Him Whom the Father Sanctified and Sent Into the World

There’s a tantalizing little verse towards the back of John 10, germane to my dissertation, which I’d never noticed before. It comes right in the middle of Christ’s famous response to his Jewish interlocutors accusing him of blasphemy because, “you, being a man, make yourself God” (v.33). To which Jesus replies, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came–and Scripture cannot be broken–do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even thought you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Now, there’s a lot going on here, but the line that grabbed me was that central bit about, “him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (v. 36). What could that mean? The term “consecrated” is ἡγίασεν, a form of the ordinary verb for sanctify, set apart, make or render holy. This appears straightforward enough at first. But in the context–the dispute about Jesus’s alleged claim to divinity–the temporal and ontological freight is what’s contested. It all depends on who is being sanctified and when is this sanctification happening?

Turning to the tradition, there seem to be a few options here.

First, following Hilary, Aquinas suggests that “him who the Father has sanctified” refers to Christ, “insofar as he has a human nature.” And the argument is an a fortiori one. Given that some people get called “gods” in a derivative sense, “only because they participate in God’s word”–that is, they were cleansed by God and given some derivative share of divine power or authority, the way Moses was functionally made like God to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:1)–then it’s not blasphemy for “that man who is united in person to the Word of God” to be called God.

Aquinas further clarifies that even though everyone is sanctified by God to be adopted children (John 17:17; Rom. 8:15), Christ was sanctified uniquely to be “the Son of God by nature, united in person to the Word of God.” He thinks this is is clear in two ways. First, because God sanctifies him “as Father”, this indicates the filial nature of his sanctification. And here he cites Romans 1:4. “he was predestined to be the Son of God by the Spirit of sanctification.” Second, he thinks the phrase “and sent into the world” also clues us into this reality. “For it is not fitting for a thing to be sent some place unless it existed before it was sent there. Therefore, he whom the Father sent into he world in a visible way, is the Son of God, who existed before he was visible.”

Calvin reads the text in a similar fashion, though he can be quoted at length more economically:

There is a sanctification that is common to all believers. But here Christ claims for himself something far more excellent, namely, that he alone was separated from all others, that the power of the Spirit and the majesty of God might be displayed in him; as he formerly said, that him hath God the Father sealed, (John 6:27.) But this refers strictly to the person of Christ, so far as he is manifested in the flesh. Accordingly, these two things are joined, that he has been sanctified and sent into the world. But we must also understand for what reason and on what condition he was sent. It was to bring salvation from God, and to prove and exhibit himself, in every possible way, to be the Son of God.

Here Calvin sees a unique sanctification for Christ referring “to the person of Christ, so far as he is manifested in the flesh.” But the purpose of that sanctification is precisely that he might be sent to be our Savior and recognized and seen as the Son of God by nature.

Augustine is our patristic wildcard and I mostly wrote this post so I could highlight his view in his Tractate 48 on John. He also argues that we’re dealing an a fortiori argument here, with a string of rhetorical questions that are worth quoting at length, just because it’s Augustine:

If the word of God came to men, that they might be called gods, how can the very Word of God, who is with God, be otherwise than God? If by the word of God men become gods, if by fellowship they become gods, can He by whom they have fellowship not be God? If lights which are lit are gods, is the light which enlighteneth not God? If through being warmed in a way by saving fire they are constituted gods, is He who gives them the warmth other than God? Thou approachest the light and art enlightened, and numbered among the sons of God; if thou withdrawest from the light, thou fallest into obscurity, and art accounted in darkness; but that light approacheth not, because it never recedeth from itself. If, then, the word of God maketh you gods, how can the Word of God be otherwise than God?

So here we get the same participation argument of Aquinas, but with more literary punch. Here’s where things get interesting, though. Augustine doesn’t seem to take the sanctification as referring to God’s setting apart Christ’s whole person, or his humanity as joined to the Word, but to his eternal begetting. At least that’s what he seems to do in answering what might be termed an Arian-style objection:

Perhaps some one may be saying: If the Father sanctified Him, was there then a time when He was not sanctified? He sanctified in the same way as He begat Him. For in the act of begetting He gave Him the power to be holy, because He begat Him in holiness. For if that which is sanctified was unholy before, how can we say to God the Father, “Hallowed be Thy name”?

Given that the act of sanctification might seem to imply the Son was unholy prior to that act, Augustine moves to make that sanctification an eternal one, much the same way that his generation was an eternal one. Actually, not much the same way, but really, he renders it an angled description of that same act. The Father eternally sanctifies the Son, giving him the power to be holy, insofar as his eternal act of generation is holy and holiness-generating. The eternally Holy Father (John 17:11) eternally begets/sanctifies an eternally Holy Son.

