Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

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

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almost the most important of its effects. If the
specific exercise of prayer in which we are engaged
is adoration or thanksgiving, may not what we
call its subjective effects be the most important.?
No doubt, if we are engaging in petition, it may
be different; may be even here, not must. If our
petition be, Father, hallowed be Thy Name! — or,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as


in heaven! — no subjective effects can compare
with the objective value of the petition. But
suppose the petition be, "Give us this day our
daily bread!" Or for some lesser blessing "of this
life"! Is not the enjoyment in prayer of com-
munion with God of more value than any of these
things? Let us bless God that man does not live
by bread alone; nay, not even chiefly.

If we seek to enumerate the benefits obtained by
prayer, then, I think we must say that they are,
at least, threefold. There are the objective
blessings obtained by means of the prayer in the
answer to its petitions. There is the blessing that
consists in the very act of prayer, that commu-
nion with God which is the highest act of the soul.
There are the blessings that arise from the as-
sumption in prayer of the proper attitude of the
creature, especially of the sinful creature, towards
God. Perhaps these last alone can be strictly
called purely subjective. The first we may speak
of as purely objective. It is the second in which
the highest value of prayer is to be found.

We must not undervalue the purely subjective
or reflex effects of prayer. They are of the high-
est benefit to us. Much less must we undervalue
the objective effects of prayer. In them lies the
specific meaning of that exercise of prayer which
we call petition. But the heart of the matter hes
in every case in the communion with God which
the soul enjoys in prayer. This is prayer itself.


and in it is summed up what is most blessed in
prayer. If it be man's chief end to glorify God
and enjoy Him for ever, then man has attained his
end, the sole purpose for which he was made, the
entire object for which he exists, when he enters
into communion with God, abides in His pres-
ence, streaming out to Him in all the emotions, I
do not say appropriate to a creature in the pres-
ence of his Maker and Lord, apprehended by him
as the Good Lord and Righteous Ruler of the
souls of men, but appropriate to the sinner who
has been redeemed by the blood of God's own Son
and is inhabited by His Spirit and apprehends
his Maker as also his Saviour, his Governor as
also his Lover, and knows the supreme joy of him
that was lost and is found, was dead and is alive
again, — and all, through the glory of God's seeking
and saving love. He who attains to this experi-
ence has attained all that is to be attained. He is
absorbed in the beatific vision. He that sees God
shall be like Him.


I Pet. 1:15: — "But like as He which called you is holy, be ye
yourselves also holy in all manner of living."

The first chapter of the First Epistle of Peter
ranks with the most precious in the Bible. It
opens with a singularly rich and beautiful de-
scription of what God has done for us, and of the
glory of that salvation which He has provided.
He has given His Son to die and rise again that by
His resurrection from the dead He might beget us
anew unto a lively hope. Though we may have
to suffer now and enter not yet into this hope, He
Himself preserves for us the hoped-for inherit-
ance, incorruptible and undefiled; and keeps us
by His power for it, until the day comes when we
shall enter into it. This glorious salvation He had
prepared for us, indeed, before we were born,
even from the beginnings of the ages, annoimcing
it from time to time through the prophets who
well knew that it was for us and not themselves
that they ministered, but revealing it in its full
glory not even to the angels as it has now been
made known to us. Thus Peter makes known to
his readers that it was not they who chose God
but God who chose them; that their salvation is
not dependent on their own effort but rests on
God's almighty power; that the inheritance for



which they hope in the end is not such an one as
they could obtain with human weakness, but such
an one as only God could prepare — more splendid
than prophets could tell, more glorious than
angels could imagine, prepared by God just for us
from the foundation of the world. By this far-off
glimpse of it, Peter would quicken our hope and
awaken our love and gratitude to God.

