Spiritual gems from Grace and Glory (Geerhardus Vos)

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Banner of Truth did a reprint of one of their classic books this past year - Grace and Glory by Geerhardus Vos. This books consists of 16 of his sermons. Six of them were preached at Princeton in 1922. Another nine were preached at Princeton between 1896 and 1913. It also includes an exposition of Eph 2:4-5 translated from the Dutch.

Over the next few weeks I hope to highlight some spiritual gems from each of the sermons. Vos is widely regarded as on of the greatest Reformed theologians and exegetes of the church. Although the sermons are rich with profound theology, there is much wise and practical application in each sermon.

Sinclair Ferguson gives an excellent introduction to Vos' sermons. Here are some choice quotes:
It is the nature of the sermons themselves which will have a stunning effect on the reader. For they combine such constantly penetrating depths of biblical and theological understanding with such soaring heights of eloquence that it is difficult to imagine their like being heard in any pulpit in the world today. They are at one and the same time intensely demanding on the reader and glorious in their exposition of Scripture. These pages contain a thesaurus of theological riches, a gold mine whose every vein is packed with gleaming insight. Such is the character of these sermons that, to a world which is obsessed with ‘sound-bites’ and in a church which has become unused to concentrated thought, their content and style may seem almost overwhelming…In these pages the reader is invited, almost commanded and certainly demanded, to become a spiritual mountaineer. There are times when many will be left gasping for the higher oxygen levels of the lower slopes. But Vos was aiming for the summit, and those who follow him there will find panoramic views of the wonders of God and his ways which will make the ascent immensely rewarding.

Here, then, is material calculated to enrich the mind, heart, will and emotions; grace and glory indeed."

Here is a discussion of the book by the Reformed Forum Vos Group Excursus — Grace and Glory: Sermons of Geerhardus Vos – Reformed Forum
The Reformed Forum reads the original 1922 sermons: Sermons 1-2 Theology Simply Profound – Page 4 – Reformed Forum
Sermons 3-6 Theology Simply Profound – Page 3 – Reformed Forum
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 1: The Wonderful Tree

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
from me comes your fruit.
Hosea 14:8 [ESV]

It is believed Vos' sermon was written between 1896-1902 although it was published with his 1922 sermons. Vos was working on Hosea during this time. It reflects his earlier thought on redemptive history.

The essence of this sermon is that the fruition of the covenant is God Himself. It is through God Himself that the image bearer finds ultimate delight, satisfaction, and everlasting life. God is the One true God. He is the One people should fix their hope on. He is the God of the covenant.

In this passage in Hosea we find something of the organic unfolding of scripture. Hosea is a message which is complete in itself. Yet it is part of a larger prophetic message, part of the Old Covenant, yet the message extends to the New Covenant.

Throughout this sermon Christ is mentioned implicitly not explicitly. Through the work of Christ we get to God. Jesus is the servant of the covenant, Lord of the covenant.

In Hosea 14:8 we get the heart-miracle of true religion. God the all-sufficient One, forever rich and blessed in Himself appears, putting Himself at the service of man. God's resources are infinite thus people can freely receive riches from Him. Religion in its true concept is a supreme feast and sabbath of the soul.

Sin mars this relationship with God. Sin brings with it sorrow. Sadly it invades true religion itself. Yet it is equally true that there is no religious joy like the joy engendered by religion. God is the One given to us to enjoy. The almighty all-powerful and perfect God enters into relationship with us. One senses here the sense of the WLC Q1 "What is the chief and highest end of man? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever."

The redemptive self-communication from God is what the prophet had in mind. The expression of God's love, benevolence, and free self-communication is heightened and enriched in redemption. This path takes one directly to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ Himself becomes the embodiment of the tree of life.

In God there is fullness of life. There is also great fullness of joy as one comes to comprehend the inexhaustible fullness of the Triune God who is the light and life of the creature.

The prophet contrasts the inexhaustible fullness of God to the futility of idols. Qualities of life, fruitfulness and miraculous provision are utterly absent from the pagan deity. The dead stump strikingly symbolises the barrenness and hopelessness of nature worship. Pagans look to barren nature worship because they have no faith in the perpetual miracle of the fruit-bearing fir tree of redemption.

But God is the evergreen fruit bearing tree who is Himself life.

You can find this read sermon on the Reformed Forum.
You can find an informative discussion of this sermon also on the Reformed Forum. I am greatly indebted to this.
 

George Bailey

Puritan Board Freshman
I have been studying Vos for a few months now, and the Reformed Forum is an excellent resource! Vos' writings, including his sermons, have totally transformed my inner thought life. "Hungering and Thirsting after righteousness" is groundbreaking and transformative to me.
 

