Category Archives: Geerhardus Vos

Jesus and the Old Testament

A gem from the classic book by Geerhardus Vos—Biblical Theology (p 358):

“[Jesus] regarded the whole Old Testament movement as a divinely directed and inspired movement, as having arrived at its goal in himself, so that he himself in his historic appearance and work being taken away, the Old Testament would lose its purpose and significance. This none other could say. He was the confirmation and consummation of the Old Testament in his own person, and this yielded the one substratum of his interpretation of himself in the world of religion.”

Justified

Here are two favorite quotes regarding how we can be assured of the reality of God’s justification.

The first is from Geerhardus Vos in his Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground, 2007):

“Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.” (135)

The second is from Robert Kolb and Charles Arand in the The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Baker Academic, 2008):

“Those who see this form of forensic justification as merely a legal fiction do not share Luther’s understanding of the power of the Word of God. The reformer knew that from the beginning of the world, God determined reality by speaking. Therefore, he was certain that God’s word of forgiveness created a new reality in the life of the sinner. The reformer could not explain the mystery of evil and sin continuing in the lives of those God had claimed as his own in baptism. But he did not doubt that when God said, ‘Forgiven,’ the reality of human sinlessness in God’s sight was genuine and unassailable. God’s children must live with the mystery of the continuing sin and evil in their lives as they engage in the battle against their own sins. But they have no warrant to doubt that God has established the mightier reality of their innocence in his sight. And what he sees is real because he determines reality.” (154-155)

Justification and the Supreme Victory of Faith

“Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.”

Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground, 2007), p. 135.

Justification by Resurrection

Paul writes in Romans 4:25 that Jesus was “delivered up for [διά] our trespasses and raised for [διά] our justification.” A stunning statement that locates our justification in the resurrection of Christ.

On this passage Geerhardus Vos (1862—1949) wrote:

“… it remains worth observing, that the Apostle has incorporated this idea of the resurrection in his forensic sceme. It seems a pity that in the more prominent associations of our Easter observance so little place has been left to it [the forensic]. The Pauline remembrance of the supreme fact, so significant for redemption from sin, and the modern-Christian celebration of the feast have gradually become two quite different things. Who at the present time thinks of Easter as intended and adapted to fill the soul with a new jubilant assurance of the forgiveness of sin as the guarantee of the inheritance of eternal life?” [The Pauline Eschatology (P&R 1930/1994) p. 153]

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Further study:

The Faith to See Justification

I recently stepped out of the daily routine for a few days of reading. I brought with me a tall stack of books (some old, some new) on the topics of practical theology, biblical theology, and systematic theology. My stack on biblical theology included a little book of sermons delivered by biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary.

The diverse sermons were captivating, revealing a warm pastoral side of Vos that I had never seen.

I should not have been surprised. I’ve found the sermons of theologians to be great entry points into their writings.

If you’ve never read John Calvin, for example, don’t start with the Institutes or even his commentaries–but first read his sermons (say, on the Beatitudes) and then you’ll see a man moved greatly by the things of God. To see these great men of faith behind the pulpit will help frame their thoughts when you begin listening to them from the lecture hall. Readers who neglect these sermon manuscripts and only go for the complex writings often cast Augustine, Martin Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, B.B. Warfield, and other theologians as overly intellectual and devotionally dry. Start with the sermons and then move into the deeper theological works. Such is true of Vos.

In a message on Hebrews, Vos takes up the topic of faith and addresses the reality of personal justification—that God has declared us perfectly righteous in his sight through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Vos is aware that we can often lose sight of our justification because we are more aware of our dumb, sinful actions, thoughts, and omissions than we are aware of the grace of God in having cleansed our sins forever. Vos reminds us that to “see” our justification is “the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things.”

Vos writes,

In Romans and Galatians, faith is in the main trust in the grace of God, the instrument of justification, the channel through which the vital influences flowing from Christ are received by the believer. Here in Hebrews the conception is wider; faith is “the proving of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for.” It is the organ for apprehension of unseen and future realities, giving access to and contact with another world. It is the hand stretched out through the vast distances of space and time, whereby the Christian draws to himself the things far beyond, so that they become actual to him. …

Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.

-Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground) pp. 133, 135

So do we look at our lives by faith in the cross, or do we look at our lives merely by the sight of what appears on the surface? May we penetrate, by faith, into what God has declared true.

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Related post: Luther, God’s Word, and Justification.

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