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?


  1. love that. "no infusion of righteousness, his has become ours. We are joined to him. We will have him, and see him"

  2. Love it. Note that Sibbes' language (quoted at the end) is less of a dichotomy than your post title! Or take a poet's tension:

    Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for, you
    As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
    That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
    Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
    I, like an usurp'd town, to'another due,
    Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end.
    Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
    But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue,
    Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
    But am betroth'd unto your enemy:
    Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
    Take me to you, imprison me, for I
    Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

    John Donne (1572-1631)

  3. I know but dichotomys are good for. provoking discussion..

  4. The more I hear this the more it makes sense. God who is merely a lord or a judge or ultimately powerful, or most passionate about himself ends up, as Reeves put it 'with a whopping PR problem'. You don't have to be trained to speak of the lover God. His love, when grasped so moves and affects us that we speak out of the overflow of it.

    The clash of my self-love/pride with the relentless fire of his love for me as he refuses to be spurned for another often feels more like hammer and anvil than wax and flame . . . John Donne might have a point.

  5. Increasing espousal theology and Union with Christ are precious to me. Thank you for that.

    I'll add my little caveat too, even though Donne and Rosemary say it better than me: "poet's tension"... wonderful.

    The dichotomy of the title shuck me a little too. A beautiful novel on pastoral ministry by the Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz is called "the Hammer of God", and that came to mind as soon as I read the title of your post. Nobody is sure why he called his book that as "the hammer" is never explicitly referenced in the novel, but I think they believe that it comes from Jer 23:29:

    "Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?"

    Dichotomys are good for provoking discussion, but that is because they force you to pick a side. Sometimes that's good, but sometimes it divides doctrines and Christians which should be held together. Both sets of doctrine and both sets of Christians suffer as a result.

  6. It was just a title, and intended to be a way into what Frost wrote, which obviously comes out more balanced. Though the Knight quote doesn't pit lover vs. lord, it does put melt vs. hammer.