An Obedience More Pleasing Than Punishment

the cross owenIt is Holy Week and therefore right meditate on the sufferings and passion of Christ in the flesh on our behalf. One thing we ought to do, though, is consider them in their fullness.

John Owen helps us do that in his work Pneumatologia, wherein he considers the person and work of the Holy Spirit. At one point he specifically considers the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s mediating work. He comments on the verse, “he offered himself up through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14), arguing that “in all that ensued, all that followed hereon, unto his giving up the ghost, he offered himself to God in and by those actings of the grace of the Holy Spirit in him, which accompanied him to the last.”

Owen lists four graces of the Spirit which enable and render Jesus’ obedient self-sacrifice excellent, worthy, and efficacious on our behalf: first, the great love and compassion he had for the Church and for sinners; second, his “unspeakable” zeal for the glory of God—to manifest both his righteousness as well as his grace and love towards sinners; third, “his holy submission and obedience to the will of God.” Though fully divine, Jesus still works in the power of the Holy Spirit to work the will of the Father in his atonement.

This brings us to an important section of the work I want to quote at length. Here he notes three important points about the way these gracious actings of the Spirit in Christ’s soul actually rendered his work an atoning sacrifice:

(1.) These and the like gracious actings of the soul of Christ were the ways and means whereby, in his death and blood-shedding, — which was violent and by force inflicted on him as to the outward instruments, and was penal as to the sentence of the law, — he voluntarily and freely offered up himself a sacrifice unto God for to make atonement; and these were the things which, from the dignity of his person, became efficacious and victorious. Without these his death and blood-shedding had been no oblation.

First, though the death was “violent and by force inflicted on him” at the human level, Owen is clear that Jesus voluntarily submits to the passion. That is why it is a sacrifice of oblation, freely-given by the glorious Godman. If the Son had not freely given himself it would have been a simple act of meaningless violence, instead of an epoch-shattering act of salvation.

(2.) These were the things which rendered his offering of himself a “sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour,” Eph. v. 2. God was so absolutely delighted and pleased with these high and glorious acts of grace and obedience in Jesus Christ that he smelled, as it were, a “savour of rest” towards mankind, or those for whom he offered himself, so that he would be angry with them no more, curse them no more, as it is said of the type of it in the sacrifice of Noah, Gen. viii. 20, 21. God was more pleased with the obedience of Christ than he was displeased with the sin and disobedience of Adam, Rom. v. 17–21. It was not, then, [by] the outward suffering of a violent and bloody death, which was inflicted on him by the most horrible wickedness that ever human nature brake forth into, that God was atoned, Acts ii.23; nor yet was it merely his enduring the penalty of the law that was the means of our deliverance; but the voluntary giving up of himself to be a sacrifice in these holy acts of obedience was that upon which, in an especial manner, God was reconciled unto us.

Here is the key part that many of us often lose in our rush to defend penal substitution: “God was more pleased with the obedience of Christ than he was displeased with the sin and disobedience of Adam.”

Owen does think that Christ suffering the penalty matters for removing our guilt and sin. But he places a special accent on the beautiful obedience of Christ, the self-surrender, the self-giving love of Christ for the Church, and his glorious submission to God as a sweet-smelling savor. God is greatly pleased with the Son precisely in the moment when he offers himself up on behalf of his people. And without that positive obedience underlying the negative suffering of death, there is no effective atonement.

Reflect, then, and let the Son’s obedient sacrifice become a sweet-smelling savor to you this Good Friday.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Why Does it Matter that the Holy Spirit is a Person?

holy spiritMany of us are confused about the Holy Spirit. The Father we have a decent conception of, the Son too (Godman, Lord, Redeemer, etc), but the Spirit? We honestly don’t know what to do with “it.” And that’s one of the main problems. Some of us think of the Spirit primarily as an “it”; a thing, a force, and not a person. But according to the Scriptures the Holy Spirit is a person, coeternal, and coexistent with the Father and the Son. What’s more, it matters that we know that he’s a person.

This is one of the realities R.A. Torrey emphasized in his later teaching on the Holy Spirit. In a lecture* aimed at proving the personality (personhood) of the Spirit from Scripture, Torrey first argued for the importance of the question. (I kind of love that, by the way. People used to argue for why they were going to argue.) He knew some might write it off as an abstract, unimportant question, so he very quickly made three arguments for why we should care to know this.