JimmyH

Puritan Board Senior
I read Rabboni last night. The sermon Sinclair Ferguson in his forward said impressed young John Murray so much. I too was impressed. His pointing out the grief the disciples felt not yet realizing the significance of the empty tomb was instructive. The only parallel I could draw in my own experience was the assassination of JFK, and 9-11.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Rabboni is an all time favorite of mine, and the hungering and thirsting sermon is indeed transformative. The Sunday before last I read his new-to-me sermon on the resurrection. After instruction, the connection between the resurrection and justification seems obvious, but it had not been impressed upon me previously.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 2: Hungering and Thirsting after Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Matthew 5:6 [ESV]

Vos starts his comments by discussing the importance of the Sermon on the Mount in the scriptures as a whole and the ethical standard they set. However when it comes to ethics, Vos has a timely warning. The Sermon on the Mount must not be read as simply a moral standard devoid of theology and the gospel. Vos was well aware of 20th century Liberal Theology. He agreed with Machen that Liberal Theology was not Christianity. It was another religion. We must reject ethical theology.

Natural man loves ethical theology. It flatters him; it means he can take for granted that he needs nothing more than the high moral standard of the Sermon on the Mount. He thinks that our Lord does him the honour of thinking him capable of realising it by his natural goodness. The natural man dislikes the story of the helplessness of man, and mans utter condemnation in the sight of God, and the necessity of the cross.

Yet the Beatitudes, consistent with the rest of scripture, presupposes saving faith, calling and pardon, and repentance. We are not received by Jesus into a school of ethics, but into a kingdom of redemption. This is something Liberal Theology does not understand. Therefore the rich and full emphasis of the Beatitudes is on the absolute dependance of man upon divine grace. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungary - all this is founded upon divine grace. We do not have the religion of Liberal Theology here. We have the true religion of salvation through the grace of God in Christ.

Now, righteousness does imply moral conduct. In Biblical usage righteousness is linked to sin and the need of a Saviour. One needs to walk before the Lord and be blameless. The word needs to be placed in the light of the divine nature, the divine will, and the divine judgment. To turn righteousness into a mere moral code or an ethical religion is in Isaiah's words "these people honour Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me". Our Lord is absolute in His demands. We are to give Him our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The issue is the heart. It is God's inalienable right, as God, to impress His character on us to make and keep us reflectors of His glory.

In a state of sin man is utterly incapable of perfectly obeying God. He forgets the eternal seriousness and solemnity of true righteousness. On the contrary our Lord says"you shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect". Given the absolute holiness of God, can we say God must overlook little blemishes, minor sins, and half-hearted efforts? Or shall we confess with the speaker in Job that "the heavens are not clean in His sight"?

One of the chief glories of the work of redemption is that it produces in the heart and mind of the sinner such a profound understanding of the holy character of God. Nothing will so lay bare the foundations of our relationship to Him as the experience of salvation. True hungering and thirsting of righteousness lies in the conviction of sin. In fact true repentance must be distinguished from every kind of superficial regret for the secondary consequences of sin. True repentance gets to the heart of the issue. It resembles an inner chamber where no one and nothing else is admitted except God, the sinner and his sin. In the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 51 "against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment."

The hungering and thirsting after righteousness also include a desire to exhibit the righteousness of discipleship in a sanctified life. This Christian pursuit of holiness is centred in God. The true disciple does not seek to be made better for his glory but in the interest of and for the glory of God.

The text says that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be satisfied. The love of God has found them and the breath of the Spirit has blown upon them, quickening them into newness of life. A satisfying righteousness must be provided for the people of God. And it must be provided outside of us.

Through sanctification God's holy character is impressed on our souls, so that notwithstanding our imperfections, God takes a true delight in us, seeing that the inner man is changed from day to day after the likeness of Christ. In a coming day the Lord will present His people to God perfect in body, soul, and spirit. Then we will behold God's face in righteousness, and awaken and be satisfied with His likeness.

You can find this read sermon on the Reformed Forum
 
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Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 3: Seeking and Saving the Lost

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost
Luke 19:10 [ESV]

Our Lord's encounter with Zacchaeus is a commentary on our Saviour's ministry in the largest sense. This is sacred redemptive history. This encounter with Zacchaeus was not by chance. It was an encounter with eternal significance.

This event occurred during Jesus last journey to Jerusalem shortly before the great passover. The cross itself drew near.

Our Lord had a specific duty to perform. He said "Today I want to abide at your house." His times, His ways and works were not His own but the Father's who had sent Him. Our Lord's great mission was one great devotion to the work of God. Our Lord echoes Paul's words "Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel". In short, our Lord came to seek and save the lost.

