Wednesday, May 25, 2011

God: A Lord who Hammers the Heart or a Lover who Melts the Heart?

Ron Frost writes: "[Richard} Sibbes held that salvation is applied to the elect through their participation in the hypostatic unity of Christ.... he was the image of God. And none but the image of God could restore us to that image."
"Mystical marriage defined Sibbes' covenantal theology. It was developed in, and probably derived from, his exposition of the Song of Songs... Further support for this approach was to be found in the explicit New Testament use of the marriage metaphor, particularly with the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation and its culminating vision of Jesus... offering readers eternal bless with the church, having been wedded at the marriage supper of the Lamb. And the Spirit and the bride say 'come'. (p107-8)
This approach to the Song was supported and popularised by the marginal notes in the Geneva Bible which was then replaced by the note-less King James Version. That approach to The Song of Songs has been suppressed in recent years by many highly regarded evangelicals, and doing so has robbed the church of language and convictions about the reality of our relationship to God, perhaps leading us to a more distant and vague view of who God is. Whereas, maintaining the place of the Song we're helped to see (with so much of the Scriptures) that we are joined to him. So that what is his is ours also.
"The Song of Songs disclosed God's gracious love in Christ. Luther used the marital imagery of Ephesians 5:30 to explain how faith funcions... this imagery served as an alternative to the medieval theology of infused righteousness."
Betrothed to be married. No infusion of righteousness, his has become ours. We are joined to him. We will have him, and see him:
"Believers are invited to "see" Christ in biblical promises, which is the ground for the formation of relationship.... by looking to the glory of God in Christ we see Christ as our husband, and that breeds a disposition in us to have the affections of a spouse.
In marriage, love grows. And especially when we are married to one who is love.
"God's loving kindness, not his law, is given absolute theological primacy. From the stance of believers, then, sanctification is the fruit of this distributed goodness coming to them. By this means God both motivates and transforms the elect. The believer is drawn to God by God's self-disclosure, revealing one so loving and so gracious that if unbelievers or inattentive believers were to pause to consider him, "their hearts would melt". God is love.. "and his course to man is love. He does not say he is justice, or rigour, but his is love... we are saved by a manner of love. God's love once experienced, results in a "sweet kind of tyranny in the affection of love, that will carry a man through thick and thin." The secret of sanctification is not, however, just in the motive force of love, but also in the conforming quality of love. "Is not love a glorious grace, that melts one into the likeness of Christ?" Thus, having been awakened by God's love in Christ, the believer is called to a voluntarism, not strictly of the will but of the will informed by love. "Beloved get love" Sibbes urged, because, "it melts us into the likeness of Christ... Nothing can quench that holy fire that is kindled from heaven. It is a glorious grace".
Love is the language for Christianity, for knowing God, for God is love. And so,
Sibbes emphasised a real union with Christ as the ground for communion with God. He held that 'God hath made the soul for a communion with himself, which communion is especially placed in the affections, which are the springs of all spiritual worship'" (p123)
We are affectionate, hearty-passionate beings, like our God.
"Love, Sibbes argued, is the first born affection. This love breeds desire of communion with God and stirs up dependence, confidence and trust in God. If God be thy God, Sibbes asserted, you have grace given you to love him above all things. He loves us, and we love him again. This is a sure sign that God is our God, if we love him above all. Janice Knight captures this motive function in Sibbes' theology, noting that he defined "a God who was a lord, but more importantly a lover, one who melted the heart instead of hammering it" (p131)
What does a Christianity centred upon a lover look like?