Zwingli and Bullinger on Pictures of Jesus

Two of the Reformed champions of the second commandment and the regulative principle of worship are Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger. As a pastor at Zurich, Zwingli was the driving force behind the purging of images that were being abused as objects of worship in the city’s houses of worship. Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor at Zurich, later wrote the Second Helvetic Confession, which contains a clear and strong creedal condemnation of the idolatrous use of images in worship.

These were men of the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century, Ralph Erskine promoted the view that every possible visible representation of Jesus in His humanity is inherently an idolatrous moral abomination. He regarded a mental image of Jesus in His humanity as a form of atheism and referred to such images as vermin. We should not assume without evidence that this eighteenth century view was shared by sixteenth century champions of the regulative principle such as Zwingli and Bullinger.

Zwingli obviously didn’t share Erskine’s view as evidenced by the following statement in his 1525 work, An Answer to Valentin Compar: “No one is forbidden from having a portrait of the humanity of Christ.” Zwingli allowed such images with two restrictions: they should never be venerated, and they should never be put in any place designated for worship. Zwingli also cautioned that everyone “who now has the image of Christ in his house should take care that he not make it into an idol; for as we have already said, with us no pictures become idols faster than those of Christ.” Notice that Zwingli warned against making such an image into an idol. He did not label all such images as inherently idolatrous or necessarily idolatrous. An Answer to Valentin Compar contains Zwingli’s most extensive treatment of images, the one that he himself referred to as his “complete opinion.” (Garside 1966, 162, 171, 179)

There is further evidence of Zwingli’s view on this question in an edition of Zwingli’s treatise on the Lord’s Supper published in Zurich in 1526. In the center of the title page is a box containing the book’s title and other publication information. To the left of the box is a drawing of Israelites collecting manna in the wilderness, and to the right of the box is a drawing of Jesus feeding the five thousand in another wilderness. Above the box is a drawing of what I take to be some Israelites standing around a Passover table, and below the box is a drawing of Jesus seated at a Passover table with eleven disciples for the Last Supper (Dyrness 2004, 59–60; Zwingli, H. 1526b). The use of these drawings on the title page may have been the decision of the printer independent of the author. Another Zurich printer printed the same work in the same year without using this artwork (Zwingli, H. 1526a). Nevertheless, the title page art found in one Zurich printer’s 1526 edition of the book is consistent with what Zwingli had written earlier about visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. Also, this book was published in Zurich, the city where Zwingli had so much influence. The only departure from the realism of a historical scene in this title page art is the aura around Jesus’ head which symbolically alluded to His deity. Symbolically alluding to Christ’s deity is not the same as trying to depict the deity of Jesus, which is invisible and undepictable.

Zwingli’s balanced moderation is especially commendable in light of the abuses against which Zwingli was reacting. The core of the popular piety in the western church shortly before the Reformation was a devotion to the cult of the saints combined with an insatiable appetite for sensuous forms of worship, especially worship through visual experiences. In the early days of the Reformation, Zwingli commented:

Have we not all thought it a sacred thing to touch these images? Why have we imprinted kisses upon them, why have we bowed the knee, why have we paid a high price merely for a view of them? (Zwingli, H. 1981, 332)

Zwingli was pastor of the Great Minster church in Zurich from 1518 until his death in 1531. When he became the pastor, the church building contained some relics and many visual representations of Jesus, apostles, martyrs, and other departed saints, including Mary, the mother of Jesus. All of these items and even ornamental decorations were removed in the cleansing in 1524. The reason for removing even decorations was that all these items had long been integral parts of a larger system of false worship with a long history. The iconoclastic cleansing of the church buildings in Zurich removed all remnants and reminders of this comprehensive religious system which had defrauded the people for so long. The greater the fraud, the greater the reaction of the victims when they discover it. Therefore even some of the ornamental decorations had to go.

One of the criteria for selecting what to remove in the Zurich cleansing is illustrated by some comments that Zwingli made about one image that was removed and another which was not. The Great Minster building had two images of Charlemagne, the king who long before had ordered the erection of the church building. One image was an altar painting of Charlemagne in a kneeling position, and the other image was a statue of Charlemagne seated on a throne in a niche high up in an exterior tower. Zwingli explained why one was purged and the other was allowed to stay:

We have had two great Charleses: the one in the Great Minster, which was venerated like other idols, and for that reason was taken out; the other, in one of the church towers, which no one venerates, and that one was left standing, and has caused no annoyance at all. (Garside 1966, 150)

The criterion for purging that is here illustrated is functional abuse. The people had venerated the image with religious connotations that was located inside the church, but they had not venerated the image with secular connotations that was located high on the church’s exterior. The one that had been abused as an object of veneration was purged, and the other was allowed to stay. Thus decisions were sometimes made based on people’s attitude toward an object and the way they treated it.

Another illustration of this functional criterion in purging images is Zwingli’s attitude toward images that were in the sanctuary windows. Zwingli expressed tolerance of these because no one tended to worship them there.

Next after these I do not think those images should be disturbed which are put into windows for the sake of decoration, provided they represent nothing base, for no one worships them there. (Zwingli, H. 1981, 337)

Zwingli, an advocate and champion of iconoclasm in the sense of purging images from places of worship, was moderate regarding some non-cultic visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. A good summary of Zwingli’s balanced views on images is found in this statement from his 1523 work, A Brief Christian Introduction:

It is clear that the images and other representations which we have in the houses of worship have caused the risk of idolatry. Therefore they should not be allowed to remain there, nor in your chambers, nor in the market-place, nor anywhere else where one does them honour. Chiefly they are not to be tolerated in the churches, for all that is in them should be worthy of our respect. If anyone desires to put historical representations on the outside of the churches, that may be allowed, so long as they do not incite to their worship. But when one begins to bow before these images and to worship them, then they are not to be tolerated anywhere in the wide world; for that is the beginning of idolatry, nay, is idolatry itself. (Jackson 1901, 208; Zwingli, H. 1984, cf. 2:70–71; Garside 1966, cf. 149–50)

Zwingli was killed in battle in 1531, and he was succeeded as the religious leader of Zurich by his close friend Heinrich Bullinger. One would expect Bullinger to continue the doctrines and practices of Zwingli, the martyred pastor. There is evidence of this in the Zurich church’s policy toward music in public worship. Under Zwingli’s influence, the church at Zurich removed all music from its public worship services. The church at Zurich did not resume singing in public worship until 1598, twenty-three years after Bullinger’s death.

In his book Zwingli and the Arts, Garside argues that Bullinger continued the legacy of Zwingli. As evidence of this, Garside shows the similarity of Bullinger’s language on images in the Second Helvetic Confession to some of the language on images which Zwingli used in his Commentary on True and False Religion and in An Answer to Valentin Compar. Yet Bullinger did have some statements in his confession that some might interpret as contrary to Zwingli’s position on visual representations of Christ in His humanity:

We do therefore reject not only the idols of the Gentiles, but also the images of Christians. For although Christ took upon him man’s nature, yet he did not therefore take it that he might set forth a pattern for carvers and painters. He denied that he came ‘to destroy the law and the prophets’ (Matt. v. 17), but images are forbidden in the law and the prophets (Dent. iv. 15; Isa. xliv. 9). He denied that his bodily presence would profit the Church, but promised that he would by his Spirit be present with us forever (John xvi. 7; 2 Cor. v. 5).
Who would, then, believe that the shadow or picture of his body doth any whit benefit the godly? . . .
But that men might be instructed in religion, and put in mind of heavenly things and of their own salvation, the Lord commanded to preach the Gospel (Mark xvi. 15) — not to paint and instruct the laity by pictures; he also instituted sacraments, but he nowhere appointed images. (Schaff 1977, 3:836–37)

Bullinger, however, does not here directly address the limited and restricted possibilities in which Zwingli allowed for certain visual representations of Jesus in His humanity. Also, there is nothing in the above which indicates that Bullinger would disagree with Zwingli’s position, nor is there reason to believe that Zwingli would disagree with what Bullinger wrote in the above. The purpose of the incarnation certainly was not for the Theanthropos to serve as a model for engravers and painters. Nor can pictures serve as a substitute for the reading, teaching and preaching of the Scriptures. There is nothing in Bullinger’s statements above that condemns as necessarily immoral all possible mental and artistic images based on the graphic descriptions of events involving Jesus that are found in the inspired gospel accounts.

In Common Places, Peter Martyr Vermigli expressed a view of visual representations of Jesus in His humanity that is similar to Zwingli’s view:

Now, as touching those images, which resemble things created, let us see how they may be suffered, or not suffered. And first of all, Christ cometh verie well to remembrance, in that he is man, for in that respect he may be resembled, painted out. For that is not against the nature of the thing, seeing he was verie man, neither against the art of painting, which may imitate bodies. (Martyr 1583, 340 2.5.10)

Peter Martyr Vermigli also read and expressed agreement with the Second Helvetic Confession. I assume that he would have qualified his agreement if he had found any of the confession’s language contradictory to his own position on visual representations of Jesus in His humanity.


Here are some additional relevant woodcuts:

Item 4 under “Five Highlights from our Collection” at this link is a woodcut allegedly designed with Zwingli’s involvement:

Here is book by Heinrich Bullinger published in Zurich in 1599. A representation of Moses with the two tablet of the law is on the left, and one of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is on the right.

Here is another by Bullinger published in Zurich in 1605. There is a nativity scene at the bottom:

See also:

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity

Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment

The Geneva Bible and Visual Representations of Deity

Charles Hodge and Pictures of Jesus

Archibald Alexander and Mental Images of Jesus

Preaching and Mental Images

The Christological Argument and Images of Jesus

Westminster Larger Catechism 109: A Short Analysis

My Understanding of Images of Jesus

Works Cited

Dyrness, W. A. 2004. Reformation Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Garside, C., Jr. 1966. Zwingli and the Arts. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press.

Jackson, S. M. 1901. Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland 1484–1531. Heroes of the Reformation. New York, NY, and London: The Knickerbocker Press.

Martyr, P. 1583. The Common Places of the Most Famous and Renowmed Divine Doctor Peter Martyr, Divided into Foure Principall Partes: With a Large Addition of Manie Theologicall and Necessariie Discourses, Some Never Extant Before. A. Marten. London: H. Denhad and H. Middleton.

Schaff, P. 1977. The Creeds of Christendom with a History and Critical Notes in Three Volumes. Vol.  3, The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Zwingli, H. 1526a. Ein Klare under Richtung vom Nachtmal Christi. Zurich: Cristoffel Froschouer.

———. 1526b. Ein Klare underrichtung vom Nachtmal Christi. Zurich: Hans Hager.

———. 1981. Commentary on True and False Religion. Editor S. M. Jackson and C. N. Heller. Curham, NC: The Labyrinth Press.

———. 1984. Huldrych Zwingli Writings. Vol. 2, In Search of True Religion: Reformation, Pastoral and Eucharistic Writings. H. W. Pipkin. Pittsburgh Theological Monographs. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications.


The Four Names of Jesus

During the traditional twelve days of Christmas, let us remember the four names of Jesus found in an inspired prophecy of Isaiah. The prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 begins with the Christmas message: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.” It is a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah as a coming great ruler. The passage then proceeds to list four names of the prophesied new born infant. Yes, in the King James Version and in Handel’s Messiah, there are five names, but I think it is best to translate the passage with four names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Four names are a possibility because the commas in the English translation are not in the original Hebrew. There is also a more harmonious balance with four names each consisting of two words. In addition, the reading with four names better fits my understanding of the passage.

It occurred to me long ago that the background for the names in this prophecy is probably the history of David and Solomon, the father and son who were kings at the height of the glory of old testament Israel. The Messianic name “the Everlasting Father” is a bit puzzling when one is thinking in terms of the personal names of the three members of the Godhead: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The infant wrapped in swaddling cloth was the incarnation of God the Son, not the incarnation of God the Father. Yet the name “the Everlasting Father” is completely understandable when combined with the name “the Prince of Peace” and considered in another context. That other context is Jesus as both the new David and the new Solomon of the new covenant. David and Solomon were related to each other as father and prince, and both find their fulfillment as biblical types in Jesus.

The consecutive reigns of David and Solomon are prophetic pictures of the spiritual victory and reign of Jesus Christ. David was the warrior king who defeated the enemies of God’s people. When David’s wars were over, the land enjoyed rest and was at peace. David’s son Solomon reigned during this time of peace and built God’s temple in Jerusalem.

All of these events in the lives of David and Solomon are biblical types pointing to Jesus as their antitype. Jesus fulfills the spirit of David as the warrior king in His overcoming sin, Satan and the world. Jesus fulfills the spirit of Solomon in His reigning after the defeat of His enemies and in His building His church as a new covenant temple.

Again, these four names are all in some way linked either to David or to Solomon. In addition, three of these names have something in them which points beyond David and Solomon, even something which points to the divine. Solomon had the wisdom of a counselor, but Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. David was Solomon’s father, but Jesus is the Everlasting Father. David was a mighty warrior, but Jesus is the Mighty God.

With these thoughts as background, let’s now look at these four names one at a time. The first name is Wonderful Counselor. The Hebrew word translated “Wonderful” is really a noun. A more literal translation would be “the Wonder Counselor.” This implies that Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor in that not only His counsel but even His very person and being is a wonder. The supernatural conception of the God-Man in the womb of the virgin Mary certainly was a divine wonder beyond human ability. The whole Hebrew word family related to the word translated “Wonderful” in our text is mainly used to refer to the mighty acts of God that are beyond human ability. This word family is used in Genesis 18:14 in the question, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” In Exodus 3:20, God said to Moses, “So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that [the Pharaoh] will let you go.” After God drowned the Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, Moses sang to the Lord in Exodus 15:11, “Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Later in redemptive history, an adjective in this word family was used to describe the name of the Angel of the Lord. This occurred when the Angel of the Lord told Samson’s parents about the coming birth of their special son (Judges 13:18-23). Samson’s father asked the Angel of the Lord what His name was. The Angel of the Lord replied, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?” Then the Angel of the Lord did a wondrous thing that demonstrated His deity. Samson’s father offered a sacrifice to the Lord. As the flame of the sacrifice ascended, the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. In response, Samson’s father said to his wife, “We have seen God.” Again, this Hebrew word family refers to mighty acts of God that are beyond human ability.

The use of the word “Wonderful” in our text certainly points to the full deity of Jesus. The use of the word “Counselor” points to Jesus as the Solomon of the new covenant. Early in Solomon’s reign, the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5). In response, Solomon asked for an understanding heart to judge God’s people, so that he would be able to discern between good and evil. God was greatly pleased that Solomon had made this request instead of asking for long life or earthly riches. God then said to Solomon,

1 King 3:12

12 “… behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.”

