Johann Arndt (1555-1621): O excellent gift of God!

Johann_Arndt

A merry Christmas to you all! Today we remember the greatest gift anyone ever received: Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, our Lord and Saviour. In the words of Lutheran theologian Johann Arndt (1555-1621):

“Thy mercy, O Lord, has made thee all our own, and put a title to all thy merits into our hands. When thou becamest a tender infant, it was wholly for our sakes, unto whom thou art ‘born a child.’ Isa. 9:6. When thou wast made an offering for our sins, and when thou wast slain as an innocent lamb on the cross, it was to give up thyself unto us, and freely to impart unto us all things beside. O excellent gift of God! a good wholly appropriated to us, even our own peculiar good and treasure!

(a) Behold! beloved Christian, the wisdom of God! God has by means of this everlasting good made himself our own property, that he might thereby in return make us his own. For having purchased us ‘with a price,’ we are no longer our own, but his who hath bought us. 1 Cor. 6:19, 20. For whosoever receives so excellent a gift, receives also the Giver himself, from whom it proceeds. And again, whosoever possesses any good as his own, he makes it his own to all intents and purposes, and to the best advantage he can. Thus, likewise, is Christ become thy own and proper good. Thou canst apply him in such a manner, as to obtain by him everlasting life and salvation.

(b) Christ is become the true medicine of thy soul, to restore thee—thy meat and thy drink, to refresh thee—thy fountain of life, to quench thy thirst—thy light, in darkness—thy joy, in sadness—thine advocate, against thy accusers—wisdom, against thy folly—righteousness, against thy sin—sanctification, against thy unworthiness—redemption, against thy bondage—the mercy-seat, against the judgment-seat—the throne of grace, against thy condemnation—thy absolution, against thy fearful sentence—thy peace and rest, against an evil conscience—thy victory, against all thine enemies—thy champion, against all thy persecutors—the bridegroom of thy soul, against all rivals—thy mediator, against the wrath of God—thy propitiation, against all thy trespasses—thy strength, against thy weakness—thy way, against thy wandering—thy truth, against lying and vanity—thy life, against death. He is thy counsel, when thou hast none to advise thee—thy power, in the midst of thine infirmities—thy Everlasting Father, when thou art forsaken and fatherless—thy Prince of Peace, against the adversary—thy ransom, against thy debt—thy crown of glory, against thy reproach—thy teacher, against thy ignorance—thy Judge, against thy oppressor—thy King, to destroy the kingdom of Satan—thine everlasting High Priest, to intercede for thee.”

– Johann Arndt (1555-1621), True Christianity (Sechs Bücher vom Wahren Christenthum), II.i.4.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on Joseph as a foreshadowing of Christ

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I am currently working through Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) A History of the Work of Redemption – a book I should have already read a long time ago – and finding it a delightful read. Originally a series of 30 lecture-sermons preached to his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1739, these sermons were later edited to take the form of a coherent treatise, and this is the form in which we find the work under its present title.

Edwards’ work traces God’s redemptive dealings with man throughout history, and in his treatment of Old Testament redemptive history he constantly shows how God’s redemptive works in the Old Testament foreshadowed and pointed to the redemption in Christ which was to come. I particularly appreciated his brief exposition of Joseph as a type of Christ. This is from p. 68-69 in the Banner of Truth edition:

“The next thing I would like to observe, is God’s remarkably preserving the family of which Christ was to proceed from perishing by famine by the instrumentality of Joseph. When there was seven years’ famine approaching, God was pleased, by a wonderful providence, to send Joseph into Egypt, there to provide for and feed Jacob and his family, and to keep the holy seed alive, which otherwise would have perished. Joseph was sent to Egypt for that end, as he observes (Gen. 50:20): ‘But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to save much people alive.’ How often had this holy root that had the future branch of righteousness, the glorious Redeemer, in it been in danger of being destroyed! But God wonderfully preserved it.

