Results tagged “Vos” from Reformation21 Blog

Why Not All at Once?


Christ, by his perfect life, atoning death and resurrection from the dead, secures the believer's calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. Older Protestant theologians frequently referred to the order of the application of the benefits of redemption (i.e. the ordo salutis)--as set out in Romans 8:29-30-- as "the golden chain." Though it has been a matter of no small debate in recent decades, it is right for us to say that all the saving benefits of what Christ has accomplished for us by his death and resurrection become ours "distinctly, inseparably and simultaneously" when we are united to Jesus by faith. Nevertheless, there is still a logical order by which the benefits of redemption are applied to believers. 

There are some benefits that precede others in the order of the application of the redemption accomplished by Christ. For instance, Reformed theologians have commonly insisted that regeneration precedes faith and faith precedes justification, adoption and sanctification. An unregenerate man or woman cannot and therefore will not believe in Christ. John Murray explained the rationale for insisting on a priority of calling to faith and of faith to justification, when he wrote,

"God justifies the ungodly who believe in Jesus, in a word, believers. And that is simply to say that faith is presupposed in justification, is the precondition of justification, not because we are justified on the ground of faith or for the reason that we are justified because of faith but only for the reason that faith is God's appointed instrument through which he dispenses this grace...Calling is prior to justification. And faith is connected with calling. It does not constitute calling. But it is the inevitable response of our heart and mind and will to the divine call. In this matter call and response coincide. For that reason we should expect that since calling is prior to justification so is faith. This inference is confirmed by the express statement that we are justified by faith."1

As hotly debated as the ordo salutis has been over the past several decades in American Reformed Churches, we are still left with other important questions about the ordo salutis. While God confers all the benefits of Christ's redeeming work on us "distinctly, inseparably and simultaneously" the moment we are united to him by faith, they do not all come to us in the full experiential measure of those blessings. For instance, our sanctification is, in this life, an ongoing and progressive work of God; whereas, our justification is a once-for-all, declarative act of God. So, why doesn't God sanctify His people fully and immediately at the moment when he regenerates them or when he fully and immediately justifies them at the beginning of their Christian experience? Why doesn't God simply redeem and take an individual straight to glory upon his or her conversion? These are important questions to which we may supply important answers.

In his Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos offered two profound answers to the question about why God does not confer the full realization of the benefits of redemption in our experience immediately upon our regeneration. First, he wrote,

"It would be possible for God to take hold of and relocate each one of the elect into the heaven of glory at a single point in time. He has His good reasons that He did not do this. There are a multiplicity of relationships and conditions to which all the operations of grace have a certain connection. If the change came about all at once, then not a single one of these would enter into the consciousness of the believer, but everything would be thrown together in a chaotic revolution. None of the acts or steps would throw light on the others; the base could not be distinguished from the top or the top from the base. The fullness of God's works of grace and the rich variety of His acts of salvation would not be prized and appreciated."2

In short, if God were to carry His people to glory immediately after redeeming them, the various benefits of redemption would be indistinguishable to us. We would not be able to appreciate our justification (i.e. the legal standing that Christ has merited for us by his perfect life and atoning death) from our sanctification (i.e. the transformation of the Spirit of Christ in the hearts of his people). We would not be able to see the contours of God's grace in adoption from his gracious work of justification. The application of the benefits of redemption in time allow us to appreciate more of the fullness of what Christ has accomplished for us by his life, death and resurrection.

Second, Vos explained that God chiefly applies the work of redemption slowly and progressively for His own glory rather than for the subjective desire of the creature for immediate satisfaction and blessedness. He explained,

"The opposite of all this is true. There is order and regularity in the application of salvation as well as in every other area of creation. The acts and operations each have their own fixed place, from which they cannot be uprooted. They are connected to each other from what follows and from what precedes; they have their basis and their result. Consequently, the Scripture gives us an ordered sequence (e.g., Rom 8:28-30). At the same time, this order shows us that even in what is most subjective the purpose of God may not be limited to the satisfaction of the creature's longing for blessedness. If this were so, then the order that is slow and in many respects tests the patience of the children of God would be lost. But here, too, God works first of all to glorify Himself according to the principles of an eternal order and an immanent propriety."3

As we come to understand more of God's divine wisdom behind the progressive nature of our sanctification and of the foregoing of the full application of the benefits of redemption until the consummation, we grow in our love for and dependance in the God who has redeemed us by His grace. And, we cry out, "Finish, then,

Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in Heav'n we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

1. John Murray Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955) pp. 168-170

2. Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 4 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012-2016), 1-2.

