The Lord’s Reign: Herman Bavinck on the Scriptural Sense of God’s Transcendence

paige-weber-974172-unsplash.jpgThe Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
— Psalm 103:19 —

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
— Isaiah 57:15 —

Where is God?

In one sense, God is everywhere (Ps. 139:7–12). In another, God is outside of space and time (1 Kings 8:27). Still, in a third way, Scripture speaks of God as dwelling in heaven, high above his creation (Isa 57:15; cf. Ps. 135:6). Yet, it is important to remember God’s place in heaven is not outside of creation. Rather, it is the created place for the glorious and uncreated God to dwell within creation.

From that divine throne, God rules all creation. And in creation, God reveals himself to us in his world and in his word. Bringing these big and beautiful realities together, Herman Bavinck describes what it means for God to be over and in creation. Doctrinally, these realities are expressed by the terms transcendence and immanence. And in the newly released volume Philosophy of RevelationBavinck has this to say about a scriptural sense of God’s transcendence: Continue reading

How Does the Church Glorify God?

church Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 
— Ephesians 3:20-21 —

A close reading of Scripture shows that God pursues his glory in all areas of life. In creation and redemption, heaven and earth, the world was made to bring him glory. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Paul praying that God would get glory in the church. But what does it mean?

What does Paul mean when he prays, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations” From the context of Ephesians, I would suggest there are at least three ways the church uniquely glorifies God.  Continue reading

For His Name’s Sake: Why the Church Must Do More Than Local Evangelism

worldThere is a popular argument that persists among American evangelicals that prioritizes domestic evangelism over against international missions. Often it is put in the form of a handful of questions:

  • “Why should we spend our time reaching the lost overseas when there are so many lost in our community?”
  • Or, “Why spend our money on foreign missions when there are millions nearby who need to hear the gospel?”
  • Or, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to focus on the lost here?”

On the surface such an argument may sound plausible, even effectively evangelistic. It certainly appeals to the pragmatic. But examined by the Scriptures, it will not hold. For Scripture does not simply speak of evangelism in commercial terms—finding the fastest way to sell the gospel to the most number of people. Regularly, it speaks of the advance of the kingdom crossing boundaries, reaching nations, and extending the glory of God to the ends of the earth. In fact, the glory of God depends not only on the vastness of redemption, but its variety. Therefore, for those who care about God’s glory should also care deeply about reaching the nations.

Continue reading

Typological Pairs: From Suffering to Glory

david solomonConcerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

What does it mean that the Spirit of Christ foretold of the Messiah’s suffering and glory?

Surely, there were many ways, as Hebrews 1:1 indicates. Nationally, the people of Israel regularly experienced enemy oppression (after they sinned) followed by powerful deliverance that set God’s elect over his enemies. Individually, Joseph, Job, David, and Daniel all experienced humbling affliction before being exalted. Textually, there are some individual passages displaying a suffering-to-glory theme—e.g., Isaiah 53 speaks of the Servant’s humiliating death (vv. 1–9) only to close the chapter by announcing his glorious reward for his vicarious suffering (vv. 10–12). Or see the pattern in the Psalms; both the whole Psalter and some individual Psalms (see especially Psalm 22) reflect this pattern.

It seems that everywhere you look in the Old Testament you find (1) God’s people suffering, followed by (2) cries for mercy. In response, (3) God hears their prayers, and (4) responds with saving compassion in the form of a deliverer—a Moses, a Samson, or a David. The result is that (5) the people are saved and the mediator is exalted.

In the light of the New Testament, these incidents are illuminating shadows of Jesus Christ himself. In fact, in the words of Peter, it’s not too much to say that the Spirit of Christ is a cruciform spirit, who leads his people (under the Old Covenant and the New) through valleys of death to bring them into places of honor and service. This is the Christian way—to be brought low unto death, so that God can raise us up to life (see 2 Cor 1:8–9).

That being said, I am persuaded that there is another way in which suffering-unto-glory might be seen in the Old Testament. Instead of containing the pattern to the nation, individuals, or texts, there are some pairs of people who display the pattern. That is, repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, there are individuals related by kinship or ministerial calling whose composite lives function to display the pattern observed in 1 Peter 1. In other words, the Spirit of Christ was directing their lives such that the first person foreshadowed the sufferings of Christ and the second person reflected his subsequent glories.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen this proposal written down anywhere. So, I’d love your thoughts. Does it work? I think there is merit in the proposal and am writing it out (in part) to explore the idea. (That’s what blogs are for, right?) I think, in the end, such pairs may help reflect the binary nature of Christ’s ministry–first in weakness and humiliation, then in power and glory. Or at least, that’s what I will try to show below. Let me know what you think. Continue reading

Thanksgiving According to the Psalms

thanksgivingWhile some of us may still be eating leftover turkey, most of us have moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This is understandable, as calendars and commitments require us to live in the present, not the past. But let us not forget that giving thanks goes beyond thanksgiving.

