Part I: The Knowledge of God
“NATURAL THEOLOGY” AND THE TEACHING OF THE REFORMATION
- In good faith towards the will of Lord Gifford we have to establish: (1) that when his will speaks of natural theology it means a knowledge which stands at the disposal of man as man and whose object is the truth about God, the world and man; (2) that his will expects from the lectures of the Gifford foundation a specific advancement and diffusion of “natural theology” thus understood.
- A reformed theologian commissioned with the delivery of these lectures cannot, as such, i.e. in loyalty towards his own calling, be in a position to do justice to this task in direct agreement and fulfilment of the intention of the testator. He can, however, make this task his own indirectly. He can, namely, confer on “natural theology” the loyal and real service of reminding it of its partner in the conversation. If it wishes to achieve its end in the sense used by the testator it has at least to enter into controversy with this partner, in opposition to whom it must make itself known, prove itself and maintain itself as truth—if it is the truth!
- This partner to the conversation is, however, the knowledge of God and the service of God according to the teaching of the Reformation. The positive content of the Reformation is the renewal of the church, based upon the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and this means implicitly the negation of all “natural theology.” And “natural theology” can only be developed in implicit and explicit negation of the Reformed teaching. This delimitation cannot, however, be the real intention of these lectures. Also it is only by understanding the positive content of the Reformed teaching that the representative of a “natural theology” can make his position clear to himself. Only so can he realise that he must henceforth make known, prove and maintain even better than formerly the supposed truth of his subject-matter in antithesis to Reformed teaching and only so can he make clear to himself the extent to which he must do so.
Assistance shall be afforded him here to enable him to reach such an understanding.
- In accordance with the words of Lord Gifford's will the “natural theology” which is to be advanced and diffused by means of the Gifford foundation ought first and foremost to serve the instruction of “the whole population of Scotland.” Since we are prepared to support his undertaking in the way described above, let us call to mind that instruction in the Reformed teaching which was at one time imparted to “the whole population of Scotland” in the form of the Confessio Scotica composed and ratified in 1560. We shall listen to this as a witness to, not as a law of, the Reformed teaching. We shall be acceding to its own request (Preface and Art. 18) if in repeating, expounding and presenting it we keep not only to its “historical” text and meaning but primarily and decisively to the Holy Scripture as heard independently, testimony to which the Confession claims to be and to whose judgement it has declared itself subject.
THE ONE GOD
- Reformed teaching is the renewal of the prophetic-apostolic knowledge of God as knowledge of the one and only God. Beside and apart from God there is indeed His creation but no other God. No one and nothing is the Lord in the sense in which He is the Lord. God is not alone, but God alone is God.
- This knowledge means above all the limiting of the self-assertion of man who participates in it; whoever and whatever he may be, he will be unable to conceive himself as identical with God and therefore as having mastery over God. Therefore this knowledge signifies further the relativising of all human ideologies, mythologies, philosophies and religions. Whatever their validity within the created world may be, their objects can certainly not be understood as gods. In the last resort they cannot be considered worthy of belief and proper reverence cannot be paid them.
- The foundation of this knowledge is absolutely and alone God Himself, Who reveals Himself to man by speaking to him as his Lord in Jesus Christ and Who proves Himself to be the One to Whom no one and nothing is to be preferred or even to be compared. The foundation of this knowledge is therefore not the idea of the One (Monotheism), the direct or indirect propelling power of all philosophical, political and religious systems.
- Between the claim to lordship of (subjective) human self-assertion and the various claims to lordship of the (objective) world there is unending strife but no decision is reached. But a decision is reached when man, placed between all these claims on the one hand and the claim of God's command on the other, must choose God as the One to Whom alone he can entrust and bind himself definitely and completely and Whom alone he can worship. This decision, which becomes an event in faith in Jesus Christ, is the realisation of the knowledge of the one God. The power to reach this knowledge is the power of God Himself, Who makes it necessary and effective as a decision.
THE GOD OF MAJESTY, THE PERSONAL GOD
- Who is God? Reformed teaching in principle does not answer this question by any free thought, i.e. as if the question had been raised and had to be answered by man himself. On the contrary, it answers it on the basis of God's own revelation. That is, it answers it from the standpoint of man who has been told by God Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ who God is, and who has now to render an account to God, and not to himself, for what he has heard from God and has only so to render account to men also.