Good kings surrounded themselves with wise counselors. As it says in Proverbs 15:22:

22 Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.

Solomon, however, had no one wiser than himself with which to consult.

1 King 4:29-31

29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore.

30 Thus Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt.

31 For he was wiser than all men …

The Old Testament records a classic example of Solomon exercising his wisdom. Two harlots came to Solomon. They both lived in the same house, and each was the mother of an infant son. One son had died during the night, and both mothers claimed to be the mother of the surviving infant. To settle the dispute, Solomon commanded the child to be divided in two with one half given to each mother. One woman said regarding the child, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.” The other said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!” Solomon gave the child to the woman who pled for the child’s life, recognizing her as the child’s true mother. We read in 1 Kings 3:28 about the effect of this judgment upon the people of Israel:

28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.

Of course, King Solomon was not perfect. Later in life he strayed into the worship of idols under the influence of pagan wives. Unlike the coming one whom Solomon foreshadowed as a type, Solomon had his flaws, even serious ones. The same can be said of King David.

The name Wonderful Counselor tells us that Jesus is much greater than the Solomon of the old covenant. Jesus has a greater wisdom than Solomon because Jesus has a human mind that has not been distorted by sin. Jesus has a greater wisdom than Solomon because the person thinking through Jesus’ human mind is the divine person of God the Son. Jesus has a greater wisdom than Solomon because God has poured out the Holy Spirit without measure upon Jesus.

Isaiah 11:2

2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

Jesus brings us divine wisdom in its clearest and most complete form. Jesus tells us heavenly things in human terms that we can understand. Jesus declares God to us with a new clarity. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). His counsel is a wonder, a mighty act of God beyond human ability. His counsel includes His advice, His plans and His purposes.

Just as Solomon received questions that challenged His wisdom, so did Jesus during His earthly ministry. For example, some who sought to entangle Jesus asked the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus asked to see some tax money and then asked whose image was on the coin. His opponents answered that the image was that of the Caesar. Jesus then responded, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21; Luke 20:25). They marveled at the wisdom of His answer and had nothing to say in reply (Luke 20:26). Jesus exhibited His wisdom by commanding a proper division of wealth, even as Solomon had exhibited his wisdom by commanding as a test the division of a child.

The second name is Mighty God. Here we have another reference to the deity of Christ. The same Hebrew name here translated “Mighty God” is used in Isaiah 10:21 to refer to God Himself. This proves conclusively that Isaiah used the Hebrew name translated “Mighty God” in our text as a divine name in the fullest possible sense. In other words, Jesus is not some halfway deity or demigod like the pagan Roman god Hercules, and Jesus is not merely an angel like Michael and Gabriel. Jesus is fully God as well as fully man.

We also need to consider individually the two words here translated “Mighty God.” The Hebrew word here translated “God” is “El,” a general name for the true God who is superior to all false gods. The respected commentator Edward J. Young said this about this Hebrew word “El”: “In Isaiah it is found as a designation of God and only of Him” (1.336). And “This designation is reserved for the true God and Him alone” (1:337).

There are also overtones of deity in the Hebrew word here translated “Mighty.” This Hebrew word is often used of God as He fights for His people. For example, Psalm 24:8 says:

8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

This Hebrew word here translated “Mighty” also has usages that can be related to King David. This Hebrew word can mean “mighty,” as it does in our text, but it can also refer to a mighty man. This Hebrew word is used elsewhere as a noun to refer to the elite soldiers in David’s army who were called David’s mighty men. David himself was a warrior hero. As a boy, David defeated the great Philistine warrior Goliath. The Hebrew word here translated “Mighty” is used to refer to Goliath as the warrior champion of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:51). David’s defeating a warrior hero in combat would imply that David himself was a warrior hero. When David was later fighting the Philistines under King Saul, women would meet King Saul when he returned from battle. They would dance and sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7).

Jesus as the David of the new covenant is a warrior hero of a higher sort. Jesus has defeated Satan, sin, death and the world, which are all foes vastly more powerful than the Philistine giant Goliath. Jesus came as a man to fight a human fight against our enemies on our behalf. Jesus came as God to obtain a sure victory of infinite worth. Jesus is the Mighty God, the divine warrior, the God hero.

The third name is Everlasting Father. This is another reference to Jesus as the David of the new covenant. David of the old covenant was the father of Solomon, who in his youth was a prince in Israel. In addition, Jesus is like a father to His people even as old testament David was a father to old testament Israel in his role as their king.

Yet Jesus as the David of the new covenant is greater than old covenant David. Jesus is the Everlasting Father. The adjective “Everlasting” here refers to an attribute of Jesus’ deity. David is still in his grave, but Jesus continues to rule, and will rule forever.

We read in Matthew chapter two that when the wise men from the East came to Jerusalem seeking the Christ Child, King Herod asked the chief priests and the scribes where the Christ would be born. They replied,

Matthew 2:5-6

5 … “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'”

If we look for the fuller context in the prophecy of Micah, we find in addition that this Ruler born in Bethlehem would be one “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Micah and Isaiah, using different words, taught the same concept. Jesus in His deity is everlasting. He possesses the divine attribute of eternity. Jesus was born in the city of David, but the goings forth of Jesus are from everlasting. Because of His deity, Jesus was able to say, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Old covenant David was never able to say that or anything like it.

Isaiah 9:7 comments on the unending duration of Jesus’ rule:

7 Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

We read a similar statement about the kingdom given to the Son of Man after His coming with the clouds before the Ancient of Days:

Daniel 7:14

14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.

Jesus is the greater David who, in His glorified humanity, will oversee His people forever as their fatherly Ruler. Jesus gives His people eternal life, and they shall never perish. They will ever live under His fatherly rule.

The fourth and last name is Prince of Peace. This name refers to Jesus as the Solomon of the new covenant. Solomon was a prince, and Solomon’s name is related to the Hebrew word for peace, which is shalom. Because Solomon’s father David had defeated Israel’s enemies, Solomon reigned in a time of peace. Because of this peace, Solomon was able to build the first temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus is our Solomon of the new covenant. Through His saving work, Jesus has made us to be at peace with God by paying for our sins, by satisfying the just claims of God’s law against us as sinners and law breakers and transgressors. Jesus has also made us at peace with God by removing that old heart that was filled with rebellion against God and His law and by replacing it with a new heart with God’s law written upon it, a new heart that wants to please God, a new heart whose main desire and aspiration in life is submission to the will of the Father. Now that we are at peace with God, Jesus has incorporated us into His new covenant temple as living stones.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. Jesus finished all the work that is implied by these four prophetic names. After His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended up into heaven where God seated the glorified Jesus at His right hand, the place of all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus is now seated on an exalted and universal form of the throne of David. Jesus in His humanity is now the Sovereign of the universe. God has given Jesus the nations for His inheritance and the ends of the earth for His possession. Jesus now rules that one eternal kingdom which will never fall.

Let me close by exhorting you to put your faith in Jesus and His saving work. By looking to Jesus alone for salvation, by resting upon Jesus alone, by depending upon Him and His work, you will receive the gift of salvation. Jesus will become your greater David and your greater Solomon. He will deliver you from the grip of sin and Satan. He will give you eternal life. He will provide you with wisdom and peace. He will incorporate you into His new covenant temple. One greater than David is here. One greater than Solomon is here. If we do not come to Christ in faith, then the Queen of Sheba, who came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, will rise up in judgment against us. May we instead come to Christ and enjoy the eternal benefits of His benevolent reign.

Insights on Enduring Persecution from the Church at Smyrna

I believe that the book of Revelation is especially relevant today but maybe not for the reason that many might expect. The church always finds special comfort in the book of Revelation when the church is experiencing persecution. We are today experiencing what may prove to be the early stages of a time of persecution. Some Christians have experienced various forms of persecution because they could not in good conscience provide certain services upon request for a same sex “wedding.” Some Christians in the medical profession may have been excluded from certain positions because they could not in good conscience take the life of a criminally innocent person either in the womb or in old age. Some Christian teachers may not be welcome in certain schools because they will not teach young children racial prejudices or sexual perversions. These are just a few examples, but I think that they are sufficient to give a sense of the times in which we are living. We don’t know if this persecution is going to intensify and expand, and we don’t know to what degree it will affect our own lives. We pray for a coming spiritual awakening that will radically change the direction in which our culture has been heading. Yet as long as persecution is on our horizon, the book of Revelation will have a special relevance for us. What was comforting to those seven churches in the closing years of the apostolic age can also provide comfort for persecuted Christians from then onwards down to the end of the age.

We find some insights on enduring persecution in Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna, found in Revelation 2:8-11. We learn here that Jesus is well aware of the church’s difficulties in a hostile world. In verse nine, Jesus said to the church at Smyrna, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich) …” When we first read this, we might assume that this church existed in an impoverished area where jobs were scarce and resources were limited. But no, Smyrna was a large and prosperous city. The Christians there were poor because of prejudice against Christians. One could not there openly confess Christ and also get ahead socially and financially.

Like every pagan Greek city, Smyrna had its own patron deity. In addition, each trade guild would also have a patron deity. There were occasions when and situations where everyone was expected to give a certain token worship to a particular pagan deity, whether the patron deity of the city or the patron deity of a trade guild. Many would not take kindly to Christians who in principle refused to participate. Many would quickly blame such Christians for offending the gods whenever anything bad happened in the city.

Yet what was perhaps an even greater challenge in Smyrna was the rising cult of Caesar worship. The city of Smyrna had been loyal to Rome long before Rome became the dominant power in Asia Minor. About 195 B.C., Smyrna became the first city in the world to build a temple dedicated to the worship of the goddess Roma. In A.D. 26, all the major cities of Asia Minor petitioned Rome to be the site of a new temple dedicated to the worship of the Roman Emperor Tiberius while he was still alive and ruling. Smyrna was chosen for this honor and became a temple warden for the imperial cult. Cicero, the Roman orator, called the city of Smyrna Rome’s most faithful and ancient ally. We can only imagine what it would have been like to have been a Christian in the city of Smyrna during Roman times and to have refused to offer a pinch of incense to the goddess Roma or to the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

The situation gets even more complicated and dangerous. Jesus went on to say in verse nine, “… and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” We can get some insight on this verse from the Apostle Paul’s experiences on his missionary journeys as recorded for us in the book of Acts. When the Apostle Paul entered a city, he would first go to the local synagogue. There he would proclaim that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth was the prophesied Messiah of Scripture. Those who believed in Jesus proved themselves to be the true Israel within Israel, and they became part of the Christian church. Those who rejected Jesus were in God’s eyes cut off the olive tree of Israel for failing to bear the fruit of faith in God’s Messiah. Some of these cut off branches would try to stir up the local pagans to persecute the church. By doing this, they became agents of Satan, the devil. The name “Satan” means adversary, the word “devil” means accuser, and later in the book of Revelation, Satan is called the accuser of the brethren. Some would accuse the Christians of refusing to worship the pagan gods and of having another king besides Caesar. They would also try to inform the pagan Gentiles that the Christians were a separate religion that did not possess the religious immunity that Rome had given to Jews since the days of Julius Caesar. They would do what they could to stir the pot of pagan persecution against the church.

Because of all this tribulation and persecution, the Christians at Smyrna were financially poor. But Jesus assured them that they were in reality rich in a way that really counted. They had stored up in heaven treasure where moth and rust do not corrupt and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Here is the counsel that Jesus gave to the church at Symrna in their situation:

10 “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

When we first read this, we might think that these Christians were about to be sentenced to a little time in prison. We would be reading our modern world back into the text. People in Greek and Roman times did not spend time in prison as a form of punishment. They went to prison as a holding place where they waited for trial or sentencing or punishment. The exhortation “be faithful until death” implies that many of those arrested for being Christians would become martyrs for the faith. They weren’t facing just a little time in jail. For example, about the middle of the second century, the leader of the church at Smyrna, Polycarp, was burned at the stake after refusing to offer a small pinch of incense to an image of the Roman emperor.

The Christians at Smyrna were about to endure a time of testing and tribulation that would last ten days. Because the book of Revelation is full of symbolism, the ten days are probably more symbolic than a literal length of time. The number ten often signifies that which is complete and would in this context indicate a coming time of intense persecution. The fact that the time of tribulation was measured in days and not in weeks, months or years probably indicated that the time of tribulation that the church at Smyrna was then about to experience, though intense, would be limited in duration. The ten days of tribulation were in contrast to the thousand years that Christian martyrs reign with Christ according to Revelation chapter twenty.

Jesus exhorted the Christians at Smyrna to be faithful until death and promised them the crown of life. The words “crown” and “faithful” had a special relevance to the Christians at Smyrna. Smyrna was known as a beautiful city, and a part of its beauty was a prominent hill crowned with stately buildings. This hill was known as the crown of Smyrna. The city of Smyrna was also known for its faithfulness to Rome. Jesus exhorted the Christians at Smyrna to be loyal first and foremost to Him. Those pagans whose first loyalty was to Rome might very well martyr the Christians whose first loyalty was to Jesus. Through their deaths, these Christian martyrs would forfeit their beautiful city as symbolized by that hill called the crown of Smyrna, but Jesus promised them something better. Jesus promised them a crown of life. A crown symbolizes victory, and the Christian’s victory is eternal life. This is a prize that the Christian possesses from the moment when he first believes, a prize that the Christian will more fully possess at death, and a prize that the Christian will possess to the fullest in his resurrection body on the last day.

Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna ends with a positive word about their future. Verse eleven says, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” Earlier Jesus had exhorted the Christians at Smynra not to fear but to be faithful unto death. The first death is physical death, the temporary separation of the human spirit from the physical body. The second death is eternal death, the everlasting separation of the total person, body and soul, from God in a place of everlasting punishment. The faithful Christians at Smyrna did not need to fear physical death because Jesus would protect them from the harm of the second death. Jesus has transformed physical death for the Christian from a prelude to the second death into a time of rest and reward.

The letter to the church at Smyrna reminds us that there are times when and places where the Christian cannot be loyal to Jesus without experiencing persecution to some degree. A generation ago, the world called Christians fools because they believed in Jesus as He is revealed in the Bible. Today the world calls Christians bigots because they believe what Jesus teaches in the Bible about right and wrong. We are in a time when being faithful to Jesus is becoming more costly. The cost may continue to increase, but we must resolve to overcome and to remain faithful. After all, what would it profit us if we gained the whole world and in the process lost our very souls? Our goal in life must be to be rich in the way that the Christians at Smyrna were rich, even if that means that we are impoverished in this life in terms of the riches of earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break in and steal.

Thanksgiving in Embittered Times

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving, that uniquely American holiday on which we take off from work and school, eat turkey and dressing, and watch parades and bowl games on television. But we need to remember that Thanksgiving should be more than a day off and a special meal and seasonal TV programs. Thanksgiving was instituted as a day which our culture sets aside to count our blessings and to give God thanks. Yet we must acknowledge that Thanksgiving as originally instituted is becoming more and more foreign to much of our culture. A radical form of ingratitude has come to characterize the culture that today dominates in certain spheres of our society. The philosophy behind this radical ingratitude is neo-Marxism, a new embodiment of the failed economic theories of Karl Marx.

The original version of Marxism tried to promote revolution through conflict between factory workers and the capitalist owners of the means of production. In the twentieth century, economic versions of Marxism were tried in numerous places and without exception proved to be economically disastrous. At the same time, the economic status of workers continued to improve in societies with a free market. In the closing decades of the twentieth century, socialism and communism were abandoned in many nations as failed economic experiments.

Sadly the ghost of Marxism has risen from the grave in the twenty-first century. The newer version of Marxism tries to promote revolution through conflict not between economic classes but between social classes referred to as the victims of oppression and the oppressors. Instead of promoting gratitude for the real blessings that people experience, neo-Marxism encourages people to view themselves as oppressed victims even when they are not. Neo-Marxism tries to convince people to view truly good things about our culture as sinister means used by the powerful to maintain power and to oppress their victims. To give some examples, free speech is opposed as a form of hateful violence, police protection for high crime neighborhoods is opposed as racial profiling, private ownership of defensive weapons is opposed as the cause of criminal violence, constitutional limits on government are opposed as barriers to radical social change, the traditional family is opposed as a barrier to new sexual liberties, and so on. In today’s world, things for which we should be grateful are labeled as means of oppression.

Perhaps the most tragic consequence of neo-Marxism is the current trend for young people to be dissatisfied with the biological sexual identity that God has encoded into every gene in their physical bodies. It is a sign of our times that instead of saying with the psalmist David, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” many young people resent the physical bodies which God has given them.

In contrast to much of our culture today, the biblically defined Christian is characterized not by an embittered ingratitude but by thanksgiving. To use the language of the hundredth Psalm, we enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Giving thanks to God is the Christian’s duty. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul exhorts us, “In everything, give thanks.” And consider Ephesians 5:3-4:

3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;

4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

Worldly people may be known for their dirty jokes and filthy language and coarse jesting, but the Christian should be known for giving thanks to God.

I chose Colossians 3:15-17 as our passage for today because it mentions the concept of thanksgiving three times, once in each verse. This is very obvious is verses 15 and 17. Verse 15 says, “be thankful,” and verse 17 says, “giving thanks to God the Father.” The reference to thanksgiving is not as obvious in verse 16, at least not in the New King James Version, which reads, “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The reference to thanksgiving in verse 16 is obvious in some other translations. For example, the New American Standard and the English Standard Version both translate verse 16 as referring to singing “with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

The Greek word here is usually translated “grace.” Yet like most words, this Greek word has more than one possible meaning. The meaning of this word which we are probably most familiar with is the goodwill which motivates a giver to give a gift as an undeserved and unearned favor. This is the meaning that this word has, for example, in Ephesians 2:8, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” This is a reference to grace as the goodwill which motivated God to give us the unmerited and undeserved gift of salvation. Yet this Greek word also has other related meanings. It can refer to the gift itself. It can also refer to the gratitude of the person who received the gift, to the gratitude motivated by the reception of the gift.

In verse 16 of our text, the Apostle Paul is here using the Greek word often translated “grace” to refer to the gratitude of someone on the receiving end of God’s undeserved favor. This is the possible meaning that makes the best sense of verse 16 and is also the meaning that is most consistent with verses 15 and 17, both of which mention thanksgiving.

I believe our passage for today gives us some insight into how we as Christians can maintain the spirit of thanksgiving in spite of the ingratitude that dominates so much of our culture. Our passage today consists of three verses, and each verse contains a command. The three commands are 1) let the peace of God rule in your hearts, 2) let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and 3) whatever you do, do all in the name of Jesus. I believe that obedience to these commands is the soil in which the spirit of thanksgiving flourishes. Obedience to these commands is the lifestyle which is most conducive to the thankful spirit.

I want to look at these commands and through them exhort us to give thanks to the Lord our God.

Paul’s first command is, Let the peace of God rule in your hearts. Now notice at the onset that Paul is not talking about just any old inner peace. There are plenty of people who are at peace with themselves who should not be. Many people have hearts like the false prophets of old who cried out, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. The Bible describes the unregenerate heart as calloused and stony, which is a metaphorical way of saying unfeeling. Their lives are burdened with sin and with guilt and yet they feel no inner grief. They have the peace of spiritual indifference, the peace of spiritual ignorance, the peace of spiritual death. Their hearts have the peace and quiet of the graveyard.

Paul is not referring to just any old inner peace. He is referring to the peace of God. This is the peace which Jesus promised as His legacy to His people in John 14:27, where He said,

27 “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

This is a God given peace which is grounded in reality. It is not some delusional fantasy based on nothing more than wishful thinking. The objective foundation of our peace is explained in Romans chapter five. Look first at verse 1:

1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Now go down a little further and look at verse 10:

10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Verse one says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and then verse ten explains how this was accomplished: “when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.”

As people covered by guilt and controlled by sin, we were once the enemies of God. This implies a state of war, which is the opposite of peace. It is a terrible thing to be at war with God. That is a war which we have no chance of winning. That is a war where we are by definition on the wrong side. But if we have a faith relationship with Jesus, then that war is over for us. Jesus has reconciled us to God through His work upon the cross. To reconcile enemies means to remove the enmity that separates them, to restore peace between them. Jesus’ death on the cross reconciles us to God through a double action. The power of the cross removed the wrath that hung over us and the war that raged within us.

The wrath of God against our sins once hung over us. On the cross, Jesus endured that wrath for His people. Once we trust Jesus for our salvation, that divine wrath is no longer hanging over us like Damocles’ sword. Jesus experienced that wrath in our place through His suffering upon the cross.

The power of the cross removes not only the wrath that was hanging over us, but also the war that was raging within us. We were in bondage to sin, and sin is rebellion against God. In that sense, we were at war with God. The power of the cross freed us from that bondage. The power of the cross transformed us into a people who delight in obeying God, into a people zealous for good works.

By removing the wrath that hung over us and the war that raged within us, Jesus made us at peace with God. That is our objective state which roots our inner peace not in fantasy but in a rock solid reality.

From this objective state of peace, there arises a life experience of peace. This is peace in the sense of the Hebrew word “shalom,” which means a total well-being, the salvation of the total person. This peace is the well ordered and blessed life which is the opposite of chaos and curse. This is the peace spoken of in Romans 8:6: “… to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” From this objective state of peace, there arises a life experience of peace. And from the life experience of peace, there arises a heart condition of peace. This is an inner peace patterned after that peace which dwells in the Savior’s own heart. It is an inner rest and repose which is a foretaste of heaven. It is an inner calm which is not shaken by adversity nor disturbed by fear. It is a tranquillity which looks at the past and sees all sins forgiven, washed away at the cross of Calvary. It is a tranquillity which looks at the present and sees God working all things for the good of those who love Him. It is a tranquillity which looks at the future and sees that nothing can separate God’s people from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the heart condition which is most consistent with and which should result from the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus.

We have defined the peace of God as an objective state which gives rise to a certain life experience and heart condition. Paul then goes on to command, Let the peace of God rule in your hearts. What does that mean?

I think it is helpful to look at the root idea behind the word translated “rule.” That word originally had reference to an umpire officiating at an athletic contest. An umpire scrutinizes the conduct of the athletes and decides if that conduct is consistent with the rules of the game. If we can personify the peace of God as an umpire, it rules in our hearts in the sense that it scrutinizes our conduct and determines if it is consistent with our being at peace with God. If we are weighed down with guilt, doubting our forgiveness in Christ, then the umpire blows the whistle and cries out, “Spiritual anxiety which contradicts the peace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.” If we are entangled in sin, then the umpire blows the whistle and cries out, “Moral rebellion which contradicts the peace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.” If we are not running with endurance the race that God has set before us and if we are not looking unto Jesus as our finish line and goal in life, then the umpire blows the whistle and cries out, “Apathetic aimlessness which contradicts the peace of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.”

The first command is, Let the peace of God rule in your hearts. This means that we must conduct our lives in a way that is consistent with our being at peace with God as opposed to our being at war with God through spiritual rebellion.

Let’s now go to the second command, which is, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. This verse goes very well with the previous verse. If verse 15 implies an umpire, verse 16 implies a rule book. Verse 15 is not teaching that we should be guided first and foremost by our subjective feelings with no objective guidelines. The umpire of verse 15 bases his rulings not on our feelings but on the rule book found in verse 16, and that rule book is the Word of God. Our sense of inner peace with God will be a reliable guide in life only to the degree that we are well grounded in the Word of God.

You will run into people who call themselves Christians and who are absolutely determined to do something clearly forbidden by the Word of God. They will say that they are confident that they are doing what is right because God has spoken to their hearts. And who are we to argue with what God has told them in their hearts? The answer is that their argument is not with us. Their argument is with what God has clearly said in the Bible. God never tells someone in his heart to do something which God has forbidden him to do in the Bible. God speaks to His people through His Word and His Spirit working together and never with His Word and His Spirit contradicting each other.

Paul says to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. This means that Christian truth is to have its enduring abode within our hearts. It is not to be a stranger to our hearts, or the occasional guest. Christian truth as found in the Word of God, the Bible, is to be a permanent resident in our lives. According to the first Psalm, the blessed man delights in the law of God, and in His law he mediates day and night.

Colossians 3:16 gives us some helpful descriptions of people in whom the word of Christ dwells richly. They are constantly giving wise counsel and instruction to one another based on their study of God’s word. And they enjoy singing thankful praise to the God of the Bible.

Let’s now go to the third command found in verse 17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of Jesus.” We are not just to give admonition and instruction to one another in the name of Jesus. We are not just to sing songs of thankful praise in the name of Jesus. We are to do everything both in word and deed in the name of Jesus. The key to understanding this command is to understand what Paul meant by doing something in the name of Jesus. Jesus compared Himself to a master going away on a long journey and leaving his household in the care of his servants. The master has entrusted his servants with the authority they need to run the household in his absence. He has left them with instructions on how he wants the household to be run. He has left them with the resources they need to fulfill his instructions. While the master is away, these servants act in their master’s name. This means that they act with their master’s authority. This means that they act in harmony with their master’s instructions. This means that they act in dependence upon the resources which their master has entrusted to them. Jesus in His humanity has ascended to heaven, and He will stay there until the end of this age. He has left us the Great Commission as His instructions for us. He has made us His ambassadors to act with His authority. He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us to empower us. We are acting in Jesus’ name when we act in submission to His authority, in harmony with His instructions and in dependence upon His power. I believe that is what Paul means when he says whatever we do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Again, we should do all that we do both in word and deed in submission to Jesus’ authority, in harmony with Jesus’ commands and in dependence upon Jesus’ power.

In our passage for today, Paul gives us three rules: 1) let the peace of God rule in your hearts; 2) let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; 3) whatever you do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Obey these three commands, and you will be a grateful people.

You will avoid the error of Israel in the wilderness. God gave them bread from heaven and water from the Rock. Instead of giving thanks, they were constantly grumbling and complaining. That generation was not allowed to enter into God’s rest.

You will instead be a people who are able to give thanks to God in every situation. I leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul:

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

My Understanding of Images of Jesus

Any effort to depict Jesus in His divinity is immoral because both the one divine nature and the divine person of God the Son are invisible and undepictable. Jesus in His humanity can be visually or mentally depicted as an artificial external image. Examples include a water reflection of Jesus and a memory of Jesus. Jesus can also be metaphorically represented by a visual or mental metaphor. A depiction of a lamb without spot or blemish can be a credible metaphorical representation of Jesus as the Lamb of God, and a depiction of a typical first century Jewish man can be a credible metaphorical representation of Jesus as the Son of Man. A metaphorical representation of Jesus is credible if it does not contradict any revealed truth about Jesus. A visual or mental depiction of a credible Jewish man can be identified as representing Jesus in a gospel narrative scene by the role which the representation plays in the scene. No one knows today exactly what the man Jesus looked like. I disagree with those who believe that the exact appearance of Jesus in His humanity has been preserved by tradition and who believe that to look upon an image made with that traditional appearance is to look upon the person of Jesus. A visual or mental representation of Jesus should not be misused as an object of worship. A visual representation of Jesus should not be made in a form that invites worship to or through the representation. Nor should it be put in a place that implies it to be a valid object of worship. All worship of Jesus should be directed directly to Jesus. There is no lesser form of worship that is appropriate for certain images in contrast to a higher form of worship that is appropriate only for God. The only valid object of worship is the one divine nature. Jesus in His humanity is to be worshiped because of the hypostatic union between the human nature of Jesus and the one divine nature. The hypostatic union is the union based on the simultaneous subsistence of the divine person of God the Son in the human nature of Jesus and in the one divine nature. Jesus in His humanity is God Incarnate, but neither a depiction of Jesus in His humanity nor a metaphorical representation of Jesus is God Incarnate. There is never either a natural union or a personal union between the one divine nature and either a depiction of Jesus in His humanity or a metaphorical representation of Jesus.

See also:

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity

Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment

Zwingli and Bullinger on Pictures of Jesus

The Geneva Bible and Visual Representations of Deity

Charles Hodge and Pictures of Jesus

Archibald Alexander and Mental Images of Jesus

Preaching and Mental Images

The Christological Argument and Images of Jesus

Westminster Larger Catechism 109: A Short Analysis

The Double Cure

The hymn “Rock of Ages” says, “Be of sin the double cure: save from wrath and make me pure.” Another version of the same hymn says, “Be of sin the double cure: save me from its guilt and power.” Both versions are expressing the same thought. Lost sinners have a double problem. Sinners have broken God’s law and therefore have a bad legal record before God. They are guilty of sin and are under God’s condemnation and are subject to God’s judicial wrath. Their second problem is that they have a bad heart, a heart that is in rebellion against God, a heart that is inclined toward disobeying God’s law. This is the double problem, and Jesus through His saving work is the double cure. Our salvation through our saving union with Jesus saves us from the condemning guilt of sin and from the enslaving power of sin. In Christ Jesus, we have a new legal record and a new heart.

