Part I: The Knowledge of God
Lecture VI: The Revelation of God in Jesus Christ
OF THE REVELATIOUN OF THE PROMISE
For this we constantlie beleeve, that God, after the feirfull and horrible defectioun of man fra his obedience, did seek Adam againe, call upon him, rebuke his sinne, convict him of the same, and in the end made unto him ane most joyful promise, to wit, That the seed of the woman suld break down the serpents head, that is, he suld destroy the works of the Devill. Quhilk promise, as it was repeated, and made mair cleare from time to time; so was it imbraced with joy, and maist constantlie received of al the faithfull, from Adam to Noe, from Noe to Abraham, from Abraham to David, and so furth to the incarnatioun of Christ Jesus, all (we meane the faithfull Fathers under the Law) did see the joyfull daie of Christ Jesus, and did rejoyce.
OF THE CONTINUANCE, INCREASE, AND PRESERVATIOUN OF THE KIRK
We maist constantly beleeve, that God preserved, instructed, multiplied, honoured, decored, and from death called to life, his Kirk in all ages fra Adam, till the cumming of Christ Jesus in the flesh. For Abraham he called from his Fathers cuntry, him he instructed, his seede he multiplied; the same he marveilouslie preserved, and mair marveilouslie delivered from the bondage and tyrannie of Pharaoh; to them he gave his lawes, constitutions and ceremonies; them he possessed in the land of Canaan; to them after Judges, and after Saul, he gave David to be king, to whome hee made promise, that of the fruite of his loynes suld ane sit for ever upon his regall seat. To this same people from time to time he sent prophets, to reduce them to the right way of their God: from the quhilk oftentimes they declined be idolatry. And albeit that for their stubborne contempt of Justice, he was compelled to give them in the hands of their enimies, as befoir was threatned be the mouth of Moses, in sa meikle that the haly cittie was destroyed, the temple burnt with fire, and the haill land left desolate the space of lxx years: zit of mercy did he reduce them againe to Jerusalem, where the cittie and temple were reedified, and they against all temptations and assaultes of Sathan did abide, till the Messias come, according to the promise.
OF THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST JESUS
Quhen the fulnes of time came, God sent his Sonne, his eternall Wisdome, the substance of his awin glory in this warld, quha tuke the nature of man-head of the substance of woman, to wit, of a virgine, and that be operatioun of the holie Ghost: and so was borne the just seede of David, the Angell of the great counsell of God, the very Messias promised, whome we confesse and acknawledge Emmanuel, very God and very man, two perfit natures united, and joyned in one persoun. Be quhilk our Confessioun we condemne the damnable and pestilent heresies of Arius, Marcion, Eutyches, Nestorius, and sik uthers, as either did denie the eternitie of his God-head, or the veritie of his humaine nature, or confounded them, or zit devided them.
