Below you will find short interactions with classic theological literature to help introduce you to some of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. There will also be irregular posts formed out of sermons, Bible studies, or coffee after 5:00pm.
John Calvin is walking us through, line by line, of the Lord's Prayer. Last week, he helped us see all the glory of the phrase, "Our Father in heaven." God is the Father of all the elect. He resides in heaven, the place where his glory dwells.
Next come a series of petitions or requests. We can divide what remains of the prayer into two groups of petitions. The first three petitions asked of God are for his own renown and majesty. The final petitions are where we bring our personal concerns to God in prayer. Let's see what the giant of Geneva has to say about these first three.
"Hallowed be thy name."
Even a cursory reading of Scripture teaches that God is immensely concerned about his name. Exodus 34:14 reads, "For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." Because God is the creator God, the one whom nothing higher can be imagined, he is more than worthy of all our allegiance and obedience and love. God is not jealous of me. God is jealous for his own holiness. A perfect God is worth no less.
Calvin writes, "We petition that this majesty be hallowed in excellences such as these, not in God himself, to whose presence nothing can be added, nothing taken away: but that it be held holy by all; namely, be truly recognized and magnified."
It is the church who hallows the name of God. God's holiness and all of his perfections draw the believer to adoration, simply loving God for who he is. In knowing the deep things of God, in honing our theology, in careful meditation on his word, we hallow the name of God. These things could be called the positive side of holding God's name in holiness.
There is also the negative side of holding God's name in holiness: what should not be done. Calvin notes, "Finally, let all ungodliness—which besmirches and profanes his holy name (that is, which obscures and lessens this hallowing)—perish and be confounded." Not only should the church seek to confess the right thoughts about God, but we should also banish the wrong thoughts about God.
Sometimes this looks like correcting our own thoughts about God. We may have come to believe some erroneous doctrine of our own contriving or may have simply misunderstood something we heard or read. We pray for the Spirit to perish the ungodliness in ourselves.
At times, this looks like calling false teachers by their true name. The church cannot abide while those who teach that the kingdom of God is about anything other than self-denial. Grifters who seek to make a name for themselves or become wealthy through conning others out of their money have no place in Christ's church.
"Thy Kingdom Come"
Calvin describes the kingdom of God like this: "By his Holy Spirit, to act and to rule over his own people, in order to make the riches of his goodness and mercy conspicuous in all their works." The earth is God's footstool by virtue of him being the creator of all things. And in his creation, God desires for his goodness and mercy to be known to all people, whether or not they accept it.
The Spirit of God indwells every believer, thereby making known to the every believer the riches of his goodness. We are sealed for eternity by the Spirit, and there is no greater gift of God than eternal life with him. The apostles did not speak of the coming of God's kingdom was something far of, but something inaugurated by Christ himself.
When Christ said, "The kingdom of God is near," he was not saying that we only had to wait a little longer. He was saying that by his incarnation and ministry, he was bringing God's kingdom to earth.
While God desires his mercy and goodness to be conspicuous, Calvin writes, "At the same time we pray that he will cause his light and truth to shine with ever new increases, by which the darkness and falsehoods of Satan and his kingdom may vanish, be dispelled, be snuffed out, and perish."
Again, there is a contrast. The coming of the kingdom looks like the clarity of God's mercy and goodness. It also looks like the expulsion of evil from the world. God, because he is good and just, will not permit evil to have the final say. In his patience, he permits evil behavior done by evil people in order to draw the evil people to repentance. But that patience has a termination date, known only to the Father.
"Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth."
The third petition seeks "to temper and compose all things according to his will." God's will is always finally and fully accomplished. No plan of God is able to be hampered. Even evil will one day be seen to be judged, which will be cause for adoration.
It is not as though God's will simply accounts for all contingencies. God is sovereign. He decrees all things and brings all things to pass. God does not react. Again, another contrast: man can only react to what God does.
And finally, all of creation will be conformed to his will, "some by consent (his own folk), others unwillingly and reluctantly (the devil and the reprobate...)." In the end, all people will receive either justice or mercy.