Now these two cures are two distinct cures that address two distinct problems. We mustn’t confuse them or mix them together. At the same time, we mustn’t separate them. These two cures always occur together because they are both based on our saving union with Jesus. Jesus never gives someone a new legal record without giving them at the same time a new heart, and Jesus never gives someone a new heart without at the same time giving them a new legal record. Someone may say that he wants Jesus to forgive his sins but not to deliver him from his sinful lifestyle. This sort of thinking is not uncommon today. Someone more religious might say that he wants Jesus to deliver him from sinful living but that he does not want Jesus to forgive his sins outright because as a matter of pride, he wants to help earn his own forgiveness, as if that were possible. Jesus says no to both these requests. Salvation is always a double cure. Saving faith is trusting Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation, and that salvation consists in both forgiveness of sins and deliverance from sin.

I want to examine this double cure as it is found in the first four verses of Romans chapter eight:

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,

that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (NKJ)

In Romans chapter eight, the Apostle Paul first said, “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” The key word here is “condemnation.” That is a legal term, and that tells us that the Apostle Paul is here referring to the legal aspect of salvation. When a judge condemns someone, he declares him guilty. That is the opposite of justification. When a judge justifies someone, he declares him innocent or righteous. When the Apostle Paul said that there is no condemnation to the person who is in Christ Jesus, that was just a negative, backdoor way of saying that a person who is in Christ Jesus is justified.

The second thing to notice here is the use of the word “now.” The word “now” indicates that this new legal status is immediate. It is a complete reality at this very moment. A person doesn’t have to wait until the end of this life to see if he is justified because his good works outweigh his bad works or if he is condemned because his bad works outweigh his good works. That is the way that many people think about salvation. They think that they won’t know and can’t know if they will spend eternity as a justified person or as a condemned person until after this life is over. That is not what the Apostle Paul said. The Apostle Paul said that “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The third thing to notice here is the use of the little word “no.” The word “no” as in “no condemnation” indicates that the legal status of justification is perfectly complete. The Apostle Paul didn’t say that the person who is in Christ Jesus is mostly justified or has only a smidgen of remaining condemnation or has been washed almost as white as snow. The Apostle Paul said that there is absolutely no condemnation, not one iota, not one molecule, not one single scrap, to those who are in Christ Jesus. All of a Christian’s guilt, one hundred percent of it, has been erased, removed and buried in the depths of the sea.

The fourth thing to notice here is that this is true of all those who are in a saving union with Jesus Christ, a saving union that we experience as our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation. The Apostle Paul was here describing the legal status that gets a person into heaven, the legal ticket that gains admission to heaven, the legal key that opens the door to heaven. This is the perfect and complete righteousness that only Jesus can provide for us based on His saving work in our place and on our behalf.

Jesus accomplished this through what some call the great exchange. Jesus accepted responsibility for the guilt of the Christian’s sins and then suffered the punishment for that guilt through His suffering and death on the cross.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

Jesus accepted the responsibility for the guilt of our sin. Jesus then bore the punishment for that sin and paid the penalty in full. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” or “It is paid in full!” Jesus then gives those who believe in Him forgiveness based on His atoning work in their place. That is one half of the great exchange.

The other half of the great exchange has to do with Jesus’ legal record of perfect obedience. Jesus never once sinned in thought, word or deed. Though tempted by the devil with the full force of his diabolical ability, Jesus never once sinned. Though obeying the will of His heavenly Father meant submitting to the painful and shameful death of the cross, Jesus never once sinned. Jesus has a perfect legal record before God, and Jesus imputes this perfect legal record to all who believe in Him. Jesus reckons this perfect legal standing of righteousness to all who believe in Him. Jesus is our righteousness.

For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21

This is the great exchange: Jesus receives our guilt, and we receive His righteousness.

So the Apostle Paul begins chapter eight with this wonderful statement about the Christian’s justification. The Christian’s legal status before God is right now, at this very moment, perfect and complete based on the Christian’s saving union with Jesus and Jesus’ saving work.

At this point, the Apostle Paul began talking about the other aspect of a person’s salvation, and that is sanctification. Justification is the cure for our bad legal standing before God, and sanctification is the cure for our morally bad hearts. In justification, Jesus forgives our sins, and in sanctification, Jesus delivers us from the power of sin. Justification is the legal action through which Jesus pays the full legal price necessary to open to us the gates of heaven. Sanctification is the saving work through which Jesus prepares us for living in heaven where there is no sin. Justification and sanctification are distinct aspects of salvation, but what they have in common is that they are both based on our saving union with Jesus. So in our text, the Apostle Paul said that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. In other words, those who are justified are also those who are sanctified, because both justification and sanctification are saving effects of the believer’s saving union with Jesus.

Now some with certain modern translations of the Bible may be a little puzzled at this point because their Bible says nothing in verse one about walking not according to the flesh but walking according to the Spirit. All translations have this statement about walking not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit in verse four, but not all have it in verse one. I think that the Apostle Paul’s flow of thought is clearer with the statement in both verse one and verse four, but having it only in verse four doesn’t change what the Apostle Paul was saying. Yet I believe that the true text does have this statement in both verses because that is what we find in the majority of the surviving ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. There is a large consensus on the true text in the majority of the surviving ancient Greek manuscripts. I believe that this general consensus among the majority of these ancient manuscripts is the means by which God has preserved for us the original inspired text. Chapter one, paragraph eight of the Westminster Confession of Faith says that the original text of God’s inspired word was, “by [God’s] singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages.” I believe that God did this by preserving the original text in the majority, and usually the vast majority, of the surviving ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. I accept what is called the majority text reading, and on that basis I believe that the statement about walking not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit belongs in verse one as well as in verse four.

I think that we all know what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he spoke about walking in a certain way. The Apostle Paul used walking as a metaphor for living one’s daily life. Our walk is the way that we live from day to day. The Apostle Paul used the word “flesh” to refer to that inner inclination toward sin that all humanity has inherited from fallen Adam. To walk according to the flesh is to live in ways consistent with this spirit of rebellion. To walk according to the flesh is to submit to sinful appetites. To walk according to the flesh is to use one’s body, heart and mind as instruments of sinful activity. To walk according to the Spirit is to live in ways consistent with the influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and consistent with the new heart that the Holy Spirit has given us in Christ.

Our text goes on to tell us how our saving union with Jesus enables us to live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. In verse two, we read about two laws, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus and the law of sin and death. In this context, the word “law” is used to refer to a principle or rule that works with a certain power and according to a certain pattern. Verse two tells us about one law that overrides another opposing law. Let me illustrate this by explaining how an airplane flies. The law of gravity gives an aircraft weight and keeps the aircraft on the ground. Yet an airplane can fly because the law of aerodynamic lift can overcome the law of gravity. When air flows over a wing that is curved on the top, the air flows faster over the top of the wing than it flows under the bottom of the wing. According to the law of aerodynamic lift, this causes an upward force on the wing. When the force of the lift pulling up on the wing becomes greater than the force of gravity pulling down on the airplane, then the airplane is able to fly. In this way, the law of aerodynamic lift frees the airplane from the law of gravity. 

In verse two, the Apostle Paul talks about two laws, the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Here is how the law of sin and death operates. Sin is an act of rebellion against God. The sinner wants to separate himself from God as his source of authority so that the sinner can do whatever is right in his own eyes. Yet God is also the source of the sinner’s life and the sustainer of the sinner’s life. So when the sinner through rebellion cuts himself off from God as his authority figure, the sinner is also cutting himself off from God as the source and sustainer of all life. Thus the wages of sin is death. That is the law of sin and death.

Now the opposing law that can overcome the law of sin and death is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit is able to overcome the law of sin and death with life by working faith in the sinner’s heart and thus uniting the sinner to Christ as the source of the sinner’s salvation. By working faith in the sinner’s heart, the Spirit applies to the sinner the redemption accomplished by Jesus.

Verses three and four go on to explain how this law of the Spirit works. The law of the Spirit is able to accomplish what the moral law of God could not. The moral law of God is God’s law as summarized in the ten commandments. The moral law of God can tell a person what he should do and what he should not do, but the moral law cannot save a sinner from God’s judgment. The law of God is limited by the weakness of the flesh, a reference to a sinner’s rebellious nature that is inclined toward sinning. The moral law cannot forgive sins once they have been committed. The moral can only condemn them. The moral law cannot give the sinner a new heart. The moral law can tell a sinner what he should do, but the moral law cannot give a sinner the moral ability or even the desire to do what he should do.

Yet what the law could not do because of the weakness of sinful flesh, God did by sending His Son. The triune God – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, working together through the one divine nature – planned in eternity past this work of salvation that was to be accomplished within history. God the Father sent God the Son into the world to save sinners. God the Son took to Himself a human body and soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was born of her, a sinful daughter of fallen Adam, and yet He was born without sin. He was born without sin, and yet, according to our text, in the likeness of sinful flesh. Jesus was born not in sinful flesh but in the likeness of sinful flesh. The Apostle Paul was threading a theological needle here with this carefully worded statement. Jesus was a morally pure human with no inner inclination toward sinning. Yet Jesus in His humanity was subject to the suffering in this world that has resulted from the fall of humanity into sin. The Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter eight, paragraph two) says that God the Son took “upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin.” He was totally without sin but was subject to hunger and thirst, to weariness and pain, and to other natural infirmities that are a part of this fallen world.

Jesus in His humanity had to be able to suffer human suffering in order to accomplish the purpose for which God sent Him. God the Father sent God the Son into the world on account of sin, on account of the sin problem. As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus accomplished this purpose by condemning sin in the flesh. Sinful humans cannot save themselves because of the weakness of the flesh, because of their sinfulness. Yet sinlessly pure Jesus was able to accomplish salvation through His flesh, through His morally pure human nature that endured the suffering of the cross.

Our text mentions one aspect of the salvation that Jesus accomplished through His death on the cross. Our text says that Jesus condemned sin. What does it mean that Jesus condemned sin? Verse one tells us that Jesus saved us from condemnation as a legal declaration of our guilt. The same Jesus who saved us from condemnation in the sense of being under God’s judicial wrath also condemned the sin that was enslaving us in the sense of executing judgment upon it by taking away its enslaving power over us. We had been estranged from God by our sin, legally alienated from God, given over to our sins and to a rebellious spirit. Jesus paid the ransom price for our sins and then applied that payment to our lives through the saving work of His Holy Spirit. Jesus earned the right to free us from our enslavement to sinful living, and He freed us by giving us new hearts with God’s law written on them. This is how Jesus condemned sin as the controlling power in our lives. Jesus judged sin by taking away its power to dominate us. Our rebellious hearts have been transformed into hearts that desire to please God by obeying God’s moral law. Thus truly converted Christians are those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Christian, as he is progressively sanctified in this life, is more and more fulfilling the righteous requirements of God’s moral law. He is more and more living life as God has said that life should be lived. One day every true Christian will reach the goal of living life totally according to the Spirit and totally untainted by the sinful flesh. At death, the Christian’s soul will be made perfect in holiness. That is our destiny, and we should live each day as a step toward that final destiny, and we should take no step in our daily life that is contrary to that coming destiny.

This is indeed a rich passage that goes beyond the milk of the word to the solid food that is meant for the spiritually mature. This passage spiritually nourishes us by giving us a greater appreciation of salvation as the double cure. Jesus has both  saved us from condemnation and condemned the sin that was enslaving us. To use the language of Psalm 63, may your soul be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and may your mouth praise your God and Savior with joyful lips.

Westminster Larger Catechism 109: A Short Analysis

The portion of WLC 109 that is usually at issue is the phrase about making a representation of God in the following statement of things prohibited:

“the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; …”

There are at least two possible ways to interpret the “making” phrase in the above statement of things prohibited. One way interprets the “making” phrase independently of the “worshiping” phrase, and the other way interprets the “making” phrase in conjunction with the “worshiping” phrase. If one interprets the “making” phrase independently of the “worshiping” phrase, then WLC 109 is teaching that all visual and mental representations of deity are sinful idols even if they are not made or used for worship. If one interprets the “making” phrase in conjunction with the “worshiping” phrase, then visual and mental representations of deity are not necessarily sinful idols if they are not made or used for worship.

Here are two examples of visual representations of the second person of the Godhead: 1) the credible generic lamb and 2) the credible generic male human identified as a visual representation of Jesus by a role in a gospel scene. A generic lamb is not be a credible visual representation if, for example, it is blemished or is missing a leg. A generic male human visual representation is not a credible visible representation if, for example, it has tattoos or has superhuman physical attributes, as in some Roman Catholic counter-reformation art. A credible generic male human representation of Jesus in His humanity is one that does not contradict what we know about Jesus’ human appearance. It is not an exact depiction like a photograph.

An example of a credible generic male human identified by a role in a gospel scene is the baby in Rembrandt’s “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” painted in 1646, the year when the Westminster Confession of Faith was written. The understanding of WLC 109 that interprets the “making” phrase independently of the “worshiping” phrase condemns this as an idol. The understanding of WLC 109 that interprets the “making” phrase in conjunction with the “worshiping” phrase does not condemn this as an idol as long as it was not made or used for worship.

An example of a credible generic lamb is the one found on the cover page of the 1599 Geneva Bible; it is right below the heart outline in the center of the page. The understanding of WLC 109 that interprets the “making” phrase in conjunction with the “worshiping” phrase does not condemn this as an idol as long as it was not made or used for worship. The understanding, however, of WLC 109 that interprets the “making” phrase independently of the “worshiping” phrase does condemn this as an idol if it is applied consistently. Yet some who use WLC 109 to condemn as an idol the generic male human visual representation do not regard the generic lamb visual representation as necessarily idolatrous. In my view, this is inconsistent.

An argument against interpreting the “making” phrase independently of the “worshiping” phrase is that it proves too much unless one is willing consistently to condemn as idols every possible visual and mental representation of deity. Such possible visual and mental representations of deity are the triangle, the lamb, the bridge, the dove, the IHS monogram, the chi-rho, the alpha omega, the printed word “God,” the sacraments and others.

The understanding of WLC 109 that interprets the “making” phrase conjunctively teaches the same truth that is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. (WCF 21.1)

The understanding of WLC 109 that interprets the “making” phrase independently adds significantly to the prohibition beyond what is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith on the topic.

