Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.

Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth

Jeong Koo Jeon

2. THE HIDDEN GLORY OF THE ELDERSHIP................................................................................................................................................33
 Todd S. Bordow

3. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY AND COUNSELING..............................................................................................................................................41
Bill Baldwin

4. VOS ON THE SABBATH: A CLOSE READING...........................................................................................................................................61
James T. Dennison, Jr.

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ISSN 0888-8513                                                                                                                May 2001                                                                                                                   Vol. 16, No. 1


Covenant Theology and Old Testament Ethics:

Meredith G. Kline's Intrusion Ethics

Jeong Koo Jeon

Kline's 'intrusion ethics' is certainly startling and innovative. He published his first landmark article on the subject in 1953.1 However, there has not been much subsequent discussion on this important issue since then. Greg Bahnsen, a Reformed theonomist, provides a brief but severe criticism of Kline's


1Meredith G. Kline, "The Intrusion and the Decalogue," Westminster Theological Journal 16/1(1953): 1-22. This important article can be found, with minor modifications, in The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1997), 154-71. For a comprehensive and critical analysis of Kline's biblico-covenant theology in the light of modern criticism and the historical development of covenant theology as a whole, see Jeong Koo Jeon, Covenant Theology: John Murray's and Meredith G. Kline's Response to the Historical Development of Federal Theology in Reformed Thought (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1999). The book is a slight revision of my 1998 Ph.D. dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

For a brief summary of Kline's contribution to Reformed systematic theology from a Klinean perspective, see Lee Irons, "Redefining Merit: An Examination of Medieval Presuppositions in Covenant Theology," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift For Meredith G. Kline. eds. Howard Griffith & John R. Muether (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 2000), 253-68; Mark W. Karlberg, "Reformed Theology as the Theology of the Covenants: The Contributions of Meredith G. Kline to Reformed Systematics," ibid., 235-52. Mark Karlberg presents provocative arguments and statements on relevant issues of covenant theology against revisionist and radical revisionist background in his


intrusion ethics.'2 But his criticism fails to penetrate and understand the exact nature of Kline's thought on this relatively complicated issue. Despite Bahnsen's criticism, Elmer Smick indicates that Kline's intrusion ethics is one of the most innovative aspects of his biblical theology. "Kline has written one of his most creative essays on the ethics of consummation in contrast to the ethics of common grace. He wisely warns about the danger of our assuming the prerogative of God to abrogate the principle of common grace."3 Recognizing disparate opinions, it is the present writer's hope to explain and evaluate Kline's biblical theological rationale for his notion of 'intrusion ethics' as revealed in Old Testament history.4

I will argue that Kline's 'intrusion ethics' is the proper way of understanding Old Testament ethics, which is based on redemptive historical hermeneutics. Examining Kline's intrusion ethics, we will let Kline speak in his own words, adding some clarifications alongside the critical evaluative interaction.

A. The Eschatological Kingdom and the Idea of Intrusion

Kline's baseline presupposition in interpreting the complicated nature of Old Testament religion and ethics lies in the idea that God's ultimate design for redemptive history is the consummation and bestowal of the eschatological


recent book, Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000).

2 Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics: Expanded Edition with Replies to Critics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1984), 571-84. A constructive criticism of theonomy from a Reformed perspective can be found in William S. Barker & W. Robert Godfrey eds., Theonomy; a Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1990); Meredith G. Kline, "Comments on an Old-New Error" (review of Greg L. Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics) Westminster Theological Journal (1978/1979):173-89.

3 Elmer B. Smick, "The Psalms as response to God's Covenant Love: Theological Observations," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, 83.

4 Old Testament history covers the postlapsarian history of the Old Testament thus eliminating the prelapsarian state.


kingdom. The means of attaining the eschatological glorious kingdom in the prelapsarian state was 'the covenant of works' (foedus operum), while in the postlapsarian state it is 'the covenant of grace' (foedus gratiae). In a sense, eschatological vision moves back to creation, and the first Adam stood under "a covenant of works," which was the door to reach eschatological blessing. Due to the entrance of sin, the attaining of the original eschatological vision through Adam's perfect obedience to the law was canceled. The fall, however, did not delay "the consummation" because "the prospective consummation was either/or" according to the conditions prescribed in the covenant of creation. "It was either eternal glory by covenantal confirmation of original righteousness or eternal perdition by covenant-breaking repudiation of it." A realization of the curse of the covenant might have followed the fall. A gracious God, however, introduced the antithetical way to the eschatological blessing, which is the redemptive covenant in which we find the biblical rationale for the delay of judgment. "The delay was due rather to the principle and purpose of divine compassion by which a new way of arriving at the consummation was introduced, the way of redemptive covenant with common grace as its historical corollary."5

It is important to recognize in Kline's biblico-covenant hermeneutics that the role of common grace is extremely crucial to the right understanding of the complicated nature of redemptive history after the fall. In other words, a distinction between the covenants of works and grace, and common grace and special grace, are closely connected to the unfolding mystery of the eschatological kingdom which is the ultimate goal of history. In this sense, we may identify Kline's biblical hermeneutics as covenantal eschatological kingdom hermeneutics.

One of the most distinctive contributions of Reformed theology and hermeneutics for the community of Christ's church is the bold recognition that there is a distinction between common grace and saving grace. In his presuppositional apologetics, Cornelius Van Til applied this crucial distinction as one of the essential ingredients of the Christian world view. However Van Til was not clear whether common grace was covenantally arranged after the fall. As a


5 Kline, Biblical Authority, 154-55.


student of Van Til, Kline even correcting and advancing his view on the issue, utilized the distinction between the covenants of common grace and saving grace as one of the key biblical hermeneutical tools. Kline addresses and captures the importance of common grace in his analysis of redemptive history, especially with respect to the proper understanding of the covenant and the eschatological kingdom. Kline notices that after the fall a gracious God introduced the common grace covenant (Gen. 3:16-19) along with the redemptive covenant (Gen. 3:15). The consummated blessings of the eternal kingdom and the curse of an eternal hell are delayed by the principle of common grace introduced after the fall. In this sense, "the delay and common grace are coterminous." Certainly, there is "the positive contribution of common grace" to the redemptive eschatological program. Common grace as God's mercy and grace provides "the field of operation for redemptive grace, and its material too." The delay in relation to common grace provides a solid historical ground for "a consummation involving an extensive revelation of the divine perfections, a glorified paradise as well as a lake of fire." Therefore, the delay is not only "the delay of mere postponement but the delay of gestation." Kline sees the common grace order within redemptive history, and it will be terminated when the ultimate judgment comes. In that respect common grace is "the antithesis of the consummation, and as such it epitomizes this world-age as one during which the consummation is abeyant."6

According to Kline, from the perspective of eschatology, common grace is the means of its delay while from the vantage point of history common grace provides an important background for the continuation of human history as well as the application of salvation to the elect. Thus, the ultimate goal of redemptive history is the execution of divine judgment represented by the dual sanctions of the eschatological blessing and curse. Its delay, due to the divine introduction of common grace as the historical playground of the application of redemption, is the biblical theological background of Kline's 'intrusion ethics.'


6 Ibid., 155. Cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 217-19; Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations For a Covenantal Worldview (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2000), 153-211, 244-62; Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1972); The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1967), 151-78.


From this concrete biblical-theological concept of the eschatological kingdom, Kline begins to elucidate the general picture of an eschatological intrusion phenomena in redemptive history, tracing it to the Old Testament. "The Covenant of Redemption all along the line of its administration, more profoundly in the New Testament but already in the Old Testament is a coming of the Spirit, an intrusion of the power, principles, and reality of the consummation into the period of delay."7 Kline shows that the intrusion phenomena of eschatological blessing and curse under the Old Testament is vividly manifested in types and shadows. In short, it is the manifestation of eschatological realism, typologically pictured in the history of the Old Testament, especially under the Old Covenant. This intrusion of the eternal kingdom blessing and cursing was an intrusion into the realm of common grace, which is the divine means of delay of the coming of eschatological judgment through blessing and curse.

Breaking through first of all in the Old Testament period, the Intrusion finds itself in an age which is by the divine disposition of history, or, more specifically, by the divine administration of the Covenant of Redemption, an age of preparation for a later age of fulfillment and finality. Its appearing, therefore, is amid earthly forms which at once suggest, yet veil, the ultimate glory. Not to be obscured is the fact that within this temporary shell of the Intrusion there is a permanent core. The pattern of things earthly embodies realized eschatology, an actual projection of the heavenly reality. It is the consummation which, intruding into the time of delay, anticipates itself [emphasis mine].8

The eschatological kingdom which is the ultimate goal of redemptive history is pervasive in the Old Testament. Indeed, Kline's eschatological understanding of the Old Testament is nothing but a flowering and maturing of the covenant hermeneutics developed and adopted in the Reformed covenant tradition under the rubric of the distinction between the covenant of works and covenant


7 Kline, Biblical Authority, 156.

8 Ibid.


of grace (spanning creation, fall, redemption, and consummation as already indicated).9

Alluding to Hebrews 9:23-24, Kline argues that the role of typology is essential to the proper understanding of the eschatology of the Old Testament. There are two stages in the fulfillment of the types of the Old Testament. One stage was fulfilled at the first coming of Christ, and another will be fulfilled and fully realized in the Parousia. Kline notices that the New Covenant church is still under pilgrimage, which depicts the semi-eschatological stage. So, "the apocalypse of Jesus Christ and his kingdom is still in the category of Intrusion rather than perfect consummation." This is rather clear when we see that "the present age is still characterized by common grace," which may be identified as "the epitome of the delay." We are living in the semi-eschatological stage because we are still waiting for the coming of the exalted Son of Man. Old Testament types such as "the sacrifice of the Passover lamb" were fulfilled by the first coming of Christ. The visible possession of the promised land by the covenant people as the antitype of Old Testament type, however, will be realized only in the age to come. Kline observes that the theocratic kingdom of Israel is, in a limited sense, closer to the reality of eschatological kingdom than the church under the New Covenant. "While, therefore, the Old Testament is an earlier edition of the final reality than is the present age of the new covenant, and not so intensive, it is on its own level a more extensive edition, especially when considered in its own most fully developed form, viz., the Israelite theocracy."10


9 I have argued against the background of Kline's critiques that Kline is a true successor and consummator of Geerhardus Vos's biblico-covenant theology although I would require a minor revision of his thought. In fact, Vos's biblical theology is carefully enshrined and guided by hermeneutical principles such as the distinction between law and gospel along with the antithesis between the covenants of works and grace which Kline has defended and promoted through his entire career and writings. As such, we cannot promote Vosian biblical theology without these concrete hermeneutical reference points. In other words, if we want to promote the Vosian eschatological kingdom vision in redemptive history, the above mentioned hermeneutical principles must be presupposed. Cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 79-102, 279-334.

10 Kline, Biblical Authority, 157.


The Garden of Eden, according to Kline, was an earthly projection of the heavenly kingdom and the eschatological kingdom was offered as the reward of a successful probation by the first Adam. On the other hand, Kline notices that God revealed the concrete reality of eternal heaven and hell in the postlapsarian state, and that this is shown through types and shadows. The typological kingdom in the form of Noah's ark was a most vivid and visual manifestation of the eschatological kingdom in pre-Consummation history, along with the typological kingdom of Israel, shaped and maintained in the promised land. In this respect, that the theocratic kingdom of Israel intruded into a common grace world is a vital element in comprehending intrusion ethics. Kline elaborates that the theocratic kingdom of Israel was the intrusion of the eschatological heavenly kingdom in a typological manner.

Eschatological intrusion was a feature of premessianic times as well as of the present new covenant days, even though the advent of Christ inaugurated a distinctive epoch in the whole development. There was indeed under the old covenant a comprehensive (partly realistic, partly symbolic) projection of the heavenly-eschatological domain into earth history in kingdom form in the theocratic kingdom of Israel. Heaven came to earth in supernatural realism in the phenomenon of the Glory-Spirit revealed in the sanctuary in Israel's midst. The eternal cosmic realm received symbolic expression in the land of Canaan. As is shown by the sharp distinction between this holy, theocratic, Sabbath-sanctified kingdom of Israel and the kingdoms of the common grace world around it, the special Israelite manifestation of the kingdom of heaven was indeed an intrusive phenomenon in the common grace order. Appropriately, in connection with the symbolic kingdom-intrusion under the old covenant there were also in-breakings of the power of eschatological restoration in the physical realm and anticipatory applications of the principle of final redemptive judgment in the conduct of the political life of Israel, notably in the deliverance from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and the restoration from


exile, though also throughout the governmental-judicial provisions of the Mosaic laws.11

Bahnsen's most serious critique of Kline's intrusion ethics necessitates interacting with him and others especially on the issues of theocracy, and covenantal continuity and discontinuity, which are crucial for interpreting Old Testament eschatology and intrusion ethics. William Barker and W. Robert Godfrey summarize succinctly the heart of the problem of theonomist hermeneutics in the following manner. "Particularly, we believe it [theonomy] overemphasizes the continuities and neglects many of the discontinuities between the Old Testament and our time."12 In short, it fails to provide a hermeneutical balance between the continuity and discontinuity in relation to the Old and New Covenants, exclusively emphasizing the continuity. The brilliance of classic covenant hermeneutics, however, as developed in the Reformed tradition, has endeavored to maintain a comprehensive balance between the continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Covenants. As a result, covenant theologians have found the reality of the eschatological kingdom as one of the most concrete reference points both for the Old and New Testaments throughout redemptive history.13

Both Kline and Bahnsen claim the influence of Geerhardus Vos and Cornelius Van Til.14 Bahnsen appeals to Vos and others to emphasize the


11 Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 158.

