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Geerhardus Vos: Grace and Glory

Danny E. Olinger

Geerhardus Vos wrote out his sermons in full manuscript form. At the top of the page of the start of each new sermon, he penciled in the date or dates when he preached it and the church or chapel in which he preached it.[1] In his last recorded sermon delivered at Princeton’s Miller Chapel on the Lord’s Day of October 12, 1913, he preached on the topic “Christ’s Deliberate Work” from Mark 10:45. Seventeen years earlier in 1896 at Miller Chapel, he preached on the topic “Our Holy and Gracious God” from Isaiah 57:15. During this period from 1896 to 1913, he preached a new sermon at Princeton, on average, once every fifteen months.[2]

It had to be a curious decision then to some that in 1922 the Reformed Press of Grand Rapids, Michigan, decided to publish Grace and Glory, a volume of six sermons that Vos had preached at Miller Chapel.[3] Not only did Vos rarely preach, he was not a native English speaker. He never pastored a church, and he did not lecture in the homiletics department at Princeton. And yet, Vos’s sermons in Grace and Glory gained a reputation among many as models of Christ-centered preaching.

Sinclair Ferguson in the “Introduction” to the expanded 1994 edition of Grace and Glory explained why he believed that Vos’s sermons were so valuable.[4] “[Vos] wishes to speak to his hearers about God. He wants to instill in them precisely the sense that God is gracious and God is glorious.”[5] Ferguson then added, “Nothing short of an eloquence which is both gracious and glorious will suffice him.”[6] The combination of these two qualities, penetrating biblical-theological understanding and soaring heights of eloquence, led Ferguson to exclaim that Vos’s sermons would have a stunning effect on the reader.

Still, Ferguson acknowledged that in a world obsessed with “sound-bites,” Vos’s sermons cannot be reduced to alliterated ten-minute homilies. Vos packed so much biblical content into his sermons that one might be tempted to ask, “What group of people—even of theological students—could have taken in the substance of any of these sermons at one hearing?”[7] Ferguson answered that, for those who follow Vos as spiritual mountaineers, there are life-changing panoramic views of the wonders of God. “Having been taken to such mountain peaks, the vision of God we have beheld in Scripture will produce in us a new and more holy and heavenly perspective on the whole of life.”[8]

Grace and Glory

In the minimalist fashion that was typical of Vos, there was no introduction or preface to the 1922 Reformed Press original edition of Grace and Glory. There was also no explanation on why Vos chose this title. It is reasonable to conclude that he drew it from Psalm 84:11, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” [9]

It is also likely that Vos deliberately selected and ordered the sermons in Grace and Glory to match the movement of the history of special revelation. Read consecutively, the sermons move from Old Testament (“The Wonderful Tree,” Hosea 14:8) to the Gospels of Matthew (“Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness,” Matthew 5:6), Luke (“Seeking and Saving the Lost,” Luke 19:10), and John (“Rabboni!” John 20:16), to the Pauline Epistle of 2 Corinthians (“The More Excellent Ministry,” 2 Corinthians 3:18), and conclude with the book of Hebrews (“Heavenly-Mindedness,” Hebrews 11:9–10).

The Wonderful Tree[10]

Although it appeared first in the ordering of the sermons in Grace and Glory, “The Wonderful Tree,” should not be considered Vos’s ideal sermon, but his foundational Old Testament sermon with its emphasis upon the covenantal nature of biblical religion. He declared that the Lord’s utterance in Hosea 14:8, “I am like a green-fir tree; from me is thy fruit found,” represents one of the two sides that comprise the covenant relationship, what God is for man. The other side of the covenant is what man is for God.

Hosea taught that “the possession of Jehovah himself by his people will be of all the delights of the world to come the chief and most satisfying, the paradise within the paradise of God.”[11] The great marvel, “the heart-miracle of all true religion, the great paradox underlying all God’s concern with us” is that the all-sufficient God, forever rich and blessed in himself, should give himself to fallen creatures without reserve.[12] The covenant relation into which it pleases God to receive Israel to himself “has in it a sublime abandon; it knows neither restraint nor reserve.”[13]

This redemptive self-communication of God is what Hosea had in mind in recording the promise of the text. Vos declared:

When Jehovah, entering into covenant with Israel, says, “I will be unto you a God, and ye shall be unto me a people,” this means infinitely more than the trite idea: henceforth ye shall worship me and I will cultivate you. It is the mutual surrender of person to person.[14]

What Hosea saw as in a glass darkly through the imagery of the green olive tree will one day resolve itself into the spiritual realities of the life to come. Then, “every sacrament shall fall away, and our fruition shall be of God within God; we shall at last be like him, because we know him as he is.”[15]

Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness[16]

In “Hungering and Thirsting after Righteousness” from Matthew 5:3, Vos challenged the liberal belief that Jesus taught a religion of ethics devoid of redemptive significance. The sermon caught the eye of his junior colleague at Princeton, J. Gresham Machen. In Machen’s personal copy of Grace and Glory, he penciled in margin notes throughout the sermon.[17] He took notice of Vos’s declaration that the Sermon on the Mount in liberal hands has become the creed of the creedless. Next to Vos’s statement, “Although the religious atmosphere in his day was surcharged with the notions of law-keeping and merit and retribution, there was lacking the vivid consciousness of God as a perpetual witness and interested participant in every moral transaction,”[18] Machen wrote, “Good.” When Vos said, “It is God’s inalienable right as God to impress his character upon us, to make and keep us reflectors of his infinite glory,”[19] Machen marked, “law as school master.”

Vos asked the rhetorical question whether the Lord could have meant that it was possible for the disciple by his own strength to attain righteousness. He answered, “No, not the possession of such a righteousness is characteristic of the members of the kingdom, but that they hunger and thirst after it.”[20] Machen penciled in next to the beginning of Vos’s answer, “not the possession” and at the end, “passion after.”

Machen also highlighted Vos’s statement that hungering and thirsting after righteousness lies in the birth of the conviction of sin. Vos emphasized that the beatitudes taught that believers are not received by Jesus into a school of ethics but into a kingdom of redemption.[21] The word that Jesus proclaimed was not to the self-satisfied. Rather, he spoke to the poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek and the hungry, namely, to those who are utterly dependent upon the grace of God.

Vos stated that sin must be undone if God is to remain the God of sinners. He concluded that, as Machen noted in his copy, the truth taught by Jesus leads directly to Paul’s doctrine of the atonement.

Machen also agreed with Vos that hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes a desire to exhibit the righteousness of discipleship in a sanctified life. God, and God alone, can produce this desire in the heart of man. No sinner can give it to himself. “If we feel it at all, to however slight a degree, it is from no other cause than that the love of God has found us, and the breath of the Spirit Creator has blown upon us, quickening us into newness of life.”[22]

The one who gives the thirst is the one who also provides the water. It is not the will of the Heavenly Father that any who sincerely seek after him shall perish unsatisfied. Since the sinner is devoid of all righteousness, this satisfying righteousness for the people of God must be provided from without. The chief of all blessings in the coming order of things, the new kingdom of God, is the gift of God of perfect righteousness. “What is true of the kingdom that no human merit can deserve, no human effort call it into being, applies with equal force to the righteousness that forms its center. It is God’s creation, not man’s.”[23] Machen wrote, “very important—the kingdom of God & righteousness.”

Vos proclaimed in finishing the sermon that Jesus alone fulfilled the law, and yet bore the curse that our sins deserved.

His human nature was an altar from which the incense of perfect consecration rose ceaselessly day and night. He submitted to the cross and endured the shame, not merely on our behalf, but first of all that not one jot or one tittle of the divine justice should fall to the ground.[24]

Through justification we are filled with the fullness of his merit. Through sanctification his holy character is impressed upon our souls.

