Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Science and Art of our Scriptural Meditation

Jeremiah 23:5-6:
5. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. 6. “In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’

It is important that we invest ourselves in the Scriptures in a manner similar to how a scientist and artist might invest themselves in the examination of the grand canyon.  The scientist examines the geological details of the canyon – its peaks, valleys, and everything in between.  With the size and magnitude of evidence before him, such a scientist would be well supplied with a treasure trove of geological data. The artist, examining the same peaks and valleys, would step back and marvel at the grandeur and beauty of such a view.  The landscape, the expansive backdrop of the sky, and the majestic depth and brilliance of the colors before him would fill the artist with a sense of overwhelming wonder. Our meditation on, and examination of, the Scriptures must entail both senses.  If we do not examine the details and data of the Word, we will fail to comprehend its meaning and message, but our labor does not end in the science of exegesis alone.  Our diligent studies must also send us to our knees as we behold the beauty of it all.  Both in the detail and the broader picture of things, God’s Holy Word is altogether beautiful and reveals the majesty and glory of the One who authored it all. 

I say this in order to point out John Calvin’s commentary on Jeremiah 23:5-6.  In his notes, he reveals himself to be both scientist and artist.  His presentation of the technical details of the text is crucial, but he then proceeds to draw the reader back in order to see the beautiful tapestry of God’s gift of justification through the person and work of Jesus Christ – who is “The Lord our Righteousness”:

Calvin, Commentary on Jeremiah:  But by saying, God our righteousness, the Prophet still more fully shews that righteousness is not in Christ as though it were only his own, but that we have it in common with him, for he has nothing separate from us. God, indeed, must ever be deemed just, though iniquity prevailed through the whole world; and men, were they all wicked, could do nothing to impugn or mar the righteousness of God. But yet God is not our righteousness as he is righteous in himself, or as having his own peculiar righteousness; and as he is our judge, his own righteousness is adverse to us. But Christ’s righteousness is of another kind: it is ours, because Christ is righteous not for himself, but possesses a righteousness which he communicates to us. We hence see that the true character of Christ is here set forth, not that he would come to manifest divine justice, but to bring righteousness, which would avail to the salvation of men, For if we regard God in himself, as I have said, he is indeed righteous, but is not our righteousness. If, then, we desire to have God as our righteousness, we must seek Christ; for this cannot be found except in him. The righteousness of God has been set forth to us in Christ; and all who turn away from him, though they may take many circuitous courses, can yet never find the righteousness of God. Hence Paul says that he has been given or made to us righteousness, — for what end? that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (1 Corinthians 1:30.) Since, then, Christ is made our righteousness, and we are counted the righteousness of God in him, we hence learn how properly and fitly it has been said that he would be Jehovah, not only that the power of his divinity might defend us, but also that we might become righteous in him, for he is not only righteous for himself, but he is our righteousness.1

We can thank the Lord for this truth – the One who is called, by name, Jesus Christ the righteousness, is also the One who is the “Lord our righteousness.” In Him, our standing is sure; apart from Him, we remain condemned. Without the science of sound biblical exegesis, such a beautiful portrait of our Savior would be horribly mangled and obfuscated. 

All in all, let the student of Holy Writ labor as both scientist and artist.

Note: The consistency of Calvin’s teaching on imputation is observed elsewhere, as in the case of God’s justification of Abraham (Genesis 15):

Calvin, Commentary on Genesis: For God reconciles to himself those who are born only of the flesh, and who are destitute of all good; and since he finds nothing in them except a dreadful mass of evils, he counts them just, by imputation. But those to whom he has imparted the Spirit of holiness and righteousness, he embraces with his gifts. Nevertheless, in order that their good works may please God, it is necessary that these works themselves should be justified by gratuitous imputation; but some evil is always inherent in them. Meanwhile, however, this is a settled point, that men are justified before God by believing not by working; while they obtain grace by faith, because they are unable to deserve a reward by works.2

1. Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin's Commentaries: Jeremiah (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries. Albany, OR: Ages Software.

2. Calvin, J. Calvin's Commentaries: Genesis (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries (Ge 15:6).