The infinite became finite; the eternal and supratemporal entered time and became subject to it. The immutable became mutable. The invisible became visible. The Creator became created. The sustainer of all became dependent. The Almighty became weak. God became man.
Christianity displays a supernatural view of the cosmos. The origin of the universe was in a decision of Almighty God to create the heavens and the earth. The God who created is not silent. He has spoken through the prophets – through Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah and the writing prophets. Creator God is also triune: the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. These three different persons are the one incomparable true and living God.
The three have eternally existed in the closest affection for one another, never is the Father at odds with the Son and the Spirit. There are no neuroses, no tensions, no disagreements, not the slightest unhappiness any person has with another. They are one in their attributes, infinite and eternal. They are unchangeable in their being, wisdom, holiness, power, patience, meekness, kindness and truth. Each delights in the others with adoring affection.
God, having spoken to men and women through his servants the prophets, finally commissions his only begotten Son to come into the world. The Son had visited and communed with people in the appearance of a man on numerous occasions. He walked and talked with our first parents in Eden; he appeared to Abraham; he wrestled with Jacob; he strengthened Gideon as one dressed as a mighty warrior. The Son of God was filled with the anticipation of coming to our beautiful yet groaning globe for vast ages, longing for the set time to come when he would come into a family and village and enjoy especially close friends.
The Son of God came
So, at the right time, in these last days which he inaugurated, the Son of God came. He abandoned none of his distinctive divine attributes. How could he cease for a second being what he eternally had always been and eternally will be? That would be impossible – God no longer God! He remained omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnicompetent, but he did veil those characteristics by coming in flesh and blood. He became incarnate, that is, he added to his divinity everything that is human, three-dimensional, historical, touchable and visible in wounded humanity.
He had exactly the same biochemical composition as our own, exactly the same anatomy and physiology, the same central nervous system, the same sensitivity to pain. God did not give him some unique analgesic, a pain killer. The Holy Spirit overshadowed his mother Mary and then she made the same contribution as any human mother makes to the genetic make-up of her child – half his chromosomes came from her while the rest were imparted miraculously by the Holy Spirit in the virgin birth.
You Might also like
By R. Scott Clark — 2 years ago
Written by R. Scott Clark |
Thursday, June 2, 2022
We have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from the works of the law (Rom 3:24, 28; 4:1; 5:1; 8:1). Sanctification is being worked in us. It results in a change in us. We do good works because we have been freely justified and because we are being freely sanctified (Rom 7:4; Eph 2:10; 5:9; Col 1:10; Phil 1:11; 2:13; Gal 5:22; James 2:14; 3:13). We are being conformed to the image of Christ. Mortification (putting to death of the old man) and vivification (the making alive of the new man) is being worked in us by the gracious, gradual work of the Spirit.
For many evangelicals and for some ostensibly Reformed folk it has been fashionable for the last several years to teach that we are justified now by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), based on Christ’s righteousness imputed, but that because salvation includes sanctification and sanctification entails works, we shall finally be saved, as they say, “through good works.” One prominent evangelical organization published the thesis: “You are not saved by faith alone. Be killing sin.” Thus, what this two-stage approach to salvation gives with the right hand (initial justification sola fide) it takes away with the left (final salvation through works).
Most of the Federal Visionists are explicit about their rejection of the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and about their rejection of imputation on the basis of justification. Some of them, however, cleverly affirm initial justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and one of them even affirms the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. Remember, however, for them, there is a second stage. Others, who style themselves opponents of antinomianism but who do not identify as Federal Visionists, also teach a two-stage doctrine of salvation and final salvation through works.
Make no mistake about it. This is an intentional revision of the Reformation doctrine of salvation. Their goal is that Christians should be more sanctified and produce more good works, but they are dissatisfied with the Reformation doctrine of justification, sanctification, and glorification by grace alone, through faith alone. They do not believe that good works are nothing but the fruit and evidence of justification and sanctification. They do not accept the Reformation distinction between law and gospel. They reject the notion that sanctification is, as Walter Marshal wrote, a “gospel mystery,” and that there is not a straight line to sanctification. They reject the notion that progressive sanctification is the fruit of justification and that good works are the fruit of progressive sanctification. For more on these various revisions and rejections of the Reformation doctrine of salvation see the resources below.
Justification and Salvation in Romans 5:9–10
Considering the proposed revisions let us consider briefly how Paul thinks about the nature of both justification and salvation and how he relates the two in Romans 5:9–10. Paul writes,
Since we have now been justified by his blood how much more shall we be saved from wrath through him? Because if, being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, by how much more shall we be saved by his life? 1
The two-stage view depends 1) upon the notion that there is an initial justification and a final salvation; 2) that initial justification is through faith alone but final salvation, because it involves our sanctification and sanctification is by grace and cooperation with grace (i.e., by grace and works), is through works.