We must reflect on the unspeakable grace of our Lord, who being rich as God alone can be rich, yet for our sake became poor as sinful man only can be poor. God condescended. What language will express this meaning in the case of the infinite God? The Son of Man stooped down to redeem sinful man. Seeking and saving are acts in which God puts forward His omniscience and omnipotence as the searcher of hearts. The Son of Man brings to His task all the qualifications which its character as a strictly divine work requires. Our Lord proved His power when he said to the paralytic "take up your bed and walk". Mark 2:9. By His miracles proves His claim that he can say to a guilty soul "your sins are forgiven".

Our Lord clearly sought Zacchaeus out. Thanks be to God He is a Saviour who seeks the lost. Our Lord draws our interest to Himself by the sweet constraint of His grace, till we are face to face with Him and our soul is saved. It is through grace that our Lord says "I must lodge at your house" Luke 19:5. Note the divine omniscience here manifested. We also witness the Lord's sovereign and almighty power. Zacchaeus knows the voice of the Shepherd. He makes haste to come down and receives the Saviour with joy. He was brought into the Shepherd's fold by sovereign effectual calling. This is a supernatural work. The spiritually dead sinner cannot be roused by human means. Let us rejoice that it is a supernatural work of God.

Our Lord came to seek and to save that which was lost. This means man is lost in his relationship to God. The sinner is deprived of all the attractions of fellowship, trust, obedience, and blessedness. The sinner has also lost the rhythm of his own spiritual life. He is full of discords and inner conflicts. Law clashes with law. The very moment the prodigal leaves his father's house he carries this fatal disorder with him. When a sinner recognises his desperate condition he 'comes to himself' by bitter repentance. Our Lord's seeking undoes the being lost.

To be lost also has the terrible sense of being ruined, given up to destruction. Our Lord gives something of the horrors of sinful lostness in the High Priestly prayer in John 17 - "none of them is lost except the son of perdition". Therefore for our Lord there is the solemn occupation of rescuing the lost from the judgment.

There is no class distinction in the words "that which was lost". The renewed heart prays for the ingathering of many. We desire to see the salvation of many. All our religious endeavor ought to carry the image and superscription of Christ's. We likewise seek and save for God. We also have the solemn task of bringing Christ to men and men to Christ. This is a difficult and delicate task. Pray that salvation will do its perfect work in the lives of sinners.

You can find this sermon read on the Reformed Forum
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 4: Rabboni

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
John 20:16 [ESV]

Mary came to the tomb, found no body there. She stood outside weeping. Mary's attitude to Jesus, more than perhaps any other disciple seemed to be characterised by that simple obedience which was evidence of an ever present need. It was an act of faith and love that drove her commitment. She knew that Jesus was her Saviour. She had an intimate bond with her Saviour. Clearly there was an element of unbelief with her sorrow. But who can blame her? She had been cut off her Lord for three days. Mary needs the person to person fellowship that only Jesus can give.

All humans need to trustingly look at sorrow in the face, scan its features, and search for help and hope. It is to be found in Christ. In our sorrows remember that the Lord has been there before us.

In her sorrow Mary missed something important. Angels were there to testify to our Lord's resurrection. Mary said "they have taken away my Lord" v13. To Mary the Lord was her Lord, her Saviour, the One who sought, saved, and owned her in her sins. We can be confident that, how dim our conscious faith, on the Lord's side the foundation of grace is never closed.

The first appearance of our risen Lord was given to Mary for no other reason than she needed Him first and needed Him most. We seen in this our Lord's tender sympathy. We can be thankful for the grace of Christ for the transition period - between resurrection and departure for heaven - a period to help the feebleness of our faith in the act of apprehending His glory.

Mary calls the Lord 'Rabboni'. The Lord had opened her eyes. This was the One who changes darkness to light and joy to sorrow. Jesus was there. That made all the difference.

Vos argues there is a rich covenantal relationship there. 'To be a Christian is to stand in conscious reciprocal fellowship with God, to be identified with Him in thought, purpose, and work, to receive from Him and to give back to Him in the ceaseless interplay of spiritual forces'. Thus Jesus is giving Mary deepest religious reality of the covenant because He gives Himself to her and she knows Him just as He knows her by name.

Jesus tells Mary not to cling to her v17. Our Lord must ascend to the Father and send His Spirit. An embrace would be broken by death. The true embrace would be when Christ ascends on high. The ascended Messiah would intercede for Mary. This is far better than a sub-eschatological embrace!

Vos' conclusion is fitting. 'Let us not linger at the tomb but turn our faces and stretch our hands upwards into heaven, where our life is hid with God, and where He shall come again to reveal Himself. We will meet our Saviour in the early dawn, that eternal Sabbath that awaits the people of God'.

Reformed Forum reads Vos' sermon here
Reformed Forum discusses Vos' sermon here [I am indebted to this discussion for some key insights]
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 5: More Excellent Ministry

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Cor 3:18 [ESV]

Paul is a minister of the New Covenant 2 Cor 3:6. To have such a covenant ministry means one is identified with God in the most intimate manner for the covenant expresses the very heart of God's purpose. In the covenant, the servant as it were, is made part of the wonder-world of salvation itself.

The Old Covenant came with a particular glory. The excellence of this covenant found a symbolic expression in the lit up face of Moses after his tarrying with God.

It is important to note that the Covenant of Grace exists under both dispensations. Paul's purpose in 2 Cor 3 is to emphasise that the new dispensation surpasses the old. The comparison lies between Moses and Paul.

Why is Paul's ministry more excellent?

Firstly, the point lies between transitoriness and eternity. The glory of the Old Covenant had to pass away, whereas that of the New Covenant must remain. When Moses descended from the Mount his face shone with a brightness reflecting divine glory. But his face could not retain that brightness for any length of time. It soon disappeared. Moses glory was real but lacked permanence. One day its splendour would vanish. The new covenant is fixed and abiding. Moses put a veil over his face for the purpose of hiding the disappearance of the glory. In contrast, Paul ministered with an open face.

Secondly, there is a difference regarding the measure of openness and clearness with which they are conducted. Moses ministered with a covered face. Paul ministers with a face uncovered. Moses received the glory and lost it. He served the symbolic function of illustrating:
  • the glory of the Old Covenant
  • its transitoriness
  • the ignorance of Israel regarding what was taking place. Israel's institutions would suffer eclipse and abrogation and Israel was ignorant of this
The veil of the Old Covenant is lifted only in Christ. Paul gives a sharp contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. He serves with an unveiled face. Paul does not have the limitations of the Old Covenant. He speaks fully and freely regarding the whole counsel of God. He uses great boldness of speech. The entire plan of redemption has been unfolded. The ministry hidden through the ages has been revealed and every ambassador of Christ has an absolute message.

Thirdly, The New Covenant, in the closest conceivable manner, is bound up with the Person and work of the Saviour. It is a Christ-dispensation in the fullest sense of the word. In the New Covenant we find the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The glory of Christ transmitted by Paul's gospel is an objective reality. It is that which reflects the Saviour's exalted state since the resurrection.

Fourthly, the excellence of the ministry of the New Covenant is that it is a ministry of abundant forgiveness and righteousness. Christ's glory springs from His obedience, suffering, and self-sacrifice in our stead. It is righteousness translated into the language of effect, the crown set on His work of satisfaction. The OT law revealed the moral helplessness of man. Although the gospel was clearly revealed in the Old Covenant - and that must be emphasised -, the glory which speaks of righteousness was hiding. In the New Covenant all this has changed. The veil has been rent and we now have an unobstructed view of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Fifthly, the Christ-glory is a living and self-communicating power transforming both those who mediate it and those who receive it from glory to glory in the likeness of the Lord. This ministry is a work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is contrasted to the letter in 2 Cor 3. The Spirit stands for the living, energising, and creative grace of God. At the resurrection the Spirit transformed the Lord's human nature and made it glorious beyond conception. It is through the Spirit that the glory of Christ is reproduced in the believer, and he is transformed. The minister of the New Covenant writes with the Spirit of the living God in tables that are hearts of flesh.

Vos concludes "God grant that it may become on the lips of His servants more truly form age to age a gospel from which the name of Christ crowds out every other human name, good tidings of atonement and righteousness and supernatural renewal; to preacher and people alike, what it was to Paul and his converts, a mirror of vision and transfiguration after the image of the Lord."

Reformed Forum reads Vos' sermon here
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 6: Heavenly-Mindedness

"By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." Heb 11:9-10 [ESV]

This is the last of Vos' 1922 Princeton Sermons and is very relevant for the uncertain times in which we live. This Vos sermon helps Christians put things in perspective amidst the chaos of a decaying world.

Heb 11 is the great chapter on faith. The OT saints demonstrated great obedience, self-sacrifice, patience, and fortitude. How? Through faith, they had their eye firmly fixed on the unseen and promised world. This great company of patriarchs, prophets, and saints, endured the reproach of Christ. They are the the great cloud of witnesses, men of whom God is not ashamed to be their God.

In our text we meet faith in its more simple and direct mode of operation. It appears as dealing with the unseen and the future.

