Archive for September, 2006

Hope for Russia?

The Times [London] Online September 22, 2006

Tragic Empress of Russia comes home to find the peace that eluded her in life
By Michael Binyon

The interment of Empress Feodorovna in the Peter and Paul Fortress represents Russia’s final atonement to its last tsarWITH royal ceremony and imperial pomp, Denmark will say farewell tomorrow to one of the most tragic figures in its royal history. Princess Dagmar, who became Empress of Russia and mother of the last tsar, died in exile in her native land 78 years ago. Now, following her last wishes, her remains are to be reinterred in a vault in St Petersburg beside her husband, Tsar Alexander III, who died in 1894. The ceremony in Roskilde Cathedral, 18 miles west of Copenhagen, will be attended by Queen Margarethe II of Denmark and her family, as well as officials from the Danish and Russian Governments and members of the Romanov family. The remains of the dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna — as she is known in Russia — will then be taken by a Danish warship to St Petersburg where they will lie in state. A service will be held in St Isaac’s Cathedral on Thursday and she will be interred the next day in the vault of the Peter and Paul Fortress, where all the Romanov tsars are buried and where the bones of the murdered Nicholas II and his family were interred in 1998. It will be the culmination of Russia’s atonement to its last tsar. Dagmar’s story is extraordinary. She and her sister, Alexandra, daughters of King Christian IX, were two of the most eligible princesses in Europe and were to marry into the world’s greatest empires. Alexandra became the wife of Edward VII, while Dagmar sailed for the court in St Petersburg, converted to Russian Orthodoxy and was betrothed to Crown Prince Nicholas. He died months before the wedding and instead she married his brother, Alexander. Plunged into the fin de siècle turmoil of imperial Russia, she was a helpless witness to the hedonism, plotting and misrule at court. The sisters were almost identical; little wonder that their eldest sons looked so alike. But when the Revolution came, George V, fearful of public opinion in Britain, refused to save his cousin Nicholas II. It was only after his murder that he sent a warship to the Crimea to rescue Dagmar and her daughter, Grand Duchess Olga, in April 1919. The evacuation is described in a new biography of Dagmar by Coryne Hall, who has been invited to the ceremonies in Denmark and St Petersburg. As the Reds closed in, Captain Johnson, of HMS Marlborough, tried to hurry the royal refugees aboard. But the indomitable empress dallied. Her servants were loading 200 tons of luggage, box after box, and she headed for a chapel to pray. Finally persuaded to return to the improvised pier, she embarked, along with dozens of desperate servants. They sailed for Yalta en route to Istanbul and passed Livadia Palace, the tsar’s summer residence. As she stood beneath the White Ensign, tears streaming down her face, a troopship carrying the Imperial Guard on the way to fight the Bolsheviks passed by. The men burst out with the Russian imperial anthem. Stopping briefly in Malta, Dagmar finally arrived in Portsmouth and was taken to Marlborough House. But her time in London was not happy; she resented the loss of power, Britain’s indifference to Russian refugees and the lapses of protocol among the exiles. Fussy, difficult and wildly extravagant, “Aunt Minny” antagonised her British relations and soon left for Denmark, where she grieved over her lost family and empire, refusing to believe Nicholas was dead or the claim by a notorious pretender that she was Anastasia, the Tsar’s daughter and only survivor of the royal massacre. For three generations, Russia ignored her fate. But the mood is changing as the Government tries to heal the wounds of history, so that now Dagmar is going home at last. Little Mother of Russia by Coryne Hall, Shepheard-Walwyn, £14.95


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The Paradox of Christianity and Culture
W.H. Chellis

From the introduction to Christianity and European Culture: Selections from the Work of Christopher Dawson:

“In many of Dawson’s books, there is a clear tension between the Christian virtue of hope and anxiety over the present world situation. Dawson expresses more doubt about the chances for a Christian civilization than T.S. Eliot, but prefers to see in the contemporary state of affairs a challenge similar to that faced by the early Christian’s. They faced what they thought was the end of the world with hope and joy. They were able to surmount the decaying Roman Empire and create a new civilization for the world while keeping their eyes fixed on the promise of eternal life. It is the paradox of Christianity that those disdainful of temporal affairs created a new world, while the pagans whose vision was fixed on this life disappeared (pg. xxvi).”