3. Ibid.


Plagiarism? Berkhof Copying Vos

From Muller's preface: "In the preface to the two volumes of Reformed Dogmatics, dated October 31, 1931, Berkhof notes his use of Bavinck but registers especially the importance of the theology of Geerhardus Vos to his own development."
Louis Berkhof has never thrilled me as a systematician. Herman Bavinck described the theology of Francis Turretin as mere reproduction lacking productive power. I tend to think that could be said of Berkhof even more so than Turretin. 

In the case of Berkhof we have not only a lack of "productive power" but also some apparent "copying". 
Below, Berkhof directly depends upon Vos on a certain topic (i.e., the Mosaic covenant). The similarities are striking, but in a way that makes me a little uncomfortable given our standards today for what constitutes plagiarism. This is one of many examples I could give from Berkhof's ST. Berkhof does much the same, even on a greater scale, with Bavinck. 

Berkhof (p. 298, Banner ed.; bold used to highlight particular similarities):
a. At Sinai the covenant became a truly national covenant. The civil life of Israel was linked up with the covenant in such a way that the two could not be separated. In a large measure Church and State became one. To be in the Church was to be in the nation, and vice versa; and to leave the Church was to leave the nation. There was no spiritual excommunication; the ban meant cutting off by death.
Vos (vol. 2, p. 129): 

a) Now, for the first time, the covenant with Israel rightly became a national covenant. The social life of Israel, its civil organization, its existence as a people, were brought directly into contact with the covenant of grace. These two were inextricably linked. One cannot say, "I want to leave the Jewish church but remain in the Jewish state." Whoever left the church left the state. And one could leave the state only by being exterminated from the people. Properly speaking, there is discipline through censure in a certain sense, but not, properly speaking, discipline only through excommunication or cutting off from the church. The sanction was the death penalty. All this first came about at Sinai. Earlier, God Himself had cut off Ishmael and Esau from the covenant administration. Judicially, this is later no longer permitted.
b. The Sinaitic covenant included a service that contained a positive reminder of the strict demands of the covenant of works. The law was placed very much in the foreground, giving prominence once more to the earlier legal element. But the covenant of Sinai was not a renewal of the covenant of works; in it the law was made subservient to the covenant of grace. This is indicated already in the introduction to the ten commandments, Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6, and further in Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24. It is true that at Sinai a conditional element was added to the covenant, but it was not the salvation of the Israelite but his theocratic standing in the nation, and the enjoyment of external blessings that was made dependent on the keeping of the law, Deut. 28:1-14. The law served a twofold purpose in connection with the covenant of grace: (1) to increase the consciousness of sin, Rom. 3:20; 4:15; Gal. 3:19; and (2) to be a tutor unto Christ, Gal. 3:24.

