Andreas Essenius (1618-1677) on Christ’s ascension

Andreas Essenius

 

The Utrecht professor Andreas Essenius (1618-1677) discusses Christ’s ascension in his Compendium Theologiae Dogmaticum, Chapter XII, Section LXI, which I have translated below:

The ascension to heaven is the second step of [Christ’s] exaltation [the resurrection being the first], by which Christ was carried up from earth to the highest heaven locally and visibly; where he dwells for the good of the Church, until he will return for the final universal judgment. ‘After the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven’ (Mk. 16:19).

The moving subject was Christ himself according to his human nature: and so the same soul and the same body which was united in his resurrection should here be held in view […]

The terminus a quo was the Mount of Olives near Bethany (Lk. 24:50-51). The terminus ad quem was the highest heaven, or the heaven of the blessed (Eph. 4:10; Heb. 7:26).

As pertains to the manner, this ascension happened locally, by departing earth, and by advancing on high through means [presumably Essenius has the clouds on which Christ ascended in mind here]; and at the same time visibly, his disciples beholding this movement for some time by sight (Acts 1:9-11).

Concerning the time, this happened after Christ had for 40 days affirmed the truth of his resurrection and further instructed his disciples about various things.

This was predicted (Ps. 68:18; cf. Eph. 4:8-11) and prefigured by the high priest, when he annually entered the holy of holies, which is a type [exemplar] of heaven (Lev. 16:12-17; cf. Heb. 9:7, 24).

The efficient cause was the same as that of the resurrection, namely the power of God, and hence with respect to the Father it is called assumption; but with respect to the Son it is called ascension (Acts. 1:11) […]

Its ends were the following:

1) So that he would position his human nature, now truly glorified, in its true abode of glory; that he would demonstrate himself as Lord of heaven: and that he would most gloriously triumph over all his enemies (Eph. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:47-49; Eph. 4:8).

2) So that he would dispense those things which he had accomplished for the salvation of the elect in heaven by his intercession, and at the same time would send the Spirit to his own, to distribute his various gifts (Heb. 9:24; Jn. 14:2-3; 16:7).

3) So that he would take possession of his own by name in the kingdom of heaven; and so that from this we would have a most assured evidence of our own ascension to heaven (Eph. 2:6; 1 Cor. 15:49; Jn. 17:24; Rev. 3:21).

4) So that we would be in constant meditation on heavenly things, and always be attentive of things above (Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:20).

Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721): 6 marks by which true theology may be distinguished from false theology

Melchior Leydekker

 

According to Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721), in his Synopsis Theologiae Christianae (Chapter 1, p. 13), true theology bears six marks by which it may be distinguished from false theology. Of course, many others could be added to this brief list, but, generally speaking, these are helpful to distinguish true from false theology. It is a mark of true theology when:

  1. It gives the greatest glory to God (Rom 11:26; 1 Cor. 1:30-31).

  2. It draws every holy and blessed good thing out of God as its source (1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 2:8, 10).

  3. It expounds the true reason of reconciliation with God through the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:19-24; 1 Cor. 2:2).

  4. It humbles sinful man, convicts him of his sin and misery, and compels him to the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:9-10).

  5. It demonstrates the true reasons for sincere piety, filial obedience, and genuine gratitude (Rom. 12:1; Ps. 2:11; Tit. 2:11).

  6. It consoles those whose consciences are terrified by the divine law and whose souls are poor in spirit, through Christ the Mediator and the promises of the Gospel (Is. 40:1; 61:1-2; Matt. 5:3; Lk. 2:24).

Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) on the means by which to pursue theology

Melchior Leydekker

 

In chapter 1 of his Synopsis Theologiae Christianae, Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) briefly comments on the means which one should in the pursuit of theology. He lists five (p. 11):

  1. The pious and painstaking reading, meditation, and comparison of Holy Scripture [in the sense of interpreting Scripture by Scripture] (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:15).

  2. Faithful and effective prayer (Js. 1:5; Ps. 119:18).

  3. Humble reverence and pious practice toward God (Ps. 111:10; Jn. 5:42, 44; 7:17).

  4. The legitimate use of the writings of ecclesiastics.

  5. The study of the oriental languages, true and solid philosophy, history, etc.

Although he doesn’t elaborate, it seems natural to me that by “the writings of ecclesiastics” he would not only include official church documents such as creeds, confessions, and synodical decrees, but also the books which have been deposited in the church by individual theologians throughout its history. By “oriental” languages, no doubt, Leydekker has in mind the biblical languages (including Greek, of course), not only those which we would refer to as “oriental,” such as Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.

Just a few comments on the first four of these points.

Firstly, as Leydekker points out a few pages before, the external principle (principium externum) of all our theology is Holy Scripture, and the internal principle (principium internum) is the grace of the Holy Spirit, “internally teaching, instructing, and certifying the divinity and true sense of Holy Scripture.”  Hence the preeminence he gives to Scripture here.