The first premise is manifestly contrary to the Pauline doctrine of justification and salvation in several places including this one. We have been saved (Eph 2:8) by grace alone, through faith alone. In this passage Paul is teaching us that the future aspect of our salvation, (i.e., the consummation of our salvation), is also by grace alone, through faith alone. Works are never instrumental in our justification, our sanctification, or our salvation taken as a whole.
It is true that salvation is or can be a comprehensive category. It is also true that the Westminster Divines were aware of this when they said justification “is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC, 33) and sanctification “he work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC, 35).
By Rick Plasterer — 2 years ago
The creative class and the affective revolution now “do the work of soul healing and education.” This complex, along with global capitalism, forms the “hypermodern cultural system.” If it can succeed in taking full control of the human rights doctrine “we will have a morality legislated globally.” This possible future for Christianity in the world, he said, is “dark.”
Guilherme de Carvalho, a Brazilian Baptist theologian and founder of the Brazilian Christians in Science Association (ABC2), discussed the impact of the “affective revolution,” which focuses on emotional life and has powered identity politics, and its impact on law, general culture, and thus Christian witness at the recent L’Abri Conference in Rochester, Minnesota.
The revolutionary turn to subjectivity has been reviewed at some length by the L’Abri Fellowship. It has had a major impact on the contemporary world, and Latin America is no exception. But it also has deep roots in European civilization. While the West, especially since the Enlightenment, is supposedly is “founded on reason,” it has also long been an “empire of sentiment.” From this aspect of the Enlightenment, we get “sentimental man.”
De Carvalho said that in the recent past, he was “very much focused on fighting rationalism, new atheism.” This was certainly true of Christian apologetics in general. More recently, particularly in the last decade, he “felt something changing.” He “felt that the frontier of Christian apologetics was moving from epistemology to ethics.” A “main theme” has become “happiness.” There is a “disengagement from the moral universe.” This is done “in the interest of self-expression and well being.” This has become “normal currency.”
Behind and before this change, he said, was a much deeper change that happened from about 1950 to about 1970. This was the mixture of “modern hypercapitalism” with a unfettered sense of “how to feel love, and to organize” one’s emotional state. He called it a “second individualistic revolution.” The idea of “emotional intelligence” emerged in the 1990s, and it has been normalized since then. By 2011, emotional intelligence tests were more important than IQ tests, de Carvalho claimed. Teachers have tests to “assess the emotional realities of students.” Another development is “positive psychology.” This focuses on individual and social well being. He sees some good in this last item. There is also “affective computing,” which was started in 1995, and attempts to take human psychological reality into account.
The emphasis on feeling rather than thought has also led to a “narrowing of the human/animal gap.” Here he referred to the atheist Princeton ethicist Peter Singer. Singer emphasizes the emotions, and therefore the “interests,” of animals. This then gives animals “rights” as a result of their “feelings.” This narrowing the human/animal gap is also found in “pop culture,” he said. He noted that Pope Francis has referred to the preference some people have to pets over children.
De Carvalho referred to The Transformation of Intimacy, by Anthony Giddens. It proposes an egalitarian “pure relation as a description of modern love.” People stay in such relationships only because they get “emotional rewards” from it. The relationship can be terminated at will. This, according to de Carvalho, was proposed as “a new standard for modern love.” Sociologist Mark Regnerius used Giddens’ idea to research sexual activities and relationships in America. Giddens “even recommended” Regnerius’ work. Regnerius “pointed out the problems” the new egalitarian and consensual sex ethic has for women and children.
The affective revolution has affected family law in Brazil. The idea is that “the point of the family is to make each member of the family happy.” It is a “new foundation” for the family, which has changed Brazilian law and jurisprudence. The concept of family is changed “without any reference to kinship.” Any group of people who share living space “and have affections, this is a family.” It might be added that this effectively undermines both marriage and parental authority. A marriage which is unhappy can obviously be ended at will (as is now legally the case, but certainly not in Christian doctrine), and it appears that the state can terminate a parent/child relationship if the child is unhappy with it.
But, he said, there are “things that are worse” in Brazil. There is being advanced the doctrine of “affective rights.” This involves saying that marriage is not about rights and duties, but “affectivity.” This resulted in the Brazilian Supreme Court mandating same sex civil unions in 2011. It has led to a “politics of self-regard.” It can easily be in conflict with the Christian doctrine of sin, which focuses on duty and responsibility, and aims at inducing guilt and repentance. It appears similar or the same as the LGBT claim of “dignity” for deeply felt desires and behavior. As this writer has often noted, this cannot be consistently applied. There can be no right-not-to-be-offended, which is what the “politics of self-regard” would seem to amount to.
