Edward Polhill on Merit and God’s Attributes

Polhill is a helpful guide in that he unites soteriology with Christology and theology proper. His use of categories is more compatible with the broader Christian tradition, and for that reason, we should feel an imperative to re-read many more of the other older divines:

The sufferings of Christ respect both attributes; they satisfied the law, and founded the gospel. Justice had a full compensation, and mercy sprung up in promises of grace and life…

There was in Christ’s sufferings a conjunction of satisfaction and merit: justice was compensated, and grace impetrated. Indeed the Socinians, blind with their own corrupt reason, cannot see how these two should stand together; satisfaction being the payment of a just debt, and merit the doing of an undue work. To which I answer: it is true, that when one pays a finite sum for his own debt, there is not, there cannot be a merit in it; but when Jesus Christ paid down sufferings of an infinite value for us, there cannot but be an immense merit in them. Infinity is an ocean, and may run over in effects as far as it pleases; those sufferings had a kind of infinity in them, enough to pay divine justice, and over and above by a redundance of merit to purchase all grace for us.

~ A View of Some Divine Truths pg. 5

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The Forbidden Kingdom

I just saw The Forbidden Kingdom. This is a great film. There are lots of throwbacks to the classics of kung-fu and a good mixture of action and humor. There’s a clear spiritual dimension to the film, as well, even as it isn’t necessarily a Christian one. The parallels were interesting though.

I thought it was a sort of Eastern Lord of the Rings.


I’m showing Metropolis to my class next week. I bought the restored authorized edition, and watched it again last night. This is such an incredible movie.

The newest edition is still missing scenes. I don’t think the original can ever be restored. The original version is said to have been 210 minutes long, which is, of course, way too long for most people to tolerate. Unfortunately, it was chopped down pretty drastically, and now about a fourth of the footage is gone forever. This new version is 124 minutes, and some pretty important scenes are still missing. They fill in the gaps with text.

The most fun part of Metropolis is its expressionism. The movie is a work of art. The fact that it is a silent film requires the actors to emote more than usual, and so their facial expressions are also part of the art.

The animation is also pretty breathtaking. Having watched the director’s commentary and the documentary, it really is awe-inspiring to consider the amount of work that was put into the special effects.

The Babel-theme is great too. I think it might be a good springboard to a theology of the city, as there are clear evils to the city, but also great benefits.

Zombies and Salvation

I Am Legend was originally a book by Richard Matheson in 1954. It featured an air-borne disease that turned people into vampires. It used the apocalyptic theme to address social, ethical, and religious questions, with its twist ending, where the vampires become the normal and the humans become the legend.

Since its inception, I Am Legend has been made into at least three movies (The Last Man on Earth 1964, The Omega Man 1971, and I Am Legend 2007) and influenced many more (Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later). Each of these movies attempted to progress the theme and genre, with 28 Days Later being the first movie to introduce the “fast Zombies.”

The Zombie genre can simply provide screams (and laughs) in the vein of standard horror films, or it can use its extreme scenario to address topics that are very close to home. Indeed, the larger Sci-fi genre is known for doing just this, as Eastern religious ideas find their way into Star Wars, critiques of communism appear in Star Trek, transcendental Darwinism is explored in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and human rights issues regarding cloning and genetic manipulation drive the plot of The Island. X-Men directly speaks to racism and social issues, and the television series Heroes raises questions of ethical warfare and national security.

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Some Reflections on Juno

I saw Juno when it came out in theaters, and I have not seen it since. A friend asked me about my thoughts on it after watching it on video, and I put them down on paper. They aren’t a proper “review,” but simply some observations. Here’s what I got:

I think the message is basically that life is good and worth the “bumps” that come up along the way. Even though things can seem incredibly threatening, if you believe (in yourself? the integrity of man?) you’ll see that people are basically good. Even when certain people show themselves to be bad (in this case, the perspective adopting father), the goodness of the others makes it all worth it.

So basically, the movie lacks a “Christian worldview.” However, it is better than the typical dark movie, where life is hopeless, as well as the typical teeny-bopper film where there are no worries and free fun all around. Juno is, rather, a happy sort of realism.

We’re glad that Juno didn’t have the abortion, that’s for sure. The fact that the fetus had fingernails proved its humanity. So, it is pro-life.

We also learn that you have to grow up and take responsibility. The would-be father never did this. He kept his 90s grunge records, comic books, and rock t-shirts. The wife tells him that she’s tired of waiting for him to become Kurt Cobain (the success/suicide case).

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Babette’s Chiasm

Babette’s Feast is a delightful movie. The central message is that God is good and we know he is good because his creation is good. It’s a beautiful picture of the gospel. Here’s a short outline I drew up.

A. Introduction: The Church does well with the leadership of its pastor.

  B. Lowenhielm is sent to the village, where he falls in love with Martina. He departs in   sadness and failure.

    C. Papin visits the village, where he is struck by Phillipa’s singing ability.   He departs in sadness and failure.

      D. The pastor dies and conflicts arise within the church.

    C’ Papin sends Babette to the village.

  B’ Lowenhielm returns to the village for the feast.

A’ Babette’s cooking and Lowenhielm’s sermon resolve the conflicts and bring joy to the village.

Eucharist as Absolution

Commenting on Mark 14:24, Calvin writes:

Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke–Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood. Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated.

Now that’s a pastoral application! The sacraments are gospel. Each of us, in particular, are called to believe that our sins have been expiated, and the Eucharist is a promise that this is true.

This all works because of Calvin’s definition of faith. For him, it includes assurance. You are sure that Christ paid for your sins. The gospel is objective. It is what you place your faith in.

In other words, it isn’t that your faith is sure in itself, that you yourself have already been regenerated or that you have “true faith”, but rather you are sure that the message is true, and that being sure just is faith.

Now Pastors, go preach this. Go show this.

Calvin and Inverting the Ordo

Calvin’s comments on John’s prologue are all really good.  Here he discusses the relationship between faith and regeneration, and it shows that he is a certainly aware of the difficulties in making any sort of an ordo.  He opts for a both/and approach:

It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later. I reply, that both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23,) by which we are born again to a new and divine life. And yet faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in none but the children of God. So then, in various respects, faith is a part of our regeneration, and an entrance into the kingdom of God, that he may reckon us among his children. The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source; but since it is by the same faith that we receive Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit, on that account it is said to be the beginning of our adoption.

On John 1: 13

We can certainly sympathize with Calvin here.  On the one hand, we wish to say that faith is an effect of regeneration, for only those who are born of God can accept the gospel offer.  But on the other hand, new life is located in the person of Christ, and thus we must lay hold of him in faith before we can be created anew.

Calvin’s answer is “Yes.”

Jesus Christ is the regeneration, and He must be apprehended by faith, yet we cannot believe until the Holy Spirit first enlightens us.

The Thing and Effect Are Joined to the Figure

And so here we are. Oberman quoted this part, and it is the reason I had to get the book for myself. Speaking of God dwelling between the cherubim (2 Sam. 6:2), Calvin writes:

Nevertheless, in order that we might know that God does not want to frustrate us, and that the signs which he gives us are not frivolous and empty baggage, like toys for little children, it says that God truly dwells between the cherubim. This does not mean that his essence is enclosed in the ark, but that he wishes to display his virtue there for the salvation of his people. Similarly, today in the waters of baptism, it is the same as if the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ poured down from heaven to water our souls and cleanse them from their uncleanness. When we have the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, it is the same as if Jesus Christ were coming down from heaven and making himself our food, so that we could be filled with him. We must not, therefore, take these signs as visible things and figures which are to feed our spiritual senses, but are to realise that God joins his virtue and truth to them, so that the thing and the effect are joined to the figure. There, in sum, is what we must keep in mind from the statement that the ark of God has the name: the name of God of hosts, dwelling between the cherubim.

~ Sermons on 2 Samuel (Banner of Truth) pg. 236.

So is this the “Lutheran” Calvin? I mean, jeepers.

God wishes to display his virtue in the visible means for the salvation of the people.

Baptism is as if Jesus’ blood is being poured down from heaven to nourish our souls.

The Lord’s Supper is as if Jesus were coming down to earth to feed us his flesh.

And then we get a rather technical phrase, “God joins his virtue and truth to them, so that the thing and the effect are joined to the figure.” That is the sacramental union. The res is joined to the sign.

That last part really cannot be overstated. It is systematic language. The place of the “joining” is the sign. However the joining works, and it is most certainly the mystical union, it cannot be construed to mean “not joined.”

For Calvin, it is true that the blood of Christ is joined to the waters of baptism. For Calvin, it is true that the Body of Christ is joined to the Bread.

The means of reception, that is, our part of the deal, is faith.