Secondly, regarding prayer, notice his citation of James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Students of theology should not depend on their unaided reason, but should constantly look to God in prayer to enlighten their minds as they study.

Thirdly, theology is not merely an intellectual (i.e. theoretical) exercise. Reformed Orthodox theologians emphasised the practical nature of theology, and Leydekker is no exception. He says a few pages earlier that “the whole of theology is practical, inasmuch as it refers, directs, and leads every divine truth perceived by the intellect to practice.” After all, the very name of this blog, taken from Petrus van Mastricht, points to this: theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ; that is, doctrine (theoretica) is a means to an end, namely living (practica) unto God through Christ.

Finally, regarding the legitimate use of tradition (i.e. reading the ecclesiastics), see these posts from Richard A. Muller and Carl Trueman.

Herman Witsius (1636-1708): Definition of a theologian

220px-Hermann_Witsius

 

In his inaugural lecture at the University of Franeker in 1675, Herman Witsius (1636-1708) spoke on the character of a true theologian (De Vero Theologo). Below is his definition of a theologian:

“By a theologian, I mean one who, imbued with a substantial knowledge of divine things derived from the teaching of God Himself, declares and extols, not in words only, but by the whole course of his life, the wonderful excellencies of God and thus lives entirely for His glory. Such were in former days the holy patriarchs, such the divinely inspired prophets, such the apostolic teachers of the whole world, such some of those whom we denominate fathers, the widely resplendent luminaries of the primitive Church. The knowledge of these men did not lie in the wiredrawn subtleties of curious questions, but in the devout contemplation of God and His Christ. Their plain and chaste mode of teaching did not soothe itching ears but, impressing upon the mind an exact representation of sacred things, inflamed the soul with their love, while their praiseworthy innocence of behaviour, in harmony with their profession and unimpeached by their enemies, supported their teaching by an evidence that was irresistible, and formed a clear proof of their having familiar intercourse with the most holy God.”

This lecture can be found in his Miscellaneorum Sacrorum Libri IV, and, should you be interested, an English translation is available here.

Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666): Theology is not only speculative

Johannes Hoornbeeck

To add to previous posts from Edwards and Calvin on the practical nature of theology, this is from the Utrecht and Leiden professor Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666), Theologiæ Practicæ, vol. 1, p. 7:

“Theology never teaches one only to speculate but always directs the action of the will towards some object whether good or evil, so that we may detest and flee the latter and truly so that we may love and pursue the former, and at every point in the same mode and order be directed to God.”

Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722) on the Reformed Church

Johannes d'Outrein

Tonight I was reading through some sections of the catechism of Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722), titled Een Korte Schets der Godlyke Waarheden (A Short Sketch of Divine Truths), and thought this excerpt was worth translating into English and sharing:

Question 11. Where is the true church now to be found?

Answer: In the congregation where the marks of the true church are found.

Question 12. What are these marks?

Answer: Where the pure preaching of God’s word is, and the Sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ – there is the external (i.e. visible) congregation in which those who believe and are converted constitute the true Church.

Question 13. And which is presently this congregation?

Answer: The Reformed Church.

Question 14. Do you then exclude [those of] other convictions from the true church?

Answer: No, if they do not err in essential points, if there is [held among them] the justification of sinners before God, etc.

Question 15. What do you hold of the Roman Church?

Answer: That it is apostate [‘afvallig’ in the original Dutch] and a multitude of carnal confessors, who make up the beast which we see in Revelation chapter 13, etc.

Question 16. Do you then exclude all who belong to the Roman Church from the true Church and hence from salvation?

Answer: We would like to hope the best of such who are simple under Popery and trust in Christ and his merit, but those who know the depths of Satan and reject the true doctrine of the reconciliation of sinners to God through the blood of Christ alone, there we cannot see much good of expectation. See Is. 45:22-24; Jer. 17:5.

Question 17. If the Reformed Church is the true one, is the true church then entirely new, because where was the church before the Reformation?

Answer: The true church was then in the captivity of the Spiritual Babel and was greatly obscured, though at all times there were those who clung to the true doctrine. See Song of Songs 6:10; Rev. 14:6.

Question 18. Did our forefathers have reasons to separate themselves from the Roman Church?

Answer: Yes indeed, because it was then so bastardized in doctrine and morals that one could not remain in such a depraved Church without running into the greatest danger of his salvation.

Question 19. But the Reformed Church is now also much deteriorated; does one for this reason also have no reason to separate oneself from it, as the Labadists do?

Answer: By no means, because 1) The deterioration is not so general, so that there are still many who serve God in truth. 2) The doctrine of truth is confessed purely among us, and as long as this happens there is no reason for separation. 3) One must also take care that that does not apply to us which is stated in Isaiah 65:5: ‘Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou’.”

– Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722), Een Korte Schets der Godlyke Waarheden, Chapter XX (Of the Christian Church)

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

petrus_van_mastricht1

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.