Finally, Calvin concludes, "Thus, we may testify and profess ourselves servants and children of God, serving his honor to the best of our ability. This we owe our Lord and Father."
In the following petitions, Calvin notes how Christ not only permits us to bring our needs to God, but he even gives us a pattern of prayer to do so. Join us next week for three more petitions, followed by the closing doxology of the prayer.
All of Scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction and training in righteousness. And there are those portions of Scripture that have been taught over and over throughout the history of the church whose importance and power have sustained the church through every-day life. One of those passages is the Lord’s Prayer. Some passages, like the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm, are memorized by many Christians so they are on the heart and can be recalled at a moment’s notice.
John Calvin was a Frenchman and a Reformer. One of his most enduring works is “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” It’s packed full of Christian wisdom and instruction. The Institutes are designed to be something of a systematized, conceptual guide to living the Christian life. It’s a commentary on some of the weightier components of Scripture.
In Calvin’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, he breaks it down line-by-line. He begins by addressing “Our Father, who art in heaven.” In this one line, we see the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the adoption to sonship. “If we had not been adopted to Christ as children of grace, with what assurance would anyone have addressed God as Father.” It is no small matter to address God as Father. That honor and privilege is reserved for those who he has adopted as children. We are either children of God or children of wrath.
As our Father, he is merciful to his children. As the Son of God, Christ is our mediator, pleading our case before our Father. The Christian, therefore, even with a right knowledge of his sins, must also have a right knowledge of his Father’s mercy and grace. “Let us not claim that the consciousness of our sins rightly makes us timid, for they have made our Father—although kind and gentle–displeased with us.” Our Father hears the prayers of his children and the pleading of his Son. So while we hate our sin and live in the power of the Spirit to kill it, we do not resist the mercy of our heavenly Father.
The parable of the prodigal son is also the parable of the compassionate Father. The parable teaches us that not only does our heavenly Father welcome us home but he also rejoices when he sees us coming down the walkway to return to him. The Son of God tells this parable of the Father and his compassion for his children but also “how much more abundantly we ought to expect it of him.”
But the fatherhood of God also teaches us the brotherhood of believers. Christ does not teach us to pray to God solely as individuals. “We are not so instructed that each one of us should individually call him his Father, but rather that all of us in common should call him our Father. From this fact we are warned how great a feeling of brotherly love ought to be among us who are the common children of such a father.”
In an individualistic and autonomous age, emphasizing the collective part of the church is no small matter. God is definitely my God, but he is also the God of all of his children. God is not here to satisfy my needs and desires, even though in his kindness he may do so. But he is God and we are not. We, as his children, belong to him and serve him. “All prayers ought to be such as to look to that community which our Lord has established in his kingdom and his household.”
God is our Father, and that is an intimate term of love and nearness. But God is also in heaven. That’s a piece we dare not forget. God is both immanent and transcendent. He is near, but he also fills all things. “Indeed Solomon confesses that ‘the heaven of heavens cannot contain him.’” Now if God is transcendent, then heaven by no means contains him. Heaven is his abode, “but our minds, so crass are they, could not have conceived his unspeakable glory otherwise.” Speaking of God being in heaven prevents us from minimizing God or eventually turning him like us.
“Our Father who are in heaven” is a loaded phrase, worthy of far more than a few pages of commentary. It’s a phrase that brings into worship of the God who justifies sinners and adopts them into his family. It’s a God who is a Father, not simply an aloof divinity that orchestrates from far away. And it is through Christ, our mediator, that we are able to call this unapproachable, majestic, and just God “Father.”
We’ll be back next week to learn from the giant from Geneva with the next phrase of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “Hallowed be thy name.”
Most people have heard the name Augustine at some point. It’s not just a vacation destination. Augustine is the name of a 4th-5th century North African bishop who contributed more to the formalization of the doctrine of the church than nearly any other figure.
Augustine was born in 354 and died in 430. While his mother was a Christian, he was not converted until later in life. We do know that he was baptized in 386. As a very well studied and intelligent man, he seemingly wrote down every thought he ever had—and they were all brilliant. The translation we’ll use of his work “The Trinity” is nearly 600 pages, not including the indexes and front matter.
Many ancient books are broken down further into smaller books, then those books are given chapters. Today we’ll take a look at Book 1, chapter 2 of “The Trinity.”
Augustine begins his chapter by clearly stating his point or his thesis: “The unity and equality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are proved from Scripture.” He will then lay out several passages that help us see the Trinity in Scripture, even if the name is a later formulation. A number of doctrines are later given names to help us deal with the concept that Scripture presents. For instance, the simplicity of God is a concept clearly presented throughout Scripture even if the word itself is not used. Study of the canon leads to concepts.
The Trinity is one of those doctrines that has been debated because there are those that say no one passage of Scripture lays it out simply. As Augustine will show us, that’s actually a tenuous position to hold. Basically, Scripture teaches that the Christian doctrine of God is the Trinity, and Scripture presents the doctrine as a reason for worship.
He begins by describing the clarity with which Scripture speaks of each member of the Trinity. “[T]he Father has begotten the Son, and therefore he who is the Father is not the Son; [...] and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but only the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, himself coequal to the Father and the Son, and belonging to the threefold unity.” Scripture consistently addresses or describes the same three persons as God.
Augustine uses the baptism of Jesus as a prime example of Scripture presenting three distinct persons as divine. The Spirit alone descended at the Son's baptism. The Father alone addressed the Son at the same event. "An utterance of the Father was heard which is not the Son's utterance, and that on the other hand only the Son was born in the flesh and suffered and rose again and ascended; and that only the Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove."
The divinity of the Son, therefore a necessary and co-eternal person of the Trinity, is made clear in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John then says, "This was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was made nothing." As the agent of creation, the Word is not therefore a created being. "But all things were made through him; therefore he is of one and the same substance as the Father" says Augustine. Christ, the Word made flesh, is again presented as divine, eternal, and a person of the Trinity.
In 1 Timothy 6:13-16, Paul speaks of the eternality of Jesus, an attribute of God himself. Augustine comments, "For life everlasting can scarcely be mortal and subject to change, and thus the Son of God, being life everlasting, must also be meant with the Father by the words "who alone has immortality." Paul is inspired to write about the Son while assigning to him the attributes of the Father.
In the same passage Paul explains that Jesus showed to humanity "the blessed and only mighty one, King of kings and Lord of lords." No member of the Trinity is specifically mentioned as the "only mighty one." The proper conclusion is that Paul assumes the Trinity here instead of defining the Trinity here.
Many Trinitarian passages are content to describe instead of define, which might frustrate the seeking mind and heart; but it also shows us that God as Trinity, for the authors of Scripture, is a matter most intended to draw us to worship, even as we seek to understand God's trinitarian nature. Scripture presents or reveals to us the eternal, Trinitarian God so we may worship him rightly!
With so much more to say (quite literally hundreds more pages), we surely can't stop with one week in Augustine's The Trinity. See you back here next week for "The rule of interpretation that the Son is equal to the Father in the form of God, less than the Father in the form of a servant; that he will hand over the kingdom to the Father, and himself be subject to the Father, when he brings all his faithful to the contemplation of the three divine persons, and so completes and lays aside his office of mediator." Or as I like to call it, "The Greatest Chapter Title Ever."
Last week, we were introduced to Dr. Stephen Wellum, professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. One component of theology is how it speaks to contemporary issues and people, so it's good to read theologians from today, as well.
The previous post dealt with the implicit claims Jesus made about himself. We dealt briefly with performance of miracles, his baptism, commands to worship him, and others. Today we'll learn from Dr. Wellum about the explicit witness Jesus made about himself, when Jesus spoke clearly and decisively about his person and work.
First, Jesus connected the intimacy of the relationship between himself and God the Father. In fact, the usage of the term of "Father" is one of the radical differences between Judaism and Christianity. "The reason for this [Jewish] reticence was due to the fear that one might fail to give proper deference to God's holiness and majesty." This is not a bad instinct. We should be reminded often that our relationship to God is not a relationship of equals. He is God and we are not. There is a clear creator-creature distinction to be made. But Jesus does not have this inhibition. Jesus addresses God as "Abba," the familiar term of a child for his or her father.
