).  Paul’s point is that we are not addressed merely as discrete individuals; instead, we are a team of which we all were members. His sin plunged the whole team into sin, ruin, death, and condemnation. What Christ did for us was also done as the head of a team of which we are a part. He did it on our behalf, for us–and God reckons it to our account as a result of our being united, through faith, with him as the head of the team. Our justification is therefore grounded on union with Christ.

Union and Sanctification

In Romans 6:1ff, in answer to charges that his gospel encourages moral indifference, Paul insists that believers, the justified, live to Christ and do not give themselves over to sin.  This is because they died with Christ to sin and rose again to new life in his resurrection. Not only did Christ die and rise again for them, but they died and rose with him. Union with Christ is the foundational basis for sanctification and the dynamic force that empowers it. As Paul says, “Do you not know that as many were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death; we were buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father so we too should live in newness of life” (6:3-4).

Union and Resurrection

Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of his church is one reality (vv. 12-19). Paul argues back and forth from one to the other. If Christ is not raised, there can be no resurrection of believers. If there is no general resurrection, Christ cannot have been raised himself. The two stand together. In fact, Christ has been raised–and so, therefore, will we be. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection of believers at his return (vv. 19-23). Not only is his resurrection first in time, but as firstfruits, it is of the same kind as the full harvest. Hence, it is the guarantee not only that the full harvest will be gathered but that both his resurrection and ours are identical. From this it is clear that the resurrection of believers at the parousia is a resurrection in Christ. The resurrections are effectively the same…Christ resurrection and the resurrection of the righteous, separated by indefinite time, are identical because the later occurs in union with the former.

Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, pg. 5-7

Each of those points could be expanded upon at length, but this brief summary gives us a glimpse into the way the biblical record places our union with Christ at the blazing center of our salvation through Christ. There is no Gospel without union.

Soli Delo Gloria

God is Creatively Creative

creationMost believers in God, if they’ve given our world more than a cursory glance, must come to the conclusion that we serve a creative God. The Maker of heaven and earth filled it with everything from aphids to the Aurora Borealis. Canvas after canvas is filled with the glory of our God’s infinitely fecund imagination. What we don’t often give thought to is the creative way in which God is creative. Let me rephrase that: God is not simply creative as to his works, but also in the way that he works.

Robert Letham notes at least three ways that God works to shape the our world in the creation account in Genesis 1:

In particular, he forms the earth in a threefold manner. First, he issues direct fiats. He says, “Let there be light,” and there is light (v.3). So, too, he brings into being with seemingly effortless command the expanse (v. 6), the dry ground (v. 9), the stars (vv. 14-15), the birds and the fish (vv. 20-21). Each time it is enough for God to speak, and his edict is fulfilled.

Second, he works. He separates the light from the darkness (v. 4), he makes the expanse and separates the waters (v. 7), he makes the two great lights, the sun and the moon (v.16), and sets them in the expanse to give light on the earth (v. 17), he creates the great creatures of the seas and various kinds of birds (v. 21), he makes the beasts of the earth and the reptiles (v. 25), and finally he creates man–male and female–in his own image (v. 26-27) The thought is of focused, purposive action by God, of divine labor accomplishing his ends.

But there is also a third way of formation, in which God uses the activity of the creatures themselves. God commands the earth to produce vegetation, plants, and trees (vv. 11-12). He commands the lights to govern the day and the night (vv. 14-16). Here the creatures follow God’s instructions and contribute to the eventual outcome.

–Robert Letham, Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, pp. 10-11

God might be described as a king, a craftsman, and a delegator in his threefold creation. He issues decrees that are immediately fulfilled, gets his hands dirty by getting the job done himself, and giving creation itself tasks to accomplish. There are a number of observations that can be made on this basis, but I’ll limit myself to three.

For one, it begins to set the stage for understanding God in a more fully-personal fashion. We see the Father acting by what Ireneaus called his two hands, the Word and the Spirit, to bring about a varied-but-united order. “This God loves order and variety together” (pg. 11), because he himself is the Triune one who is One and yet Three.

We also see in this threefold activity an incipient theology of multiple-levels of causality. Sometimes God’s action is a direct, creative word which needs to mediation. Sometimes, God acts through creaturely means in ways that can be properly ascribed both to God as primary cause, and creature as a secondary, but no less real, cause. It gives God no glory to ascribe to him strict mono-causality in an effort to secure his sovereignty. (Which good Reformed theologians shouldn’t do.)

