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“Regeneration enables the act of reading as covenant friendship” by Scott Swain

“Just as the Spirit laid the foundation for the church in the writings of prophets and apostles, so He builds upon that foundation through, among other things, the reading of the saints.

The same Spirit who publishes God’s Word through inspiration and writing creates an understanding of God’s Word through illumination and interpretation (1 Cor. 2:14–16). The reading of Holy Scripture is a creaturely activity that corresponds to, and is also sustained and governed by, the Spirit’s work of regeneration and renewal.

The Christian life begins with regeneration (John 3:3, 5; Eph. 2:5; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23–25). When the Spirit brings the gospel effectually to bear upon the sinner’s heart, He breaks our relation to the Old Man and creates a relation to the New Man (Rom. 6:1–7; Gal. 5:24).

In so doing, He also implants a new principle of life (1 John 3:9). This new principle of life enables a new vision. Apart from this new vision, the gospel of Jesus Christ—and therefore the ultimate meaning of Scripture—remains hidden from us (2 Cor. 3:14–18).

However, being born again, we are enabled to “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This new principle of life not only enables new vision, it also issues forth in new desires, new thirsts, and new hungers.

Chief among these is a longing for the word of truth (see 1 Pet. 1:22–2:3). God’s word is “sweeter than honey” to the regenerate taste (Ps. 19:10; 119:103).

The awakening of spiritual organs of perception and taste is essential to a profitable reading of Scripture.

“He who is deaf must first be healed from his deafness in order to be placed in true touch with the world of sounds. When this contact has been restored, the study of music can again be begun by him.” (Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, 580).

This goes for biblical interpretation as well. The point is not that the “natural man” is unable to understand anything that Scripture says.

The point instead is that a profitable reading of Holy Scripture, one that receives Scripture’s words as the words of God, that ponders Scripture’s words as a way of pondering God, and that reveres Scripture’s words as a way of revering God, this sort of reading is only possible where the Spirit has caused the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened (Eph. 1:18; 1 Cor. 2:14).

Regeneration enables the act of reading as covenant friendship.

The Christian life begins with regeneration and continues along the path of renewal (Rom. 12:1–2; Eph. 4:21–24; Col. 3:10; 2 Pet. 3:18).

Because the regenerate life begins as the Spirit breaks our natural bond to the Old Man and forms a spiritual bond to the New Man, the growth and renewal of this life unfolds as a battle between the remaining impulses of our fallen human nature and the new reign of Christ through the Spirit.

“The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). In this battle, we are summoned to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit’s power and to put on the New Man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:13; Eph. 4:22–24).

In this battle, we are commanded not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed, and this by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

God renews and restores the whole man in sanctification, including the mind (cf. Rom. 12:2). The mind darkened by sin (Eph. 4:17–18) is made alive with Christ (Eph. 4:20–24).

The Spirit who searches the depths of God, and who sheds abroad the knowledge of God, gives us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

By the “unified saving action and presence of Word and Spirit, reason’s vocation is retrieved from the ruins: its sterile attempt at self-destruction is set aside; its dynamism is annexed to God’s self-manifesting presence; it regains its function in the ordered friendship between God and human creatures.” (Webster, “Biblical Reasoning,” 742–43)

Within the context of this “ordered friendship between God and human creatures,” reason plays what is first and foremost a receptive role. Reason is not the fountain of saving wisdom.

As Benedict Pictet states: “reason cannot and ought not to bring forth any mysteries, as it were, out of its own storehouse; for this is the prerogative of scripture only.” Instead, reason is an organ for receiving saving wisdom.

Reason, regenerated and renewed, understands “the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). However, in this receptive activity, reason is not wholly passive.

God’s word “evokes the works of reason”: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). God’s living Word animates and answers the humble, suppliant work of reason.

Because God’s word unfolds itself in writing, one of the principal ways in which renewed reason fulfills its calling is through reading.”

–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 96–98.

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“Ravished with wonder” by John Calvin

“David shows how it is that the heavens proclaim to us the glory of God, namely, by openly bearing testimony that they have not been put together by chance, but were wonderfully created by the supreme Architect.

When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated, by the contemplation of them, to Him who is their great Creator; and the beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguish the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendour which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of His providence.

Scripture, indeed, makes known to us the time and manner of the creation; but the heavens themselves, although God should say nothing on the subject, proclaim loudly and distinctly enough that they have been fashioned by His hands: and this of itself abundantly suffices to bear testimony to men of His glory.

As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at His infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.”

–John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1: 309. Calvin is commenting on Psalm 19:1.

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“The blood of the Son of God” by Stephen Charnock

“The sin of a creature could never be so filthy as the blood of the Son of God was holy.”

–Stephen Charnock, “A Discourse on the Acceptableness of Christ’s Death,” The Works of Stephen Charnock, Volume 4 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1865/2010), 4: 558.

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“The central fact of the entire history of the world” by Herman Bavinck

“The doctrine of Christ is the central point of the whole system of dogmatics.

Here, too, pulses the whole of the religious-ethical life of Christianity.

Christ, the incarnate Word, is thus the central fact of the entire history of the world.

The incarnation has its presupposition and foundation in the trinitarian being of God.

The Trinity makes possible the existence of a mediator who himself participates both in the divine and human nature and thus unites God and humanity.

The incarnation, however, is the work of the entire Trinity.

Christ was sent by the Father and conceived by the Holy Spirit. Incarnation is also related to creation.

The incarnation was not necessary, but the creation of human beings in God’s image is a supposition and preparation for the incarnation of God.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3, Ed. John Bolt, and Trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 3: 235.

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“Keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds” by C.S. Lewis

“Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.

And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet.

A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.

Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.

Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point.

In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed ‘at’ some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance.

The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (‘mere Christianity’ as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.

Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.

If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.

We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it.

Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny.

They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions.

We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr H. G. Wells and Karl Barth.

None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.

Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.

The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.

They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.

Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.

To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

–C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,” God in the Dock: Essays on God and Ethics, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harper, 1970), 201-202.

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“His praise will know no end” by Jim Hamilton

“The One to whom the Scriptures point, whose coming we await, is the true and better Adam, bridegroom and beloved.

He is the great Priest over the heavenly house of God, giving us the new and living way by which we draw near.

Our Prophet like Moses, by whom God accomplished the fulfillment of the exodus.

The King of God’s creation, He is the righteous sufferer, who Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.

His praise will know no end.”

–James M. Hamilton, Jr., Typology: Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022), 360.

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“Blood relatives” by Herman Bavinck

“All people are blood relatives (Acts 17:26).”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, Volume 2The Duties of the Christian Life, Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2021), 2: 424.

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“All of us are murderers” by Herman Bavinck

“All of us are murderers– it was our sins that caused Jesus’s death.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, Volume 2The Duties of the Christian Life, Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2021), 2: 454.

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“God photographs Himself” by Herman Bavinck

What is prescribed in this commandment? (Exodus 20:4-6)

God alone has the right to determine how He wants to be served. God must be worshiped and served in the way He Himself has commanded– that is, only according to His Word.

Nonetheless, there lingers deep in our soul the yearning to see God (Ex. 33:18).

Therefore, God says:

You will find no image of Me in any creature; that would dishonor Me. But if you want an image, take a look at Adam, at human beings, who are created in My likeness. Above all, look at the Son, the Image of the Invisible God, God’s One and Only Firstborn, God’s other I, the expression of His self-sufficiency.

Whoever sees Him sees the Father. As Christ is, so is God. He is the perfect likeness, the adequate Image.

Let us be satisfied with that. God may be venerated with no other image than the Son. Beholding Him and venerating Him, we are changed into His likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).

God wants, as it were, to multiply images of Himself, to see nothing but images, likenesses, portraits of Himself.

Human beings themselves must be God’s image, and not make pieces of wood or stone into God’s image. The new humanity in Christ, from all sides and everyone in their own way, reflects and mirrors God.

God is mirrored in us; we are mirrored in God. ‘When [Christ] appears, we shall be like Him [and like the Father] because we shall see Him as He is’ (1 John 3:2).

God makes images of Himself in us. But not we of God. God photographs Himself.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, Volume 2The Duties of the Christian Life, Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2021), 2: 174-175.

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“All of Scripture is full of promises” by Herman Bavinck

“All of Scripture is full of promises, stays and supports for our trust, to instill trust in us, for God knows how mistrusting we are.

Abraham is an example of this strong faith in God (Gen. 15), as is Jesus when He sleeps in the midst of the storm (Matt. 8:24).

This trust is a moral relationship as well, an act of the greatest devotion; all mistrust, all reliance on creatures, even on princes (Ps. 146:3), on the strength of flesh (Jer. 17:5), on temporal things and goods, and all worrying (Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:26-34) are therefore condemned.

Similarly, all indifference, every instance of ‘little faith’ (Matt. 8:26; 14:31; Mark 16:14; Luke 8:13; 24:25; James 1:6), is also condemned because God cares for us (Phil. 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7).

In this regard, Holy Scripture is terribly radical: it removes everything that is unsteady and unstable in earth and heaven, every foundation and all possible support for trust that might be placed in creatures; instead it replaces all that with an eternal foundation, unshakable and solid– namely, God Himself, Christ, His Word.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, Volume 2The Duties of the Christian Life, Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2021), 2: 148-149.

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