Without the Gospel

I came across this brilliant piece in Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, an excellent tome in its own right, and one I have mentioned before on this blog, here, here and here.  Without the Gospel was penned by John Calvin as a preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s 1534 translation of the New Testament.  I’ve used it in communion services a couple of times, and I hope you can find a way to use it too, it is simply, simply brilliant.

 

Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom
the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.
It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was
sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;
he was
made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;
he died for our life; so that by him
fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,
mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.
If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

 

And we are
comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

jean-calvin-028With thanks for this great painting capturing Calvin the Pastor to Kelly Rider over at Poesies & Rye

Ascension Day

ascensionThe Ascension is possibly the most neglected event in evangelical theology.  We do Christmas quite well (does get a bit repetitive though), and Easter is a Big One.  Of course, one problem is the bizarre way we imagine how it happened, since the film and TV images we’ve been fed have implanted a rather silly picture of a floating Messiah, hands raised Icon-like in blessing, getting higher and higher.  If you don’t burst out laughing you’re a better person than me!  We need to ditch those images and think more clearly on meaning and significance. ascension cartoon

Yet the Ascension is a hugely significant aspect of Christ’s work.  As the resurrection validates the Cross, so the ascension validates the resurrection.  As many Psalms affirm, God now reigns, He is King!

The Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed all affirm that Jesus ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father.  This is hugely significant, not to mention the way Luke ends his gospel (pt1) with the ascension, and begins Acts (pt2) with it, as well as 1 Tim 3:16, that Jesus “appeared in the flesh . . . [was] taken up in glory.”

100px-MaximusofTurinA fourth century Bishop, Maximus of Turin wrote of the ascension:

“The mystery of the Lord’s Ascension, dear brothers, has ordained today’s festival.  Let us rejoice that the Only-begotten of God came to earth for the redemption of all and let us be glad that He entered heaven for our immortality.

For this is the truth of our saving faith that we believe in His Passion and do not deny His glory.  Nor indeed is the essence of the miracle such that He who came from heaven returned to heaven, but that He brought to the Father the manhood which he had assumed from earth.

The earth rejoices when it sees its Redeemer reigning in the heavens; heaven is glad because it has not lost its God which it had, and has received the manhood which it had not.”

Blessed Trinity

A Latin hymn from the thirteenth century

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come:

And from thy celestial home send thy light and brilliancy.

Come, thou father of the poor,

Come, who givest all our store,

Come, the soul’s true radiancy.

Come, of comforters the best, of the soul the sweetest guest, sweetly and refreshingly.

Come in labour rest most sweet,

shade and coolness in the heat, comfort in adversity.

Thou who art the light most blest,

come, fulfil their inmost breast, who believe most faithfully.

For without thy Godhead’s dower,

man hath nothing in his power, save to work iniquity.

What is filthy make thou pure, what is wounded work its cure, water what is parched and dry.

Gently bend the stubborn will, warm to life the heart that’s chill, guide who goeth erringly.

Fill thy faithful who adore, and confess thee evermore, with thy seven-fold mystery.

Here thy grace and virtue send,

grant salvation in the end, and in heaven felicity.  Amen.

 

The Holy Spirit is certainly the weak link in the chain of Evangelical theology.  With the stress on Christology, we can miss so much more of the Trinity’s treasure.  Maybe we want to avoid some of the silliness and excesses of Pentecostalism, but boy have we needed much of Pentecostalism to remind us what we’re missing!  Yet tragically, instead of enjoying the fathomless glory of pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), we actually succumb to pneumaphobia!  And that is an evangelical train-wreck waiting to happen.

Another point of note, is that the Holy Spirit is suspect because he does not pander or subscribe to our denominational or theological structures.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit is a free-agent, a maverick.  Jesus did say the wind blows where it will!  He breaks rank, crosses over the other side, He will not be “owned” by us, by anyone; He is as free in Himself as the Son is free in the Father and the Father in the Son.  Blessed Trinity!

He is impossible to outwit, outsmart, predict or predetermine, and will not be bottled and bagged by any church, Christian, denomination, nation or whatever!  He does not bow to any theologian or “school of thought”, and is totally free, going wherever and whenever He wishes.  Mission, evangelism, faithfulness, wisdom, wholeness, true spirituality, life itself, are all to be found in Him.

Too many churches are passionate for the Father’s glory, absolutely determined in their Christ-centered faith (and rightly so), but err big time and languish in a spiritual impoverishment of biblical, cosmic and cataclysmic proportions by neglecting the Holy Spirit.  Remember, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to point us to Jesus, and it is Jesus who shows us the Father.

Read the Latin Hymn again as a prayer.  Pray it.  Come, thou Holy Spirit, come.

Blessed Trinity!

 

A Calvinist arrives at St. Peter’s gates and sees that there are two queues going in.  One is marked “predestined,” and the other is marked “free will.”  Being the card-carrying Calvinist that he is, he strolls on over to the predestined queue.  After several moments an angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?” He replies, “Because I chose it.”  The angel looks surprised, “Well, if you ‘chose’ it, then you should be in the free will line.”  So our Calvinist, now slightly miffed, obediently wanders over to the free will line.  Again, after a few minutes, another angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?”  He sullenly replies, “Someone made me come here.”

With thanks to Michael Bird in his epic Evangelical Theology (excerpts and review to follow)

evangelical-theology-bird

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