Oh, and in case you were worried about that conceptual point, not everything that is sanctified is unholy prior to its sanctification. Otherwise we’d never be able to pray that God’s name be sanctified. (Of course, thinking with Scripture, we know God’s name can be profaned, but who can’t help but admire Augustine’s cleverness here?)

In his Gnomon of the New Testament, J.A. Bengel seems to offer a variation on both of these, though he doesn’t frame it quite the same way. He notes that Christ’s sanctification is “mentioned in such a way as to be prior in time to His being sent into the world…and it implies, in conjunction with it, the inference of Christ’s Godhead, at an infinite interval before those whom only the word of God came.” They are called gods by way of dignity, but Christ is the Son of God by way of sanctity, which for Bengel is just his divinity. So for Bengel, “Christ therefore is holy, as He is the Son of God“, not just at some particular time, but because “I and the Father are one” (v. 30), eternally. Bengel is interesting in that he cites several texts suggesting that Christ’s sanctity is strictly a matter of his eternal godhead, but also that it is something sealed and marked out in time of his whole person (Rom. 1:4; John 6:27). Even more, he references 1 Pet. 1:20 and Christ’s fore-ordination “before the foundation of the world,” raising the possibility that something like a decretal sanctification could be in view. To be fair, his commentary is meant to be gnomic.

Nevertheless, a comment by D.A. Carson could be taken in something like a decretal sense. Noting that there seems to be probable echo here to the Feast of Dedication commemorating the sanctification of the Temple after its desecration, Carson links the two sanctifications.

The Jews celebrate the sanctification of the temple, but they, like the disciples, remain unaware of the ways in which the temple points to Jesus (2:19–22), so that the really critical ‘sanctification’, the crucial act of setting something or someone aside for God’s exclusive use, was the setting aside of the pre-incarnate Son to the work of the mission on which he was even then engaged. In this way Jesus outstrips and fulfills this Feast as he has the others.

-Carson, The Gospel according to John, p. 399

I’m likely over-reading Carson’s formulation here, but it seems to present the possibility of reading this as a reference to a pre-temporal sanctification of the pre-incarnate Son to the task of his mission, which does not seem to simply be a reference to his generation. This is the neighborhood of God’s eternal decrees, predestination, and possibly the Covenant of Redemption.

It’s tempting to say the question is how to read the phrase “sanctified and sent into the world” in relation to the procession and visible mission of the Son. Augustine appears to read the conjunction “sanctified and sent into the world” as indicating the distinction between the procession and the mission of the Son. He is eternally sanctified in his generation as the Son and then consequently sent into the world. Aquinas and Calvin seem to read it both terms as describing the mission of the Son, not taking his sanctification to refer to the act of generation as the Son, though in such a way as to make clear that procession (his generation as the Son). Christ is sanctified according to the whole person so far as he is manifested in the flesh (Calvin), or as man in conjunction with the Word (Aquinas/Hilary), in his being born by the power of the Holy Spirit and being designated as holy–the Son of God (Lk. 1:35), for a holy task, which is a fitting extension in time of his procession in eternity.

Parsing things in terms of mission and procession may be tricky for our third option. Or, at least, for me. Thinking about the decrees, the Reformed talked about essential internal acts of God that are immanent to his life, but that respect and relate to something outside himself. They are internal, yet have to do with God’s own counsel about what he himself is going to bring about outside himself, so to speak. They are eternal, but ordered to time. As Thomas says of the Predestination of Christ that it can be considered in respect to its antecedence in God, but also with respect to its temporal effect. While not all decrees are related or reducible to the missions or processions of the persons (take creation), but decrees regarding the missions seem like they ought to be. So the question is how to read the idea of a decretal sanctification.

The trick is that according to Aquinas, missions are not eternal, but temporal. Or rather, mission signifies procession from the principle, but also determines the temporal term, or endpoint, of the procession, which is temporal. “Or we may say that it includes the eternal procession with the addition of a temporal effect” (ST Q 43, Art. 3, Pt. 1 Rep. 3).The problem is that this sanctification does not seem to be the same kind of thing Augustine is talking about in terms of generation as sanctification, though it is grounded and flows from it. Instead, it has to do with the way the Son becomes present to us in time in a new way. That definitely seems missionish. Perhaps what we’re grasping for is a way of stating the eternal origin, ground, and depth of the mission? Or perhaps the moral is that that decrees just are the decrees and they logically exist between the missions and processions? Or rather that the proper axis here is not procession and mission, but decree and execution? Or perhaps it just means that I’ve gotten way out of my depth here? That last seems likeliest.

In any case, this is where I pull the ripcord before I say something too Barthian and have to cancel myself.

With that final punt accomplished, how should we read the text? Materially, I think Augustine’s suggestion is true as doctrine. I find the idea of generation as sanctification to be dogmatically fruitful. Nevertheless, I think it less likely as exegesis. Calvin and Aquinas’s read is more likely with respect to the text due specifically to the context of Jesus’ dispute with the Jews.

I don’t have a big spiritual take-away here except that: (1) Scripture is theological and demands to be read theologically otherwise we have not grappled with it on its own terms, (2) there is a lot of underdeveloped material on Christ’s holiness in the Gospels, and (3), even when I’ve exhausted myself tracking down dogmatic rabbit-trails that don’t render an absolutely clear conclusion, meditating on the being and work of the thrice-holy Trinity always leaves me full of wonder.

Soli Deo Gloria

Scripture Says More Than You Think: Edwards’s Exegesis of Mutual Love

If you scan the literature, there’s been a recent boom in scholarship on Jonathan Edwards’ doctrine of the Trinity. If there’s something everyone agrees on nowadays is that whatever else Edwards is, he’s a trinitarian. One other takeaway, though, is that his trinitarianism is at once traditional and innovative.

In his context, pressured by Deists, Subordinationists, and other varieties of anti-trinitarian theologians, he sought to defend and deliver the doctrine of the Trinity to his people. He aimed to show both that it was fitting with the best speculative, idealistic philosophy of the day, but more importantly that it was the plain teaching of Scripture. (Though, it’s good to note Edwards’ readiness to blend the two is somewhat unique since most Reformed Scholastics shied away from the speculative moves developed by some of the Fathers and the Medievals, preferring to focus on exegetical defenses of the doctrine.)

This comes out clearly in his originally unpublished Discourse on the Trinity. While a good chunk of it is dedicated to parsing theological and philosophical analysis of persons, ideas, and so forth, the bulk is concerned with demonstrating the Scriptural foundations of his view. Edwards opines, “I think the Scripture reveals a great deal more about it than is ordinarily taken notice of.”

One place this comes out is in his treatment of the Holy Spirit. Edwards could be considered a broadly Augustinian theologian of the Trinity here. Augustine famously developed a number of psychological triads in De Trinitate. Taking his cue from man being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), he takes the rational soul as the closest (dark) mirror of the Godhead in the world (7:12; 12.6-7). Augustine then proposes three mental triads on the basis of God being love (1 John 4:8). First, he posits that love needs a lover, beloved, and love itself (8:12-14). Second, in the activities of the mind remembering, understanding, and loving itself (10:17-18). Third, and this was his favored analogy, the mind’s ascent in wisdom to remembering, understanding, and loving God (14:15, 25).

Edwards’ formulation most closely resembles the triad of Book 9, but with modifications due to his different metaphysics and context. The thing to note, though, is that in both Augustine and Edwards, the Holy Spirit is identified with the love of God, especially as its understood as the mutual love of the Father and the Son. In their work The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards (106), Steven Studebaker and Robert Caldwell identify key components of the model:

Five elements tend to characterize the Augustinian mutual love tradition in its various historical expressions. These characteristics form a fivefold gestalt. These are: 1.) the use of mental triads or the operations of the rational soul to illustrate the Trinity, 2.) the Father as the unbegotten, 3.) the generation of the Son as the Word, 4.) the procession of the Holy Spirit as the mutual love of the Father and the Son, and 5.) the reciprocity between the economic missions and the immanent processions of the divine persons.

Here’s Edwards stating the doctrine positively:

The Godhead being thus begotten by God’s having an idea of himself and standing forth in a distinct subsistence or person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and infinitely holy and sweet energy arises between the Father and the Son: for their love and joy is mutual, in mutually loving and delighting in each other. Prov. 8:30, “I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before [him].” This is the eternal and most perfect and essential act of the divine nature, wherein the Godhead acts to an infinite degree and in the most perfect manner possible. The Deity becomes all act; the divine essence itself flows out and is as it were breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, viz. the Deity in act: for there is no other act by the act of the will.

