When a Footnote Explains it All
May 5, 2016
Okay, this post may or may not be the result of me using my Mother’s Day present before Mother’s Day. But while the fam is away, they have no idea whether I am breaking into my present for an early sampling. This year my major award for Mom of the Year is Christian Dogmatics, edited by Michael Allen and Scott Swain. And for that sampling, I was eager to read Scott Swain’s chapter on the covenant of redemption, as I’ve been spending a lot of time in Psalm 110.
It’s a great essay, but it was a footnote that wonderfully articulated something that has been bothering me for a while now. When it comes to popular Christian authors who teach bad doctrine, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern from those who should be troubled by their teachings. Whether it’s the universalism of Rob Bell, or the exalting of social justice coupled with the degradation of the preached Word of Jen Hatmaker, many who should know better will continue to tolerate their public voice---until they come out supporting homosexuality. Then all of the sudden, conservatives are full of outrage, ready to denounce these authors and warn us against them. But the homosexual argument is just a side effect, a natural consequence, of their bad theology that has already been revealed. And it usually centers on what they think about love.
What is the greatest end to which God directs all things? Following the statement, “By virtue of God’s free and sovereign decree, all things outside of God flow to the eternal love of the Triune God,” Swain provides a marvelous footnote (and glory be to God that it isn’t an endnote!). I give you footnote number 37:
Along with Bavink, I take exception to the tradition of describing the ultimate end of all things as the glorification of God’s mercy in election and the glorification of God’s justice in reprobation (Bavink, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:389). The glorification of God’s saving love toward sinners is a great end indeed, but it is not the greatest end toward which God directs all things: that honor belongs to the glory of the Father’s love for the Son in the Spirit. To put matters this way, I should add, is not to fall prey to the sentimental modern trap of elevating divine love over the other divine perfections for the simple reason that what the Father loves in the Son, and what the Father desires to put on display in and before all creatures, is the full array of divine perfections as they shine forth in the one who is the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his being (Heb. 1:3). The question naturally arises, though, how it can be said that all things flow to the love of the Triune God when God decrees that some creatures will inherit eternal condemnation for their sins. Following Tony Lane, we may suggest that even God’s wrath is an aspect of God’s love: while God’s wrath on impenitent sinners may not be an exhibition of love toward those sinners, it is nevertheless an exhibition of the Father’s love for the Son (Ps. 2) and for those who are elect in the Son (Ps. 36:10-12) (Lane, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,”…138-67). (115)
The greatest end to which God directs all things is the love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit. That’s where we see what real love is and what real goodness is. “By virtue of God’s free and sovereign decree, all things outside of God flow to the eternal love of the Triune God” (115). If we don’t get this, we get a whole lot of other things wrong.
The love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit is a marvelous glory to behold. And amazingly, we don’t see it displayed as we would have guessed. As Michael Reeves has put it, commenting on the same opening verses in Hebrews, “God’s innermost being (hypostasis) is an outgoing, loving, life-giving being. The triune God is an ecstatic God: he is not a God who hoards his life, but one who gives it away, as he would show in that supreme moment of his self-revelation on the cross. The Father finds his very identity in giving his life and being to the Son; and the Son images his Father in sharing his life with us through the Spirit” (Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 45).
On the cross we see “the full array of divine perfections as they shine forth in the one who is the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his being.” And in that display, how could we not also see his wrath as necessary to all unrepentant sinners, who clearly do not love the Son?
Let’s be careful not to cling to a love that is too weak to understand the greatest end. Oh to behold that beatific vision, of Christ in all his glory, on that Great Day! Christ is preeminent in all things. Christ is our Messiah primarily because of the Father’s great love for the Son in the Spirit! Psalm 110 gives us a confession of that glory and a peek at that sovereign decree:
The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.