Beginnings in Theology
Twelve Studies in Christian Doctrine for Older Young People and
© 1957 Addison H. Leitch
All Rights Reserved
The Geneva Press, Pittsburgh, PA
1. Theology, Doctrinal Popular works 2. Theology,
BT77.L39 ~~ OCLC: 6260925 ~~ 102p.
Beginnings in Theology is presently held by 18 libraries including Dallas Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary.
Table of Contents
Foreword by William Neebe ..... 3
Preface ..... 4
1. The Doctrine of God ..... 7
2. The Bible: The Word of God ..... 15
3. The Doctrine of Man ..... 23
4. The Doctrine of Sin ..... 31
5. The Doctrine of Jesus Christ ..... 39
6. The Doctrine of Salvation ..... 47
7. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit ..... 55
8. The Doctrine of the Church ..... 63
9. The Doctrine of the Sacraments ..... 71
10. The Second Advent ..... 79
11. The Doctrine of the Resurrection ..... 87
12. Christian Faith and Life ..... 95
EVERY PASTOR is pleased when he can place in the hands of his people a book which clearly presents basic Christian beliefs. Beginnings in Theology by Dr. Addison H. Leitch is this kind of a book. In it the author interprets some of the great concepts of Christian theology in a way that has made him popular with young people and church laymen from coast to coast.
Dr. Leitch is especially gifted as an interpreter. He is adept in the art of using simple words to express profound thoughts. He is a master in the use of illustration and has a most pleasing sense of humor.
The author is president and professor of systematic theology in Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary. As such he can be relied upon to teach with sincere conviction the theology defined in the Confessional Statement of the United Presbyterian Church. Always alert to grasp new truth as reason will afford, he is nevertheless ready and willing to reach out beyond reason to a living faith. The reader will soon discover as he turns these pages that he is not only gaining a clearer understanding of some of the great Christian beliefs, but he is acquiring a growing confidence in making these beliefs his own and has an increasing desire and ability to share them with others.
WILLIAM H. NEEBE, Editor in Chief
Board of Christian Education
United Presbyterian Church of North America
January 8, 1957
JUST BEFORE his death, P. Carnegie Simpson published a little autobiographical sketch titled "Recollections," and then in his subtitle he used these words, "mainly ecclesiastical but sometimes human." Leaning on the crutch of his cleverness, I should like to say of these studies that they are "mainly theological but sometimes interesting." I hope that they are both; for some they may be neither.
The chapters of this book were written originally as a series for the Earnest Worker,* one chapter appearing each month during the year 1955. Later the substance of several of the chapters was used in a series of studies of doctrine given as a part of the program of the United Presbyterian Men's meeting at Green Lake, Wisconsin, in April, 1956. At that meeting Dr. Lee Edwin Walker made the suggestion publicly that these studies should be printed in book form.
As the title indicates, these chapters are simply beginnings in theology, a subject which should surely be the most interesting and valuable of all. We all have to start somewhere. Perhaps this simple treatment of a series of doctrines will help you to get started. It is with this hope, at least, that they are published.
A. H. L.
* Reprinted by permission.
The Doctrine of God
IN EVERY discussion of God and in every attempt at definition, it is assumed that God is at least "the source, the support, and the end" of all things. He is at least that. But he is infinitely more, beyond discussion and certainly beyond exact definition. To talk about him at all, therefore, takes us into infinity and eternity, and so, there is laid on us at the outset the necessity of limiting our approach and restricting ourselves to certain directions in our thinking. In the light of this necessity, I shall set myself to answer briefly these two questions: First, Why do men believe in God? Second, What do they believe?
Why, then do men believe in God? They believe in God, quite simply, because they have to. The belief in God is so universal that most scholars have concluded that a belief in God must be a part of man's very nature, an inescapable part of his being. This is not to say that men are able to analyze this belief or that they are able to state their belief clearly in order to share it with someone else, or that all men everywhere believe the same things about God. This belief in God, furthermore, is not the result of thinking about him, but is rather a starting place from which men think about all other things. It is clear to them like their belief in their own existence; a man can be self-conscious,
or better, conscious of himself, without ever having subjected that consciousness to analysis. But it is just because he does believe in his own existence that he is prepared to understand the existence of anything else. Likewise it is just because he really believes in some kind of a God, or in the fact of God, that he is prepared to think about things like existence, or purpose, or meaning, or value. This belief in God is not the result of his thinking so much as the starting place of his thinking. It is only later in personal intellectual maturity, or perhaps in the maturity of the race that man gets around to analyzing the nature of his starting place. For example, a person can be seeing light through his eyes long before he understands the anatomy of the eye and quite commonly a person can live his whole life through without ever having analyzed either his eyes or the physics of light. Nevertheless he continues to see. Even the atheist has a hard time here. Unless he is fighting against absolute nothingness then he must be marshalling his arguments against something he finds in himself and in others, namely a belief in God that needs to be shaken loose. Sometimes, too, over against all his arguments, his deepest beliefs will slip out, as it did in the case of the atheist who strenuously asserted, "I'm an atheist, thank God!"
Observations which have led men to hold that belief in God is universal and therefore perhaps innate in men, have led them to see deeper levels and conclude that belief in God is a "built-in" necessity. Have you heard men say, "It stands to reason," or again, "It doesn't make sense." What is a man saying at a time like that? He is insisting that there is a Reason underlying all reasons to which his reasons must in some way be related.
An idea just can't float around; it needs grounding. Grounding in what? Is there not some ground-work of Reason, something that makes sense, some point of reference which will give meaning and cohesion to all thinking? The mathematicians see this plainly. There has to be a total system of mathematics and nothing, no, not one thing can get out of line. It is worth pondering here how exact mathematics in your mind demands exact mathematics in my mind, and both of us find the exact scheme at work when we search the heavens with a telescope. There seems to be a kind of Absolute Reason underneath all our best thinking, and our minds are restless with any problem and with any piece of information until we can relate such things to that fundamental Reason.
It is the same with Absolute Truth. The scientists in research laboratories today, and there are thousands of them, hold one belief in common, and that is that there is Truth to be found. All truth has to have some relationship to every other truth, and all truths must be grounded finally in Truth. Einstein's greatest discovery, greater even than relativity, at least in practical consequence, was the statement in mathematical terms of the relationship between matter and energy. Matter and energy must be related in some way, you see, so he searched out the secret. But why must they? This is what drives men in research. The motions within the atoms and the motions among the stars are demanding in our time a common law of motion. Why must there be the same law governing both? This idea of must is inescapable, necessary in man's being.
Shift this kind of thinking over to the area of values. One thing is better than another. How do we know that
one thing is better than another unless we know what the Best is? We cannot say "good" and then "better" without a sense of a "best." We admit, of course, that there are many relative values and endless personal and racial customs, but the idea of a best haunts us and we are foolish to pretend that it isn't there. Whence this idea of the best? A sense of "oughtness" creeps in here too, a moral demand which is likewise inescapable. If we know the best we ought to choose the best. Why? There is deep necessity here. Just as surely as we cannot escape that sense of must in our search for Reason or Truth, so we cannot escape that sense of must in what matters most in life and what we ought to be doing about it. Something like God Reason, Truth, Value, Goodness seems a necessity in our beliefs.
To the extent, then, that we are able to accept the belief in God as universal and necessary, to that extent we define God as a "First Truth," that is, Truth, upon which all other truths must be based.
From such a starting place, and still thinking without the light of any special revelation, men have corroborated these first truths by other evidences of God in the world about them. These ways of arguing God's existence from what we are able to see about us are very old arguments. They have been subjected to constant criticism and therefore to constant refinement in the history of human thought. These arguments give external and valid support to what we have already discovered as universal and necessary in the workings of our own minds.
Arguments for God's existence, reasons for believing there is a God, have been titled as follows: Cosmological, Teleological, Anthropological, and Ontological. We do not need to remember these names, but we need to
understand what they signify, and we need to see how these arguments are constructed. Very simply they follow the same scheme: any effect must have a cause capable of producing the effect.
Take for example the cosmological argument. The word that helps us is the word "cosmos" the universe; what C.S. Lewis calls "the whole show." Just look around at the cosmos and ask this simple question: "How come?" Yes indeed! "How come?" Birds, bees, rocks, clouds, people, stars, atmosphere here they are. How did they get here? This argument states that this "whole show" must be accounted for by a cause equal to the task of bringing it into existence and keeping it going. That first cause must be at least as big as the thing it has produced and much bigger surely to get the whole thing under way. What cause is big enough for this?
The teleological argument looks at the universe a little more closely and sees its intricate and amazing design. Now we can look at the structure of a leaf, the growth of a seed, the power of capillary attraction, the stars in their courses. Infinite design seems to demand an Infinite Designer. There is a mind at work here some place with plan and creativity. From nothing, nothing comes. Can we possibly account for design in the universe without a controlling designing mind? Does a watch just happen without a watchmaker? Do things just happen? Can they just happen? How long would it take ten thousand monkeys hammering on ten thousand typewriters to "just happen" to write the plays of Shakespeare?
One of the most amazing designs in the universe is man himself. How can we account for him? This sets in motion the anthropological argument. What cause is
equal to the fact of man? If a man is personal and if he has a personality he cannot have come from an impersonal source. If man is creative in any way, he cannot have come from a noncreative force. Find a reason for loyalty, courage, self-consciousness, will power, and all the rest. Are Bach and Beethoven, Da Vinci and Michelangelo, the accidental end-products of an accidental process which began when out of the primordial slime (wherever that came from) certain chemicals (wherever they came from) accidentally gathered together to produce a living cell? From nothing, we say again, nothing comes; how shall we account for the personal man?
The ontological argument points to perfection. Several forms of the argument have appeared but Descartes' is perhaps the clearest. Starting with the idea of perfection, an idea resident in man's mind, Descartes raises the question as to where this idea of perfection had its source. Does it come from the universe with all its imperfections? Does it come from man himself with all his imperfections? Whence this idea of perfection unless it has been implanted from some perfect one, from God?
Putting these arguments together moves us from our first question: "Why do men believe in God?" to our second question: "What do men believe?" In discovering why men believe, we have discovered some of their beliefs. They believe that there is a source to all life which has at least these characteristics: Might sufficient to bring the universe into existence; Intelligence sufficient to give the universe its design; Personality and Creativity adequate to the fact of man; Perfection itself, as the source of the ideas of perfection implanted in man. We have, therefore, rational, although not final, reasons for believing in a God and we have rational, although not
final, reasons for believing about God that he is at least Mighty, Intelligent, Personal, Creative, Perfect. How much more do we need? But, praise God, there is more!
One of the wonders of our life is how our searchings find answers already moving out to meet us. Thirst finds water, not only to satisfy us but to delight us; hunger finds food with zest and variety; love finds fulfillment in the beloved. So for man's search for God. "Can a man by trying find out God?" Only when God comes out to meet him; only when God truly reveals himself. Revealed religion is just this: that in man's search for God, God has come seeking him. The proof of a revealed religion is finally this: does it in the last analysis answer man's deepest questions? Indeed, sometimes, more than this, revealed religion leads men beyond their own questions to create in their hearts new and greater strivings. Shall not eternity itself be filled with renewed fellowship with God as he reveals himself to us?
What then do men believe about God? The heavens declare his glory; there are things which all can know of his "power and divinity"; there is a light which lightest every man coming into the world." But more than this, God has been pleased to give a revelation of himself and we can believe in what he has given us in that revelation. As we come to know people by their clothes, their walk, their appearance, the sound of their voices, and yet really never know them beyond their willingness to reveal themselves, so with God. We have but broken lights of him until he gives us his light; we are, as Calvin suggests, like men who see but who need the "divine spectacles" of God's own revelation before things are brought into focus.
We believe then what God has told us of himself through his revelation by his words, by holy history, by mighty acts and in the last days he has spoken to us in his Son, the Living Word. He has fully revealed himself and we believe as Christians what he has finally told us in the face of his Son. We have all kinds of definitions of this body of belief. For example, there is this classic: "God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." This is a true definition, true to what God has told us of himself, but not true enough. The Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us. When we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father and when Christ appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is [1 John 3:2]. In Jesus Christ we see and handle the Word of Life.
The Bible: The Word of God
THE BIBLE is the Word of God. In some way that statement is believed and maintained by Christians everywhere. Some hold that the very words of the Bible are the very words of God. By this they mean that in the originals we have in some sense "divine originals," actual words spoken by God through his servants the prophets. Others hold that the actual words of Scripture, either in the originals or in the translations, are of secondary importance; what is really important is the thought which the words convey, i.e., the "sense" of Scripture. These would hold that what we want is not the words of God but the Word of God which comes through the words. Others would hold that the Bible is a means of conveying to men the Living Word, even Jesus Christ, and that we understand the words of the Bible and the Word of the Bible only insofar as the Living Word is sealed in our hearts. Others go so far as to say that there is no word of God until out of the words of the Bible the Living Word becomes alive in us: the total process of words to life makes the Bible the Word of God. There is truth in every one of these positions and we need to understand how this is so.
Let me use a simple illustration. Let us suppose that a man wants to say "I love you" (and this is certainly one of the things God is saying to us in Scripture).
In how many ways can this be said? In the seventeenth century, Sah Jahan wanted to tell the world of his love for his wife, so he built the Taj Mahal. In a beautiful building he told the world and all succeeding generations the profundity and purity of his love. Another artist name Franz Liszt wrote a love song called Liebestraum; he gave his message through music. When Elizabeth Browning wrote her Sonnets from the Portuguese she told Robert Browning of her love, especially in that matchless sonnet which begins, "How do I love thee, let me count the ways ...." She said "I love you" in poetry. Jahan spoke in stone; Liszt spoke in music; Elizabeth spoke in poetry. There are other ways of speaking. Multitudes of people incapable of the arts nevertheless tell others that they love them in endless deeds of mercy. A man delights to tell a woman that he loves her; he delights even more when he discovers that he can show her in loving acts, in the living word, that he loves her indeed. A love relationship is sustained by words and living words and there are endless and delightful ways of saying this one simple message.