12 Barker & Godfrey eds., Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, 11.

13 Jeon, Covenant Theology, 1-102.

14 Kline dedicated The Structure of Biblical Authority to Van Til in the preface to the 1971 version: "Cornelius Van Til stands as the prince of twentieth-century Christian apologetics. He has had by far the most profound impact on my own thinking of all my teachers. His theological insight and prophetic witness have been a conscience, if not canon, and his warmly human and gracious godliness has been an inspiration for the life which is in Christ Jesus" (Kline, Biblical Authority, 15). In addition, Kline indicates that his biblical theology is an expansion and development of Vos's biblical theology in his magnum opus, Kingdom Prologue, 7: "More, specifically, biblical theology in the classic tradition of Geerhardus Vos has as its distinctive feature a concern with the historical progress of special revelation as disclosed in the Bible . . . . For Vos, then, delineating the progress of special revelation is broadly the same as expounding the contents of the several divine covenants . . . . What is in Vos's Biblical Theology the infrastructure, the particular historical pattern in which the periodicity principle gets applied, becomes here the surface structure." Meanwhile, Bahnsen recognizes the influence of Vos and Van Til in his thought:


covenantal continuity without considering the covenantal discontinuity. Certainly, Vos emphasized covenantal continuity in respect to the unique way of salvation as the covenant of grace in the postlapsarian state, including the Old Covenant. Vos, however, put the emphasis on the covenantal discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. The covenantal discontinuity was crucial to Vos's covenant hermeneutics in expounding the Old Covenant eschatology. Vos argued that the theocratic kingdom of Israel was governed and maintained by the principle of the law, administering blessing and curse, which points to the eternal heavenly blessing and hellish curse. The obedience of Israel was not meritorious because it was applied to the continuation of symbolico-typical national blessings and curses. Meanwhile, Kline locates the corporate obedience of Israel to the covenant of law under the Old Covenant, applied to the typological theocratic kingdom blessing and curse as meritorious. This is the difference between Vos and Kline. I think Vos's approach is more suitable to the understanding of biblical revelation because the obedience of Israel at its best was never perfect. Thus I limit meritorious obedience to sinless obedience of the two Adams though it was not performed by the first Adam due to the entrance of sin. The balanced understanding of the covenantal continuity and discontinuity in Vos's biblical theology was picked up by Van Til. Van Til applied this principle to Christian theistic ethics as T. David


"Past authors such as Calvin and Fairbairn, as well as current writers like Kevan, H. Ridderbos, Cornelius Van Til, and especially John Murray, have been of great instructional value to me along the way to authoring this study" (Bahnsen, Theonomy, xxxiii). Bahnsen identifies with Vos when he emphasizes exclusively covenantal continuity between the Old and New Covenants (Ibid., 56-7, 86, 121-22, 218-20). But, I have endeavored to prove that there is a balance of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants in Vos's biblical theology (cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 85-91). When Bahnsen provides biblical theological analysis and discussion, in general he is not reliable because he is not clear on the issues of the law and gospel, and covenantal continuity and discontinuity. Paradoxically, as a presuppositional apologist, he shows a comprehensive understanding of philosophical and apologetical issues as he lays it out in his magnum opus, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998). This inconsistency may create a continuing confusion to Bahnsen's followers. In this sense, it is fair to say that Bahnsen as a theonomist does not follow the classic covenant tradition of Vos, who maintained a comprehensive balance of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, but a revisionist covenant tradition, represented by Murray, exclusively emphasizing a covenantal continuity. To be sure, Murray was not a theonomist as Bahnsen correctly recognizes. So, pushing himself in a theonomic direction, Bahnsen provides a critique of Murray's position that "the penal sanctions of the Older Testament law have been abrogated in this age" (Bahnsen, Theonomy, 458).


Gordon correctly argues.15

Vos identifies the organization of Israel under the Old Covenant as a theocracy. He emphasizes that the purpose of the theocratic kingdom of Israel was not to teach ideal government in the world but to teach an absolute ideal of heavenly religion and kingdom: "The chief end for which Israel had been created was not to teach the world lessons in political economy, but in the midst of a world of paganism to teach true religion, even at the sacrifice of much secular propaganda and advantage."16

The divine intention for the theocratic kingdom of Israel was to typify the eschatological kingdom of Heaven which will be consummated in Christ. In this respect, Vos develops Old Covenant eschatology in relation to the typological kingdom of Israel:

Nor was it merely a question of teaching religion for the present world. A missionary institution the theocracy never was intended to be in its Old Testament state. The significance of the unique organization of Israel can be rightly measured only by remembering that the theocracy typified nothing short of the perfected kingdom of God, the consummate state of Heaven [emphasis mine]. In this ideal state there will be no longer any place for the distinction between church and state. The former will have absorbed the latter . . . . The fusion between the two spheres of secular and religious life is strikingly expressed by the divine promise that Israel will be made 'a kingdom of priests and an holy nation' [Ex. 19:6]. As priests they are in, nay, constitute the kingdom.17


15 T. David Gordon, "Van Til and Theonomic Ethics," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, eds. Howard Griffith & John R. Muether (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 2000), 274: "Vos's discussion of the distinctive or particular contribution of each redemptive/revelatory era introduces an element of general discontinuity or development between the eras. For Van Til, it is this aspect of development which is critical for interpreting the Old Testament ethic correctly."

16 Vos, Biblical Theology, 125.

17 Ibid., 125-26.


Van Til, following the footsteps of Vos's biblical theology, recognizes the typological and temporal nature of the theocratic kingdom of Israel. The presence of the theocratic kingdom of Israel, argues Van Til, justifies the eschatological interpretation of the Old Covenant. The theocratic kingdom of Israel is not a model for earthly nations, but a type of the eschatological heavenly kingdom.

Furthermore, if the severities of the Old Testament but establish the absoluteness of its ethical ideal, its concessions do not compromise it. In order to understand the nature of these concessions we must call to mind the distinction we have drawn between the ultimate and the more immediate goal that God has set before his people. The theocracy itself is only a stepping stone to a higher theocracy [emphasis mine]. Even if it had been fully realized, according to the ordinances of God given for it, it would have had, in the whole history of redemption, only a temporary significance. By that we do not mean an unimportant significance. We mean the significance that childhood has for maturity.18

Van Til's recognition of the typological character of the theocratic kingdom of Israel led him to read Old Testament theistic ethics with redemptive historical sensitivity and development.

What we do actually find then in the Old Testament corresponds to what we expect to find. We actually find that there is a gradual development in the clarity with which the final or ultimate ethical ideal is seen. There is a gradual development in the realization that the ethical ideal is absolutely comprehensive and that its final accomplishment lies in the far distant future . . . . God treats his children in an infinitely wise way. He sets before them at the early stages of the revelation of himself immediate objectives, without intimating clearly that they are but stepping stones to a higher and even to an


18 Cornelius Van Til, In Defense of the Faith: Christian Theistic Ethics, vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980), 98.


ultimate ideal [emphasis mine]. This is a pedagogical measure only. If it were not a pedagogical measure only there would be a flat contradiction in Old Testament ethics.19

However, this redemptive historical understanding of the theocratic kingdom of Israel is generally lacking in theonomy, and in particular in Greg Bahnsen's thought. Bahnsen fails to read eschatology under the Old Covenant because he sees only continuity between the Old and New Covenants. This similar problem has been seen in Murray's biblico-systematic theology. John Murray tried to apply Vosian biblical theology to his systematic theology. However, he tried to revise the classic covenant theology in respect to the original covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant. His rejection of the covenant of works (replacing it as an "Adamic administration") and the exclusive emphasis on the covenantal continuity between the Old and New Covenants have provided great confusion to his followers.20


19 Ibid., 93-4.

20 I have evaluated John Murray as a revisionist covenant theologian over against classic covenant theology, which firmly maintains the original covenant of works, and a balance of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. Murray, however, as an orthodox Reformed theologian, maintains the temporal and logical order of law and gospel, and law and grace not vice versa, which are the crucial hermeneutical tools for the proper understanding of the historia salutis and ordo salutis. Furthermore, the distinction between law and gospel or grace has been a vitally important hermeneutical key for the doctrines of justification by faith alone, the substitutionary view of atonement, sovereign grace in divine election, and the covenant of grace (cf. Jeon, Covenant Theology, 103-90). Unlike Murray, it is evident that Bahnsen moves in a radical revisionist direction in his view of law and gospel. Bahnsen's covenantal unity obscures the historical or temporal order of law and gospel as the means of eschatological blessing from creation to fall to redemption. What is important to him is 'persevering obedience' in all the divine covenants including the prelapsarian covenant: "Continued blessing for Adam in paradise, Israel in the promised land, and the Christian in the kingdom has been seen to be dependent upon persevering obedience to God's will as expressed in His law. There is complete covenantal unity with reference to the law of God as the standard of moral obligation throughout the diverse ages of human history" (Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 203). Exegeting 1 Timothy 1:5-10, Bahnsen erroneously stresses that the law and the gospel are completely harmonious: "Paul urges Timothy to demonstrate that there is a complete agreement between the law and the gospel which he has taught" (Ibid., 196). "In Biblical perspective, grace and promise are not antithetical to law and demand. The law and the gospel both aim at the same thing" (Ibid., 183). Meanwhile, interpreting Galatians 3:10-21, Bahnsen appears to maintain that grace and law are antithetical in relation to the way of salvation: "Although the law is not against the promise of God (3:21)since they both aim at the same thing the fulfillment of the promise cannot be made dependent upon obedience to the law, for in redemptive history the law came after the promise (3:15-


In this way, Bahnsen's theonomic vision is not compatible with Vos and Van Til as Gordon correctly realizes.21 Bahnsen's understanding of theocracy does not grasp eschatology under the Old Covenant because he does not see the uniqueness of theocracy, which is radically different from nations under the common grace realm. In essence then, he misses an important concept of redemptive historical understanding in respect to the typological kingdom of Israel.

In this prosperity that the gospel has been assured by God's sovereign word there is the indication that the Older Testament 'theocracy' is now a 'Christocracy' intended to become world-wide in its scope . . . . In its simplest form, a 'theo-cracy' would be the rule of God in a particular country that is, the moral rule of God (for in the sense of God's sovereign, providential government of whatsoever comes to pass in history everything would be 'theocratic,' and it would serve no useful distinction to use the word). Hence a 'Christocracy' would be the moral (i.e., Messianic, in distinction from sovereign or providential) rule of Jesus Christ. In this sense the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) intends for the nations to become a Christocracy.22


22). Grace (the promise) and law (the demand) cannot be mixed together as ways of salvation; the man who is saved by grace cannot have anything added to his salvation by law. The promise grants what the law could only aim at: righteousness and salvation" (Ibid., 132-33).

21 Gordon, "Van Til and Theonomic Ethics," 275: "It is this emphasis on the typological character of theocratic Israel, on her temporary character, that we perceive a difference in the way Vos influenced Van Til and the way he influenced Bahnsen. That the purpose of Israel was 'not to teach the world lessons about political economy' seems to us incongruent with the perception of theocratic Israel espoused in the Theonomic view. For Theonomy, the civil precepts of the Old Testament 'are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals,' a 'model to be emulated by non-covenantal nations as well.' For Vos and Van Til, the theocracy and the theocratic legislation are viewed in terms of being 'stepping stones to a higher and even to an ultimate ideal.' The theocracy is a 'model' of the perfect Kingdom in glory; for Theonomy, the theocracy is a 'model' for all other earthly governments. This difference influences the respective ethical programs of Van Til and Theonomy."

22 Bahnsen, Theonomy, 427-28.


Likewise, Bahnsen fails to understand the unique character of the typological kingdom of Israel in redemptive history which points to the eternal ideal kingdom. This hinders him from reading eschatology under the Old Covenant, which is crucial for a proper understanding of Old Testament ethics. In Bahnsen, the Old Testament theocracy becomes "a Christocracy with international boundaries" in the New Testament. Thus the theocracy of Israel does not prevent "the application of God's law to the civil magistrate today."23 Bahnsen's theonomic and postmillennial visions are the hermeneutical barriers, not adopting adequate typology, which is so crucial to redemptive historical hermeneutics represented in classic covenant theology and amillennialism. Although Bahnsen does not specify it, he is critical of the covenantal and amillennial hermeneutics, categorizing it as "the typologist."24 It is, however, the present writer's estimation that the most profound understanding of covenantal redemptive history has been demonstrated in the classic covenant theology and amillennialism, avoiding legalism through the proper adaptation of typology. Likewise, the sound recognition of the typological nature of the theocratic kingdom of Israel is a hermeneutical key to a better understanding of Old Testament ethics. In this regard, I agree with Gordon's analysis that Kline matures and advances Vos's biblical theology and Van Til's theistic ethics.25

Advancing Vosian biblical theology, Kline defines theocracy as a visible and external holy kingdom realm which is composed of King, land and holy people. As such, theocracy applies to "an external realm," and it does not describe "a spiritual reign of God in the hearts of his people by itself, but includes the geopolitical dimension."26 In this sense, it is a special and unique


23 Ibid., 432.

24 Ibid., 455-58.

25 Gordon, "Van Til and Theonomic Ethics," 278: "Van Til's ethic is in fact best preserved in the writings of one of Theonomy's most notorious critics, to whom this volume is dedicated. Meredith G. Kline had advanced the position of Vos and Van Til not only in the realm of ethics but in the realm of biblical theology more generally considered. In the writings of Meredith G. Kline, one finds not only agreement with Vos and Van Til regarding the Theocracy, but one finds this agreement to be programmatically significant. For those interested in knowing what Vos and Van Til would have written in the areas of biblical theology and ethics had they each lived another generation, we can think of no better recommendation than a reading of Kline."

