Written in the Book
Written by T.M. Suffield |
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
The God who spoke the world into being wrote your name in his own blood on his hand. One day, when the heavens are ripped away and the earth remade in fire, you and I can sit with him and look at them together. We will find…our names, written before time, written in time, written forever.
Recently, my wife’s Step-Grandmother died. Along with a plethora of other things, we inherited from her house stuffed with treasures a very large Bible.
It’s about the size of a PC tower—they don’t make them like they used to. It’s the Step-Grandmother’s family Bible, it has all her family’s names written in it going back many generations, culminating in her name at the end.
There’s space, we’re quite tempted to add our own names. Which got us thinking. You see, it’s sort of scandalous for us to write our names in this Bible. Not because it’s old or because it’s a Bible or because you shouldn’t write in books (I prefer a pencil, but if you don’t write in a book how do you carry on the conversation the author started?). It feels scandalous because it’s not our family.
There’s no blood relationship between us and her, and she married into the family after my mother-in-law had left home, so there’s not such a strong familial relationship either. We’re connected on a family tree, related by law, but it’s a relation that feels estranged and technical rather than real.
But we could write our names in, because she is family, despite it all being a bit nominal. Writing our names in could mean we join the family.
Which, by way of analogy, is what Jesus has done for us.
Jesus & His Book
In Daniel 7 we are told a magnificent vision of the Ancient of Days, and that he opens ‘the books.’ What books? By Daniel 12, the mighty Michael is poised to deliver all whose names are found in the book. So, it’s a book of names.
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John’s ConversationsBy Brent Niedergall — 2 years ago
Thankfully, we can all become better acquainted with the Lord Jesus without ever knowing John used two different strategies to report responses in conversation (as fascinating and potentially useful as that might be). John’s Gospel, and the Word of God as a whole, reveal the Son of God, who deserves our worship.
Conversation has been compared to a game of catch. Just as people take turns throwing a ball back and forth, people also take turns speaking. Many people converse in the Gospel of John: Jesus, John the Baptist, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, Mary, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and a royal official—those are just the ones in the first four chapters. In each conversation John recorded, one speaker responds to another. But the fascinating thing is, sometimes John does something with the Greek language you can’t see in most English Bible versions.
Did you know there were different ways in Greek to describe how one person responded to someone else? Stephen Levinsohn tells us the default way simply got the job done by using the Greek verb meaning “to answer.” For example, Jesus told Nathanael that He saw him under a fig tree before Philip came and brought Nathanael to Jesus. And John reports how Nathanael answered by writing:
Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49)
Here, John used his default strategy (called a “quotative frame”, which he did around 45 times throughout his Gospel.
Charles Hodge And Pictures Of JesusBy Grover E. Gunn — 1 year ago
Written by Grover E. Gunn |
Thursday, February 10, 2022
My main point in quoting this journal entry is to provide evidence that Charles Hodge did not regard every possible effort to represent Jesus in His humanity as necessarily and inherently immoral. At the same time, as evidenced by the statement in his systematic theology, Hodge recognized the temptation to abuse such representations as objects or channels of worship. I regard this as a proper balance that avoids both swallowing camels and gagging on gnats.