- Because Reformed teaching answers God's revelation, it necessarily gives a very humble and a very courageous answer. It is only in His revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit that God has encountered man as the Lord whose freedom and power have neither beginning nor end and who therefore is and remains hidden from us in a way in which the most radical scepticism cannot even imagine. But it is in His revelation as the Lord of Majesty that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has given Himself to be one with man and has therefore made Himself known in a way in which even the greatest speculative optimism is in principle superseded.
- Because the One God is according to His revelation the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, He attests His Personality as personality in a majestic, pre-eminent sense of the concept, one which is not to be understood in the light of any view of human personality. God is a free subject, free as the One Who has, does and will establish Himself as a subject in His existence and essence and He is free as the One Who has absolute mastery over His own existence and essence and similarly through these has absolute mastery over all other existence and essence. Thus God is majestic just because He is personal, and hidden just because He declares His name: I am—that I am. He is incomprehensibly personal.
- Because the One God is according to His revelation the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, He attests His majesty in a personal and therefore concrete sense of the term, a sense which is not to be understood in the light of any human idea of the “Absolute.” He is neither nothing, nor is He all, nor is He the one in all. His majesty consists in His being the archetype of what we ourselves are, i.e. He is the One, He it is Who knows, wills, acts and speaks; in His complete freedom He is “I” in Himself, “Thou” and “He” for us. Thus God is personal just because He is majestic and He declares His true name just because He remains hidden to us: I am—that I am. He is incomprehensibly majestic.
THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE GLORY OF MAN
- According to Reformed teaching, alongside the glory of God and for His glory, the world created by Him and man in particular have also a glory peculiar to them, i.e. a truth, an independence, a significance, a dignity and an appointed destiny of their own. The order in which they stand is of course that the glory of the world and man as one bestowed upon them by God for His own glory, is established by God's glory alone and is completely conditioned and bound to it.
- Because God reveals Himself to man in Jesus Christ, it is established firstly that not only does God Himself exist but that from God, by Him and for Him there exists also a real world and man in particular, which is distinct from Him. God does not rest satisfied with the fullness of the glory which He possesses in Himself but the glory which He possesses in Himself overflows in His making it the peculiar and perfect glory of the world created by Him and of man in particular to serve His own glory and in His being therefore Creator and Lord of this world and of man, without standing in need of them, in virtue of His eternal love.
- Because God reveals Himself to man in Jesus Christ, it is established secondly that the existence of the world and of man in particular is grace, i.e. that it has its glory in the overflowing glory of God and not in itself and hence neither in its spiritual nor in its natural side, neither in its coming into being nor in its passing away, neither in its freedom nor in its necessity. Its being permitted to be gratitude for God's grace and to serve His glory is what makes it true and real and possessed of meaning and purpose.
- Because God reveals Himself to man in Jesus Christ it is established thirdly that in the midst of the real world in its entirety it is man who is called to be thankful, i.e. to recognise God's glory in his own existence and to actualise it and in doing so to trust God who is Creator and Lord of the rest of the world besides.
- The points which we have established are not a matter of abstract conjecture and reflection about “God,” the “World” and “Man,” but a matter of the exposition of the concrete revelation given in the Person of Jesus Christ. In this God Himself has confirmed and explained the order of the relation between His glory and the glory of man described above.
THE WAY OF MAN
- The way of man as the way he goes himself is the history of his attempt to seize the glory of God for himself and is, therefore, necessarily the history of the loss of his own glory. The way of man, however, as the way in which God goes with him is the history of Jesus Christ, i.e. the history of the victory in which God proves His glory even in the Fall of man and is therefore necessarily the history of the restoration of man's glory also.
- By revealing Himself to man in Jesus Christ, God brings against man the accusation that his own way is the way of ingratitude towards God's grace. Man, unfaithful to his calling, which is to serve God's glory, makes himself the lord of his life, as if he were God. What he does thereby, he would have to be, without prospect of deliverance, if God withdrew His hand from him, viz. deprived of his own glory, i.e. a prisoner to the contradiction of his own nature, lost in a world which has ceased to have a lord and therefore ceased to have a meaning for him and subject to vanity. Man's own way is the way of sin, i.e. of offence against God, which only God can make amends for.
- By revealing Himself to man in Jesus Christ, God gives him the promise and commands him to believe, that it is He, God Himself, who makes amends for the evil done by man. This, man's own way, is also the way in which God goes with him by becoming man in Jesus Christ. It is the way in which He confers on him the new unmerited glory of calling him His child, a glory which cannot be destroyed by any debt or punishment.
- A pessimistic anthropology has nothing to do with that accusation and an optimistic anthropology has nothing to do with that promise. It is the Holy Spirit of God Himself who humiliates man as sinner, exalts him as believer and who enables him to be recognised in this humiliation and exaltation.
THE REVELATION OF GOD IN JESUS CHRIST
- The revelation of God in Jesus Christ is the history of God's faithfulness in the midst of man's unfaithfulness and is therefore the history of the way of the grace of God with sinful man. In the testimony of the Old Testament the revelation of God is the history of the church which lives by the promise of Jesus Christ. In the testimony of the New Testament it is the history of Jesus Christ Himself. This twofold and inseparable history is at once the source and the subject of the Reformed teaching.
- To instruct the church about herself, the revelation of God is borne witness to in the Old Testament as the history of a people, which, as a sinful people, has been elected and called, sustained and increased, blessed and led by God. Although it does not possess more than the promise and the command to have faith and although it ends its history in confirming man's unfaithfulness by the rejection of Jesus Christ, nevertheless by its existence it testifies to the fact that the promise given to it has a ground and the faith commanded it has an object.
- To instruct the church about her Lord and Saviour, the revelation of God is borne witness to in the New Testament as the history of Jesus Christ, Who as true Son of God has assumed true manhood and Who, rejected by men but confirming God's faithfulness, has thereby reconciled sinful man with God in His own person. In the humiliation of His divine nature and in the exaltation of His human nature He is the goal, the significance and the content of the history of that people, the ground of its promise and the object of its faith, the ruling head of its church.
- The historical and critical study of the Bible performs the task of understanding the human documents of the Old Testament and the New Testament as human documents. The question as to their divine content is not a question for critical study as such, but is the question with which faith has to do and is perhaps also the one with which superstition, error and unbelief are concerned.
GOD'S DECISION AND MAN'S ELECTION
- Jesus Christ in His unity as true God and true man is the eternal, merciful decision of the just God for fellowship with sinful man and thereby the eternal, merciful election of sinful man for fellowship with the just God—a decision and election consummated in time.
- Jesus Christ is God's decision for man. It is free mercy that God decides for man and not against him. But that which for us is mercy is strict justice in the case of Jesus Christ, because He is the true God and because God in His human life and death has Himself taken our place and therefore finds His perfection again in the active obedience of this man and so is in pure fellowship with Him.
- Jesus Christ is man's election for God. It is free mercy that man is permitted to live with God and is not compelled to perish without Him. But that which for us is mercy is strict justice in the case of Jesus Christ, because He is true man and because God in His human life and death has Himself taken our place and therefore finds our guilt atoned for in the suffering and obedience of this man and so is in pure fellowship with Him.
- God's decision and man's election is not a general truth (either in the sense of a hidden divine decree or in the sense of a quality of discernment belonging to man). It is exclusively the truth of the God-man Jesus Christ which is described above and which can be grasped in faith.
GOD'S WORK AND MAN'S SALVATION
- The salvation of man is his translation out of sin into righteousness before God and out of death into the fullness of life with God. This translation is not his own work but that of God. And this work of God is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the epitome of the Incarnation of the Son of God.
- Jesus Christ the crucified is God in His humiliation, i.e. in His self-sacrifice—in His participation in the curse, the plight and the despair of the existence of sinful man. In this, however, He does not cease to be true God, but He takes—and this is the mystery of the Cross—the sin, guilt and punishment of man away from him and upon Himself. For His sake (in Him alone and in Him once and for all) sin is forgiven us for time and eternity.
- Jesus Christ the risen is man in His exaltation, i.e. in His being raised up and transfigured through the power of God, in His participation in God's majesty. In this, however, he does not cease to be true man but He realises—and this is the mystery of the Resurrection—a life of man in eternal righteousness, innocence and blessedness. For His sake (in Him alone and in Him once and for all) this righteousness is ascribed to us for time and eternity.
- Because the salvation of man through God's humiliation and man's exaltation is not our own but God's work, the work of Jesus Christ both crucified and risen, therefore the salvation of man can be brought about neither through the acts of a cult nor through the endeavours of a morality but can only be received through faith.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE FUTURE AND THE PRESENT LIFE OF MAN
- The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, because the power of God, as the one single and real power over all men and over the whole world, is the power of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
- In faith in Jesus Christ, i.e. in gratitude for the salvation which He has brought about and in recognition of His divine power, man is permitted to understand his existence anew as divine grace and favour. With this hidden yet real change Jesus Christ has become the Lord of man's future also. But man's present life has become a waiting for Jesus Christ as for Him who will make manifest this change.
- Jesus Christ as the coming and expected one will execute the last judgement over men, in so far as He will unveil and judge the life lived in faith in Him as the eternally holy and the eternally blessed life in God's light, but will unveil and judge all man's work for salvation as remaining in sin and therefore as remaining in the darkness of eternal death.
- The coming of Jesus Christ in judgement determines man's present life as the expectation of faith which has nothing to fear except that it might become unbelief, error or superstition. And it has not even to fear this, in so far as it does not live by itself but by the power of Jesus Christ and by the salvation of man already brought about in Jesus Christ.
FREEDOM TO BELIEVE
- To know God means, according to Reformed teaching, to be a new man who obeys God and therefore believes in Jesus Christ as the prophet, priest and king in whom God Himself has acted, acts and will act.
- By believing in Jesus Christ and receiving the salvation brought about by Him alone, man recognises his own unfaithfulness and therefore ceases to believe in himself. Therefore he cannot understand his faith as a work which he would be free to do by means of his own strength, for which he would possess in his own powers the organ and the capacity, and which he could prepare for, start, persevere in or continue by his own skill and achievements.
- By believing in Jesus Christ and receiving the salvation brought about by Him alone, man recognises God's faithfulness. Therefore he may understand his freedom to believe, i.e. to live a new life in obedience and hope, as the wonderful and unmerited but real gift of the Holy Spirit. According to Reformed teaching it is God alone through whom God is recognised in truth by sinful man reconciled through Him.
Part II: The Service of God
THE REAL CHRISTIAN LIFE
- The essence of all good action consists in the renewing of man through the Holy Spirit, and therefore through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Lecture 10). This renewing is what makes the Christian life real and is as such the meaning of the span of life alloted to man.
- Since man knows in faith the God who in Jesus Christ graciously intervenes on his behalf, he knows that he himself is God's enemy and therefore a sinner, but also knows that he is acquitted of this sin and really separated from it. He knows his sin as that element of his existence which is alien to himself. He acknowledges that it has happened, is happening and will happen. But he can own allegiance to it no longer and he may own allegiance to the grace which forgives it.
- Faith means the divine crisis which overtakes human existence, in the course of which man is convicted again and again of his sin, but is also and to a much greater extent assured again and again of God's grace, in order that he may give God the glory in all the decisions in which both conviction of sin and assurance of grace become actual every day.
- The real Christian life consists therefore in the accomplishment of daily thankfulness and repentance which, when it is efficacious and genuine, is not the good or bad fruit of our efforts, but is as a reiteration of faith in Jesus Christ the work of the Holy Spirit.
THE ORDINANCE GOVERNING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
- The ordinance governing the Christian Life is the Divine Law. Man has not himself to decide about what is good or evil, or about what is enjoined or forbidden. God has decided about that by His having given to His grace, revealed in Jesus Christ, the form of a definite claim upon man, and by His having therefore given to faith in Jesus Christ the form of definite obedience.
- Jesus Christ has come to us as true God, that as such He might perfectly take our place and make us partakers of eternal life (cf. Lectures 7 and 8). Therefore the Divine Law demands that man, because he believes in Jesus Christ, should honour and call upon God, attend to His Word, seek Him in the ways which He Himself has shown man, and receive His salvation through the means which He Himself has given man.
- Jesus Christ has come to us as true man, that as such He might really take our place and so partake of the misery and despair of sinful man (cf. Lectures 7 and 8). Therefore the Divine Law demands that man, because he believes in Jesus Christ, should exist for his fellow men, and render them as limited and weak human beings, honour, service and help.
- The ordinance governing the Christian life, the way of thankfulness and repentance, the criterion of good and evil is therefore faith in Jesus Christ, which as such cannot exist without love to God and man and thus without the fulfilment of the true, the Divine Law.
THE TRUE CHRISTIAN LIFE
- Our thankfulness and our repentance are true obedience and are acknowledged by God as fulfilment of His Law, in so far as they are the work of faith in Jesus Christ, active in love, and therefore in so far as Jesus Christ intervenes on our behalf by His suffering and obedience. He and He alone is the true Christian life.
- Precisely because Jesus Christ intervenes on our behalf by His suffering and obedience, we, regardless of the actual insincerity, superficiality and imperfection of our outward and inward achievement, are and remain in all circumstances and without intermission claimed for obedience to God's Law and therefore for Christian life in love for God and man.
- Precisely because Jesus Christ intervenes on our behalf by His suffering and obedience, we, regardless of the actual sincerity, depth and perfection of our outward and inward achievement, are and remain dependent on the sin-forgiving grace of God, and are therefore without the possibility of pleading before God our Christian life as our own glory and merit or of basing our confidence on any kind of reference to our own achievement.
(Art. 16–17, 25a)
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
- The Christian life is the life of the church of Jesus Christ hidden in God and manifest to men. That is to say (cf. Lecture 6), it is the life of the people, which through Jesus Christ has been gathered to be one in Him, in spite of all the diversity of the individuals thus brought together, of their position in time and of the limitations of the age to which they belong, and which has been elected and called to holiness in Him in spite of all human sinfulness. This people consists of those who in faith in Jesus Christ are reconciled to God, and who, because thus reconciled, may proclaim the glory of God.
- Jesus Christ is never without His people, but in the humiliation of His divine nature and the exaltation of His human nature is always the goal, the meaning and the content of its history, the ground of the promise to, and the object of the faith of this, His people. Because of this, there is no reconciliation of man, and therefore no Christian life outside the church. The faith, active in love, of the individual man is not his own private concern, but consists in his participation in the hidden and manifest life of the body whose head is Jesus Christ.
- The mystery of the church and of our participation in her life is the divine hiddenness of the work of the Holy Spirit, through which individual men are called to faith, active in love, and so to Christian life, and thus to life in the church.
- Whether our participation in the life of the church as manifested to men means that we are also partakers in her life hidden in God, is something which must be decided again and again in the actualisation of faith. But there can be no participation in the life of the church hidden in God which would not also mean immediately and directly our participation in her life as manifested to men.
THE FORM OF THE CHURCH
- The one universal and holy church of Jesus Christ exists, as manifested to men, in the form of individual churches, which differ in time and place, but which in Jesus Christ as their head, and therefore in their faith and work, are uniformly determined.
- The existence of the church as manifested to men as individual churches involves a distinction which has to be drawn over and over again in the history of these individual churches, the distinction, namely, between the true and the false church, that is, between the church founded, sustained and ordered by Jesus Christ and that set up, defended and made use of by men on their own authority.
- The existence of the true church of Jesus Christ in an individual church (or the existence of an individual church as the true church ot Jesus Christ) stands or falls with the work of the Holy Spirit taking place within this individual church. The question as to the true church can never be decided anywhere by means of the standards which we as human beings have at our disposal.
- But the spiritual distinction between the true church and the false is carried into effect and made manifest in so far as the life of each individual church is reformed, that is, as in accordance with faith, active in love it is made subject to the Word of God as the Revelation of His Grace in Jesus Christ.
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH
- The church cannot be governed either by the majority of its members or by a special ecclesiastical order—in no sense can she be governed by herself but only by the Word of God, by which she also has been founded and is sustained. But the Word of God is Holy Scripture, i.e. the testimony of the prophets and apostles to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Because it is by the voice of the Holy Spirit alone that the true church is both created and distinguished from the false church, she cannot listen to the voice of a stranger alongside His.
- The church cannot therefore understand her course as a history of arbitrary human opinions and resolutions. She understands it rather as the exposition of Holy Scripture by itself, as the Word of God acting in her. Human opinions and resolutions can never precede but only follow the decisions of the Word of God and the church can never have the truth of the Word of God at her disposal but can only be its servant.
- If the church on her side makes definite decisions, she does so because she must constantly justify her actions before the Word of God which governs her, and must constantly profess the truth in the face of error. The bonds she thus imposes can and will provide not a hindrance but rather free course to the Word of God. They are valid and effective in so far as the church in them owes allegiance not to herself but to Jesus Christ as her head and thus to Holy Scripture.
- Provided that Holy Scripture alone governs the church, the valid constitution of government can in itself be built up equally well on the basis of an ecclesiastical order or on the basis of the congregation. But the freedom of the Word of God is better served and hence so also is the legitimate authority of the bonds necessarily imposed if the congregation is and remains in itself the bearer of the church's responsibility towards the Word of God.
THE CHURCH SERVICE AS DIVINE ACTION
- The primary ground of the church service is neither devotional nor instructional. Nor is it the confession made by the human beings who take part in it, but the presence and action of Jesus Christ Himself and hence the work of the divine creation and sustaining of the church and of the Christian life of her members—a work which is the meaning and goal of all human history.
- The primary content of the church service is therefore the work of the Holy Spirit both in the proclamation of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, determined and delimited by baptism and the Lord's Supper, and in the faith which is established and nourished by this proclamation—a faith in which man, in spite of his natural lack of faith and disobedience, commits himself to the gracious and almighty lordship and care of God.
- The primary form of the church service is given with that proclamation's human means and signs which are instituted through the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This, the form of the church service, cannot be confounded with its content and hence cannot be made absolute, as if Jesus Christ had rendered Himself superfluous through the human institution of the church. But this, the form of the church service, cannot be detached from its content, and cannot therefore be lightly esteemed and neglected as if Jesus Christ did not wish to glorify Himself expressly in the human institution of the church.
THE CHURCH SERVICE AS A HUMAN ACTION
- The secondary ground of the church service is not the religious need or capacity of the human beings who take part in it but the necessity of obedience to the gracious will of Jesus Christ, present and active in their midst—a necessity which unites them into the church. This obedience is also the service which the church owes to the whole world.
- The secondary content of the church service consists therefore in such action on the part of the congregation as has for its goal a new, more loyal and more efficacious hearing of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and thus the glory of God's name in its own midst and throughout the whole world. In this action both those who belong to the ecclesiastical order and those who belong to the rest of the congregation possess a promise and a responsibility which is in each case their own, yet is in each case of the same importance in the sight of God and in their relation to one another, and in the last resort is common to both.
- The secondary form of the church service consists in an effort which is unceasingly the task of the whole congregation and which must always be repeated anew. It is the effort, critical in spirit, after a sincere and humble proclamation and understanding of the divine Word—a proclamation and understanding which correspond to the institution of the church as originated by Jesus Christ.
THE STATE'S SERVICE OF GOD
- No sphere exists in which Jesus Christ is not already to-day secretly or openly the only Lord and the supreme judge. No other law exists which can have the right of limiting the church's task and of setting aside faith in Jesus Christ, active in love. The political order in its varying forms is no less an order for the service of God, in which rulers and ruled are called to obedience to God, to thankfulness and to penitence.
- The significance of the political order as service of God is clearly seen, wherever the form of political power then in force honours God by providing for justice and peace, so far as human insight and human ability can, and by providing and preserving freedom for the true church to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in accordance with the task laid upon her. The significance of the political order as service of God is obscured, wherever the form of political power then in force seeks to operate for its own advantage, violating and suppressing justice and peace, advancing the false church or becoming itself the false church.
- Faith in Jesus Christ, active in love, will enter on positive co-operation in the tasks and aims of the political power then in force or it will passively withdraw from this power's responsibility according in either case as the significance of the state as service of God is made clear or obscured in its application by the political power.
- The duty of obedience to the political order, which is bound up with its significance—made clear or obscured—of serving God, and the duty of prayer for the holders of the form of political power then in force, does not cease, but merely adopts a new form, when a choice must be made in the conflict between faith in Jesus Christ, active in love, and the claims of a particular political power, and when, this being the case, God must be obeyed rather than men.
THE GIFT OF COMFORT AND HOPE
- The necessity but also the questionableness and danger of the service rendered by the state to God reminds the church of the fact that her life and all Christian life here and now takes place within the bounds of a still unredeemed world of sinful men, whose reconciliation with God is indeed already accomplished in Jesus Christ, yet is still hidden.
- The power with which the church serves her Lord here and now and the confidence with which she does so, cannot therefore be founded on what men can feel and think, say and do within the compass of the church. They find their basis in the comfort given to these men, which tells them that their sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ, and in the certain hope that Jesus Christ Himself, as Lord of all creation, will reveal His righteousness as eternal life.
- On the basis of this comfort and this hope the confession of the church begins and ends with the prayer for that action of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which alone makes all human knowledge of God and all human service of God true, and which makes amends for all human error and all human disobedience. It is from the revelation of this Triune God that the church springs and it is the same revelation that she goes to meet.