26 Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 49.


kingdom which separates it from common grace nations.

It is important to note that Kline maintains the uniqueness of the theocratic kingdom because that aspect is vital in understanding the typological character of the theocratic kingdom of Israel—a kingdom which foreshadows the eternal, heavenly and cosmic kingdom of God. It is interesting to observe that while Vos identifies the theocratic kingdom of Israel as a fusion between church and state, Kline, avoiding Vosian language, says that it is a unique cultic kingdom.

As seen in the original form of the kingdom of God in Eden, a theocracy is a cultic kingdom through and through. God is King of the entire realm; all of it has the character of a holy house of God. A theocratic kingdom is a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. Membership in the kingdom involves participation in the sanctuary of God, for the kingdom is God's sanctuary. To break covenant by unfaithfulness to the God of the sanctuary is to be cut off from the kingdom, for God is the King of the kingdom. It is this sanctuary identity of the theocratic kingdom that sets it apart in holy uniqueness from all the other kingdoms found in the postlapsarian world . . . . Theocracy is not a combination of church and state institutions. It is a simple unique institution [emphasis mine], a structure sui generis. It is the kingdom realm whose great king is the Lord, where all activity is performed in the name of the God-King enthroned, confessed, and worshipped in the cultic epicenter, whence theocratic holiness radiates outward, permeating all, so that the whole realm, land and people, is a sanctuary of the Creator-Lord.27

Having defined and understood Israel under the Old Covenant as a theocracy, Kline rightly identifies the theocratic kingdom of Israel as an intrusion which is a type of the eternal heavenly kingdom realm which will be consummated in Christ. Kline's intrusion ethics stands or falls together with the typological character of the theocratic kingdom of Israel. Indeed, Old Covenant


27 Ibid., 50-1.


eschatology is summed up in this typological kingdom through dual sanctions such as blessing and curse which were the pointers to the eternal heaven and hell. This eschatological motif under the Old Covenant was governed by the principle of the law which can be described as 'the covenant of law' (the foedus legale) in Kline's biblical theology. He notices that the reality of the eschatological kingdom blessing and curse intruded into Old Testament history through typological modes. This concrete historical reality is the presupposition and biblical-theological background for the discussion and development of intrusion ethics. "Perez makes the breach in the Old Testament; that is, the consummation intrudes itself there. This Intrusion has realized eschatology as its core, while its symbolic surface (the sacramental aspect thereof excepted) forms a typical picture of eschatology not yet realized."28 Thus, Kline establishes the biblical notion of the intrusion of the eschatological blessing and curse into the common grace realm throughout Old Testament history after the fall. Having defined and explained the intrusive phenomena into the realm of common grace, Kline guides us in a discussion of the relationship between eschatology and ethics.

B. The Intrusion and Its Implication for Ethics

Kline finds apparent problems when he surveys Old Testament history in respect to God's law and its application by divine sanction to many situations. It appears that a divinely sanctioned action is not "consonant with the customary application of the law of God according to the principle of common grace"29 on many occasions. This apparent discrepancy can be resolved, Kline suggests, by the application of the concept of the eschatological intrusion.


28 Kline, Biblical Authority, 158. Likewise, a proper application of typology in relation to the exposition of the development of the eschatological kingdom motif through redemptive history is crucial as well. The brilliance of covenant hermeneutics developed in the Reformed tradition lies in the fact that covenant theologians carefully applied typology in their understanding of the eschatological kingdom idea especially under the Old Covenant. For the significance of typology in biblical and systematic theology, see Jeon, Covenant Theology, 6-8.

29 Kline, Biblical Authority, 158.


Having evaluated Charles Hodge's classification of the biblical laws30, Kline further states that biblical laws, including the Ten Commandments, have "multiple aspects of one law which may then have both a mutable and immutable aspect." As an illustration, Kline notices that "laws five through ten in the Decalogue" have both mutable and immutable aspects. Kline explains this double aspect as follows: "For they simply apply to specific cases the grand principle that man must reflect the moral glory of God on a finite scale. This principle is immutable because it concerns the relationship of man to God. On the other hand, the relations governed by this immutable principle are themselves mutable."31 Likewise, Kline suggests that the application of the law as a whole has both immutable and mutable aspects which are the reflection of redemptive historical sensitivity in its applications.

For an example, Kline proceeds to discuss the definition of our neighbors for the application of the fifth to the tenth commandments. According to Kline, the concept of neighbor must be viewed and understood from the vantage point of redemptive history, especially in reference to the eschatological kingdom. Under the New Covenant, according to the principle of commandments five through ten, we must "love our neighbor as ourselves." "The unbeliever is the believer's neighbor today; but the reprobate is not the neighbor of the redeemed hereafter" because God will set a great chasm between them. God, who hates evil according to his immutable nature, "withdrawing all favor from the reprobate," will himself hate unbelievers when the Parousia comes. Glorified believers, following the pattern of God's attitude to unbelievers, will change


30 Charles Hodge categorizes biblical laws into four areas. (1) The laws based "on the nature of God" belong to "the command to love God supremely." These laws bind "all rational creatures, angels as well as men." The principle of these laws is "absolutely immutable and indispensable." (2) The laws based on "the permanent relations of men in their present state of existence." These laws concern "property, marriage, and the duties of parents and children, or superiors and inferiors." (3) The laws founded upon "certain temporary relations of men, or conditions of society, and are enforced by the authority of God." Many of "the judicial or civil laws of the ancient theocracy" belong to this category. (4) These are the positive laws which come from "the explicit command of God" such as "external rites and ceremonies, as circumcision, sacrifices, and the distinction between clean and unclean meats, and between months, days, and years." Hodge argues that the laws of categories 2,3, and 4 are mutable while the laws of category 1 are immutable. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 3:265-70.

31 Kline, Biblical Authority, 159.


"their attitude toward the unbeliever from one of neighborly love to one of perfect hatred, which is a holy, not malicious passion." Because "the grand principle" of "laws five through ten is immutable," the implication of these laws has to be changed according to "the changes in the intracreational relationships for which they legislate."32

Thus, Kline suggests that the definition of neighbor must be determined by redemptive historical sensitivity. The grand principle of the laws is immutable in the sense that it is the imitation of God principle while the application of the laws is mutable in terms of the intracreational relationship. The glory of God is "a terminus ad quem" (an ultimate goal) of the laws.

Having clarified both mutable and immutable aspects of the law, Kline argues that the presence of the eschatological Kingdom in the Old Testament must be understood as the intrusive phenomena into a common grace world. And it anticipates the eschatological judgment characterized as eternal blessing and curse.

Now it appears that there was introduced in the Old Testament age a pattern of conduct akin to that found in prophetic portrayals of the kingdom of God beyond the present age of common grace. Our thesis is that this Old Testament ethical pattern is an aspect of the Intrusion. Included in it are both anticipations of God's judgment curse on the reprobate and of his saving grace in blessing his elect.33


32 Ibid., 159-60.

33 Kline, Biblical Authority, 160. Recognizing a possible misunderstanding of intrusion ethics, Kline emphasizes several points to consider carefully. (1) The demands of intrusion ethics in the Old Testament cannot be "a lower or laxer order." (2) The concept of intrusion ethics is not "prejudicial to the permanent validity" of Mosaic moral law. The distinction is not "one of different standards but of the application of a constant standard under significantly different conditions. It is evident that such a distinction must be made between the period of common grace in general and the age of consummation." So, there was "an anticipatory abrogation of the principle of common grace during the Old Testament age." (3) The presence of intrusion ethics in the Old Testament does not interrupt "the unity of the Covenant of Redemption" revealed and begun in Genesis 3:15 which has been known as the protevangelium (Ibid.).


Having explained the relationship between the idea of intrusion and its ethical application in redemptive history, Kline guides us into some specific examples. These examples are divided into the two categories of eschatological blessing and curse under the principle of the dual sanctions. Let us examine Kline's redemptive historical analysis of the examples of intrusion ethics in Old Testament history.

C. Intrusion of Eschatological Curse

The covenant community of the Israelites entered into the land promised to Abraham by the oath of God (Gen. 15). In the process of the conquest of Canaan, however, there was an ethical problem which puzzles average readers of the episode. Kline asks a question: How can we justify "the Israelite dispossession and extermination of the Canaanites over against the sixth and eighth words of the Decalogue?" To resolve this ethical problem, Kline suggests that we have to distinguish between normal or common grace war and holy war. Kline describes common grace war as follows.

The function of the ordinary state when, acting through its officers against criminals or through its military forces against offending nations, it destroys life and exacts reparations. The proper performance of this function is not a violation but a fulfillment of the provisions of common grace. For in God's dealing with mankind in common grace he has authorized the state as 'an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil.'34

However, the common grace war justified by God in international relationships, Kline argues, cannot explain the total destruction involved in the war between the Israelites and Canaanites during the conquest. The conquest of Canaan by the Israelites "before an assembly of nations acting according to the provisions of common grace" would not be justified as "an unprovoked aggression." Furthermore, the conquest violated the basic requirement to show mercy "even in the proper execution of justice."35


34 Ibid., 162-63.

35 Ibid., 163.


Thus, Kline argues that the conquest of Canaan was not a common grace war but a holy war which is an anticipation of eschatological judgment. God's command to the Israelites was clear not to make covenant with Canaanites, and show mercy to them during the conquest (cf. Ex. 23:22-33; 34:10-16; Deut. 7:1-10; 20:10-18). The holy war was the war of "total destruction" (cherem). Achan, who preserved some of "devoted things" against God's command, provoked God, and the Israelites could not defeat Ai until Achan and all the devoted things were destroyed (Josh. 7-8). When the covenant community showed mercy, making covenant with Canaanites in the midst of conquest, God rebuked them, pouring out covenant curses upon them (Jdg. 2).

It is clear that the conquest of Canaan was a type of eternal judgment which is a vivid manifestation of the eschatological curse. In short, there was an eschatological realism presented in the history of Israel. From the redemptive historical point of view, we must recognize, argues Kline, that the requirements of ordinary ethics were abrogated temporarily and "the ethical principles of the last judgment" were introduced such that God's promises and commands to the covenant community of Israel in respect to Canaan and the Canaanites became their own. Kline goes on to say: "Only so can the conquest be justified and seen as it was in truth not murder, but the hosts of the Almighty visiting upon the rebels against his righteous throne their just deserts—not robbery, but the meek inheriting the earth."36

Kline further shows that the dispossession of the Canaanites by the Israelites during the conquest (also involving the temporary abrogation of the eighth commandment) was also related to the tenth commandment. According to Kline, the violation of the eighth and tenth commandments through the conquest was not sin because the neighbor concept under common grace was abrogated by God's command, intruding the neighbor concept of eschatological judgment.


36 Kline, Biblical Authority, 163. For a fine discussion of the divine warrior motif in holy war throughout redemptive history from an evangelical perspective, see Tremper Longman, III and Daniel G. Reid, God Is a Warrior (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995).


Must we not, then, also regard the Hebrew man of faith engaged in the conquest as coveting the land of the Canaanites, at least to the degree that he was obeying God's battle charge from his heart and with understanding? Though that would ordinarily be to sin against one who was his neighbor, this was one of the instances where the neighbor concept operative under common grace was abrogated by divine ordering in favor of the neighbor concept of the final judgment and beyond, according to which God's enemies are not the elect's neighbors.37

The apparent violation of the tenth commandment by the covenant community through God's command, Kline argues, was an intrusion principle which had the divine purpose of establishing and maintaining the theocratic kingdom as a type of the eternal kingdom: "When the Old Testament believer, at the Lord's command, took his typical stand beyond common grace, to covet the property of the unbeliever was to be in harmony with God's purpose to perfect his kingdom."38

Kline traces the Psalms and finds imprecations in Psalms 7; 35; 55; 59; 69; 79; 109 and 137. The imprecations by covenant people such as David and Asaph are troublesome for many who face cruel elements of prayer and song against their enemies in the name of God. In the beatitudes, Jesus explains the attitude of the covenant community to their neighbor and enemy under the Old Covenant saying "love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Matt. 5:43; cf. Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 23:6). However, he proclaims a radical new approach to his followers under the New Covenant, commanding "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44; cf. Lk. 6:27-38). This apparent contradiction creates difficulty for Bible readers and interpreters. Kline argues that the best solution to this problem is to understand the imprecations from the perspective of redemptive history and eschatology.

Normally the believer's attitudes toward the unbeliever are conditioned by the principle of common grace. During the


37 Kline, Biblical Authority, 166.

38 Ibid., 166.


historical process of differentiation which common grace makes possible, before the secret election of God is unmistakably manifested at the great white throne, the servants of Christ are bound by his charge to pray for the good of those who despitefully use and persecute them. Our Lord rebuked the Boanerges when they contemplated consuming the Samaritans with fire from heaven (Luke 9:54; cf. Mark 3:17). We may not seek to destroy those for whom, perchance, Christ has died.

