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

Wisdom of Sirach on speech: This is the trial of men

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Belgic Confession Article 6 addresses the difference between the canonical and apocryphal books:

We distinguish between these holy books and the apocryphal ones, which are the third and fourth books of Esdras; the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch; what was added to the Story of Esther; the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace; the Story of Susannah; the Story of Bell and the Dragon; the Prayer of Manasseh; and the two books of Maccabees.

The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.

 

Therefore we see that, though not canonical, the apocryphal books may be read for our edification in as far as they agree with the canonical Holy Scriptures. The Wisdom of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, offers some valuable insights regarding our speech:

 

“Honour and shame is in talk: and the tongue of man is his fall.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 5:13

 

“Learn before thou speak.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 18:19b

 

“He that can rule his tongue shall live without strife; and he that hateth babbling shall have less evil.

Whether it be to friend or foe, talk not of other men’s lives; and if thou canst without offence, reveal them not.

For he heard and observed thee, and when time cometh he will hate thee.

If thou hast heard a word, let it die with thee; and be bold, it will not burst thee.

There is one that slippeth in his speech, but not from his heart; and who is he that hath not offended with his tongue?”

– Wisdom of Sirach 19:6, 8-10, 16

 

“There is one that keepeth silence, and is found wise: and another by much babbling becometh hateful.

Some man holdeth his tongue, because he hath not to answer: and some keepeth silence, knowing his time.

A wise man will hold his tongue till he see opportunity: but a babbler and a fool will regard no time.

He that useth many words shall be abhorred; and he that taketh to himself authority therein shall be hated.

A wise man by his words maketh him beloved: but the graces of fools shall be poured out.

To slip upon a pavement is better than to slip with the tongue: so the fall of the wicked shall come speedily.

An unseasonable tale will always be in the mouth of the unwise.

A wise sentence shall be rejected when it cometh out of a fool’s mouth; for he will not speak it in due season.

A lie is a foul blot in a man, yet it is continually in the mouth of the untaught.

A wise man shall promote himself to honour with his words: and he that hath understanding will please great men.

Wisdom that is hid, and treasure that is hoarded up, what profit is in them both?

Better is he that hideth his folly than a man that hideth his wisdom.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 20:5-8, 13, 18-20, 24, 27, 30-31

 

“Hear, O ye children, the discipline of the mouth: he that keepeth it shall never be taken in his lips.

The sinner shall be left in his foolishness: both the evil speaker and the proud shall fall thereby.

Accustom not thy mouth to swearing; neither use thyself to the naming of the Holy One.

For as a servant that is continually beaten shall not be without a blue mark: so he that sweareth and nameth God continually shall not be faultless.

A man that useth much swearing shall be filled with iniquity, and the plague shall never depart from his house: if he shall offend, his sin shall be upon him: and if he acknowledge not his sin, he maketh a double offence: and if he swear in vain, he shall not be innocent, but his house shall be full of calamities.

There is a word that is clothed about with death: God grant that it be not found in the heritage of Jacob; for all such things shall be far from the godly, and they shall not wallow in their sins.

Use not thy mouth to intemperate swearing, for therein is the word of sin.

Remember thy father and thy mother, when thou sittest among great men. Be not forgetful before them, and so thou by thy custom become a fool, and wish that thou hadst not been born, and curse the day of thy nativity.

The man that is accustomed to opprobrious words will never be reformed all the days of his life.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 23:7-15

 

“As when one sifteth with a sieve, the refuse remaineth; so the filth of man in his talk.

The furnace proveth the potter’s vessels; so the trial of man is in his reasoning.

The fruit declareth if the tree have been dressed; so is the utterance of a conceit in the heart of man.

Praise no man before thou hearest him speak; for this is the trial of men.

The discourse of a godly man is always with wisdom; but a fool changeth as the moon.

If thou be among the indiscreet, observe the time; but be continually among men of understanding.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 27:4-7, 11-12

 

“Abstain from strife, and thou shalt diminish thy sins: for a furious man will kindle strife,

A sinful man disquieteth friends, and maketh debate among them that be at peace.

As the matter of the fire is, so it burneth: and as a man’s strength is, so is his wrath; and according to his riches his anger riseth; and the stronger they are which contend, the more they will be inflamed.

An hasty contention kindleth a fire: and an hasty fighting sheddeth blood.

If thou blow the spark, it shall burn: if thou spit upon it, it shall be quenched: and both these come out of thy mouth.

Curse the whisperer and doubletongued: for such have destroyed many that were at peace.

A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many, and driven them from nation to nation: strong cities hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of great men.

A backbiting tongue hath cast out virtuous women, and deprived them of their labours.

Whoso hearkeneth unto it shall never find rest, and never dwell quietly.

The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones.

Many have fallen by the edge of the sword: but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.

Weigh thy words in a balance, and make a door and bar for thy mouth.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 28:9-18, 25

16th century Protestant Confessions on the marks of the true church

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Protestantism sought to place the church upon a different foundation than that which was perceived in Rome. As the Ten Theses of Berne, a 1528 Reformed confession, put it in its first thesis:

“The holy, Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, abides in the same, and does not listen to the voice of a stranger.”

Early Protestants believed the true church to exist in those places, but only in those places, in which they found the gospel preached and the sacraments rightly administered. This was not only the case with the Reformed, but also with Lutherans and Anglicans, as the Augsburg Confession (1530) and Thirty-Nine Articles (1571) show respectively:

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Augsburg Confession (Lutheran), Article VII: Of the Church

“Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6.”

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Thirty-Nine Articles (Anglican), Article XIX. Of the Church (in part)

“The visible Church of Christe, is a congregation of faythfull men, in the which the pure worde of God is preached, and the Sacrarnentes be duely  ministred,  accordyng  to Christes ordinaunce in all those thynges that of necessitie are requisite to the same.”

In this pairing, the preaching of the Word held the primacy, especially with the Reformed, who demonstrated this liturgically by moving the pulpit to the centre of the church, for the preaching of the Word was the “abiding mark” that rendered all else within the church intelligible. The condemnation of “synagogues of the devil” in the Genevan Confession below (1536; written by Guillaume Farel and John Calvin) is mitigated, but only somewhat, by Calvin’s acknowledgment that vestiges of the church still exist among the Roman Catholics:

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Genevan Confession, Article 18 – The Church

“While there is one only Church of Jesus Christ, we always acknowledge that necessity requires companies of the faithful to be distributed in different places. Of these assemblies each one is called the Church. But in as much as all companies do not assemble in the name of our Lord, but rather to blaspheme and pollute him by their sacrilegious deeds, we believe that the proper mark by which we rightly discern the Church of Jesus Christ is that his holy gospel be purely and faithfully preached, proclaimed, heard, and kept, that his sacrament be properly administered, even if there be some imperfections and faults, as there always will be among men. On the other hand, where the Gospel is not declared, heard, and received, there we do not acknowledge the form of the Church. Hence the churches governed by the ordinances of the pope are rather synagogues of the devil than Christian churches.”

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John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.ii.12

“Therefore, while we are unwilling simply to concede the name of Church to the Papists, we do not deny that there are churches among them. The question we raise only relates to the true and legitimate constitution of the Church, implying communion in sacred rites, which are the signs of profession, and especially in doctrine.”

Interestingly, the Belgic Confession (1561) would go on to add a third mark of the true church, that of church discipline:

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Belgic Confession, Article 29: The Marks of the True Church

“We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of ‘the church.’

We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves ‘the church.’

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.”