The Prophets, Eschatology, and Two-Ages (Vos)

Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.)
Vos: Dogmatics

This Q/A by G. Vos is so helpful for thinking about OT prophetic literature, eschatology, and the two-ages: 

In many of these passages [Is. 2:2, Mic. 4:1, Acts 2:17, 1 Pet. 1:20, & 1 Jn 2:18], is not something entirely different spoken of than what we understand by “the last days,” namely, the New Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace?

Considered superficially, this is indeed the case. See, for example, Acts 2:17, where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is spoken of as taking place “in the last days.” Nevertheless one ought to maintain that here, too, the eschatological meaning is present. The explanation is as follows: From the perspective of the older prophets, the coming of the Messiah coincides with the culmination of the kingdom, the end of all things.

Isaiah, for example, speaks in one breath of the return from exile, of the coming of the Messiah, of the end of the world, and unrolls all these events before our eyes as in one great scene. He sees only the peaks towering above everything. Accordingly, the older prophets reckon on only two time periods: “this age” (οὗτος ὁ αἰών) and “the coming age”  (ὁ μέλλων αἰών). So, for Isaiah and for Micah the “last days” are the days that precede the end and at the same time precede the coming of the Messiah. The later prophets were granted in the Spirit to see more clearly how there would be a double coming of the Messiah, one for suffering and scorn and one in glory (Dan 7; 9; 12). Thus what in the older prophets was still combined or condensed into one coming was in the later prophets divided into two.

But now from this it follows as well that the time that elapses between the first and the second coming of the Lord can be viewed from a twofold perspective. If we fix our attention on the coming that is still expected and we include everything before that in “this age,” then we and all the New Testament saints live in the last days, that is, in the period that forms the eve of the second coming of our Lord in glory. If, on the other hand, we focus attention on the coming that is already past, and we draw the dividing line between the two ages at the first coming, then we in fact already live in the “age to come.” Consequently, since the time between the first and the second coming of the Lord is governed completely by the thought of His coming either as already having occurred or as still having to occur, one can call it “the last days.”

 Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 251–252.

Shane Lems

Advertisements

Jesus “Learned” Obedience and Was “Made Perfect” (Vos)

 In Hebrews we learn “because he himself [Jesus] suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18 NIV).  In Hebrews we also read that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” (5:8 NIV).  Yes, it says that Jesus learned something.   Interestingly, the epistle also talks about the Son of God being “made perfect” forever (7:28).  At first glance it might seem that Jesus was lacking something, that he didn’t know something, that he wasn’t perfect.  I like how Geerhardus Vos discussed this:

…the “perfecting” of the Savior, which is made so prominent in the Epistle, has two sides: [first:] it is perfecting in the sphere of sympathy with exposure to temptation and [second] perfecting in the sphere of appreciation of obedience which overcomes temptation. In both respects the perfecting is an ethical process, since it took place by means of an ethical experience through which the Savior passed: He became acquainted with the force of temptation and learned the practice of obedience.

But so far as the notion of τελείωσις [perfection] in itself and from a formal point of view is concerned, the Epistle does not know this as an ethical but as an official conception. The term nowhere designates that Jesus was made ethically or religiously perfect, that His character was developed in either sense; it always designates that His qualifications for the high-priestly office were perfected, that He received the full-orbed equipment which His priestly ministry requires. The subject of the τελείωσις [perfection] is always the priest, never the man. That the means through which the τελείωσις [perfection] of the priest takes place lie in the moral sphere cannot alter this conclusion in the least. The author has nowhere said, and hardly would have said, that in His moral or religious character Jesus was made perfect.

 Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 149–150.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Origin of Brotherly Love (Vos)

The Collected Dictionary Articles of Geerhardus Vos I always appreciate the writings of Geerhardus Vos.  His biblical/theological dictionary articles are no exception.  Here’s an excerpt of his article on brotherly love from the late 19th-century publication called Dictionary of the Apostolic Church.

The Origin of Brotherly Love: Religious love in general is a supernatural product. It originates not spontaneously from a sinful soil, but in response to the sovereign love of God, and that under the influence of the Spirit (Rom. 5:5, 8, 8:28, 1 Cor. 8:3 [where “is known of him” = “has become the object of his love”], Gal. 4:9 [where “to be known by God” has the same pregnant sense], 1 John 4:10, 19).

Love for the brethren specifically is also a product of regeneration (1 Pet. 1:22, 23; cf. 1:2–3). Especially in St. Paul, the origin of brotherly love is connected with the supernatural experience of dying with Christ, in which the sinful love of self is destroyed, and love for God, Christ, and the brethren produced in its place (Rom. 6:10ff., 7:4, 8:1–4, 2 Cor. 5:14–16, Gal. 2:19–20). Accordingly, love for the brethren appears among other virtues and graces as a fruit of the Spirit, a charisma (Rom. 15:30, 1 Cor. 13, Gal. 5:22, 6:8–10).

 Vos, G. (2013). The Collected Dictionary Articles of Geerhardus Vos. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Eschatology, Prophecy, and Foreshortening (Vos)

 When it comes to the OT prophets and eschatology, one area of discussion is the “literalness” of prophetic language.  Though not everyone agrees, in Reformed theology we see the prophets as speaking the truth in poetic and sometimes apocalyptic ways (similar to the Psalms, Revelation, and other parts of Scripture).  Therefore we don’t read the prophets with strict literalism, though we do read them with a view that they are part of the infallible Word of God.

There’s another thing about prophetism worth mentioning: it isn’t always chronological.  Sometimes prophecy is unchronological or non-chronological.  This matters in eschatology!  Here’s how Vos described it:

“Whenever the prophets speak in terms of judgment, immediately the vision of the state of glory obtrudes [imposes] itself upon their view, and they concatenate [join] the two in a way altogether regardless of chronological interludes.  Isaiah couples with the defeat of the Assyrians under Sennacherib the unequalled pictures of the glory of the end, and the impression might be created that the latter was just waiting for the former, to  make its immediate appearance.  The vision ‘hastens’ under their eye.  The philosophy of this foreshortening of the beyond-prospect is one of the most difficult things in the interpretation of prophecy in the Old Testament and New Testament alike.”

In other words, although it is a difficult aspect of interpretation, the words of judgment and glory in the prophets aren’t necessarily chronological.  For more helpful insight into OT prophetism, see Vos’ Biblical Theology, chapter six, part D (The Judgement and the Restoration: Prophetic Eschatology).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

“The Preacher Who Takes Up Vos’ Biblical Theology…” (Clowney)

Preaching and Biblical Theology Over the past 15+ years I’ve come to a pretty strong conviction that an understanding of redemptive history is of utmost importance in the pulpit ministry.  Preaching that has no understanding of redemptive history is preaching that lacks.  There are nuances to this discussion of course.  I’m not an advocate of hyper redemptive-historical preaching.  And I believe there is a time and place in the pulpit for topical and doctrinal sermons as well as solid application.  Basically, my view is that the pulpit ministry should have a firm and balanced grasp of systematic theology and biblical theology, both of which should be generally evident in the preaching.  I like how Edmund Clowney spoke about this in his very good book, Preaching and Biblical Theology.

“There is…no opposition between biblical theology and systematic or dogmatic theology, though the two are distinct.  Systematic theology must draw from the results of biblical theology, and biblical theology must be aware of the broad perspectives of systematics. …The development of systematics is strictly thematic or topical.  …The development of biblical theology is redemptive-historical.”

Later Clowney mentioned Geerhardus Vos; I’ve always liked these paragraphs:

“The preacher who takes up Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ for the first time enters a rich new world, a world which lifts up his heart because he is a preacher.  Biblical theology, truly conceived, is a labor of worship.  Beside Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ should be set his little book of sermons, ‘Grace and Glory.’  There we hear a scholar preaching to theological students (the sermons were delivered in Princeton Seminary), but with a burning tenderness and awesome realism that springs from the grace and glory of God’s revelation, the historical actualization of his eternal counsel of redemption.”

Clowney then talked about the text and the pulpit.

“An old Dutch preacher has sagely observed that the pulpit must not drive us to the text, but rather the text must drive us to the pulpit.  In biblical theology that scriptural dynamic impels the preacher’s heart with unimagined strength.”

Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, p. 18-19.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Impossibility of Preaching Jesus Without A Creed (Vos)

A church without a creed is a church to avoid.  Why?  Because a big part of the Christian’s faith includes knowledge of biblical doctrine, factual truth-statements to which faith clings.  Geerhardus Vos said it quite well:

“Faith presupposes knowledge, because it needs a mental complex, person or thing, to be occupied about.  Therefore, the whole modern idea of preaching Jesus, but preaching Him without a creed, is not only theologically, not merely Scripturally, but psychologically impossible in itself.  In fact knowledge is so interwoven with faith that the question arises, whether it be sufficient to call it a prerequisite, and not rather an ingredient of faith.”

“The very names by means of which Jesus would have to be presented to people are the nuclei of creed and doctrine.  If it were possible to eliminate this, the message would turn to pure magic, but even the magic requires some name-sound and cannot be wholly described as preaching without a creed. …To be sure, mere knowledge is not equivalent to full-orbed faith, it must develop into trust, before it is entitled to that name.”

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 389.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Judged According to Works? (Vos)

The Bible teaches that sinful people cannot earn salvation or contribute to their salvation.  Justification and eternal life are free gifts of God received by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 4:1-8, Gal. 2:15-16, Eph 2:8, etc.).  Or as the Heidelberg Catechism says, the good we do can’t make us right or help make us right with God because he demands entire perfection, but “even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin” (Q 62).   However, doesn’t God promise to reward obedience (Mt. 5:12, 10:41-41, Heb. 11:6, etc.)?  Geerhardus Vos explained this well:

“That being judged “according to works” also applies to believers is apparent from Matthew 25:34–40; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12. However, this is not to be understood in the sense that works provide the basis for the decision whether one has earned or not earned salvation. Works will come into consideration as a manifestation of genuine saving faith. Work in the scriptural sense also means not just an external display but the expression of one’s life that flows out of the depth of the heart. So understood, works are in fact evidences for the presence of faith.

But works occur in yet another sense than as evidences of faith. Scripture also speaks of reward for believers (“their works follow them,” Rev 14:13; Matt 5:12, 16; 6:1; Luke 6:23; Heb 10:34–38). This reward comes as compensation for the cross, as restitution for what was robbed, as recompense for love shown to the servants of the Lord, etc. There will be proportion in this reward (Matt 25:21, 23; Luke 6:38; 19:17, 19; 1 Cor 3:8). It is presented as a reaping that corresponds to what is sown (Gal 6:7–10). Salvation will be perfect for all, but nonetheless not entirely the same for all. This is certain: the difference will not possibly provide any occasion for unhappiness. Accordingly, for believers works are a criterion for the glory to be received. But this is a reward out of grace (Rom 11:35; 1 Cor 4:7; John 3:27). And the bestowing of salvation, as such, will take place solely on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ received by faith.

So it’s not as if we receive initial justification by faith and then final justification by faith plus works.  Not at all.  It’s all of grace.  The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes Scripture well when talking about the rewards of obedience: “This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace” (A 62).  Or, as the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 15:10,

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. NIV

[The above quotes by Vos are found in his Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 293.]

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI