I recently stepped out of the daily routine for a few days of reading. I brought with me a tall stack of books (some old, some new) on the topics of practical theology, biblical theology, and systematic theology. My stack on biblical theology included a little book of sermons delivered by biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary.
The diverse sermons were captivating, revealing a warm pastoral side of Vos that I had never seen.
I should not have been surprised. I’ve found the sermons of theologians to be great entry points into their writings.
If you’ve never read John Calvin, for example, don’t start with the Institutes or even his commentaries–but first read his sermons (say, on the Beatitudes) and then you’ll see a man moved greatly by the things of God. To see these great men of faith behind the pulpit will help frame their thoughts when you begin listening to them from the lecture hall. Readers who neglect these sermon manuscripts and only go for the complex writings often cast Augustine, Martin Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, B.B. Warfield, and other theologians as overly intellectual and devotionally dry. Start with the sermons and then move into the deeper theological works. Such is true of Vos.
In a message on Hebrews, Vos takes up the topic of faith and addresses the reality of personal justification—that God has declared us perfectly righteous in his sight through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Vos is aware that we can often lose sight of our justification because we are more aware of our dumb, sinful actions, thoughts, and omissions than we are aware of the grace of God in having cleansed our sins forever. Vos reminds us that to “see” our justification is “the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things.”
In Romans and Galatians, faith is in the main trust in the grace of God, the instrument of justification, the channel through which the vital influences flowing from Christ are received by the believer. Here in Hebrews the conception is wider; faith is “the proving of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for.” It is the organ for apprehension of unseen and future realities, giving access to and contact with another world. It is the hand stretched out through the vast distances of space and time, whereby the Christian draws to himself the things far beyond, so that they become actual to him. …
Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.
–Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground) pp. 133, 135
So do we look at our lives by faith in the cross, or do we look at our lives merely by the sight of what appears on the surface? May we penetrate, by faith, into what God has declared true.
Related post: Luther, God’s Word, and Justification.