This salvation of the house of Israel by the hand of Joseph, was upon some accounts very much a resemblance of the salvation of Christ. The children of Israel were saved by Joseph their kinsman and brother, from perishing by famine; as he that saves the souls of the spiritual Israel from spiritual famine is their near kinsman, and one that is not ashamed to call them brethren, Joseph was a brother that they had hated, and sold and as it were killed; for they had designed to kill him. So Christ is one that we naturally hate and, by our wicked lives, have sold for the vain things of the world, and by our sins have slain. Joseph was first in a state of humiliation. He was a servant, as Christ appeared in the form of a servant. Then he was cast into a dungeon, as Christ descended into the grave; and then when he rose out of the dungeon he was in a state of great exaltation, at the king’s right hand as his deputy, to reign over all his kingdom, to provide food, to preserve life. And being in this state of exaltation, he dispenses food to his brethren, and so gives them life; as Christ was exalted at God’s right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour to his brethren, and received gifts for men, even for the rebellious, and for them that hated and had sold him.”

Johannes Wollebius (1589-1629), Heinrich von Diest (1595-1673), and Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588-1638) on the difference between a heretic and a schismatic

Johannes Wollebius

Facebook, if used moderately, is a great tool not only for interacting with others in general, but particularly to discuss theology with fellow Christians around the world. Many of the theologians I’ve come to love I’ve learnt of via Facebook through the posts and links of others, and it has often been a medium to share the gems I myself have found in my reading. That being said, Facebook has often been the site of many – often ugly – arguments and infighting between fellow Christians, which is utterly unfortunate. Some even go out of their way to post something controversial in order to provoke debate and controversy. While debate in itself is not a bad thing, often things get out of hand, and I’ve seen people calling others “heretics” based on the slightest difference of views. Now, I’m not a flag-bearer for ecumenism, and certainly a spade should be called a spade and heresies should be rebutted when they do appear, but we must be careful to distinguish between a heretic and a schismatic. In this regard, Johannes Wollebius (1589-1629) helps us out by stating the difference between the two, in his Compendium Theologiae Christianae, I.XXVII.1:

“Heretics are those who persistently, against the demonstrating light of truth, defend some dogma which directly or by a necessary consequence overthrows the foundation of Christian faith.”

He goes on:

 “I. Not every error makes a heretic.

There may be error against the foundation [of the faith] like that of the Arians and Marcionites, who denied, the former the deity, and the latter the humanity, of Christ; or concerning the foundation, as the papists err in teaching transubstantiation, by which the truth of the human nature of Christ is taken away; or error by addition to the foundation, which errors are by Paul called hay, wood, etc. (1 Cor. 3:12).

II. The following make a heretic: (1) an error against the foundation [of the faith] or concerning the foundation, (2) conviction, (3) contumacy [i.e. rebellion against orthodox doctrine].

III. A schismatic is one who, although holding to the foundation of the faith, departs from some rite of the church, rashly or because of ambition.”

Heinrich Heppe (1820-1879) quotes two other Reformed theologians in his Reformed Dogmatics who say the exact same thing (p. 669):

Heinrich von Diest

“A schismatic is one who while preserving the faith’s foundation departs from some rite of the Church or from a received doctrine or, for some other reason, from the Church. A heretic is one, who convulsing the foundations of faith either directly or by inevitable inference gives persistent battle on behalf of his heresy.”

– Heinrich von Diest (1595-1673), Theologia Biblica, p. 429

Johann Heinrich Alsted

“A heretic differs from a schismatic. – The former errs in the doctrine and substance of faith, the schismatic in accessories. – The heretic corrupts the purity of faith by false dogma, the schismatic disrupts the bond of fraternal association.”

– Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588-1638), Theologia Scholastica Didactica, p. 689

Based on this distinction, we can’t go around calling anyone who differs from us in the least detail a heretic. Heppe points out that, despite the Lutheran Church being regarded as schismatic by Reformed dogmaticians, yet “the kinship in faith of the two Protestant confessions was acknowledged.”

Therefore, friends, let us be careful who we call heretics. From a Reformed perspective, though Lutherans and Baptists, for example, differ from us in some respects (and not that these differences are mere trifles!), yet they do not overthrow the faith in doing so, since the foundation of the faith is still upheld by them. On this basis, the fraternal bond is preserved.

Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) and Amandus Polanus (1561-1610) on Christ’s descent into hell

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Every Sunday, Christians around the world confess the Apostles’ Creed during worship. Sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Symbol (based on its Latin title Symbolum Apostolicum), it consists of twelve articles. The fifth article includes a clause which has often led to controversy, particularly in Reformed-Roman Catholic polemics. In it we confess that “he [Christ] descended into hell.”

Now, how should Christ’s descent into hell be understood? Many Roman Catholic theologians (though not all) have understood it by what in English has become known as the “Harrowing of Hell.” This view, in short, holds that the patriarchs of the Old Testament could not enter heaven until redemption by Christ made this possible. They were therefore kept in a part of the underworld called the limbus patrum (the Limbo of the Fathers/Patriarchs) until Christ’s soul descended into it and liberated them. But did Christ descend localiter (locally, i.e. spatially) into hell in the three days between his crucifixion and resurrection? Several reasons may be given why this was not the case, as Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) shows:

“The Reformed deny all local descent, because (1) neither would he [Christ] have descended according to the divine nature (which by its omnipresence rejects all local movement), nor according to the human, which once more neither descends as regards the body (which throughout the three days partly hung on the Cross, partly lay in the tomb), nor according to the soul, since at the point of death he commended it into his Father’s hands, and since it ascended that very day to Paradise (Lk. 23:43), as Adam on the very day of his sin was ejected and carried away from Paradise (Gen. 3:23, 24). (2) Because a local descent is quite useless and superfluous. He did not descend into hell to suffer for us there: that had already been finished on the cross (Jn. 19:30). Nor to satisfy for our sins by such a descent; this was already provided for by his death (Heb. 2:14; 9:12; 1 Thess. 1:10). Nor to bring the patriarchs of the Old Testament out of hell, since they never were in hell, as is clear from Enoch’s case (Heb. 11:5) and Elijah’s (2 Kings 2:11). Nor to triumph over the devils; that was already done on the cross (Heb. 2:14, 15; Col. 2:14-15) and afterwards also in the ascension (Eph. 4:8-12) I shall add (3) because the Papists’ limbo is nothing but a superfluous fiction devoid of all Scripture and reason.”

– Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706), Theoretico-practica Theologia, V.xiii.12.

Amandus Polanus

Thus it is clear that Christ did not and could not have descended into hell locally. The majority of Reformed theologians understood Christ’s descent into hell in a different manner, referring it to the agony Christ suffered on the cross when he underwent the punitive judgment of God the Father in our stead. Amandus Polanus (1561-1610) explains:

“Christ descended into hell the moment when in the garden he struggled with the judgment and wrath of God and the horror of eternal death and ran the whole of him with bloody sweat; and was made a curse for us on the cross. And accordingly he descended living into hell and tasted the tortures of gehenna, though not however dead. Whence we understand that Christ descended into hell not locally, i.e. by quitting the body with the substance of the soul for the place appointed for the damned, because with it he entered paradise, he committed it into the Father’s hands; but virtually, secundum virtutem, by the strength by which he conquered hell and its pains in himself for our good. In the Apostolic Symbol the article on Christ’s descent into hell is placed after the article on the burial, but this is done in order that the things which happened outwardly to Christ, expressly in his body, might be recounted first, and only then the inward happenings to his soul.”

– Amandus Polanus (1561-1610), Syntagma Theologiae, VI.21.

Johann Heinrich Heidegger (1633-1698) on outward and inward calling

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When a preacher outwardly calls a man to faith and repentance, his proclamation is essentially combined with the inward efficacy of the Holy Spirit. Says Johann Heinrich Heidegger (1633-1698) in his Corpus Theologiae Christianae:

“The outward calling of the elect through the word preached by men is very closely connected with inward accosting by the Holy Spirit. Were it separate from this it would be of no avail. For the word preached by men strikes the ears of natural man, dead in sins… Any word, however divine, most true, most wise, most pleasant in itself and thoroughly lovable, when addressed to a sinner still dead in sin, whose heart has not been inscribed by the Holy Spirit, remains but a letter, slays the sinner and provokes him to sin (2 Cor. 3:6; Rom. 5:20; 7:8).” (XXI. 21)