The overall effect, de Carvalho said, of “affective rights” is make people turn inward. People are guided by “fear, and gut feelings.” This is happening both on “the left and the right.” He said that “democracies are being transformed by the power of feeling in ways that cannot be ignored or reversed.” He referred to commentary of columnist David Brooks of the New York Times, regarding the business and professional “creative class.” According to Brooks, the creative class has been emerging since around the year 2000. Their ideals are “to be smart, to be original.” The really important thing for this class “is to be creative.” This class is “connected to the tech industry,” and is also “connected to gentrification in … big cities.”
By Tom Hervey — 5 months ago
None of this is to defend the cruelties associated with slavery. It is simply to say that Brown’s response was the wrong one, and that we should neither approve it nor celebrate him. Brown was celebrated for his militancy, and he seems to have regarded such militancy as the proper fruit of the Christian faith.
In 1860 a newspaper called The Christian Watchman and Reflector published a series of letters from Charles Spurgeon, in one of which he denied rumors that the American publishers of his works excised material that might be offensive to slaveholders. Highly perturbed at the suggestion, Spurgeon said, amongst other things, that “any slaveholder who should show himself in our neighborhood would get a mark which he would carry to his grave, if it did not carry him there.” He finished the letter in view by saying that “John Brown is immortal in the memories of the good in England, and in my heart he lives.” Here we have a minister of the gospel with a high reputation and wide influence expressing his opinion with such fervor as to descend into talk of his neighbors possibly murdering foreign citizens and praising an insurrectionist.
This is of interest because the statement in view is cited as proof that many evangelicals condemned slavery at the same time that many southern Protestants were defending it. It is certainly proof of that sober truth, though there are plenty of other sources that make the same point that lack the regrettable character of Mr. Spurgeon’s statement here. To be sure, he did not say that he would approve such lawless violence, much less that he would participate; and it is conceivable that Victorian era Englishmen were not quite as prone to waylaying foreigners as Mr. Spurgeon suggests. It could be that he was so caught up in a fit of high dudgeon that he wrote more boldly than was warranted, and that the talk of lawless violence was idle banter.
Whatever the case, it was not in accord with the duty of his office to speak in such a manner, and it is a point of curiosity that contemporary critics of 1800s southern evangelical attitudes about slavery so readily latch upon examples such as this. Such critics are quick to point at the perceived hypocrisy of claiming Christ while at the same time defending a civil institution that oppressed its participants and was often attended by great physical cruelty. And so in finding grounds to condemn the violence and hypocrisy of slaveholding they . . . . latch upon examples of evangelicals mentioning violence approvingly.
This is a strange method, surely, and it goes far to undermine the critics’ own moral authority. Why, pray tell, do we consider slavery wrong? Is it not because it does violence to the dignity of its unwilling participants, holding them in bondage and subjecting them, in many cases, to harsh punishments for flight or disobedience? Is it not because of the chain and the lash, the separation of families and the prohibition of literacy, and because of all the other things that denied equal protection and rights under the law and reduced slaves to being a permanent under caste? Is it not because the whole institution denied them their rights as human beings whose nature is no different from that of people of other classes and ethnicities? Why then would it be any less evil to do similar things to other people, including slaveholders or people who are citizens or public officials of places where slavery was legal? Mistreatment is wrong regardless of who does it or why, and our Lord forbids vengeance (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30) and prohibits former victims of oppression oppressing others in turn (Ex. 22:21; comp. Deut. 23:7).
It is here that John Brown enters the question. Many people in his day regarded him as a hero with few equals, and after his death he was hailed as a martyr and prophet, Henry David Thoreau saying that he had become “an angel of light” and a popular camp tune saying that he was “John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see.” That enthusiasm has not dimmed, it seems, for Christianity Today has published an article urging the glad acceptance of Brown as an evangelical hero.
John Brown was hanged for treason and murder for leading the seizure of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) as part of a scheme to forcibly abolish slavery in the southern states. Brown’s plan was to use his action to incite slaves in the surrounding areas to flee their masters and join his forces, after which they would march southward, collecting men and materiel as they went. Ostensibly his forces would fight only in self-defense if accosted.
That last bit makes for a large claim to swallow when we remember that Brown had already attained national notoriety for organizing private militants in the Bleeding Kansas crisis earlier in the 1850s. Brown had presided over the Pottawatomie Massacre, in which five men had been hacked to death in what can only be considered cold-blooded murder. The other facts are also against interpreting his plan and actions as a scheme of fomenting an armed-but-purely-defensive insurrection, such as that two of the five men his band killed at Harpers Ferry were unarmed. One was the mayor, the other a free black man who was the first victim and who was shot in the back. If these killings were against Brown’s intentions, as has been suggested, they nonetheless suggest that he had poor control over his force that he had trained for his occupation of the arsenal; and it is hard to imagine that he would have had any better control over the multitudes of strangers whom he expected to rally to his standard.