b) The covenant with Israel served in an emphatic manner to recall the strict demands of the covenant of works. To that end, the law of the Ten Commandments was presented so emphatically and engraved deeply in stone. This law was not, as Cocceius meant, simply a form for the covenant of grace. It truly contained the content of the covenant of works. But--and one should certainly note this--it contains this content as made serviceable for a particular period of the covenant of grace. It therefore says, for example, "I am the Lord your God." Therefore, it also contains expressions that had reference specifically to Israel, and thus are not totally applicable to us (e.g., "that it may be well with you in the land that the Lord your God gives you"). But also, beyond the Decalogue, there is reference to the law as a demand of the covenant of works (e.g., Lev 18:5; Deut 27:26; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 9). It is for this reason that in the last cited passage, Paul calls the ministry of Moses a ministry of condemnation. This simply shows how the demand of the law comes more to the fore in this dispensation of the covenant of grace. This ministry of the law had a twofold purpose: (1) It is a disciplinarian until Christ. (2) It serves to multiply sin--that is, both to lure sin out from its hidden inner recesses as well as to bring it to consciousness (cf. Gal 3:19; Rom 4:15; 5:13). Paul teaches expressly that the law did not appear here as an independent covenant of works in Galatians 3:19ff. That the law is also not a summary of the covenant of grace appears from the absence of the demand of faith and of the doctrine of the atonement.
c. The covenant with the nation of Israel included a detailed ceremonial and typical service. To some extent this was also present in the earlier period, but in the measure in which it was introduced at Sinai it was something new. A separate priesthood was instituted, and a continuous preaching of the gospel in symbols and types was introduced. These symbols and types appear under two different aspects: as the demands of God imposed on the people; and as a divine message of salvation to the people. The Jews lost sight of the latter aspect, and fixed their attention exclusively on the former. They regarded the covenant ever increasingly, but mistakenly, as a covenant of works, and saw in the symbols and types a mere appendage to this.

c) The covenant with Israel had a ceremonial and a typical ministry, fixed in its details. That was also already so in part for the earlier administration of the covenant of grace. But to the degree that it now came about, that ceremonial ministry was something new. A formal gospel preaching was offered continually by symbols and types. A priestly class came into existence. Earlier, every father of a family was a priest. Now, particular persons are separated and consecrated for this function. One must consider all these types and symbols from two points of view: (1) as demands of God on the people; (2) as a proclamation of God to the people. God had appointed them to serve in both respects. But the Jews overlooked the latter aspect more and more and made the types and symbols exclusively serve the former purpose. That is to say, they used them only as additions to a self-willed covenant of works, and misunderstood the ministering significance they had for the covenant of grace. So the opinion arose that righteousness had to be obtained by keeping that law in the broadest sense of the word, including the ceremonial law. And by this misuse, the covenant of grace of Sinai was in fact made into a Hagarite covenant, a covenant giving birth to servitude, as Paul describes it in Galatians 4:24. There he has in view not the covenant as it should be, but as it could easily become through misuse.

d. The law in the Sinaitic covenant also served Israel as a rule of life, so that the one law of God assumed three different aspects, designated as the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial or religious law. The civil law is simply the application of the principles of the moral law to the social and civic life of the people in all its ramifications. Even the social and civil relations in which the people stood to each other had to reflect the covenant relation in which they stood.

d) The law given by God also served as a rule of life for Israel. So, we obtain a threefold law: the moral, the ceremonial, the civil law. This civil law was a particular application of the principles of the moral law. For example, in the moral law God says in general, "You shall not steal." The civil law further elaborates what constitutes stealing, what penalties apply, etc., etc. At the same time, this law as a rule of life for civil concerns was elaborated in such a way that it provided a model for the spiritual relationship to God of the members of the covenant. Israel must bring its tithes, firstfruits, drink- and vow-offerings; and in doing that the dedication of the covenant member to God was also foreshadowed in the covenant of grace. No one from Israel may be a slave, for every Israelite is as such already totally God's possession. Even the land of the children of Israel is God's property; they are merely sojourners and aliens toward God, who live from what is His. So, too, in civil relationships in Israel, in the civil side of the covenant, the essence of the covenant of grace is mirrored.
Now, for some context:

First, these texts were both first used as syllabi for students at what came to be Calvin Theological Seminary. They used Vos as a textbook even after he left go to Princeton. Perhaps Berkhof took the existing syllabus and updated it in light of his own analysis and recent opinion. So there are sections where he "borrows" pretty thoroughly, even copies almost word-for-word, as the evidence above shows.

Almost verbatim quotations from his predecessors is unsurprising because the origin of the Systematic Theology arose from students taking down notes of his lectures. They then transcribed them, turned in mimeographs, and the lectures were printed up for classroom use. Eventually they were edited into the book we now have.

Second, there's also a linguistic factor here. Vos wrote his dogmatics in Dutch, whereas Berkhof was writing when the church was self-consciously trying to switch to English in preaching and theological writing. So in one way, Berkhof is giving a a kind of periphrastic translation of Vos (and Bavinck). 

Third, Berkhof regularly cites the parallel sections of Vos's dogmatics at the end of his chapters. This is true of the chapter on the Mosaic covenant. The citation wouldn't be acceptable today by our standards, though. And I certainly would like to see a little more credit given to his sources. Simply citing a "Literature" section at the end of the chapter is not sufficient today. In fact, one finds more extensive citations in many 16th and 17thC dogmatic texts. 

Fourth, Berkhof was a student of Vos. Who knows what kind of note-taking he did. We might need to ask how much of Vos comes out of Aegidius Francken's Stellige God-geleertheyd (3 vols) or Francken's Kern der Christelijke Leer. 

If Berkhof were doing this today, I think he'd be in real trouble. And if one of my students did this today, he'd end up having a very uncomfortable discussion with me. But, to be fair to Berkhof - whom I tend to think was not a very original thinker, but still a very good summarizer - he lived in a particular social and ecclesiastical context. 

So an initial glance at Berkhof and Vos might cause one to be very concerned. But, as is often the case, there's a lot of information that needs to be considered. Not having lived in that context, of course, there are likely even more details missing from my own analysis. 

When it comes to exposing plagiarism, we inevitably find that things are always a little more complicated when our analysis goes beyond mere pasting of different sources side-by-side.

Whatever one's feelings on the above - and several scholars offered slightly different reactions to my findings - Berkhof would probably say a hearty "Amen" to Hodge's famous quip: "I am not afraid to say that a new idea never originated in this Seminary." 

Vos, True Religion and General Assembly


Geerhardus Vos has been called the "father of Reformed biblical theology." As many readers are aware, he is known for investigating and displaying the organically integrated and historically unfolded character of biblical revelation. In fact, the Bible was, for him, best understood as the revelatory record of "the history of special revelation," all centered upon God's accomplishment of redemption for his people, with the work of the incarnate Christ at its core.

Therefore it may surprise some to learn that Vos also developed another, equally grand theme, one that reveals the pastoral heartbeat of his scholarly labors. This theme in no way detracts from his profound excavations of the Christ-centered unity of covenant history and the Scriptures, since he repeatedly shows how it derives from the glorious self-disclosure and activity of God across that history, as well as the Spirit-born witness and interpretation of that redemptive work by the human writers of the Bible. But it is a theme that, to my eye, and at least from a more global perspective, transcends (or better, traverses) the biblical theological exegesis for which Vos is so rightly revered. That theme, in short, is true religion. 

"To be a Christian," Vos declares, "is to live one's life not merely in obedience to God, nor merely in dependence on God, nor even merely for the sake of God; it is to stand in conscious, reciprocal fellowship with God, to be identified with Him in thought and purpose and work, to receive from Him and give back to Him in the ceaseless interplay of spiritual forces." ("Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 186). The intimate fellowship of the covenant bond between God and man, secured in the Christ of history for his people, is "the essential character of the Christian religion" (ibid.). This is the crest and climax of all of God's activity and loving purpose for the religious consciousness of his people throughout the ages. It was promised by divine grace in ancient history, foreshadowed in tabernacle worship, preeminently displayed in Christ's earthly life, and it now progressively permeates and defines the Christian's resurrection life in union with the life-giving Savior (cf. 1 Pet 1:3-4; 1 Cor 15:45). Best of all, it will constitute the all-consuming activity of the saints in the everlasting disclosure of God's glory in a new heaven and new earth that is perfectly suited for that purpose (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rom 8:21; Rev 21:3, 23-24).

Throughout his writings, Vos urges us to join him in scaling the heights of God's loving purpose across covenant history in order to survey the beauty and richness of the divine glory before that final Day. But he also calls us to make our sin-killing, rejoicing-in-righteousness, child-like fellowship with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit the driving principle of our lives, whether as pastors, students, laypeople, daily workers, parents or children.

