Vos on covenant theology, historic-redemptive theology, and eschatology

Status
Not open for further replies.

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I have been reflecting on Vos' important contribution to covenant theology, historic-redemptive theology, and eschatology. I am trying to work out what 'thread' he uses to link these doctrines together. Can anyone enlighten me?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Stephen, I would describe it this way: the unfolding, organic, progressive nature of revelation as climaxing in the person and work of Jesus Christ is the rebar that connects the entire Scripture together. If you think of a long rebar that has many segments, then the covenants would be junctions connecting the bars together. Stepping out of the metaphor, the decree of God underlies the eschatology, since everything tends towards the end God has already decreed. Everything feeds the goal because that is the way God decreed it. That is a major reason why Vos thinks the eschatological strand in revelation is older than the soteric. God didn't create Adam and Eve with a sort of experimental mentality ("I wonder what will happen if I do this?"). There was a goal in mind from the beginning: the glorified state of permanent, close communion with the living God, thus bringing great glory to God. This does not imply that the Fall took God by surprise. The Fall wound up being the way in which God's decree of permanent, close communion with the living God would be brought to pass, while simultaneously highlighting both the mercy and justice of God, especially in the person and work of Jesus Christ, thus bringing greater glory to God's wisdom and power.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Thanks Lane. That was very insightful.

Just a couple of comments:
1. I am quite interested in his relationship between Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology. In his classic article "The doctrine of the covenant in Reformed theology" he says "The Westminster Confession is the first Reformed confession in which the doctrine of the covenant is not merely brought in from the side, but is placed in the foreground and has been able to permeate at almost every point." It is as if he is arguing for the centrality of the covenant.

In his letter to Herman Bavinck July 3 1893 he says "It seems to me that when the covenant represents an archetypical covenant in eternity the absolute and unchangeable, that then also the different covenant gifts as they historically follow each other can represent the development of revelation. Moreover the covenant idea is neither purely theoretical, nor purely practical, so that it contains in itself word as well as deed revelation. Finally it presents this benefit that each following covenant development revolves organically from the preceding, while in scripture the new covenant every time occurs as a benefit in a former covenant".

He clarifies his comment further in his letter to Bavinck Nov 2 1893 "it was not my intention to take the covenant idea as a guiding principle in Biblical Theology to the exclusion of Revelation. ... Biblical Theology is for me the History of Revelation. But beneath that I place the covenant concept, because God has revealed Himself in the covenant".

It seems to me you could summarise his comment this way. Biblical Theology is the history of special revelation, and this is achieved by way of covenant. Much of his serious reflection on the covenant appears in the 1890's. I have not yet read his "Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke" in 1915 and 1916. I will be interested in your thoughts on how/if he develops this further in this essay.

2. It seems to me that your definition can be expanded to include Vos views on the Holy Spirit - especially his majestic essay "The eschatological aspect of the Pauline conception of the Spirit" [1912] and how this is developed in the later eschatological writings. He argues the Spirit imparted to the life-giving Christ the life giving power that is the Spirit's own. This life giving power is also given to the individual and also the church. Yet there is a yet- not yet aspect to this. Another insight: the work of the Spirit is the realisation of the eschaton.

A couple of other general reflections:
1. Over the years I have spoken to a number of Masters Seminary graduates in my Country. They are Calvinists but Dispensational. I have realised a Vosian critique applies to their dispensationalism :) They are Calvinists but lacking in a covenantal framework. Their historic-redemptive approach is lacking. Eg, they argue for animal sacrifices in the Millennium. As a result their eschatology is flawed.

2. I have started reading Vos sermons "Grace and Glory" (Banner of Truth, 2020 ed) I am starting to appreciate the rich theology he brings into sermons - covenantal, historic-redemptive, eschatological. Yet the sermons are not dry - far from it. They are clear evidence of a man who was a powerful scholar, yet a humble man who loved and served the Triune God with genuine piety (in the best sense of the word).
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top