First, “it is of the highest importance from the standpoint of worship.” Look, if the Holy Spirit is a person alongside the Father and the Son, then he deserves to be worshipped alongside the Father and the Son. If we treat him as just an impersonal power or force sent from the Father, or something like that, we will be “robbing him of his due.” We won’t be treating him with the adoration, honor, glory, and majesty that a Divine Person is worthy of. According to Jesus, God desires to be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth (John 4). If you miss the personality of the Spirit, you’re actually missing out on both of those dimensions. You are missing out on the joy of knowing Him for who not just what he is.

Second, “it is of the highest importance from a practical standpoint that we know the Holy Spirit as a Person.” From the Spirit comes the power to do all that God calls us to do in this world. But, Torrey says, if we think of the Spirit as a mere force, then we will be constantly asking silly questions like, “How can I get hold of the Holy Spirit to use it?” much like Simon the Magician. We don’t know to ask in prayer, “How can the Holy Spirit get a hold of me and use me?” The difference between these two questions is the difference between pagan use of the divine and a biblical understanding of God as Lord.

What’s more, on the one way, we will ask how to get more of the Spirit instead of asking how the Spirit can get more of us. Torrey says the first way necessarily leads to pride, strutting about as if you belong to a better class of Christians because we have “more” of the Spirit as force. When you understand the Spirit is a person, you realize you have to humble yourself to be of any use to him. He is the one who comes and takes a hold of us, fills us, disposes of us, and glorifies Jesus through us as he wills.

Third, “the doctrine of the personality of the Holy Spirit is of the highest importance from the standpoint of experience.” Here Torrey points us to the experience of Christians, both in his own ministry, and throughout the centuries that attest to this. Knowing the Spirit as a person means the possibility of deeper communion, joy, and love, as we come to know our God as he dwells within us. God does not come to us through a lesser, impersonal intermediary. He does not speak to us at a distance and relate to us from far away. Instead, Father and Son send the Spirit, another Advocate, who comes to inhabit us, and bringing us into the very life of God through union with Christ.

We could go on at length on the importance of the personhood of the Spirit. We will stop here for now. Maybe take some time to pray. If you have not considered the reality that the Holy Spirit is a person, stop and meditate on that. Pray that God would give you a sense of it, both intellectual and spiritual. If this is not new to you, stop anyways. Maybe pray Torrey’s prayer, “Lord, how can the Spirit get a hold of more of me? In service? In communion?” Or maybe simply praise God that through the gift of the Spirit, God gives you the gift of himself.

Soli Deo Gloria 

*reprinted in Fred Sanders’ How God Used R.A. Torreypp. 203-227

The Liberation of the Triune God

exodusOne of the helpful emphases of the Reformed tradition is its acknowledgment of the continuity as well as discontinuity of Old and New Testaments. This comes through very strongly in Turretin’s Institutes and even makes an appearance in his doctrine of the Trinity. After a couple of clarifying questions, as well as a lengthy question devoted to proving the doctrine of the Trinity from New Testament Scripture, he moves on to try and demonstrate the revelation of the Trinity in the Old Testament. For while it is admittedly true that God reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with greater clarity in New Testament, that does not at all mean that we cannot see him revealed as such in the Old as well.

He then proceeds to do some careful lexical and exegetical work in some of the usual places such as Genesis 1:26, and other references to the Divine plural in the manner of the Fathers, as well as some other surprises. The passage that caught my eye was his treatment of the salvation of Israel from Egypt. Here argues from the works of Father, Son, and Spirit in the Exodus to their unified of the Triune action in the Old Testament.

…the same may be proved from the deliverance of the people out of Egyptian bondage, the guidance of them through the wilderness, and introduction into Canaan. He is that true God whom the Israelite. He is that true God whom the Israelites acknowledged and worshipped, who brought them out of Egypt, lead them through wilderness and introduced them into the land of promise. For no other besides God could have performed so great a work, as he himself testifies in the preface to the Law. “I am the Lord thy God who brough thee out of the land of Egypt.” Also, he often claims this as his prerogative (Ex. 3:2; 23:20; 32:34), in which this work is ascribed to the three persons of the Trinity–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Concerning the Father, the adversaries do not doubt; concerning the Son, the following passages prove (Ex. 3:2; 23:20; 32:34), in which this work is ascribed to the “angel of Jehovah.” That this angel is not a created angel, but the uncreated Son of God himself, sent by God for this work and often manifesting himself under this form to the patriarchs, is evident from the description of him and the various attributes given to him (which are such as cannot apply to a creature, but belong to God alone). (1) He says he is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob (Ex. 3:6); calls the Israelites his people (Ex. 3:7); sends Moses to Pharaoh (Ex. 3:10); promises himself divine worship after their deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 3:12). (2) He is said to have gone before the Israelites in a pillar of cloud and fire (Ex. 4:19), which is expressly attributed to Jehovah (Ex. 13:21; Num. 11:25; 14:14). (3) It is said that “the name of God” will be in himso that they will not escape unpunished who rebel against him (Exd. 23:20, 21). (4) He is called “the very presence of God” (“My presence shall go with thee,” Ex. 33:14) because he is the image of the invisible God, the express image of the person of the Father.

That the Holy Spirit also here concurred as a person with the others is evident from the noted passage: “I will mention the lovingkindesses of the Lord” (Is. 63:7-14). He said “surely they are my people, so he was their Savior.” “The angel of his presence saved them in his love, but they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit,” Here three distinct person are enumerated: “Jehovah,” “the angel of his presence,” and “the Holy Spirit.” Distinct operations are ascribed to each: to Jehovah, lovingkindness towards the people; to the angel of his presence, redemption; and to the Holy Spirit, vexation and contention with the people, which he was turned to be their enemy. Since, then, a truly divine work is ascribed to these three, it is necessary that they should be one true God essentially (although mutually distinguished in mode of subsisting and personall). –Third Topic, Q. XXV, sec. IX

There are a number of features worth noting in this treatment. The first is Turretin’s view of the Angel of the LORD, or the Angel of YHWH. As he makes clear in a number of places, Turretin views this as an appearance of the pre-incarnate Son. It is an appearance in angelic/human form that is, nonetheless, distinct from his incarnation in that there is no hypostatic union, but only concrete manifestation. Still, this is a thesis that Christian theologians have long appealed to in order to explain the way the Angel is both identified as a distinct agent who nonetheless is identified as the LORD somehow.

Connected with that is the issue of narrative identification of God by his works. The idea is that God is to be identified by his activities in history. God’s being is not constituted by his activity in history. Nonetheless, he is known and identified by his activity in history. YHWH is the God who rescued Israel from Egypt. That is YHWH’s activity and YHWH’s identity. Therefore, if an actor is identified as an actor in that same salvation, then they are identified with YHWH himself. In other words, if someone is doing what Scripture says only God does, then we must be dealing with God.

At the same time, there is clearly a distinction of the persons in their working of the one work of redeeming Israel from Egypt. The Fathers had a phrase that summed up this principle that while “the external works of the Trinity are undivided”–in other words, Father, Son, and Spirit are at work in the same work–nonetheless, the order and distinction among the persons should be observed. Father, Son, and Spirit are at work in the Incarnation of the Son, but only the Son becomes incarnate. The same is true here. While it is true that Father, Son, and Spirit are identified as agents of Israel liberation and are therefore identified as God, their particular activities are not lost to view. The God who is Father, Son, and Spirit acts Triunely to bring about Israel’s salvation.

Finally, the issue of “canonical” interpretation pops up in the passage. Turretin practices what might be called a form of canonical interpretation, taking the whole of the Old Testament to be the proper context for the interpretation of the Exodus event. Though the Exodus texts might not explicitly mention the activity of the Spirit, the LORD’s words in Isaiah about the same event illuminates it theologically. While we see Turretin employing this canonical reading within the Old Testament, the same principle holds true for the New Testament and the Old Testament. The New Testament’s clearer light is normative for how Christians are to read the Old Testament. Of course, that also takes some careful examination of the way that the New Testament is actually using an Old Testament text. Still, the principle holds. Jesus tells us what divorce law was about (Mark 10). Paul’s reading of the events of Exodus 34 in 1 Corinthians 10 actually helps us read Exodus 34. Hebrews tells us what the sacrificial system was really all about.

This is why I keep reading dead types. There’s gold in them thar hills. Turretin reminds us that our liberating God is our Triune God and our Triune God is a liberating God.

Soli Deo Gloria

Who Needs Preachers When You’ve Got the Bible?

preacherIf you’ve been around long enough, you’ve eventually encountered that guy. You know, the one who basically says all he needs is his Bible and the Holy Spirit. He’s got so much faith that he doesn’t need to listen to teachers or read commentaries. Really, nobody does if they trust the Spirit and the Word enough.

Right.