So far we have heard the Scottish Confession bear witness to the unity and the essence of God, to the ordinance which governs the relation between God, the world and man and to the overthrow and restoration of that ordinance. What it has had to say on all these points, it has said on one definite presupposition and from one definite standpoint. The really decisive statements which we have met with would necessarily have remained completely unintelligible to us if we had not borne in mind and given the greatest possible emphasis to the fact that God and man must be spoken of in the way in which the Confession speaks of them “because God reveals Himself to man in Jesus Christ.” It is precisely this presupposition which distinguishes a Reformed confession from all confessions based on natural theology. This presupposition is explained in Art. 4–6. There we are told what is meant by this factor which dominates and determines everything, i.e. the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
Let us try now to survey Articles 4–6. It is clear that the way in which the Confession speaks of this presupposition is to refer to two histories. It sees “the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ” in both these histories, considered by themselves and in their peculiar relation to one another. The first of these (dealt with in Articles 4 and 5) is the history of a definite section of the human race. It is thus the history of an extended period, embracing a whole range of ages and personages. In contrast to this, the second history (Art. 6) is confined to one single occurrence, happening, we might say, at one point in time; its content consists of one period of time, one event and one person: “God sent his Sonne . . . in this warld.” Yet these two histories in their complete and formal distinctiveness, and despite it, belong together; objectively considered they form a single history. For in both the same thing occurs—God proves His faithfulness in the midst of man's unfaithfulness. A way becomes manifest—the way of God's grace with sinful man. This way is seen and described in the first history as it presents itself when viewed from the side of man. Men are there, and there are many of them, a body or community continually being formed anew, a whole people. There happens now to them in the most varied way what happened to the first man Adam after his Fall: they are sought anew by God as the sinful men that they are, called by name, accused and condemned, but, moreover,—and here is the real content of the history of this remarkable people—they are consoled ever anew with the promise of a deliverer, and as the sinful men that they are, they are led, sustained, and supported by this consolation. They possess only the promise. They draw their life from a reality which transcends them. All they do is to stand and wait: they “did abide, till the Messias come.” But what could they lack, since they possess the promise and are permitted to draw their life from this reality? “All [the faithfull] . . . did see the joyfull daie of Christ Jesus, and did rejoyce” (John 8, 56). And this same way is seen and described in its true nature in the second history as the way which God goes with this people. The promise from which this people draws its life is no empty one, but is fulfilled. Therefore also the times of its history are fulfilled and are not empty. Its waiting and hoping are fulfilled and so too are the empty hands which it holds out towards God. This people has a central point, a head,—this is what becomes manifest in the second history. The church whose life forms the content of that first history, has a Lord. In this Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, God and man (God and sinful man) are one. For this reason God maintains fellowship with all the men who belong to that people, whose Lord and Head is Jesus Christ.
Thus the revelation of God in Jesus Christ consists in the history of Israel seen as the history of God's Church together with the history of Jesus Christ seen as the history of God's becoming one with man. It was clearly from this position that the Scottish Confession spoke about the overthrow and the restoration of the glory of God and man, and about the original relation between them. The significance of everything which has been said in this connection is to be found in Israel and its Christ, just as Israel and its Christ are, as we shall see, at once the source and the subject of Reformed teaching.
In the view of the Scottish Confession the Old Testament with its presentation of the history of Israel is instruction given to the church about herself. God's revelation therefore tells us first—and this is the necessary and absolutely indispensable Old Testament side of the revelation—who and what we are ourselves—men whom God does not reject, but whom He cares for in His revelation.
That we are judged is a fact which precedes all others, and runs like a scarlet thread through the whole history of Israel, beginning with that of Adam. Anti-Semitism is right. The Old Testament itself presents the matter in no other light. Israel is an evil people. Without a shadow of doubt they are sinners against God, His enemies and rebels against Him, whom He cares for in His revelation. But the church has neither time nor place for anti-Semitic modes of thought or speech. If she is the community of those who have fellowship with God, she recognises herself in her model, Israel. In the judgement passed by God on Israel she must therefore recognise the judgement passed upon herself. If she separated and withdrew herself from Israel and did not recognise herself as Israel, how could she ever recognise herself as the community of those who may have fellowship with God? It is only in Israel as her model that this is revealed to her. But in that model there is revealed to her the judgement under which she herself stands.