Now, we can’t get into all the details about how Edwards’ idealism has inflected the whole account, but you see the basic elements in play here: the psychological analogy, the Father unbegotten, the generation of the Word, the Spirit as mutual love of Father and Son, and so forth.

Whether consciously or not, Edwards also follows some of Augustine’s key, exegetical moves, including his focus on 1 John 4. (On which, see Matthew Levering, “The Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian Communion: ‘Love’ and ‘Gift’?” IJST Volume 16 Number 2 April 2014, 126-142.) Edwards suggests the “Godhead or the divine nature and essence does subsist in love” is confirmed in the statement of 1 John 4:8, “God is love.”

But he argues that verses 12-13 in the same chapter “plainly” suggest to us that love is the Holy Spirit, since they read, “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby we know that we dwell in him, because he hath given us the Spirit.” For Edwards, it is clear that the apostle John has identified the love of God in us as God’s dwelling with us, which happens by the Spirit’s dwelling within us. This “confirms not only that the divine nature subsists in love, but also that this love is the Spirit; for it is the Spirit of God by which God dwells in his saints.”

Edwards finds this logic confirmed in dozens of texts (Rom. 5:5; Phil 2:1; 2 Cor. 6:6; Col. 1:8), the name of the Spirit, the work of the Spirit in sanctification, types of the Spirit (oil), symbols of the Spirit (dove), metaphors and similitudes (water, fire, breath, wind, a spring, a river, etc), and so on.

Returning to the Spirit’s work in sanctification, Edwards says that communion with God is to participate in the Holy Spirit:

Communion is a common partaking of good, either of excellency or happiness, so that when it is said the saints have communion or fellowship with the Father and with the Son, the meaning of it is that they partake with the Father and the Son of their good, which is either their excellency and glory, (2 Pet. 1:4, “ye are made partakers of the divine nature;” Heb. 12:10, “that we might be partakers of his holiness;” John 17:22–23, “and the glory which thou hast given me I have given them that they may be one even as we are one I in them and thou in me”); or of their joy and happiness: John 17:13, “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” But the Holy Ghost, being the love and joy of God, is his beauty and happiness, and it is in our partaking of the same Holy Spirit that our communion with God consists…

Here Edwards moves on to make a very interesting observation that demonstrates how attentive he is to Scripture in these matters. He supposes that this notion that the Spirit is the mutual love of the Father and the Son which is given to believers is the only good account for the fact that Paul (13x!) wishes grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, without ever mentioning the Holy Spirit by name. This only makes sense if, “the Holy Ghost is himself love and grace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or again, in places like John 14:21 and 23, Christ mentions the love of Father and Son for believers, “but no mention is made of the Holy Ghost” or “never any mention of the Holy Ghost’s love.”

Even more strikingly, Edwards notes how Scripture seems to be silent about the love of the Spirit within the Godhead itself:

I suppose to be the reason why we have never any account of the Holy Ghost’s loving either the Father or the Son, or of the Son’s or the Father’s loving the Holy Ghost, or of the Holy Ghost’s loving the saints, though these things are so often predicated of both the other persons.

The only account Edwards can give for Scripture’s silence regarding the Spirit’s mutual love for Father and Son is rooted in the abundance Scripture’s witness regarding the Spirit mutual love of Father and Son.

This isn’t even close to a full account of either Edwards’s exegesis, pneumatology, or his trinitarian theology.  What’s more recent works by Kyle Strobel, Oliver Crisp, and others have pointed out, Edwards’s account of the Trinity has some very serious, conceptual oddities. Still, even if one does not follow Edwards in all of his theological maneuvers, it’s clear articulation serves as a model for theologians who believe careful, committed exegesis need not be pitted against speculative, metaphysical reasoning in theology.

More importantly, on the material question of the Spirit as the mutual bond of love, he shows the plausibility and seriousness that should be given it on Scriptural grounds. Recognizing the Spirit as the, “infinitely holy and sweet energy [which] arises between the Father and the Son” need not be a matter of philosophical fancy after all, but rather of God’s own Self-Witness in his Word.

Soli Deo Gloria

What I Can’t Know If I Don’t Know the Trinity

the trinityI’ve already written of the recent controversy over the Trinity and my hope that solid, theological and spiritual reinvigoration would come from it. All the same, I ran across a fantastic passage in the great divine Herman Witsius’ treatment of the Trinity in his Sacred Dissertations on the Apostle’s Creed (a remarkably careful and pastoral work).