See also:

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity

Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment

Zwingli and Bullinger on Pictures of Jesus

The Geneva Bible and Visual Representations of Deity

Charles Hodge and Pictures of Jesus

Archibald Alexander and Mental Images of Jesus

Preaching and Mental Images

The Christological Argument and Images of Jesus

My Understanding of Images of Jesus

The Angel at Bethesda

The passage John 5:1-16 is one of those rare instances where some translations include and some translations omit an extended portion of a passage. The words at issue are the last phrase in verse 3 and the entirety of verse 4, where we read, “waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” This text is included in the Geneva Bible, the King James Bible and the New King James Version. Most modern translations, however, omit these words, and most people just accept this omission. The reason commonly given is that the latter half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 are missing in the oldest and best manuscripts. In my opinion, that statement is not totally correct. Some early manuscripts do omit the latter half of verse 3 and all of verse 4, but I don’t think that they are all among the better manuscripts. On the contrary, let me share with you what Bruce Metzger, perhaps the foremost authority on ancient New Testament manuscripts, says about one of these early manuscripts that omit verse 4 of our passage for today (D, Codex Bezae). He says, “No known manuscript has so many and such remarkable variations from what is usually taken to be the normal New Testament text. [This manuscript’s] special characteristic is the free addition (and occasional omission) of words, sentences, and even incidents.”[i] Some of the other “oldest and best” manuscripts that omit verse 4 have some serious irregularities as well.

Now what is at issue here? As to our understanding of the event recorded in the text, even those who omit verse 4 tend to recognize the verse as an uninspired record of an ancient tradition. They tend to acknowledge that they can’t understand verse 7 without the information that is found in verse 4. In verse 7, the lame man talks about the stirring of the water and about others stepping into the stirred water before he is able to do so. Verse 7 doesn’t make any sense apart from the information that we find in verse 4 about the occasional supernatural angelic activity at the pool. Everyone needs verse 4 in order to understand what verse 7 is talking about. Those who accept verse 4 as part of the inspired text believe that an angel actually did on occasion stir up the waters and heal someone at that pool. Those who regard verse 4 as merely an uninspired ancient tradition often agree with this, but not always. They may regard the ancient tradition as merely a superstitious myth that drew people to this pool. If verse 4 is only an uninspired record of an ancient tradition, then they are free to regard the account of the angel that way as well.

What is of greater concern is that this dispute about the reliability of the latter half of verse 3 and all of verse 4 of our text might cause some to question the reliability of the New Testament in general. No, the Greek New Testament is by far the best attested ancient writing in existence. There are over 5,000 ancient Greek documents, 8,000 ancient Latin documents that are translations of the Greek and many other ancient documents that are translations into other languages.[ii] In addition, there are many quotations from the New Testament in the surviving writings of early Christian leaders. No other ancient writing comes anywhere near such a vast array of surviving manuscripts and witnesses. Just to give you a basis for comparison, consider Caesar’s Gallic Wars, a classic Latin text which I had to struggle with when I took high school Latin. There are only nine or ten good ancient manuscripts that have survived, and the oldest was copied about 900 years after Julius Caesar wrote the book.[iii] I could give you other similar examples. Again, there is no other ancient document with a surviving textual record anywhere near like that of the Greek New Testament.

Also, in the vast multitude of these hand copied documents, there is a strong overall consensus as to what is the original text of the books of the New Testament. God has preserved the text not by making every copyist infallible but by providing us with a vast multitude of documents with “a high degree of textual uniformity.” And this high degree of textual uniformity increases significantly when we limit ourselves to the vast majority of the documents that are in large agreement with each other.[iv] Yes, there are those accidental slips that occur when someone copies any long document by hand, but these tend not to be an obstacle to discerning the original text, especially when multiple copies of the document are available. 

If that is the case, then you might wonder why there is some question about verse 4 in our text for today. The majority of the copyists did a good job in faithfully copying the content of earlier copies. Yet early on there were a few copyists in certain regions who felt free to expand the text here and there, to add an occasional something that was not in the text that they were copying from. In response to these few early expanded manuscripts, there were some copyists in Egypt who tried to purge the text. Too often these Egyptian copyists left the extraneous expansions in and took out instead portions of the true text. Yet even these manuscripts with this occasional foolish unauthorized editing tend to agree in large part with the consensus text that is in the majority of the manuscripts. And these manuscripts where the text has been inappropriately changed in some places can often be identified because they do not agree with one another in the changes that have been made. For example, the vast majority of the manuscripts containing our passage for today call the pool Bethesda. Yet in a few older manuscripts, the pool is called Bethsaida or Bethzatha or Belzetha. These few texts agree in changing the name of the pool but can’t agree on a replacement name. Disagreements such as that are a good indication that some copyists did indeed make some changes in the text that they were copying. Contrary to what many today claim, these few manuscripts which leave out verse 4 are not among the better manuscripts.

Let me give you one interesting piece of evidence for the reliability of Bethesda, which is the majority text reading, as the name of the pool. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the mid-twentieth century, and among these ancient scrolls is a scroll made out of copper. This copper scroll is dated between A.D. 35 and 65, which would be sometime after the death of Jesus and before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This very ancient copper scroll existed long before the surviving Greek New Testament manuscripts were copied, and it confirms that the name of the pool was Bethesda, the name that we find in the majority of the ancient Greek manuscripts.[v] 

Most of these ancient manuscripts do include verse 4 of our passage, but there are a few early manuscripts that omit verse 4. Yet a manuscript can be an early copy and also be the work of a less than reliable copyist. Age does not necessarily guarantee reliability. In addition, verse 4 has its own early witnesses. Tertullian in the third century wrote about the water stirred up by an angel in John chapter 5 and thus testified to the validity of verse 4. Verse 4 is also included in the translations of the Gospel according to John into Syriac and Latin that date back to the second century. So there is ample ancient testimony for the inclusion of verse 4.

Now if there is ancient testimony to the inclusion of verse 4, and if the vast majority of the ancient manuscripts include verse 4, then why do modern translations usually omit verse 4 from the passage? The reason is the influence of a conspiracy theory that originated in the late nineteenth century. A New Testament scholar proposed a theory as to why the vast majority of the ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts have a largely uniform text. He theorized that the uniformity wasn’t because these were all largely faithful copies going back to a common original text. He proposed that the uniformity was because the church in the fourth century edited the Greek New Testament in order to create a new standard common version. He suggested that to be the reason why most of the ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament are in large agreement. This would mean that the majority text, the text in the majority of the ancient manuscripts, is really a later distortion of the original text. Now there is no historical evidence whatsoever that something such as this ever happened. It is hard to imagine something such as this having happened with absolutely no surviving record of the event. The churches in areas where Greek was the primary language used the Greek text of the New Testament in their worship services. These were the churches in Greece, Asia Minor and southern Italy. Imagine an effort to try to make all these churches use a new standardized Greek text. It is hard to imagine this being done quietly in a corner. But if something such as this did happen, then, the argument goes, the true original text must be found in the few older manuscripts that disagree with the vast majority of the other manuscripts. The modern popularization of this theory is why verse 4 is omitted in most modern translations. This theory is why some today will give greater weight to two or three ancient manuscripts from Egypt than they will give to the unified witness of the vast majority of other ancient witnesses to the true text of a passage.

Personally I do not accept this modern unproven conspiracy theory. Personally I believe that the vast majority of the ancient manuscripts largely agree because they are the result of faithful copying going all the way back to the original text. Personally I believe that this is how God preserved the text of the New Testament for us today. Personally I believe that verse 4 of our passage for today is part of the original inspired text of the Gospel according to John. Yet I don’t want to get this issue out of proportion. Even these manuscripts with this inappropriate editing tend to be in large agreement with the text found in the majority of the manuscripts. It is not that often that we come upon a text such verse 4 in today’s passage, a verse that is affected by this modern disagreement about how best to evaluate the relative significance of different ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.

Let me share with you another argument that some people use against verse 4 of our text. They point out that an angel’s healing people through disturbed water is unlike anything else that had happened before in all of redemptive history. For that reason, they are open to doubting the text. I agree that this report about an angel’s stirring water and healing through that water is quite unique in redemptive history. Yet I don’t agree with their argument that this is a reason to doubt the text. This was indeed an unusual event, but these were unusual times. This was during the point in history when the incarnate God the Son accomplished His saving work on earth. During the time of Jesus’ public ministry, Satan staged a massive counter-attack as evidenced by all the demon possession that we read about in the four gospel accounts. We don’t read about any demon possession in the Old Testament. The closest that I can find to demon possession in the Old Testament are the distressing spirit that troubled King Saul in 1 Samuel chapter 16 and the lying spirit in the mouth of King Ahab’s false prophets in 1 Kings chapter 22. We don’t find demon possession in the Old Testament, but we find it during the public ministry of Jesus. Similarly, we find an unusual amount of angelic activity associated with the life of Jesus. The angel Gabriel appeared to the childless priest Zacharias in the temple at Jerusalem and told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child in their old age. That child was John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus’ public ministry. The angel Gabriel also announced the coming birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary, and an unnamed angel announced the birth of Jesus to Joseph. An angel announced the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock by night, and then a heavenly host of angels sang praise to God. After Jesus was tempted by the devil forty days in the wilderness, angels came and ministered to Jesus. During Jesus’ agony at Gethsemane, an angel came from heaven and strengthened Him. After Jesus rose from the dead, an angel descended from heaven, rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb, and announced Jesus’ resurrection to the women who came to the tomb. In addition, Jesus said to one of His early disciples,

John 1:51

 … “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Surely in the midst of all this angelic activity, we should not be overly surprised that an angel had this healing ministry in Jerusalem during Jesus’ public ministry.

This pool was discovered and identified in 1888, and it has since been excavated. The pool was a double pool located to the north of the enclosure around the temple in Jerusalem. It did indeed have five porches. There was a row of columns around each of the four sides, and there was a fifth row of columns along the partition between the two pools. Each of the five rows of columns had a roof over it to give shelter from the sun and the rain. Our text says that this pool was near the Sheep Gate, a gate that is mentioned in the account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in the book of Nehemiah. This was probably the gate into the city of Jerusalem through which sheep were brought to the temple for sacrifice. At this location, an angel occasionally troubled the water of the pool. Probably no one saw the angel, but the troubled water was the evidence of his presence. When the troubled water gave evidence of the angel’s presence, the first sick person to enter the water was healed.

I see some similarities between the ministry of this angel and the ministry of Jesus. An angel is a messenger from God sent from heaven, and the prophet Malachi prophesied the Messiah as a Messenger of the Covenant who would come to His temple. The Hebrew word translated here as “messenger” is also the Hebrew word for an angel. The angel stirred the water, and Jesus also came to cause a stir in Israel. As Malachi prophesied, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s soap.” The pool was near the sheep gate, and Jesus came as the Lamb of God who was sacrificed on the cross and by whose stripes we are healed. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit to apply in new covenant fullness the redemption that He had accomplished. Jesus compared the outpoured Holy Spirit to rivers of living water:

John 7:38-39

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus’ statement about rivers of living water is based on Ezekiel’s symbolic prophecy of a river that flows from the temple in Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea and heals those dead waters such that the Dead Sea abounds with fish. The angel is our text healed infirmities through a pool of water.

I see these similarities between the ministry of this angel and the saving work of Jesus. But I also see the angel’s ministry as pointing to the superiority of the saving work of Jesus to the ministry of angels and the superiority of the saving work of Jesus to the ministry of the old covenant. When the angel stirred the waters, the only person healed was the first person to enter the water. And the sicker a person was, the less likely he would be able to enter the water first. These limitations point to the fact that the ministries of the Old Testament were shadows pointing to a coming greater ministry, the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Let me close by contrasting the healing ministry of this angel with the healing ministry of Jesus. As I do this, remember that the healing ministry of Jesus had a greater purpose than the healing of physical disease itself. Jesus did heal as a true act of compassion upon the sick, but Jesus also healed physical infirmities as a symbol and evidence of His ability to heal the spiritual afflictions of the soul. With that in mind, contrast the healing ministry of the angel at Bethesda with the healing ministry of Jesus as described in Mark 6:56:

Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

NOTE: John 5:4 is in both the majority text and the received text but not in the critical text. The majority text is generally the consensus text found in the majority of ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. The received text is a compilation based on a few Greek manuscripts compiled by the Roman Catholic scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam. The critical text is a modern compilation which often omits a passage if it is not found in all or some of four or five specific ancient codices even if it is found in the vast majority of ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts. There are a few passages in the received text that are not in the majority text. An easy way to check on the status of a passage is to use the footnotes of the New King James Version as explained in the NKJV preface. The NKJV translation is a translation of the received text. The footnotes use the abbreviation M to refer to the majority text and the abbreviation NU to refer to the United Bible Societies’ critical text. For example, the NKJV has the received text of 1 John 5:7-8 and this footnote: “NU, M omit the words from in heaven (v. 7) through on earth (v. 8). Only 4 or 5 very late mss contain these words in Greek.” This is an example of one of the few passages that are in the received text but not in the majority text.

[i] page 50, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, by Bruce M. Metzger.

[ii] p. xii, Preface, The New Geneva Study Bible, New King James Version.

[iii] pages 16ff, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce; page 180, The Books and the Parchments by F.F. Bruce.

[iv] page i, Preface, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, compiled and arranged by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont.

[v] “The Angel at Bethesda – John 5:4” by Zane C. Hodges, Bibliotheca Sacra, 136, 25-39.

The Cross’s Cry of Abandonment

We are today going to consider the middle of the seven sayings of the cross. The fourth word from the cross is “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Of all the seven, this is both the most mysterious and the most revealing. Of all the seven, it is the clearest expression of the suffering which Jesus experienced in our place as the payment for our sins. Yet of all the seven, it is also the most difficult for us to understand. Thinking about this cry of abandonment reminds us that God’s ways are past our finding out. We can know God, but we can never fully comprehend Him with our creaturely minds. As we come to the essence of our Lord’s atoning suffering, even Jesus in His humanity cries out “why.” Jesus in His divinity understands all mysteries, but Jesus in His humanity on this occasion cried out, “why.”

As we consider today’s text, we will be approaching the limits of what we can understand. We must prayerfully seek to understand more and more of God’s truth. Yet we must also be prepared to acknowledge in humility when we have reached those truths which are beyond even the grasp of an angel’s mind.

In order to provide some context for the fourth saying, I want to look today also at two other sayings, the second and the sixth. The second saying from the cross, found in the gospel according to Luke, is “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The fourth statement is in our text for today in the gospel according to Mark. It is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The sixth statement is found in the gospel according to John. It is, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

We will look at these three sayings from the cross under the headings, Confidence, the Cry and Completion.