Finally, something of the nature of redemption is prefigured here. First, God speaks by fiat a declarative word in justification that brings to life those who were dead. God also separates out a people, making them holy by his Word and Spirit. Finally, he uses creaturely means such as the preaching of the Word, water, bread, and wine to save and recreate his people. 

Our Triune God is not only creative, he is creatively creative.

Soli Deo Gloria

Karl Barth: Fashion Critic?

Sabatini (18th century) - The Music LessonKarl Barth characterizes eighteenth century man as the “absolute man” in his volume on modern Protestant theology. The absolute man’s attitude towards life, the natural order, politics, philosophy, the inner and outer self is that of autonomous master; it is the attitude of one who has come, or is coming, fully into his own such that his power and potentiality is increasingly limitless. Barth traces this “absolute” spirit throughout various spheres of cultural activity and thought to great profit. In reading it, one somewhat surprising section in particular caught my attention: his analysis of eighteenth century fashion.

Following his discussion of the way eighteenth century architecture expresses the absolute man’s will to subjection in form, he comments on the way that same spirit is at work in his treatment of the human form:

It must also be granted to eighteenth-century man that he did not, still in accordance with the same absolute will for form, spare himself his own personal outer appearance. We have only to think of the fashion of the eighteenth-century. There is no need for me here to describe the dress, the coiffure, both for men and for women, the forms of intercourse, sociability, play and dancing. One cannot look too attentively at the portraits of the time, the contemporary illustrations of historical and social life, and also at the caricatures, if one is bent upon finding out what it was exactly that these people who thus adorned and comported themselves were trying to express (unconsciously, and therefore all the more revealingly, as is always the case with fashion).

What they were certainly not trying to do say was that like the lilies of the field we should not care for our attire. And they were certainly not saying that no man can increase his height by an ell. What they were expressing the whole time, from top to toe in actual fact, was this: that man carries in his soul an image of himself which in comparison with his actual figure is still much more noble, much more graceful and much more perfect, and that he is not at a loss for means to externalize this image and render it visible. No age, perhaps, has made this confession of faith so systematically as man of the eighteenth century.

As to its results, they need not concern us here. We need only note the following: when man, as happened at that time,  proceed to take himself (that is to say, his idea of himself) seriously, in the grand manner, without humour, but with a certain logic, all the things emerged which now cause us astonishment in the matter of men’s and women’s dress and in the manners of the age. Man felt bound to weigh himself down in these respects with all the burdens and discomforts which an absolute will for form apparently demands–but at the same time he was able to achieve all the dignity and charm to which eighteenth-century man did without doubt achieve.

Protestant Thought: Rousseau to Ritschl, pg. 35

For the absolute man, there was no physical barrier that could not and should not be subjected to the will of the self. Its fashion is at once an act of pride as well as longing and misplaced hope. Pride is obvious in that its excesses and ostentation give testimony to what can be see as a Pelagian act of self-deification. We can also see a longing at work it in it, a desire to return to a pre-fall splendor–or, with an eschatological focus, an over-reach at heavenly glory. Of course, that’s symptomatic of the whole of the eighteenth century–an over-realized, secular eschatology of absolute man’s eventual apotheosis in every sphere.

While some of us, especially those of us with an exclusively theological bent, might question the theological significance of fashion, Barth avoids this gnosticizing mistake. Barth’s exposition instructs us in the way that fashion is an important part of cultural production–another window into the soul of a civilization. For those seeking to be faithful interpreters of culture, fashion ought not be ignored. Nor should it be constantly be engaged in a damning or critical way. Like every sphere of culture, because of common grace and the Image of God, there are those elements which can be celebrated, condemned, or still yet, redeemed. Fashion requires a discerning eye–a development of theological as well as aesthetic sense. Barth apparently had both.

Soli Deo Gloria

7 Tips on “How to Meet Reformed Men”

church_dating

Ah yes, the classic “let me show you a verse” move.