As a result, Heidegger goes on to insist that the Word by which the Holy Spirit effects the calling is the same Word by which God’s call to faith and repentance is outwardly proclaimed to man:

“The word is the same which man preaches and which the Spirit writes on the heart. There is strictly one calling, but its cause and medium is twofold: instrumental, man preaching the word outwardly; principal, the Holy Spirit writing it inwardly in the heart.” (XXI. 22)

Heidegger then defines the calling of the elect to regeneration thus:

“Thus calling is consummated, fulfilling the whole measure and emphasis of the word, [it] is that by which, the Spirit inwardly renewing, enlightening, bending, drawing, founding, consolidating, strengthening, sealing, man becomes a new creature in the realm of grace…” (XXI. 23)

Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) on the perspicuity of Scripture as a short cut to the truth

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“Not only does Holy Scripture possess in itself such perspicuity that by it a man may be saved even though destitute of other instrument and aid. But also by His grace God brings it to pass, that interpretation of Scripture and manifestation of the truth arises from it. So there is no longer need to discover from the Scriptures truth unusual as it were, and unheard of (as we are forced to look for the meanings of the Jews from the Talmud and its exegetes, for those of the Turks from the Qur’an, the stone-dead opinions of other races from the tomes of the ancients). By propagating the Church once gathered by the prophets, Christ and the apostles to the end of the World, and by preserving the truth in it so that it does not depart from her mouth, Is. 59.21 , God brings it about that the gospel is preached in the world till the end of the world, and that it is put in everyone’s way together with the sacred literature itself, and that it is a short cut to learn and approve the truth from it.”

– Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), Summa Theologiae, VI. 64, 65

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) on guilt, grace, and gratitude in the Old Testament ceremonial law

Francis Turretin

 

Those of you who are familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism will know that the Catechism explicitly adopts a threefold structure in its treatment of Christian doctrine, as laid out in Question 2:

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

These three things are often summarized as “guilt, grace, and gratitude”.

Now, how might the Old Testament ceremonial law have anything to do with the above? With the ceremonial law having been fulfilled and abolished in the work of Christ (Col. 2:14, 16; Dan. 9:27; Eph. 2:15-16), some may wonder whether it is still of any benefit to us when we read of it in the Old Testament. The Belgic Confession helps us in this regard:

Article 25: The Fulfillment of the Law

We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled.

Nevertheless, we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will.

The Confession states that “we continue to use the witness drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel…”. In this line, Francis Turretin (1623-1687) demonstrates how “guilt, grace, and gratitude” were exhibited in the Old Testament ceremonial law:

“With regard to the covenant of grace, there was a use of the law to show its necessity by a demonstration of sin and of human misery; of its truth and excellence by a shadowing forth of Christ and his offices and benefits; to seal his manifold grace in its figures and sacraments; to keep up the expectation and desire of him by that laborious worship and by the severity of its discipline to compel them to seek him; and to exhibit the righteousness and image of the spiritual worship required by him in that covenant. Undoubtedly three things are always to be specially inculcated upon man: (1) his misery; (2) God’s mercy; (3) the duty of gratitude: what he is by nature; what he has received by grace; and what he owes by obedience. These three things the ceremonial law set before the eyes of the Israelites, since ceremonies included especially these three relations. The first inasmuch as they were appendices of the law and the two others as sacraments of evangelical grace. (a) There were confessions of sins, of human misery and of guilt contracted by sin (Col. 2:14; Heb.10:1-3). (b) Symbols and shadows of God’s mercy and of the grace to be bestowed by Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:13, 14). (c) Images and pictures of duty and of the worship to be paid to God in testimony of a grateful mind (Rom. 12:1). Misery engendered in their minds humility; mercy, solace; and the duty of gratitude, sanctification. These three were expressly designated in the sacrifices. For as they were a “handwriting” on the part of God (Col. 2:14) representing the debt contracted by sin, so they were a shadow of the ransom (lytrou) to be paid by Christ (Col. 2:17, Heb. 10:5, 10) and pictures of the reasonable (latreias logikēs) and gospel worship to be given to God by believers (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5).”

– Francis Turretin (1623-1687), Institutes of Elenctic Theology, XI.24.9