We will now consider the second saying from the cross under the heading Confidence. Jesus has been officially condemned as guilty by the Roman governor Pilate, even though Pilate also unofficially admitted that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death and was an innocent man. In God’s providence, that course of events fit perfectly with the spiritual reality. Jesus was indeed innocent of any crime, even sinless of any sin. Yet He was legally condemned for sins, not sins that He had committed, but our sins for which He voluntarily took responsibility. The Roman soldiers carried out the Roman sentence that resulted from the Roman condemnation. They nailed Jesus to a wooden cross, a tree of sorts. This also fit perfectly with the spiritual reality. According to the law of Moses, being hung on a tree is a sign of God’s curse. And Jesus was under God’s curse so that all who believe in Him might receive God’s blessing. So here we have Jesus condemned and cursed. Yet the second saying from the cross reveals to us that Jesus was optimistic even in these circumstances. He was optimistic because He was living by faith, faith in God’s revealed will, faith in the message of the Bible. That is why the writer to the Hebrews wrote in chapter twelve of his inspired letter that Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame. What joy? The joy of obeying His Heavenly Father. The joy of doing that work which was necessary for the salvation of those sinners whom the Father had sent Jesus to save. The joy of the anticipated exaltation with which Jesus knew that the Father would exalt Him after His work of humiliation was completed. Jesus had all these assurances because Jesus knew the Old Testament, the extent of the Scriptures in His day.

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to His twelve disciples in a closed room on the evening of the Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus explained to them the Old Testament predictions of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.

  Luke 24:45-46

And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day …

This message of Scripture is the basis for the confidence that Jesus had when He said to the believing thief on the cross: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Speaking from the place of condemnation and curse, Jesus said with confidence that He would be in Paradise later that very day. Paradise is here a reference to heaven, the location of the New Jerusalem, that celestial holding place where the spirits of departed saints go to await the coming day of bodily resurrection. Jesus was not resurrected from the dead until Sunday, the third day after His death, but on Friday, the very day of His physical death, Jesus’ human spirit went to be with His Father in heaven. Jesus also spoke with confidence that the believing thief on the cross would also go to heaven that very day. Jesus died first, and Jesus’ human spirit was in heaven to greet the soul of the believing thief upon his arrival. Jesus knew when He spoke to the believing thief that He would complete His saving work upon the cross, the work which would be the basis for the thief’s salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

Notice that Jesus said to the believing thief, “Assuredly, I say to you …” Some translations say, “Verily” and others say, “Truly.” The Greek word is a Greek spelling of the Hebrew word “Amen,” the same word that we say at the end of our prayers to express our confidence in the Lord to whom we are praying. As our Shorter Catechism says, “in testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard, we say, ‘Amen.'” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you,” or “Verily, I say to you,” or “Amen, I say to you,” because Jesus was confident in the outcome of His ordeal of suffering because of the witness of Scripture.

Let’s now consider the fourth saying of the cross under the heading, the Cry. Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” When Jesus cried out those words, He was quoting the first verse of the twenty-second Psalm, which we call the Psalm of the Cross. This is one of the passages from which Jesus in His humanity had learned that the Messiah must suffer and die and that God would deliver the Messiah from death.

This question taken from the first verse of the twenty-second Psalm is such a mysterious question as it applies to Jesus. Jesus is fully divine, and surely God cannot forsake God. And also, Jesus here addressed God as His God. How could Jesus here say, “My God, My God,” if God had forsaken Jesus? Those are good questions about Jesus’ question, and I am going to begin by stating what Jesus’ question does not mean.

This question about being forsaken does not mean that there was ever any disruption in the sweet eternal fellowship of the Godhead, in the perfect communion between the three members of the Godhead: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Great “I AM” does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. No member of the Godhead is ever forsaken by any other member of the Godhead. That would be a most radical change in the very essence of God’s eternal being. Such is unthinkable.

This question about being forsaken does not mean that there was ever any disruption in the incarnation once the incarnation had been established. The basic meaning of the incarnation is that one person, the person of God the Son, is simultaneously living two very difference existences through two very different natures. The person of God the Son has from eternity past been living a divine existence through the one divine nature together with God the Father and God the Spirit. That has always been and always will be. The person of God the Son also began to live a human existence when He assumed a human nature derived from the flesh of the Virgin Mary through a supernatural conception in her womb. This human existence had a beginning, but it too will never end now that it has begun. Jesus will forever be our brother in the flesh. The incarnation was not disrupted at the cross.

This question about being forsaken also does not mean that God the Father was ever displeased with Jesus. God the Father always loved Jesus as His only begotten Son and never ceased doing so. God the Father loved Jesus as Jesus suffered on the cross even as Abraham had loved his only begotten son Isaac as Abraham raised a knife to kill Isaac as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. In addition, God was pleased with Jesus’ obedience unto death, even the painful and shameful death of the cross. When Jesus was suffering on the cross, Jesus was voluntarily doing what God the Father had sent Jesus into the world to do. Jesus in His humanity never questioned that God the Father loved Him and was pleased with Him.

What then did Jesus mean about His being forsaken? Here is what Jesus was talking about. The guilt of sin had been reckoned to Jesus’ legal account before God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Isaiah 53:4-6

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus there on the cross felt in His human soul a disruption of His fellowship with God. The disruption was real, and the agony which Jesus experienced as a result of it in His totally pure and uncalloused human soul is beyond our ability to comprehend. In His question from the cross, Jesus was talking about His experiencing through His human nature the wrath of God against sin. As Herman Bavinck so aptly commented on Jesus’ cry of abandonment:

In the cry of Jesus we are dealing not with a subjective but with an objective God-forsakenness. He did not feel alone but had in fact been forsaken by God. His feeling was not an illusion, not based on a false view of his situation, but corresponded with reality. (Reformed Dogmatics, 3:389)

To help understand this better, think about the experience of the first Adam when God cast him out of the garden, the place where God had walked with Adam in the cool of the day. God had even posted cherubim as the angelic guardians of God’s holiness and positioned a flaming sword to prevent Adam from returning to the garden. God’s casting the first Adam out of the garden and God’s forsaking Jesus in His humanity on the cross were both examples of God’s withdrawing His fellowship from a human soul. An important difference between the two experiences is that Adam suffered this punishment for his own sin, and Jesus suffered this punishment for the sins of others.

There are also other differences between the experiences of the first and Second Adam. When the first Adam sinned, he was filled with shame and tried to hide from God. In response, God cried out, “Where are you?” When the Second Adam became sin for others, He was holy and sinless and pure to the very core of His being. He was as a lamb without spot or blemish. When God for a time cut off fellowship with the human soul of Jesus, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus had no sin or shame, and cried out in soul anguish that God was now in a sense hidden from Him in His human experience. Again, when Adam sinned, he hid from God in shame, and God cried out, “Where are you?” When Jesus in His humanity as the Second Adam became sin for us, God in a mysterious sense hid from the human experience of Jesus, and the holy and sinless Jesus cried out in agony, “why.”

Let’s also consider the meaning of Jesus’ being forsaken in terms of the darkness that came upon the land. Jesus was nailed to the cross at nine in the morning. At noon, the middle of the day when the sun is at its zenith, a strange darkness descended upon the land. The darkness remained for three hours, until three in the afternoon, until the time of Jesus’ death. This three hour period was the climax of Jesus’ suffering under the wrath of God as a sacrifice for sin.

There was a symbolism to the darkness. We read in 1 John chapter one that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. God sent physical darkness upon Jesus as He hung there on the cross as a symbol that God in judgment was withdrawing fellowship from Jesus’ human soul. Jesus had never walked in darkness, but He was bearing the sins of sinners, the sins of those who have walked in darkness and do walk in darkness and will walk in darkness. Jesus endured the darkness of divine wrath against sin so that we who believe in Him might walk in the light of fellowship with God and with one another.

We can contrast this experience of darkness with Jesus’ experience when He was baptized with water by John the Baptist. On that day, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove. The Holy Spirit that day came to empower Jesus to perform miracles that affirmed His deity and His Messianic mission. The Holy Spirit that day came to empower Jesus with supernatural knowledge when He needed to know what was in the minds of men. On that day, a voice cried out from heaven saying, “You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In the darkness of the cross, the Spirit was not empowering the humanity of Jesus with any supernatural gifts and the Father was not encouraging Jesus with any affirming words from heaven.

We can contrast this experience of darkness with Jesus’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. There the Father shone His glory upon Jesus such that Jesus’ clothes began to shine and honored Jesus with the words, “This is My beloved Son.” In the darkness of the cross, there was no shining glory and no proclaiming of honor.

We can contrast this experience of darkness with Jesus’ experience in the wilderness and at Gethsemane. After Jesus’ ordeals in these two places, God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus in His humanity. There was no angelic helper at Calvary. An angel did not appear until the third day when Jesus rose from the dead.

We have seen Jesus’ early confidence in His second saying from the cross: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” We have seen Jesus’ cry in the fourth saying from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” We will finally look at the completion of Jesus’ saving work in the sixth saying from the cross, “It is finished!”

The sixth statement from the cross is Jesus’ cry of victory, His proclamation that the work of atonement has been accomplished. Yes, Jesus still had to experience physical death, and His body still had to abide in the tomb until the third day. Yes, Jesus still needed to rise from the dead. But the spiritual ordeal that was at the heart of His atoning sacrifice had been completed. Let’s consider how Jesus had been able to complete His saving work of atonement. In order to experience this suffering, Jesus had to be human. Jesus in His divinity could not experience pain, deprivation, isolation, death. Jesus had to possess a human nature in order to experiences these. Jesus had to be human in order to suffer a human punishment for human sins. Yet, at the same time, the Person who was living this human life through this human nature was the Person of God the Son. The Person living a human life through Jesus’ human nature remained a divine Person because this Person was simultaneously living a divine life through the one divine nature. The divine Person did not transform Jesus’ human nature into a divine nature. Jesus’ human mind did not become omniscient, Jesus’ physical strength did not become omnipotent, Jesus’ localized presence did not become omnipresent. The incarnation was the incarnation of a divine Person, not the incarnation of the one divine nature. Yet the divinity of the divine Person did have two effects upon the work of Jesus in His humanity. An individual’s nature is the source of his capabilities. His mind provides him with mental capabilities; his body provides him with physical capabilities; and so on. The person, however, is responsible for what the individual does. For example, my mind is not responsible for what I think. I am responsible for what I think even though I use my mind to do the thinking. The divine Person of Jesus was responsible for what Jesus did in His humanity, and that divine person was the source of the endurance that Jesus needed to complete His saving work. The person presses on to complete the task once begun, and the person gets the credit for the accomplishment. That is one effect that the divine Person had on the work of Jesus in His humanity. The other effect has to do with the value and worth of the work which Jesus did in His humanity. The person is what gives a certain kind of worth to an accomplishment. I can sign my signature on a baseball, but that does not give a baseball the same amount of worth as a baseball that was signed by Babe Ruth. In the same way, the divine person of Jesus gave an infinite worth to His saving work upon the cross, even though He accomplished that work through His finite human nature and even though He suffered on the cross for only a few hours. The person who does the work gives the work a certain value and worth.

Because Jesus was both God and man in one person, Jesus was able to do the work appropriate to each nature which was necessary for our salvation. Through His human nature, He lived a sinless human life, suffered and died. Through His divine Person, He persevered in His work to the end and imparted the infinite worth to His saving work that was necessary for Him to redeem a multitude beyond numbering from every nation, tribe and tongue. Thus, Jesus was able to proclaim from the cross, “It is finished! I have completed My saving work of atonement! The ransom price for sin has been paid in full!”

Jesus began His atoning work with confidence. He stated with great assurance that His human spirit would that very day be in Paradise. Jesus cried out in agony as He endured God’s wrath against sin in His human experience. Jesus completed His work of atonement, a work of infinite value, in a few short hours. He then cried out in triumph, “It is finished!” He had completed the seemingly impossible task, and our salvation is secure.

Sexual Sin and the Golden Rule

Society is pressuring the church to accept certain sexual sins which are strongly condemned in the Bible as morally acceptable life choices. One of the arguments for this is that this sort of acceptance is only consistent with Christian love and the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, of course, is that we should do to others as we would have them do to us. When someone who is openly committed to practicing such sexual sins as their chosen lifestyle asks to join a church, what does the Golden Rule require the church to do? Many today would answer that the Golden Rule requires the church to open its doors to all who want to join, regardless of their sexual lifestyle. Yet is that really what the Golden Rule means? No, that is the Golden Rule taken out of context.

Let me give you an example of the Golden Rule taken out of context. A man might be a bank robber. A friend might visit him and tell him that he wants to rob a bank but that he doesn’t know how to crack a safe. So the bank robber says to himself, “The Golden Rule says to do to others as I would have them do to me. If I didn’t know how to crack a safe, I would certainly want someone to teach me how. So I will follow the Golden Rule and offer to teach my friend how to crack a safe so that he can rob a bank.” I think that most would agree that that is taking the Golden Rule out of context.

What then is the context of the Golden Rule? The Golden Rule is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:12:

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

The context is found in the second clause: “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The Law and the Prophets is a reference to the Old Testament, the Bible of Jesus’ day. The Golden Rule is just a quick summary of the ethics of the Bible. The Bible is the sword of the Spirit, and the Golden Rule is the pocketknife version that we always have with us. The Golden Rule shouldn’t be interpreted to endorse anything that is contrary to the morality which the Golden Rule summarizes. The Golden Rule in its proper context means that we should do to other people what we would want them to do to us, with the understanding that we want other people to do to us what is right and good and true according to the teaching of the Bible. That is the proper understanding of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The Golden Rule then does not require us to accept sexually sinful practices as moral. In fact, the Golden Rule does the opposite. If a friend or a relative told us that he was adopting a sexually sinful lifestyle, how should we respond? We should do to him as we would want him or another to do to us. What we should want for someone to do to us in such a situation is to reach out to us with compassion without condoning our sin. We should want someone to be firm with us that what we are doing is a serious violation of God’s law. We should want him to remind us that the Bible clearly says both that those who practice certain sins as a way of life will not inherit the kingdom of God and that the Gospel has the power to deliver sinners from the dominance of any sin. That is what we should want others to do to us in such a situation. That is not the easy thing to do. The easy thing for others to do in such a situation would be to say what the sinner wants to hear, and that is to condone the sinner’s sin. That is not the loving thing to do in such a situation; it is the easy thing to do and the selfish thing to do. It is substituting virtue signaling for genuine help. The only true love in such a situation is the tough love which speaks the truth in a compassionate way.

But some might say, Didn’t Christ accept sinners? Christ did eat with sinners in Matthew’s house, and the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus for doing this. This does not mean, however, that Jesus condoned their sin. Jesus reached out to sinners with the good news of the gospel and sincerely desired their salvation from sin and judgment. Jesus loved certain sinners with the love of benevolence, the love of good will. Yet Jesus did not love any sinners as sinners with the love of complacency, the love of good pleasure. Jesus took no pleasure in their sinful ways. When sinners came to Christ in faith, Christ not only forgave their sins but also gave them a new heart. As their lives progressively changed from sinful lives to holy lives, Christ increasingly loved them with the love of good pleasure. Christ takes no pleasure in sin, but He does take pleasure in holiness.