What we have said thus far then is that there are many ways of saying "I love you." However, once an artist has chosen his medium for communication, he is forced into the disciplines of that particular art. If an artist has chosen to speak through music, then he must not only master music as a means of expression, but he must also accept the fact that he is limited by the type of medium which he has chosen. In other words, he can't talk through music according to the laws of architecture. There are great riches in his medium; there are also disciplines and laws. If we can suppose him to be a perfect artist we can suppose that he will know exactly
how to say exactly what he wants to say. His exactitude here is a measure of his greatness; he cannot be careless about the laws of his art. Bach is most nearly perfect in music because he is most nearly law-abiding within the disciplines of his art.
Now let us turn to another illustration before we turn back to the Bible. Wagner was the great contemporary of Liszt. It was said of him, and I think he said it of himself, that he could appreciate a piece of music best by simply reading the score. He claimed that having an orchestra between him and the music was an interference to understanding and enjoyment. I can believe that this was possible for Wagner although it is quite impossible for me. At any rate, let us suppose Wagner is looking over the score of Liebestraum by Liszt. Liszt has written the score; he has written these notes, not other notes; he has written music, not poetry; he has had something definite to say about love and this is the way he has said it. It might be argued that another artist could have said it in another way. But this is Liszt's message, and these are his notes. If Wagner wants to know what Liszt has to say, he had better give attention to Liszt's notes, to all of them; the accidentals in this case are not really accidental! More than that, Wagner will want to look at Liszt's own score if at all possible; he will want the original. If he happens to pick up the score in a musical library, he will want to make sure the score is genuine and authentic; if there are copies or a variety of editions, he will want to know that they are true to the original. To be true to the word which Liszt wanted to speak, he must find the exact way Liszt conveyed his message.
Now we can build up the illustration a little. Suppose Wagner wants to perform Liszt's Liebestraum before a
great audience that others may receive Liszt's message. He may choose a string quartet, or he will rewrite it for a symphony (and he must decide what constitutes a full symphony and where players shall sit) or he will write variations for the piano. Somehow he must interpret what Liszt has to say and, insofar as he is able, he must be absolutely true to what Liszt has said. And what will the result be? The people in the audience will know what Liszt has said; they may be led to go back and examine the way in which he said it in his original score; but most of all the word of Liszt will be in their hearts, a song in their hearts perhaps, or a new level of life because they have been moved by his message in music. And this may be repeated over and over again, and succeeding generations may be blessed by this piece of music, and men will tell others about what Liszt has said to them. But whenever it is said, and however it is said, men will always be concerned with how Liszt said it in the first place. It won't be his word unless they are faithful to his original score. And if the original has been lost, then men will examine all the copies to see what that original must have been.
The parallel is clear although we will have some special things to say about the Bible. God so loved the world and he has said so. How has he said so? There is a Prot-Evangel in Genesis and the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, marvelous Psalms, the words "Let not your heart be troubled," or again, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden," or this wondrous word: "My grace is sufficient," and finally, "he shall wipe away every tear." The Bible says many things about many subjects, but let us use just this one message: God is love. Let us suppose this is the only message. How many ways
may God say it? The possibilities are endless. But the Bible binds us up to this: God has said it, and he has chosen to say it in certain ways. If we want truly to know what it is that God has to say, then we must examine the ways in which he said it. As we cannot be true to Liszt's message without examining his music, so we cannot know what it is God has actually said unless we submit ourselves to the way in which he himself chose to say it.
Now we are back to our starting place words, Word. Living Word, life itself. How is God's word communicated? Like this. God has spoken in times past "at many times and in various ways," and in these last days he "has spoken to us by his Son." These ways God has chosen. Men want to know then, first of all, what he has actually said, There must be a concern here for the originals. We know, of course, that he spoke "through the prophets." This was the medium he chose, and we may be sure he was absolute master of his medium so that the prophets, even in their own peculiarities of thought and speech, could be used by him to communicate his message. We must search out then these originals because however differently he may have said it from the way we might have said it, as a matter of actual fact, once it was said, that's the way it was said. We cannot tamper with that original; we must find it, or re-create it as perfectly as possible from all the translations and versions and manuscripts (copies) that lie at hand. Such research goes on endlessly because we believe that it matters what was actually said.
But now when we know what was said, or when we have approached as closely as possible what has been said, this must be put into a language which we can use. The Greek and the Hebrew must be made available in
English and French and Japanese and Russian. Our original score is ready now for a string quartet or a pipe organ. But most of us cannot read the score as did Wagner; we need more interpretation. Here is where the preacher comes in. To get God's message, he must examine the original languages as far back as he can get toward the originals. Then he must interpret what has been said just as an orchestra leader interprets the score, and one preacher is better than another only as he rightly interprets in power what was once-and-for-all given. But we still have the listener. The word of God was spoken and it stands written; and now the preacher has spoken; and the word speaks to the listener's heart. What does it speak? It speaks God's Word to him and to his need; to his neighbor it will say the same thing, but will also say something different, different to suit the difference in his life. And if the wonderful words of life have really moved the listeners, they will receive with the word, strength, assurance, judgment, grace, the bread and water of life. But both listener and preacher will be bound to the Bible for their original sources, and in the last analysis the Word will come alive only through the power of the Spirit through whom it was first given.
As we come to the conclusion of this too brief treatment, it needs to be pointed out that our analogy of the arts, and especially our analogy of music, is helpful but not complete. In the message of the Bible many media are being used at once. In the Bible we have not only straightforward messages but also poetry, proverb, history, biography, and finally, in Jesus Christ, the Living Word, about whom in turn other words are written in Scripture, and who himself spoke the "words of eternal life." One needs the Holy Spirit as interpreter; one needs
teachers and preachers; one needs commentaries and helps; one needs experience in life; one needs a lifetime of hungering and thirsting for the bread and water of life. Never this side can we write finality upon what God has said on any subject. The whole message is there; the whole message for us may take a lifetime to receive.
One other word. When we are calling the Bible "the Word of God," we are holding to the fact that it was inspired by the Spirit of God in a way that no other writing can claim. Liszt, Beethoven, Browning, Milton, Shakespeare, and all the rest were inspired. But there is here a special inspiration. I cannot believe that Isaiah did not understand about inspiration in general. Frequently as a statesman and a poet, he must have experienced inspiration in general. Most men have more or less of that, and the genius has it in abundance. Perhaps Isaiah was a genius in his own right. But in Scripture he is talking about something else "Thus saith the Lord." None of the inspired writers ever explained this phenomenon to us; but they all claimed it. The Bible as a whole claims it for itself; and Jesus Christ claimed it for the Scriptures and for his own words. Perhaps it wasn't explained because it can't be explained, but they all knew the difference between what they were saying under that inspiration and what they were saying in general. The claims to authority here are magnificent and final. But God still used the medium. He said "I love you" through the words of Hosea and through the words of John, one in Hebrew and one in Greek or perhaps in Aramaic; but as master of his medium he did not have to destroy his medium to use it. God spoke his Word in Hosea's words and in John's words and at the same time they said exactly what he wanted to have
said. We cannot be careless about the words, once they have been spoken, if we want to know the Word. This is the nub of the matter: how can God speak while man speaks? Well, try this: "My Father worketh until now and I work"; or this: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God that works in you"; or this: "It is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me." We are close here to one of the greatest realities of our faith: God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, both at the same time. This is a great mystery. The inspiration of the Bible, God's Word in man's words, is a part of this great mystery. But the truth of it is inescapable and must be faced.
The Doctrine of Man
THROUGH the centuries of recorded history, men have been searching out the mysteries of the world about them. Now we have tremendous telescopes for scanning the heavens and intricate microscopes for digging out meticulously the secrets of the hidden inner world. Great progress has been made in understanding the macrocosm and the microcosm, but between them both is the greatest mystery of all man. In understanding himself man has made little progress. In the meantime, over against his own questions about himself has been God's revelation about him, answering the question, "What is man?" Those who have accepted the Biblical revelation have continued to grow in understanding of themselves and others; those who have refused the revelation find themselves still working over the same old questions and answers, meanwhile finding no final answers. What are the questions that plague us, and what are some of the answers?
The problem of man was first a question for philosophers and then a question for psychologists. The perennial question for both of them was whether man should be thought of as a body having a spirit or a mind or a soul, or whether man was to be thought of as a spirit having a body. Analysis always seemed to indicate that man is at least body and something other than body,
of the earth earthy and yet something more, something to be described in terms of mind or spirit. Most thinkers have tried to make man one or another because the problem of making man both mind and body seemed impossible of analysis or definition.
Within the last century we have seen how this has worked out. Behaviorism developed as a psychology in which man is thought of only as a body. He is a thinking body, of course; but thought is simply an issue of the body itself "the mind secretes thought as the liver secretes bile." Watson, who carried behaviorism all the way to its necessary conclusions declared that he could take any twelve youngsters and with proper stimuli make out of the youngsters anything required. Every action is followed by an equal and opposite reaction so the physical law goes so when we think up the right actions upon the body of man we can get any reaction we want. There are buttons to push, wires to pull, and the results can be controlled and predicted.
It so happens that there is much truth in this position, and that portion which is true has led men to generalize far beyond what the facts allow. Indeed there is so much truth in the position that the engines of propaganda in our day have been able to bring great masses of men under control. We still count on "conditioning" to lead to desired results. Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World carries this idea to ridiculous ends. However, he is wise enough to make his story hinge on the fact that in a perfect system for controlling men there is still one man who is insistent on his rights and his freedom over against all efforts to bring him under control. Man is a body; that is self-evident. But is he only a body? The question remains.
Another way of saying this, with an opposite emphasis, is that man has a body. The essential man is not his body; the body is merely a housing for the man himself. The extreme position here, which illustrates the idea carried to its conclusions, is probably best shown in Hindu religion and philosophy. Their thinking seems to be that the physical world is illusion, the body has no real existence; only the mind or spirit of man is real. In Christian Science something of this idea has been picked up although generally it is difficult for Western minds to think of the material body as being merely illusory. But there is truth here. The emphasis on the control of the body by the mind has value, and indeed all forms of self-discipline are the recognition that the higher level of life is in the mind or spirit and that a man can and should keep his body under. Many theories of immortality are based on the belief that the body, which is subject to constant change and final death, has no ultimate reality and that only the soul abides.
The Biblical revelation is rooted fundamentally in the second chapter of Genesis. Here the language is simple and universal: that is, not scientific nor technical. The truths stated, however, are clear. Man is both body and mind. The body is described as having been made of the dust of the earth, out of the elements, if you like; and this body was "inbreathed" with the breath of life. Man is akin to the earth, akin to the lower creation. He is dust; and to the dust he returns; but his spirit is of God himself. But man, as man, is soul and body; he is both these opposite things at the same time.
It is quite proper to analyze him into body and spirit, but just for the sake of analysis, not for the sake of separation. He is not one or the other; he is both, and
both at the same time. Man as man is "body-soul." Man cannot be an animal and still be a man. To call a man a beast or a brute is an insult frequently to the animal world, for a man who is just an animal is not a man who is brutal in the animal sense at all; he is a perverted man, creation gone wrong. At the same time a man cannot be a god. A man who thinks he is a god or who tries to act like one is already insane. He is no god at all; again he is a perverted man, creation gone wrong.
Man is to be man, according to the Biblical revelation; as man he is neither animal nor God; he is man the dust of the earth inbreathed with the breath of God. Every part of his body is "inbreathed." Thus his body affects his mind, and his mind affects his body.
Even at death where the body which has been in constant and necessary relationship with the mind falls into decay, the Christian doctrine of resurrection insists on the resurrection of the body. It is true that the new body is described as a "spiritual body," but this does not mean a disembodied spirit. In the resurrection life we are not to be ghosts or spirits, but risen man, body and spirit, although the new body is a resurrection body. Such a body may have new powers; it may be free of the limitations of space and time; certainly it will be free of the drag of sin and death. But man will still be "body-spirit," neither one nor the other alone.
Christianity speaks of the whole man in the message of salvation. Here it is like the "Gestalt" psychology of our day. The appeal of the Gospel is to the whole man. Holiness, healthiness, and wholeness all have the same root meaning. When we have been made like Christ we shall then be completely holy, therefore completely whole,
therefore completely healthy in body, mind, and spirit. The program for the Kingdom is therefore concerned with the whole man, his immortal soul and his food and raiment and shelter, with the whole man inside and out.
It is significant that the thinkers who have made the analytical distinction between the body and the spirit have always been vexed with how these two work together. Descartes was one of the latest major philosophers to work on this question. How, for example, do you will to move part of your physical body?" The idea is non-physical; the arm or the leg is physical. Thought which is non-physical, has to become physical in bones and muscles. Where is the switching center? How does one thing turn into its opposite. On the other hand, how does physical vibration on the ear become an idea in the head? Where does the physical turn into the mental? Descartes guessed that this all took place in the pineal gland, but he was just guessing. Even in the center of the gland, if such were the place, the physical and the non-physical would still have to work out the switch. If we are right, on the other hand, that there is no distinction finally and that the whole man is "body-spirit," we do not have to find the connecting point because there is no real separation. It is true, of course, that there are areas of specialization for body or mind the cortex or the sympathetic nervous system will appear more mental than physical. But when you step on a man's toe he hurts all over, and when you massage a man's back he is contented. The areas of specialization do not mean that there is any place in a man where his "spirit-body" is not "inbreathed." However philosophers may construe man, they cannot break this relationship. Man is a special kind of creation in this regard.
Another problem about man has been this: Is man good or bad? Or rather, is there hope for him or despair? Or again, shall we think of man optimistically or pessimistically? It is surprising how both views of man have been held consistently across the centuries of man's own self-analysis. Looked at in one way man is a hopeless kind of creature. In a world largely covered with water he turns out to be a land animal, depending on the land, moreover on a thin and precious layer of topsoil, for his very existence. His children are weak and helpless requiring constant care; man is very slow to come to maturity. He cannot stand extremes of temperature on this little globe which he inhabits, and the globe itself over which he has so little mastery and on which he leads such a precarious existence is as nothing in the universe at large.
More than this, man's "inhumanity to man" has been a constant in his history; and he is not far, especially in these latter days, from the possibility of wiping himself off the face of the earth. All his great dreams and visions seem to have within them the seeds of their own destruction; the wisest plans in time seem to pervert themselves; good customs can corrupt the world.
Others have looked upon man optimistically. Look how far he has come. See his aspirations, his creativity; see the courage with which he comes back again and again from failure to success. Truth crushed to earth does rise again. His own knowledge of his own condition is attainment in itself, giving him the ability to laugh at others and sometimes even at himself. He has endless hope; and there is endless hope for him, apparently, because there is always some vestige of good in him
to which one can appeal. His ideals often seem hopeless, but he is never without ideals. Buildings have been built; societies have emerged; victories have been won; there is hope for man.
To the opposing views of optimism and pessimism the Biblical revelation offers a third solution realism. Man is recognized for what he is. He is a creature who is dependent upon outside forces for his very existence, contingent on multitudes of circumstances beyond his knowledge or control, a very little fellow in the midst of a great big universe. "What is man that thou art mindful of him and the son of man that thou visitest him?" What is he indeed? He is nothing! But he is created "little lower than the angels"; he is "crowned" by God himself; but most of all he is created in the "image of God" to have fellowship and communion with the Almighty, and that forever. This whole, holy, healthy creature is God's creature; he is dependent; his dependence is on the loving Creator who brought him into life; he is contingent; in God he lives and moves and has his being. This is realism, the realism of the Bible a creature, nothing more, but a child of God. This is neither pessimism nor optimism, but realism.
The whole man who is "body-spirit" is a delicate and amazing creation. Viewed in all "realism," he is the amazing creation who is nothing and has nothing in himself but is nevertheless bound up in communion with God. But the story is a short one; only two chapters in Genesis. There is a darker, starker realism. Something desperate has happened to this amazing creature of God. Sin has entered into life. What now of the powers of mind and body? What now of a glorious creature in communion with his Maker? Sin is the destroyer,
the perverter, the nasty twist in the heart of creation. From the third chapter of Genesis even until now, that is the "plot" of the story. What can God Almighty do to rescue his "lost" creation and restore man again into the family of God? The Doctrine of Sin and the Doctrine of Salvation are to tell us whether finally the Doctrine of Man is a happy or a tragic story.
The Doctrine of Sin
THE FIRST three chapters of Genesis are three of the most important chapters of the Bible; they tell of the creation of the world, the creation of man, and the beginnings of sin. Although written in simple and popular language and they need to be because of the universal mission of the Bible they are nevertheless profound and true. In our last study we used the second chapter of Genesis as the basis for our Doctrine of Man; now we use the third chapter of Genesis as a basis for our Doctrine of Sin.
In thinking about man and his nature as set forth in the second chapter of Genesis, we tried to make clear that man is a creature of God and therefore a contingent being constantly dependent on God not only for his creation in the first place but also for his moment-by-moment existence. Further, he is a creature made in the likeness of God and created to have fellowship with God. Finally, it is clear from the Genesis description that he is neither a beast nor a god, but a man, a special kind of creation delicately balanced in the combination of "the dust of the earth" and the "breath of God." This special creation is open to the onslaughts of sin and is attacked by sin. That attack is described for us in the third chapter of Genesis.
The attack of sin destroys man in his essential nature, at those very points where he is most man. In the first place the image of God in man is marred, not utterly destroyed, but so marred as to be hardly recognizable and now beyond the power of its own self-healing. In the second place essential creaturehood is destroyed because, having capitulated to the temptation "ye shall be as gods," man tries to run his own life as if the life is his own, free somehow from the direction and control of God. In the third place sin destroys the fine balance of man's nature of the dust of the earth, God-breathed; man swings back and forth in his efforts to run his own life, between living his life on the brute level or attempting to live his life as a god. In either case he is a perversion of what he ought to be and so perverts all his own efforts and his social relationships in constant abortive attempts to be what he essentially is not. In all three areas he is now in rebellion against his Maker and is at the same time at war with himself and at war with his neighbor. "Whence come wars and fightings; come they not from the warfare within us?"
In following the account in the third chapter of Genesis, we see a description not only of how our first parents fell but also an account of how we fall into sin. It was an event in the history of mankind which is repeated as process now universally among all men.
1. Eve's attention is drawn to the tempter, and she is willing to listen to what he has to say. How long the serpent keeps at her we do not know, but she finally succumbs to the dangerous point of listening to what he has to say. She takes the long chance of entering into a conversation with evil. Instead of fleeing temptation she enters into an argument about what sin really is
and what it is likely to do. In mind and will she is ready for disobedience.
2. The tempter raises a question against God and even against the goodness of God. The words, "hath God said," must surely have been a sneer. Did God really say such a thing? What kind of a God would make a demand like that? God surely can't be as kind as you think because he is keeping something from you.
3. Eve follows this lead and follows it too far. She answers him that God has forbidden them to eat of the fruit; he has also commanded, "Neither shall ye touch it." As far as we know God did not forbid the touching, just the eating. Yet now Eve is petulant. Have you had like experience with your children? You say to them, "You can't do this thing." To which they often answer, "You don't allow us to do anything." This is not true, but indicates what attitude the child has taken now to the demands which you think are for his good. Eve has given herself to the enemy now to the extent of agreeing in some measure that God is too strict at some points.
4. The tempter raises another question against God by saying, "Ye shall not surely die." This is true and it is not true; it is half-truth. Adam and Eve do not die in the sense that physical life ceases; at the same time many wonderful things die in them, and physical death is assured for them at the end. Here is one of the greatest subtleties of sin its timing. We continue to sin ourselves because the wages of sin are not immediately evident, and we think they will never be paid. They are paid, nevertheless. The half-truth is Satan's best tool. In this again he is the prince of liars.
5. The next appeal is to our own wisdom and sophistication.
"Your eyes will be opened." Now we can be "in the know." We will know sin no longer by hearsay but by experience. It is this appeal to sophistication which is the trap for so many of our young people. They must experiment with sin because they are afraid they will miss something. But God knows what sin is and has warned us against it. But we experiment, in order to know by our own experience instead of by his divine authority; having once sinned, there is no going back to the place where the sin never really happened. It is like breaking a beautiful vase. Having once broken it, we can't pretend it is not broken; we can never retrace our steps to the place where the thing never really happened. How often we wish we could!
6. Then Eve passes a judgment on the fruit according to her own light and not according to God's command. The fruit was "good for food ... a delight to the eyes ... and to be desired to make one wise." Notice that all these things are true of the fruit, but they are irrelevant. Many things in life look good and may well be good in and of themselves. Still stands the command; we are not to eat. The question is not whether we can argue that a thing is good per se; the question is whether we are going to obey God. What God knows and what we can't see on the surface of things is that sin may go down as sweet as honey and then end up in bitterness. This again is the subtlety of sin.
7. Now comes the overt act. Eve eats of the fruit. Temptation has ended, and sin has begun. She has given her mind and her will, and the act follows.
8. Having sinned herself, she wants to share her sin; she gives to Adam, and he eats. Misery loves company and so does sin. Again we are subtly tempted; if everyone
is in on the act then somehow God can't condemn everybody. We think we can lessen our own guilt by sharing it with someone else. It doesn't work. "The soul that sinneth shall surely die."
9. Our first parents hide themselves from each other, and run away to hide themselves from God. We try to do the same thing.
10. God comes seeking them out as he comes seeking us in judgment first and then in promise.
At the very center of this first temptation and at the very center of our own temptations there is, it seems to me, this fundamental temptation "ye shall be as gods." As dependent creatures of God we believe that we can move over, even in God's own universe and even using the very life he gives us, to a place where we can operate our lives on our own powers and in our own wisdom. We know that we need God for our very existence, and we hope in his grace and salvation. Still, we want to run our own lives. We shall decide what is good and what is evil; we shall obey self instead of God. Maybe we can be good enough to get by; but in the meantime we shall serve God as it suits us (suits us, we insist); and we shall serve ourselves and serve the mores of our community, or some other man-made god. Self now reigns where God should reign; yet we cannot live without God's providence and care. Without him and his constant sustaining care we have neither the power nor the place to rebel against him at all.
Thus life has two centers of operation: the necessary place which God has in his care and common grace, and the self center where we try at the same time to run our lives over against God. This is not integration (interger one) but disintegration; this is not harmony but
disharmony. With two drivers at the controls we literally wreck our lives. We simply cannot serve God and mammon. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light; if thine eye be evil thy whole body shall be full of darkness." The opposite of single loyalty is not double loyalty that is impossible; the opposite of "single" is "evil"; and our whole body is full of darkness. We must have integration again "for me to live is Christ." Only then can we return to harmony, peace, and strength, return indeed to our right minds, to our essential nature. God must have complete control again in our lives. In rebellion against God and with disharmony without and disintegration within, mankind is really cast "out of the garden." Who can endure the flame to take us again past the flaming sword back into the garden? This is the task for the Saviour.
The Bible holds clearly before us that what happened to our first parents happened in and through them to all their posterity. "In Adam all died." Thus now we are "born in sin." Our sin consists not so much in sinful acts as in our sinful condition of which these variant acts are the symptoms. The Bible does not concern itself so much with sins as with sin, a condition of the whole person who is lost, and incapable of returning to God until God acts in a saving way. Being "dead in sin," men must have a "new birth" to grow at all now in the right direction. To describe this condition, theologians have developed two expressions: "Total Depravity" and "Original Sin." To these we should give brief attention because they help us to understand our condition and our need.
Original sin does not mean, as I once thought, that
there is anything "original" about sin or the way I happen to sin. Sin is very old and in the last analysis a very routine sort of thing. Our sins are not much more original than those of Jezebel or the Borgias. What original sin means is that our life is sinful in its origins. We come into the world already tainted, discolored, misdirected. We are hurled into life like a ball with a spin on it. In our origins then, we are sinful through our parents all the way back to our origins in Adam. By virtue of the very fact that we are human beings at all, by that fact we are sinful. Human nature is sinful nature, and I participate in that nature. Original sin also means that every act of mine has sin in its origin; I cannot do a completely sinless act. Even in my best deeds and my best thoughts there is still the discoloration of self-centeredness instead of God-centeredness. This is illustrated by my pride, if by nothing else. And pride is one of the deadliest of the seven deadly sins.
Total depravity does not mean that I am totally depraved in the sense of being a mad man. However, recent war horrors would indicate that we are more depraved than we are willing to admit. But the emphasis is on the word "total." This is another way of saying that the totality of my being is touched with the depravity of sin. If sin were blue in color I would be blue all over. My body is really a body of death because, if left to its own tendencies apart from the saving grace of God, there is nothing but death in me death which is physical, mental, and spiritual.
The Doctrine of Sin emphasizes that the race of mankind is a fallen race. As participants in that race, therefore, we are participants in that fallen condition. This fallen condition can be described in such terms as original sin
and total depravity or any other terms which will make clear to us that in and of ourselves there is no good that will grow naturally into our own salvation. Only by the regenerative act of God new birth, if you like can a new process be started in us by which we shall be restored to that original and essential humanity with which the race began. Then only will we be creatures in God's image and in perfect obedience. The way of this regeneration is established for us in Christ's complete obedience all the way to the Cross. The application of this regeneration is only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Doctrine of Jesus Christ
THE STORY of the Bible is the story of redemption. When, according to the account in the third chapter of Genesis, man had fallen, God set out to accomplish his salvation. We read that he came seeking our first parents in the Garden. He came to them in judgment upon their sins; he also came in promise, and the third chapter of Genesis contains the first promise (Genesis 3:15) which is known as the Prot-Evangel. The rest of the Bible story centers around the plot of what God was doing in a series of mighty acts to restore men to a saving relationship to him. God came in the law and in the prophets and in the holy nation of Israel; in the "last days" he came to us in his Son. The Lord Jesus Christ accomplished our redemption.
One enters on the subject of Jesus Christ, especially a study as brief as this, with considerable reluctance. The words of Horace Bushnell in his Nature and the Supernatural are most fitting here: "Who can satisfy himself with anything he can say concerning Jesus Christ." One is surely never satisfied with what he can say concerning Jesus Christ, but the attempt to learn of Jesus and to tell of Jesus, surely one can be happily satisfied with that. After all, we are disciples learners and we can continue the satisfying pursuit of learning of him and telling that wonderful story to others.
One way of getting at our subject is to think of the
ministry of Jesus Christ as a series of mighty acts on the part of God. First of all there was the preparation by God from all eternity. "The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world." God with his knowledge of man's fall made every preparation to redeem that situation and to save his people from the consequences of that fall.
A second "mighty act" was the Incarnation. This word means that God came "in the flesh" in Jesus Christ. This act is usually related to the Virgin Birth. Although Christ was born fully a man, "born of a woman, born under the law," he was also fully God. Thus in his birth there had to be the miracle by which he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He must be both God and Man, born of God, born of a woman; and in his humanity he must be kept clear and clean of the taint of that sin which runs through the generations of men.
Thus there was a mighty act of God by which the God-Man should be born. This being born into the life of mankind is the Incarnation. But there is more: to be born as the child in Bethlehem he had to empty himself, taking as Paul says in Philippians, "the form of a servant and becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the Cross." Christ had to leave the wonders and powers of his heavenly life to come to live among men; and he had to come to live among men so as to be subject to their laws, worn by their life and problems, and tempted and tried in all points as are men yet without sin. His Incarnation was part of his redemptive task, for he had to live now as a man, in perfect obedience, fulfilling the requirements of the law of God as humanity starting with Adam had never been able to do. He had to defeat sin "in the flesh."
There follow other "mighty acts." His whole life after the Incarnation act is a series of acts, lived on the human stage yet filled with divine content and meaning. His teaching might also be considered as "mighty acts" for as Peter says it is for us, he had "the words of eternal life." And finally there came his death on the Cross. This will take separate treatment in another study, for it is the central act of his redemptive task; the Cross stands squarely at the center of our faith.
But there were other acts, all having to do with our redemption. There was the Resurrection: God raised him up "in power." There was the Ascension again to his rightful position of Sonship, at the right hand of God where, in his exalted state, he is able to do for us, because he has died for us, what no one else could possibly do: he makes continual intercession for us. This is one of the most wonderful facts of our Christian faith. Whoever we are and whatever we are doing, our Saviour is making "continual intercession" for us. We should never live very far away from the constant consciousness that our Redeemer is doing that for us right now.
And there is a final act: he is coming again. It seems to me that the Bible has not yet revealed to us, although under the guidance of the Spirit we may yet enter into fuller knowledge on this, the time and manner of his appearing. But the fact of Christ's return is certain. He will come back even as he went away, and with his coming will be judgment and newness of life. Christ is coming again, and men will submit to his rule in terrible judgment or in joyful grace. The fact of Christ's Second Coming is a test of our Christian life now. Are we among those now who would "love his appearing?"