Charles Hodge published his greatest work, his three-volume systematic theology, in the years 1871 to 1873. He died not that long afterward in 1878. In his systematic theology, Hodge had a long section on the second commandment. He ended it with this word of caution:
No one who has ever seen any of the masterpieces of Christian art, whether of the pencil or of the chisel, and felt how hard it is to resist the impulse to “bow down to them and serve them,” can doubt the wisdom of their exclusion from places of public worship. (ST, 3:304-305)
Hodge’s statement here about the power of “the masterpieces of Christian art” may have been rooted in a personal experience that he had about forty-five years before publishing his three-volume systematic theology. During his two years of study in Europe from 1826 to 1828, he visited the gallery of paintings in the German town of Dresden. His son, A.A. Hodge, quoted from his father’s journal in the biography that he published in 1880. According to the journal, Charles Hodge first visited the Dresden gallery on Wednesday morning, August 28, 1827. He expressed disappointment with the paintings that he saw there with one exception:
The Madonna of Raphael is an exception. This was as much above, as the others were below my expectations. The infant here is wonderful; the expression of the eye belongs to no human infant, but we may well imagine such an expression in the case of our Saviour. The Virgin is the ideal of human purity and beauty; what the human frame may be when this corruption has put on incorruption, and this mortal is clothed with immortality. … on every visit I was attracted and held bound by Raphael’s Madonna. (The Life of Charles Hodge by A.A. Hodge, pp. 138-139)
The painting was probably Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, a painting commissioned by a pope for a church in Italy in 1512 and moved to Dresden in 1754.
My main point in quoting this journal entry is to provide evidence that Charles Hodge did not regard every possible effort to represent Jesus in His humanity as necessarily and inherently immoral. At the same time, as evidenced by the statement in his systematic theology, Hodge recognized the temptation to abuse such representations as objects or channels of worship. I regard this as a proper balance that avoids both swallowing camels and gagging on gnats. I do, however, have some difficulties with the journal entry that I will discuss below. I want to allow some latitude because it is a statement jotted in a journal as opposed to a carefully worded statement intended for a systematic theology.
We have good reason to believe that Charles Hodge understood the doctrines of the Westminster Standards and accepted them as true. In his youth, his mother drilled him in the Westminster Catechism, and then his family’s pastor, the Old Side Presbyterian stalwart Ashbel Green, catechized him. As a young man, Hodge graduated from Princeton College and Princeton Seminary. Then he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He then replied positively to the question, “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” Concerning this vow, he later stated,
It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the gospel. In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God. (The Princeton Review, October, 1858, page 670)
Hodge also later stated that this vow meant that a man received every doctrine taught in the church’s doctrinal standards but not necessarily every proposition about those doctrines in the standards. Yet Hodge seemed to imply that he was one of the few who did accept every such proposition:
If the rule that no man should be allowed to exercise the ministry in our church, who did not adopt every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith, should be carried out, we verily believe we should be left almost alone. We are not sure that we personally know a dozen ministers besides ourselves, who could stand the test. (The Princeton Review, October, 1858, page 686)
Back then, there was also an additional vow for those being ordained as a professor. Hodge vowed at his ordination “not to teach anything which directly or indirectly contradicts anything taught in the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, or Form of Government in this church.” (The Princeton Review, October, 1858, pages 681)
On top of that, Princeton Seminary had its own requirements. When Hodge became a professor at Princeton Seminary, he had to affirm that he would not “inculcate, teach or insinuate any thing which shall appear … to contradict or contravene, either directly or impliedly, any thing taught” in the Westminster Standards. [Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton, by Andrew Hoffecker, loc 877]
We also have reason to believe that Charles Hodge accepted statements about the second commandment found in Reformed standards in addition to the Westminster Standards. When Hodge wrote about the second commandment in his systematic theology, he quoted from the Second Helvetic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. He quoted Bullinger’s Second Helvetic Confession in Latin (ST, 3:304); here is that quotation in English as translated in Schaff’s The Creeds of Chistendom:
We do therefore reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians. For although Christ took upon him man’s nature, yet he did not therefore take it that he might set forth pattern for carvers and painters. (3:836) …