But in the final judgment the Lord will not rebuke James and John if they make similar requests. Then it will be altogether becoming for the saint to desire God's wrath to descend upon his unbelieving enemy. No longer will there be the possibility that the enemy of the saint is the elect of God. Then the grain harvest will be ripe for the gathering of the Son of Man and the clusters of the vine will be fully ripe for the great winepress of the wrath of God.39

As such, Kline understands the imprecations in the Psalms as the intrusive phenomena of the ethics of eschatological consummation, which is sharply different from regular ethics under the principle of common grace. So, he suggests that we have to distinguish the consummation ethics from common


39 Kline, Biblical Authority, 161-62. According to Kline, the covenant is "the Psalter's sphere of existence" since the temple was the central place for the religious and sacramental life of Israel and the psalms have a cultic orientation in general. "The psalms of praise" were "a continual resounding of Israel's 'Amen' of covenant ratification" as a means of "private and public devotion." Psalms such as 78, 105-106, 135-136 rehearsing "the course of covenant history" were "confessional responses of acknowledgment to the surveys of Yahweh's mighty acts" on behalf of Israel. So, when the covenant community of Israel used psalms extolling God's law, Israel made a new commitment "to the stipulations of the covenant." Furthermore, "plaint and penitential psalms" are closely tied to "interaction with the prophetic indictment of Israel in the process of the covenant lawsuit." It is quite natural then that the Psalter begins with an image of "the treaty blessings and curses and the declaration that judgment hinges on man's attitude towards the law of the covenant" (Ibid., 62-64). Likewise Kline suggests that we have to interpret the psalms from the perspective of the Old Covenant and its relation to the eschatological kingdom in redemptive history. Elmer Smick briefly summarizes and analyzes Psalms from the perspective of Kline's approach; see Elmer B. Smick, "The Psalms as Response to God's Covenant Love: Theological Observations," in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, 77-86.


grace ethics because "the imprecations in the Psalms" are the unusual pattern of ethical conduct which informs "the ethics of the consummation." The intrusion by divine inspiration constitutes "a divine abrogation, within a limited sphere, of the ethical requirements normally in force during the course of common grace."40

Furthermore, Kline argues that the imprecations in the Psalms inspired by the Spirit of God were conducted within the typological kingdom of Israel which is the type and intrusion of the eternal kingdom. Therefore redemptive historical interpretation of the imprecations is a concrete hermeneutical principle which ought to be applied.41

Kline argues that ethical anticipation of the eschatological judgment of the reprobate is seen in the examples of Old Testament history "involving all the rest of commandments five through ten, excepting the seventh." The seventh commandment could not be altered in redemptive history. The reason, argues Kline, is explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. It is especially because "every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body"(1 Cor. 6:18).42

Under the principle of the common grace realm, Kline suggests that Rahab had a duty to obey "the civil authorities of Jericho." The civilian duty to the civil authorities is well taken and explained by Paul under normal circumstances (Rom. 13:1-7). But, Kline argues, Rahab was not in a normal circumstance when she encountered the spies and her own civil authority figures. Rather she participated in the shaping of the theocratic kingdom as a Gentile and became an agent of the judgment which was the type of the eschatological judgment. In addition, the inspired authors of Hebrews and James approve Rahab's action as faithful because biblical authors read her episode from a redemptive historical perspective.

When information was requested of her concerning the enemy spies, it was, according to ordinary ethics, her duty to


40 Kline, Biblical Authority, 162.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid., 164.


supply it. Nevertheless, by faith she united herself to the cause of the theocracy and so played her part as an agent of the judgment-conquest which was typical of the final judgment, denying to the obstinate foes of God that respect for their authority which was their due under common grace. For so doing, Rahab receives inspired approbation (Heb. 11:31; Jas. 2:25).43

Thus, Kline directs us to think that Rahab's deception of her civil authority figures should be understood in light of the eschatological judgment. Certainly, at surface level, her deception was a violation of the ninth commandment. But at a deeper level, her deception should be justified because it was done for the benefit of the theocratic kingdom and the glory of God. When the Parousia comes, there will be ultimate judgment for those who have hostile intentions against the eternal theocratic kingdom. Although Rahab's deception was involved with the mutable principle of the ninth commandment, she was not violating the immutable principles of the first three laws.

The enemies of the theocracy lost the ordinary right to hear the truth as that is guaranteed by the ninth commandment. Insofar, therefore, as the theocratic agent did not deny God (or, to put it differently, did not violate the immutable principles of the first three laws of the Decalogue), he might with perfect ethical propriety deceive such as had hostile intent against the theocracy.44

Thus, Kline suggests that God approved Rahab's deception against the civil authority which displayed a hostile intention against the theocratic kingdom at that specific moment in redemptive history. This same understanding may be applied to the episode of the Hebrew midwives' deception against Pharaoh (Ex. 1:15-21) and Samuel's deception against Saul (1 Sam. 16:2).45


43 Kline, Biblical Authority, 164.

44 Ibid., 164-65.

45 Ibid., 165.


The penal sanctions regulated under the old covenant have been the object of serious debate between Bahnsen and Kline. For example, Bahnsen insists that the death penalty against the violators of the first four, fifth, sixth, and seventh commandments under the Old Covenant must be applied under the current state. Bahnsen's penology is a result of the lack of redemptive historical understanding on the penal sanctions and covenantal discontinuity.46

Kline suggests that the intrusion principle was applied against the members of the covenant community under the Mosaic or Old Covenant. The death penalty was applied to the violators of the first four commandments: "In the area of penal sanctions against offending covenant members, the Intrusion principle again manifests itself. It is especially significant that among the offenses for which the death penalty was prescribed are violations of the first four laws of the Decalogue (see, e.g., Ex. 31:14ff.; 35:2 [cf. Num. 15:32ff.]; Lev. 24:16; Deut. 13:5ff.; 17:2ff.)."47 Why do we have to see this ethical principle as an intrusive phenomena? That is the question Kline himself asks and he answers it. It is because such a violation cannot be a capital punishment under the New Covenant age either by the state or the church. Rather, it should be the subject matter of church discipline: "In the present age such violations are subject to ecclesiastical discipline, but the sword may not be wielded by either church or state in punishment of such offenders, according to the principle of


46 Bahnsen argues that the justification of "theonomic punishment" is based on "the principle of equity, no crime receives a penalty which it does not warrant." Therefore, penal sanctions under the old covenant must be directly applied to contemporary civil law: "This comes to expression in the civil realm as just recompense (Heb. 2:2), as in the lex talionis (Ex. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). Consequently the death penalty is to be viewed as the appropriate response of the magistrate to violations against the purity of the God-man relation (e.g., idolatry, witchcraft, etc.), the sanctity of life and its sources (e.g., murder, adultery) or authority (e.g., striking one's parents). In the areas of theft and property damage, then, full restitution or compensation is the standard of punishment (e.g., Ex. 21:22; Lev. 24:21) . . . . Knowing that God's standard of righteousness (which includes temporal, social relations) is as immutable as the character of God Himself, we should conclude that crimes which warrant capital punishment in the Older testament continue to deserve the death penalty today" (Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 437, 439, 442).

47 Kline, Biblical Authority, 166.


common grace."48 In this respect, capital punishment against the violators of the first four commandments under the theocracy of the Old Testament was the intrusion of the final judgment against those who violated these laws from their heart.

In the consummation, however, the portion of those who do not obey these laws from the heart will be 'the second death.' It is then consummation justice that was intruded when death was prescribed for religious offenses in Israel, the kingdom where the consummation was typically anticipated. The Intrusion appears most vividly in those instances where the infliction of death was not the act of a theocratic official but of God (see, e.g., Num. 11:1f.; 16:31ff.; 2 Kings 2:24).49

So far, we have traced Kline's biblical-theological logic on the intrusion of eschatological curse. Now, we move on to some episodes of the intrusion of eschatological blessing in relation to the Old Testament ethics.

D. Intrusion of Eschatological Blessing

Kline argues that God's command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac confronted him with "a contradiction of previous revelation concerning human life, revelation later formulated in the sixth word of the Decalogue." It is "the Creator's prerogative" to designate such importance "to his creatures as he will," and it is man's responsibility "to accept the divine interpretation." "The more unaccountable to man" God's interpretation may be, "the better calculated" it is to highlight in man's heart "the necessity of thinking and living covenantally, that is, in the obedience of personal devotion to his God."50

Even though Abraham was faced with this striking command which was apparently contradictory to the sixth commandment, Kline suggests that


48 Ibid., 166-67.

49 Ibid., 167.

50 Ibid., 168.


"Abraham must not make an abstract idol out of the customary prohibition against human sacrifice but must listen to his Father's voice."51

Here, Kline suggests typology: Isaac was the type of Christ who was sacrificed by his Father as a substitute in the place of sinners. In that sense, God's command to sacrifice Isaac was "the ethics of the Cross, itself an intrusion of final judgment into mid-history, that was intruded into the Old Testament age in the divine command to sacrifice Isaac." However, "the provision of the sacrificial substitute" teaches us "the inadequacy of sinful human life for making atonement" after Abraham had demonstrated "the obedience of faith." God did not identify "Isaac's life as the life that was actually to be sacrificed as an atonement for sin." Meanwhile, Abraham's obedience to "the Intrusion's demand" demonstrated that he was the father of believers living by every word which came from the mouth of God.52

Kline interprets Exodus through Malachi under the rubric of the Old Covenant, which is patterned by the standing and falling of the theocratic kingdom of Israel. Under the theocratic kingdom, Kline argues that there was not a fusion between state and church but sui generis. However, Kline suggests that the present church age is radically different from the covenant community under the Old Covenant. In that sense, we have to distinguish carefully between church and state. And it is an adequate implication of the fifth commandment under the New Covenant.

Apropos of the fifth word, it is in this New Testament age not a legitimate function of a civil government to endorse and support religious establishments. This principle applies equally to the Christian church; for though its invisible government is theocratic with Christ sitting on David's throne in the heavens and ruling over it, yet its visible organization, in particular as it is related to civil powers, is so designed that it takes a place of only common privilege along with other religious institutions within the framework of common grace.53


51 Ibid., 169.

52 Kline, Biblical Authority, 169.

53 Ibid., 167.


However, at the consummation, the common grace order, and with it the common grace institution of the state, will be terminated and all things will be under the authority of the visible reigning of Christ. Likewise, the theocratic kingdom of Israel was the type of the eternal Kingdom.

It is quite otherwise in the consummation. Then every dominion and power in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, must do obeisance to the Christ of God. Moreover, it is this ultimate state of affairs that is found intruded into the Old Testament dispensation in connection with the Israelite theocracy, which typified the perfected kingdom of God.54

The intrusion of Christ's universal reign over the eternal kingdom was manifested in the famous cylinder of Cyrus king of Persia (2 Chr. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11).

While this typical kingdom of heaven was in existence, the other nations on earth stood in a peculiar relation to it. We are informed, for example, that 'the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout his kingdom' in which he professed to have received a charge from the Lord God of heaven to build him a house in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1ff).55

Furthermore, Kline adds that later a Persian king supported the rebuilding and maintaining of the temple. Moreover, they contributed "from government funds for its ritual." The famous Cyrus cylinder instigated by God reveals that Cyrus as a pagan king actively supported the theocratic kingdom of Israel. This process, argues Kline, "is obviously not normative for civil governments in the New Testament dispensation." This is an example of "Intrusion ethics in connection with the Israelite theocracy as a type of the heavenly kingdom into which 'the kings of earth do bring their glory and honor'" as that is revealed in Revelation 21:24.56


54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid., 168.


Kline evaluates the prophet Hosea's marriage with the harlot, Gomer (Hos. 1:3)57 within the historical reality of the Old Covenant which was directly applied to the covenant community of Israel. Accordingly, Kline argues that the Mosaic law prohibited prostitution which was a violation of the seventh commandment that resulted in expulsion from "the theocratic congregation"(Lev. 19:29; Deut. 23:17). In that sense, the marriage episode of Hosea, Kline suggests, is not an episode under the circumstances of common grace but an intrusion of the ethical principle of God's eschatological saving of sinners. "It was certainly implied in this that a harlot might not be espoused by a covenant member. Nevertheless, in contradiction of this ordinary requirement, the Lord commanded Hosea to marry the harlot, Gomer. In so doing, God was again anticipating an ethical principle entailed in his saving of the elect."58

Following the redemptive historical logic, Kline argues that Hosea's marriage must be understood in light of "the eschatological context of divine revelation." Thus it fits the pattern of intrusion ethics. Hosea's marriage is a type of the eschatological marriage between Christ and a church-bride that will


57 Hosea's marriage to Gomer as an illustration of intrusion ethics, according to Kline, depends on whether Gomer was a harlot when Hosea married her. Recently, Kline has moved away from his previous position that Gomer was a harlot before marriage. As a result, Kline does not consider Hosea's marriage any longer as an example of intrusion ethics. However, I am tracing Kline's biblical theological explanation if we consider that Gomer was a harlot at the moment of her marriage.