The redemption in Christ, therefore, is not just the Cross,
but the whole fact of Christ. His redemption includes his preparation, incarnation, life teachings, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. Christ is our Saviour from first to last. He is in this, as in all things, the Alpha and Omega.
Now there is another way to get at our subject. Across the years men have been trying to outline the work of Christ's redemption in many ways. One of the clearest and simplest of these outlines divides Christ's work into three offices: Christ our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. It has seemed to me that in each of these offices he fulfills, in turn, a double assignment. This double assignment will become clear as we proceed with each of the offices in turn.
Christ is a Prophet. Generally we think of a prophet as one who foretells the future. There is truth in this but not enough truth. Look at the prefix of the word prophet pro and think of some of our other words with this prefix more loosely used. We talk about "pro-Nazi" or "pro-Communist," etc. In such popular usage the idea of "pro" means "for." A man is "for" the Nazis or "for" the Communists. Now a prophet is someone who is "for" someone or something. A prophet of the Bible is one who is "for" God. He speaks for God. In that speaking he may foretell, or he may speak only to a contemporary situation some word of judgment or of promise. So long as he speaks for God, he is a prophet. Jesus is a prophet in this sense. He speaks for God. But I suggest that there would be a double sense in which he would fulfill each of these offices in turn.
Jesus as prophet not only speaks for God, he is also the "Living Word." This is one of the great wonders of our faith in him. It can be pointed out, for example, that much
of Jesus' teaching can be found in some form in other religions and pre-eminently in the Judaism of the Old Testament. Take the great commandment: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself." We glory in that commandment as a summation of the law of Christ. Yet both parts of the commandment are already in the teaching of the Old Testament. But what Christianity has that no other religion can ever talk about is Jesus Christ himself. We have him. So Jesus not only teaches us the commandment, he not only puts the two parts of the commandment together in the proper order; but he lives the commandment. He is the only one who ever has. He is not only the teacher of imperishable truth, he is the one who lives that truth. He is the Living Word. So Christ not only tells us what to do but he is at the same time the perfect example. And I must say also that through the power of the Holy Spirit he comes to help us live up to the living ideal which he has set for us.
As Prophet, then, Christ not only gives us words of life, he is the Living Word. As Priest he also fulfills a double function. In the Old Testament precursors of the New Testament, there was a complex sacrificial system, climaxing in the Day of Atonement when the high priest once a year went into the Holy of Holies to make sacrifice for the whole people. He stood for them before God. An animal was sacrificed for the people, but the priest himself had to prepare himself for this act by a sacrifice in his own behalf and in the washing of his body and the changing of his garments: that is, the priest had to be clean inside and out before he could sacrifice for the people. The sacrifice also had
to be without blemish. See then how Jesus fulfills the office of priest. He is not only the sinless and clean priest making the offering; he is also the Lamb without blemish who is offered. It is true that Jesus "the Lamb of God" is offered up for our sins, but he offers himself. He is the sinless priest and the lamb without blemish, and as priest he has nothing to offer to God except himself. "No one taketh my life from me, I lay it down of myself." Or again, "He set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem," and that was the road to the Cross. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin and he paid the price; and he was the price, an infinite price for the infinite requirements of God. And satisfaction was accomplished.
Christ is Prophet and Priest and King. See now the double office of Kingship. Most of our ideas of kingship are either those of an oriental potentate or of a medieval king who rules by military might. Such a one has absolute power and authority, and his powers constantly tend to make him tyrannical. His office has many external marks of this authority. He wears royal robes; he wears a crown; he carries the scepter; his seal makes final the laws of the land. In terms of kingship, as that office is popularly conceived, Christ certainly fulfills all the powers and has all the marks of kingship. He has power and authority because of his position and because of his creative and judicial rights. His word is our law and absolute obedience is required of us because of his crown rights. If he should appear in any earthly place he would have the right to sit on a throne, wear royal garb, and demand obeisance. We on our part would be ready and anxious to bow in his presence. By any standards by which we define kingship we find Christ
fulfilling the office of kingship but always much more. His powers are by right and are so absolute that there is no kingship in our experience to contain him. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and that forever and ever. He breaks the bounds of all our ideas of kingship; in fact his kingship tells us what proper kingship should be.
There is, however, the second side of kingship; and this, it appears from the Scripture record, is the more important. Think of it this way. If we take George Washington as a king among men, just how would we add to his superiority by placing him on a throne or dressing him in a royal robe? Washington would be no more important to us if we should buy him a more expensive suit. We would feel, rather, that any of our efforts to honor Washington by bowing in his presence or dressing him in the trappings of royalty would cheapen him rather than glorify him. He doesn't need what we can give him except insofar as we honor him with our spirit, honor him indeed in trying to be like him, honor him in honoring the things for which he stands. So it is, only infinitely more, in our honor of Christ. Christ is King and comes as a King, but he reigns as the suffering servant. Isaiah's description of him, "there was no beauty that one should desire him," is relevant here. The one who works as his Father works, and works redemptively in our behalf, whose head was so terribly wounded, whose body was scourged for our transgressions, is not one whom we would want to honor as we would honor some oriental potentate strutting and posturing in his self-centered pride. Our King and our God is revealed in the one who walked the dusty roads of Palestine, who had no place to lay his head, who
emptied himself that God might highly exalt him. One would hardly know whether royal robes and thrones and parades and fireworks would in any sense have anything to do with such a one. There is nothing we have that we can give him except the homage of our hearts. We offer him something only by giving a cup of cold water to "one of the least." He will not despise those of us who have "a broken and contrite heart," and such ones he will lift up to reign with him and with all the saints forever.
All honor to Christ the King who rules in authority and might and power but who rules in wondrous grace and kindness. He is the one who finally tells us what is "high and lifted up," and thereby sets in focus all other values human and divine.
The Doctrine of Salvation
THE STORY of the Bible is the story of salvation. The story of salvation is the history of man. If we are to believe the Bible account, then man's original estate was one of sinlessness, of paradise, of perfect communion with God, the image of God in nature and experience. Man fell from the estate wherein he was created, and his life ever since has been marked by sin and misery. Over against this fallen condition of man God has acted, and the history is determined by God's plan for our salvation and our acceptance of his free and gracious invitation to become citizens of his eternal Kingdom.
The central act in God's saving plan is the Cross of Jesus Christ. There on the cross of Calvary was wrought out for mankind the way of salvation, completely, once and for all. Men have been trying ever since to explain what it was that happened there on the cross. What happened to God? What happened to Christ? What happened or can happen to humanity? The Scripture records are full of verses giving us various facets and insights with regard to this great event. Depending on starting place and emphasis, students across the years have come forward with a wide variety of explanations of this great transaction. As a help to our own understanding,
let us look at a few of these views and viewpoints, all of which, by the way, have some measure of truth to them. But we must say ahead of time that no view is sufficient to define for us all the rich meaning of the atonement wrought out for us by God in Jesus Christ.
One theory says that the Cross of Christ is our great Example. This it certainly is. "If any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." There is no such thing as crossless Christianity, even in our discipleship. Jesus is our great example; the "Imitation of Christ" is an excellent program for life. But example helps the human hurt very little. We are surrounded by examples; we have more precepts in our copybooks than any man can follow. To have before us the matchless example of Christ's courage and sacrifice means nothing to us except another unattainable goal. What we need is enabling power. Except that it is a new version and a new ideal, the Cross of Christ as an example, as only an example without some release from the power of sin in our lives, can be for us not good news at all but simply another way of breaking our hearts. Before we can even begin to follow such an example, and it is a matchless one, we admit, we must be released from the power of sin and death. Example alone cannot do this.
There is another theory closely allied to the Example theory called the Moral Influence Theory. This also emphasizes the example of the Cross but with this difference: we become identified with the one who dies there he was doing it for me. We see the difference between these two views readily if we think for a moment of some great act of courage. Perhaps a man has gone out to
battle and against great odds has fought to his own death; meanwhile by his act of courage and devotion he has turned the tide of battle. What a marvelous example this has been for all succeeding generations of soldiers. But suppose rather in the heat of battle this same man has fought against these odds and lost his life in order to rescue me in my own helplessness there on the battlefield. Ever after that event I will live in the consciousness not only that my friend has been courageous but that he was courageous for me. He gave his life for me; I live because he died. The influence of his death then on my life will be tremendous. There is truth here regarding Christ's death for us. He died for us, and not for a righteous or friendly man did Christ die. He died for sinners; he died for me in my sin; he died for those who were putting him to death; he commends his love to us "in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."
Other views of the Atonement turn from the influence of the Cross on sinners to what had to take place in the presence or in the person of God himself. Grotius, a Dutch lawyer, suggested that the Cross of Christ "satisfied" the demands of God's laws. The laws had been broken, a price had to be paid to the demands of justice, and Christ satisfied all those demands and penalties of the law in his life and finally in his death. Anselm, in his Cur Deus Homo, held that what was satisfied in the Cross of Christ was the honor of God, or his majesty. He gets closer to the person of God than Grotius gets in the idea of God's laws: God's honor and his majesty have been satisfied. Aulen, a recent writer, in his Christus Victor, starts with the fact that Christ in his Incarnation has picked up human nature into his own
life and throughout his earthly life and pre-eminently on the cross he is fighting the onslaughts of Satan in human flesh. His whole life's ministry is this battle, and on the cross he gives the cry of victory: "It is finished!" He finished victoriously what he came to do he defeated sin in the flesh. Henceforth there is a redeemed humanity to which human beings may be savingly united. Union with Christ means that we are united to that One who, in his humanity, is sinless; and by that union we also participate in victory over sin and death.
Having followed the discussion thus far you must be convinced that men have thought into the deeps on this tremendous subject. Books have been written by the score; there have been harsh divisions among men over the proper emphases on this central Christian theme. You must have observed also that there is some truth in each of the emphases which have been made. Finally, you must have been aware that there are several fundamental truths to which any complete theory of the Atonement must be loyal. From my own study of this great subject, and in the greatest humility before the theme and in the presence of masters who have written on this subject, I would like to suggest that any true view of the Atonement must take account of the following: What happened toward God; how God had to act; what happens to man. To put these questions in other terms, any true view of the Atonement must include satisfaction, substitution, and reconciliation. Only by thinking along all three of these channels can we come to any satisfactory conclusions.
For my classes in theology an illustration from the writings of P.T. Forsyth has been helpful in explaining
what actually was taking place on the Cross of Christ.
Forsyth tells of the activities of a man named Schamel who was leading a small revolutionary group against the Czarist regime in Russia about 1870. His was a guerilla group which, in the words of one of our own early revolutionists, had to hang together or it would hang separately. His organization was a tight little universe of its own, with its own laws established for its own existence. Then one day stealing broke out in his camp, and the organization began to fall apart in the mutual suspicion which one member had toward another. And so Schamel laid down the law "Thou shalt not steal," and he attached a penalty to the breaking of the law; whoever was caught would receive one hundred lashes. Before long the thief was caught. But it was his own mother! What could he do? For the sake of his little universe the law had to stand; he could not have an organization in which stealing was treated with indifference. At the same time he loved his mother and could not bear that she should receive the one hundred lashes. Schamel shut himself up in his tent for three days trying to work out some solution. Finally he came forth with the command that his mother, for the sake of the law and for the sake of the group, must receive the lashes. But before the blows had fallen more than thrice on his mother's back he had his real solution in a real revelation. He removed his mother and required that they lay on his own back the full measure of every blow. The price was paid in full, but he paid it in himself. His law stood; his love was expressed. He received the punishment in his own person.
Something like this had to happen on the Cross of Christ. God's holiness and God's law, which is a necessary
expression of his holiness, had to be satisfied. At the same time something else had to be satisfied God's love, love to the uttermost, a love that will not let us go. Both holiness and love are of the very essence of God, and both must be satisfied. "God was in Christ" so that when Christ died on the Cross the holiness of God was satisfied and so was his love; he took the penalty on himself. In no other way could this have happened.
With the satisfaction there was also substitution. Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves. "There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin." Christ was the "lamb without blemish," an infinite offering for an infinite sin, our rebellion against the Almighty. He was not only the offering he was also the priest. No one took his life from him; he set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem and there freely offered himself up. And all this he did because he loved us with an everlasting love. He had to put himself in our place not only to satisfy himself (God) but also to express that love which would not and could not see us suffer.
There is reconciliation here also. We are told to come to the foot of the Cross; and this we should do, not only to see what our sin is, not only to see what God in his love has done for our sin, but also to respond to that holiness and love which are exhibited on the Cross. If we return for a moment to our illustration about Schamel we can well ask this question: "What will Schamel's mother do henceforth about her stealing?" Between her and her next act of sin will always be the bloody back of the one who suffered in her stead. "With his stripes we are healed." In some sense we become reconciled to God when we see the Cross, when we really see what he has done for us there.
Another illustration is helpful in my own thinking. About fifteen years ago we bought our first house. One night, sitting in this house at the evening meal I happened to look out to see a group of boys playing with a B-B gun across the vacant lot. After awhile one of the boys aimed at a bird on a tree just outside our dining room window, fired, missed the bird, and plunked a little hole through our window. I went roaring out of the house to catch the boys. I didn't catch any of them; they scattered in all directions. Shortly, however, I found that a boy by the name of Dave Jones had shot the hole in the window. But I could never catch up with Dave! In the meantime I had the window repaired, paid for it, and began to let my anger simmer down. Then I began to think about Dave. The window was paid for, but what about Dave? Was it good for him to be shunning me? He was constantly evading me; even when I saw him, he seemed to see me and would get away. Thinking maturely now, I realized that the most important thing about that window was that Dave should face up to his misdemeanor. So I really became the "hound of heaven" and pursued him until I caught him, and caught him alone. There we stood face to face finally. Dave was rebellious and ready to fight me even though he admitted that he had wronged me. Then I preached the Gospel to him! I told him over and over again just this message: the price was been paid; it's all over; let's be friends. What a time I had with him! He couldn't believe the grace, the wonder of grace. It's all over; it's all paid for. Let's be friends again. Finally the message got through; he really believed the Gospel he was forgiven completely. What a wonderful look came over his face when he really believed my message! What
relief from his burden! What joy! "Be ye reconciled," I said as I offered him my hand in friendship. He finally believed that he was justified, and for the first time in weeks he had peace. "Who hath believe our report?" Who could believe such a message? It is all over; it is all paid. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." His yearning message to us for our salvation is: "Be ye reconciled."
Satisfaction, substitution, reconciliation these are heavy theological words, but they tell us of wondrous truths. God's love and holiness have been satisfied. This has been accomplished in a wonderful way because God himself in Christ paid the price which we ourselves could not pay. And now there is the reconciliation, God's pleading with us to accept what has already been done once and for all. God Almighty is appealing to us: "Be ye reconciled!" Why are we indifferent and hesitant in the presence of such a message? But there is more. In some miraculous way in the Incarnation, Christ took upon himself human nature. Such human nature as we have is tortured and discolored with sin. The offer of salvation is that since the way has been opened to salvation through the precious blood of Christ, and since the price has been paid, and since all is in readiness for our new life, there is actually available for us the kind of redeemed human life which is the very life of Christ. We are to be caught up in him. There, as if by a great transfusion, "the blood of Christ keeps cleansing us from sin." Justified declared right because of what took place on the Cross, we are now enabled by his life in ours to do right.
The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
WITH THE possible exception of the Trinity, it is more difficult to treat clearly of the Holy Spirit than of any other truth in our Christian faith. There are several reasons why this is so. The most obvious reason is that we are not purely spiritual beings ourselves and so have difficulty finding parallels and analogies in our own experience to something of Someone who is purely spiritual. It is common to all of us that when we want to understand something we have to find exact words for expression and words are symbols or we have to find parallel symbols in experience with which we can compare and contrast the objects of our examination. How can this be done with the Holy Spirit? As soon as we make him like something, we have to make him like something in our human experience; but since he is pure Spirit, we cannot enclose him or his nature in anything which we are able to grasp with our five physical senses. The Holy Spirit, therefore, constantly evades, not from his nature but from ours, any suitable analysis or definition which will make him clear to us. It is a problem akin to drawing a picture of a soul, or weighing a thought, or giving shape to an emotion. The tools we have do not fit our problem.
Another reason we have trouble in grasping the Holy Spirit with our understanding is that the chief office of
the Holy Spirit is not so much to reveal truth concerning himself but to reveal truth concerning Someone Else. Since he is the Spirit of Truth, then any truth we have concerning him must come from him as the source; but his office is to point, always in another direction toward Someone Else. The Holy Spirit "takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us." Thus when we look at the Holy Spirit he points us immediately in another direction. It is like the experience of looking at the sun; the sun blinds us by its own light. But in the light of the sun we can look on other things. And we know that it is only by that light which we cannot look upon that we are enabled to look at anything else.
However, we do know of the Spirit's existence and of his offices and powers because the Word of God, which was inspired by the Spirit and made known to us by the same Spirit, reveals the fact and the nature of the Spirit's operations. We find the Spirit at work through all the history of the Old Testament and we find him moving into the forefront of activity in the New Testament. The Book of the Acts, the "Acts of the Risen Lord," would be meaningless without the acceptance of the fact of the Holy Spirit and of his work in the early Church. It is the belief of the Church through all the ages of Church history that the Holy Spirit has continued to be operative in persons and in Church life, and that Church history apart from the work of the Holy Spirit is without meaning. The history of the Church without the Spirit would have been without power and life long before this. In contemporary problems, whether personal or ecclesiastical, we continue to pray for the Spirit's guidance and power.
We face then this impasse: the Holy Spirit is clearly
set forth in Scripture as one of the Persons of the Trinity and he is therefore a proper object of our study and of our adoration. He nevertheless, by his very nature and his office, constantly evades our grasp and understanding, especially as we try to share with others what it is we ourselves have received, more by the heart than by the head, of his marvelous reality and constant strengthening comfort. In the face of this dilemma, and realizing the limitations of our analysis, I have found it helpful, nevertheless, in my own thinking and in my teaching to seek out an analogy. This analogy, like all analogies, is incomplete. The purpose served is not so much to describe the Holy Spirit as to show us how we can believe, and do actually believe, in other areas of our experience, in realities and powers which are likewise beyond our total comprehension and definition. Although we do not have symbols in the world of sense experience which will show us what the Holy Spirit is, we have the experience of other powers in our world of sense experience which will show us what the Holy Spirit is like.
Every power we know is, in the first place, indefinable. We easily forget this. We have a variety of powers channeled through various machines and engines; but power, as such, is beyond definition. Take, for example, electricity. There is no definition of electricity. We do not know how it flows through a wire; we do not know what really flows through what. We can name the power and measure its speed and amount, but the nature of the power itself is beyond definition. Notice, however, that in our use of electricity, no one hesitates to talk about it; no one hesitates to use it, just because no one is capable of defining it. We would be greatly impoverished
in this modern day if we awaited a definition, and certainly a popular definition, before we believed in or made use of this marvelous power. It is surprising how many people will not pray for the Spirit, or in the Spirit, until they get a definition. As far as I can tell now there will be no easy, popular, satisfying definition forthcoming.
In the second place power is invisible. We can see wondrous manifestations of power but we do not see the power itself. It was quite a discovery for me to find out that steam, for example, is invisible. It is when steam turns into something else, namely water, that we see it; the steam itself is invisible. A marine once told me of his first experience with radar and the awed feeling it gave him. A unit of energy was sent out into space and bounced back. Something invisible had gone out there had certainly been some real thing and the thing bounced back, registering the time of its trip out and back, and so registering the distance of the trip, and certainly registering the fact that there was something else "out there" which it had hit and from which it had returned. Now we can bounce these units of energy off the moon, or use them for discovering speeding planes or lurking subs. Our indefinable, invisible units of electrical energy have now become essential in national defense. Meanwhile they are beyond our five senses and beyond our definitions.
In the third place power is inviolable. Power always operates and everywhere operates according to its own inner laws. We think we use the power of electricity, and in a sense we do, but not by making electricity obey our wills. Rather we have to discover the nature and laws of electricity first and use the power according to
its own inner essence. "The wind bloweth where it listeth ... so is the Spirit of God." Thus in simple analogy Jesus described the operations of the Holy Spirit in terms of wind, which itself is beyond definition, which is invisible and, indeed, inviolable. Men who would sail the seas must discover how to use the wind, build their crafts in obedience to the wind, run before it, or tack into it, or even get out of it entirely. The wind bloweth where it wills and can becalm us or destroy us or enrich us.
Closely akin to inviolability is a fourth characteristic; power is invincible. What is the drop in temperature which turns water into the ice which can split a wall of granite? How shall we define this power or these powers? Once in Egypt I was taken to the great rock quarries from which the stone had been cut for the temples of Luxor and Karnak. It was explained to us there that the ancients had understood how to drive wooden wedges into the rock; these wedges were soaked with water; as they expanded the granite was split. What was this power of expansion? Could the ancients have defined this power? Nevertheless, they used the power, explained its use, and the witness and use had been passed on. For another illustration, watch the powers let loose in the spring of the year. A little root can split a rock or destroy a drainage pipe. We think we know what we are talking about when we use words like "osmosis" and "capillary attraction," but who shall say that we understand what these words mean as definitions of the essence of the powers which they represent. We do not understand things just because we can name them.
Our final trait of power is this: power can be invested. It must be invested to be useful to us. What we like to call human progress had been in a large measure governed, not by the invention of power, but by the discovery of powers and the laws of powers and by obedience to the laws of powers. It is significant here, I think, that in the first chapter of Acts, when those early disciples were trying to solve some riddles about their future would the kingdom be restored at that time? they were not given to know "the times and the seasons"; neither, I suppose, are we. But said Jesus, "Ye shall receive power and ye shall be my witnesses." That was their program for the future, not a series of answers, but a gift of the power of the Holy Spirit as they witnessed! It was not power in general, not power as an object of study or something a man could muse about in a theological library, but the gift of power in the act of witnessing. The power had to be invested if it was to be given.
The great archaeologist, Melvin G. Kyle, said these words many years ago in an address at Muskingum College: "We all pray for the Holy Spirit, but as soon as the tongues of flame appear we run for the fire department." So with most of us. We think of the Holy Spirit as an interesting study, like stamp collecting or old guns religion can be a very "interesting subject." The Holy Spirit will have none of this attitude. We are in the very clearest way "playing with fire" here. One ought not to "monkey around" with electricity or with atomic power, much less with the power of Almighty God. When the early Church prayed for long earnest days for the coming of the Holy Spirit they did so according to the command and promise of Christ, not according to neat
definitions and careful word studies. And when the Holy Spirit came in power it was in a surprising way, wind and fire and the shaking of houses to their foundations. But what a witness there was that day!
All we have said so far is by way of showing how possible, indeed how necessary, is the view of truth in which we recognize that neat weights and measurements in the laboratory and the testing by our five senses become quite secondary to the grasp of fundamental realities. Whole areas of truth are beyond our description or analysis except as these truths bear witness to themselves through other media. So it is in the understanding of the Holy Spirit. He is indefinable, invisible, inviolable, invincible, and always invested not as we please, but as he pleases.
It has been a happy assumption of mine and a discovery of my classes that as we set ourselves to examine God we suddenly become aware that he is examining us. When we try to make what we like to think is a completely objective and unbiased study of Jesus Christ we have to look steadily into his eyes, only to discover that he is looking steadily into ours.
Instead of his being under our objective judgment we bow down in the presence of his judgment. So examine Christ as you will; he will be examining you. Flesh and blood did not reveal Christ to you any more than flesh and blood revealed him to Peter in the Great Confession. The Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned and with that discernment will come self-knowledge "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." In revealing Christ to us the Holy Spirit will search our hearts. Then we shall see who is being studied and analyzed.
So with the Holy Spirit of God. We may examine the evidence for his existence, tabulate the ways in which he is described in Scripture, argue for his personality, place him neatly in the Trinity. All these exercises take their proper place in a class in systematic theology. In such disciplines we need all the intellectual acumen of which we are capable. It is of the essence of Protestantism that these things should be studied and defined as far as our minds and understandings can take us. But finally, and perhaps sooner than we expect and in ways we don't suspect, the Holy Spirit will be dealing with us more than we are dealing with him. He is the initiator in our search for truth, even truth about himself. Understand him as we may, it behooves us rather to hear him, obey him, and know him best when his life surges through ours, empowering us to bear witness in Jerusalem and in Judea, in Samaria even, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Jesus has a wonderful word of promise about the Spirit: "If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him." We can ask for the Holy Spirit and he is promised to us. The only real question in all this is: Do we really want him?
The Doctrine of The Church
TO UNDERSTAND the Church we must, if possible, see it in its simplicity, and there is no better place to see the Church in its simplicity than at the time of the Reformation. The Reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, had laid upon them the necessity of analyzing the Church and establishing the Church afresh over against the Roman Church of their day. At the same time they had to fight against the schismatics of their day who, seeing that Protestantism had revolted against Romanism, believed that they had the right to revolt against the new Church of Protestantism. In establishing their position between Romanism and sectarianism the Reformers had to construct a church doctrine which could stand against attack from either side.
Luther's doctrine of the Church began with the reality and simplicity of his own deep religious experience. Luther had been born into and nurtured by the Romanist Church. As an Augustinian monk in that Church he had sought by all the disciplines of his order to find the assurance of his salvation for which he so earnestly longed. He did not find such assurance, and the history of his monkish asceticisms is a piteous commentary on the poverty of any salvation by works. In constant obedience and in constant soul searchings, he found no peace. Even his greathearted father-confessor, Staupitz, could not lead him to any joy in his religion.
In such a condition Luther was enabled in the providence of God to teach from the Psalms, from Romans, and from Galatians. With the teaching came deep study of those books and the discovery in time of "justification by faith alone" which became the keystone of all Protestant theology. In Psalm 22, where Christ's cry of dereliction on the Cross is found embedded, Luther discovered that all his sins and all his guilt had been borne by Christ the Saviour. In Galatians he came to understand the poverty of works and salvation by grace alone. In Romans he learned of "the righteousness of God," the free gift of God made possible through the perfect obedience and substitutionary atonement of Christ. With such knowledge came assurance and peace. In his new-found union with Christ was a saving relationship which no man could give and which certainly no man could take away.
It is essential for us to see that Luther now had the experience of salvation apart from the priestly hierarchy and ecclesiastical machinery of the Romanist Church. The Church, therefore, the Church which he had always known, had not brought him this salvation and could not take it away. He understood, therefore, that whatever was meant by the Church, the body of Christ of which Christ is the head, it could not mean the Church at Rome. What then is the Church?
Starting with his own experience of salvation, by the direct relationship to God through Jesus Christ, Luther was led to see that his own salvation had been brought into reality by the ministry of the Word of God. He understood also that no man can be a Christian by himself, in a kind of mystical vacuum. There must be, he reasoned, others who had experienced this same relationship
with God through Christ. If he had union with Christ, others also must have union with Christ; such union is essential Christianity. If, then, he and others were united "in Christ" they must in some wonderful way be "in" one another. Union with Christ meant communion; joined together with Christ they must be joined together with one another. This union with Christ and with other Christians is the Church.
Although it is believed that the term "invisible Church" began with Martin Bucer, the fact of the invisible Church was already a part of Luther's experience and understanding. The Church, therefore, is the whole company of believers known only to God wherever they may be found in history or scattered across the face of the earth. This idea of the invisible Church is still a constant in our understanding of the Church today. There is a numerous company, known finally only to God, in congregations, denominations, Churches, who constitute the actual Church of Jesus Christ.
The Church, however, because it is made up of men and women of flesh and blood, cannot remain constantly invisible, because men and women live in the flesh; and as members of the Church of Christ it is in the flesh that they must carry out their duties as church members. This body of believers must in some fashion find expression in mission and life, and as soon as they express themselves they show themselves in some visible way. There is, therefore, the "visible Church" of which the members known only to God are the true members and in which the true members of the invisible Church find ways and means of expressing their church life. The invisible Church must by its very nature and because of the nature of mankind express itself constantly in visible ways.
Look, for example, at the activity of the Church. Luther had his own religious experience through the ministry of the Word. But not only was he born into the Kingdom through the Word, but he was constantly nurtured in the Kingdom by that same Word. The Church had laid upon it the necessity for the ministry of the Word. This Word was shared with others through preaching and teaching. Furthermore the visible group of worshipers could share in common worship, in common exhortation, and in teaching new members or young people who were likewise to be brought into a saving relationship with God and into the Communion and fellowship of believers. The Church, therefore, as a visible congregation, or on the larger scale as a denomination, had to take as one of its responsibilities the ministry of the Word. Thinking of the command of Christ with regard to the sacraments and thinking also of the sacraments as the "visible Word," the Church had to make some provision for the proper administration of the sacraments.
The Church also carried the responsibility of the Great Commission. Therefore, it had to be organized in some fashion for mission enterprise. From Luther's viewpoint it was impossible for the Church to be simply a place to which people came for the Word and sacraments; also it must so condition men that they become Christians in all their social relationships. The Church ought to be the creative power in all society in home relationships, in business ethics, in political responsibilities. In short, as Luther construed the Church, the invisible Church must become visible not only in congregations of the people of God but in the creation of a Christian culture, a "Volk," a people of God, living in
and developing community life, community standards, Christian law and order.
Let us see now how this idea of the Church has grown. It started with actual Christian experience between the believer and his Lord. People with such common experience found themselves in one spirit, united for worship and the ministry of the Word. In such an organization, simple as it might be, there was laid on them the necessity of bringing others into this saving relationship and in teaching Christian men how to be Christian in all their relationships. We ought to see then how this invisible Church by its own inner necessity takes on visible form. The church group must meet at a certain place at a certain time. That means a meetinghouse of some kind. A meetinghouse means some kind of financing; heating, plumbing, janitor service, etc., begin to become requirements of the visible Church. Preaching means preachers; sacraments mean administrators of sacraments; preparation for church membership means teachers; care of the poor means deacons; government means elders. It is fundamental that a true Church is made up of believers known finally to God alone; yet this company of believers known only to God must, in the nature of the case, organize in visible groups and do physical, mechanical, visible things.
It is understood, I am sure, by all of us, that not all church members are true believers. Every worshiper in a given place on a given Sunday morning is, we are quite certain, not a true believer. Some are half devoted, some are not ready for full Christian experience, some are hidden or manifest sinners. But who is able to tell the sheep from the goats? The Reformers tried, therefore, by various schemes of discipline to purify the visible
Church in terms of the ideal invisible Church. Excommunication was the method by which they attempted to keep the Church pure in spite of the fact that they knew that the visible Church would never be completely pure. Luther was more easily satisfied than Calvin with regard to the purification of the visible Church. He believed, because of his own personal religious experience, in the creative nurturing power of the Word. He concluded that if the Word were properly preached and if the sacraments were properly administered, in whatever congregation of people, one could be assured, not that the visible Church was completely pure, but that there were present on such occasions true members of the invisible Church.
Although Calvin began with the same foundations as did Luther, he moved into a more stringent church organization. He, too, believed in the whole company of the elect known only to God, and his first edition of the Institutes gives us this emphasis on church membership. It is significant that, in Strasbourg with Bucer, he worked on his commentary on Romans with this same emphasis on the elect company of God. However, in helping Bucer as Bucer tried to organize a Church to stand over against the demands of the State in Strasbourg's environment, Calvin was under necessity to define the visible Church. He accepted the "notae" of the Church as set forth by Luther the Word preached and the sacraments administered but was increasingly concerned to define the visible Church so that men might know who "belonged" to the Church and who rightly ought to be excluded from its communion and fellowship. When he returned to a place of leadership in Geneva, and as he developed his theology through subsequent
editions of the Institutes, he never lost sight of the fundamental reality of the invisible Church. Meanwhile he developed in over one hundred pages of the Institutes the nature and organization of the visible Church. Sharing as he did Luther's great religious experience, he was nevertheless an ecclesiastical statesman and knew that the visible Church must show signs of structure and order rightly to accomplish its great mission. The late B.L. Manning of Oxford has expressed this well for us:
"Calvin perceived that the greatest need of the sixteenth century was a positive ecclesiastical policy. It was idle to criticize the old Church in the manner of Wycliff ... It was insufficient to arouse fresh piety among men in the manner of Luther. Only a Church with a claim and sphere as wide, an authority as august, a foundation as venerable and secure, a machinery as efficient, a policy as subtle, a temper as high, a mission as complete, could replace the corrupted Church of Rome and hold its own against the secular state rising everywhere on the ruins of mediaeval religion. Protestantism ... had not yet produced an ecclesiastical statesman, an architect on earth of that city whose builder and maker is God. In Calvin it produced him."1
Calvin understood and established the structure of the Church visible, but he never lost sight of the "whole company of believers known only to God." He never lost sight of the fact that the reality of the Church depends on the reality of the experience of salvation. Our danger today is that we accept the church organization
1. This quotation was shared with me by Dr. John S. Whale in his lectures on Calvin at Cambridge, England. Since then Dr. Whale has used the substance of this quotation in his book, The Protestant Tradition, Cambridge University Press, 1955, pages 125-126. There he gives credit in a footnote to B. L. Manning, The Making of Modern English Religion, Student Christian Movement Press, London, 1929, page 95.
passed on to us in our Protestant heritage and get men and women to "join the Church" without any understanding of the religious experience which lies at the basis of that church membership. This religious experience is brought into being by the ministry of the Word under the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this religious experience which we must seek, and no organization however complex and efficient can take the place of fundamental religious experience. Moreover, the whole complex of ecclesiastical machinery has only this one end: to bring true religious experience into being. The invisible Church is the body of Christ within all our religious bodies.
Conversely, in our concern for the purity of the Church, in terms of religious experience among the members, the Reformers teach us that it is also of the essence of the Church that the invisible will take on visible form in many places and in many ways. We must accept, although sometimes attempt to purify, the visible Church, with all its rich variety albeit sometimes back-breaking machinery.
The Doctrine of the Sacraments
THERE HAVE been seven sacraments practiced in the history of the Christian Church: Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Orders, Marriage, and Extreme Unction. Of these seven sacraments the Protestants hold only two as valid sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Roman Church recognizes all seven. This can mean only one thing; namely, that the Protestants have certain requirements for a sacrament which exclude all other acts except Baptism and the Lord's Supper from the classification of sacrament. It is instructive, therefore, to see what requirements the Protestants demand as essential to a sacrament.
1. A sacrament must be of direct divine appointment. We believe that worship in all its parts must be regulated by the commands of God. Since the Lord through the Scriptures is our sole lawgiver, no man or body of men has the right to devise any religious rite, especially one designed to symbolize or convey divine things. God alone can institute the ordinances to which he can give his blessing. It is quite clear that Baptism and the Lord's Supper were instituted by Christ, the one on the night before his Crucifixion and the other in the Great Commission just before his Ascension. The necessity for such a divine appointment is plainly suggested in the words
with which the Apostle Paul introduces his account of the Lord's Supper in I Corinthians 11:23: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you ..." It is at the point of divine Scriptural appointment that we so often part company with the Romanists; they are satisfied to take as authoritative the findings of the Roman Church during its long, tortuous, and often confused history. We find no Biblical authority for such rites as Marriage or Extreme Unction, for example, as sacraments of divine appointment.
2. There are in valid sacraments certain sensible signs, sensible to sight and touch. Words alone do not constitute a sacrament although they stand closely related to it. More than audible verbal signs are required in a sacrament. The other senses are also used.
3. The sensible signs must also be by appointment of God if they are to convey proper content. The content has to do with spiritual blessings and duties, and the signs must symbolize such blessings and duties. The signs are linked with our salvation. In no other way can we understand such language as this: "Repent and be baptized"; or "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ"; or "This is my body broken for you ... do this in remembrance of me."
4. A sacrament is a sealing ordinance to all who rightly receive it: it forms, that is, a sensible pledge to those who receive the sacrament of the actual gift of the blessings which it signifies. Circumcision in the Old Testament, which is paralleled to Baptism in the New Testament, is actually called "a seal of the righteousness of faith ..."
5. A sacrament is a Church ordinance as distinguished from one of private, family, or even social nature. It is to be administered only to those who wish to show their
separation from the world to God, indicated by a public profession of this new relationship and loyalty. Baptism is a sign of entrance into a new group with new privileges and responsibilities; one is now a member of the family of God through his promises. The Lord's Supper is to nurture and strengthen us in this new life. But always the assumption is that we are now in the Church which in so many ways is different from the world. It is careless thinking here that makes the Church so worldly.
6. Participation, and not mere vision, is implied in a sacrament. A man receives nothing from a sacrament which he merely witnesses being administered to, or received by, others. The elements of a sacrament must be applied according to their nature to the one who is to receive the seal and benefits of that sacrament.
7. According to divine appointment there is established a union between the outward sign in the sacrament and the thing signified. Although the outward sign has been appointed because of its natural fitness (water for cleansing, bread for food) to represent the spiritual blessings signified, yet the appointment of God must be added to constitute a true sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified. It is because of this union that there can be an interchange of names between the sign and the thing signified. Thus Christ can be called the "Passover"; the bread is called "the body of Christ"; and the cup is termed "the new covenant in my blood."
8. The virtue of a sacrament is not inherent in itself, so that mere participation in a material sense cannot secure the blessing symbolized. Nor does the virtue of the sacrament depend on the inward intention or piety of the one who administers it, but only on the blessing of Christ and the operation of his Spirit in those who
receive. Many have been baptized who have not been regenerated, and many take part in the Lord's Supper to their condemnation, not discerning the Lord's body. (This outline is based on a very clear treatment of sacraments found in the unpublished theological lectures of James Harper, late of Xenia Seminary, Xenia, Ohio.)
These essential requirements for sacraments limit the Protestant to only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Within these two sacraments we can examine certain of the requirements again. In Baptism, for example, there must be the covenant promise of God to adults who receive it in repentance and faith or to children who are heirs of the promise made to believing parents. In addition to the promise of God there must be the sign, which in this case is water. There must be finally the right receiving of the sacrament, either by believing adults for themselves or by believing adults for their children. In the Lord's Supper we have the promise of God of his sacramental presence; there are the signs of bread and wine; and there is the spiritual preparation of the recipient by which he is able by faith to receive Christ and his benefits in receiving the bread and the cup.
For Protestants generally the chief problem in understanding the sacraments is to understand the relationship between the sign and the thing signified. Some brief and helpful definitions have come down to us through the writings of churchmen. The sacrament "is a physical sign of a spiritual reality." The sacrament is "the external sign of an inner reality." Sacraments have been called "the visible word." Just as we have an "audible word" which conveys Christ to the heart of the believer, so in the sacraments we have a "visible word"
which conveys Christ and his benefits to the heart of the believer.
The problem of the sign and its content is brought to sharp focus in the words of institution "this is my body." What shall we do with that word "is"? Does the sentence mean an equation? Is the bread the body, the cup the blood, in any literal sense? Christendom has been rocked by arguments over this brief verse and its meaning in the sacrament.
The Romanists, for example, make of this sentence an equation. Using the word "transubstantiation," they argue that the substance of Christ becomes in the Mass the substance of the bread. In the miracle of the Mass Christ becomes in a true sense the bread and the cup. Thus in emergency fire or air raid the priest must protect with his life the bread and cup blessed in the Mass. The Reformers sensed the danger of idolatry in this identification of the creation with the Creator, and rightly so.
Luther tried to solve the problem with what he called "consubstantiation." No equation is made between the bread and Christ, but the Lutheran says that with every minutest portion of the bread or wine Christ is "in, around and under" the elements. Using the illustration of a piece of iron heated red, the Lutheran points out that the heat and the iron are two separate things yet one cannot find the smallest bit of iron which does not have heat with it. The heat is always and everywhere "in, around and under" the iron. Thus Luther hoped to hold to the literality of the words, "this is my body," without introducing the danger of idolatry. (He faced and did not solve, however, another problem, the ubiquity of Christ's body, as necessary to his view.)
The interpretation of Calvin and the Calvinistic Churches rests on the symbolic use of the passage, "this is my body." And yet the symbolism must not be an empty symbolism. The elements in the Lord's Supper are not "nude" signs. Nevertheless, there is no direct equation between the physical signs and Christ's physical presence but to the real presence. How is such an interpretation to be understood? Again let us say, "physical signs of invisible spiritual realities."
Think for a moment about the symbolism of the American flag. The stripes stand for the original thirteen colonies, the stars for the forty-eight states, and the colors of the flag have their own significances. Yet no one says of the flag that "this is the United States of America." Meanwhile the symbolism is close enough so that the flag is always treated with respect because of the close symbolism between the flag and the country.
Try a closer symbolism than that of the flag. If you want to know directions for a trip from Pittsburgh to St. Petersburg, Florida, a friend can show you a map on which the two cities and the highways between are there in print. Your friend points to the map and says, "This is Pittsburgh and this is St. Petersburg and this is the route between the two cities." The word "is" has crept into our natural conversation. Yet no one really believes that the marks on the map really are the two cities signified. But the language is significant in showing us how the word "is" does not have to be a complete equation in any literal usage. However, unless you accept the close relationship between the sign and the thing signified, you cannot follow the directions from Pittsburgh to St. Petersburg.
But Calvin gives us a closer symbolism in the illustration of two men shaking hands in agreement. We see the sign the handshake and when we see the sign we know that the agreement is made in the minds of the men who are shaking hands. The agreement is not seen, but the sign of the agreement is seen. The handshake is "a physical sign of an invisible reality." When we see one we know that the other is there. Or take a signature on a check. The check is given full value in the purchase of a house or of a car. The signature is "a sign and a seal" so that real value is conveyed in the check when the sign and the seal of the signature is on the check. The check has no value, no content, until the signature is there. When the signature is there we have a "sign and seal" of the value conveyed by the check.
So it is with the sign of the sacraments. The signs are elements only. However, according to God's promise and according to the mental and spiritual condition of the person receiving the sign, when we see the sign, or receive the sign, or have the sign applied to us, we can be sure that the thing signified is also there. In Calvinism, we do not say that Christ or his promises are physically there, but we do say that they are really there. The spiritual realities are there when the physical sign is rightly given and rightly received just as the handshake is a true sign when the parties to the agreement have agreed in their minds to that which the sign of handshaking signifies.
