[A] distinctive feature of God’s revelation to the patriarchs concerns the objectivity of the gifts which it bestows. We have here the beginning of a factual religion, a religion attaching itself to objective divine interpositions on behalf of man. Not that the inward, subjective aspect is lacking, but only that it is developed in close dependence on the external support. God does not begin with working upon the inward psychical states of the patriarchs, as though they were subjects for reform – an unbiblical attitude which is, unfortunately, characteristic of too much of modern religion. He begins with giving them promises. The keynote is not what Abraham has to do for God, but what God will do for Abraham. Then, in response to this, the subjective frame of mind that changes the inner and outer life is cultivated. (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, pp. 79–80)
Category: Life in Front of the Curtain
The ecclesiological legacy of the Middle Ages is clearly one of unsolved problems, but the issue which Augustine had implicitly raised is no less genuine or important because of its inadequate treatment by the medieval theologians. For what is at stake in the Augustinian dialectic of “city of God” and “Catholic Church” is really the fundamental problem of the Christian Church in every age – the need for the Church to be a visible community in the world without regarding itself as the Kingdom of God, to have concrete and particular forms without absolutizing them, to be a renewing force in the world yet always open to renewal, and to be at once worldly and transcendent.
The unfinished business of one generation is always high on the agenda of the succeeding generation, and this case is no exception. The doctrine of the Church, far from being a peripheral concern, is one of the most critical issues in the Reformation controversy, and the Reformation as a theological event is not an individualistic protest against churchly Christianity but a struggle between two opposing understandings of the Church.
(John Tonkin, The Church and the Secular Order in Reformation Thought, pp. 34–35)
God’s governance secures the creature’s freedom. If this fails to commend itself, it is because it contravenes a destructive convention according to which true freedom is indeterminacy and absolutely spontaneity or it is nothing at all. To say that is to deny creatureliness. Freedom is existence in accordance with created nature and towards created ends, not self-authorship or aseity. This means that freedom is reception, but not passivity – that it is permission and summons, but not spoken by me, but to me by God. (John Webster, “Theology of Providence,” p. 170)
What makes evil problematic for providence is not its existence but the fact that we resist applying belief in providence to cases of it, especially those in which we are concerned. (John Webster, “On the Theology of Providence,” in The Providence of God: Deus Habet Consilium, ed. Francesca Aran Murphy and Philip G. Ziegler, p. 158)
Innumerable are the evils that beset human life; innumerable, too, the deaths that threaten it. We need not go beyond ourselves: since our body is the receptacle of a thousand diseases — in fact holds within itself and fosters the causes of diseases — a man cannot go about unburdened by many forms of his own destruction, and without drawing out a life enveloped, as it were, with death. For what else would you call it, when he neither freezes nor sweats without danger? Now, wherever you turn, all things around you not only are hardly to be trusted but almost openly menace, and seem to threaten immediate death. Embark upon a ship, you are one step away from death. Mount a horse, if one foot slips, your life is imperiled. Go through the city streets, you are subject to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. If there is a weapon in your hand or a friend’s, harm awaits. All the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there a serpent sometimes lies hidden. Your house, continually in danger of fire, threatens in the daytime to impoverish you, at night even to collapse upon you. Your field, since it is exposed to hail, frost, drought, and other calamities, threatens you with barrenness, and hence, famine. I pass over poisonings, ambushes, robberies, open violence, which in part besiege us at home, in part dog us abroad. Amid these tribulations must not man be most miserable, since, but half alive in life, he weakly draws his anxious and languid breath, as if he had a sword perpetually hanging over his neck?
You will say: these events rarely happen, or at least not all the time, nor to all men, and never all at once. I agree; but since we are warned by the examples of others that these can also happen to ourselves, and that our life ought not to be excepted any more than theirs, we cannot but be frightened and terrified as if such events were about to happen to us. What, therefore, more calamitous can you imagine than such trepidation? Besides that, if we say that God has exposed man, the noblest of creatures, to all sorts of blind and heedless blows of fortune, we are not guiltless of reproaching God. But here I propose to speak only of that misery which man will feel if he is brought under the sway of fortune.
Yet, when that light of divine providence has once shone upon a godly man, he is then relieved and set free not only from the extreme anxiety and fear that were pressing him before, but from every care. For as he justly dreads fortune, so he fearlessly dares commit himself to God. His solace, I say, is to know that his Heavenly Father so holds all things in his power, so rules by his authority and will, so governs by his wisdom, that nothing can befall except he determine it. Moreover, it comforts him to know that he has been received into God’s safekeeping and entrusted to the care of his angels, and that neither water, nor fire, nor iron can harm him, except in so far as it pleases God as governor to give them occasion. Thus indeed the psalm sings: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. Under his wings will he protect you, and in his pinions you will have assurance; his truth will be your shield. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the flying arrow by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at midday” [Ps. 91:3–6; cf. Ps. 90:3–6, Vg.; cf. Comm.].
(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, sections 10–11)
“If children are called to be part of the covenant people, how may they enter it except by baptism, which is, according to universal Church confession, the way of entry into the Church? But if they are not, we are in danger of a seriously impoverished view of the Church, that it is only for those who are of the ‘age of reason’: adult or near adult believers who have qualified themselves for membership by virtue of a particular experience or decision.” (Colin E. Gunton, “Baptism and the Christian Community”)
“The human being is both a creature and a person; he or she is a created person. This, now, is the central mystery of man: how can man be both a creature and a person at the same time? To be a creature, as we have seen, means absolute dependence on God; to be a person means relative independence. To be a creature means that I cannot move a finger or utter a word apart from God; to be a person means that when my fingers are moved, I move them, and that when words are uttered by my lips, I utter them. To be creatures means that God is the potter and we are the clay (Rom. 9:21); to be persons means that we are the ones who fashion our lives by our own decisions (Gal. 6:7–8). . . .
“Though we cannot rationally comprehend how it is possible for the human being to be a creature and a person at the same time, clearly this is what we must think. Denial of either side of this paradox will fail to do justice to the biblical picture. The Bible teaches both man’s creatureliness and man’s personhood.” (Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, chapter 2)
“Consciously or unconsciously, every hearer is necessarily faced with the question whether and how he can be a real hearer and doer of the Word. And true preaching will direct him rather ‘rigidly’ to something written, or to his baptism or to the Lord’s Supper, instead of pointing him in the very slightest to his own or the preacher’s or other people’s experience. It will confront him with no other faith than faith in Christ, who died for him and rose again. But if we claim even for a moment that experiences are valid and can be passed on, we find that they are marshy ground upon which neither the preacher nor the hearer can stand or walk. Therefore they are not the object of Christian proclamation. If it is really applied to man in a thoroughly practical way, Christian proclamation does not lead the listener to experiences. All the experiences to which it might lead are at best ambiguous. It leads them right back through all experiences to the source of all true and proper experience, i.e., to Jesus Christ.” (Barth, Church Dogmatics, p. 2.249)
I post this without comment, though much might profitably be said:
“Baptism was instituted . . . as a sign of [the] true and supreme power of God’s Word. As a real act on man, as an act of sovereign disposition, it proclaims for its part that man belongs to the sphere of Christ’s lordship prior to all his experiences and decisions. Even before he can take up an attitude to God, God has taken up an attitude to him. Whatever attitude he may adopt, it will be done within and on the ground of the attitude that God has adopted to him. If he believes, this will be just a confirmation of the fact that he has God’s promise and is claimed, judged and blessed by God. If he does not believe, this again will not be a possibility he can freely choose. He will sin against God’s Word. He will not show himself to be free, but unfree. He will not choose, but will be rejected. He will grasp, not a possibility, but an impossibility. In a Word, in his very unbelief he will be measured by the Word of God and smitten by its power. The preceding attitude of God to him will make his unbelief unbelief, his sin sin. Only in the sphere of grace is there faith and unbelief, righteousness and sin. Only through the power of God’s Word are there the two categories, those who are saved and those who are lost.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, p. 1.154)
“Unbelief is the sin that doth most easily beset us: there are remainders of it in the best; and it is at the bottom of our many sinful departures from God. Even those who can say, Lord, I believe, have reason to add, help my unbelief. Now, I say, it would be a special help against unbelief, to consider our baptism, especially our infant baptism. . . .
“When we are tempted to distrust God, to question his good-will, and to think hardly of him, then let us recollect the covenant of grace, and our baptism, the seal thereof. Consider [that] by baptism we were admitted into covenant relations. God did then make over himself to us, to be our God; and take us to himself, to be his people; and shall we then ever distrust him? Relation is a great encouragement to dependence. See Ps. xxi. 2. My refuge, my fortress, my God, and then follows, in him will I trust; compare Ps. xviii. 2. As, by baptism, God hath hold of us when we depart from him, so, by baptism, we have hold of God when he seems to withdraw from us. . . . Use this as an anchor of the soul in every storm; and whatever happens, keep hold of thy covenant relation to God: even then, when he seems to forsake, yet (as Christ upon the cross) maintain this post against all the assaults of Satan, that he is my God; my God for all this; and happy the people whose God is the Lord.” (Matthew Henry, A Treatise on Baptism)