But what need is there of many words? “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge lay hidden in Christ” (Col. 2). Why should a Christian preacher seek wisdom in other histories and in supplementary books, without displaying those riches and that treasury of God which are Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom all things are gathered together into one?
Some desire to say a great deal about the Almighty God, while not speaking about Jesus Christ, but that is unfruitful, since God constantly declares Himself in His acts, and made Himself plainly known by sundry traits and signs, as in Paradise through the tree of life, and likewise after the fall of Adam, when He spoke of the seed of the woman, and in regard to Abraham when He acted to lead him out of Ur of the Chaldees. Or when He spoke to His servant and to His servant’s offspring, declaring Himself to be the God and Lord of Abraham, and afterwards spoke to the people of Israel as being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the wilderness and then in the land, He made Himself known as the God who led us out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage, and who made the covenant with us on Mount Horeb. It was on account of this covenant that the ark of testimony, the temple, and the city of Jerusalem were called by the name of God the Lord, for through these signs He became known. Thus God at all times was declared, though it was with obscurity, by means of various works of grace and definite acts or signs. Today the true Christian knows Him with clarity, certainty, and without mistake, through the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the preacher of Christ must and should give the light of the knowledge of the resplendence of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ, and not outside of or without Christ (2 Cor. 3). For any knowledge of God which Christ has not built decays and slips from our hands, as Cicero relates of Simonides, who discovered, through his diligent reflection and investigation as to who God might be, that such reasoning left him with less understanding of God than he had at the start. The Jews also, with their reliance on the dead letter and the ark of the covenant, are today without the knowledge of God, the ark being no more. Now there is a new symbol and sign in which God appears, in that He has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ. Heretofore, the cover of the ark was called the mercy seat, but now Christ Himself is the true mercy seat, by whom we hear God speaking to us in mercy, making us confident, and by whom we have an assured access to the Father, as Jeremiah has testified. “They shall say no more, the ark of the covenant of the Lord, neither shall such speech come to mind, neither shall they remember it. But Jerusalem shall be called the throne of God.” There the prophet speaks of the kingdom of Christ, and of the heavenly Jerusalem which is free, where God dwells in the hearts of the elect. From this it follows that in this time of grace, God the Father is not truly known except in the Head and His members, that is, in Christ and those who believe in Him. In Christ, grace has also come to the Gentiles, who through Him partake of grace without the law, by His divine blood and the inward operation of the Holy Spirit.1
One benefit of working through this early Reformed confession is to put the lie to the notion that Swiss Reformed theology was Christless or moralistic. This confession is nothing if not oriented around the person and work of Christ. A second benefit is to notice how these Reformed pastors and theologians wanted the churches to think about and to teach the faith. The first line of the second paragraph is telling, “[s]ome desire to say a great deal about the Almighty God, while not speaking about Jesus Christ…”. This might describe Zwingli himself, who, in one defense of divine sovereignty (a truth to be defended), appealed to Qur’an but did not mention Christ. There have been some who have fallen into the caricature of Reformed theology, building their entire theology out of deductions from the truth of divine sovereignty. None of our major theologians and certainly none of our confessions has ever done this but this is the picture that many have had (and some continue to have) of Reformed theology.
The Synod of Bern was an ecclesiastical assembly and reflects what the churches, as institutions, were willing to say. Thus, official ecclesiastical speech should be given more weight when assessing the Reformed theology, piety, and practice than is often done. Simply because some popular theologian calls himself Reformed (but has no actual Reformed ecclesiastical affiliation, has subscribed no actual Reformed confession, and likely is not eligible for membership in an actual Reformed congregation) does not make him an indicator or arbiter of Reformed theology, piety, and practice.
Notice how the Synod reads the history of redemption. It is unfruitful to speak about God without reference to Christ because it is unfaithful what what actually happened in the history of redemption and because it does not accurately reflect the way Scripture speaks. In progress of revelation, we now know clearly what was indicated through types and shadows: ” Thus God at all times was declared, though it was with obscurity, by means of various works of grace and definite acts or signs. Today the true Christian knows Him with clarity, certainty, and without mistake, through the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Word was operating in redemptive history before the incarnation. The same Word who revealed God in the garden, who was with the church in the wilderness, who saved the church out of Egypt, became incarnate. There is one Savior and one covenant of grace in multiple administrations. This way of reading Scripture is foreign to many evangelicals, particularly to Dispensationalists, who are apt to see national Israel as the center of Scripture rather than to see the Word as the focus of Scripture.
Further, our hermeneutic, our way of reading Scripture, results in a certain practice: “Therefore, the preacher of Christ must and should give the light of the knowledge of the resplendence of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ, and not outside of or without Christ (2 Cor. 3).” The section that follows reminds me of what my homiletics professor, Derke Bergsma, used to say (I think learned this from R. B. Kuiper): men, if a rabbi or an imam could preach your sermon, you have failed. That is a good test. We are Christians. Our message should be distinctively Christian and Christ-oriented.
The Synod of Bern encourages us to read the history of redemption as the New Testament does, in light of Christ, as Christ-focused. These articles encourage us to preach and teach in light of the reality as it has been revealed, in Christ.
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- Is There An Apostolic Hermeneutic And Can We Imitate it?
- New Audio Online: Bob Godfrey on Christ-Centered Christianity
- Preaching Christ According to the Confession of Bern (1532)
- What The Reformed Can Learn From A 1532 Synod
- What The Reformed Can Learn From A 1532 Synod: God Should Be Preached Only As He Is Known In Christ
- What The Reformed Can Learn From A 1532 Synod: Christ Is Our Only Hope
- Office Hours Season 6: To Know Wisdom
- Office Hours: Dennis Johnson On The Treasury Of God’s Wisdom
- Free E-Book: The Treasury Of God’s Wisdom
- Office Hours Season 6: To Know Wisdom
1. James T. Dennison Jr., ed. Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: 1523–1693, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008–14), 235–36.