This is a great reminder that we are pilgrims amidst the nations and that our primary concern is focusing on the cross and worshipping our holy God. Social righteousness is not the fruit of political savvy but a by-product of Christian lives well lived. Jesus said, “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you (Mat. 6:33)”.

From the perspective of Christ’s kinship over the nations, what happens in the sacred Assembly on the Lord’s Day is much more important than what happens the rest of the week in the legislative assembly.

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W. Edgar’s Response

I comment on three things in Mr. Chellis’ article: the phrase “cut a covenant,” the term “federal,” and the place of nations in God’s plan.
Most English translations use the phrase “make a covenant,” but the Hebrew idiom is “cut a covenant.” Behind the Hebrew idiom lay the ratification ceremony for establishing a covenant. The parties would cut animals in two, then pass together between the bloody parts. The vivid meaning was, “May God do so to me and more also if I break this covenant.”
In Jeremiah’s day, for example, the nobles made a covenant to free their slaves. Then they went back on it. God said, “And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it…I will give them into the hand of their enemies” (Jer. 34:18-20, see Gen. 15:7-21). The translation “make” sounds like signing a document; the Hebrew “cut” makes clear that covenants were sealed by a blood oath.
The term “federal” comes from a Latin word foedus, related to another Latin word, fides, meaning “faith.” “Federal” translated the Hebrew and Greek words for covenant. Therefore covenant theology in older textbooks, and even today, is called “federal theology.” Christ is our “federal head,” meaning that He is the One with whom God made a covenant on behalf of everyone united to Him by faith. For Americans, the word “federal” has political meaning, our national constitution being known as the federal constitution. In 1787, when all educated Americans knew both Latin and federal theology, the term “federal Constitution” would have suggested the covenantal nature of the American political system, even while it looked no more deeply for its authority than the “People” (see Webster’s Second Unabridged Dictionary entry “federal”).
Finally, it should be noted that when people today read the Great Commission, “Go therefore and teach all nations,” we tend to hear, “Go therefore and convert individuals from among all nations.” But the Old Testament prophetic background points to corporate, national reading of the Great Commission.
Already in Israel’s day, individuals from other nations believed in Israel’s God: Rahab the Canaanite, Ruth the Moabitess, Naaman the Syrian, Uriah the Hittite, Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian, and so on. What God promised for a future age was something greater, that nations, not just individuals from the nations, would come to God. “Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem” (Zech. 8:22). “Envoys will come out of Egypt, Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God” (Ps. 68:31). “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa. 60:3) The Book of Acts, thus, follows the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, with special attention to Roman officials such as the Roman centurion Cornelius and Sergius Paulus, governor of Cyprus. Jesus commissioned Paul to go the Gentiles, with special attention to kings (Acts 9:15).
The calling of the nations as nations had begun. For many centuries, it was natural for nations from Armenia to Ethiopia to Rome to Scotland to think of themselves as Christian nations, enjoying as nations the light of the gospel and living under the righteous judgment of God Almighty. The denial of God’s call to our nation to submit corporately to Christ, therefore, defies God’s announced plan for the nations, and calls forth the question, “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing?” (Ps. 2:1). —Bill Edgar

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Abraham’s Paternity
W.H. Chellis

This month we continue to explore the biblical duty of nations to corporately confess the kingship of Jesus Christ. By corporate confession, I mean that nations have a moral duty to conform their organic, constitutional law in submission to Christ’s sovereign and kingly rule. The heart of the matter is this: Does the Bible teach such a duty? Let us explore the evidence.

Abraham, the Father of Nations
God’s covenant with Abraham and his family is an interesting place to begin when thinking about the conversion of nations. God’s grace toward Abraham is both individual (Abraham himself was justified by faith alone) and corporate (redemptive grace was found within his tents). In Genesis 12:1-3, we read that Abram (later Abraham) was called out of his homeland, but he was not called out alone. The call to Abram includes Abram’s father (11:31), his wife Sarah (12:5, 10-17), his nephew Lot (12:5, 14:1-16) and the slaves that were included in his wandering household.
In Genesis 17, God defined the borders of His covenant mercy when He commanded, “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (v. 10). This is not to say that God excluded females, but that Abraham’s whole tribe (those associated with his tents by blood or by bondage) was within the scope of the covenant. Circumcision was the sign and seal of covenant membership. Of course, as we continuously need to make clear in relationship to infant baptism, inclusion in the covenant does not automatically imply eternal election. Rather, it represents a covenantal presumption that children are heirs and that Abraham’s children are partakers of his spiritual heritage.
If circumcision was the means by which God marked His people as His unique possession, it is important to consider the basis on which God established the parameters of the covenant community. The church is a community of faith both in the Old and New Testaments. Should we assume the individual profession of faith of each of these circumcised members? Genesis 17:12 excludes any presumption of personal holiness by declaring, “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.” The inclusion of these little ones makes clear that membership in God’s gracious covenant does not presuppose individual saving faith or personal holiness. Rather, the inclusion in the covenant is based on the federal holiness of God’s friend, Abraham.