It is like the little boy who did not want to go to school. He asked his father why he did not love him the way that he was. If his father really loved him the way that he was, then his father would not make him go to school. The father’s reply was that he did love his son the way that he was. But he also loved his son too much to allow him to remain the way that he was, in ignorance and immaturity. That is why the father made him go to school. He loved his son unconditionally with the love of good will. But that does not mean that he condoned his son’s ignorance and immaturity. He sent his son to school, and loved him increasingly with the love of pleasure as he saw his son mature and grow in knowledge and understanding.

When Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners, Jesus didn’t respond by saying that we should accept people’s sinful ways. No, not at all. This was His response:

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Mark 2:17

Jesus ate with sinners, but he referred to their sin as a spiritual sickness. He came to them as a physician of the soul offering healing. He came to them to call them to repent of their sins. We should compassionately reach out to people with the gospel, but we do a disservice to them if we refuse to call their sin what it is. If we treat those engaged in sinful lifestyles as if they were righteous people, how can we call them to repentance?

Let me give you one more example. Here is part of Jesus’ conversion with the woman at the well in Samaria:

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”

John 4:13-18

The woman had asked Jesus for this water that springs up into everlasting life. She seemed at that point to show an openness to the gospel message. We might think that moment was the opportunity to challenge the woman to pray a simple prayer of faith. Yet Jesus did something different. The woman had quite a history of sexual sin, and Jesus chose to bring that up at that point in the conversation. Saving faith looks to Jesus not only for forgiveness but also for deliverance from sin as a way of life. Jesus was awakening her to her sin so that He could call her to repentance. Jesus reaches out to sinners in love, but Jesus does not condone their sins. He offers sinners not tolerance of their sins but deliverance from their sins. If we need an example to show us how to implement the Golden Rule, surely that example is found in Jesus as revealed to us in Scripture.


For more on the love of benevolence and the love of complacency, see chapter six of Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest by Mark Jones. This chapter is found here on the Internet:

V. A threefold love of God is commonly held; or rather there are three degrees of one and the same love. First, there is the love of benevolence by which God willed good to the creature from eternity; second, the love of beneficence by which he does good to the creature in time according to his good will; third, the love of complacency by which he delights himself in the creature on account of the rays of his image seen in them. The two former precede every act of the creature; the latter follows (not as an effect its cause, but as a consequent its antecedent). By the love of benevolence, he loved us before we were; by the love of beneficence, he loves us as we are; and by the love of complacency, he loves us when we are (viz., renewed after his image). By the first he elects us; by the second, he redeems and sanctifies us; but by the third he gratuitously rewards us as holy and just. John 3:16 refers to the first; Ephesians 5:25 and Revelation 1:5 to the second; Isaiah 62:3 and Hebrews 11:6 to the third.

Francis Turretin, Institutes, 1:242.

Divines distinguish of a twofold love; a love of benevolence and a love of complacency. The love of benevolence is the desiring of the felicity of another; the love of complacency is the well-pleasedness of the soul in a suitable good. God loveth us both these ways; with the love of benevolence: ‘For so God loved the world,’ and so ‘The upright in the way are his delight.’

The Works of Thomas Manton, 13:140-141

If holiness be a perfection belonging to the nature of God; then, where there is some weak conformity to the holiness of God, let us labor to grow up in it, and breathe after fuller measures of it. The more likeness we have to him, the more love we shall have from him. Communion will be suitable to our imitation; his love to himself in his essence, will cast out beams of love to himself in his image. If God loves holiness in a lower measure, much more will he love it in a higher degree, because then his image is more illustrious and beautiful, and comes nearer to the lively lineaments of his own infinite purity. Perfection in anything is more lovely and amiable than imperfection in any state; and the nearer anything arrives to perfection, the further are those things separated from it which might cool an affection to it. An increase in holiness is attended with a manifestation of his love (John xiv.21): “He that hath my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me, and he shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and I will manifest myself to him.” It is a testimony of love to God, and God will not be behind-hand with the creature in kindness; he loves a holy man for some resemblance to him in his nature; but when there is an abounding in sanctified dispositions suitable to it, there is an increase of favor; the more we resemble the original, the more shall we enjoy the blessedness of that original: as any partake more of the Divine likeness, they partake more of the Divine happiness.

Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, 2:206-207

The Christological Argument against Images of Jesus

In the history of the Christian church, there have been two very significant documents related to an argument against all visual representations of Jesus, an argument commonly called the Christological argument. The first document is a statement of the decisions of a church council held near Constantinople in 754. The second document is the eighteenth century book by Ralph Erskine, Faith No Fancy. The eighth century and the eighteenth century versions of the Christological argument have much in common, but they also have their differences. Each version was also associated with a particular understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

Let’s begin with the eighth century Christological argument. A church council in the year 754 condemned all images representing Jesus in His humanity based on the Christological argument. A subsequent church council in 787 reversed this decision and also condoned the veneration of images as an element of Christian worship. The 787 church council was the Second Council of Nicea, the seventh and last of the early ecumenical councils recognized by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. After the 787 council, the controversy flared up again in the east but was soon settled permanently in favor of those who venerated images.

After this, the eighth century Christological argument seemed largely forgotten. The eighth century Christological argument had stirred up controversy in the eastern churches associated with Constantinople but not in the western churches associated with Rome. Also, as we will see, the eastern understanding of images of Christ soon changed in a way that made the eighth century Christological argument irrelevant even in the east.

In the years leading up to the 754 council, the eastern emperor Constantine V originated the eighth century Christological argument. His main critic was John of Damascus, a Christian theologian who lived in an area under Muslim control where he was free to criticize the emperor’s views. These two opponents shared a common foundational understanding about the basic nature of any visual representation of Jesus. They both regarded such images as natural images as opposed to artificial and external images. Using modern comparisons, this means that their common understanding of an image of Jesus had more in common with a clone, which is a natural image, than it had with a digital picture, which is an artificial and external image. Their common foundational understanding was based on the idea that God the Son as the divine image of God the Father is the pattern for understanding the relationship of a visual image of Jesus to Jesus himself. God the Son is a natural image of God the Father in that they both are fully divine and thus both have the same nature. Thus, they reasoned, a visual image of Jesus must also be a natural image of Jesus. They shared this understanding of visual images of Jesus but came to opposite conclusions. John of Damascus believed that such images should be venerated, and Constantine V believed that they should be prohibited. There was no thought of the possibility that there could be an artificial and external visual representation of Jesus in His humanity that was neither a proper object of worship nor a necessary object of censure.

The eighth century Christological argument presented a dilemma regarding any visual representation of Jesus that was regarded as a true natural image. A summary statement of this dilemma is found in the decisions of the 754 council:

Whoever, then, makes an image of Christ, either depicts the Godhead which cannot be depicted, and mingles it with the manhood (like the Monophysites), or he represents the body of Christ as not made divine and separate and as a person apart, like the Nestorians. (Percival, p. 544)

In other words, if anyone tried to make a visual representation of Jesus that was a true natural image, he had to choose his poison, either monophysitism or Nestorianism. A true natural image of a monophysite Jesus is theoretically possible because the human and divine natures are blended and thus are depictable in a true natural image through the human element. Also, a true natural image of a Nestorian Jesus is theoretically possible because the human and divine natures are separated, with a divine person subsisting in the one divine nature and a human person subsisting in the human nature. The human person subsisting in a human nature is depictable in a true natural image separate from the divine person subsisting in the one divine nature. Yet an orthodox Jesus is not depictable through a true natural image. The orthodox doctrine, affirmed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, is that Jesus has two natures, the one divine nature and a complete and genuine human nature, that are never separated but also never mixed or confused. For anyone who tries to make a true natural image of Jesus, the choice is between either depicting the undepictable or separating the inseparable. Both choices involve a serious Christological heresy: either Nestorianism, which separates the two natures, or monophysitism, which blends the two natures. With both horns of the dilemma rejected, the implication was that all visual representations of Jesus should be prohibited and avoided. This argument was very effective in a context where Christological heresy was taken very seriously.

Yet the eighth century Christological argument did not deprive the church of every possible visible representation of Jesus. The 754 council pointed to the Lord’s Supper as a valid visual image of Jesus. What finite humans could not do through icons, God could do miraculously through the Lord’s Supper. According to the eighth century Christological argument’s understanding of a valid image, the Lord’s Supper must be a true natural image of Jesus in order to be a valid image of Jesus. If the Lord’s Supper is not a miraculously effected natural image of Jesus, then the dilemma of the eighth century Christological argument would apply to it as well. The same 754 council that stated the eighth century Christological argument also made this statement regarding the Lord’s Supper:

And the body of Christ is made divine, so also this figure of the body of Christ, the bread, is made divine by the descent of the Holy Spirit; it becomes the divine body of Christ by the mediation of the priest who, separating the oblation from that which is common, sanctifies it. (Percival 2011, p. 544)

The elements of the Lord’s Supper understood as a true natural image of Jesus must incorporate the literal physical body and blood of Jesus. This understanding of the Lord’s Supper is a logical implication of the eighth century Christological argument.

The dilemma of the eighth century Christological argument could have been avoided altogether if visual representations of Jesus in his humanity had been regarded as artificial and external images. This insight was not suggested until later by Patriarch Nicephorus (c. 758-828), who was the first to give an effective answer to the eighth century Christological argument. John of Damascus had thought in terms of ontological Platonic participation. In contrast, Patriarch Nicephorus analyzed the issue in terms of Aristotelian logic. In his argumentation against the eighth century Christological argument, Patriarch Nicephorus defined the icon as an artificial external image:

It is a likeness of its living model, and through this likeness it expresses the entire visible form of the one it depicts; yet it remains in essence distinct from this model because it is of a different matter. (Schoenborn 2011, location 3036, p. 87)

With this understanding of visual representations of Jesus in his humanity, the eighth century Christological argument became irrelevant.

Sadly the eastern church continued its veneration of icons of Jesus. A third and final foundational thinker on this issue arose in the eastern church, Theodore the Studite (729-856). Like Patriarch Nicephorus, he explained images in Aristotelian relational terms and not in Platonic terms of ontological participation. Yet he went beyond Patriarch Nicephorus by clearly stating that to see an icon of Christ is to look upon the divine person of Christ. The basic contention of Theodore the Studite was that an icon of a person depicts not that person’s nature but that person’s person. He claimed that the personal connection between a visual image of Jesus and Jesus himself was the icon’s physical resemblance to the historical Jesus. The eastern church had a legend explaining how the knowledge of Jesus’ physical appearance had been preserved for use in painting icons. Like John of Damascus, Theodore the Studite held to an intrinsic connection between the image and its prototype, though on the level of personhood and not on the level of essential nature.

The 754 council became irrelevant even in the east, and many of its documents were lost. We know about their content mainly from their being quoted by the 787 council in the process of condemning them. We do not later read about the eighth century Christological argument even as a defense of the iconoclasm associated with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformer Peter Martyr did mention the 754 church council and the eighth century Christological argument, but only to express his disagreement with the argument. John Calvin also mentioned the 754 church council but not in an effort to glean an argument against the worship of images. Calvin noted both the anti-image council in 754 and the pro-image council in 787 as part of his argument that church councils can disagree with one another and therefore cannot be infallible. In the course of his argument, Calvin implied his agreement with the 754 council’s decision to remove images from churches and strongly condemned the 787 council’s approval of worshipping images. Yet his main contention was that “… we cannot otherwise distinguish between councils that are contradictory and discordant, which have been many, unless we weigh them all … in the balance of all men and angels, that is, the Word of the Lord” (Institutes 21:1173 4.9.9). Calvin did not mention the eighth century Christological argument.

After the eighth century controversy, the Christological argument did not receive any significant attention to my knowledge until Ralph Erskine in the eighteenth century wrote his book Faith No Fancy. Ralph Erskine was apparently not even aware of the eighth century Christological argument when he began writing his book. Well into the writing, he revealed that he had learned about the 754 church council and the eighth century Christological argument through reading Peter Martyr:

Then [Peter Martyr in Loc. Com.] makes mention of the seventh synod, (which was not allowed by the Papists, and) which was held by Constantine and his son: wherein it was decreed, “That Christ was not to be painted, feigned or figures, no not as touching his human nature. And the reason is set down and assigned, because it is not possible to describe by art any thing else but his human nature. Wherefore they that make such things, seems to embrace the Nestorian error, which separated the human nature from the divine.” When above I supposed Mr. Robe’s doctrine of mental imagery touching Christ’s human nature to savour of Nestorianism, I had not glanced at this passage, so as to see my opinion fortified by the decree of such an ancient synod. (page 294)

At this point, a little historical background to Ralph Erskine’s development of the eighteenth Christological argument would be helpful. In Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards wrote an account of the awakening that occurred in his church from 1734 to 1735. An unabridged version entitled  A Faithful Narrative was published in London in 1737, and reprints appeared in Edinburgh in 1737 and 1738. In 1741, Edwards preached a sermon on the distinguishing marks of a true spiritual awakening. This was published under the title The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. Editions were published in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1742. Also in 1742, Edwards’s earlier work A Faithful Narrative helped inspire awakenings in two congregations of the Church of Scotland, William McColloch’s church at Cambuslang and James Robe’s church at Kilsyth. George Whitefield then preached in these churches in June 1742. Ralph Erskine and James Fisher were members of the Associate Presbytery, a group that had seceded from the Church of Scotland in 1733. According to James Robe, Fisher sent circular letters “Misrepresenting this blessed Work as a Delusion, and Work, of the Devil, very soon after its first Appearance at Cambuslang.” On July 15, 1742, the Associate Presbytery called for their churches to fast on August 4 in response to Whitefield’s ministry in Scotland and the alleged works of delusion. James Robe quickly wrote a book defending the Scottish awakenings, and Fisher quickly responded with a critical review. This was followed by a series of published letters between Robe and Fisher. After Robe’s fourth letter, Ralph Erskine wrote Faith No Fancy in 1745 as his definitive response to Robe.

In The Distinguishing Marks, Jonathan Edwards had made this comment about mental images:

Such is our nature that we can’t think of things invisible, without a degree of imagination. I dare appeal to any man, of the greatest powers of mind, whether or no he is able to fix his thoughts on God or Christ, or the things of another world, without imaginary ideas attending his meditations? (Edwards 2009, 236)

Fisher criticized the above comment by Edwards, and Robe responded by defending it. In his fourth and final public letter to Fisher, Robe stated,

That we cannot think upon Jesus Christ really as he is, God and Man in two distinct Natures, and one Person for ever, without an imaginary Idea of him as Man, or in his human Nature, consisting of a true Body, and a reasonable Soul … And as we ought to form no imaginary Idea of him as he is God, but a pure Conception without any Form of Representation of him as God in our Minds…


That we cannot receive the Lord Jesus Christ, as offered to us in the Gospel, without an imaginary Idea or Conception of him as Man. (pp. 30-31)

Refuting this latter statement was the basic purpose of Ralph Erskine’s book Faith No Fancy. The fancy was then a term for the human imagination, and Ralph Erskine argued in his book that saving faith cannot involve an imaginary idea of Jesus in his humanity.

I believe that James Robe went too far in claiming that a mental image of Jesus in his humanity is a necessary component of saving faith. He should have argued that such a mental image can be a thing indifferent. Yet his claim is understandable considering the epistemology of the time. Aristotle had said, “… as without sensation a man would not learn or understand anything, so at the very time when he is actually thinking he must have an image before him” (Aristotle, De Anima, III.8). An old scholastic maxim similarly said that nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses. John Locke (1632-1704), whose epistemology was popular at the time, had similar ideas.

Ralph Erskine and James Robe had some common ideas on epistemology. They both believed that images come into the imagination either through the senses or from memory. Images are first constructed in the imagination and then interpreted in the intellect or understanding. I think that all parties would have agreed on these basic principles. Robe seemed to believe that the work of the imagination and the intellect in processing an image is instantaneous. In his second letter, Robe spoke of images being “presented to the Understanding, as they are formed in the Imagination…” Ralph Erskine spoke as if there is a critical delay between the work of the sensitive faculty and the work of the intellective faculty in processing an image.

In Ralph Erskine’s understanding, when one has a mental image, there is always an instant during which the image is in the imagination before it is interpreted by the understanding. With a mental image that represents Jesus in his humanity, there would be this instant before the intellect identified the image as representing the God-man Jesus. Ralph Erskine focused on that instant and labeled it as atheistic and the undefined mental image as a moral abomination and a half-Christ. In that instant, the mental image was separated from the divine person of Christ and so it was Nestorian. This was Ralph Erskine’s eighteenth Christological argument that was based primarily on Jesus’ person rather than his two natures.

At times, Ralph Erskine sounded like he believed that a mental image of Jesus had to be an essential image in order to represent Jesus properly. An essential image is one in which the image embodies the person of the prototype. Ralph Erskine’s solution was to think about Jesus only in terms of propositional statements in the intellect or understanding without any mental images in the imagination. The solution that I would suggest is to accept that mental images are artificial and external images as opposed to natural images or essential images.

Ralph Erskine’s understanding of mental images also affected his understanding of the Lord’s Supper. In the system which he used to argue against mental images of Jesus, sensory information was not only spiritually useless but even spiritually harmful. To try to reconcile this with the reality of the sensual ordinances of the word and sacraments, Erskine adopted a form of occasionalism. Why does a bell ring when it is struck? The ordinary explanation is that this is due to cause and effect based upon the nature of both the bell and the striker as God has made them and upholds them. Occasionalism denies this and claims that God makes the bell ring through a direct or immediate supernatural action, and God chooses to do this on the occasion of the bell’s being struck. Similarly the sensory data received from the ordinances are never spiritual helps in strengthening and confirming the believer’s faith. Their administration is instead only the occasion upon which God has chosen to strengthen and confirm the believer’s faith through a direct supernatural act. In this way, God is able to use something allegedly harmful, such as sensory data, in a way that is spiritually helpful.

In his Fourth Letter, Robe stated, “The Works of God and the Sacraments, manifest him to us by the Eye, as doth also the Word read by us, and the Word preached, or otherwise taught by the Ear.” (page 61) What Robe here described as helpful, Ralph Erskine proclaimed to be hurtful:

But, however [Robe] states the matter, I think he wrongs himself more than I did, by his own assertion here, p. 61. “That though we cannot have the saving knowledge of God without the inward and effectual teaching of the Holy Spirit, yet, without the help of our senses and imagination in an ordinary way, we cannot have the saving knowledge which is the effect of the Spirit’s teaching.” Here is strange help that the Spirit of God must have, and without which his teaching signifies nothing unto salvation, namely, the help of our natural senses and imagination. But what help these can give, I have already shewn, even no help at all, but hurt. (p. 243)

In his further discussion, Ralph Erskine made the distinction between a help and an occasion:

 We have the knowledge of God and his perfections by the intervention of providence in many things, which are yet no ways helpful to the saving knowledge of him, and the use that God makes of these things, does not infer their helpfulness in themselves to this end. The argument here confounds occasions with helps; which yet ought to be kept distinct. It confounds occasions that God takes to himself for making himself known, with helps that he prescribes or gives to us for our knowing of him. (p. 244)

After quoting Robe’s statement about the sacraments that is quoted above from Robe’s fourth letter, Ralph Erskine went on to say,

Why then Mr. Robe’s meaning is, All the knowledge of God we have by hearing his word read or preached, and by seeing his works, and the sensible signs in the sacraments, is attained by the intervention of our senses and imagination; which are helpful to that saving knowledge of God and his perfections, by presenting the images of these signs unto them; these sensible signs, whether the works or word of God, having left their species or image upon the imagination. This indeed is the doctrine that I oppose, as not the doctrine of faith, but of fancy. (p. 245)

Ralph Erskine then presented the false dilemma that in the application of redemption, either the sensory data of the word and sacraments accessed with the aid of sense and imagination, work automatically apart from faith, or else not at all. This is an argument for the second option, since the first option is obviously false. This false choice omits the option that God can use data accessed with the aid of sense and imagination in communicating the gospel message while working faith in the heart. Here is Ralph Erskine’s argument:

Thus, as what is visible in the sacrament, and to be seen by sensible signs, is suited unto faith only, without any aid of sense and imagination, otherwise, if all were the object of the sense of seeing, there would be no need of faith; so I may say the same about hearing the word, or the reading of it: As these are mere natural acts of the ear and eye, or of the bodily senses as such, they belong not at all to religion, no more than the hearing of sounds and voices, or the viewing of words and letters: … (p. 246)

Here are some quotations from Faith No Fancy listed in their order of occurrence in the book:

We read of the mystery of faith, but to conceive of Christ as man is indeed no mystery at all: yea, to conceive of him as man, and yet at the same time to conceive of him and receive him as God-man, are flat contradictions; and, till faith get itself shaken loose of that unprofitable mate, the imaginary idea of him as man, it will never believe to any profit or advantage, nor believe either to the saving of the soul, Heb. x. 39. (pp. xiii-xiv)

That the glorious object of faith is thus divided, that one part of it may be the object of this idea, and another part the object of another idea; one part of it laid before the sensitive, another part before the intellectual faculty of the soul; as if Christ in his person were divided, and part of the division were conceivable by fancy and imagination, and part of it by a mere act of the understanding; and as if a whole Christ were not the object of faith, but a part of him the object of any man’s imaginary idea. (p. 30)

[Mr. Robe] can think no otherwise of other men, than to think they are persons: For to think of a man, and not of a human person, is impossible; for none can think of a nature without a subject, or a human nature without a human person, wherein that nature exists, (of which more afterwards): Even so, the imaginary idea of Christ as man, or in his human nature, as Mr. Robe speaks, necessarily makes him at best think of a human person. And here is the very root and spring of old Nestorianism, making Christ to have two persons, a human and a divine, as well as two natures. Mr. Robe may profess this is not his principle, that Christ is a human person: If so, then he must deny his present doctrine, namely, that he can have an imaginary idea of Christ as man, in the manner and way he thinks of other men. Why, he thinks truly and rightly of other men; because, as men, they are persons: But he thinks falsely of Christ as man; because, as man, he is no person. Therefore his fancy of Christ as man, is indeed but a fancy. One may feed himself with the vain and vile notion of Christ as man, but I can venture to say, as a minister of Christ, that he never saw Christ’s human nature by faith, nor ever had a right thought of it, who never could think of it but as he thinks of other men. (p. 34–35)

Natural imagination cannot conceive a human nature that is not a person, no more than it can conceive a predicate without a subject, a mountain without a valley, or a property, such as white or black, without conceiving something or other as the subject wherein these properties are to be seen: Consequently, even the human nature of Christ, which is not a person, cannot be the object of an imaginary idea, but only of faith upon a divine testimony. (p. 55)

Again, to conceive of a human nature without a human person, is impossible; for none can form the idea of a nature without a subject in which that nature exists, suitable to its nature: So that a human nature without a human person, or subject in which it exists, cannot be imagined. (p. 58)

Let Mr. Robe try his hand, if he can get a limner to paint the likeness of a man, without painting the likeness of a person, or the figure of a human nature, without painting a human subject, in which it is supposed to exist. Even as little can he paint the figure of Christ as man in his mind, or form in his brain the idea of his human nature, without the idea of a human person: So that the idea he here contends for must of necessity make him, whether he will or not, to be a rank Nestorian; that is, of a principle, maintaining Christ to be a human person, as well as a divine one, and as having two persons, as well as two natures; a principle condemned by all the christian churches ever since the day of Nestorius. It is true, Mr. Robe asserts, that Christ hath two distinct natures, and one person. But, if he maintains this as his principle, then he must renounce this principle anent the imaginary idea of Christ as man, as a principle hurtful, instead of being helpful to faith; otherwise he maintains direct contradictions; since there is no conceiving of Christ as man, or as to his human nature subsisting in the person of the Son of God, but only by faith of the operation of God; which will be a mystery imperceptible by human fancy, whether Mr. Robe will or not. This wisdom of God in a mystery is above reason itself; and much more above all the imaginary ideas of men. (pp. 61-62)

They that look to Christ by faith, cannot but believe his humanity; because they see his person God-man. But they that look to him by fancy, or an imaginary idea, cannot see his person, because they look only to his human body. Faith apprehends the person, and so takes in a whole Christ, his personality. Fancy apprehends nothing but the corporeity in itself; which yet in itself is no more the object of faith, than any other human or natural body: which, to make it a proper object of faith, is horrible idolatry. (p. 63)

Again, this ideal doctrine is atheistical: For thus I may argue, to conceive of God as man is atheism. But to have an imaginary idea of Christ as man, is a conceiving of God as man, and therefore the imaginary idea of Christ as man is atheism. (p. 66)

Therefore the conclusion is plain, That an imaginary idea of Christ as man is in itself Atheism; because it is a conceiving of him, not by faith, but by fancy: . . .  (p. 67)

An imaginary idea of Christ as man necessarily divides the person of Christ; because it divides the soul from the body of Christ, and also the human nature from the divine. (p. 67)

 . . . when [shapes and images of corporeal things] obtrude themselves, reason itself must instantly avoid, ere it can have a right notion of any truth relating to these corporeal things; and much more will faith shake off any such vermin, when it is found creeping into the heart. (p. 109)

But this fancy of Christ as man, is indeed but a fancy, that pertains neither to the act nor the object of faith, for as faith in God centers in his Deity; so faith in Christ centers in his person. And to form an imaginary idea of the manhood, is no idea at all of the person God-man; which, being a spiritual and supernatural object, cannot possibly be the object of an imaginary idea: For, seeing Christ as man is no person, and in his person no man, to have an imaginary idea of God-man, or of that person as man, is a mere contradiction, both to philosophy and divinity, to reason and religion. (pp. 140–41)

If he cannot say, that Jesus Christ is not a person, then how can he form the image of him, and yet not of a person? If he say, that it is not the image of his divine person, but of his human nature; then how can he draw the image of a human nature, and not of a person? since human nature can never be separated, either by thought or deed, from being a person, either human or divine. The image then of his human nature must either represent a human person, or a divine one. If the image of Jesus Christ he speaks of, represent a human person, then it is not the true image of Christ, who never had, and never was a human person. If the image of Christ he allows of, represents a divine person, then it is the image of God: for Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the glorious Trinity: And, consequently, whether Mr. Robe will or not, it is but an idolatrous picture of him who is God, expressly forbidden in the second commandment. (pp. 166-167)

He needed not have added, now when it is absent; for, though it were present to sense, I say the same, however dreadful Mr. Robe may think it, that nothing sensible, corporeal or visible, can be the proper object of faith; because it is properly the object of sense. (p. 179)

Again, as nothing invisible can be the object of sense, so nothing visible can properly be the object of faith, as it is visible and corporeal. (p. 190)

To conceive of him as man, by forming an image of his manhood in our minds, is, in my opinion, as really sinful and idolatrous, as to form an image of his Godhead in our mind; because the man Christ is really God; but Christ as man is not: Therefore to conceive of him as man by an imaginary idea, is to conceive of him not as God. (p. 227)

The absence or presence of Christ’s human nature makes no alteration in the least upon the proper act or object of faith, unless it be supposed, that the absence thereof contributes rather to the help of faith, because then faith has not the disadvantage of a sensible object intervening between it and the proper, invisible, complete, and spiritual object of it, namely, Christ as God-man, in one invisible personality. (p. 232)

If imaginary ideas, by the means of our senses and imaginations, do naturally attend our meditations of God and of divine things, they never attend as helps to further, but as devils to mar our spiritual meditations. (p. 252)

Therefore bodily eyes and ears, though they be called gifts of God; as the God of nature and providence; yet they are no proper ordinances of God for helping us to the knowledge of him. (p. 264)

Mental images of Christ then are no better than molten images, profitable for nothing, Isa. xliv. 10. (p. 268)

Therefore the imaginary idea of Christ as man, is so far from helping to the knowledge or conceiving of him as God-man in one person, that it cannot be the remote occasion thereof, but a hinderance; unless God take occasion thereby to bring things out of their opposites; as he did light out of darkness, life out of death, heaven out of hell, holiness out of sin, and all out of nothing. (p. 284)

Yet whatever was, or is the object of sense, cannot under that consideration be the object of faith; no more than sounds and voices can be the object of the sense of seeing, or white and black colours the object of the sense of hearing. (p. 297)

Thus, the human nature of Christ, not materially or corporeally considered, but formally and spiritually, as represented in some doctrinal proposition, gospel truth or divine declaration or testimony, is the proper object of faith. (p. 298)

See also:

Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 and Representations of Deity

Peter Martyr and the Second Commandment

Zwingli and Bullinger on Pictures of Jesus

The Geneva Bible and Visual Representations of Deity

Charles Hodge and Pictures of Jesus

Archibald Alexander and Mental Images of Jesus

Preaching and Mental Images

Westminster Larger Catechism 109: A Short Analysis

My Understanding of Images of Jesus