Well, if you haven’t had the blessing, don’t worry, you’ll meet him eventually. In any case, it’s a very old phenomenon that dates probably as far back as church history extends. It was certainly present in Calvin’s day. Commenting on Paul’s charge to teach the word in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:1-4), he pushes back on the same sort of fanaticism of some of his contemporaries in the Radical Reformation:

It is proper to observe carefully the word therefore, by means of which he appropriately connects Scripture with preaching. This also refutes certain fanatics, who haughtily boast that they no longer need the aid of teachers, because the reading of scripture is abundantly sufficient. But Paul, after having spoken of the usefulness of Scripture, infers not only that all ought to read it, but that teachers ought to administer it, which is the duty enjoined on them. Accordingly, as all our wisdom is contained in the Scriptures, and neither ought we to learn, nor teachers to draw their instructions, from any other source; so he who, neglecting the assistance of the living voice, shall satisfy himself with the silent Scripture, will find how grievous an evil it is to disregard that way of learning which has been enjoined by God and Christ. Let us remember, I say, that the reading of Scripture is recommended to us in such a manner as not to hinder, in the smallest degree, the ministry of pastors; and, therefore, let believers endeavor to profit both in reading and in hearing; for not in vain hath God ordained both of them. –Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:1

Calvin isn’t saying we shouldn’t read our Bibles on our own, or that the Holy Spirit can’t enlighten our personal study. No, there is real benefit there. But if Jesus says that there ought to be teachers the church, and that we ought to sit under sound preaching, who are we to be more spiritual than he is? Apparently there’s something to it.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Three-fold Work of the Spirit

people and placeWarning: This is a nerdy one.

I’ve long found the three-fold office of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King to be an extremely helpful and biblical way of organizing the complex fullness of his once-for-all reconciling work in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of the Father. What I’ve not found is a succinct piece linking the accomplishment of Christ’s final mediatorial with the present work of the Spirit in the community and the life of the believer–that is until I ran across this passage by Michael Horton:

From John 14-16 we also see that the Spirit brings about the…effect of the threefold office of Christ in these last days. As prophet, the Spirit bears the covenant word of judgment and justification, conviction of sin and faith-creating promise. This is what it means for the Spirit to be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2). As Barth famously put it, “The Lord of speech is also the Lord of our hearing.”

Furthermore, the Spirit is not merely a bonding agent between the Father and the Son, but an equal actor in the economy of grace. Although the external works of God are undivided, the agency of each person is distinct. The one Word is spoken by the Father and reaches its creaturely goal through the perfecting power of the Spirit. As the Spirit is different from the Son (“another Paraclete”), Pentecost is a genuinely new episode in the economy of grace. The Spirit “translates” for us and within us the intra-Trinitarian discourse concerning us (election, redemption, and renewal in Christ). The content of the Spirit’s teaching ministry is Christ (John 15:26b)–not another Word, but its inward effect in our hearts, provoking an “Amen!” AS one sent by the Father in the name of Christ, the Spirit preaches Christ, gives faith to hearers, and thereby unites them to Christ as members of his mystical body.

As “another Advocate,” the Spirit also ministers within us as that priestly office that Christ holds objectively outside of us. The Spirit is not our high priest, but applies the benefits of Christ’s completed work to us and unites us to Christ himself. Apart from the Spirit’s agency, we would remain “dead in trespasses and sins,” refusing the Gift, without any vital connection to Christ’s person and work (Eph. 2:1-5) We have already been reconciled to God in Christ “while we were still enemies” (Rom. 5:10), but the Spirit comes to make us friends and children of God (Rom. 8:1-27). As a covenant attorney, the Spirit makes more than a truce–a mere cessation of hostilities–and brings about a state of union.

Mediating Christ’s royal ministry, the Spirit subdues unbelief and the tyranny of sin in the lives of believers, creating a communion of saints as body ruled by its living head through prophets and apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that Christ has poured out as the spoils of his victory (Eph. 4:11-16). The Spirit makes Christ’s rule effective in us and mong us by inspiring the scriptural canon and by creating a people who will be constituted by it. Jesus Christ had already appointed apostles as Spirit-inbreathed witnesses, but now at last through the ordinary ministry of pastors, teachers, and other officers in the church, Moses’ request in Numbers 11:29 (“Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”) will be fulfilled beyond his wildest dreams. Not only the seventy elder, but also the whole camp of Israel is made a Spirit-filled community of witnesses. The charismata bestowed on the whole body are orchestrated by the Spirit through the ordained office-bearers, who differ only in the graces (vocation), but in the grace (ontic status) of the Spirit. Thus, the mission of the Twelve in Luke 9:1-6 widens to the seventy in chpater 10. Yet this was but a prelude to the commissioning ceremony of Pentecost.

