Monday, August 03, 2009

The Cross and our affections (2)

And make me feel it was my sin,
As if no other sins were there,
That was to Him Who bears the world
A load that He could scarcely bear.

F W Faber


It is essential that we come to the cross with a right apprehension of the guilt of our sin, of God's holy nature and just wrath against sin, and of the condemnation we ourselves deserve from God for our sins.

We cannot look upon any of these realities dispassionately. They are a litmus test that reveals whether we have really grasped our spiritual condition at all. It is no wonder that people rail against the doctrine of penal substitution if they have never felt in their hearts the overwhelming sense of God's holiness and the foulness of their own depravity. What Herman Bavinck once said of justification by faith applies just as well to the cross:
To correctly assess the benefit of justification, people must lift up their minds to the judgment seat of God and put themselves in his presence...But when they put themselves before the face of God and examine themselves in the mirror of his holy law, all their conceit collapses, all self-confidence melts, and there is room left only for the prayer: "Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you" (Job 4:17-29; 9:2; 15:14-16; Ps. 143:2; cf. 130:3), and their only comfort is that "there is forgiveness before you, so that you may be revered" (Ps. 130:4).

(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 4, p. 204-5)
If we have little sense of our sin, if we are strangers to grief, hatred and sorrow for it, we will feel little need to rest and rely solely upon Christ crucified as he is offered to us freely in the gospel. B. B. Warfield was right to say that “The fact is, the views men take of the atonement are largely determined by their fundamental feelings of need - by what men most long to be saved from.” (Warfield, Works IX, p. 283)

Our minds must be drawn to God's explanation in the Old and New Testaments of the atoning work of Christ so that we will have a clear understanding of what he has done for sinners like us and that our affections will be stirred up and fixed upon him. In the sublime words of Charles Hodge:
The knowledge of not the apprehension of what he is, simply by the intellect, but also a due apprehension of his glory as a divine person arrayed in our nature, and involves not as its consequence merely, but as one of its elements, the corresponding feeling of adoration, delight, desire and complacency.
The doctrine of penal substitution must not only be defended but delighted in. We must not only, when necessary, engage in a polemic debate about it but so hold before our eyes Jesus Christ and him crucified that he will receive the praise and adoration of our hearts.

Contemplating the cross work of Christ should fuel what the Heidelberg Catechism calls the "beginning of eternal joy," that believers already feel in their hearts, and which Revelation tells us will cascade in inexpressible adoration to the Lamb that was slain world without end (Revelation 5:9-14).

It is not enough that we agree with God about the nature of the death of Christ. Christ is our life and our joy. The more we see of his glory at the cross the more we ought to be thrilled and moved to know that though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, that we by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is how God has so ordered things in his greatest act of grace, the giving of his Son to the death of the cross, that he might perish and that we might not. Let Jonathan Edwards have the last word:
All the virtues of the Lamb of God, his humility, patience, meekness, submission, obedience, love and compassion, are exhibited to our view, in a manner the most tending to move our affections, of any that can be imagined; as they all had their greatest trial, and their highest exercise, and so their brightest manifestation, when he was in the most affecting circumstances; even when he was under his last sufferings, those unutterable and unparalleled sufferings he endured, from his tender love and pity to us.

There also the hateful nature of our sins is manifested in the most affecting manner possible: as we see the dreadful effects of them, in that our Redeemer, who undertook to answer for us, suffered for them. And there we have the most affecting manifestation of God's hatred of sin, and his wrath and justice in punishing it; as we see his justice in the strictness and inflexibleness of it; and his wrath in its terribleness, in so dreadfully punishing our sins, in one who was infinitely dear to him, and loving to us.

So has God disposed things, in the affair of our redemption, and in his glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though everything were purposely contrived in such a manner, as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly.

How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust, that we are no more affected!

1 comment:

Augustinian Successor said...

Yes, as you have said before, Martin, assent to the Cross is transformational. It's not an assent in which one assents to 'facts.' It's an assent to the living Word of God which makes present the Cross to us and incorporates us into the narrative. In other words, the 'propositions do what they say, say what they do.'

It's really funny how the Liberals construe the love of God. They talk a lot of the love of God but they do not know what is the love of God. The Liberals, influence perhaps by Kantian metaphysical assumptions think that they can 'see through' the love of God on the Cross. That the Cross is 'transparent.' This is sheer sight: 'Seeing is believing.'

The sight of the Crucifixion means nothing if the Liberals don't understand it was there that God hides His divinity in the deepest 'possible way.' That is the Cross which showed a suffering and dying Jesus, really and truly, in every human way, did not, contrary to Liberal expectation, revealed the divinity of God. The opposite is true, God HID his divine being, not revealed it.

It is the love of an almighty, omnipotent of God the Saviour, who came not express love in the abstract but actually to DO love by giving up His own life for the world (elect sinners and all creation).

Such a Cross is always foolishness to this same world. Only then can the depth of our depravity be truly revealed, we are rendered passive and receptive in faith, our sin of the divine ambition be crushed and destroyed, etc. Not by striving, doing, but by merely believing (this faith or assent which is solely the work and gift of the Holy Spirit) that we are justified by the Cross.