In his comment on the Trinitarian shape of the Apostle’s Creed, he has a short segment arguing for the importance of our knowledge of this chief point of Christian doctrine. It’s not only that a proper understanding of the Trinity is some sort of arid proposition we need to check off a list of “need to know” facts to be “good Christians.” Rather, it’s that without a knowledge of the Trinity, we are simply robbed of all of the chief comforts of Christian faith:

When the Trinity is not known, the necessary consequence is, that the principal foundation of our faith and comfort, are unknown. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.

In order to explain this, he goes on to expound the importance of recognizing the work of each person individually, beginning with the Father:

I cannot know how God can show mercy to a sinner in a manner worthy of himself, unless I know he has a Son whom he could send to make satisfaction for sin, and a Spirit who can apply to me the merits of the Son.

Right off the bat, you see the Trinitarian shape of the heart of God’s atoning, justifying, and sanctifying work with the Father sending the Son in the economy of redemption and the Spirit’s application. Continuing on:

If I know not that the Father is God, I shall be ignorant that I am a Son of God,–which is the sum of our felicity.

Without a knowledge that God is eternally Father to the Son, we will not understand the marvel of that highest privilege of the gospel: the adoption unto Sonship into which are admitted in union with Christ by which we can cry “Abba, Father!”

But according to Witsius, that Fatherhood is only good news to us if we recognize God the Son:

If I know not that the Son is God, I shall not form a right estimate of the love of God the Father who has given him to me, nor of the grace of the Son, who, though possessing inconceivable majesty, humbled himself so wonderfully for my sake;

It’s fascinating to see how Witsius is at once trying to point out the importance of each of the persons in the work of salvation, but can only do so with reference to the other persons. (Indeed, earlier on, he spends a good deal of space explaining the unified activity of the whole Trinity in every act ad extra, the one will, mind, and operation of the Godhead and so forth.) But here we see that we can only understand the love of God the Father being magnified in the gift of the eternal Son, whom we can only recognize as majestic in his self-humbling in the working of salvation.

But he pushes on to point out further how the Son’s divinity is crucial to our soul’s peace:

 –nor shall I be able to place a firm dependence upon his satisfaction, which could not be sufficient unless it were of infinite value, or to rely securely on his power, which cannot save me unless it be evidently omnipotent;–it will be impossible for me, in short, to regard him as my Saviour and my Chief Good, because none excepting the true God of Israel is Israel’s God and Redeemer.

The Son’s divinity matters because otherwise, any satisfaction he makes would be merely finite, insufficient for the weighty work of a cosmic atonement. Second, we have strong enemies—sin, death, and the devil—how can I have assurance of the Son’s victory if he is not almighty God himself? Only the “the true God of Israel is Israel’s God and redeemer.”

Finally, he turns to the person of the Holy Spirit:

If…I am not sure that the Holy Spirit, to whose direction and government I ought to commit myself, is God, I shall not be able to esteem my subjection to him as true liberty, to maintain a holy acquiescence in his protecting care, or to rely on his testimony respecting my salvation as a most ample security.

If the Spirit is not God, then submitting to him isn’t the true freedom and dignity of serving the highest Lord. Nor is receiving the Holy Spirit as another counselor the great gift that Jesus says it is (John 16). And listening to his internal witness or testimony via Scripture isn’t hearing the voice of God himself assuring me of my salvation.

For Witsius, then, the Trinity isn’t the doctrine that you get to once you’ve built up all the rest of your faith and you sort of add it as the cherry on top. No, it’s foundation upon which everything is built, and if the foundation is weak, everything comes crumbling down:

Christian faith is of so delicate a character, that it can firmly acquiesce in none but the Most High God. It must, then, be of the first importance and necessity for us to know a doctrine, one which the knowledge of so many necessary points depends.

He concludes this point with a historical example:

This argument is confirmed by experience; for, as we see in the Socinians, the same men who deny the Trinity, deny, also, the satisfaction of Christ, the invincible power of the Spirit in our regeneration and conservation, the certainty of salvation, and the full assurance of faith. The mystery of our salvation through Christ is so intimately connected with the mystery of the Trinity, that when the latter is unknown or denied, the former cannot be known or acknowledged.

The Socinian heretics were remarkable in their day for having denied just about every chief point of doctrine from the deity of Christ, to the atonement, assurance of salvation, an everything else. Witsius says that their chief mistake was the loss of the Trinity. To miscontrue the nature of God is to inevitably misconstrue the nature of God’s salvation. When you lose the Trinity, you pull on the thread that unravels the seamless garment of Christian salvation and comfort.

The point is, when you don’t know God as Trinity, there’s not much you can know about the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria