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Two cautions for the study of God

February 26, 2014 Leave a comment

The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned, it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. To study theology, for the purpose of gratifying curiosity, or preparing for a profession, is an abuse and profanation of what ought to be regarded as most holy. To learn things pertaining to God, merely for the sake of amusement, or secular advantage, or to gratify the mere love of knowledge, is to treat the Most High with contempt.

J.L. Dagg, Manual of Theology

The Bible is not a dead document to be once and for all mastered and deposited in the reservoir of academic achievement. The Word of God is alive and powerful, and it must be owned and studied reverently and faithfully in every generation. Theology is a discipline of faith that must be pursued arduously but not dispassionately in the service of the church to the glory of God, its gracious and sovereign Object. From this perspective every act of biblical exposition is once an act of prayer.

Timothy George, in his introduction to the Galatians component of the New American Commentary.

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Martin Luther on justification by faith

February 26, 2014 1 comment

This doctrine can never be discussed and taught enough. If it is lost and perishes, the whole knowledge of truth, life, and salvation is lost and perishes at the same time. But if it flourishes, everything good flourishes—religion, true worship, the glory of God, and the right knowledge of all things and of all social conditions. There is clear and present danger that the devil may take away from us the pure doctrine of faith and may substitute for it the doctrines of works and of human traditions. It is very necessary, therefore, that this doctrine of faith be continually read and heard in public.

Martin Luther, in the preface to his commentary on Galatians

REVIEW: ‘The Person of Christ,’ Donald MacLeod

February 17, 2014 Leave a comment

MacLeod published The Person of Christ in 1998, as the seventh installment of the Contours of Christian Theology series (ed. Gerald Bray). IVP Academic markets this series as “a series of concise introductory texts focused on the main themes of Christian theology,” which is a well-enough categorization. MacLeod, through ten chapters and 303 pages, offers a fairly standard evangelical account of the history of the doctrines of Christ–notably his preexistence, his relationship to and within in the Trinity, and his own nature and person.

I came to this text as one who desired to study the nature of Christ but who had never formally done so. MacLeod’s work does not read easily at times, although it is hard to believe that this is essentially his own fault. He spends most of each chapter detailing the ways in which both ancient and contemporary theologians have understood the various facets of Christ’s nature. He highlights the Gnostics, Docetics, the German liberals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and others. It is almost inevitable in any text not devoted specifically to the different movements for the specifics and distinguishing marks to become muddled. MacLeod is no exception to that rule, and many chapters are nearly overwhelming dense to one who does not have prior training in both the questions and proposed answers that are given in each chapter. For this reason, The Person of Christ would do well as a book read under the direction (current or past) of an academic who has already studied Christology, unless one wants to spend an inordinate amount of time with this book. While the work has helpfully made me aware of certain readings of pertinent Christological passages (especially of those of the German theologians), The Person of Christ does not seem to warrant a slow and steady reading for one who is merely curious about the doctrines and would like individual study.

Final analysis: The Person of Christ is best read as a survey to one already familiar with the various theological questions or as an introduction to one under the tutelage of a person already familiar with Christology.

Calvin, Institutes, 4.16.5, concerning Infant Baptism

August 25, 2013 4 comments

5. Now, if we are to investigate whether or not baptism is justly given to infants, will we not say that the man trifles, or rather is delirious, who would stop short at the element of water, and the external observance, and not allow his mind to rise to the spiritual mystery? If reason is listened to, it will undoubtedly appear that baptism is properly administered to infants as a thing due to them. The Lord did not anciently bestow circumcision upon them without making them partakers of all the things signified by circumcision. He would have deluded his people with mere imposture, had he quieted them with fallacious symbols: the very idea is shocking. He distinctly declares, that the circumcision of the infant will be instead a seal of the promise of the covenant. But if the covenant remains firm and fixed, it is no less applicable to the children of Christians in the present day, than to the children of the Jews under the Old Testament.

Now, if they are partakers of the thing signified, how can they be denied the sign? If they obtain the reality, how can they be refused the figure? The external sign is so united in the sacrament with the word, that it cannot be separated from it: but if they can be separated, to which of the two shall we attach the greater value? Surely, when we see that the sign is subservient to the word, we shall say that it is subordinate, and assign it the inferior place. Since, then, the word of baptism is destined for infants, why should we deny them the sign, which is an appendage of the word?

This one reason, could no other be furnished, would be amply sufficient to refute all gainsayers. The objection, that there was a fixed day for circumcision, is a mere quibble. We admit that we are not now, like the Jews, tied down to certain days; but when the Lord declares, that though he prescribes no day, yet he is pleased that infants shall be formally admitted to his covenant, what more do we ask?

 

Calvin, Institutes, 4.16.4, concerning Infant Baptism

August 25, 2013 3 comments

4. There is now no difficulty in seeing wherein the two signs agree, and wherein they differ. The promise, in which we have shown that the power of the signs consists, is one in both–viz. the promise of the paternal favor of God, of forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. And the thing figured is one and the same–viz. regeneration. The foundation on which the completion of these things depends is one in both. Wherefore, there is no difference in the internal meaning, from which the whole power and peculiar nature of the sacrament is to be estimated. The only difference which remains is in the external ceremony, which is the least part of it, the chief part consisting in the promise and the thing signified.

Hence we may conclude, that everything applicable to circumcision applies also to baptism, excepting always the difference in the visible ceremony. To this analogy and comparison we are led by that rule of the apostle, in which he enjoins us to bring every interpretation of Scripture to the analogy of faith (Romans 12:3, 6). And certainly in this matter the truth may almost be felt. For just as circumcision, which was a kind of badge to the Jews, assuring them that they were adopted as the people and family of God, was their first entrance into the Church, while they, in their turn, professed their allegiance to God, so now we are initiated by baptism, so as to be enrolled among his people, and at the same time swear unto his name. Hence it is incontrovertible, that baptism has been substituted for circumcision, and performs the same office.

Calvin, Institutes 4.16.3, concerning Infant Baptism

August 25, 2013 4 comments

3. Now, since prior to the institution of baptism, the people of God had circumcision in its stead, let us see how far these two signs differ, and how far they resemble each other. In this way it will appear what analogy there is between them. When the Lord enjoins Abraham to observe circumcision (Genesis 17:10), he promises that he would be a God unto him and to his seed, adding, that in himself was a perfect sufficiency of all things, and that Abraham might reckon on his hand as a fountain of every blessing. These words include the promise of eternal life, as our Savior interprets when he employs it to prove the immortality and resurrection of believers: “God,” says he, “is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). Hence, too, Paul, when showing to the Ephesians how great the destruction was from which the Lord had delivered them, seeing that they had not been admitted to the covenant of circumcision, infers that at that time they were aliens from the covenant of promise, without God, and without hope (Ephesians 2:12), all these being comprehended in the covenant.

Now, the first access to God, the first entrance to immortal life, is the remission of sins. Hence it follows, that this corresponds to the promise of our cleansing in baptism. The Lord afterwards covenants with Abraham, that he is to walk before him in sincerity and innocence of heart: this applies to mortification or regeneration. And lest any should doubt whether circumcision were the sign of mortification, Moses explains more clearly elsewhere when he exhorts the people of Israel to circumcise the foreskin of their heart, because the Lord had chosen them for his own people, out of all the nations of the earth. As the Lord, in choosing the posterity of Abraham for his people, commands them to be circumcised, so Moses declares that they are to be circumcised in heart, thus explaining what is typified by that carnal circumcision.

Then, lest any one should attempt this in his own strength, he shows that it is the work of divine grace. All this is so often inculcated by the prophets, that there is no occasion here to collect the passages which everywhere occur. We have, therefore, a spiritual promise given to the fathers in circumcision, similar to that which is given to us in baptism, since it figured to them both the forgiveness of sins and the mortification of the flesh. Besides, as we have shown that Christ, in whom both of these reside, is the foundation of baptism, so must he also be the foundation of circumcision. For he is promised to Abraham, and in him all nations are blessed. To seal this grace, the sign of circumcision is added.

Calvin, Institutes 4.16.2, concerning Infant Baptism

August 25, 2013 4 comments

2. In the first place, then, it is a well-known doctrine, and one as to which all the pious are agreed,–that the right consideration of signs does not lie merely in the outward ceremonies, but depends chiefly on the promise and the spiritual mysteries, to typify which the ceremonies themselves are appointed. He, therefore, who would thoroughly understand the effect of baptism–its object and true character–must not stop short at the element and corporeal object, but look forward to the divine promises which are therein offered to us, and rise to the internal secrets which are therein represented. He who understands these has reached the solid truth and, so to speak, the whole substance of baptism, and will thence perceive the nature and use of outward sprinkling.

On the other hand, he who passes them by in contempt, and keeps his thoughts entirely fixed on the visible ceremony, will neither understand the force, nor the proper nature of baptism, nor comprehend what is meant, or what end is gained by the use of water. This is confirmed by passages of Scripture too numerous and too clear to make it necessary here to discuss them more at length.

It remains, therefore, to inquire into the nature and efficacy of baptism, as evinced by the promises therein given. Scripture shows, first, that it points to that cleansing from sin which we obtain by the blood of Christ; and, secondly, to the mortification of the flesh which consists in participation in his death, by which believers are regenerated to newness of life, and thereby to the fellowship of Christ. To these general heads may be referred all that the Scriptures teach concerning baptism, with this addition, that it is also a symbol to testify our religion to men.

Calvin, Institutes 4.16.1, concerning Infant Baptism

August 25, 2013 4 comments

1. But since, in this age, certain frenzied spirits have raised, and even now continue to raise, great disturbance in the Church on account of paedobaptism, I cannot avoid here, by way of appendix, adding something to restrain their fury. Should any one think me more prolix than the subject is worth, let him reflect that, in a matter of the greatest moment, so much is due to the peace and purity of the Church, that we should not fastidiously object to whatever may be conducive to both. I may add, that I will study so to arrange this discussion that it will tend, in no small degree, still farther to illustrate the subject of baptism.

The argument by which paedobaptism is assailed is, no doubt, specious–viz. that it is not founded on the institution of God, but was introduced merely by human presumption and depraved curiosity, and afterwards, by a foolish facility, rashly received in practice; whereas a sacrament has not a thread to hang upon, if it rest not on the sure foundation of the word of God. But what if, when the matter is properly attended to, it should be found that a calumny is falsely and unjustly brought against the holy ordinance of the Lord? First, then, let us inquire into its origin. Should it appear to have been devised merely by human rashness, let us abandon it, and regulate the true observance of baptism entirely by the will of the Lord; but should it be proved to be by no means destitute of his sure authority, let us beware of discarding the sacred institutions of God, and thereby insulting their author.

Chapter 18: Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation (I)

I. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation(a) (which hope of theirs shall perish):(b) yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace,(c) and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.(d)

(a) Job 8:13, 14; Micah 3:11; Deuteronomy 29:19; Job 8:41
(b) Matthew 7:22, 23
(c) 1 John 2:3; 1 John 3:14, 18, 19, 21, 24; 1 John 5:13
(d) Romans 5:2, 5

 

Chapter 17: Of the Perseverance of the Saints (III)

III. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins;(a) and, for a time, continue therein:(b) whereby they incur God’s displeasure,(c) and grieve His Holy Spirit,(d) come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts,(e) have their hearts hardened,(f) and their consciences wounded;(g) hurt and scandalize others,(h) and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.(i)

(a) Matthew 26:70, 72, 74
(b) Psalm 51:Title, 14
(c) Isaiah 64:5, 7, 9; 2 Samuel 11:27
(d) Ephesians 4:30
(e) Psalm 51:8, 10, 12; Revelation 2:4; Song of Solomon 5:2-4, 6
(f) Isaiah 63:17; Mark 6:52; Mark 16:14
(g) Psalm 32:3, 4; Psalm 51:8
(h) 2 Samuel 12:14
(i) Psalm 89:31, 32; 1 Corinthians 11:32

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