I’ve written enough articles over the last few months that I now get readers coming to my blog off of random Google searches. Sometimes they make sense, others not so much, and a few make me laugh. One particular search caught my eye the other day: “how to meet Reformed men.” Apparently there is at least one single Christian woman out there, looking for a man with a sound grasp of the doctrines of grace. Now, I’m not sure she found what she was looking for here, but in the spirit of brotherly love, I thought I’d list a few helpful, possibly humorous, suggestions from friends and family on “how to meet Reformed men”:

    1. Go to a local Reformed church and look for one. 
    2. If no Reformed church is available, look for the guy in the back of your local non-denominational church, furiously writing notes during the sermon in order to write the pastor an email filled with corrections.
    3. In that same church, mention words like “covenant”, “doctrine”, “election”, or “fatherly hand” in conversations with any single men and look for the twinkle in their eyes. (HT: Sean McLeish)
    4. Frequent local coffee shops with a copy of Calvin’s Institutes lying out on the table. Make sure you’ve read some of it, though, and include sufficient highlights and underlining.
    5. Repeat #4 in local breweries and pubs (unless Baptist).
    6. Move to Louisville, walk around Southern’s campus without a wedding ring on. (Reformed Baptist; HT Lauren Rambo)
    7. For those favoring the online approach, ReformedSingles.com offers to fill the gap. Unlike other dating sites this is a place where: “Our members are prepared for marriage by reading a wide variety of articles on marriage, dating pitfalls, courtship, divorce and remarriage, and more. Our Members’ identities have been verified by their pastor so people you meet really are who they say they are. Finally, our members know that their futures are predestined by our heavenly Father and rest in His kind hands.” (HT: Alan Noble)

Although I’ve limited myself to 7 tips, on biblical grounds, I’m sure our sisters would love some more (appropriate) suggestions from the readership in the comments. Blessings on the search.

Soli Deo Gloria

(Image Credit: Online For Love)

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

One Reason I Can’t Swim the Tiber

"Swimming the Tiber" is a euphemism for Roman Catholic conversion, as it is the river identified with the Vatican.

“Swimming the Tiber” is a euphemism for Roman Catholic conversion, as it is the river identified with the Vatican.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 1

Commenting on the pastoral nature of the creeds and catechisms, Carl Trueman highlights a couple of the questions and answers in the Heidelberg Catechism, especially the way Q&A 1 highlights the heart of the Reformation:

Question 1 shows the glorious Reformation Protestant insight into the fact that assurance is to be the normal experience of every Christian believer and not merely the preserve of a few special saints who have been given extra-ordinary insight into their status before God, as was the medieval Catholic position.

This is perhaps one of the great Protestant insights of the Reformation. We live in an age where conversion to Roman Catholicism is not an uncommon thing among those who have been brought up as evangelicals. There are many reasons for this: some speak of being attracted by the beauty of the liturgy in comparison with what is often seen as a casual and irreverent flippancy in evangelical services; others like the idea of historical continuity, of knowing where the church has been throughout history; still others find the authority structure to be attractive in an age of flux and uncertainty. Whatever the reasons, most Protestants would concede that Rome has certain attractions. Nevertheless, the one thing that every Protestant who converts to Rome loses is the assurance of faith. –The Creedal Imperative, pg. 124

Lest people think Trueman is exaggerating, it must be remembered that Cardinal Bellarmine is reported to have written that assurance is the greatest of all Protestant heresies. Indeed, discussing the subject of assurance with one of my brilliant Catholic professors was one of the most challenging conversations I had in my undergaduate degree. She asked me repeatedly–not threateningly, but forcefully, the way a good philosopher should–how could I be so sure that I was going to be saved? It seemed so arrogant and, well, assured. I’m not sure I gave her the best answer I could have at the time–I mean, I was 20. Ironically though, I realized I was more assured of her salvation than she was.

Trueman continues:

The insight of the Reformation on assurance was key, theologically and pastorally. And, given that it is one thing that every convert to Roman Catholicism must lose, it’s worth noting its priority in the Heidelberg Catechism. The answer is beautifully phrased; and yet if one ceases to be a Protestant, one must cease to claim HC 1 as one’s own. That is a very high price to pay. Speaking for myself, all of the liturgical beauty of Rome, all of the tradition, all of the clarity of the authority structure (and the clarity is often, I think, more in the eye of the beholder than the Church itself) cannot compensate for the loss of the knowledge that I know I have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ that conversion to Rome requires. –Ibid, pg. 125

To be clear, I am not saying that my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are not saved, or are not actually united to Christ, or can’t experience the Spirit’s wonderful assurance; I know far too many beautifully Catholic people, including my professor, to make that mistake. I am pointing out that formally-speaking, I couldn’t claim it in the sense that the catechism teaches it.

That’s far too precious a thing for me to risk in those waters.

Soli Deo Gloria