58 Kline, Biblical Authority, 170. Kline's approach to the prophetical books is quite profound. He suggests that the prophets be read in light of the Old Covenant and eschatological kingdom. The motif of covenant lawsuit is a vital part of the prophetic message based upon the Mosaic Covenant and was constantly applied throughout the history of Israel. The message of judgment characterized in dual sanctions such as blessing and curse is thoroughly reflected. "The peculiarly prophetic task was the elaboration and application of the ancient covenant sanctions. In actual practice that meant that their diplomatic mission to Israel was by and large one of prosecuting Yahweh's patient covenant lawsuit with his incurably wayward vassal people. The documentary legacy of their mission reveals them confronting Israel with judgment . . . . Manifestly, then, these writings of the prophets are extensions of the covenantal documents of Moses. They summon Israel to remember the law covenant of Moses commanded at Horeb (Mal. 4:4) and to behold the eschatological future whose outlines were already sketched in the Mosaic curse and blessing sanctions, particularly in the covenant renewal in Moab (Deut. 28ff.) . . . . While relating the prophetic office to covenants in general, all such literary and technical parallels pointing to the political sphere of suzerain-vassal relationship as the formal background for the prophetic office serve also as another link, even if indirect, connecting the prophets with the covenants of Moses, inasmuch as the form of the latter, too, derives from that very same background of covenantal statecraft" (Ibid., 57-62).


include a multitude of forgiven sinners (Matt. 25:1-13; Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:6-9). The glory of the eschatological kingdom marriage was vividly manifested in the episode. So Hosea as the prophet of Israel was not offended by God's striking command to accept Gomer as his wife, anticipating himself "in the great marriage celebration" of the eschatological kingdom Lamb. Likewise, the episode of Hosea's marriage provides the eschatological outlook that "the consummation of God's grace" will be realized when Christ as heavenly bridegroom welcomes "a church-bride composed of a multitude of defiled sinners to be his own."59


As we have traced and explained Kline's intrusion ethics, we have seen that it is simply an adequate application of covenant theology to the area of the Old Testament ethics. In fact, Kline as a classic covenant theologian flowers and matures covenant theology, developed and adopted in the Reformed tradition, applying its rich insights to the area of Old Testament ethics. Thus, Kline's intrusion ethics is an important contribution to our understanding of the application of covenant and eschatological kingdom ideas in resolution of some of the most difficult ethical issues revealed in Old Testament history. In conclusion, I may identify Kline's intrusion ethics as covenantal eschatological kingdom ethics, based on redemptive historical hermeneutics. I hope that scholars will further develop Kline's intrusion ethics through more discussion and research.

Columbia, Maryland


59 Ibid., 170.


The Hidden Glory of the Eldership*

Exodus 8:13-24; Matthew 18:15-20

Todd S. Bordow

My goal this evening is to briefly consider the hidden glory of both the church and her office of elder. Why do we need to look at the hidden glory of the eldership? Surely we would not approach an evening like this as simply a ritual that the church performs; that is; ordaining an elder and organizing a congregation. We must understand the significance of such an endeavor.

While we do not have the opportunity to explore the depths of our Lord's words in Matthew 18, I would like to consider the manner in which these words were spoken. In our text, the Lord Jesus speaks about the church in a manner best described as calm, confident and unapologetic.

Now it is doubtful that these words on the church made much sense to the disciples. After all, according to the Law, did not discipline within the covenant community usually result in the death penalty? The disciples were only familiar with the church in her old covenant form. What does it mean to treat a former kingdom member as a tax collector? And how can anyone be a member of God's


* A sermon preached before the Presbytery of the Northwest, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, on the occasion of the particularization of Covenant OPC, Pasco, Washington, September 22, 2000.


promised coming kingdom and yet later be expelled? The disciples had assumed that Christ had come to separate the sheep from the goats, but these words suggest otherwise. The disciples's understanding of the kingdom of God had not yet developed to the point of discerning our Lord here.

Furthermore, at the time this was spoken, no such church had even been formed. Jesus knew that there would one day be local churches throughout the world, that they would be led by local elders, and that these words of Matthew 18 would be studied and obeyed. But Jesus is speaking of a situation unique to the New Covenant. These churches had not even come into existence yet; this makes his confidence all the more reassuring.

Why is this important? What we do tonight is not our idea. We ordain men and organize churches because Jesus spoke the church into existence. His discourse in Matthew 18 on the local church was not only prophetic, it was kingly.

In other words Jesus was not only predicting the formation of the new covenant church, he was assuring its fulfillment. As surely as his word created the universe, so also his word created the church; not only the church defined as believers, but as we see here the church's officers and organization. Thus tonight we enter into the accomplishment of the royal declaration of our King. His prophetic and kingly word is being fulfilled as we organize a church and ordain an elder.

Now while the disciples would not have clearly grasped the makeup of the church in the coming kingdom, they would have no problem with the principle of church officers and church discipline. After all, Israel had been under elders since Moses. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself recognized the elders of Israel, and he affirmed the validity of their office.

Jesus had spoken about the elders in Matthew 15:2 where he condemned the traditions of the elders, who had raised their oral Law to the level of Scripture. Matthew 16:21 says that Jesus began teaching his disciples that he must suffer many things from the hands of the elders. Our Lord was never ashamed to state the truth; the elders of the Old Covenant church had become corrupt, power-hungry overlords, seeking to destroy God's Beloved Son.


This is exactly what makes Jesus' words so remarkable. We might think that the last thing Jesus would want to be promoting was church leadership and church discipline. Was he not in the process of being victimized by church discipline himself? Now the Lord speaks positively about church leadership and church discipline? Surely Jesus, you of all people, should realize that the system does not work! Men are too sinful for such a thing.

How many times have you heard someone explain that because years ago they had a bad time with elders or a pastor they cannot submit to any particular church? I do not want to downplay the serious consequences of such a thing, but if you want to talk about a bad experience, have you considered the Son of God's experience? He didn't give up on the church and neither should you.

We are reminded of our forefathers who in 1936 formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. After at least ten long years of church corruption, top-heavy authoritarianism and institutional red tape, our forefathers were cast out of the PCUSA—all because they held to Sola Scriptura.

And what was their response to all this? They formed another Presbyterian denomination! Were they absolutely nuts? Gluttons for punishment? Could we have blamed them for doing what most others have done in similar circumstances; that is, given up on the church altogether? Or at least go independent. But their theology would not allow them to give up on the church.

Even in the midst of a crisis in church government, Christ offers no apology as to the need for officers and discipline in his church. Remarkably, in Matthew 18 Jesus speaks as if there were no crises going on in church leadership at all!

Now we cannot explain this confidence away by suggesting that this kind of corruption and apostasy would have no place in the New Covenant church. Is not the visible church in the New Covenant always on the verge of apostasy? Can we really look back at the history of the church and gleam with pride over the lack of abuse in the offices?

No, it is not as if the ways of Israel would never rear their ugly heads again. So how then could our Lord speak so calmly and confidently about church leadership and discipline in the midst of unprecedented leadership apostasy?


Because unlike Israel, Jesus had come to establish a kingdom of permanence, one that could not ultimately fall to corruption. Jesus came to rule an everlasting kingdom, and until his return elders would administer that kingdom on the earth. And unlike Israel, the full power and presence of the Spirit of God would lead this church. Christ's confidence was not in people, nor in officers. His confidence was in the Spirit he would pour out on his church upon his resurrection from the dead.

Thus we approach our proceedings this evening with a deep sense of awe and humility, for after so much corruption and apostasy for two thousand years, here we are mere men administering that true church spoken of by our Savior. Does this not minister to your souls, you who wrestle daily in your toils and prayers over the condition of the church? Does not our Lord's calm and confident demeanor force out of you any frantic worry about the church?

Though the church is always weak and frail because we are sinners, and though the offices are often abused by those who fill them, we need not be embarrassed for the church, for our Lord offered no apology. The faithful Reformed community will take constant hits for her high view of the church in a culture that worships freedom and individuality. But let us remember that in the midst of a church crisis, in the midst of unprecedented corruption among her officers, our Savior dares to deliver a sermon on church discipline.

Now when we come to the place of elders in the church, at first glance we might come to the conclusion that elders are not very important to the people of God. Yes, Moses agreed with his father-in-law that elders were necessary. But of course all the really difficult cases were brought to Moses himself. Certainly Moses receives the attention over these elders who worked with him to administer the Old Testament kingdom.

And when we come to the New Testament, when that promised kingdom of Christ is inaugurated, again the elders do not receive much attention. Did you notice in v. 17 of our text that when Jesus speaks of the elders he simply calls them "the church?" Now it is clear from the context that Jesus is referring here to the elders of the church. Yet the Lord chose not to use the word "elders" but "church." The individual is being overshadowed by the corporate


aspect. The elders of course represent the church, but with this language Jesus is purposely placing the elder in the background.

Now is this what the disciples would have envisioned when Jesus spoke of leadership in his eschatological kingdom, that kingdom greater than Solomon's? Can you imagine their triumphalistic excitement as they approached Jerusalem? They were the chief elders in the coming kingdom of God! Thrones were being prepared for them. But their childish view of leadership must be rebuked and conformed to Christ-like leadership.

To what do we attribute this downplaying of the importance of the elder in both the Old and New Testaments? Why does Moses receive all the attention as opposed to the elders of Israel? Well, I could be self-serving and suggest that Moses was a pastor, and pastors are to get all the attention as opposed to the elders.

Some of you might be thinking, "There go those nutty three-office guys again." No, Moses does not receive the attention because he is the pastor as opposed to the elders. Moses receives the attention because he is the covenant head of the Old Testament people of God. In other words, Moses as the Old Testament head of the church is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This explains why in the New Covenant the elders still do not take center stage. Our new Moses has arrived in Jesus Christ! Our chief Elder has come. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, has brought us to God through his death and resurrection. Once the chief elder has drawn near and united himself to us no man can take center stage as our leader. There is no room for personality cults in the kingdom of God. Our shepherd from heaven is our pastor and elder, and he has united himself to us most intimately and completely. This is why the offices in the New Testament lack outward glory. Once the true Shepherd has come and brought us to himself, all other leadership fades into the background.

The lack in outward glory serves as a warning to those seeking office in Christ's church. As Christ became our servant to lead us, so also the elder who leads in Christ's name must become a servant. Christ did not seek his own glory. Christ did not have any agendas besides doing his Father's business. Now, the officers of the church are to follow his example. Their leadership must flow from their own union with Christ. When they are constrained by the love


of Christ for them, they will become Christ-like in their leadership; willing to become as nothing for the sake of the sheep.

The cross subsumes the outward glory of the elder. But let us not be deceived. Yes, because of the all-surpassing glory of the coming of Christ, because of the nearness of the subjects of the kingdom to their king, the elder in Christ's church is not afforded outward glory and attention. Most of the work of the elders is behind the scenes and unnoticed by men, is it not?

But it is here that the people of God must not be lulled to sleep. Let us not respond to all this as the Anabaptists, who disregard the importance or necessity of the elder altogether. God's people must discern the irony of the kingdom.

You see, it is because of the all-surpassing glory and nearness of Christ in the New Covenant that makes the eldership even more glorious. No, we do not recognize the glory of the one holding the office, but we honor the efficacy of that office in the eschatological kingdom of Christ. We honor the efficacy of the office in the kingdom of Christ.

You saw it in our Matthew 18 passage, did you not? Whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven. Our risen King in heaven stands behind the declarations of simple elders on earth who serve in his name. What is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Do you believe this? You think church disciple is less terrible than the death penalty of the Old Covenant? It's just the opposite. Here is the irony of the cross. The foolish things of this world convey the kingly power of our sovereign Lord.

The hidden glory of the church and her elders is also seen in this brief yet powerful promise in Matthew 18:20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst. Most of you know what I am about to say on this verse, but let me say it anyway. Jesus is not speaking here of your home Bible studies or prayer meetings. Jesus is speaking of the session or consistory that gathers for the purpose of administering church discipline. The King in Heaven, the resurrected and glorified Lord, is uniquely and personally present when these simple and fallible elders gather to fulfill their office.


Thus the glory of the church and her officers is the hidden glory of the cross. Weak yet powerful; becoming as nothing, but used powerfully by God. Thus this passage affords both a warning and an encouragement to the officers and people of the church. To the officer comes the warning that in Christ's kingdom you are purposely being subsumed into the corporate people of God. You are given a low outward status; you are a servant with no greater gift than the widow who gives two pennies in the offering. You must learn from these servants. You must not lord it over the people of God. Your goal must be to have Christ exalted in their lives, and if Christ is to increase you will have to decrease. This is true Christian leadership.

But there is great encouragement here also. The visible church is the kingdom of God on earth. Your work and declarations as a session have the backing of the King of Kings. He will not fail you, and he will give you his strength for the task. You will have to apologize quickly for your sins, but you never have to apologize for your high view of the church or your office. And when you get so caught up in the crises of the church (and you will), remember the calm and confident words of Christ as he spoke of his church. Thus we do not grow weary in our service to the church, for Christ is using us to build the tabernacle of God among men.

Since all of us are placed under elders, let us not miss the hidden glory of our submission to them. Our elders may be sinners just like us, but in their office they administer the kingdom of heaven, and the King of heaven is personally present in their declarations. He truly rules his people through elders. There is no plan B in Scripture. To ignore or treat the elder as insignificant is to treat Christ as insignificant, and Christ will not be mocked. As Hebrews 13:17 states, in heaven your elders will give an account of you, and according to the Holy Spirit you had better pray it's a good one!

The hidden glory of the church and the eldership is the hidden glory of the cross. We honor and love the office because we honor and love our King, who has made us kings and priests through his own death and resurrection. Our subjection to the office and our service to the church are offered in recognition of our King who lovingly rules us from heaven, and he has chosen to do so through mere men. But most of all, we honor the church and her officers in hope, knowing that our king who has eternally drawn near to us through the


cross will come again and receive unto himself the faithful members of his kingdom.

Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel

Fort Worth, Texas


Biblical Theology and Counseling*

Bill Baldwin

Counseling is about sanctification. And sanctification is a mystery. Let us be clear on that at the outset. It will guard us from many errors. Counseling is about sanctification. And sanctification is a mystery. That is to say, counseling is about growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. You may plant or water, but only God can cause the growth. Counseling is about the Spirit who blows wherever he will.

