Monday, February 2, 2009

I0202-Reading 1.13.4 - 1.13.-7

Chapter thirteen, I think is my favorite of all chapters I remember reading from Institutes. The discussion of Sabellius who confounded the persons of the Godhead, and Arius who denied the divinity of Christ our Lord were for me many years ago profitable and memorable. What an enjoyment to read them once again.

Consider these words from, Knowledge of the Holy, by A. W. Tozer:

God of our fathers, enthroned in light, how rich, how musical is the tongue of England! Yet when we attempt to speak forth Thy wonders, our words how poor they seem and our speech how unmelodious. When we consider the fearful mystery of Thy Triune Godhead we lay our hand upon our mouth. Before that burning bush we ask not to understand, but only that we may fitly adore Thee, One God in Persons Three. Amen.

To meditate on the three Persons of the Godhead is to walk in thought through the garden eastward in Eden and to tread on holy ground. Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption. .................

Christ did not hesitate to use the plural form when speaking of Himself along with the Father and the Spirit. ”We will come unto him and make our abode with him.” Yet again He said, ”I and my Father are one.” It is most important that we think of God as Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance. Only so may we think rightly of God and in a manner worthy of Him and of our own souls.

In the Institutes 1.13.4 we read of the preciseness and exactness of words the early Fathers used in order to put a halt to the damage "slipper snakes" were wrecking upon the Faith and Sound doctrine. Have you ever read the Athansian Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Apostles Creed thinking of this goal. Thinking how they strived to produce clear, accurate, precise, unambiguous words that could not be evaded by a false teacher such as Arius or Sabellius.

Following is the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The examples of the deception based on words is very instructive. Arius appearing to confess an orthodox belief at one time confessing the Christ is God, but then in another breath though he confesses this confessed also that Christ was created and had a beginning.

Or quoting Calvin on Sabellius:
When the matter was debated, he acknowledged his belief that the Father was God, the Son God, the Spirit God; but then he had the evasion ready, that he had said nothing more than if he had called God powerful, and just, and wise. Accordingly, he sung another note, viz., that the Father was the Son, and the Holy Spirit the Father, without order or distinction.

While reading this passage were you encouraged to be faithful to contend for the truth. Surely we must weigh carefully what each situation calls for and not to be wranglers, and contentious for the sake of contention. But in this matter of real importance Calvin ably admonishes:

Who dare charge those ancient writers as men of strife and contention, for having debated so warmly, and disturbed the quiet of the Church for a single word? That little word distinguished between Christians of pure faith and the blasphemous Arians.

Let not fear keep us from speaking the truth in love. Words and definitions of words do matter.

Again I am reminded of the Tozer's prayer with which he opens up Chapter one of his Knowledge of the Holy.

O, Lord God Almighty, not the God of the philosophers and the wise but the God of the prophets and apostles; and better than all, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, may I express Thee unblamed?

They that know Thee not may call upon Thee as other than Thou art, and so worship not Thee but a creature of their own fancy; therefore enlighten our minds that we may know Thee as Thou art, so that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tozer then after a few paragrphas closes chapter one with the following:

Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ”What is God like?” and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him - and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.

It is also a danger that we are proud over our own chosen words risking the possibility that we are opposing those who affirm the same truth with a difference of words. Calvin gives examples of early Fathers who were fearful of speaking unworthily of God by making to simple through their own words the incomprehensible God. Lest we do become just quarellsome over words, which matter, because of definition, we are also cautioned.

But I was long ago made aware, and, indeed, on more than one occasion, that those who contend pertinaciously about words are tainted with some hidden poison; and, therefore, that it is more expedient to provoke them purposely, than to court their favour by speaking obscurely.1.13.5

By person, then, I mean a subsistence in the Divine essence, - a subsistence which, while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by incommunicable properties. By subsistence we wish something else to be understood than essence.

DEITY OF THE SON begins with section seven:
Calvin writes:
I know prattlers would easily evade this, by saying that Word is used for order or command; but the apostles are better expositors, when they tell us that the worlds were created by the Son, and that he sustains all things by his mighty word, (Heb. 1:2.) For we here see that "word" is used for the nod or command of the Son, who is himself the eternal and essential Word of the Father. And no man of sane mind can have any doubt as to Solomon' s meaning, when he introduces Wisdom as begotten by God, and presiding at the creation of the world, and all other divine operations,(Prov. 8: 22.)

Proving the deity of the Son with the Spirit of Christ speaking in the prophets, and the Son upholding all things by the word of His power Heb 1.2, and John 1.1. Even the account of creation found in Genesis, where

And this is clearly enough shown by Moses in his account of the creation, where he places the Word as intermediate. For why does he distinctly narrate that God, in creating each of his works, said, Let there be this - let there be that, unless that the unsearchable glory of God might shine forth in his image? I know prattlers would easily evade this, by saying that Word is used for order or command; but the apostles are better expositors, when they tell us that the worlds were created by the Son, and that he sustains all things by his mighty word, (Heb. 1:2.) For we here see that "word" is used for the nod or command of the Son, who is himself the eternal and essential Word of the Father.

Hmmm, and can we learn something further here "apostles are better expositors."

Also, identifying Wisdom from Psa 8.22 with the eternal Son.

For additional discission and the difference one iota can make see Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, page 244.

Also Phillip Schaff has a lengthy discussion on this same word from which I found this though I think one could find many more references if pressed.

Better stop here. Please feel free to send me your own blog posts are add to the discussion in the comment section below.


Barbara said...

Wow! Awesome stuff! Thanks for your thoughtful work and preparation. It has made such a good devotional to meditate on today.

Scott said...

Thanks you so much, Barbara, Praise God for His Great Grace. I noted over the last couple of days a few ambiguous sentences and some typos, so I was concerned I may confuse people on few points. I'd like to try and fix this post a little before the week is over. But really I'm glad you got the gist of it.

Joshua said...

I like this chapter, also I think the comments posted by Dad (Scott) are helpful here.

A good understanding of the Triune nature of God is most needful so that we can rightly worship and serve the true God as He has revealed himself, and also so that we may be part of the one true faith.

I appreciate the point made by Calvin that the church fathers were cautious not to dig too deep, or over simplify the mysteries of the Godhead. It is ground that must be tread upon carefully.

Yet, the Trinity is certainly not something that can be dismissed as being one of the secret things of God. That is evident since He has clearly revealed His Triune nature in the scriptures. (As Calvin has pointed out by providing copious reference verses.)

So then, to reject the doctrine of the Trinity is to reject God as he has revealed himself, which ultimately leads to fashioning a different god according to one's own fancies.

allout said...

Scott,thanks for posts. Calvin was right on in his acessment of Sabellius' doctrine. His was a precusor to our modern day teaching of the "Jesus only" movement. According to this view, Jesus related to the Father only in a distinction of natures. For instance, when Jesus prayed to the Father in the garden, it was merely the human nature praying to the divine nature which was in heaven. This does violence to the deity of Christ. It also denies the distinction of Persons which Scripture clearly teaches; Mth 3:16-17. Sabellius would see that the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely applied as functional roles, whereas the Bible declares three distinct subsistances within the One essence of the divine nature.

Laurie M. said...

I like this statement of yours: "It is also a danger that we are proud over our own chosen words risking the possibility that we are opposing those who affirm the same truth with a difference of words."

I've often heard folks aruing over words, who don't really differ in substance.

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