Consider two key verses:
"For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God". Heb 11:10
and "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." Heb 11:13

The other-worldliness of the patriarchs showed itself in that they confessed to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth. It found its visible expression in their dwelling in tents. Their focus was on the world to come. They were homesick for heaven. This should give us a large and generous faith in the heaven-centred life of the people of God. The author to the Hebrews holds up the patriarchs as models to be imitated in respect of heavenly-mindedness.

In New Covenant life we certainly have come to Mount Zion the city of the living God. And in this we are more than Abraham. Although the bitter experience of sin and evil should contribute to the Christian desire for heaven, the great desire for heaven is to be with the Triune God Himself. This world is not man's true home.

Heaven is the primordial; earth the secondary creation. In heaven are the supreme realities. What surrounds us here below is a copy and shadow of the celestial things. From a Christian perspective the relation between the two spheres is positive. This heavenly-mindedness can never give rise to the neglect of duties pertaining to the present life. It is in the earthly sphere that man works out his heavenly destiny.

It is through the faith of heavenly-mindedness the things above reveal themself to the believer. The Christian is a pilgrim yet never wholly separated from the land of promise. His tents are pitched in close view of the city of God. He walks in the light of the heavenly world and is made acquainted with the kindred spirits inhabiting it. Heb 12:22-23. The believer is given a taste of the powers of the world to come. The roots of the Christian's life are fed from those rich and perennial springs that lie deep in the recesses of converse with God, where prayers ascend and divine graces descend.

We must learn to carry a heaven-fed and heaven-centered spirit into our walk and work below. Our Lord set a supreme example here. In His mind were perfectly united the two hemispheres of supernaturalism. There was an extended goal when He carried out His service to God on this earth.

We must consider two more aspects of the patriarchal faith of heavenly-mindedness. Firstly, heavenly-mindedness is spiritual-mindedness. The believer enjoys many material benefits on this earth yet seeks the better country. There is something transcendent that claims his supreme attention. Whenever we are tempted to materialism, let us revisit the tents of the patriarchs and consider the lesson that in religion, the body without the soul is worthless and without power.

Secondly, heaven is the is the normal goal of our redemption. The river that makes glad the city of God is the river of grace. The believers mind and heart will, only in heaven, compass the full riches, the length and breadth, and depth and height of the love of God. The life above will be a ceaseless coming to Jesus, the Mediator of a better covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than Abel. The Lamb slain for our sins will be all the glory of Emmanuel's land.

Heavenly-mindedness is the thirst of the soul after God, the living God. It is characteristic of faith that it desires the perfect as a work and gift of God. The faith is the faith of the Psalmist who said "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You".

Reformed Forum reads Vos' sermon here.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 7: Running the race

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Heb 12:1-3 [ESV]

We are now in the second section of Vos' sermons in the Banner of Truth edition. Vos preached this sermon at the Princeton Seminary Chapel in 1902.

Throughout the book of Hebrews the author expresses concern that Hebrew Christians have made little progress in the Christian walk. For example he says in Heb 5:12-13 " For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child."

In ch 11 he exhorts these Hebrew Christians to spiritual progress using Old Testament saints as an example. He follows this up by saying "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus ...". The Christian life is set before these Christians as a race to be run. The readers were looking backwards at the antiquated forms of a ceremonial religious system. Their faces should have been resolutely set forward towards the future. They had faced many trials and difficulties but had failed to develop that Christian fortitude and heroism which on the whole was characteristic of the early Church.

In this passage we find a number of important implications. Firstly, the writer exhorts his readers to the exercise of an energetic Christian faith by pointing them to the example of Old Testament saints mentioned in the previous chapter "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight ...". The cloud of witnesses is figurative and it appears that the writer speaks as if this cloud of witnesses as figuratively and ideally around us as we run the Christian race. The Old Testament saints were once runners in the same race. We see an important principle here - the retrospective communion of the saints has an inextricable link with the church of the past. It is good to view our condition and performance in the light of the historic judgment passed on to us by the church of former ages. Does the soundness of our faith, the purity of our life, and the consecration of our service fall below the attainments of an earlier generation in the church of God? The world may mock us but we must remain faithful to the first principles of Scripture. We take comfort by the fact that we are surrounded on every side by an innumerable host of friends who will honour us as God has honoured them.

Secondly, running the race is determined by the thought of the future. It is the race to which the inheritance of the final kingdom of God forms the good. The New Testament Christian seeks the absolute, the final, and the perfect. We lay aside every weight. We have ordinary duties in this life where providence has placed us, but even here we must be aware of "weights" that turn our eyes from the pursuit of heaven. The believer must gravitate to the future life and earthly concerns must be subordinate to this. The author to the Hebrews warns of the sins that cling so closely to the believer. Sin requires special radical treatment. It must be resisted unto blood. All sin must be laid aside if the believer is to run his race successfully. Sin weakens the vision of the heavenly state, it weakens the desire for its enjoyment, and breaks the energy of the will in pursuing it. Sin is an enemy with whom no compromise should be made. We must lay it aside in dependence on the grace of God. Thus sanctification must be a deliberate and systematic pursuit.

Thirdly, the Christian race must be run with patience. Patience describes the endurance of what is hard and painful. The Christian who runs the race needs to strive after the prize. This means hardships must be met with a spirit of fortitude that positively assists him reaching the goal. Suffering and trials must not hinder him in his progress. They must help him to develop patience. We need to remember the trials are endured for the sake of, and in obedience to God, and that there is a direct connection between striving after the prize and the heavenly world in which the prize awaits him. The Christian patiently endures because he sees the invisible. That is in spite of the afflictions of this life he sees the power of the heavenly, spiritual world itself to which he has access by faith. Heaven with its gifts and powers and joys descends into our earthly experience like the headlands of of a great and marvellous Continent projecting into the ocean.

The author holds up Christ as the perfect example. He is the Leader and Perfecter of our faith. Christ was able to endure the cross because His faith was undimmed and His eye was constantly fixed on the joy that was set before Him. It was this focus on heaven by which He received strength sufficient for the running of His race. Likewise we must live this focus - in the words of Romans 5:3-5 "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because (even in this present life already) God's love (as the principal and earnest of eternal blessedness) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Note I have used the ESV translation and included Vos' perceptive comments).
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 8: The Christian’s Hope

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5 [ESV]

Vos preached this sermon at the Princeton Seminary Chapel in 1904.

Peter was known as the apostle of hope. It is clear the Spirit used him to interpret for us the nature and influence of Christian hope.

Let us consider this idea of Christian hope. Firstly, Peter has a specific hope in mind, namely the hope of the future kingdom of God. In our passage Peter speaks of the inheritance reserved in heaven for us. The Christian is a man who lives with his heavenly destiny ever in full view. The Christian has an assurance that is permanent not temporal. The apostolic church had a hope that was fresh and real. They had a strong focus on eternal life. Likewise today’s believer should cultivate the grace of hope and let others know that our future is a blessed hope. We must set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.1 Pet 1:13

Secondly, the life of the Christian in hope is to consider the present earthly life as a pilgrimage, a journey. This theme pervades and colours the entire epistle. For example Peter tells his readers to gird up the loins of their minds v 13 as befits a traveler travelling through. He tells his readers to pass the time of their sojourning in fear. The detachment from the world is primarily an internal disposition of the heart. The love of heaven must drive out the inordinate love of what is earthly. If we feel perfectly at home in the world then we must examine ourselves.

Thirdly, the origin of this hope is ascribed to God. God had mercy on us because He saw us living a life without hope. The apostle said “God caused us to be born again to a living hope”. The hope of the gospel breaks upon our vision. This change revolutionises our life at every point. In Peter’s previous life he had been translated from a world of despair to a world of hope. See 2 Cor 5:17. Peter had a living hope through the resurrection of Christ. Peter saw the risen Saviour as the beginning, the firstfruits of that hope. Our risen Lord was transformed, glorified, the possessor and author of a transcendent heavenly life, and also the pledge of the future realisation of the true kingdom of God. Well might the apostle say that he himself had been begotten again unto a new hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Of course this is true of all believers, who before their conversion, had lived entirely without hope and without God in the world.

Fourthly, the apostle describes this living hope as an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. Through Christ’s resurrection, Peter’s hope has been made to focus directly on the heavenly inheritance in all its compass. The three Greek adjectives describe the spiritual heavenly character of the inheritance:
  • Imperishable. It belongs to the heavenly spiritual world thus exempt from corruption.
  • Undefiled. The principle of moral evil, the power of sin cannot invade it.
  • Unfading. Time destroys the beauty and freshness of things. But time cannot fade the glory of the inheritance because it is constituted under the laws of eternity and not of time.
This living hope is an active force in the believers life. It is part of the spiritual world. Because the Christian has this hope he rejoices in it with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Thus the Christian conforms his life to this living hope. He purifies his soul and abstains from fleshly lusts. He is of sound mind and sober unto prayer because he lives in the presence of the world to come.

Fifthly, the living hope possesses a personal center in Christ and God. Thus we have certainty that we will one day be face to face with God and Christ. The Christian is a sojourner here and must live in the future because he knows full well that under the present conditions he can never attain to that full possession of God and his Saviour for which in his best moments his heart and flesh cry out. The veil of sense lies between. There is a hope we still look for - in the words of the Psalmist "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" and "as for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness." Psalm 16:11; 17:15.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 9: The joy of resurrection life

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
1 Cor 15:14 Legacy Standard Bible [All quotations are from the LSB. The Psalms and NT are available online https://read.lsbible.org ]

Vos preached this sermon at the Princeton Seminary Chapel in 1905.

Paul as an apostle dealt with many evils and problems in the church. One of the key doctrinal issues for him was the resurrection. For Paul the resurrection was the core, the very foundation and substance of the Christian faith. We must remember our holy religion stands or falls with the resurrection of Christ. There are three trains of thought to consider:

1. What does the resurrection of Christ mean for our justification?
The resurrection is crucial to the gospel. The key question is "how shall a sinful man become righteous in the sight of God?" The resurrection is a crucially necessary step in the work of atonement and justification. Paul says in our text that if Christ has not been raised then your faith is in vain. That is to say your faith is ineffective and worthless because you are in your sins. Paul's logic through this chapter is clear. If Christ has not been raised you are still under the condemnation of sin, subject to the wrath of God, and exposed to eternal destruction.

Death is the great enemy which casts its dreadful shadow over human existence. Paul abhors and hates death because it is the wages, the penalty of sin. Christs death is the embodiment of the curse which rests on the world. But here is the key point - by raising Christ from the dead, God as the supreme Judge sets His seal to the absolute perfection and completeness of His atoning work. The resurrection is a public announcement to the world that the penalty of death has been borne by Christ to its bitter end. Consequently the dominion of guilt has been broken, and the curse annihilated forevermore. Because believers are united to Christ, in the resurrection we find the strongest possible assurance of pardon and peace. The words of the apostle in 2 Cor 5:20 are profound. We have become the righteousness of God in Him because He has become the righteousness of God for us.

2. What does the resurrection of Christ mean for our regeneration?
The power that transforms our life and regenerates us proceeds from the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit dwells in Christ's own human nature and invests it with transcendent power and glory. This unique and close relationship between the Spirit and Christ dates from the moment of the resurrection. "Who was designated as the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" Rom 1:4. "So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit." 1 Cor 15:45. The glory of Christ is none other than His resurrection glory. The resurrection of Christ is also the fountain-head of all the renewing and quickening influences that descend from Him to us. To preach a risen Christ means to preach a gospel which claims to come with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power 1 Cor 2:4. The world is dead in trespasses and sins and nothing short of a new creation can give it life.

Liberal theology does not take sin seriously and thus has no place for the necessity of the supernatural in the work of salvation. Thus liberal theology has no place in its theology for the resurrection. But this is the religion of the natural man, not Biblical Christianity.

For Paul, the resurrection is an integral part of the organic work of renewal involving both the soul and the body of man. The resurrection is supernatural because regeneration, sanctification and in everything - the work of grace, is supernatural. We must consider Christianity a resurrection religion - a religion able to bring life out of death, both here and hereafter.

3. What does the resurrection of Christ mean for our glorification?
In the resurrection we have the assurance that we ourselves will be made fit in our entire nature for our habitation in heaven. For the Christian, the body will be restored to us in such a state as to resemble the resurrection-body of Christ.

Conclusion
These three aspects of the resurrection of Christ, when taken together, form a comprehensive summary of the gospel. Peace of conscience, renewal of life, and assurance of heaven represent the gospel in its richest and fullest sense. Vos final sentence is fitting. But now that Christ has been raised from the dead and brought righteousness and life and heaven to light, now we can be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." 1 Cor 15:58.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 10: Songs from the soul.

"The secret of Yahweh is for those who fear Him,
And He will make them know His covenant"
Psalm 25:14 [All quotations from the LSB] https://read.lsbible.org

Vos preached this sermon at the Princeton Seminary Chapel in 1902.

The Psalms are rightly loved by believers because the Psalms help nourish the inner religious life of the heart. We always find our hearts mirrored in the Psalms. This religious life of the heart is illustrated in our passage. The secret in our text means the secret counsel, an intimate converse between friend and friend, where the thoughts and feelings are freely interchanged. The expression covenant here has to do with private intercourse with God.

David's longing for God remained partial and was exercised under restrictions because the fresh and living way into the Holy of Holies had not yet opened up. Yet David was able to say "O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land without water. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will laud You." Psalm 63:1,3. If he could long like this under the old covenant how much more earnestly ought we to cultivate the greater?

David's desire of close communion of close communion with God does not lapse into a false mysticism. Biblical religion is unique. It is not an absorption into the deity (Pantheism). Nor is it Deism.

It is a condescension of God, not an aspiration of ourselves, which renders real this crowning act of religion. God Himself desires to enter into a close fellowship with man. God is in his very nature a covenant God. See Westminster Confession 7:1. When we speak of God desiring close fellowship with man we have no right to say there was any lack or deficiency in God to be supplemented by the creation of man in His image and for communion with Him. That would be inconsistent with His character as God. The scriptures teach that He is all-sufficient unto Himself and forever blessed in Himself. That said God takes pleasure in fellowship with man. The prayer of His people comes like incense before Him; the lifting up of hands like an evening sacrifice. There is a blessedness of God having fellowship with His people.

When the Spirit of God moves the heart, transferring it from self to God, immediately there is a longing to come in touch with God and possess Him and enjoy Him for His own sake. The true child of God will have moments in which he turns to His Father in heaven, unconscious of any other desire than the desire to be near to God. The Psalms are particularly rich in this truth, for example Psalm 73:25-26 "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart fail, But God is the rock of my heart and my portion forever."

When the writers of the Psalms pierce the veil of mystery to the future world there was the fear that in these strange regions there might be no remembrance of God, no knowledge of His goodness, no praise of His glory. This fear is stronger than the fear of death itself. Thus the Psalmist recognised the supreme, the essential thing in religion.

Religious life today tends to seek the surface, the periphery; thus there is not the full and rich face-to-face communion of the soul with God. In light of this difficulty it is absolutely essential for us to have our seasons of communion with God and we should carry with us in all aspects of our lives a living sense of our nearness to God and of His nearness to us. Only in this way can we make our service in the Lord's kingdom truly fruitful and spiritual.

Vos aptly concludes thus: "let us endeavour to cultivate diligently the devotional spirit of the psalmists. Or better still, let us take for our example the spirit of Jesus Himself, for whom notwithstanding the busy scenes of a most public career no distractions existed, to whom every call upon His strength became an occasion for meeting with God, a real contact with God, because the fountains of His strength lay hidden deep in the recesses of His inner life where He and the Father always beheld each other's face."
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Sermon 11: The essence of Christianity

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."
Matt 16:24-25 [All quotations from the LSB] https://read.lsbible.org

Vos preached this sermon at the Princeton Seminary Chapel in 1903.

The words of our Lord are challenging and should be taken literally. No doubt the primary reference is to the sharp conflict of persecution which the cause of Christ was to enter. Our Lord literally meant to say if anyone would be My disciple let him go to the scaffold with me. [We see clear evidence in the West that persecution is about to come to the church; Vos comments are very timely for us today]. Note v 25 "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." It appears that our Lord was preparing is disciples for martyrdom. Even for those who do not face martyrdom, Christianity in its very essence is a religion of self-denial, cross-bearing, and life-surrender. Our Lord tells His disciples to count the cost "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?" Luke 24:28, 31.

Let us study this subject negatively and positively:
1. False views of self-renunciation
Our Lord did not hold this principle in a negative, ascetic spirit. He spoke of serious subjects yet His character was one of joy not gloom. He clashed with the Pharisees who observed the law from a meritoriously ascetic principle. The suffering of man (in an ascetic sense) could have no value in the sight of God.

2. Correct views of self-renunciation
Jesus Christ practiced self-denial in the ultimate sense because of the spiritual benefit it brought to mankind. Christians likewise should sacrifice themselves for the temporal welfare and comfort of our fellow man. This should not be to indulge natural desires but for the moral and spiritual welfare of the soul of ones own neighbour. The disciple is also require to practice self-denial for the sake of God and the kingdom. God claims our supreme affection. He asks that you "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." Mark 12:30. Thus we must worship no other gods besides Him. The world is a fallen twisted place and the natural tendency is that the believer is drawn away from God. The believer has to deal with this so that nothing interferes with his individual devotion to the service of God. In true self-denial the kingdom of God and God's righteousness are to be sought first. We must not be like the pagans which seek after the things of this life and treat the things of this life as if they were the ultimate realities.

Finally our Lord preaches the duty of self-denial because self has become identified with sin. The sin nature is real and the disciple must, by the severest discipline in a painful process, cut himself from sin. Here self-denial becomes so imperative because it amounts to the direct denial of the right of sin to rule over us. We must remember that simply to refuse to indulge in the act of sin is insufficient. No mortification of the flesh can uproot a single evil desire from the heart. Penance may kill the body but it cannot kill sin. The issue is penance of the soul. Only the grace of God makes this possible. The whole Christian life, the whole process of sanctification is one continuous exercise of self-denial. "Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" applies to every cross we daily bear. We are encouraged in our trials to look to the heavenly glory with which trials of the present are not worthy to be compared.
 
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