This judgement is of course not the only thing which is revealed to her in her model, Israel. The Old Testament speaks of the divine election, calling, preservation, increase, blessing and guidance of this evil people. It speaks—and this is its real subject—of sinful men who are possessed of a divine promise, and appointed to believe this promise and to live in the strength of this belief. And what is promised is that One will come to make amends for them all for the evil that they all have done, so that God may show kindness to them all and that they all may be justified and saved. The history of Israel is the history of the manifestation of this promise and of the signs which point to it. Abraham and Moses bear witness to it, as does the deliverance from Egypt and the entry into Canaan, the judges, the kings, the prophets, the Exile and the return from Exile. Each and all speak in their own particular way and their own particular place—what are called the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament are only one of the representatives of the promise which forms the content of the whole Old Testament. Everything in the Old Testament speaks of this and says that One will come who is a descendent of Abraham and therefore a member of that people, a prophet like Moses, a priest like Aaron, a deliverer like Samson, a king like David, a sacrifice like that slain on the great day of Atonement, a representative who bears the sins of others like Jeremiah and the Servant of God in Isaiah 53, one who cries from the depths to God and is justified by God on high, like him whose voice we hear in the Psalms. It is in Him and through Him that Israel will live. It is His shadow that can be traced clearly or faintly in things great and small, everywhere in Israel's history. Israel already lives in and by the fact that He will come, and the church as she looks in the model provided by Israel, recognises that she lives by the fact that He has come and will come again.
We must not fail to understand that Israel lives by it, while all through its history refusing to live by it. Israel disobeys Moses, transgresses the law, rejects and slays the prophets, Israel does again all through its history what Adam did. It does not become gradually better, purer, more religious and more capable of being used; on the contrary, its existence is and remains a unique confirmation of human unfaithfulness and of the justice of the divine judgement. Israel does not believe the promise. The promise that Israel, evil in itself, shall be good in and through that one person is a promise which is proved true in advance before the coming of Christ in this respect at least, that any possibility of Israel itself making amends is clearly excluded. Whatever is in its power is done to destroy the promise. Israel rejects the promise and that in the very moment of its fulfilment. For it, Jesus Christ can only be a blasphemer, whom it expels, delivering him over to the Gentiles as one accursed. Thus in all ages and all through its history it certainly does not live by what it itself is and does. On the contrary, when it does live, it lives by the truth of the promise that its coming prophet, priest and king will be its justification and salvation. And the model of Israel teaches the church that the faith to which she is called can only be faith in Him “Who justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 4, 5).
But the statements of the Scottish Confession about the Old Testament require at this point to be supplemented, or rather to be qualified, if they are to be completely intelligible. We must go farther than our Confession. There is something else which the Old Testament tells us about Israel. When it testifies to Israel's unfaithfulness and the wrath of God against that unfaithfulness, it speaks of a root which survives the continual lopping off of the branches and finally the felling of the trunk itself, and of a Remnant of faithful and obedient believers in Israel, who are gathered together and sustained again and again. It is to be noted that their numbers are always insignificant. What are 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal in the midst of 100,000 people? It is to be noted further that they themselves do not withdraw from the solidarity of the guilt of their people. On the contrary, it is they themselves who recognise it and confess it as their own personal guilt. And it is to be noted that this is no fiction. On the contrary, this remnant are actually as guilty as all the others. Is it not true that at the end, even the faithful disciples of Jesus were in the same position as Judas and Caiaphas? So even when we consider these Few, it is just as much a miracle, when the promise lives on in their midst and is thereby preserved for the whole people. If Israel does not abide by the promise, yet the promise abides by Israel. The Remnant, the Few, are those who know this fact and hold fast to it, without their being themselves better, more believing or more upright than the others. It is on their account that the election, calling, preservation, increase, blessing and guidance of Israel does not cease to exist. In their history above all, He Who is to come casts His shadow before Him. It is in them therefore, that Israel continues to exist despite all her unfaithfulness and despite the wrath of God which pursues it. The mountains depart and the hills are moved, but the grace of God does not depart and the covenant cannot be moved on His side. It is this by which the Few are upheld and in the Few the whole people. Because the covenant cannot fail on God's side, the existence of Israel testifies to the positive truth also of the promise given her, testifying to its basis and so to the object of the faith placed in the promise. This basis and object is He who truly comes to make amends for the evil men do. And seeing herself in her model Israel, the church recognises that in every place and age she lives in the few who, though no better than the others, cannot abandon the promise, because the promise does not abandon them, but remains with them despite the unfaithfulness of the whole to which they belong and despite their own unfaithfulness, and in and despite the judgements which are passed on the church also.