Indeed, in all Paul’s epistles minus Galatians—oh, those foolish Galatians!—he begins by giving thanks to God for the people he is addressing. Throughout the Bible thanksgiving is a normal and necessary part of saving faith. And so it ought to be a normal and necessary part of our daily living—not just a holiday season in November. Still, what does thanksgiving look like on a regular basis? And how can we grow in our expressions of thanksgiving?

Let’s go to the Psalms to answer that question. Continue reading

With Calvin in the Theater of God

glory1A few years ago I read through some of  With Calvin in the Theater of God (by John Piper and David Mathis). The book spotlights a reality of Calvin’s theology that has been noticed by many who read him: Calvin was enthralled with the creation of God because in it he perceived the manifold perfections of the God of Creation. Might we all be so observant of God’s glory.

This morning, as I have picked up Calvin’s two volume devotional—what others consider his theological treatise—I was struck by Calvin’s wonder at God’s creation and the way it calls men and women made in his image to see God in his creation. Although the translation below (which is available for free online) is a little more difficult to read than Battles’ translation, it captures the same breathtaking truth: Man is not excused from worshiping God, because all creation testifies to God’s beauty.

Consider Calvin’s Scripture-saturated meditation and drink in the wonder of how God has revealed himself in creation:

Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased, in order that none might be excluded from the means of obtaining felicity, not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. Continue reading

The Power of Prayer

powerChristians have always been a praying people. In truth, since the Spirit awakens us to God our Father and moves us to cry out to him (Rom 8:15-17), it is inconceivable that God’s children wouldn’t pray. Yet, as we pray, it is worth asking: From where does the power of prayer come?

To that question we could answer in a number of ways. James 5:19 says, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). In comparison with a passage like Psalm 66:18, we might conclude that powerful prayer depends on the person: God hears and answers his choice servants, but ignores the pleas of men who regard sin in their heart.

Surely, there is some truth in that. But there is also error, if we think that our personal righteousness is the means by which God answers our prayer. Just a few verses before James speaks of “powerful” prayer, he says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” In context, the righteous pray-er is the one who prays in faith. In other words, personal righteousness is the not the source of powerful prayer. Rather, powerful prayer comes from those who by faith confess their sins and plead for God’s mercy. Continue reading

“For the Sake of My Name”: Why God’s Pursuit of ‘His’ Glory Secures Our Good

gloryUnderstanding the glory of God and God’s purposes in salvation history can be hard. First, the God’s singular pursuit of his glory is hard to accept because it crushes our innate man-centeredness. Second, the glory of God is hard to understand because it requires a wide-ranging biblical theology to see how God pursues his glory in salvation and judgment.

And yet, because glory stands at the center of God’s character (Isa 48:9-11), his creation (Ps 19:1), his purposes for humanity (Isa 43:6-7), and his plan of redemption (Eph 1:6, 12, 14), it is vital to see how God’s glory relates to salvation.  Indeed, it is necessary to relate God’s glory and humanity’s redemption, because Scripture repeatedly speaks of his glory as the ultimate reason why he suspended his judgment on Israel, sent his Son for the world, and poured out his Spirit on the church.

To see how God’s glory relates to God’s loving act of redemption, let me draw your attention to a theme that runs throughout the Psalms and Prophets. It is the repeated refrain that God saves, forgives, and guides his people for the sake of his name. 

Instead of commenting on what that means in each instance, let me simply list a number of verses and draw a couple implications at the end. Continue reading

The Gospel Perfectly and Proportionately Humbles and Exalts

Why is the Gospel of Jesus Christ so vital to the restoration of mankind?

Simply put, there is no other message or medium, person or power that is able to elevate a man without making him an arrogant ogre. The gospel humbles a man to dust, and raises him to glory. Through its life-giving message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, sinners are forgiven and given the very life of God.

This balanced work of the gospel was observed centuries ago by Blaise Pascal (1623-62).  In his Pensées (208)he observes.