And yet, Jesus teaches us to pray by addressing God as "Our Father." "It is only because we are united by faith to the Son that we have access to the Father by the Spirit." It is because of Jesus's relationship to his Father that we have a relationship with the Father at all! God the Son has a unique relationship to God the Father.
Second, Jesus actively identifies as the Son of God. This title is used of Jesus at his baptism, temptation, transfiguration, and by Roman soldiers, priests, and demons. The gospel of John was written "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."
Wellum notes that "the New Testament does not hesitate to emphasize a strong functional aspect to Jesus's sonship, rooted in the typological figures of the Old Testament—Adam, Israel, and the Davidic king." All this means is that many important figures in the Old Testament were given to be examples of what Jesus would be, which was, "the last Adam, true Israel, and David's greater son." Reading the Old Testament should make the Christian long even more for Jesus.
Jesus often addressed God as "Father" or "my Father." In Luke 2:49, when his parents didn't know where Jesus was, he answered them by saying, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" In Gethsemane, he prayed, "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed" John 17:5).
Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath, saying, "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). "So Jesus not only calls God his own Father in intimate terms; he also makes himself equal with God by claiming the same authority as God to work on the Sabbath."
John 5 is an important passage for understanding the relationship of the Father and the Son. "The Son does no less and no more than the Father—they are perfectly united in their works." Jesus says, "For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise" (v.19). Jesus is equal to God but not in the sense of being another god. Jesus is equal to God because he is God.
Verse 20 says, "For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing." There is no creator-creature dynamic between the Father and Son. There is equality and intimacy. There is co-eternality.
Third, Jesus self-identifies as the Son of Man. This is a specific connection to Old Testament prophecies about the coming reign of God. The phrase is often used in the Old Testament to refer to humans and their role in creation. But as the drama of salvation moves forward, Son of Man becomes identified with "one who is unique among humanity." This is most clear in Daniel 7 when "one like a son of man" is held in equality to "the Ancient of Days." Wellum concludes, "so when Jesus steps into this storyline as the self-designated Son of Man, he makes a clear statement regarding his identity." Jesus is to be regarded as the One who sits next to the Ancient of Days. The Son sits at the right hand of the Father.
Fourth, Jesus comes to forgive sins, which only God can do. In Mark 2, Jesus heals a paralyzed man while telling him that his sins are forgiven. The religious elites remind Jesus that forgiveness of sins is only permissible by the one who has been sinned against, namely, God alone. Jesus asks the leaders which is easier to say: get up and be healed, or your sins are forgiven. Clearly the implication is that it's easier to say another person's sins are forgiven, because there's no verifiable way to prove it. However, if a person can say to another, "get up and walk," then that kind of power and authority over nature is reserved for God alone, who also has the authority and power to forgive sins alone.
Fifth, Jesus uses the phrase "I Am" to identify as God. "When Jesus refers to himself as 'I Am' without a predicate, he connects his personal identity with the covenantal identity of Yahweh." God identifies as "I Am" in Exodus 3 to Moses. That name is repeated in Isaiah 40-48 as God's covenantal name, or the name by which people in covenant with him (namely Israel) are to know him. "The 'I Am' is in a category by himself as the eternally self-existent being who alone is sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent in contrast to the idols and false gods. The Old Testament reserves 'I Am' for Yahweh; by definition, this name cannot apply to any mere man."
There is substantial biblical warrant for knowing that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man with no admixture of natures. Divinity and humanity do not mix or mingle together to create a third nature. Those two natures coexist perfectly in the God-man Christ Jesus.
This means that as God, Jesus Christ was capable of forgiving the sins of rebellious humanity. As man, Jesus Christ was able to obey the law of God for mankind without any stain of sin. Those two natures together mean the redemption of mankind!
Join us back here next week as we hitch a ride in the theological time machine to visit the past again and learn from the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
Sound off in the comments on how the self-identification of Christ gives you hope and assurance.