Such is the revelation of God according to the testimony of the Old Testament. It testifies to the existence of a body of men who cannot help themselves, but who receive help from Another, Who none the less comes forth from their midst to be their Head, from One against Whom they all incur guilt but Who makes amends for all their guilt. The Old Testament is a witness to Christ in so far as it makes the existence of the church of Jesus Christ manifest.
The witness of the New Testament can be summed up in a single sentence: “[The Sonne of God] tuke the nature of man-head.” The true God, without ceasing to be the true God, has become true man. This testimony would be misunderstood if an attempt were made to say less than this on the one side or the other. We must say both true God and true man, and both must be taken in all seriousness. God has so utterly humbled Himself, that He has submitted Himself to being in Jesus Christ what we are. And God has exalted man so highly, that the man Jesus Christ was no less than God Himself. Such is the history of Jesus Christ. It can only be understood when viewed from the standpoint of the history of Israel, which is the model of the life of the church, just as the history of Israel and the life of the church can only be understood when viewed from the standpoint of the history of Jesus Christ, on which they are founded. Israel and the church live by the truth of the promise that a member of this people, and therefore One who is Himself a man, will make amends for all, for what all the others fail to make amends for. But what can that mean but that God Himself will do this. “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2, 7). Moses, David, Jeremiah and the Few who form the holy Remnant were not God, but men, themselves in need of forgiveness and therefore only the shadows cast before Him by the promised One. The promise would have been vain if the promised One had not been a member of that people and not therefore a man. It would have been equally vain if He like all those others had only been a member of that people, and therefore only a man and not God Himself, and this is the testimony and the proclamation of the New Testament, that He Who is the fulfilment of the promise is not still to come, but that He has come already and is the fulfilment of the promise because He is true man, the seed of Abraham and David, an Israelite like all the others, and then as such no less than God Himself, Jahweh-Kyrios. Thus His history is the goal, significance and content of the history of Israel. For that is the history of the unfaithfulness of a people, which remains only too faithful to its character by rejecting Him and having Him nailed to the Cross, but the history of Israel is much rather the history of the faithfulness of God Who in Christ cared for man, whose disobedience has now shown itself to be complete and final. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God, the same revelation as was witnessed to in the Old Testament, but the fulfilment of what in the Old Testament was witnessed to as a promise.
The documents which witness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ are the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It is one of the peculiarities of the Confessio Scotica that it does not deal with the problems which arise in this connection at the beginning of the whole work, as is usual elsewhere, but treats of them in a much later context (Art. 19–20). It is not, however, false to its spirit to insert a short note at least at this point on the knowledge of revelation. These documents, the canonical writings of the Old and New Testaments, are human documents. Since this is so, we are given the unavoidable task of understanding them in a human way, and also enabled to do so. This task is performed by the scientific study of the Bible, which in recent times has developed into what is called the historical and critical study of the Bible. This is just the point where it is important for us to note that neither too little nor too much should be expected from such a study. One is entitled to expect from it that it will clarify the whole human form of the witness to Christ in the Old and New Testaments, throwing light on its linguistic, literary, historical and religious-historical aspects. But we should not expect it to set before us the object of this testimony, which is God's revelation and therefore Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Lord of His Church. How could revelation ever be recognised as the divine content of that testimony except through revelation? But so to recognise revelation through revelation means to recognise it by revelation awakening one's faith. To recognise that twofold history in the Bible as what it is, one must participate in it oneself, and to do so would be to have faith awakened by revelation itself. Without that, the scientific study of the Bible will certainly miss the divine content of this testimony. But in that case can it rightly clarify even its human form? What can it see if it fails to see this twofold history? It is to be feared that the scientific study of the Bible practised by superstition, error or unbelief will perform its task poorly in its own sphere also. How can it see the form when it does not see the content? We may take it as true that these human documents on their human side also can only be rightly interpreted in the Church.