At the beginning, then, all appeals to the flesh are eliminated. The flesh is not the power behind sanctification. No good will come of setting before the counselee steps that he is able to follow, lists of things he is able to do which will somehow result in this mystery of the Spirit of Christ taking place. If he asks, "What must I do that I may work the works of God?" we will reply as our Lord replied: "This is the work of God, to believe in the one whom he has sent."

Counseling is not the primary means by which the sheep of Christ are enabled to grow in grace and the knowledge of him. Counseling is not the primary means of sanctification. The preaching of Christ is. Counseling must take a subordinate role to that preaching of Christ, and indeed to the other means of grace as well, that is to the sacraments and prayer.

Counseling must not contradict the preaching or take a different approach. Counseling must not say something different from the sacraments and prayer.


* Presented at The Kerux Conference, June 22, 1999


And what do they say? The cry of prayer is "I have nothing but Christ! And apart from him I can do nothing." The sacrament of baptism says only washing by Christ can make you clean. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper says earthly food avails nothing, for it feeds only your own strength that is passing away. But here is heavenly food. Here is Christ. Feed on him and you shall never perish.

Our preaching must say these things as well. And if our preaching must, so must our counseling. Whatever we say about preaching, we must say about counseling. Whatever we require of preaching, we require of counseling. Whatever we prohibit to preaching, we prohibit to counseling. Counseling is not a different approach to sanctification; it is not an approach that we take when the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails.

If the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails, we have no backup plan, no fail-safe, no other hope. If the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails, we have no other sign save this stumbling block, no other wisdom save this foolishness. If the preaching of Christ and him crucified fails, it is not as though the word of God has failed and left us to other devices. We will preach him all the more, and he shall have the victory.

Counseling is nothing other than the private preaching of the word to those whose need is so great or whose thirst so unquenchable that they need more of the same. More of Christ. We shall not be embarrassed to give them more, for we shall never run out. He is inexhaustible, a continuous rain of manna from heaven, feeding five thousands upon five thousands.

Counseling is our response to the exhortation: "Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season." So we shall and so we must be ready to preach the word not only on the Lord's Day but in every circumstance as God grants us opportunity and breath.

I have spoken so far of the counseling that will be done by the minister of the gospel. And this is proper. Counseling is, above all, a ministry of the word of Christ. It is in a special way the province of the minister of that word.

But I realize there are others present who wish to understand how they may stimulate one another to love and good deeds. This presentation is for


you as well. You also must learn to speak to one another of the sufficiency of Christ. You also must learn to recognize the indicative—the things that are true because of Christ—in one another. You also must know how to encourage one another to set all your hope on the grace that is coming when Christ is revealed.

In all this, you must understand something. I speak of counseling those who are members of the church. For how can you say to a non-member, "You are a saint. You are in Christ. You are dead to sin and alive to God."? Let the non-member come before the elders and profess faith. Let the heavens be opened as the elders declare, "That is a like precious faith with our own," binding on earth what has already been bound in heaven. Let them know that the Chief Shepherd has given them an undershepherd who will feed them upon the bread which comes down out of heaven. Let them know that the privilege of ecclesiastical discipline will be theirs, should their Savior need to speak to them with such tender sternness. Only in such a context will counseling make sense.

Let us look at the Scriptures, then, to see how godliness is to be produced.

The Mystery of Godliness (1 Timothy 3:16 - 4:11)

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature


of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach.

Paul begins this section by instructing Timothy that the doctrine of Christ is the mystery of godliness. "Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness," he writes, so that Timothy may know how to conduct himself in the church. Yet what follows is not a series of pithy sayings, a grab bag of tips and tricks for Timothy to master so he can control his temper, smile sincerely, listen patiently, and give every appearance of loving the sheep. This is how the world would pursue advising a pastor.

Paul doesn't waste his time; he knows a more excellent way. If Timothy is to be godly, he must immerse himself in the doctrine of Christ. This seems a strange way to go about it. Why not just tell Timothy what to do and let him do it? Because there is no power in Timothy's flesh, as though he can simply hear what he is supposed to do and go out and do it. His power must come from Christ, so to Christ Paul sends him. Godliness, Paul says, is a mystery and that mystery is hidden in Christ.

How does Paul sum up godliness?

He who was revealed in the flesh
was vindicated in the Spirit
beheld by angels
proclaimed among the Gentiles
Believed on in the world
Taken up in glory


It is not a set of do's and don'ts but the mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the power of godliness to Timothy and to those who will hear him.

Paul writes this knowing that another way of godliness is being offered. He warns Timothy against it. He says: "The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron."

What are these men doing? They are forbidding to marry. They are commanding to abstain from certain foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. That is to say, they are trying to be sanctified by the discipline of their flesh, by the imposition of an arbitrary code of behavior. Paul says in another place to the Colossians, "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Col. 2:20-23).

Stay away from it, Timothy! Be warned! There are no tricks to godliness. There is not a set of behaviors which, if followed, will result in godliness. You are not under a covenant of works. You could not bear it if you were. You are under a covenant of grace in which godliness comes graciously from Christ as you immerse yourself in him.

You cannot force yourself by any trick to become godly. Godliness comes from Christ and Christ is known through his gospel. If you are to be godly, you must know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering, having been conformed to his death in order that, if possible, you may attain to the resurrection of the dead.

So, Paul says to Timothy, do you want godliness? Nourish yourself on Christ. Feed upon him. Teach your congregation the mystery of Christ which is the mystery of godliness and you yourself will be nourished on it.


Do you see the language? He's not saying to Timothy you need to have your doctrine down pat so that you have your facts straight when people ask so that you can win arguments. He's saying you need to know the doctrine of Christ because this is your food and this is your drink. If you hunger and thirst after righteousness, you will be satisfied in him and him alone.

Paul says you will be nourished. As food feeds your body and so it becomes strong, so this mystery of godliness feeds your inner man and he is renewed day by day. You must come to Christ as to a feast and devour the knowledge of him and be strengthened by it.

I used to think the highest compliment I could receive for a sermon is that it was "convicting." And indeed your sermons and mine should convict the congregation of sin and bring them to repentance. But woe to you and me if we leave them there with no sense that they have been washed, sanctified, purified by the Spirit of Christ. If we leave them at "convicted" we leave them to their own devices to turn from their sin and to walk in righteousness.

But they have no devices! Nothing good dwells in their flesh! And so they must despair or become proud of their own filthy righteousness. Teach them to hate their own righteousness and boast in the Lord. Now, of all the compliments I have received for my preaching, the dearest is this: a woman once said to me: "I want to thank you for helping me love my Savior more." There's practical for you!

So nourish yourself on Christ. Teach your congregation the mystery of Christ and you will yourself be nourished on that mystery, Paul says. Look at the language!

The crucifixion and resurrection are not simply facts that one must assent to. They are facts in which you must find yourself hidden. You have died with Christ in his crucifixion and your life is hidden with him in God. Sin shall not be your master. You have been raised with him to a new life. Believe these things and you will walk in these ways. This is the mystery of godliness—that it springs from the knowledge of Christ.

Paul says train yourself for that godliness by rejecting those doctrines of demons, this sanctification which comes through the discipline of the flesh.


Train yourself for godliness by immersing yourself in the consuming doctrine of Christ.

The unprofitable bodily discipline of which Paul speaks is not aerobic exercise. It is the fleshly exercises just mentioned by which men attempt to force themselves to do what is right. And by diligent application, they may produce an outward righteousness of pharisaic proportions. But in the day they die, their righteousness perishes with them, for it is a human righteousness. With Paul, you count all such righteousness dung if only you may gain Christ.

Godliness profits forever, because true godliness is walking in this righteousness of Christ, being fed and nourished by him, that he may receive all the glory. You've set your hope on an eternal God; therefore seek the godliness that lasts forever.

Bodily discipline profits not at all. The discipline of the flesh is nothing. But godliness holds promise both for this life and the life that is to come. Therefore, Timothy, he says, command and teach these things. Command and teach the mystery of godliness which is the knowledge of Christ. Do not fail to immerse your congregation in the knowledge of Christ that they too may be impelled to love and good deeds. In doing this, Paul ends the chapter, you will save yourself and those who hear you.

You will save yourself and those who hear you! For Paul, salvation is not simply your justification. Salvation is your justification followed by your perseverance and your growth in grace terminating in your glorification at the last day. And he says the instrument by which that happens is the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Counseling then is a matter of setting Christ continually before the counselee. How do we do this? Let's get practical! But as Scripture is practical. Let's make some application! But as Scripture makes application. How do we set Christ before our counselees so that they lay hold of him, so that they feed upon him, so that he becomes the inner spring which is the source of their sanctification?

I will offer several observations from Scripture in that regard.


Set Before Them Their Union With Christ

To become proper counselors, we must learn to reason with the counselee as Paul reasons with the Romans. In Romans, Paul does not attempt to produce obedience through a guilt trip. Far from it. He tells them their guilt is gone. It has been carried away in the body of Christ. He has been raised for their justification. They are righteous.

Everything that they need to stand before God on judgment day has been accomplished in Christ. Their very judgment day has been accomplished in his resurrection and it is over and they have been declared righteous in him. There is nothing more they need to do. To the world, this is foolishness. Why should the Romans change their behavior? Why should they do what is right if the blessings of obedience have already been given to them fully in Christ? If we take away guilt and the fear of punishment, what motivation does anyone have to do right? Why not sin that grace may abound?

And this is exactly the question Paul asks. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Rom 6:1).

Paul is not afraid of this question. He brings it up himself. Let us not be afraid to provoke that question either by the full disclosure of the glory of justification in Christ Jesus. Let us tell the counselee how completely justified he is. He stands utterly righteous before God. Acquitted. Pleasing in God's sight. Then and only then is he in a position to understand the call to obedience.

Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3, 4).

Paul's answer is surprising. Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! Just because you're justified doesn't mean God won't punish you if you sin. Bad things will happen if you do bad things. Be careful! Paul


says nothing of the sort. That would contradict his earlier thesis that all blessings are theirs already in Christ Jesus. That would contradict his later thesis that there is no condemnation for them in Christ Jesus.

Paul does not appeal to the Romans's fear, and he doesn't appeal to their guilt. For they have no guilt before God, and they need fear nothing. And even if they did, these things are not sufficient motivators. For guilt and fear motivate only the flesh which is corrupt and can do no good thing.

Paul's answer is surprising; it's not what most people would expect. Face it. It's not what we expect a lot of times. Why shouldn't I sin? Because I'm united to Christ who is dead to sin and raised to new life! For Paul, it's the most natural answer in the world because he has disciplined himself in the doctrine of Christ. So the first thing that occurs to him in any such question is, what does this have to do with what Christ has done for me and in me, and will do through me? What does this have to do with who I am in Christ? The doctrine of Christ is the mystery of godliness. Paul is constantly on the lookout for ways to bring this doctrine home and to call his hearers to faith in it.

And so Paul's surprising answer to "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" is, of course not; you've been baptized! And then he preaches their baptism to them. Of course not, he says; that's not who you are. You're dead to all that and alive to God in Christ Jesus. You've been united with Christ in his death to sin on the cross. And if that's true, you've been raised with him to newness of life as well, to a new life that has nothing to do with sin. Therefore why sin? What could possibly motivate you? What could possibly attract you?

This is what we must say to the counselee. We must call him to faith in what his baptism preaches to him. We must call him to faith in his union with Christ. He sins because he does not believe himself dead to sin and alive to God. Therefore he does not act that way, and the biggest mistake we can make is to believe those actions. To say, well you've sinned; that must mean you're not dead to sin. It must mean you're not alive to God. No! At that very moment when he struggles with sin is the moment when he needs us to tell him, it is not true! Your actions are a lie! Let God be true though every man is a liar. You are dead to sin. Believe it, brother. And you will walk in these ways.


We must reason as Paul reasons. Do you understand what God said of you when you were baptized? If you understood it, you would not sin. Let me tell it to you again that you may believe it and that you may walk in this faith. Only in this context can the call to obedience make sense.

So Paul makes that call: "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him" (Rom. 6:5-9).

(What does that have to do with me? It's certainly good for Christ . . . . Keep listening.)

"For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God" (v. 10)

And this, Paul says, is your power of new obedience—to find yourself in Christ, empowered by his new life. Therefore he says, "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v. 11).

There's the call to faith. There's the call to believe the indicative—the truth of what he has just preached. Reckon yourselves dead to sin. I tell you that it is true! I swear it to you. I take my oath before God. Is the death of Christ a sham? Is his resurrection nothing? If not, then you are dead to sin. Then you are alive to God. Believe it!

"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (v. 12).

Don't let sin reign in your mortal body as though it is still your master. I tell you that it is not.

"And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (vv. 13, 14).


Do you hear how Paul reasons with the Romans? So we must reason with the counselee. Sin is not your master. Christ has defeated sin. Christ is alive. You are alive in him. Therefore sin no more.

Do you see how all this is front-loaded? Before we get to the exhortation to behavior, we have this long explanation of the doctrine of Christ and what it means to be united with him. And then the simple exhortation to behavior—therefore, do not sin.

Followed by what? A series of tips on how to change your behavior so that you do not sin? A list of do's and don'ts, of things that lead to sin and things that don't? No. Paul says elsewhere, "the deeds of the flesh are obvious"! And if you believe these things, you will not do the deeds of the flesh.

Therefore, we set before them their union with Christ, and we call them to faith in it.

Set Before Them Their Horror of Uniting Christ With Sin

Your counselee has a problem with fornication. It seems to master him and, like a sheep to the slaughter, he turns and follows after this sin. What do you do to turn him from it? Do you make for him a long list of do's and don'ts, places to avoid, things not to read? Do you attempt to change his behavior on the theory that a change of heart will follow? Worse, do you imply by your condemning attitude that by this sin he has fallen out of favor with God? God forbid! This one stands justified in Christ before the court of Almighty God; shall he stand condemned before the court of you? God forbid!

Observe what Paul does with those notorious fornicators, the Corinthians: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (1 Cor. 6:15-17).


Do you see how Paul reasons with those who fornicate, how he pleads with them? He sets before them the indicative, the facts: their bodies are members of Christ. And then he plays on their fears. Yes, you heard right; he plays on their fears.

Not . . . NOT . . . that he plays on their fear of punishment. There is no condemnation for them in Christ Jesus. Rather, he plays on their fear of uniting Christ with a prostitute. When you do these things, he says, you are raping Jesus. You are taking your Beloved and dragging him through the mud. You are involving him in this most despicable act.

By this Paul seeks to awaken a horror of fornication in the Corinthians. Not because of the consequences to them—which could not turn them away—but because of the consequences to Christ. Their beloved. The one who laid down his life for them. They had not thought through the implications. They didn't remember who they were, members of the body of Christ. Convince them of that and fornication will become impossible.

Set Before Them The Mind Of Christ

Paul writes to the Philippians, knowing that there is division in the church. Two women of importance, Euodia and Syntyche, have become the heads of factions and those factions have become more important to them than the unity of the body of Christ.

What they want in a counselor is someone to tell them who's right and who's wrong. Which faction is correct? Paul doesn't even address that question. Paul does not give the Philippians step by step instructions on how to resolve their differences. Rather, he addresses their pride, and sets before them the mind of Christ.

Let the same mind be in you that was in
Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,


taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

If there is division in the church, then clearly these two sisters don't understand what their Savior has done. He who was the highest of the high became the lowest of the low. He who was life submitted to death. He who deserved all glory submitted to the shame of death on a cross.

And did he lose anything by this reckless abandonment of his own rights? No. God highly exalted him and glorified him with the glory that he had with the Father before the world began.

Paul sets this mind of Christ before them, not as a dead example that they must follow if they can. The example of Christ is vivifying; it is life-giving. To understand this mind of Christ—to truly understand it—is to have the power to walk in it. So Paul counts it as of first importance that he should preach this example into them. That they should hear it and believe it.

And then their pesky little differences will subside. They will know what steps to take, what hoops to jump through in order to resolve their differences. Because they will have the mind of Christ toward one another.

Paul does not drone on and on about how important it is to obey whether we like it or not. He wants them to like obedience. He wants them to love


obedience with the love with which they love Christ. So only setting Christ before them will provoke the obedience he desires.

Set Before Them Their Participation in The Example of Christ

Paul does this with husbands and wives, telling them that by marriage they participate in the mystery of Christ and his church.

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (Eph. 5:22-28).

What husband, truly understanding this—that his marriage preaches the mystery of Christ—would be selfish and domineering? It would break his heart to be so. For then, by his life, he would be preaching that Christ his Savior is selfish and domineering.

What good is it to take the husband and give him a laundry list of do's and don'ts, things that have the appearance of godliness, but deny the power? (For the power, remember, is the knowledge of Christ.) What good to give him a set of artificial boundaries—this far you may dominate your wife, but no farther. Is that how Christ loved the church? This much, at least, you must do for your wife. Christ gave himself for the church. Let the husband understand that and do the same. What good to give the husband a set of artificial duties: Buy her flowers once a month. Set up a date night. Offer to watch the kids every so


often. Away with such nonsense! Find me the place in Scripture where the Lord deals with his children in this way. Persuade him of the love of Christ for him and his love for her will know no bounds.

What wife, truly understanding this, would decline to submit to her husband? Though her husband may be unreasonable or selfish, yet her Lord is never so. And if Christ calls her to submit to this or that odd command or strange decision, did he not himself submit to things too terrible to describe on her behalf? Reason with her heart in this way and she will not ask, "Just how much of this do I have to put up with?" But she will glory in her submission, though it may be hard at times, as a submission to Christ.

Then, together, the husband and the wife will preach by their lives the mystery of Christ and his church. The Scriptures aim at nothing less than that.

Set Before Them Their Identity In Christ

Your counselee sins because he forgets who he is. He forgets who Christ has made him to be. Therefore, he must be reminded constantly. Paul slips it in again and again when he writes to the Ephesians: "But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints" (Eph 5:3). How horrible it would be if Paul denied the Ephesians their identity here! What if he said or even implied, "You're not acting like a saint. You must not be a saint. If you want me to call you one, start acting like one." Then they would have no motivation to shun fornication or impurity or greed.

But they are saints. They are holy to God. Holy in Christ. And that is their motivation—that it is proper for saints, holy to God, holy in Christ, to live in accordance with that understanding. Paul reminds them of who they are and makes that the basis of what they do. The imperative only makes sense in light of the indicative.

Paul goes on, "Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph 5:5). What is Paul saying here? Is he telling the Ephesians, if you do these things you will lose your inheritance in Christ? Is he motivating


them by the fear that their salvation, purchased by Christ and sealed by the Spirit, might yet slip through their fingers? God forbid!

His presupposition is that they do have an inheritance in the kingdom of God. He's told them as much in chapter 1. Then what is his reasoning? He says: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light" (Eph. 5:6-8).

Do you see the beauty of it? Don't do those things! he cries. That's what people who won't inherit the kingdom do. That's not who you are. Why, by your actions, would you associate yourself with people who are doomed to hell? Don't let them deceive you. There's no value in sin; there's no percentage in disobedience. What fellowship do you have with them? You are headed for the eternal city, the new Jerusalem. You are light in the Lord. Therefore walk as children of light. The fact that God condemns impurity, fornication, idolatry, becomes their motivation not because they fear that God will therefore condemn them but because God has not condemned them. And therefore why be impure, why fornicate, why commit idolatry? Why have any fellowship with those whom God has condemned who have no inheritance with the saints in light?

Set Before Them Their Victory In Christ

She stands before you inconsolable. Her life is too hard to bear. Her choices have not been the wisest or the most foresightful. While they weren't actually sinful, they certainly could have been better. It is easy to see how she might have spent her money more carefully, and then she wouldn't be in this position. It is easy to see how she shouldn't have moved into that apartment or given up a job she disliked in the hope of finding a better one. It is easy to see how she should have clarified things with her friend a little sooner and then her friend would not be angry with her.

Therefore . . . what?


Say it! Voice that dirty little thought. Admit what the Pharisee inside all of us thinks. Therefore . . . she . . . deserves . . . it. If she made wise choices, God would bless her. And we put the counselee back under a covenant of works. Do what is wise and God will bless you. Do what is foolish and God stands ready to curse.

We forget that God has already blessed her as much as she can possibly be blessed in Christ Jesus. He has given her his Son and in him all things. And if we forget that, how will she remember?

A word here especially to ministers of the word. It is easy to become sidetracked in our counseling. They come to us with problems at school, problems with finances, problems at work. So we become school counselors, money managers, and job consultants. The temptation is fierce, especially when we see that such consultation might be helpful.

But we have better help to offer than the organization of their earthly affairs. Are there not ruling elders and deacons and lay people who can speak to them of such things? Let us resolve to know nothing but what is most important, Christ and him crucified.

Let us set before them their victory in Christ in spite of the defeats of this life. Hear how Paul does this:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.


No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:31-36).

Set that truth before them and they will be able to bear whatever it is that Christ calls them to bear.

Set Before Them Their Eschatology In Christ

Peter writes to the pilgrims in Asia Minor, to Christians who are outcasts. Socially they are outcasts. Politically they have no clout. They are slaves of unbelieving masters, wives of unbelieving husbands, subjects of unbelieving rulers. In the eyes of the world they have nothing; they are powerless.

Peter writes to them and they wait to hear him say, it will not always be this way. They wait to hear him say someday you will rise up and gain power. Someday you will not be social outcasts. Someday you will have political influence. Someday there will be a golden age for the church when the church will not suffer with Christ.

They want that counsel from him. But he can't give it because it's not true. He gives them better. He says, "Set all your hope on the grace that is coming when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:13). Don't waste a drop of hope on things in this life getting better. As surely as Christ suffered and entered into glory, so surely will you suffer with him and enter into his glory.

You must set before the counselee the coming glory in a way that makes everything in this world seem of no importance. All sin, all worry, all doubt, stem from a love of the things of this life which betray you and which pass away. If we loved only the things of the life to come, we should be content always; for we have those things already in abundance in Christ.

You must constantly be on the lookout for ways to direct their eyes to that last day when Christ appears and sorrow and mourning flee away. How tempt-


ing it is to stop short of that! How tempting to say what they think they want to hear.

The counselee is going through a hard time in life, and what do we say? "Don't worry. Things will get easier in a year or two." You don't know that. "Don't worry. I'm sure the doctors will figure out what is wrong." You don't know that. You don't know anything of what will happen in this life for them, whether of good or ill. Whether they will live long lives or die tomorrow. You cannot promise earthly life or earthly health or earthly comfort. You dare not promise these things.

But this . . . THIS . . . you can promise them:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (Rev. 21:1-6).

Promise that to them! Be as extravagant as you wish. You will not promise them more than God has promised.


I hope I have shown in this something of my conviction that we do not need a lot of man-made schemes to counsel. The Scriptures teach us how to speak. Let us speak as they speak—the word of Christ and him crucified,


resurrected, ascended. Let us constantly ask the question, how does the knowledge of Christ affect this situation? Let us speak as Christ speaks in his word, adding nothing to it, taking nothing away.

Vista, California


Vos on the Sabbath: A Close Reading

James T. Dennison, Jr.

Geerhardus Vos provides an exposition of the Sabbath in biblical theological perspective as he comments on the fourth commandment in Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments.1

I am providing a close reading of Vos's remarks in the interest of a careful "exegesis" of his Sabbath position. The clarion call of all responsible scholarship is ad fontes—"to the sources." Thus, I define Vos's views a fontibus—"from the sources."

The context of the fourth commandment is "the Decalogue" (p. 145/129). As we read on (pp. 145-59/129-43), we discover that Vos will explain only the Quadrilogue—that is, he treats only the first four commandments before turning his attention to the ritual and ceremonial law of the Old Testament (pp. 159ff./143ff.). while it may seem curious that Vos gives short shrift to commandments five through ten, he distinguishes the "religious" from the "ethical " precepts as does the Lord Jesus (i. e., the love of God and the love of neighbor, p. 148/132). The last six commandments display the "redemptive product"


1 In the Eerdmans edition, the discussion is found on pages 155-59. In the Banner of Truth Trust edition (1975) the discussion occurs on pages 138-43. I will refer to the Eerdmans version first in all citations followed by the corresponding page in the Banner of Truth edition. Thus 155/138 indicates page 155 in the Eerdmans and page 138 in the Banner of Truth version.


issuing from its source, namely God himself. Tantalizingly, Vos has grounded our ethics (fruits of redemption) in their source (God the Savior). Precisely here is the bulwark against moralism.

While ordering the "ten words" in accordance with the paradigm of redemption, Vos nevertheless does not forget the traditional distinction between laws ritual and laws moral: " . . . the Decalogue . . . contains no ceremonial commandments" (p. 145/129). We must bear this in mind as we investigate Vos's views on the Sabbath commandment. According to Vos, the fourth precept of the Decalogue contains no ceremonial accretion. Moreover the fourth precept is an idealizing of a transhistorical and eschatological paradigm. The Israelite theocracy, inaugurated in the Exodus event, consummates itself in "holiness and conformity to the nature and will of God" (p. 145/130). Redemptive historical beginning (Exodus) is consummated in redemptive historical fruition (perfect holiness). With respect to the fourth commandment, this pattern is explicit in the Deuteronomic version of the precept: "Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy . . . And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day" (Dt. 5: 12, 15). Vos has identified the typical nature of the theocracy as a temporary "mirror" of an eschatological and permanent state, i.e., holiness to the Lord in the arena of the perfect and eternal Sabbath. Yet there is a "universal application" here (p. 147/131) and that universal application bears the character of the perpetual. We might say it bears the character of the intersection of the eschatological with the historical. Vos denominates this a "spiritual analogy in the life of all believers," whereby the Sabbath principle and the theocratic era both contain and point to something beyond themselves—a heavenly theocracy and an everlasting Sabbath rest.

The new exodus in the eschatological lamb of God no less than the former exodus retains the weekly Sabbath principle. "The historical adjustment does not detract from the universal application, but subserves it" (p. 147/131-32). To put it yet another way, in our own words, Vos is suggesting an intrusionary aspect of both Sabbath and theocracy. With respect to national Israel (theocratically), there is an element of Sabbath universality attached to her redemption (Exodus). But, as we shall see, that universality in the case of the Sabbath,


transcends the theocracy. Let us anticipate Vos's response to the objection that since the theocracy has disappeared in the antitype (the church) so too the Sabbath principle. God forbid! The Sabbath principle is a creation ordinance (p. 159/143) antecedent to theocratic Israel and hence embodied in the Decalogue as an intrusionary reflection of a perpetual historical Sabbath. What is transient passes away (theocracy); what is permanent and perpetual remains (weekly Sabbath).

The retrospective redemptive historical context is repeated in Vos's detailed discussion of the fourth word (p. 155/138). Hallowing of the Sabbath day is based "on something done in the creation of the world" (ibid./139). Vos is sensitive to the moral perpetuity of the Sabbath command reflected twice over at significant junctures in the history of redemption: creation and new creation (exodus liberation). Indeed the Sabbath has an over-arching redemptive-historical significance. While "a world-aged observance," it has been mirrored from creation to new creation in Christ Jesus: ". . . the Sabbath . . . has passed through the various phases of the development of redemption, remaining the same in essence but modified as to its form, as the new state of affairs at each point might require" (p. 155/139). In short, Vos is affirming the traditional notion of the perpetuity and change of the Sabbath. A perpetual moral ordinance modified to the creation state, the patriarchal state, the theocratic state, the apostolic state. Christians however seem more ambivalent than their Jewish predecessors with respect of the perpetuity of the Sabbath. Vos is no doubt referring here to the reductionist argument which treats the Sabbath command as a summary of the ceremonial law and hence abolished under the Christian dispensation.

And now a truly remarkable observation on Vos's part! "The principle underlying the Sabbath is formulated in the Decalogue . . . in this, that man must copy God in his course of life." Imitatio Dei! (even as imitatio Christi!!). The God-patterned work-rest sequence from the beginning continues to define, regulate and mandate the weekly practice of the people of God until the end. For Vos, there is no annulment of the weekly Sabbath principle any more than there is an annulment of the creature's obligation to his Creator from creation to consummation. We would be conformed to our Creator, Redeemer, Consummator—such is the hymn of God's people in every age of the history of


salvation.2 And from the Garden of Eden, to Sinai, to the garden of Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, to the heavenly Zion, there remains a Sabbath rest to the people of God. Weekly sabbatizing is a mirror imaging of eschatological sabbatizing. What distinguishes the people of God of every era in the temporal arena is the light of an everlasting Sabbath rest in the eternal arena. In imitation of their Lord, they sabbatize so as to declare and testify, in ceasing from their labors, that they belong to a different country, a better country, a consummate Sabbath-land. " . . . the Sabbath is an expression of the eschatological principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed" (p. 156/140). Would we immanetize the eschaton? Would we advance a fully realized eschatology by suggesting that the eschatological Sabbath has arrived? The finale inaugurated by the creation overture has not yet been played. In principle, its chords have been sounded, semi-realized as it were, now accomplished but not yet completed/perfected. Pilgrims between the times—in between the overture and finale, the now and not yet—pilgrims copy/imitate their Creator and Savior in sanctifying the Sabbath day unto their Lord. The patently semi-realized "philosophy of the Sabbath" is revealed coincident with the revelation of the semi-realized era. The mind of God revealed in the words of the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews clearly articulates the full redemptive-historical meaning of the Sabbath: now (weekly semi-eschatological Sabbath)—not yet (eternal consummated eschatological Sabbath). And this pattern overarches and intrudes itself into the history of redemption from creation to Sinai to the New Covenant.

The rhythmic cycle of man's week—"six days of labor and one ensuing day of rest" (p. 156/140)—testifies not to the tyranny of the strong over the weak, the master over the slave, the rich and powerful over the poor and down-trodden (as it were, endless labor without surcease save at the whim of the powerbrokers); rather the weekly cycle is telic (that is, it has a goal). "This was true before, and apart from, redemption" (p. 157/140). What?! Before the protevangelium? before Gen. 3:15? before the revelation of a redeeming manchild


2 Deus Creator Redemptor Consummatur: in his tribus religio nostra universa pendet ("God the Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: on these three things our whole religion depends"). This expression appears on the "Dedicatory Page" of Vos's The Pauline Eschatology.


who would bruise the serpent's head? before all this, man's life was understood to lie before the door of higher fruition? What could there be more wonderful than salvation, redemption, soteric deliverance from sin and guilt and death? What could there have been more glorious than that pristine garden; that blissful ecstatic male-female union; that provision of every good gift to the touch, taste, smell, sight, ear; that communion with the walking Lord pastorally visiting his creatures in their perfectly green pastures?! What?! "The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the soteric!" (p. 157/140)3 Bam! Pow! Shazam! Vos has said that before salvation was graciously revealed, before the Redeemer was divinely supplied, before the Enemy was sentenced to grinding, crushing defeat—before all this, there was something perfectly glorious held out to mankind. The eschatological strand—the heavenly strand—the arena-of-God-himself strand: that reality was offered to Adam and all his posterity in him. How was the prospect of heaven and the face-to-face glory-presence of the Triune God offered to our protological Federal Head? "The so-called 'covenant of Works' was nothing but an embodiment of the Sabbatic principle" (read, heavenly, eschatological principle). Merited heavenly consummation would have been earned by that protological man for that was the judicial compact held out to him in the covenant not to eat of the fruit of the tree. Garden probation sustained, Adam would have been rewarded with what lay beyond the Garden—not East of Eden, but above and transcending Eden. Oh the depth of the misery, not to mention the loss of heaven brought by Adam's demerit! Only the merit of the eschatological Adam could undo this misery and open wide heaven's eschatological gates to his elect sons and daughters so that by his all-sufficient righteousness they could eat the fruit of the tree of life—eternal, never-ending Sabbath life! Hence the Sabbath in the pre-fall probationary state was "sacramental." By this, Vos means that the pre-fall, weekly creation ordinance Sabbath, was a pledge (Latin, sacramentum) of the heavenly, the eschatological Sabbath. Even apart from sin, even before sin, man—innocent sinless man—kept Sabbath not merely in imitation of his sabbatizing Maker, but as a pledge of the prospect of the better arena, the visio Dei arena, the glory-presence arena unveiled by time and space—the habitation of the Most High where he would rest forever from his probation and lean


3 See the Addendum on p. 68 below.


upon the bosom of his Creator. But with Adam's fall, with the grim reality of sin's bondage wearying us day by day, week by week, we must now via the Covenant of Grace anticipate "at the end of this world" that which we provisionally enjoy in the midst of this world, i. e., a weekly Sabbath rest as a mirror of an eternal Sabbath rest.

Yet one might say that because the typical Sabbath has been accomplished in Christ, because the sacramental Sabbath is gone with the Garden of Eden—then a weekly Sabbath is merely pragmatic, utilitarian. Perhaps the need for physical rest is the chief basis for a "work break." Recent European discussion of a "Common Pause Day" arises from this supposed utility of the 'Sabbath.' Suppose then that one sufficient otiose could be religiously oriented all the time. Sabbath utility unnecessary? Certain Reformers (does Vos have Calvin in mind?) "reasoned after this fashion. But they reasoned wrongly." The fundamental significance of the Sabbath is not mankind's utility: "it has its main significance apart from that, in pointing forward to the eternal issues of life and history" (p. 157/141). Once again, the Vosian primacy of eschatology!

Vos concludes this paragraph on the "utility" view with an oblique reference to "religious propaganda". It must be remembered that the fervor of the early 20th century "church growth movement" (i. e., the importing of "business principles" into the management and ministry of the church) turned the Sabbath day into a day of vigorous religious activity—specifically evangelism, visitation (for evangelistic purposes), special meetings (evangelism again) and endless worship services (aimed at galvanizing and motivating the people in the pew). Vos was concerned about this Sabbath "busyness" (business): "it is possible to crowd too much into the day that is merely subservient to religious propaganda, and to void it too much of the static, God-ward and heavenly-ward directed occupation of piety" (p. 157/141). How much of our "activity" on the Lord's day Sabbath (even in the so-called orthodox Reformed churches) falls under the same judgment today?!

With the advent of a gracious covenant, Christ as Lord of the Sabbath becomes central. We are reminded once more of the central agenda in Vos's writings—Jesus Christ. But it is not merely the Christ of the New Testament. No, Vos is Reformed in his covenantal sabbatarianism. Both Old and New Testament testify to the work sufficient for our eternal rest as the work of God's


Son. Yet this soteriological unity in the grace of Christ Jesus differs with respect to the peculiar day memorializing his work in the history of redemption: " . . . as the Old Covenant was still looking forward to the performance of the Messianic work, naturally the days of labor to it come first, the day of rest falls at the end of the week" (p. 158/141). Vos alleges that the very placement of the Sabbath under the Old Covenant was eschatologically oriented. An end-of-the-week Sabbath day was intended to direct attention to the future, to the prospect of rest in the Messiah when the fullness of time arrives. The redemptive historical program under the Old Covenant was Christ-centered, future-oriented and prospective. It dimly reflected better things to come. Even the particular day of Sabbath worship was prospectively positioned.

But under the New Covenant, the Sabbath has been positioned consonant with the redemptive historical program of the end of the ages. Messiah has come; he has earned his own Sabbath rest; our rest is begun in him. Hence "we . . . first celebrate the rest in principle procured by Christ" (p. 158/141). New Testament believers inaugurate their work-week with rest even as the kingdom of God is inaugurated in the person and work of Christ. And what better day to testify of this shift from promise to fulfillment in the history of redemption than the day of Christ's very own resurrection. The first day of the week wonderfully identifies God's people as the blessed possessors (even now, provisionally) of eternal rest, "although the Sabbath also still remains a sign looking forward to final eschatological rest" (ibid./ibid.).

Since the early church realized the dawn of a wonderfully new thing in the death and resurrection of Christ, they marked this transition from prospect to accomplishment sabbatically, i. e., by ceasing from the typical end-of-the-week Sabbath to the antitypical beginning-of-the-week Sabbath. The first creation had its Sabbath—on the seventh day of the week; but the new creation Sabbath must proclaim the drama of death and resurrection—on the first day of the week. If early Jewish Christians observed both days for a time, the supremacy and propriety of the Lord's day Sabbath "began to make itself felt" (ibid.). Beyond her nonage, the New Testament people of God sensed the fitness, the exhilaration of having the Sabbath placed on the day of resurrection.

Is there anything peculiar to the Old Testament church in the fourth precept? Vos suggests that the sequence (rather than the proportion ) of "six days


labor and one day of rest" was mutable. Implying that the proportion of six and one is perpetual ("the general principle on which the sequence, both under the old and the new dispensations, rests has not been changed," p. 159/142), the New Testament sequence is one day of rest, six days of labor. Vos is a perfect traditionalist: the perpetuity and change of the Sabbath does not argue annulment of the fourth commandment—rather the commandment "remains in force" (ibid./ibid.). In addition to the specific sequence, Vos notes the association of the weekly Sabbath with the cultic elements of the Jewish festival and ritual calendar, i. e., sabbatical year and year of Jubilee. "From all this we have been released by the work of Christ, but not from the Sabbath as instituted at Creation" (p. 159/143). Romans 14:5, 6, Galatians 4:10, 11 and Colossians 2:16, 17 all refer to ceremonial Sabbaths, not the moral (semi-eschatological) weekly Sabbath.


Geerhardus Vos has surveyed the Sabbath in biblical-theological perspective. Its perpetual morality is redemptive historically oriented—even eschatologically oriented. Thus the obligation of a weekly Sabbath rest remains to the people of God—Old and New Testament alike. This obligatory imperative flows out of the divine indicative. Saved by grace, the redeemed of the Lord keep Sabbath as heaven oriented, rest directed, worship delighting servant sons and daughters of their Lord. It is this wonderful eschatological or semi-eschatological nature of the Sabbath which (once more) marks Vos's profound contribution to Reformed biblical theology. Our weekly Sabbath now is a reflection of our resurrection union with him who has entered perfectly into his rest—and waits to welcome us to a consummate everlasting Sabbath.


It has been suggested by some savants in contemporary Reformed circles that the expression "eschatology is prior to soteriology" is sophistic, facile and silly. Furthermore, so it is said, those who use the phrase are ignorant ideologues. I hasten to point out that God himself is prior to soteriology; hence


God's own eschatological arena (heaven) is prior to soteriology. Or is it silly, facile, sophistical and ignorant to maintain that God is prior to his creation or prior to his plan of redemption as these manifest themselves in history?

The charges leveled against the phrase ("eschatology is prior to soteriology") may be leveled against Geerhardus Vos of Old Princeton. The "Father of Reformed Biblical Theology" becomes, in the estimate of contemporary masterminds, silly, facile, sophistical and an ignorant ideologue. Here are Vos's remarks a fontibus which state—what else?—that eschatology is prior to soteriology; in fact, that eschatology is the mother of theology.

"In so far as the covenant of works posited for mankind an absolute goal and unchangeable future, the eschatological may be even said to have preceded the soteric religion" ("The Eschatology of the Psalter," in The Pauline Eschatology [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961] 325).

" . . . the eschatological principle is so deeply embedded in the structure of the biblical religion as to precede and underlie everything else" (The Pauline Eschatology, 66).

"[The believer] has been translated into a state, which while falling short of the consummated life of eternity, yet may be truly characterized as semi-eschatological. In view of this it can cause no surprise . . . when the mind of the New Testament writers in its attempt to grasp the content of the Christian salvation makes the future the interpreter of the present, eschatology the norm . . . of soteriological experience" ("The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980] 92).

". . . the eschatological strand is the most systematic in the entire fabric of the Pauline thought-world. For it now appears that the closely interwoven soteric tissue derives its pattern from the eschatological scheme, which bears all


the marks of having had precedence in his mind" (The Pauline Eschatology, 60).

"This eschatological outlook . . . is the mother-soil out of which the tree of the whole redemptive organism has sprung" (The Self-Disclosure of Jesus [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954] 21-22).

" . . . eschatology posits an absolute goal at the end of the redemptive process corresponding to an absolute beginning of the world in creation: for then, no longer a segment but the whole sweep of history is drawn into one great perspective, and the mind is impelled to view every part in relation to the whole. To do this means to construct a primitive theological system. Thus eschatology becomes the mother of theology and that first of all theology in the form of a philosophy of redemptive history" ("Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 193)

If we are to believe the sources, Vos himself believes "eschatology is prior to soteriology." Surely an embarrassment to ideologues of a different stripe!