Federal Holiness
To speak about federal holiness is to speak of a covenant holiness based on representation. Americans boast of our federal system of representation. Thus, when Congress passes a law to raise the federal income tax rate, this is done in the name and by the authority of the people. There is a real union between citizen and legislature (just refuse to pay your taxes and you will find out how real).
In the divine economy of covenants, God deals with mankind on the basis of a federal principle of representation. Before the Fall, the covenant of works was made with Adam, not only for himself, but also as the federal representative of all mankind. As the old saying goes, “in Adam’s fall we sinned all.”
Just as the Fall was federal (we sinned in our covenant head), so also our salvation is federal (we are saved in our covenant head). The eternal covenant of redemption, the foundation of our saving hope, is an inter-Trinitarian pact made between the Father and the Son (acting as federal head, representing all of God’s elect). Thus, Jesus Christ is the new Adam for His elect Church. In Romans 5:18-19, Paul expounds the relationship between the two Adams: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
By His active obedience (living a sinless life) and passive obedience (suffering the cursed cross), Jesus Christ has accomplished salvation as the federal representative of His people. What belongs to Him by right belongs to His Church by grace.
While the eternal covenant of redemption was made in eternity between God the Father and God the Son on behalf of His elect, the historical covenant of grace was made in history between God and elect sinners. God does not make His covenant of grace with shadowy abstractions but with real men, sons of the fallen race of Adam. Under the old covenant, God made His covenant of peace with Abraham. Like Adam before him, Abraham stood before God as the federal representative of his offspring. To Abraham, God declares in Genesis 17:7-8: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Unlike His dealings with Adam, God does not deal with Abraham on the basis of his personal merit. Rather, God makes His covenant of grace with Abraham as Abraham stands within the saving reality of the greater federal headship of Jesus Christ. Abraham’s offspring are not blessed by their father’s personal holiness, but the covenant holiness promised in Jesus Christ.
As Abraham is the federal head of a large extended family/clan, so the blessings of his covenant headship belong to all those under his authority. In Genesis 17: 12-13, God commands: “Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with money, shall surely be circumcised.”
With circumcision as the sign and seal of covenant entrance, God has established Abraham’s nation as the physical boundaries of His visible Church. Abraham must raise his children according to the covenant, and he must catechize his slaves within the covenant. However, their relationship to the promise is ultimately founded on their relationship to their head. In Abraham the promises are established. Through Abraham the promises will be confirmed in His blessed offspring Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). Thus, God had chosen Abraham and his offspring/servants to be the vehicle by which His gracious promises would be made incarnate in the world.

Abram and the Nations
God promised Abraham, the father of Israel, that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations (ethnos)” (Gen. 17:5). Indeed, Abraham became the father of Isaac, who fathered Jacob, who fathered the 12 patriarchs of Israel. These patriarchs were essentially clan chieftains. Their tribes were united, first as a loose confederation (the period of the Judges), then as a limited constitutional monarchy (under King David), and finally as an empire (under King Solomon). After Solomon, the empire receded as the kingdom was divided in two. Thus began the long demise of Davidic authority leading to Israel’s captivity and political domination by successive world-dominating empires.
Along the way, Israel stood against the nations of the world as the peculiar possession of the Lord God. Yet, the nations of the world were the children of Adam and Noah and therefore not devoid of hope. Abraham was promised paternity not only over a nation but over a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:14). The prophets spoke of a coming age when:
The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3).
By divine promise, Abraham looked forward to a day when a multitude of families, clans, nations, and empires would call him “daddy,” inheriting his faith and serving his God. Jesus Christ, having finished His work of accomplishing salvation for His people, commissioned His apostles to preach the good news, not only to Abraham’s children according to the flesh, but to all nations of the earth (Matt. 28:18-19).
For two millennia, Christ’s gospel has been going forth and bringing spiritual and cultural transformation to the peoples, families, and nations of the earth. Families have been blessed and kings have rejoiced to humble themselves before the gracious reign of the King of kings.
God once challenged Abraham to count the stars of the sky and behold the profound multiplication of his children (Gen. 15:5-6). Happy are the children, both physical and spiritual, that share the faith of blessed father Abraham. Blessed is Abraham who boasts paternity among the Italians, the French, the Germans, the Dutch, the Scots, the English, the Nigerians, the Koreans, and every other people that has taken hold of the promises of the gospel offered in Jesus Christ.

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Remembering Sept. 11, 2001
W.H. Chellis

While a number of recent posts have been particularly critical of the President’s foreign policy, I believe a kind word should also be registered. As we respectfully morn the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, let us be thankful to the Lord for the good work of the President and our government at all levels who have, by the common grace of God flowing from the cross of Jesus Christ, preserved the safety of the American people in the face of an implacable and menacing enemy. Lest the name of that enemy fail to be named, let our lips boldly utter it. The enemy of the West is Islam.

May the West awake and realize that a battle of faith must be matched with an opposing faith. Woe to us if we awake to find that the faith of the West is Modernist liberalism and greedy consummerism. May the Lord Christ grant repentance to the West and may we rediscover the faith upon which our civilization stands.

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On Moses, Voegelin, De Mill, and Washington
Caleb Stegall

Lee, it’s about time Bill found a Voegelinian for this blog! I am enjoying your article. It is timely as well, as just last week I watched Cecil B. De Mill’s Ten Commandments with my kids. It struck me on watching that De Mill’s characterization was really Moses qua George Washington.

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On Grace and Nature…
W.H. Chellis

Darryl Hart writes:
“If you really think that grace perfects nature, then we may have finally arrived at the chief difference (at least for me). I don’t think Calvinism is compatible with that construction of grace and nature (H. Richard Niebuhr didn’t think so), nor am I sure about Augustinianism.”

Chellis responds:

I know that the grace perfects nature idea is not popular in our circles. Still it certainly has a prominent place within the Reformed tradition. Long before I had read anything from Aquinas, I read Samuel Rutherford say:
“neither civility nor grace destroyeth but perfecteth nature…” (Lex Rex, pg 68,)

Coffey notes,”Although written by a Calvinist, it [Lex, Rex] was in some ways a deeply Thomistic book… In several places he appealed to Aquinas’s classic maxim, ‘grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.’ This maxim is perhaps the key to Lex, Rex, because Rutherford insisted on the compatibility of natural reasons conclusions and God’s revelation in Scripture.”
Politics, Religion, and the British Revolutions, John Coffey, pg. 152-153

Richard Muller writes, “Given, moreover, that “nature and grace are not opposed,” there can be a Christian natural theology, one which, in Alsted’s view, is grounded in ‘reason, universal experience, and Holy Scripture.”
Post-Reformation Dogmatics,Vol. 1, pg. 280

Herman Bavinck suggests the problems with the radical division between nature and grace found in Roman Catholic theology and notes,
“And that, too, was what the Reformation wanted: Christianity that was hostile, not to nature but only to sin. Such a Christianity was not externally imposed in the name of an infallible church but was inwardly assumed in one’s conscience by a free personality. Thus, through this personality, it had a reforming and sanctifying effect upon natural life as a whole. We are far from having reached the ideal and will presumably never reach it in this dispensation. Still, it is full of fascination and beauty and worthy of being pursued with all our strength. Coming again into its own in the Reformation was the old adage: nature commends grace; grace emends nature.” Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pg. 362.

Bavinck’s English editor John Bolt writes, “Put more simply, the fundamental theme that shapes Bavinck’s entire theology is the trinitarian idea that grace restores nature.” pg. 18.

A. Hoekema, in his standard work The Bible and the Future, puts the matter in perspective:

“It is commonly thought by many Christians that the relationship between the present world and the new earth which is to come is one of absolute discontinuity. The new earth, so many think, will fall like a bomb into our midst. There will be no continuity whatever between this world and the next; all will be totally different.

This understanding, however, does not do justice to the teaching of Scripture. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between this world and the next. The principles involved is well expressed in words which were often used by the medieval theologians, “grace does not destroy but restores nature.” In His redemptive activity God does not destroy the works of His hands, but cleanses them from sin and perfects them, so they may finally reach the goal for which He created them. (pg. 73).

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