"Wherefore," he adds, — turning suddenly from
this glorious prospect to stir us up to make this
precious inheritance surely our own — "where-
fore" see to it that you enter into this hope and
lay such hold upon it that it cannot slip away. As
we approach the text for the day, thus, we pass
from the contemplation of the glorious inheritance
of the saints to the most earnest exhortations to
make our calling sure. Peter admonishes us by
the greatness of the hope that is set before us, in
other words, to a mode of life conformable to it.
We must gird up the loins of our minds, be sober
and set our hope perfectly on this grace that is to
be brought to us at the revelation of our Lord.
It is ready for us; it is kept in store for us in
heaven; when Christ comes it will come with Him.
Would we be meet for its reception? How then
shall we be made meet for it? We are told first
negatively and then positively.

Christ is our King and to Him we owe our duty.
Not with eye service only; not with grudging
honour; but as the very children of obedience we


must offer Him our willing service. And this
service which He demands of us is summed up
broadly in the negative rule that we must be sep-
arated wholly from our former evil desires which
we followed in the days of our ignorance, before
He recalled Himself to us and made known to us
what a glorious inheritance He had for us. Chil-
dren of the flesh, born in the flesh, we have lived
according to the lusts of the flesh; for who is there
that sins not? But now that the eyes of our
hearts have been opened that we may see what it
is that we have done, and that we may know the
evil that we have wrought, we must turn away
from evil. This is the negative rule of life. But
mere negation brings us nowhere. To separate
from sin is not enough; we must go on to positive
holiness; "like as He which called you is holy,
become ye also yourselves holy in all manner
of living.'* Here is the positive rule of life.

Now let us look at this precept somewhat more
closely. Doing so we will observe (1) what it
is that we are exhorted to become — holy; (2)
in what we are to become holy — in every manner
of living; and (3) to what degree we are to become
holy in all our life and all its activities, — as holy as
God Himself is. In other words, we may ob-
serve here (1) that God draws back the veil and
exhibits His own holiness to His children; (2) that
He makes His hoHness the incitement to them to
become holy also; (3) that He holds His own holi-


ness forth as the standard of the holiness which
they must strive to attain; and (4) that He ac-
tually proposes to share this His highest attri-
bute with us.

Observe, then, first, that God here proclaims
His own holiness and so exhibits this His crown
and glory to His children; "like as He which
called you is holy" — "for I am holy." What,
then, do we mean when we speak of the "holi-
ness" of God? We need not trouble ourselves
with the derivation of the Hebrew word, although,
no doubt, its etymological sense of division, sepa-
ration from, is conformable with its usage. The
usage of the word, which is applied primarily to
God, and only afterwards and secondarily to those
that belong to Him, — especially if we will observe
its contrasts — clearly indicates as its central idea
that of separation; and specifically separation
from the world conceived of as a sinful world.
When we call God holy, then, the central idea in
our minds concerns His absolute and complete
separation from sin and uncleanness. Not that
the idea has this negative form as it lies in our
minds. There is no idea so positive as that of
holiness; it is the very climax of positiveness.
But it is hard to express this positiveness in a
definite way, simply because this idea is above the
ideas expressed by its synonyms. It is more than
sinlessness, though it, of course, includes the idea
of sinlessness. It is more than righteousness,


although again it includes the idea of righteous-
ness. It is more than wholeness, complete sound-
ness and integrity and rightness, though, of course,
again it includes these ideas. It is more than
simpleness, high simplicity and guilelessness,
though it includes this too. It is more than
purity, though, of course, it includes this too.
Holiness includes all these and more. It is God's
whole, entire, absolute, inconceivable and, there-
fore, unexpressible completeness and perfection of
separation from and opposition to and ineffable
revulsion from all that is in any sense or degree,
however small, evil. We fall back at last on this
negative description of it just because language
has no positive word which can reach up to the
unscaleable heights of this one highest word, holi-
ness. It is the crown of God as mercy is His
treasure; as grace is His riches, this is His glory.
Who is like unto God, glorious in holiness?

Such is the challenge of the Old Testament and
safely might it be given. The holiness of God is a
conception peculiar to the religion of the Bible.
None of the gods of the nations was like unto our
God in this, the crown and climax of His glory.
But it is just this His ineffable perfection that He
calls us to imitate. It is just the exhibition of
this His glory that He trusts to quicken an un-
quenchable thirst in us to be like Him. For ob-
serve, secondly, that it is by this exhibition of
His holiness that God incites us to holiness. "Like


as He which called you is holy, become ye also
yourselves holy." "Ye shall be holy for I am
holy." God exhibits His glory to us for our
imitation and expects the sight of the beauty of
holiness in Him to beget in us an inextinguishable
longing to be like Him. Holiness is a dread at-
tribute. Reverence and awe attend its exhibi-
tion. Who can look upon the holy God and not
tremble? To the sinful man, no words so quickly
spring to the lips when he is brought in sight of
holiness as "Depart from me, for I am a sinful
man, O Lord!" It is pre-eminently the holiness
of God which constitutes the terror of the Lord,
and as often as He appears to men we read the
record that they feared a great fear. Does its
contemplation not silence our tongues and abase
our hearts rather than rouse our endeavours and
quicken our efforts.^ It is but too true that sin
and holiness are antagonistic and that holiness
hates sin no less truly than sin hates holiness.
Sinful man cannot be incited to holy activity by
the sight of holiness; it begets no longing in his
heart except a longing to hide himself away from
it. When Adam sinned, he no longer wished to
meet God in the garden.

The very fact of the proposal of God to show us
His holiness as an incitement to holiness in us
means something, then, of infinite importance to
our souls. It means that we are no longer averse
to all that is good; no longer God's enemies but


His friends. Peter is addressing here not man as
man but Christian men as Christian men. Those
to whom he speaks have been bought with a price,
have been begotten anew unto a lively hope by the
resurrection of Christ from the dead. As God's
sons they are already like God, and he only ex-
horts them to become more like Him. It is only
as God's sons that they could be attracted by the
exhibition of His holiness ; it is only as God's sons
that they could find in it an incitement; it is only
^.s such that they can hope to attain it. And it is
just because we are God's sons that the exhorta-
tion is necessary to us. If we are to call on Him
as Father we must vindicate our right to use that
ennobling name by living as His children. Thus
the very proposal of God to incite us to holiness by
the exhibition of His holiness to us, is itself an
encouragement to and a pledge of our attainment
of it. He expects us to see and to feel the beauty
of holiness and that means that He has already
recreated our hearts.

Thus we observe, thirdly, that God not only ex-
hibits His holiness here as an incitement to us, but
also reveals to us by that act His gracious and
loving purpose with us. We see God here not
calling us up to seek communion with Him in our
own strength; but rather stooping down that He
may raise us to that communion. For let us ob-
serve that it is, after all, communion with Him
to which He has summoned us. There can be no


communion between the holy and the sinful. He
is here beseeching us to hold communion with
Him, and He is providing the way by which it may
be consummated. The Holy God has by the
resurrection of Christ from the dead begotten us
again into a living hope and here He holds out to
this already formed hope the incitement of the
sight of His holiness as the goal to which we must
strive to attain.

It is not unadvisedly that we say that His hoh-
ness is here exhibited as the goal to which we must
seek to attain. For not only is it in the text the
incitement, but also the standard of the holiness
for which we are to strive. We are to become
holy as God is holy. Of course the finite cannot
attain the infinite. But as the asymptote of the
hyperbola ever approaches it but never attains, so
we are eternally to approach this high and perfect
standard. Ever above us, the holiness of God
yet is ever more and more closely approached by
us; and as the unending aeons of eternity pass by
we shall grow ever more and more towards that
ever-beckoning standard. That is our high des-
tiny and it is not unfitly described as partaking in
the Divine Nature.


1 Jno. 2:28-3:3, especially 3:1: — "Behold what manner of love
the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called chil-
dren of God: and such we are."

The conception of the divine birth as the root
of the Christian Hfe is a specially Johannean one.
Not that the other New Testament writers do
not also teach all that is expressed by the term
"regeneration." But that they teach it prevail-
ingly under other figures, such as those of a re-
pristination, a new creation, and the like. The
Johannean expressions, "to be born again," "be-
gotten of God," do not occur at all, for example, in
Paul, whose use in a single passage of a similar
term only serves to bring out the contrast. There
is a corresponding difference in the use by Paul
and John of the conception of childship or sonship
to God. In accordance with his juridical point of
view, Paul speaks of sonship as conferred by adop-
tion, and thinks of our acquisition of the rights and
the inheritance of sons. In accordance with his
essential point of view, John speaks of childship as
conveyed through birth and thinks of growing up
into the likeness of God. Accordingly Paul pre-
fers the term "sons." We are adults received by
God's grace into the number of His sons. And
John prefers the term "children" or even "Httle



children." We are born into the family of God as
the infants of His household.

This difference in the use of the conception of
childship is not a difference of doctrine; it is only
a difference in the illustrative use of the concep-
tion of childship in the setting forth of doctrine.
It will not do to say on its ground that John
teaches that our sonship to God is due to regener-
ation and Paul that it is due to justification. It
will not be accurate even to say that John em-
phasizes regeneration and Paul justification. What
is true is that Paul has adopted the conception of
sonship to illustrate the title to life and holiness
which we obtain through justification, and John
to illustrate the communication of a new principle
of holy life to us in regeneration. Paul uses it of
an objective fact, John of a subjective one. Paul,
to point us to what becomes ours through the work
of Christ without us; John, to what is made ours
by the working of Christ within us. It would lead
to confusion to treat the several passages in John
and Paul as if they were teaching us the same son-
ship to God. It would lead to even greater con-
fusion to suppose that because they illustrate
different portions of the doctrine of salvation by
the same figure, they teach a different doctrine of
salvation, — one by the Christ without us, the
other by the Christ within us.

Perhaps no passage could be pitched upon which
would more richly and completely than that be-


fore us outline to us John's presentation of his
doctrine of ehildship to God, begun in regeneration
and growing up in ever-increasing sanctification
to its goal of likeness to God. It may repay us to
run over the points of doctrine that emerge in
the course of these five verses.

First then we are to observe that the ehildship
of God of which John teaches us — as truly as the
sonship to God of which Paul teaches us — is not
a natural but a graciously conferred relation.
Neither in John's sense nor in Paul's sense, nor in
the sense of any New Testament writer, can we
speak of a universal Fatherhood of God. The
idea of the All-Father is rather a heathen than a
Christian notion; that is to say it is a conception
belonging to the sphere of natural religion, voicing
the yearning of the human heart to find in its Cre-
ator and Ruler something more than a Master or a
Sovereign Lord. It contains no more Biblical
truth than arises from the fact that according to
the Bible we are like God in so far as by our first
creation we were made in His image; He is in this
sense the Father of our spirits. For from the Bib-
lical point of view, sonship presents primarily the
idea of likeness. Therefore, the bad are the sons
of Belial and the good are the sons of God; and
the high name of the children of God is, from Gen-
esis to Revelation, reserved for those whose like-
ness to Him extends beyond the mere natural
fact that they have a spiritual nature similar to


God's, to the moral fact that they have a spirit-
ual character like God's.

Holiness of heart, not immateriality of essence,
is the ground in the Scriptural view of Divine son-
ship. And as men are by nature not holy but
wicked, they are naturally the sons of the Devil,
the sons of wrath. Sons of God they can become
only by an act of Divine mercy. The idea of the
universal Fatherhood of God represents therefore,
from the Biblical point of view, what God would
fain have been when He made man in His own
image, creating him in righteousness and true holi-
ness; what God still fain would be; not what God
is. He is in the Biblical sense, the Father only
of those who are renewed unto holiness. So John
puts it; so Paul puts it. Paul exhorts his readers
to "do all things without murmurings and dis-
putings, that they may be blameless and harmless,
children of God, without blemish": and John in
our present passage represents only those who do
righteousness as the children of God.

To John then, as we say, as to Paul and to the
whole New Testament, childship to God is not a
natural but a graciously constituted relation.
It is so in our passage, "Behold what manner of
love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we
should be called the children of God." It is a
matter of bestowment; it is a gift. And it is an
undeserved and unmerited gift. John cries out
in wonder and surprised gratitude at the love —


not only the greatness, but the high quality of the
love — which God bestowed on us, with ' the in-
tent of having us called children of God: "Be-
hold, what manner of love the Father hath be-
stowed upon us to the end that we should be
called children of God." And then his feelings
overcome him as he contemplates this great, this
indescribable, kind of love, and he adds, not as
part of the statement but as an unrestrainable com-
ment on the statement, "and such we are." The
words themselves point out the ineffable mercy
and love of God in making us — such as we — chil-
dren of God. But these two words of comment of
the responding heart of the beloved disciple pierce
even deeper into our souls. As he declares the
Father's love in making us His children, he cannot
help jubilating over the blessed fact. "It is
true," he cries, "it is true!" "And we are." As-
suredly, to him this is no natural relation. We
are the children of God only by the ineffable love
of God, constituting us sons. It is not a thing
we have by nature but of grace; it is not a thing
to which we are born as men, but to which we are
born again as Christians; it is not a thing to which
all are born, but only those who are born not of
blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of
man, but of God.

It is as clear as day, then, that this childship to
God, of which John teaches us, is not a product
of our own endeavours; it is a gift, a free favour,


from God; and it has its root in the ineffable and
indescribable and sovereign love of God. "Be-
hold what manner of love the Father has be-
stowed upon us that we should be called the sons
of God." We have not earned it; the Father has
given it; not paid it to us as our just due for effort
made, labour performed, righteousness practised;
but given it to us out of His free and inexplicable
love; not out of His justice but out of His incom-
prehensible love. It is a sovereign gift. So the
New Testament everywhere and under all its
figures represents it; so John always represents it.
And it is therefore that he sings paeans to God's
love on account of it. "Behold!" "What man-
ner of love is this!" "To seek us out and make us
the sons of God!" Language could not convey
more clearly, more powerfully, the conception of
the absolute sovereignty of the gift of childship
to God. Elsewhere it is conveyed more didac-
tically, more analytically; here it is conveyed
emotionally. Elsewhere we are told that it came
not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the
will of man, but of God; here we have the answer-
ing thrill of gratitude of the human heart at this
unexpected, undeserved gift. Elsewhere the sov-
ereignty is asserted, explained; here it is ac-
knowledged, honoured. Elsewhere it is claimed,
here it is yielded, admired, glorified.

But the passage gives us not merely the origin
and source of our childship to God in His love —


free, and freely giving us this great benefit; it
points out to us the evidence of its reality. Though
we cannot purchase it by our righteousness, it is
freely bestowed, it yet evidences itself through
righteousness. It is not by righteousness that we
obtain it; but only the righteous have it. As it is
sonship to the righteous God that is conferred;
as sonship implies likeness ; it follows that the test
of such a sonship having been conferred is the
presence of the likeness, the presence of the right-
eousness. Accordingly we read: "If ye know
that He is righteous, ye know that every one also
that doeth righteousness is born of Him." This is
the test. None but the righteous are sons of God.
The Apostle does not say. None but the righteous
can become the sons of God. Then it would not
be true that the sonship is a free gift of ineffable,
sovereign love. But he does say that none but
the righteous are the sons of God.

This is, indeed, essential to his point of view,
that sonship hangs on an inward fact. Paul, too,
teaches the same doctrine even though he is
looking upon sonship as a juridical fact. For God
leaves none of those whom He constitutes His
sons by adoption without the Spirit of sonship in
their hearts, crying Abba, Father; and only those
who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
But much more will John, who is thinking of re-
generation rather than justification, under the
figure of sonship, teach the same. Only he who


doeth righteousness can really be begotten of the
Righteous One. That we do righteousness be-
comes thus the test and evidence of our sonship.

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 26 of 27)