Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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unfailingly shall be perfect. So certain as it is
that God has called him "not for uncleanness but
in sanctification " as the very sphere in which his
life as a Christian must be passed, so certain is it
that the God who is not merely a caller but a
doer will perfect him in this sanctification. Such
is the teaching of the text. And assuredly it goes
in this, far, far beyond all modern teaching as to
entire sanctification that ever has been heard of
among men.

And now, let us observe, thirdly, the period to
which the Apostle assigns the accomplishment of
this great hope. It is at once evident that he is
not dealing with this perfection as a thing already
in the possession of his readers. It is not a mat-
ter of congratulation to them — as some Christian
graces were, for the presence of which in their
hearts he thanks God, — but a matter of prayer to
God for them. It is a thing not yet in possession


but in petition. It is yet to come to them. He
does not permit us to suppose, then, that the
Thessalonians had already attained — or should
already have attained — it. He thanks God, in-
deed, for their rescue from the state in which they
were by nature. He thanks God for their great
attainments in Christian living. But he does not
suggest they had already reached the goal. On
the contrary, a great part of the letter is taken up
with exhortation to Christian duties not yet over-
taken, graces of Christian living still to be culti-
vated. His readers are treated distinctly and
emphatically as viatores, not yet as comprehen-
sores. Not in and of them, but in and of God, is
the perfection which he prays for. What we see
is not hoped for, what we pray for is not already
attained. Moreover the very pledge he gives of
the attainment of this perfection bears in it an
implication that it is yet a matter of hope, not of
possession. He pledges the faithfulness of God,
the Caller. Accordingly, the perfection longed
for and promised is not given in the call itself; it
is not the invariable possession of the Christian
soul. He that is called looks yet for it; it is
sought still; and at the hands of the Caller whose
faithfulness assures the performance. The per-
formance, therefore, still lags.

It is clear, therefore, that Paul, though prom-
ising this perfection as the certain heritage of
every Christian man, presents it as a matter of


hope, not yet seen ; not as a matter of experience,
already enjoyed. That it belongs to us as Chris-
tians we can be assured only by the faithfulness of
God, the Performer as well as the Caller. Can we
learn from Paul when we can hope for it? As-
suredly, he has not left us in ignorance here. He
openly declares, indeed, the term of our imper-
fection — the point of entrance into our perfection.
"May the God of peace," he prays, "sanctify
you wholly and may there be preserved blame-
lessly perfect your spirit and soul and body, at the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. "^^ You see it is
on the second advent of Christ — and that is the
end of the world, and the judgment day — that
the Apostle has his eyes set. There is the point
of time to which he refers the completeness of our

And if you will stop and consider a moment, you
will perceive that it must be so, for the entire per-
fecting, at least, of which the Apostle speaks.
For you will bear in mind that the perfecting in-
cludes the perfecting of the body also. It is the
perfecting of the whole man that he prays for, and
this expressly includes the body as well as the soul
and spirit. Now the perfected body is given to
man only at the resurrection, at the last day, which
is the day of the second coming of Christ. Until
then the body is mouldering in the grave. Whether
spiritual perfection may be attained before then,
he does not in this passage say. But the analogy


of the body will apparently go so far as this, at
all events — it raises a suspicion that the perfect-
ing of the soul and spirit also will be gradual, the
result of a process, and will be completed only in a
crisis, a cataclysmic moment, when the Spirit of
God produces in them the fitness to live with God.
This suspicion is entirely borne out by Paul's
dealing with the whole matter of sanctification in
this context, and in this whole epistle: as a mat-
ter of effort, long-continued and strenuous, build-
ing up slowly the structure to the end. There is
no promise of its completion in this life; there is
no hint that it may be completed in this life.
There is only everywhere strong exhortations to
ceaseless effort; and strong encouragements by
promises of its completion in the end — against
"that day." "That day" of judgment, that is,
when God shall take account of all men and of all
that is in man.

