An Anchor for the Soul

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

What does God promise his children?  Help for today?  Eternal life for the future? Healing from disease? A boat for the lake?

How we answer these questions will determine how we approach life and God. Our prayers, our plans, and our personal finances will reflect our answer, or non-answer, to this question: What does God promise those who believe in him?

Hebrews 6:19 gives one answer.  In a sermonic letter given to first century Jews, the author of Hebrews states, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”  Using imagery from the Old Testament, this statement conveys an idea of security and access that God gives to those who continue to trust in Christ.

Notice a couple things.  First, the anchor is sure and steadfast.  Unlike the insurance plans or storm shelters we buy for our protection, this anchor comes without any riders or restrictions.  Indeed, it is not a thing which might break; it is a divine person whose pierced hands hold those who believe on him (John 10:29-30).

Second, the anchor is connected behind the curtain.  This curtain refers to the temple veil that hid the presence of God from the Jewish priests in first century Jerusalem.  Thus, while Jesus was fully human, the fact that he could freely pass behind the veil speaks of his eternal deity.

Indeed, Jesus was not merely a spiritual person who had a special access to God.  He was God in the flesh, which means that as the anchor of the Christian’s soul, his grip on humanity was secure as he was human, and his hold on heaven was as strong as he was divine.  In short, Jesus will stop being human or cease being God before his anchor fails.

Third, the anchor tethers the soul—not the body—to an eternal hope.  This is critical because it seems that sometimes God lets, even brings, storms into our calm waters.  In these moments, we are tempted to re-read the fine print to find out what we have done wrong.  We forget that God is forging an eternal soul with temporary means.

In fact, nowhere in God’s agreement does he promise placid seas.  Just the opposite: “Through many tribulations will you enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  He tells his followers that it will be hard (John 16:33), but he also promises that he will anchor our souls.

This is the promise that he makes to those who believe in him.  He promises his presence today and resurrection tomorrow.  Even when the ships in your fleet are sinking, he promises to be the anchor of your soul.   This is the kind of promise he makes to believers, and he never breaks his word.

 

George Smeaton and Abraham Kuyper on the Universal Reign of Christ

Solomon advises us that there is nothing new under the sun.  Indeed, in the history of Christian thought, one would expect that under the Lordship of Christ and his church, the essentials of the gospel would remain consistent over time.  Thus, while they need repeating in every generation because slippage is always a threat, there remains a kind of harmony that exists among theologians who make the Bible first order.  Likewise, as one dives into reading pastors and theologians from different eras and different places, one can expect to find echoes.  Sometimes these are organically related, sometime they are not but cause for curiosity how it is possible that two statements made by independent thinkers could be so similar.

George Smeaton on Christ’s Universal Reign

Such an occasion happened a few months ago as I read George Smeaton’s eminently helpful book, The Doctrine of the Atonement As Taught By Christ Himself (Edinburgh, 1871) now retitled and republished as Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement.  In it, Smeaton gives his final exhortation from the text John 12:31, which reads, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”  In his thorough exegesis, the nineteenth-century Scot shows how Satan’s overthrow means simply, that Christ is the sole possessor of all things. He has stripped the god of this age of his title to this world, and he now rightly possesses the earth (cf. Matt 28:18). Therefore he writes,

This text [John 12:31], important in many aspects, is capable of being viewed in many applications.  It throws a steady light on the great and momentous doctrine, that the world is, in consequence of the vicarious work of Christ, no more Satan’s, and that Christ’s people are now to be far from the impression that they are only captives in an enemy’s territory, and unable warrantably to occupy a place in the world, either as citizens or magistrates.

Moving from Christ’s substitutionary cross to the the universal themes of victory and dominion, Smeaton makes this final, global and glorious statement,

On the contrary, this testimony shows that every foot of ground in the world belongs to Christ, that His followers can be loyal to Him in every position, and that in every country and corner where they may placed they have to act their part for their Lord.  The world is judicially awarded to Christ as its owner and Lord (p. 300).

This is a glorious truth that deserves time for consideration and meditation.  Yet, in first hearing it, I could not help but think of Abraham Kuyper, who said something almost identical.  Yet, as it will be shown, Kuyper’s context is different than Smeaton, and Kuyper actually spoke his word’s later.

Abraham Kuyper on Christ’s Universal Reign

In his lecture on “Sphere Sovereignty” delivered on October 20, 1880, Kuyper uttered what is today his most famous quotation.  It reads:

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine! (Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 488).

In context, Kuyper’s statement comes at the end of a long list of academic sciences–medicine, law, natural science, letters– which the great educator of the Netherlands argued should be brought underneath the rule of Christ.  Since all wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ (Col 2:3), all mental disciplines should find their origin and telos in Christ. In full context, he states,

Man in his antithesis as fallen sinner or self-developing natural creature returns again as the ‘subject that thinks’ or ‘the object that prompts thought’ in every department, in every discipline, and with every investigator.  Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ (488).

This concluding statement has been repeated again and again.  It is a favorite of Reformed thinkers and others too.  It is wonderful thought to realize that all things have been and should be put in submission to Christ.  But interestingly the application of Kuyper’s words (as I have used them and have heard others use them) are slightly out of context.

Often Kuyper’s turn of phrase is used in spatial, geographical ways, as if he was explaining Psalm 2 which says that all the nations have been given to the Son.  Since the Lord possesses all the earth, he has a right to put his finger on it and exlaim “Mine!”  However, in context, Kuyper’s statement is more specific.  He is speaking more exactly of the “mental world,” not the spatial world.  I doubt he would deny the broader application, but to read Kuyper closely, we find that his statement is more narrow. This point does not mean that we need to abandon the use of Kuyper’s quote, so much as perhaps we should include Smeaton’s, too.

Tomorrow, we will pick up how and why we should incorporate Smeaton’s quotation into the discussion of Christ’s universal reign.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Thinking about the Atonement?!

Currently, I am taking a hiatus from my doctoral studies.  Having recently moved to a new city, with a baby on the way, and learning what the daily life of a pastor looks like, I thought it best to ‘interrupt’ my studies for one semester.  Which means I have less assigned reading, but more opportunity to prepare for the messages at Calvary BC and to read up on the subject that I hope to eventually consider in my dissertation–the power of the cross and the covenantal application of Jesus blood.

With that in mind, I came across a helpful reminder from D.A. Carson on the subject in the introduction to Graham Cole’s new book, God the Peacemaker: How atonement brings shalom — I love that subtitle, by the way!  If you are thinking about the cross of Christ, especially at a level where you are trying to explain it to others, Carson’s words are worth remembering.

Even to do justice to this theme [atonement] one must attempt at least five things: (1) The way the theme of sacrifice and atonement develops in the Bible’s storyline must be laid out. (2) Equally, the way this theme is intertwined with related themes (the holiness of God, the nature of sin, what salvation consists of, the promise of what is to come, and much more) must be delinated, along with (3) more probing reflection on a selection of crucial passages.  These first three items belong rather tightly to biblical theology.  Of course, (4) how therse themse have been handled in the history of the church’s theology must not be ignored.  (5) Equally, if [any volume on the cross] is to speak to our generation, it must engage some of the more important current discussion (p.12).

May we labor together to better know, love, and tell the message of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss