Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The tragic essence of Pharisaic piety

Where will you find the best expression of the essence of Pharisaic piety?

It lies in what Jesus says about the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple:
God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. (Lk. 18:11-12)
It is a prayer that makes the wrong comparison because it looks upon a fellow sinner with a sense of elevation.  It is a prayer that makes the wrong appeal because it imagines a sense of righteousness that comes from being free from certain sinful acts committed by others.  It is a prayer that compounds that wrong appeal by placing confidence in works-righteousness.

But it is still a prayer.

And it discloses the very essence of Pharisaic piety.  It makes it's boast not only by a wrong comparison, not only by a wrong appeal, but in the presence of the Holy and Righteous God.  Its unseemly piety is expressed coram deo.

It is said that Pelagius taught the following prayer:
Thou knowest, O Lord, how holy, how innocent, how pure from all deceit and rapine, are the hands which I stretch forth unto thee; how just, how unspotted with evil, how free from lying, are those lips wherewith I pour forth prayers unto thee, that thou wouldst have mercy on me.
In that prayer you can hear the same cadences of Pharisaic piety that Jesus spoke of in Luke 18.

The atmosphere of true piety is found in the words of the tac collector: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

That same atmosphere can be found in the pastoral counsel of Anselm:
Put all thy confidence in this death alone, place thy trust in no other thing; commit thyself wholly to this death, cover thyself wholly with this alone... 
And if God would judge thee say 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy judgment...' 
And if he shall say unto thee that thou art a sinner, say, 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and all my sins; and I offer no merits of my own, which I should have, and have not' 
If he say that he is angry with thee, say, 'Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy anger'.
Elsewhere Anselm wrote:
My conscience hath deserved damnation, and my repentance is not sufficient for satisfaction; but most certain it is that thy mercy aboundeth above all offence.
Ambrose also gave expression to the essence of true piety when he wrote these words:
Let no man arrogate anything unto himself, let no man glory in his own merits or good deeds, let no man boast of his power: let us all hope to find mercy by our Lord Jesus; for we shall all stand before his judgment-seat.   
Of him I will beg pardon...what other hope is there for sinners?

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Willing Substitute

"From now on, wearing his clothes, 
I would be treated the way he had been treated."

In 1944 British soldier Denis Avey willingly walked into Auschwitz III.  Already a POW he freely exchanged places with a Dutch Jew from the concentration camp.  The following is his recollection of that crucial moment:
He closed the door on the turmoil of that hideous construction site and shuffled out of his grimy striped uniform.  He threw the thin garments to me and I pulled them on without hesitation.  Then I watched as he dragged on my British army battledress, casting looks over his shoulder at the door as he did it. 
He was a Dutch Jew and I knew him as Hans.  With that simple exchange between the two of us I had given away the protection of the Geneva Convention: I'd given my uniform, my lifeline, my best chance of surviving that dreadful place, to another man. 
From now on, wearing his clothes, I would be treated the way he had been treated. 
It was the middle of 1944 when I entered Auschwitz III of my own free will.
The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, p. 3-4

This extraordinary tale of courage, a story that could so easily have been lost to human memory, is but the faintest echo of the decisive moment in the great saga of redemption: that Christ should bear our sin, and that we should be clothed in his righteousness.  That he should be treated as our sins deserve, exposed to our merited punishment, and that the Father should see us in the Son of his love, his Beloved, with whom he is well pleased.

As Calvin expressed it:
Christ was put in place of evildoers as surety and pledge -- submitting himself even as the accused -- to bear and suffer all the punishments that they ought to have sustained.
Institutes, 1.2.XVI.10

The nineteenth century Scottish NT scholar George Smeaton was right to state this truth as follows:
The element of substitution, that is, of an exchange of places, constitutes the very core of the atonement; and this is also the Gospel in a single word... 
But this substitution was no make-believe, no mere semblance, but a true exchange of places -- the most real of facts.  He was accounted as the sinner not by a mere as if He were so, but because he was made sin (2 Cor. 5:21), and hence was treated as a sinner.
Christ's Doctrine of the Atonement, p. 93, 95.

And finally these apposite words came from the pen of Herman Bavinck:
The mystical and moral interpretation of Jesus' suffering and death cannot be maintained if it is not acknowledged beforehand that in a legal sense he suffered and died in our place... 
For when it says that Christ, though personally without sin, has been put forward as an expiation to show God's righteousness [Rom. 3:25], has been made to be sin for us [2 Cor. 5:21], became a curse for us [Gal. 3:13], bore our sins in his body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]...then we can construe the interconnection between all these scriptural pronouncements in no other way than that Christ put himself in our place, has borne the punishment of our sin, satisfied God's justice, and so secured salvation for us.
Reformed Dogmatics Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, p. 398