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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Lovely Progression | Main | Death and the Afterlife »

    The Hidden Treasure (5 -- Fashioning the Gold)

    The reason for the surpassing value of gold is to be sought in a unique combination of its various qualities, including such things as its limited availability, imperviousness to corruption, usefulness for a wide array of applications, and not least of all, unrivalled beauty. This last quality is an unexceptional characteristic of valuable materials. In terms of sheer functionality, pewter lacks nothing that sterling silver may boast. But the latter is always prized more highly simply because it is more beautiful. Pewter may be used to feed the body of man just as well as silver; but it can never feed his beauty-starved soul. Pewter may be useful to the trader of household wares, but silver is required by the jeweler or artist.

    This latter point leads to an interesting observation: by an intrinsic and immutable property, silver and gold demand a painstaking and exquisite fashioning. This is what they were made for. Wheat was made to be eaten, and by its peculiar quality demands to be threshed, ground, baked, etc., for the most appropriate application of its intended use. Gold was made to be admired, and by its peculiar quality demands to be refined, fashioned, and shaped into exquisite varieties of ornamentation for the most appropriate application of its intended use. Its native beauty must be drawn out and displayed in a manner becoming its essential worth.

    In the same way, the gospel-gold of knowing Jesus is of limitless value for a variety of wonderful properties, being that alone which is able to purify a man from his natural corruptions, give him eternal life, bring him back to the Father, etc.; but one of its chief and most valued qualities is simply its beauty. We were so designed that the beautiful must thrill and satisfy our hearts: whether gazing up at the night stars, listening to the sounds of the ocean surf pounding the seashore, or admiring the works of the world’s great poets and artists, when a trace of the beautiful comes across our sensibilities, we respond to it. It both delights us and stirs up a longing for more, revealing a desperate need and desire, and at the same time, in small part, fulfilling them. But the world’s broken traces of beauty can never ultimately satisfy man’s need for the beautiful. They are brief and tainted glimpses of a greater glory that once was, as if a few beams flashing out from a shattered and mud-stained mirror were all the witness we had left to the sun that so illumined it. Jesus is the true Sun of beauty, and all the things that we have ever admired on this earth are but imperfect reflections and remembrances of him.

    Consider then: if gold, once mined out of the earth and purified in the kiln, must then be fashioned into beautiful chains and ornaments; how much more must the gospel-gold, once digged up from the pages of scripture and purified with a careful and rigorous exegesis, then be fashioned into chains and ornaments well-ordered and lovely? Once we have discovered a wealth of beautiful nuggets, and seen the face of our treasured Savior in a thousand verses, we must be careful not to let the truths we have so obtained lie about in great heaps, but rather fashion them in an orderly manner, so that their beauty might the more readily be seen and appreciated.

    We may encounter a glimpse of this sort of careful fashioning of the great redemptive-historical truths in the faithful sayings of the early church, which Paul cites with approval in his pastoral epistles. Consider, for instance, the following:

    God was manifest in flesh,
    Justified in Spirit,
    Seen by angels;
    Proclaimed among the nations,
    Believed on in the world,
    Received up into glory (I Timothy 3:16).

    In this early, creedal formulation, we see the beautiful truths of the gospel condensed, admirably balanced, and carefully displayed in a memorable fashion. The great beauties of Christ have been linked together in a perfect chain, where each individual truth is both augmented by the other truths around it, and in turn serves to augment them. The great realities recorded by the Evangelists have been mined out, purified with painstaking and Spirit-empowered exegesis, and then fashioned into an ornate piece of jewelry, which augments the beauty inherent in the truth.

    Ever since apostolic times, the Church has been engaged in this same process. In the long battle against early heresy, the champions of orthodoxy were engaged in fashioning the crude ore of the two testaments into such succinct and well-crafted gems as the Apostolic and Nicene creeds, or else weaving the biblical testimony into long, carefully-forged chains of thoughtful argumentation and explanation, so that the myriad truths of the Scriptures might be understood in all the orderliness of their manifold inter-relationships, and so that, in turn, simple believers might not be dazzled with the fool’s-gold trinkets of heretical systems and philosophies, but rather so enamored with the beautiful and intricate structuring of the genuine gospel that they could no longer be led astray by imposters. When truths are apprehended from the scriptures, they are strong to resist the lies of the Enemy, but as long as they are only clutched loosely and haphazardly in the hand, they may perchance be broken by the subtle sophistries of his lying forgeries. But when they have been all braided together, so that each supports the other, that is, when the way in which they relate to each other is at once seen, the many-fold cord thus fashioned will not be so easily snapped.

    This is the usefulness of creeds and confessions. The beauty of the richly diverse and yet marvelously simple message of Jesus Christ and him crucified is set forth in dazzling relief, and the wonder of it all seizes firmly upon the soul, so that one might not readily be drawn away to lesser things. A simple man might be persuaded to trade off a few nuggets of gold for a worthless bauble that shines enticingly, but when those nuggets have been made into a superior ornament, the inferior nature of the forgery becomes at once evident, so that he will steadfastly refuse to give anything up.

    Or else, the minutely-crafted phrases of the early creeds may be compared to so many pegs in a jewelry box. Without them, the whole mass of gospel jewels must lie in a confused heap, but by their aid, each chain and necklace may be put in its place, so that all the riches which the treasure chest holds are at once visible to all. The finely-wrought chains of Theology, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, and so forth, hang in a dazzling array from the creedal expressions, and the great riches of Christendom are put on display for the Church to delight in.

    It is the habit of some to despise creeds and confessions, because they think it more noble to be “simply biblical”. It is true that the Christian’s solemn responsibility is to be utterly biblical, and to subject even the oldest and most revered creeds to the test of the scriptures. But the function that these tools have is a necessary function, and it is no more desirable than it is possible to dispense with them altogether. Yes, let them be examined and refined with each passing generation, but let them not be cast aside altogether. When this happens, confusion results, and one is at a loss even to know what he believes, let alone how to defend it. The scriptures were made to be arranged and ordered so that the fullness of their worth might be apprehended and admired. This is an indispensable task for the believer in pursuit of the gospel-gold. For one to appreciate the terrible glory of Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, he must likewise be aware of the gentle and comfortable glory of Jesus, the Lamb who was slain. These two corollary truths complement and give meaning to each other. And they will not be adequately valued until the gold digged up from the scriptures is ordered and arranged in designs befitting their diverse beauty. And so it is with many other precious truths beside.

    As we turn to the scriptures in high hopes of finding the gospel-gold of knowing Jesus, let us be diligent to fashion the nuggets we encounter in a beautiful and orderly array. When we have uncovered from the pages of John’s gospel the golden images of our Savior as the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, etc., let us then forge those notable “I Am” statements into one beautiful chain, that we might the better admire and rejoice in our newly-gotten wealth. When we have uncovered here and there the silver-likenesses of God’s people as a good olive tree, from Psalm 52:8; 128; Hosea 14:5-6; Isaiah 17:4-6; 24:13-15; Jeremiah 11; and Romans 11, let us then forge those nuggets into a mutually-interpretive chain. Let us ever be pursuing the ancient and admirable art of the mosaic, not just collecting many beautiful and precious gems, but then arranging them in such a way as to draw out from the combined testimony of the whole a picture more lovely than any one gem could ever produce alone. That is to say, let us arrange all the truths of the bible, which we have carefully mined out and refined, into an ever-more intimate and detailed portrait of the face of Jesus Christ, who shines with all the glory of eternal beauty, and whose countenance irradiates all the riches of wisdom and knowledge.

    Posted by Nathan on March 4, 2008 12:28 PM

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