So what does this have to do with the machinery of church polity? As many denominational bodies gather together in the coming days to pray, oversee, discuss, debate, and strive for the mind of Christ with all manner of issues pressing in and, to be sure, with all sorts of agendas at play, at least this...

"Sometimes it is difficult not to feel that God is reckoned with, chiefly because his name and prestige and resources are indispensable for success in a cause that really transcends him, and that the time may yet come when as a supernumerary he will be set aside. Is it not precisely this that often makes the atmosphere of Christian work so chill and uninspiring? Though we compel the feet to move to the accelerated pace of our modern religious machinery, the heart is atrophied and the lukewarm blood flows sluggishly through our veins. Let each one examine himself whether to any extent he is caught in the whirl of this centrifugal movement. The question, though searching, is an extremely simple one: Do we love God for his own sake and find in this love the inspiration of service, or do we patronize him as an influential partner under whose auspices we can better conduct our manifold activities in the service of the world?" (G. Vos., "The Wonderful Tree," a sermon on Hos 14:8)

What Time Is It?

What hath cyber Monday to do with eternity?  For starters, yesterday offered a $2 billion glimpse into where America's treasure is being stored up (cf. Matt 6:19-21). But the fact that mobile devices have become the purchasing organ of choice brings into view, too, the perspectives on this world and the next espoused by the famous duo whose fingerprints, along with our own, cover our digital companions. 

In an interview shortly after Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer last year, his biographer Walter Isaacson recalled a conversation with Jobs where the CEO discussed his views about God, the afterlife, and the design of his ubiquitous Apple products. "Sometimes I don't [believe in God]. It's 50-50," said Jobs, "But ever since I've had cancer I've been thinking about it more, and I find myself believing it a bit more." After a short pause, he added, "Yeah but sometimes I think it's like an on-off switch. Click, and you're gone . . . And that's why I don't put on-off switches on Apple devices." Strange, isn't it, that the very devices which tether so many to this world themselves embody their inventor's fear of death?

Bill Gates, Job's longtime rival in computerdom, offered a complementary remark (to TIME Magazine, of all things): "Just in terms of allocation of resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning." Small wonder that this quote, rather than the other, comes from the billionaire computer wiz who has never received a cancer diagnosis.

Of course, iPads eventually run out of juice and, just as surely, our Sunday mornings will give way to a cataclysmic and glorious transformation of all things. Both are terrifying prospects for those whose biological clocks are set according to the wisdom of this age. By contrast, Christians must learn to number their days aright (Ps 90:12); to refuse to count slowness as some count slowness (2 Pet 3:9); to hold onto their iPhones loosely (1 Cor 7:31); and to rejoice in the dawn of eternity in Jesus Christ (2 Tim 1:10). 

So, with the tragic words of Jobs and Gates still lit up on your screen, set your watches to this observation delivered in a sermon by Geerhardus Vos:

"Time, especially time with the wasting power it acquires through sin, is the archenemy of all human achievement. It kills the root of joy which otherwise belongs to working and building. All things which the succeeding generations of mankind have wrought in the course of the ages succumb to its attacks. The tragic sense of this accompanies the race at every step in its march through history. It is like a pall cast over the face of all peoples...

Now put over against this the triumphant song of life and assurance of immortality that fills the glorious, spacious days of the New Covenant, especially where first it issues from the womb of the morning bathed in the dew of imperishable youth. The note of futility and depression has disappeared, and in place of this the rapture of victory over death and decay, the exultant feeling of immersion in the atmosphere of eternity prevail . . . It is the prerogative of God, the Eternal One, to work for eternity. As the King of the ages he discounts and surmounts all the intervening forces and barriers of time. He who is made to share in this receives the highest form which the divine image can assume in its reproduction in man. Neither things present nor things to come can conquer him. He reigns in life with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord" (G. Vos, "The More Excellent Ministry - 2 Corinthians 3:18," in Grace and Glory, p. 46).