Without this divine knowledge, how could we help feeling either exalted or dejected? The Christian religion alone has been able to cure these twin vices, not by using the one to expel the other according to worldly wisdom, but by expelling both through the simplicity of the Gospel. For it teaches the righteous that they still bear the source of all corruption which exposes them throughout their lives to error, misery, death, and sin; and [yet] it cries out to the most ungodly that they are capable of the grace of the Redeemer. Thus, making those whom it justifies to tremble, yet consoling those whom it condemns, it so nicely tempers fear with hope through this dual capacity…. Grace and sin! It causes infinitely more dejection than mere reason—but without despair, and infinitely more exaltation than natural pride—but without puffing us up! (cited by Tim Keller in his foreword to J. D. Greear’s book Gospel).

Pascal was followed by Charles Hodge (1797-1878), who said of the finer points of the gospel, “the doctrines of grace humble man without degrading him and exalt him without inflating him.” Indeed, this is the reason why Christians must never leave the gospel behind; it simultaneously humbles and exalts.

The gospel restores men wrecked by the Fall to reflect the glorious image of God, but it also forces them to confront the ugliness of their sin and the immensity of God’s holiness. The result? Men are most glorious when they fall face down before the King of Glory. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can effect that.

May we endlessly delight ourselves in the perfect, proportionate gospel of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Glory of God In The Heavens

At Christmas time, God’s glory is seen in the babe born in the manger, but in truth, the glory of God reflects in all creation.  Psalm 104 describes this glory, and the first place to see God’s great glory is in the heavens.  Consider three ways that God’s glory is seen in the canopy that covers the earth. 

The light of the heavens.  In verses 1-2, the Psalmist describes the splendor of God which is reflected in the skies everyday.  Oh sure, entering December, we are about to embark on three or four gray months in Indiana.  But remember that while we suffer the effects of the Fall  and endure winter, there are others in the Southern Hemisphere who are enjoying spring showers and summer rainbows, orange sunsets and pink sunrises.  The earth below has various forms of artistic splendor; some places are more beautiful than others.  But above it all are the violet curtains of God’s cosmic temple, bespeckled with jewels in the night, and a blazing ball of fire in the day.

In the skies, God has put clouds, winds, and fires.  Verses 3b-4 describe this.  God has created a world that tells of his glory, power, and presence (cf. Ps 19:1; Rom 1:20).  In the original context, these atmospheric phenomenon function as messengers of this reality.  However, Hebrews 1 the author interprets “messengers” as angels and winds of fire, more than simply creation itself.  How can this be?

I think this is legitimate move because “messengers” and “angels” are the same word in Hebrew.  In the context of the Psalter, Psalm 104 should be seen in loose connection with Psalm 103, which concludes with three verses commanding the angels, messengers, to bless the Lord. Still, in its most immediate context, it is most appropriate to see the creation itself as a messenger of God.  As Psalm 19 Willem VanGemeren puts it,

The Lord is surrounded by his servants, whether they be created like the angels or be powers inherent in his created order (winds, lightning).  The Creator-King is, as it were, driving his chariot, symbolic of his governance of his creation.  All his created works reveal the splendor and wisdom of the Creator, because he remains constantly involved with his handiwork (“Psalms” in The Expositors Biblical Commentary, vol. 5, 659).

Now in response, someone might ask: What do the clouds, winds, and flames of fire (lightning) say to us?  Think about it: Have you ever been caught in a thunderstorm?  Or brave (or stupid) enoughto stand outside when the tornado sirens are going off?  God’s whirlwind teaches us of his awesome power and righteous judgment.  He “makes the clouds his chariot; he rides the wings of the wind!”    The power of the heavens remind us that the power of God is nearby, and more than that, interpreted by God’s word, we come to realize that all that takes place in creation is for God’s express purpose.  Just listen to Job 37:9-13

From its chamber [i.e. the heavens] comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud w/ moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance,  to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.

 God’s creation is never random, arbitrary, or out of God’s control.

Sun and Moon.  Finally, verse 19 tells of the sun and moon which are placed in the heavens.  Developing Day 4 of Genesis 1, the Psalmist speaks of how God formed two satellites in our solar system to govern the day and the night. Together, these two great spheres power the world, move seas, mark time, and set the schedule of our daily lives.  Even more, God’s word tells us that the consistency with which we regard the sun and moon is a confirmatory sign that God’s redemptive promises will stand.  We close with Jeremiah 31:35-36, which forecasts the New Covenant, a covenant that has been established by the work of Christ, and a covenant whose certainty is as unfailing as the sun and the moon.

Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”

May we look into the heavens today and remember the love and mercy of our Creator and the work he has done to reconcile us to himself!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss