To Live is Christ

Text: Philippians 1:12-30

What does it take to keep people together? This question lies behind a good marriage, but it is also the key to deep and lasting friendships, as well as business ventures, political alliances, and even healthy and successful churches. What causes some folks to stick together and other folks to split up and go their own way? Sometimes people try to answer this with the general notion of “compatibility.” Some personalities just “click,” they might say. Others appeal to shared values. The answer is actually both more specific and more basic. The key to sticking together is having a shared desire, a larger goal which everyone wants to realize. It’s having the same mission.

But how do you get that? Now, that’s the really tricky question. It isn’t enough to take the desires we already have and then go look for others who happen to have the same ones and pair up with them. No, for Christians, we have to critically examine our desires and submit them to the mind of Christ. In fact, it’s even more extreme than this. We have to give up our own desires completely. We have to surrender them to Jesus, along with our whole life, and we have to find our new life in Him, seeing His life in us and in those around us.

This all brings us to our sermon text today. The Apostle Paul says that “to live is Christ.” And he means just that—his life is for a purpose, the purpose of being like Christ and having Christ live in him. In fact, his life is not his own. It is Christ’s. This conviction is what drives his entire ministry, his sense of mission, and his philosophy for life in the church. It allows him to be content in the face of pressure, persecution, and suffering, and it gives him confidence to take pious risks, to rush into dangerous situations for the sake of the gospel. He knows that to die is gain, and so whatever life he lives must be the life of Christ. And so this is true for us as well today. Jesus calls all men unto Himself. He calls you to give up your life and follow Him. And for those of you who have placed your trust in Him, this means that your life is not your own. Your life is now Christ’s life. Continue reading

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.

Zanchi: For It Was the Blood of God

‘When therefore the fullnesse of time was come’, wherein the promise of redemption made unto the first man was to be accomplished by the second, God, the everlasting Father, sent his onely begotten Sonne and eternal and therefore true God, of the same nature with the Father, made of a woman alone, and without the seede of a man and therefore true man, but without sine and so true Christ, made subject to the lawe and therefore circumcised, that he in most perfect obedience might fulfill that law in the name of us all, made obedient to his Father even unto death, namely for us (for he, being without sinne, deserved not to die) that he might redeeme those which were under the law and all the elect even by his obedience, by his death and bloodshedding, that is, by a sacrifice of exceeding vertue (for it was the blood of God) and a most effectual antilutro, ransome, that he might, I saie, redeeme us from sinne to the old image of God and to perfect righteousness, yeah, from death to eternal life, and from the kingdome of Satan to the kingdome of God; and that we might receive adoption of children and so in the ende bee taken into full and perfect possession of the heavenlie inheritance as sonnes and lawfull heires.  And lastile, that he might gather together all thinges in heaven and in earth under one head and ioyne them to himselfe for the glorie of God the Father.

~ Confessions of the Christian Religion XI.1

More Polhill on Union with Christ

Let us distinguish ourselves according to the two Adams. Whatever is vicious or defective in us, relates to the first Adam: whatever is gracious or prefective of our nature, relates to the second. Never can we be too humble under the sense of original corruption which adheres to our nature. Never can we be too thankful for that supernatural grace which gave us a new nature. Because we have a Divine nature in us, we should live suitably to it. Had we but one single creation, we had been eternally bound to serve and glorify God; but when he sets to his hand the second time to create us again in Christ Jesus unto good works, how should our lives answer thereunto! When in the horrible earthquake at Antioch the emperor Trajanus was drawn out of the ruins, it was a very great obligation upon him to serve and honour God who so signally delivered him; how much greater obligation lies upon us, who are drawn by an act of grace out of the ruins of the fall! How should we live in a just decorum to that Divine nature which we are made partakers of! We should still be bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit, and shewing forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Again; because the relics of corruption are still remaining even in the regenerate, we should ever be upon our spiritual watch; we should set guards within and without, that sin may not creep in by the ports of sense, nor rise up out of the deep of the heart. When a temptation approaches to us, we should say as a holy man did, Auferte ignem, adhuc enim paleas habeo; take away the fire, yet I have chaff within. If a Jonah fall into a pet against God; if a David wallow in adultery and blood; if a Peter deny his Lord with a curse, what may not we do! The remnants of original sin in us should make us keep a watch over our hearts, and ponder the path of our feet. Our flesh is an Eve, a tempter within us; nay, a kind of devil, as an ancient speaks, Nemo sibi de suo palpet, quisque sibi Satan est.

~A View of Some Divine Truths pg. 61

And also:

Secondly, we receive a human nature from Adam, and have we not a divine nature from Christ? are we not called his seed? are we not begotten by his Spirit and word? were we not in a spiritual sense seminally in his blood and merits? how else should any such thing as the new creature be produced in a lapsed nature? These things are as proper to make us parts and members of Christ, as a human nature is to make us parts and members of Adam; therefore, the communication of righteousness from Christ must be as full and great as the communication of sin is from Adam. Bishop Usher tells us, that we have a more strict conjunction in the Spirit with Christ, than ever we had in nature with Adam; one and the same spirit is in Christ and believers, but there is not one soul in Adam and his posterity: the communication from Christ, therefore, if answerable to the union, must be as great, nay, greater than that from Adam.

~pg. 83

I shall seek to explain what Polhill’s language about union with Christ and “communication” of righteousness means at a later time. For now I just wish to show what sort of union he has in mind. We are legally united to Christ, it is true, but this is only the case because we are also seminally united to him through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Also, in my previous post on Polhill, I cited from Speculum theologiae in Christo which is available online through Google books. I have, however, recently purchased Soli Deo Gloria’s The Works of Edward Polhill which include the Speculum as well as others. Speculum is called A View of Some Divine Truths, and that accounts for the change in title in my new citations. It is all the same book, though.

Edward Polhill on Union With Christ

The other is that special conjunction, which is between Christ and Believers; Christ is the Head, they are the Members: the Ligatures of this Mystical Union are the Holy Spirit and Faith, the quickening Spirit (saith the reverend Usher) descends downwards from the head to be in us a fountain of supernatural life; a lively Faith, wrought by the same Spirit, ascends from us upward to lay fast hold upon him. The Scripture notably sets forth this Union, We dwell in Christ and he in us, John 6.56, We abide in him and he in us, John 15.4. We are Members of his Body, of his Flesh, and of his Bones, Ephes. 5.30, 32. And he is in us the hope of Glory, Col. 1.27. This the Apostle calls a great Mystery, and the Riches of the Glory of the Mystery; we are ingrafted into him as Branches into a Root; cemented to him as the building is to the foundation; incorporated with him as the food is with our Bodies; united to him as Members are to the Head. We ead his Flesh, and drink his Blood, and become one Spirit with him; nothing can be more emphatical, the Holy Spirit which resides in him the Head, falls down upon us Members, and so makes a kind of continuity between him and us, too Spiritual and Divine to be interrupted by any local distance: Hence St. Chrysostom saith, that there is no medium or middle between Christ and us; hence St. Austin saith that, Believers are made one Christ with the Man Christ, the Head and the Body make up one Christ: Hence that of Aquinas, that Christ and his Members are but one mystical person; the consequence of this admirable Union is the communication of Divine Blessings from him to us… said the learned Zanchy, All our good things depends on this most necessary Union.

~ Edward Polhill Speculum theologiae in Christo pg. 334-335 (1678)

We should notice that Polhill favorably quotes Aquinas saying that Christ and the Church are one person, but he has also explains that it is the Person of the Holy Spirit that makes this possible. The individual believers don’t become Jesus of Nazareth, nor does Jesus lose his individuality. Rather, the singular person of the Holy Spirit unites them in the one bond of love. As further quotes will show, this is a real union.

Zanchi on the Mystical Union

Wee believe therefore (that letting passe those things, which pertaine not to this matter in hand, wee may come nearer) that the Sonne of God by the everlasting will of the Father and therefore of himself also and of the Holy ghost, like as he tooke upon himself into unity of his person our flesh, that is mans nature, conceived by virtue of the Holy ghost in the wombe of the virgine, that he might in himself purge us of our sinnes, and in that flesh he most perfectlie fulfilled the lawe of God for us, being made obedient unto his Father even unto death, and at the length the same flesh being offred up in sacrifice for our sinnes, he obtained in himself eternall salvation for us. So also, that he might make us partakers of this salvation by sacrifice of his flesh assumed for us, he was willing and accustomed to take unto him and to knit and ioyne all his elect unto him in another kinde of union, namelie in such a coupling as in it wee may bee united with him, though not into one person, yet into one misticall bodie, whereof he is the head and everie one of us members, and may be made partakers of his divine nature.


~ De religione Christiana fides 236-237

Christological Partaking in Calvin

Commenting on John 6:51, Calvin says thusly:

As this secret power to bestow life, of which he has spoken, might be referred to his Divine essence, he now comes down to the second step, and shows that this life is placed in his flesh, that it may be drawn out of it. It is, undoubtedly, a wonderful purpose of God that he has exhibited life to us in that flesh, where formerly there was nothing but the cause of death. And thus he provides for our weakness, when he does not call us above the clouds to enjoy life, but displays it on earth, in the same manner as if he were exalting us to the secrets of his kingdom. And yet, while he corrects the pride of our mind, he tries the humility and obedience of our faith, when he enjoins those who would seek life to place reliance on his flesh, which is contemptible in its appearance.

But an objection is brought, that the flesh of Christ cannot give life, because it was liable to death, and because even now it is not immortal in itself; and next, that it does not at all belong to the nature of flesh to quicken souls. I reply, though this power comes from another source than from the flesh, still this is no reason why the designation may not accurately apply to it; for as the eternal Word of God is the fountain of life, (John 1:4,) so his flesh, as a channel, conveys to us that life which dwells intrinsically, as we say, in his Divinity. And in this sense it is called life-giving, because it conveys to us that life which it borrows for us from another quarter. This will not be difficult to understand, if we consider what is the cause of life, namely, righteousness. And though righteousness flows from God alone, still we shall not attain the full manifestation of it any where else than in the flesh of Christ; for in it was accomplished the redemption of man, in it a sacrifice was offered to atone for sins, and an obedience yielded to God, to reconcile him to us; it was also filled with the sanctification of the Spirit, and at length, having vanquished death, it was received into the heavenly glory. It follows, therefore that all the parts of life have been placed in it, that no man may have reason to complain that he is deprived of life, as if it were placed in concealment, or at a distance.

Christ as Divine Will

Commenting on John 1:1, Calvin writes:

As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the Speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because he is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because he is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals himself to us by his Speech.

Stephen Edmondson, following Jacobs and Muller, summarizes Calvin’s relation of Christ and election in this way:

We understand Christ’s work as Mediator only when we grasp from the outset that this work is conditioned by and revelatory of God’s mercy for God’s chosen from eternity. Conversely, we must also say that we know of our election only in Christ, through his work as Mediator. We both know of God’s gracious choice through Christ’s manifestation of that choice in his redemptive activity, and we know that we, in fact, are God’s chosen, the elect, as we find ourselves engrafted into Christ. As Jacobs explains, God’s eternal decree for our salvation and Christ’s realization of that decree are two sides of the same coin– each rightly grasped only in its relation to the other.
(p148 )

Richard Muller asserts even more forcefully:

We have already noted three points in the doctrine of predestination where christological concerns have an impact the definition of elect as “in Christ,” the assertion that predestination is known only in Christ, and the statement that Christ himself is the “author of election” together with God the Father. The third of these points illustrates well what Jacobs calls “die trinitatstheologische Verankerung” of Calvin’s teaching on election– and it presses definitively beyond the purely functional level of doctrine. Against two writers who viewed predestination as the governing concept in Calvin’s thought, Jacobs could argue,

The opinion of Kampschulte and O. Ritschl, that Christ has a merely formal significance for Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, utterly misunderstands the fact that Christ and election belong to one another inextricably– as inseparable as water and a fountain; Christ correctly understood is the “index”: Christ is election itself.

In the work of reappraisal, the hyperbole of Jacobs’ last phrase was justified, and it serves to carry the day not only against the older scholarship, but also against Reid’s contention that Calvin failed to press his christological concerns to their proper conclusion in the doctrine of election. (35-36)

Robert Letham seems to share this understanding of Calvin, and I have explored his book in the past.

All of this serves to further illustrate the fact that we should look to Christ in order to find our place in God’s predestinating plan. We are elect as we are in Christ. And of course, we all know that the places to “see” Christ are just those places where he is exhibited and shewn forth; thus the covenant community ie. the visible church serves as the location of Christ.

It is little wonder that as Calvin’s paradigm continues to fall out of acceptance in mainstream Calvinistic churches today, hyper-calvinism continues to be embraced more and more. Let us ask for God to send his grace and strengthen those faithful ministers who are currently seeking to combat this encroaching danger.