People ask, "But isn't Christ always present in the heart of the believer?" Yes, by all means. But in the sacrament there is a difference, not in his presence, but in the reality of the experience of his presence. It is not a difference of kind but a difference of degree. I
remember seeing a young woman showing off her engagement ring with the greatest happiness and pride. Why did she want the engagement ring? Why was she happy about the ring itself? Didn't she know that the man she was to marry loved her? Indeed she did, and she had experienced many "audible words" about his love. But here was a "visible word." The ring brought her experience into focus and intensified that experience of what had always been true of his love for her. She needed the sign "to show forth" the reality, to make real in a new way the truth. Sunlight is always about us and we do not change the nature of the sunlight when we cause it to shine through a magnifying glass. But the glass focuses and intensifies the rays of the sun so that there is flame. God in his infinite goodness knows our finiteness and our finite needs. Therefore in the sacraments he conveys and portrays in sensible ways his presence and his promises.
The Second Advent
AT THE TIME of Jesus' ascension, the disciples who had gathered there with him were given this word of assurance: "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." As a result of this promise, it has been the belief of the Church that Jesus will return again and that his return will be a physical manifestation, this time in power, when he will be with his people and will rule over them.
Another verse has been relevant to every discussion of the Second Advent. It is found in the Book of Revelation, chapter 20, verses 4 and 5. "They came to life again, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life again until the thousand years were ended." The period of time referred to as "the thousand years" is called the millennium. Using this verse along with others chiefly in Daniel, in the Olivet discourses in Matthew, and in Second Thessalonians many Christians have tried to work out a time schedule governing the Second Advent of Christ.
Whereas there has been almost universal agreement on the fact of Christ's Second Advent, there has been no such agreement on the time and circumstances of his coming. In fact, the question of the timing of Christ's Second Coming has been a reason for division among
Christians and sometimes a reason for bitterness. It is because of such division and bitterness that many preachers and students of the Word have been hesitant to preach or to discuss the Second Advent. This is unfortunate and is, indeed, unsound, for the Bible abounds in verses and paragraphs, even discourses and parables of our Lord, which center on the Second Coming. To refuse to preach or to discuss the Second Advent is to be untrue to the Bible message. It is possible, as we hope to show, to draw out helpful teachings from the Second Advent even when we admit that there are parts of the time schedule which are at present unknown or misunderstood.
There have been three main divisions among Christians as they try to be true to all the Bible material having to do with the time of Christ's return. The first position is called the Pre-Millennial view. Accepting the verses in Revelation which refer to the thousand years as literal or at least as indicating a fixed period of time, those who hold to the Pre-Millennial view believe that this millennium period will be ushered in by the return of Christ. In other words, they are Pre-Millennial because they believe that Christ will return before the millennium. With good Scriptural support, they reason that since the world is far from being in a saved condition now, and since the return of Christ is imminent that is, he can return right now, even when the world is not saved then it follows that if he should return right now he would have to usher in the millennium.
The "Pre's" also observe that whereas the world seems to be getting better and better in some directions, it is also getting worse and worse in other directions; in fact, the very discoveries which seem to make for progress
usually have within them the seeds of their own decay. For example, the plane which can carry vaccines to some isolated community of Eskimos can also carry the hydrogen bomb for the destruction of that same community. We have learned how to check polio and with equal rapidity have learned how to bring about the mass destruction of the very children whom we love and whose lives we like to save. They also observe that evil is so entrenched and so constantly and subtly successful that only the Lordship of Christ returning in power can overcome such forces.
The second position which is widely held is called the Post-Millennial view. Taking the millennium again as their starting place, these Christians believe that we should put more emphasis on the requirements of the Bible which demand social justice, the elimination of such evils as slavery, war, slums and disease, and the constant and sacrificial work which will bring in the millennium. They believe also that when Christ went away he left us the Holy Spirit, and that we can, in obedience to the social requirements of Christ's law, and with the enlightenment and power of the Holy Spirit, usher in the millennium. Then, after the millennium has run its course, Christ will return to judge and then to rule forever and ever.
The third position is called the A-Millennial view and seems to be gaining wide acceptance in our day. We are not concerned here with those who might think of themselves as A-Millennial just because they have no view of the Second Coming. Those in this group seriously accept the fact of Christ's Second Advent but believe that the millennium as such is irrelevant.
Finding the idea of the millennium mentioned only
once, and then in Revelation where much of the language is poetic and figurative, they by-pass the idea of any millennium and proceed to other matters. Their picture seems to be this: the world does get better and the world does get worse. From time to time this moves in two directions, toward the evil and the good, demands some marked solution to the tension, and some event or series of events to break the tension and give a new start. It is somewhat like Toynbee's theory of history which sees a series of challenges and responses followed by new directions and new powers. There will be, according to the "A-Mils," a final apocalyptic crash in history, Christ will return, there will be the final judgment, and the life which then begins will be the life of God's eternity. Some hold that if there is such a thing as a millennium it has already been underway since Christ's first Advent; others hold that the idea of the millennium could well cover the life of felicity which is ushered in with Christ's return and which will continue forever and ever. The idea of the thousand years is just a figurative way of speaking of the perfect life of the ages to come.
Each view, it seems to me, has elements of strength and weakness; none is final and complete. Here, if in any place, we see through a glass darkly. The "Pre-Mils" are true to two elements in Scripture. First, they are true to the imminence of Christ's return. "Watch, therefore," becomes their motto. No man knows the day nor the hour. The return can be like a thief in the night. We live constantly under the promise of the next event on the Divine Calendar the return of our Lord. It is impossible to "bow out" this element of imminence in Scripture. Second, they take the first and most natural
interpretation of the millennium and of those verses in the prophetic books of both Testaments which speak of the good life on this good earth. They expect that when Christ ushers in the millennium there will indeed be the good life on this good earth. They see no reason for minimizing this great mass of promise. Where else, then, than in the millennium under the Lordship of Christ can this life be lived?
But there is an element of weakness in the "Pre-Mil" position, too. They are forced to more than one judgment, and when arrangements are made in their schemes for more than one judgment they fall into a whole series of problems. There are pre-rapturists and post-rapturists, Praeterists and Futurists, and a constant slide toward the more amazing and complex schedules of dispensationalism. The necessity for two judgments in the "Pre-Mil" view opens up a whole Pandora's box of endless speculation and argument.
In the "Post-Mil" position there are also elements of strength. Like the "Pre-Mils," they take seriously the Scriptural passage which speaks of the thousand years. They also take seriously Christ's commands for feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. They take seriously the work of the Holy Spirit and believe that with him they can continue to progress toward the millennium. They also believe in the prophetic utterances concerning the good life on this good earth. On the other hand, however, they have nothing to say in answer to all that Scripture says on the imminence of Christ's return. One cannot observe our day in history and believe in both truths namely, that Christ can return at any moment, and that we can work out our way of life to the level of the millennium.
The "A-Mils" are true to what we observe over and over again in history the apocalyptic judgment which appears so often and which will appear once and for all. They are true also to the imminence of Christ's return, believing that we need not wait for life to reach a millennial level before Christ can break in to rule with finality and power. However, they reach their position with too easy an evasion of the verses which do actually speak of the thousand years, and they allegorize too easily the prophetic words about the good life on this good earth. They tend, most of them, to project the solution of our problems "beyond history." They do, however, close the door to more than one day of judgment and thereby eliminate many difficulties to which other interpreters are subject.
One who comes upon this subject of the Second Coming for the first time immediately wonders why this argument is important. Well, it is important, first of all, because men are seriously concerned with what Scripture says. Perhaps all of us can be less argumentative here if we remember that the first requirement of any man who will discuss the Second Coming is that he be a sincere Bible-believing Christian. No others even concern themselves with the problem. Therefore, whatever our views, we have a ground for keeping the subject open for discovering more truth to lead us to agreement.
The question, however, has other importance. A man's view on the Second Advent will usually color his whole approach to Christian evangelism or Christian service. If a man is a "Pre-Mil," he will likely be more interested in personal evangelism than in social reform. The time is shortened. He must get the Gospel out that men may be saved before it is too late. A "Pre-Mil" will tend to
minimize social reform, not because he does not believe in it, but because he believes personal evangelism is so important, and the time is so short, that social reform must be left to one side.
A "Post-Mil" will throw his emphasis (and speak in general terms in these matters) on the side of the social gospel. He believes, of course, in personal evangelism, but he believes equally that men must be fed and clothed and housed, if only to fulfill the compassion of Christ for all suffering humanity.
The "A-Mil" usually is a man of strong convictions on election and predestination. He knows, as we all do, that our times are in God's hands. We can work for a better day and ought to; we can evangelize men personally, and we ought to; and when the number of the elect is filled, Christ will return. The "A-Mils" will evangelize and also work for the new day, knowing perhaps two things: that the millennium will not come fully regardless of their efforts, and that all men will not be saved regardless of their efforts. Apparently neither the perfect society nor the evangelism of the world in this generation are within the purposes of God. What a man thinks about the timing of the Second Coming will color his emphasis in Christian witness and service.
If I personally were forced to take a position, my position would be that of the "Pre-Mil." Happily I am not forced to take any such stand. The major denominations have not seen fit because I think that they are actually unable to state their positions officially on the timing of the Second Coming. On this subject surely good Christians have had good reasons to disagree. Of what value, then, is this doctrine?
We can teach and preach that Christ will come again. He will come again in a physical and powerful way. He will come in judgment and in promise. What we really need to consider is whether we are among those who "love his appearing." Whenever his kingdom comes, we shall love his appearing only if we are ready. And we can be ready for his judgment only if we have found ourselves inside his grace. He will come for his own; the only question, therefore, is whether we count ourselves in him.
The Doctrine of the Resurrection
THE RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ, and, on that basis, the resurrection of believers, is central to the teaching of the early Church. That teaching is reflected in the sermons recorded in the Book of Acts and in the letters of the Apostles, especially the Apostle Paul. The Resurrection is therefore a fundamental doctrine of the Christian Church.
What the early Church was maintaining, and what the Church still maintains, is the resurrection of the body. The resurrection of the body is written into every basic creed of Christendom. We must remind ourselves constantly that the idea of the Resurrection was as amazing to the early believers as it is to us. The note of the Easter message is one of breathlessness. Men and women everywhere were running running to tell the amazing miracle, running to see if it could possibly be true. The early disciples knew, as we know, all the other possible interpretations of the Resurrection. They knew that a man's influence can last in his writings or through the lives of his friends and associates; they had heard of reincarnation as a possibility; they realized that a belief in the Resurrection might be due to hallucination or just plain perjury.
But it was not because they knew these possibilities that the men and women ran back and forth checking
and double-checking. These old possibilities, known for centuries to men and women conversant with Greek thought, were not in the message which sent the disciples out preaching the wonder of the Resurrection fact to an unbelieving world. The message was this: if a man die he shall live again. Christ, with the prints of the nails and with the wound in his side that Christ with that body had arisen. He had arisen indeed! And if Christ lives we shall live. This was the message, the message of life over death, the message which threw aside the weight of unbelief. It was because of that message and the reality on which it was based that men could now find real victory over their sins, could live the abundant life, could live in the blessed hope of immortality. To the age-old question, "If a man die shall he live again?" the Church of Jesus Christ came forward with the witness of assurance and with the plain answer, "Yes." There are men who find this quite unbelievable. So be it. But we must never by that fact be drawn into the shadows of half belief. Christianity has maintained fervently and against all unbelief that it really is so. "We believe in the resurrection of the body."
The New Testament, as we have already said, is filled with this message; but the locus classicus of this doctrine is in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15). The whole chapter is an apologia for the Resurrection. By mastering the contents of that chapter, one will have the "case" for the Resurrection. In this treatment we can only indicate some of the major arguments.
Paul's first appeal is to people who believe the Scriptures, and we must remember that for Paul "the Scriptures" were the writings of the Old Testament; he was in the process of helping to write the New. He argues first, therefore,
that Christ rose from the dead "according to the Scriptures." Having set that before us, he goes on to give a series of eyewitness accounts which were abroad in his own day and which could be examined by those who wanted further proof. We have in the four Gospels, and in Paul, ten events pointing in witness to the Resurrection fact. Of these ten, Paul uses seven here in the account in Corinthians and makes much of one appearance known through him Christ's appearance to him on the Damascus road. In two of Paul's great defenses recorded in the book of Acts, and here again in Corinthians, Paul underlines this experience of his own. Paul's encounter with the Lord on the Damascus road was never far from his consciousness. It made a firm foundation and a point of assured departure in all his teaching and in his brave, tireless mission enterprise. But notice: in recording these Resurrection appearances, Paul is giving us the New Testament basis for believing in the Resurrection. Thus the basis for belief in the Resurrection is the record of the Old and New Testaments. For a Bible-believing Christian this is enough. "It stands written!" If we believe the Bible, we can have no doubt that the Bible establishes the Resurrection fact. Happy are those Christians who rest their faith at this point.
But it was evident to Paul, as it is now to us, that there are people who do not accept the witness of the Bible. Perhaps for some the Resurrection as a fact will establish the trustworthiness of the Bible, instead of the Bible's establishing the Resurrection. Just as Jesus was willing to answer the doubts of Thomas, so Paul is willing to face the doubts of his contemporaries. Again let us notice that the Resurrection fact is an amazing
fact which men in every generation have a hard time believing. Paul turns now to help such unbelief. He meets people where they are with their doubts; in our teaching we must be willing and able to do the same thing. In every generation of Church history apologetics has been the theological discipline prepared to meet men on their own grounds of belief and to bring them over to Christian belief. See, then, Paul's apologetic.
From the twelfth to the nineteenth verses of the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul argues against his opponents in what seems at first a very strange way. The method has come to be known as "Negative Pragmatism." We need not remember the term, but we do need to follow the method. Notice the negative approach: "If Christ be not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain." Paul has already argued that Christ has risen. But if he has not risen, then our preaching and our faith are empty. Paul is really arguing his statement backwards. Your preaching is not empty, your faith is not empty; therefore, Christ must be risen. This apologetic becomes stronger the more you consider it. Think of the preaching of the Risen Lord wherever it has gone, all across the world and down through the centuries. Has that preaching been vain? Indeed not. The preaching of the Risen Lord has brought new life and great fruit wherever it has gone. Read the statement backwards, then: our preaching is not vain, therefore it stands that Christ must be risen; for it is on the basis of that fact that the preaching has had content and life.
And what about faith? "If Christ be not risen ... your faith is also vain." Has faith been vain where men and women have believed in the Resurrection? Faith in other things has indeed been proven vanity; but faith
in the Risen Lord has brought men to newness of life and to great victory victory even over the sting of death. And something else can be said of faith here. Our faith in truth itself would have a terrible shaking if Christ had not risen from the dead. Where could the Lord of the universe have been if he had allowed the cruel death of the Cross to go unanswered? What can a man believe if the Ruler of the universe does nothing about that? Or again, why would we be interested in truth at all if all the fruit of the Resurrection belief were based on a lie? We should set ourselves to discover other lies instead of other truths if all the glories of Church history were founded on a lie. Our whole pattern of faith faith in truth, faith in goodness, faith in the kind of thing which sent the early disciples to martyrdom claiming the fact of the Resurrection in the name of one who said, "I am the Truth" all this faith and all this kind of faith would be vanity. It is not vanity; we walk by that kind of faith every day we live. If our faith be not vain, then Christ must be risen.
In the same method of argument, Paul points out that if Christ be not risen we are "yet in [our] sins." And yet those who believe in the Resurrection are the very ones who find victory over sin. Or again, if we have believed in Christ only in this present life, we are "of all men most to be pitied." Are we? Find victorious lives, at home and in our world mission. Are Christians the miserable people real Christians, I mean Christians who really believe in the Resurrection? Christians everywhere have found the deep abiding joy of the abundant life; they are of all men most joyful, and this is in spite of circumstances of life. "Count it all joy, brethren, when you fall into manifold temptations (trials)." It is Paul, writing
from prison, who can say, "Rejoice, again I say rejoice ... rejoice with joy unspeakable." On what fact is such joyful possibility based? The Resurrection! Our preaching is not vain; our faith is not vain; we have victory over sin? we are of all men the most victorious. Why? Because Christ has risen, and all things are done in the power of the Risen Lord.
It is on the basis of Christ's Resurrection that Paul then establishes ours. Christ is the firstfruits, and we who are buried with him will also rise with him. Union with Christ, the Risen Christ, is the assurance of our own resurrection. No man can be in any wise dead who is in him.
Of great interest to the Corinthians, and of equal interest to us, is the manner of our resurrection. Paul's discussion on this begins with verse 35. What Paul is appealing to here is the easy way in which we accept all kinds of life and all kinds of bodies and still stumble over the possibility of a resurrection body. There are all kinds of flesh animal, fish, fowl. There are all kinds of bodies terrestrial and celestial. There is also a resurrection body.
Modern man should have an easier time with the resurrection body than did those of the early Church. What, after all, are our bodies? Electrons in motion! According to what pattern? According to the pattern which is me. (Bad English here, to make it clear!!) At my age my body has already died about six times that is, every single cell has died and been sloughed off into oblivion and been replaced with a new living cell over and over again. I think nothing of it. Every time I take a bath, dead cells go down the drain. Every time I eat, new cells are formed formed of stuff, elemental stuff,
from all over the earth. But always this stuff forms me according to the reality which is still me. My friends have recognized me every step of the way. I am constantly something new and different, made as I am of the dust of the earth, and I am at the same time still my very own self. This wonderful change is most clearly shown us in the growth through adolescence. Watch your teen-ager. He has a new body, new powers, new interests, new releases from those things which bound him to childhood. Yet he is the same person. He is "clothed upon" with a mature body, is indeed a new creature, and still he is the same person. The center of his pattern, the pattern around which all his electrons keep buzzing his soul, if you like is the core of his being, around which his new body centers and in which he had his real identity.
What is promised to us in the resurrection is that we shall be "clothed upon" with a "spiritual body." It is not a "disembodied spirit." Never! We are not to be wraiths or ghosts or spirits. But we ourselves our identity will be clothed upon with a spiritual body. What that body shall be cannot be described in terms with which we are now familiar. We do not have the vocabulary, the analogies, the experiences, by which we could understand. But should this worry us in our hope for a new life? When our oldest daughter was only eight she asked us, "What is a date?" Can you define a "date" to an eight-year-old? But when she is eighteen we will not have to define it to her. She will no longer ask the question. With her new body, her new powers, her new perspective, she will be living in the experiences in which a "date" is no longer a question which needs to be analyzed. Things can be described to us only in terms
with which we have had some experience. The resurrection body is to be a brand-new experience.
Even so, there are some things we can say about the resurrection body. In some way it will be like Christ's Resurrection body as described in the Resurrection experience. But here again we do not have a full description. He seems to have had victory over time and space, and he was not stopped by the solidity (so-called) of matter. Our resurrection life will be free from sin and the ravages of sin; it will be free from pain and from anxiety; it will be free from death and the sting of death. Judging from the wondrous job God has done in creating this life, I believe we can trust him with the realization of eternal life. But mostly this is important for Christians: "we shall be like him." That is enough. And as Paul ends his treatment we can follow his lead: "this corruptible must put on incorruption." Death is a necessary entrance now into that newness of life. "Therefore," these things begin our hope, "be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
Christian Faith and Life
FAITH," says the writer to the Hebrews, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." Many of us have memorized this definition, and we say it very easily, perhaps too easily. It is a definition, however, which requires the most profound study, and it is likely that we shall not have completely understood it even in a lifetime of meditation. In our consideration of faith and life, however, we must make it the starting place for everything we have to say.
Look at the definition closely and see how strange it is. The word "faith" operates in two worlds. Faith is "of things hoped for" and "of things unseen." As such, it operates in the ideal, unseen world of the future. It has to do with things which have not yet happened. At the same time it is "substance" and "evidence."
We know "substance" and "evidence" through our five senses. When a man thinks of himself as being realistic in his approach to life, he thinks in terms of substance and evidence. When a man is idealistic in his approach to life, he is thinking in terms of things hoped for and still unseen. The realistic thinker is apt to think of the idealist as operating in the realm of the nebulous. Yet there is our definition of faith, operating in both worlds. Faith, in the clearest way, is a two-world word, operating at the same time in the substance and evidence
of this world of time and space and daily experience and in the unseen world of things still hoped for.
The writer to the Hebrews expands his thesis in Hebrews 11 by describing men and women of action people who did something. Faith, in spite of its other-world reference, operates very much in this world. It is in the separation of these two worlds that men lose the meaning of faith. There are those who remain in the nebulous world of the hoped for and unseen; they believe certain things but never put their beliefs into action. There are those, on the other hand, who work hard in the here and now, but lose power and meaning and sense of direction because they have not fastened their eyes on the hoped-for and unseen world.
"We walk by faith," means that, whether we will or not, we have to have faith in something or someone on the basis of which we move at all. Even when we walk out of the door of a room, we are walking into another room which, up to that time, is still hoped for and still unseen. The very fact of our walking gives substance and evidence to our belief that the next room is there and can be entered.
An example which has always helped me to understand this can be observed at any dog show in any of our large cities. Men and women bring their pure-bred dogs to the show and there have them judged for their perfections. Suppose a man has been breeding boxers. Perhaps, to his wife's great distress, he has been spending all his spare money on his hobby of raising boxers. He has been spending his "substance," and there is "evidence" all over the house of his dream the dream of a prize-winning boxer. Through several generations of boxers, he has been breeding toward perfection, and
he has "acted" on the basis of an ideal boxer, which is still a "thing hoped for" still a "thing unseen." Mind you, no one has ever seen a perfect boxer; even the man who is breeding the boxers has never seen a perfect boxer. Toward what, then, is the man breeding? He is breeding toward a perfection which is "hoped for" and "unseen." And I repeat, in action, he shows substance and evidence of things hoped for and unseen.
One night, he leads his boxer into the ring, and his dog is judged the best boxer in the show. The judging of the best boxer is as wondrous as the breeding of the boxer, for the substance and evidence of the boxer have been judged again in the light of a perfection in boxers which is still "hoped for" and still "unseen." The dog has the best points only because there is general agreement about what a boxer ought to be, and that ought is a perfection still hoped for and unseen.
When, finally, the boxer is adjudged the best dog in the whole show the best dog over against a Great Dane, a French poodle, a Russian wolfhound, and a Scottie it means that a great many people have presumed to know what "best" means in terms of general doggishness. It is a wondrous judgment indeed when a boxer is found to be more perfect as a dog than, say, a French poodle. Dog fanciers can think of a perfect dog, regardless of breed; but, again, that perfect dog is in the ideal world of "things hoped for" and "things unseen." We do this sort of thing when we breed horses, or cotton, or cows, or pecans; strangely, some people think there is something gullible about a religious person who governs his life by "things hoped for" and "things unseen."
When we move from dogs to people and when, specifically, we move to the Christian faith, we have one
remarkable datum which is not present in the breeding of plants and animals. It is a basic tenet of the Christian faith that, when the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us," and when men saw and handled the Word of Life, then that "hoped-for" and "unseen" world for man's dreams and aspirations actually appeared in Jesus Christ.
One cannot be a Christian without at least this basic fact. What God has to say about himself, he said in Jesus Christ; more to our point, what God had to say about mankind, human nature, in its potential, God said in Jesus Christ. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; in these last days God has spoken to us in his Son. When, as Christians, therefore, we ask what man is supposed to be, what man ought to be, the "thing hoped for" and still "unseen" in human life, we point to the perfections in Jesus. All the promises are "yea and amen in Christ Jesus."
Christian faith, therefore, in its essential, requires that we shall lay hold on Jesus, or, more exactly, be laid hold on by Jesus; and the things of Jesus begin to be operative in our lives. It is a kind of imitation of Jesus; but it is much more, because in the whole process God has been the Initiator, and he is the Sustainer of the whole process. In Christ God has entered into human life with the free gift of salvation made possible through the finished work of redemption. It is not yet clear what we shall be, but "we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is." In the meantime faith is action the action of the life of God through Christ operative in us. And we grow from faith to faith.
In Romans Paul makes clear to us that the life of perfection required of us is impossible in and of our own efforts.
He makes it desperately clear that the heathen world has failed and does fail; he points up the tragedy of the high calling of the Jews and their failure. Thus, with the wrath of God against all unrighteousness, and with the total failure of the human family, some other way had to be worked out.
Since man has no righteousness in and of himself, there is a "righteousness of God" which must be given to man and received by faith alone. This fundamental act of God, the perfect righteousness of Christ, is to be offered freely as a grace gift and received by faith. Thus, by Christ's total redemptive act life, death Resurrection God is able to forgive us and to offer us his righteousness in Christ. Our faith, then, is to receive the gift; and from that point on the righteousness of Christ begins to work in us. "By faith Abel ..." did something; "by faith Abraham ..." did something; "by faith" we go to work, or rather the life of Christ begins to work in us. In this new relationship we are indeed "saved by faith."
It is only on the basis of that faith Christ working in and through us, the substance and evidence of things hoped for and things unseen that we can talk of the Christian life. We are often tempted to talk of the Christian life from some other man-made starting point. This may be a life including some moral victories, but it will be a life leading in the wrong direction. A half-breed dog might have many of the markings of a boxer, but could never be bred now to perfection. I remember standing near a casket of a man once and hearing one of his friends say, "He was a good Christian; he always told the truth and paid his debts." It is quite true that a Christian will tell the truth and pay his debts; but it
is not true that paying debts and telling the truth makes a Christian out of a man. The whole area of "salvation by works" gets off to this false start.
Christian life, therefore, is a life of faith. We are now in a saving relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Our works of righteousness are the result of this relationship, not the cause of the relationship; and in that relationship we grow from strength to strength as his life infuses ours. Christianity, therefore, is never an attainment, but a process; we can never level off at any point in Christian experience with the feeling of having arrived; rather we continue to walk in a relationship. Christianity is dynamic, not static; we walk with a living Lord.
Because our Christian life is all of Christ, there is in it no place for pride or judgment, however great may be our assurance of salvation. The Christian life, rightly understood, is a life of humble dependence on Christ. Automatically there is no place for the attitude of the Pharisee; all our attainments are gifts initiated and sustained by the grace of God and received daily as his free gifts.
In youth work I have been worried by the way in which young people get hold of this whole idea by the wrong end. Someone has told them that they must quit smoking and they must quit dancing in order to be Christians; missionaries have been accused (falsely) of making natives wear clothes as a requirement for Christianity. Not so, and never! Young people are to be brought face to face with Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, born again in a new relationship. Out of this experience they may be moved to give up many things which they did before, but mostly because of
"the expulsive power of a new affection." The new relationship is not a new legalism, but a new love; and Jesus, through the words of life, made alive by the Holy Spirit through Holy Writ, leads us daily into new perfections, perfections beyond the rules.
But rate of growth and directions of growth in individual lives may follow a different pattern. One new convert may immediately give up smoking; another may not give it up for years, as was true of the great Spurgeon. One may decide that he has some forgiving to do toward his friends; another has to go somewhere and make a public repentance. In the new relationship, Jesus takes over, and we become like him as we live with him by faith; the things of Christ, unseen and hoped for, take on new substance and evidence. We who are teachers do not have the pupils imitate us; we merely advise them by bearing witness to Christ's leadership in our own lives, and pointing to the Word of Christ, that he may speak that Word to them.
Many things in the Christian life are immediately open to us as being right and wrong, Christian and unchristian; and Christ's word in the Sermon on the Mount, "Be ye perfect," is a command from the One to whom we have entrusted our lives and our destinies. So we can never play fast and loose with the requirements of our Master.
But again let it be said, that in addition to those things which are clearly right and wrong sacrificial giving as over against murder, for example there are many things in our complex society for which we need more light and guidance. Men Christian men, that is took centuries to discover what they must do about slavery and dueling. Now we must learn new lessons about race.
We have not really begun on the problem of war nor on the complex problems of management and labor. These widespread problems of international scope are matched by personal problems within the individual life: Should your parents, for example, be put in an old folks' home? Which of several colleges is right for your daughter? How late should your teen-age son stay out with your car? What should your vocation be? Should you teach a class or care for the sick? How should you spend your spare time? How do you, the pastor of a church, make a choice between study time and service time?
Our faith requires of us that we lay hold on Jesus, bring his life to bear upon the things of life, and let him lead us into righteousness; and, at the same time, part of our faith will be that, if we truly seek his will, we can rest in faith on the decisions to which he leads us.
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