And seeing that the blessed spirits and saints in heaven, while they lived here, abhorred all worship done unto themselves, and spake against images, who can think it likely that the saints in heaven, and the angels, are delighted with their own images, whereunto men do bow their knees, uncover their heads, and give such other like honor? (3:837) …
Therefore we approve the judgment of Lactantius, an ancient writer, who says, “Undoubtedly there is no religion where there is picture.” (3:837)
And here is Hodge’s quotation from the Heidelberg Catechism:
Is it forbidden to make any images or statues? God cannot and ought not in any way to be depicted, and although it is lawful to make representations of creatures, yet God forbids that they should be worshipped, or He through them. But may not images be tolerated in the churches for the instruction of the uneducated? By no means; for it does not become us to be wiser than God, who has willed that his Church be instructed, not by dumb images, but by the preaching of his word. (ST, 3:304)
Here is Hodge’s basic teaching on images in his systematic theology:
That the second commandment does not forbid pictorial or sculptured representations of ideal or visible objects, is plain because the whole command has reference to religious worship, and because Moses, at the command of God himself, made many such images and representations. … There can therefore be no doubt that the second commandment was intended only to forbid the making or using the likeness of anything in heaven or earth as objects of worship.…
It is equally clear that the second commandment does forbid the use of images in divine worship. In other words, idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images. (ST, 3:290-291)
The thing thus repeatedly and solemnly forbidden as a violation of the covenant between God and the people, was the bowing down to, or using anything visible, whether a natural object as the sun or moon, or a work of art and man’s device, as an object or mode of divine worship. And in this sense the command has been understood by the people to whom it was given, from the time of Moses until now. The worship of the true God by images, in the eyes of the Hebrews, has ever been considered as much an act of idolatry as the worship of false gods. (ST, 3:292)
Hodge further clarified his understanding by contrasting his Reformed understanding with Luther’s understanding.
As the worship of images is expressly forbidden in the Scriptures, Protestants, as well Lutheran as Reformed, condemned their being made the objects of any religious homage. As, however, their use for the purposes of instruction or ornament is not thus expressly forbidden, Luther contended that such use was allowable and even desirable. He, therefore, favoured their being retained in the Churches. The Reformed, however, on account of the great abuse which had attended their introduction, insisted that they should be excluded from all places of worship.
Luther was tolerant of the use of images in the churches. On this subject he says: “If the worship of images be avoided, we may use them as we do the words of Scripture, which bring things before the mind and cause us to remember them.” … In another place he says that when one reads of the passion of Christ, whether he will or not an image of a man suspended on a cross is formed in his mind just as certainly as his face is reflected when he looks into the water. There is no sin in having such an image in the mind why then should it be sinful to have it before the eyes?
The Reformed went further than this. They condemned not only the worship of images, but also their introduction into places of worship, because they were unnecessary, and because they were so liable to abuse. (ST, 3:303-304)
Hodge is clear that the Reformed, together with the Lutherans, condemn the worship of images, and that the Reformed, contrary to the Lutherans, disagree with the introduction of images into a place of public worship.
Some reading Hodge’s section on the second commandment might assume that Hodge would consider any representation of Jesus in His humanity as inherently idolatrous. I think that would be a hasty generalization. I have not found any statement in this section to justify that conclusion, and his journal note contradicts it. I acknowledge the possibility that my conclusion may also be a hasty generalization. Hodge wrote reams of material, and I have looked at only a small fraction of it.
I have found Raphael’s Sistine Madonna on the Internet, and I agree that this is a beautiful painting as a work of art. I have seen only the digital image, and I would expect the actual painting to be even more impressive. Yet I also have some problems with Hodge’s journal entry.
I find helpful some efforts to give visual expression to scenes and events graphically described in gospel narratives. I don’t have much use for a visual representation of Mary and Jesus not in an event or scene based on a gospel narrative.
Also, Hodge stated that the representation of Mary was so beautiful that he thought it more like what he imagined a glorified body would be like. In addition, Hodge said that the visual representation of the eyes of the young Jesus were too wonderful to be human eyes. This means that these visual representations were not credible representations. When Jesus was a baby, neither He nor His mother had a glorified body. Eastern Orthodox icons portray Jesus with a glorified look based on the description of the transfiguration. Some of the representations of Jesus in western Roman Catholic art give Jesus’ human nature a semi-divine look similar to the ancient Greeks’ depictions of their gods.