What is thus fairly implied here is openly
taught elsewhere. Men here are not compre-
hensores but viatores; we are fighting the good
fight; we are running the race. The prize is yon-
der. And not until the body of this death is laid
aside shall the soul be fitted to enter naked into
the presence of its Lord, there expecting until the
body shall be restored to it — ^no longer a body
of death but of glory. Meanwhile the gradual
process of sanctification goes on in soul and body
— until the crisis comes when the "Spiritus Crea-


tor" shall powerfully intervene with the final acts
of renewal.

Certainly the gradualness of this process ought
not to disturb us. It may be inexplicable to us
that the Almighty God acts by way of process.
But that is revealed to us as His chosen mode of
operation in every sphere of His work, and should
not surprise us here. He could, no doubt, make
the soul perfect in a moment, in the twinkling of
an eye; just as He could give us each a perfect
body at the very instant of our believing. He
does not. The removal of the stains and effects
of sin — in an evil heart and in a sick and dying
body — is accomplished in a slow process. We all
grow sick and die — though Jesus has taken on His
broad shoulders (among the other penalties of
sin) all our sicknesses and death itself. And we
still struggle w^ith the remainders of indwelling
sin; though Jesus has bought for us the sancti-
fying operations of the Spirit. To us it is a weary
process. But it is God's way. And He does all
things well. And the weariness of the struggle is
illuminated by hope. After a while! — we may
say; after a while! Or as Paul puts it: Faithful
is He that calls us — who also will do it. He will
do it! And so, after a while, our spirit, and soul
and body shall be made blamelessly perfect, all
to be so presented before our Lord, at that Day.
Let us praise the Lord for the glorious prospect!


I Tim. 3:16: — "And without controversy great is the mystery
of godliness. "

"Confessedly great," says Paul, "is the mys-
tery of piety." This does not mean that piety is
exceedingly "mysterious." There is no "mys-
tery" in piety as such. As Paul means it here it
rests simply, objectively on the great fact, sub-
jectively on the hearty conviction that God was
in Christ reconciling the world with Himself. The
word "mystery," in the usage of Paul, does not
imply inherent incomprehensibility, but only
actual inaccessibility to the natural inquisition of
men. Whatever is known by revelation rather
than by unaided reason, is, in his usage, a "mys-
tery"; and the employment of the word by no
means implies that the revelation has not already
taken place and the hidden truth been made fully
known, but rather just the contrary. The "mys-
tery of piety" is thus just "the opened secret of
piety." And what Paul affirms of it is that this
"opened secret of piety" is confessedly of the
highest importance. "Confessedly great" he
says, and he throws these words forward with
sharp emphasis, "of admittedly the highest im-
portance," "is the mystery of piety."

What Paul is doing in this clause, then, is sim-


ply impressing on Timothy's mind as deeply as
possible a sense of the supreme value of the Gospel,
which he calls a "mystery" only because it is a
matter of revelation, but without the faintest
implication that it is difficult to grasp when once
made known, or that it includes in it any elements
of the inscrutable or incomprehensible. Chris-
tianity, like other religions, had its mysteries,
its sacred truths, made known to its initiates;
and these mysteries, as they constituted its very
essence, were to every Christian of the most
supreme importance — to be carefully guarded,
preserved intact, and kept whole and entire, pure
and unadulterated, at every hazard. Confessedly
great, says the Apostle here with marked emphasis,
admittedly of supreme importance, is the mys-
tery, the opened secret of Christian piety, the

It is especially worth our while to observe two
things here. First, preliminarily, why the Apos-
tle is so strenuous in insisting here on the impor-
tance of the opened secret of piety, the value and
significance of the Gospel. And, secondly, and
more at large, because it is this that constitutes
the burden of the text, what the Apostle con-
ceived to be this " opened secret of piety," that is
to say, what he conceived to be the contents of
the Gospel which he pronounces here to have
such confessed importance.

We need not delay long on the preliminary


point. A glance at the context is enough to in-
form us that the Apostle insists on the greatness
of the Gospel here in order to impress Timothy
with the importance of attending to the direc-
tions he had been giving him as to the proper
ordering of the Church. Somewhat minute pre-
scriptions had been laid down especially as to the
conduct of public worship and as to the organiza-
tion of the Church. In particular the officers of
the Church had been enumerated, and the quali-
fications for their offices carefully described. At
the close of these directions, now, the Apostle
adds these pointed words: "I am writing these
things to you, though I hope to come to you very
soon: but if I am delayed that you may know
what sort of behaviour is incumbent in God's
house — seeing that it is the Church of the Living
God, the pillar and buttress of the truth; and
confessedly great is the mystery of piety. ..."
You see, his appeal to the confessed greatness of
the truth, for the support and propagation of
which in the world the Church exists, is intended
to impress Timothy with a sense of the importance
of the proper ordering and right equipment of the
Church for this, its high function.

It is of the more importance that we should note
this, that there is a disposition abroad to treat all
matters of the ordering of public worship and even
of the organization of the Church as of little im-
portance. We even hear it said about us with


wearisome iteration that the New Testament has
no rules to give, no specific laws to lay down, in
such matters. Matters of church government and
modes of worship, we are told, are merely external
things, of no sort of significance; and the Church
has been left free to find its own best modes of
organization and worship, varying, doubtless, in
the passage of time and in the Church's own pas-
sage from people to people of diverse characters
and predilections. No countenance is lent to
such sentiments by the passage before us; or,
indeed, by these Pastoral Epistles, the very place
of which in the Canon is a standing rebuke to
them; or, in fine, by anything in the New Testa-

On the contrary, you will observe, Paul's point
of view is precisely the opposite one. He takes
his start from the inestimable importance of the
Gospel. Thence he argues to the importance of
the Church which has been established in the
world, so to speak, as the organ of the Gospel — the
pillar and buttress on which its purity and its
completeness rest. Thence again he argues to
the proper organization and ordering of the Church
that it may properly perform its high functions.
And, accordingly, he gives minute prescriptions
for the proper organization and ordering of the
Church — prescribing the offices that it should
have and the proper men for these offices, and
descending even into the details of the public ser-


vices. His position, compressed into a nutshell, is
simply this : the function of the Church as guard-
ian of the truth, that glorious truth which is the
Gospel, is so high and important that it cannot be
left to accident or to human caprice how this
Church should be organized and its work ordered.
Accordingly, he, the inspired Apostle — "an Apostle
of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of
God our Saviour and Christ, our Hope" — has
prescribed in great detail, touching both organi-
zation and order, how it is necessary that men
should conduct themselves in the household of
God — which is nothing other than the Church of
the Living God, the pillar and ground of the
truth. In other words, it is God's Church, not
man's, and God has created and now sustains it
for a function; and He has not neglected to order
it for the best performance of this function.

To imagine that it is of little importance how
the Church shall be organized and ordered, then,
is manifestly to contradict the Apostle. To con-
tend that no organization is prescribed for it is
to deny the total validity of the minute directions
laid down in these epistles. Nay, this whole point
of view is as irrational as it is unbiblical. One
might as well say that it makes no difference how
a machine is put together — ^how, for example, a
typewriter is disposed in its several parts, — be-
cause, forsooth, the typewriter does not exist for
itself, but for the manuscript which is produced by


or rather through it. Of course the Church does
not exist for itself — that is, for the beauty of its
organization, the symmetry of its parts, the ma-
jesty of its services; it exists for its "product" and
for the "truth" which has been committed to it
and of which it is the support and stay in the
world. But just on that account, not less but
more, is it necessary that it be properly organ-
ized and equipped and administered — that it may
function properly. Beware how you tamper with
any machine, lest you mar or destroy its product;
beware how you tamper with or are indifiFerent to
the Divine organization and ordering of the
Church, lest you thereby mar its efficiency or de-
stroy its power, as the pillar and ground of the
truth. Surely you can trust God to know how it is
best to organize His Church so that it may per-
form its functions in the world. And surely you
must assert that His ordering of the Church, which
is His, is necessary if not for the "esse," certainly
for the "bene esse" of the Church.

But our main attention to-day must be given
to the Apostle's elaboration of the contents of this
"truth," or this "mystery of piety," to support
and buttress which he tells us the Church has been
established in the world. He moves Timothy to
zeal in properly ordering the church under his
care, by the declaration that "the opened secret
of piety," to support and buttress which the
Church exists, is confessedly of the utmost im-


portance. And then he deepens and vitalizes
the impression which this declaration is calculated
to make by abruptly enumerating the chief items
which enter into this "mystery of piety" — this
"truth" for which the Church exists.

This enumeration thus embodies Paul's con-
ception of the essence of the Gospel, and takes its
place among the numerous brief summaries of the
essence of the Gospel which stud the pages of his
epistles. It differs from most of them, however,
in this circumstance — that it is not couched in
language of his own, but the Apostle has availed
himself here, as so often in the Pastoral Epistles,
of a form of statement current in the churches,
which would appeal to Timothy's eye and heart,
therefore, with all the force of customary and
well-loved words, in which he and the congrega-
tion had been wont to express their apprehension
of the truth most precious to their hearts. Whether
the words thus adduced are derived from some
current liturgical form, or from a hymn, or merely
from some formulary of accustomed speech, we
have no means of knowing. We can only be sure
that the whole document is not quoted here and,
from the balanced, almost mechanical form of its
structure, that the original document possessed
an elevated and festal character.

The choice of the Apostle to adduce the essence
of the Gospel from such a current formulary,
rather than to frame it out of his own heart, nat-


urally produces a certain abruptness in the words
in which it is introduced. A fragment of current
speech, torn out of its own context, is here simply
juxtaposed by way of apposition to his own declar-
ation, that the Gospel is a supremely important
thing, and left to exhibit that importance by its
contents. "Great," he says, "confessedly great,
is the opened secret of piety," this to wit: "Who
was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the
Spirit, observed by angels, proclaimed among
peoples, believed in by the world, received into
glory." There is not a word to tell us who was
the subject of all these transactions; that was a
part of the original context of the fragment, and
here goes without saying; no one of his readers —
least of all his primary reader Timothy, who knew
as well as Paul the whole document from which the
fragment was derived, — would hesitate to supply
the subject, Jesus Christ. What Paul does is
simply to avail himself of this fervent fragment
and set out the contents of the "mystery of piety"
by means of its rapid enumeration of the prin-
cipal transactions which concerned the redemptive
work of Christ — beginning with the incarnation
and ending with the ascension.

Now, of course, this means that to Paul, Christ
is the essence of the Gospel. As everywhere else,
so here, he sums up the Gospel in Christ; not
Christ, of course, merely as a person, but the ac-
tive Christ — or in other words, in the great re-


demptive work of Christ. And it will repay us
to observe in some detail how the redemptive
work of Christ is presented to us in this somewhat
artificially because artistically ordered fragment
of old Christian confessional expression.

We observe, at once, that the fragment con-
sists of a series of six passive verbs, rapidly suc-
ceeding one another, with the common subject
"Jesus Christ," each further defined by a brief
predicative qualification; the verb being put em-
phatically forward in each case: He was "mani-
fested" in the flesh, "vindicated" by the Spirit,
"seen" by angels. . . . We observe next that the
clauses are so arranged as to fall necessarily into
three contrasting pairs; and yet these three pairs
are bound together by the contrast in each case
being made to turn upon the contrariety of earth
and heaven, or of the flesh and the spirit. Thus
we have the successive triads on the one hand of
the flesh, the peoples, the world; on the other of
the Spirit, the angels, glory. There is no strict
chronological order of occurrence followed in the
enumeration, but the pairs so succeed one an-
other as yet to suggest a beginning, a middle and
an end; the inception, the prosecution, the con-
summation of Christ's work. On the one hand,
he was manifested in the flesh and vindicated by
the Spirit. Here clearly His earthly life is in
mind, with the stress laid perhaps on its inception
in the incarnation and its culmination in the res-


iirrection. Then we have the declaration that He
was seen of angels and proclaimed among the
nations. Here the process of the saving work is
referred to, — chiasmically adduced. Finally, we
read. He was believed on in the world and received
into glory. Here the stress is laid obviously on
the result of His work. The whole constitutes an
exceedingly comprehensive description of the pro-
cess of redemption, antithetically set forth in
balanced clauses, which advert, one by one, to a
characteristic transaction of which Christ was the

Let us now briefly observe the several items of
the description, seriatim.

He "was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by
the Spirit." Here we have the redemptive work
itself adduced. First, the incarnated life in the
flesh — He "was manifested in the flesh"; next,
the successful issue of that work, — He "was
vindicated by the Spirit." The two clauses
together constitute a singularly vivid though
compressed picture of the incarnated work of
redemption. Note the clear implication of the
pre-existence — the deity — of the worker: He "was
manifested," — He existed then, hidden from human
eyes, before; "in the flesh," — in his pre-existence,
then, he was something other than flesh. It is as
clear a declaration of pre-existence and incarna-
tion as the Johannean, "The Word became flesh,"
itself. There is a change of state implied, a change


by virtue of which what was hidden is now brought
to light, and it is brought to Hght because brought
into flesh. Note next the perfection of His work
estabHshed: He was "justified by the Spirit";
that is to say, though appearing in the flesh, yet by
virtue of the Spirit that dwelt in Him, His work of
salvation was vindicated; He rose from the dead,
and could not be holden of death, and so mani-
fested the completeness of His work.

He was "observed by angels, proclaimed among
peoples." Here the progress of the saving work is
outlined. It was not done in or for a corner.
The object of the wondering contemplation of the
hosts of heaven, it is made known also to the in-
habitants of earth. Performed in Judea, in a life
of confined and limited relations, to all appear-
ance, yet it was all the time the focus of the ob-
servation of the angels of God, who anxiously de-
sired to look into it; and when brought to its
glorious completion, it was made the subject of a
world-wide proclamation. Obviously it is the
glory of the Christ — of the redemptive work of
Christ — that is the theme of the whole fragment,
and in this couplet we begin to see it come to light;
and, indeed, the chiasmic arrangement might well
have advised us of it before, what is most glorious in
it being thrust forward to attract our first attention.

He was "believed on in the world, received into
glory." Here we have the issue of the work ad-
verted to; the earthly and the heavenly issue. So


little chronological is the ordering that the con-
quest of the world by Christ is actually adduced
first, while His ascension is adduced last. The
order is climactic, not chronological; He has His
earthly reward and also His heavenly. In these
two items the whole comes to the appropriate end.
And now I think we are prepared to see clearly
that the whole fragment is a hymn of praise to
Christ. He was before all worlds; He was only
"manifested" in the flesh and vindicated by the
Spirit. He was the object of the contemplation
of the angels of heaven and proclaimed in all the
earth. He was believed on in the world and re-
ceived into glory. It is the Glory of Christ that,
according to Paul constitutes the essence of the
Gospel. "O, Jesus, Thou art our head, we are
thy body!" — so one of God's saints teaches us to
pray. "How can the body but participate in the
glory of the Head.^ As for Thyself, therefore, so
also for us art Thou possessed of that heavenly
glory: as Thou sufferedst for us, so for us Thou
also reignest. . . . O then, my soul, seeing thy
Saviour is received up into this infinite glory, . . .
how canst thou abide to grovel any longer on this
base earth? . . . With what longings and holy
ambition shouldst thou desire to aspire to that
place of eternal rest and beatitude into which thy
Saviour has .ascended, and with him be partaker
of that glory and happiness which he hath pro-
vided for all that love him."


I Tim. 6:20, 21:— "O Timothy, guard that which is committed
mito thee, turning away from the profane babblings and opposi-
tions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some pro-
fessing have erred concerning the faith."

This short paragraph looks very much like a

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 22 of 27)