It is likely that arming large numbers of escaped slaves, whatever Brown’s ostensible intention, would have led to aggression and even the wanton taking of vengeance on their part. Virginia’s earlier slave revolt 28 years before (Nat Turner’s) had been attended by the killing of civilians, including women and children. It is simply not human nature for spontaneous mobs to act only in self-defense and to eschew all criminal and vengeful tendencies. And notwithstanding that Brown attempted to give legitimacy to his efforts by establishing a ‘provisional government’ replete with offices and constitution, what Brown actually attempted, whether he realized it or not, was to foment an enormous mob, probably the largest in the history of the country. Had he succeeded he would have been culpable for any excesses that such a mob committed, but as it was he gained very little support.
There is another fault with such an argument, which is that it is generally a principle of law that one cannot provoke resistance by threats or assault and then use force to repel the violence that ensues: the initial provocation makes one the aggressor, so that every subsequent action is a furtherance of the aggression and cannot be justified as defensive. Brown was the aggressor in the Harpers Ferry affair, for he started it by seizing the arsenal, and then continued it by taking hostages and preventing the lawful authorities from repossessing it or rescuing them. When it was then claimed that his subsequent fighting with state and federal forces was in self-defense (as his defense attempted at his trial), the claim is null – and more than a little brazen and absurd.
One cannot break into someone’s house and take him captive, and then say that he acted in self-defense by firing at the police when they surrounded the house. All notion of self-defense goes out the window when one first commences his criminal venture. And yet that is essentially what Brown did, except that he acted not merely against a single private individual and domicile, but against an entire commonwealth and its populace.
I have no desire to impugn the faith or integrity of those who have lionized Brown through the decades. Indeed, anyone who would allow that Spurgeon remark above to dissuade him from reading Spurgeon appreciatively would be doing himself an enormous disservice, for flights of indignation notwithstanding, Spurgeon was greatly used by God and is well worth reading. Remarks like that above are drowned out by the enormous quantities of edifying material he produced: it is as a flake of chaff in an ocean of grace.
But I do think that such people, be they past or present, are sorely mistaken on this point. There is nothing in the New Testament that justifies fomenting armed rebellion. Romans 13 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” and “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Granting the institution of southern slavery was evil, it does not follow that it should have been countered by violent force. “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Rom. 12:17). Evil must be opposed righteously; and fomenting rebellion that was likely to lead to widespread bloodshed cannot be deemed righteous. It is in direct contradiction of the commands to “live peaceably with all” and “overcome evil with good” (12:18, 21).
And in the outcome of Brown’s misadventure at Harpers Ferry we see the wisdom of our Lord’s instructions on this point. Brown’s insurrection failed utterly. He gained only a handful of supporters among the local slave population; succeeded in getting himself, many of his men, and several citizens killed; and further aggravated the already tense relations between North and South, ultimately playing an important role in provoking secession and the subsequent war that killed more than 620,000 men.
Over against all this we must remember that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and that he did not come to establish it by means of force (Jn. 18:36). When someone mentioned an example of Pilate’s cruelty toward the Jews (including sacrilegious murder), Christ declined to cry aloud for temporal justice and instead urged his hearers to take heed for their souls and repent while they had time (Lk. 13:1-3). His way is not the way of social revolution, but of patient long-suffering (Matt. 5:39) and of repaying evil with good (Lk. 6:28; Rom. 12:14, 20; 1 Pet. 3:9). Those who, like Brown, attempt to find in Christ’s message a justification for armed revolution contradict the essence of that message, and many of its particulars (2 Tim. 2:24; Tit. 3:1-2; Heb. 12:14; Jas. 3:17).
None of this is to defend the cruelties associated with slavery. It is simply to say that Brown’s response was the wrong one, and that we should neither approve it nor celebrate him. Brown was celebrated for his militancy, and he seems to have regarded such militancy as the proper fruit of the Christian faith. In his speech at his conviction he appealed to Scripture as justifying his actions:
Court acknowledges, too, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed, which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament, which teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. I endeavored to act up to that instruction.
When someone celebrates Brown he is therefore celebrating a man who contradicted the teaching of Scripture under the guise of fulfilling it. Against this, consider these words and ponder whether John Brown’s behavior accords with them: “Whoever says he abides in him [Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 Jn. 2:6). Christ walked in the way of works of mercy and witness, and his death redeemed the souls of many. Brown walked in the way of the sword and came to the end which Christ predicted of those who do so (Matt. 26:52), and his death brought not peace but division and strife and a war that consumed multitudes. It is no part of our faith to honor such a man, and the scriptural data abundantly point the other way.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Five Forks (Simpsonville), SC. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not of necessity reflect those of his church or its leadership or other members. He welcomes comments at the email address provided with his name. He is also author of Reflections on the Word: Essays in Protestant Scriptural Contemplation.