The Roman Catholic art of the Counter-Reformation desires to convince us that Christ is truly God’s Son. In this it is right. But it wishes to base this conviction on a representation of Christ in which the resplendence of his divine nature is seen and felt directly. In this it is wrong and misses its goal. The true mystery of the Son of God become man and abased is absent from those representations. The superman or demi-god depicted there has nothing in common with the Christ in the form of a servant. (W.A. Visser ‘T Hooft, Rembrandt and the Gospel, page 31)
I said that I wanted to give Hodge some latitude in my interpretation of his journal entry. His statement about eyes could be interpreted in terms of a monophysite mixing of the divine and human natures in the incarnation. I can’t believe that Hodge could have meant that. I am sure that he was totally committed to the truth that “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion” (WCF 8.2). Taking into account the statement about glorification and the representation of Mary, I take the reference to the eyes beyond human eyes as a reference to glorified human eyes freed from common infirmities at the time of resurrection (WLC 52). This still is not a credible representation of the Christ Child, but this interpretation does not involve a mixing of the two natures.
In his journal entry, Hodge spoke of multiple visits to this museum during which he was attracted to and held bound by this particular painting. This sounds like he may have been close to entering into temptation. Again, this experience may be the basis for the cautionary note about “masterpieces of Christian art” in his systematic theology. If something even as innocuous as a bridge illustration in a gospel tract begins to tempt us as a visual object of devotion, we need to acknowledge the temptation and avoid it.
Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS. This article is used with permission.
Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity
Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment
Zwingli and Bullinger on Pictures of Jesus
The Geneva Bible and Visual Representations of Deity
Archibald Alexander and Mental Images of Jesus
Psalm 121: The Keeping GodBy Keith Kauffman — 7 months ago
This life is filled with many trials and hardships. Satan and his minions would tempt us away from God and His Word. An unbelieving society would assail us, persecute us, and call us traitors to our own species. They may even throw us in prison or kill us for having the audacity to hold fast to the Word of Christ. The pandemic lockdowns have even brought with them actual persecution during corporate worship gatherings, eerily reminiscent to the setting of this psalm of ascent. Yet the confident assurance of the psalmist must be ours. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear, because He is with us and keeps us for all eternity.
Wandering eyes are bad harbinger in Scripture. From the opening chapters of Genesis, when Eve looked at the tree and saw that it was good for food and “a delight to the eyes,” humanity’s false reliance on sight is a consistent theme. From Lot to David, whenever an individual sees that something appeals to their sense of sight, sin and disaster follow closely behind. The opening line of Psalm 121 then should immediately strike us with an impending sense of disaster. This sense is exacerbated by the object of the psalmist’s gaze: the hills. Written to be sung on the march to Jerusalem for worship, the worshippers were quite literally passing through a valley of the shadow of death. Vandals and thieves inhabited those hills, lying in wait for the estranged traveler to traverse those hidden and treacherous roads alone. They would jump out from the many hidden places to attack and steal. The road to Jerusalem was a dangerous way. The listeners to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, who was attacked in this very manner, would have understood the situation perfectly. So when casting one’s eyes up to the mountains, the natural question is exactly what follows: where does my help come from?
The answer of the psalmist is immediate and definite. The Lord is his help, the Lord who is Creator of all things. The contrast is sharp: the thieves may inhabit those hills, but it is the Lord who made them and who commands their very existence. The psalmist expresses swift confidence that he has nothing to fear on his journey to worship, because the God that he worships is the maker of heaven and earth. But this confident assurance is not mere comfort for the psalmist; it is polemical. Notice how the personage switches from first to third: “He will not let your….” The psalmist’s profession of faith is not merely personal but is instructive for all those who walk the same path. The psalmist almost wills that his readers and singers express the same trust that he displays. But what further evidence does he provide for the recipients of his message?
The psalmist highlights two truths about God by using two images: sleeping and shading. In verses 3-4, the psalmist reminds the listener that God doesn’t sleep.