People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, pp 24-25

Soli Deo Gloria

Some Stuff on the Holy Spirit and Being Used by God and Stuff

“Can God ever use someone like me?” I’m sure if you’ve been in church for a long enough time, you’ve either heard or wrestled with that question. It’s almost inevitable when thinking about the majesty of God, the weightiness of his kingdom-work and then considering our own weakness and frailty that we’ll doubt that we can ever play a part in it.

The quick answer to that question though, is, yes. Why? “Jesus?” Well, close–the Holy Spirit.

See, all throughout the Scriptures we see this thing happen when God wants to use someone, he sends the Holy Spirit on them. Whether it be prophet (Num. 11), king (1 Sam. 10:6), judge (Judg 3:10), or temple craftsmen (Exod 31:3), if God was going to use you in a spectacular way, he empowered you to do so through his divine breath of life, his ruach, his Spirit. It didn’t matter who you were before the Spirit got a hold of you, if God’s Spirit was with you, his purposes were accomplished through you. Samson, “an arsonist, an informer, and a brawler” was used powerfully by the Spirit of God to liberate God’s people time and again. (Judg 15)

In order to understand and act in light of this, we need to know two things about the Holy Spirit.

Spirit of Life The first thing we need to know is that He is the Spirit of life. See, some of us doubt we can be used because of the handicaps we face. In our view, we’re simply limited. It might be a physical handicap connected to illness or one that we’ve struggled with from birth that hobbles and defeats us. Possibly we struggle financially in ways that make doing something beyond earning a paycheck seem like a nice fairy-tale. Others of us wonder if we’re smart enough, loud enough, or skilled enough. So often it seems to those of us raised in American Christianity that only those fit to be on stage leading the show are the ones doing things for the Lord and we’re just not that kind of person.

We forget that the Spirit of God is the one who was hovering over the waters at creation (Gen 1:2), bringing life and form out of the chaos. He is the Spirit that puts flesh on dry bones and makes them live again. (Ezek 37) He is the Spirit who holds even our fragile life together as we speak. (Job 34:14-15) This Spirit is the one who empowered the earliest Christians, simple fishermen and uneducated tradesmen to testify and work miracles in the name of the Lord. This is why Gideon, the cowardly member of the smallest family of the smallest tribe in Israel was able to overcome the Midianites, when “the Spirit of God clothed him.” (Judg 6:34) Whatever your weakness, whatever your handicap, when you confess Christ you can be assured that you have the Spirit and therefore have been clothed with his strength to accomplish whatever good work God calls you to. (1 Cor 12)

Spirit of Holiness The other thing we often-times forget is that this is the Spirit of holiness we’re dealing with. See, for some of us the road-block is past failures. Maybe we came to Christ later in life, or we racked up some heavy mileage getting there in a short of amount of time and we struggle with shame, wondering if we can ever really be clean enough. Others of us wonder if our current weaknesses would disqualify us. We look at our current spiritual struggles, the anger, insecurity, apathy, shame or lust that fills our hearts and wonder, “Me? Really? Do you know what’s in me?”

When we think of the ‘holy’ in Holy Spirit we usually often focus on the fact that this Spirit is holy and therefore pure; we think of it as a description of the Spirit’s own holiness. That’s mostly a good thing. The problem comes when we forget that it’s also a job description. The Spirit’s job is not only to be holy but to make holy. He is the one who sets us apart and sanctifies us. He is the one who takes what is common and unclean and makes it holy to the Lord, purifying us for use in the Temple of the Lord. (1 Cor 3, 6) He is the one that leads us in the life of righteousness. (Rom 8) The long and the short of it is that yes, despite your past, despite your present, God can use you. If he can take Paul, an ex-murdering, racist and turn him into the greatest missionary and theologian who ever lived, then the Spirit can take you, set you apart, and use you for his kingdom-work as well.

This is a pitifully tiny glimpse into the work of the Holy Spirit, but hopefully it’s enough of an encouragement to know that, yes, you can be used by God. Your weakness, your frailty, your sin are not obstacles too strong for the Spirit of Life to empower you or the Spirit of Holiness to set you apart for God’s good works.

Soli Deo Gloria