On the last day the Lord Jesus shall satisfy himself in us by perfectly presenting us to God. “Then shall come to pass the word that is written: ‘They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.’ For we shall behold God’s face in righteousness and be satisfied, when we awake, with his image.”[25]

Seeking and Saving the Lost

In the third sermon, “Seeking and Saving the Lost,” from Luke 19, Vos focused on Jesus as Savior. Jesus entered Zacchaeus’s house and called Zacchaeus by name. Vos asked, “How many of us would have been saved, if the Lord had waited till we sought him out?”[26] Jesus pursues us until his grace and the sovereign power of his Word overtake us. “It is a call like the voice of God at the first creation, ‘Let there be light,” and there was light: ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must abide in thy house.’”[27]

Vos finished with two lessons that he believed future preachers should draw from this incident in Jesus’s life. The first lesson was the specialized character of the ministry of the Word. It should not be the promotion of the social gospel, but preaching Christ as the only remedy for sin. He proclaimed:

The goal of seeking and saving were for our Lord pronouncedly religious. Seeking and saving meant for him, before anything else, seeking and saving for God. It had no humanitarian or world-improving purpose apart from this. It began with the thought of God and ended there. For that he came. And at that we should aim.[28]

The second lesson was the specific religious task of saving, bringing Christ to men and men to Christ. It sounds simple, but it is a most delicate task to delineate

the face of Christ as to make him look out with his immortal Saviour-eyes straight and deep into the heart of sinners. Let your one concern be to bring the two together in the house where salvation is needed, and having led the Saviour in, go thou out and shut the door silently behind thee.[29]

Rabboni![30]

In the spring of 1904 Machen wrote his mother about hearing Vos preach about Jesus’s appearance to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection. Machen told her it was “one of the finest expository sermons I ever heard.”[31] The sermon was “Rabboni!” based on John 20. In it, Vos showed how the religious goal of communion with God as described in “The Wonderful Tree” has been realized through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the one and only Savior pictured in “Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness” and “Seeking and Saving the Lost.”

Vos said that ultimately the question that everyone must face is, “What does Christ mean to me?” If we know ourselves as guilty sinners, devoid of all hope and life in ourselves, then Jesus means everything for our pardon, peace, and strength. “Will it not sound like mockery in our ears if somebody tells us that it does not matter whether Jesus rose from the dead on the third day?”[32]

At the empty tomb, Mary told the angels that they have taken “my Lord,” which reveals a personal element. The angels “might hail him as their matchless King, but to Mary he was even more than this, her Lord, her Saviour, the one who had sought, saved, and owned her in her sins.”[33]

Raised from death, Jesus himself experienced the joy of entering an endless life in the possession of new power such as human nature had never known before. But, Vos observed what he did first. The risen Christ appeared to Mary, “a weeping woman, who had no greater claim upon him than any simply penitent sinner has.”[34]

With a single word, “Mary,” Jesus revealed himself, and Mary’s world was changed; she turned and said to him, “Rabboni!” Vos wrote that Mary “in that instant made the transition from hopelessness because Jesus was absent, to fullness of joy because Christ was there.”[35]

But, even in that unique moment, Jesus instructed Mary not to touch him. Jesus did not mean that touch was too close a contact to be henceforth permissible. Rather, Jesus meant that the provision for the highest, the ideal kind of touch had not been completed. The great event of which the resurrection of Jesus is the first step requires the ascension of Jesus to the Father. When that is accomplished, then every restriction will fall away and the desire to touch Jesus shall be fully gratified.

This is what Mary was to repeat to the brethren that they also might know this new life of glory. But, it was not just the brethren in Mary’s day. Vos exclaimed:

May we not suitably close our study by reminding ourselves that we too are included among the brethren to whom he desired these tidings be brought? Before this he had never called the disciples by this name, as he had never until now so suggestively identified himself with them by speaking of “your Father and my Father” and “your God and my God.” We are once more assured that the new life of glory, instead of taking him from us, has made us in a profounder sense his brethren and his Father our Father.[36]

In light of this reality, Vos commanded, “Let us not linger at the tomb, but turn our faces and stretch out our hands upwards into heaven, where our life is hid with him in God.”[37] It is from heaven that Jesus will come again to show himself to us as he did to Mary, that we might speak “Rabboni” in meeting our Savior in the early dawn of the eternal Sabbath that awaits the people of God.

The More Excellent Ministry[38]

In the fifth sermon, “The More Excellent Ministry,” based on 2 Corinthians 3, Vos explained the situation at Corinth, then the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and finally declared the superiority of Christ and those who minister in Christ’s name in the new day. At Corinth the opponents of Paul believed that he preached a Christ devoid of glory. Added to this accusation was a demand for a Messiah who in his make-up matched the palpable institutions of the Mosaic covenant.

What Moses stood for was glorious, but like the reflection of the glory on his face, it lacked permanence. Both Moses and Paul were aware of this. Moses put the veil on his face to hide the disappearance of the glory. In contrast Paul professed to minister with open face.

In redemptive history, every preparatory stage, as the Old Covenant was, can only understand its purpose in light of what fulfills it. “The veil of the Old Covenant is only lifted in Christ. The Christian standpoint alone furnishes the necessary perspective for apprehending its place and function in the organism of the whole.”[39] Tragically, when Israel came face-to-face with Jesus, the one true interpreter, the meaning of Moses’s words was veiled because their minds were blinded. Paul’s “entire task, both on its communicative and on its receptive side, can be summed up in his reflecting back the Christ-glory, caught by himself unto others. To behold Christ and to make others behold him is the substance of his ministry.”[40]

Vos declared that the enemies of Paul still confront the church but wear modern apparel. These modern enemies present a subtle form of legalism. They rob Jesus of his crown of glory, earned by the cross. Vos poetically exclaimed, “Oh the pity and shame of it, the Jesus that is being preached but too often is a Christ after the flesh, a religious genius, the product of evolution, powerless to save!”[41] He then implored his listeners, “Let us pray that it may be given to the church to repudiate and cast out this error with the resoluteness of Paul.”[42]

Heavenly-Mindedness[43]

Vos’s last sermon in Grace and Glory, “Heavenly-mindedness,” from Hebrews 11:9–10, set forth the biblical disposition of the believer. The Christian is a pilgrim who longs to be with God in heaven because that is where the risen Christ dwells bodily.

The Patriarchs exhibited this heavenly-minded type of faith. Knowing that they were the predestined inhabitants of the eternal city that had been prepared for them, the Patriarchs refused to build an abiding habitation on the earth as their goal. “The adherence to the tent-life in the sight and amidst the scenes of the promised land fixes the aspiration of the patriarchs as aiming at the highest conceivable heavenly goal.”[44]

The author of Hebrews holds the Patriarchs up as models, and yet what new Covenant believers possess in Christ is better. “To the saints of the New Covenant life and immortality and all the powers of the world to come have been opened up by Christ. The Christian state is as truly part and foretaste of the things above as a portal forms part of the house.”[45]

This hope in another world was planted by God in the soul of man. “Ever since the goal set by the covenant of works came within his ken, man carries with him in all his converse with this world the sense of belonging to another.”[46] But, it is the will of God that man works out his heavenly destiny on the basis of, and in contact with, the earthly sphere.

Still, the lower may never supplant the higher, for the heart of man calls for eternity. In words that revealed his poetic skill, Vos said:

A perfect communion in a perfect society is promised. In the city of the living God believers are joined to the general assembly and church of the first-born, and mingle with the saints of just men made perfect. And all this faith recognizes. It does not first need the storms and stress that invade to quicken its desire for such things. Being the sum and substance of all the positive gifts of God to us in their highest form, heaven is of itself able to evoke in our hearts positive love, such absorbing love as can render us at times forgetful of the earthly strife. In such moments the transcendent beauty of the other shore and the irresistible current of our deepest life lift us above every regard of wind or wave. We know that through weather fair or foul our ship is bound straight for its eternal port.[47]

Vos sounded the warning note that some in the Presbyterian Church had ceased to set their face towards the celestial city and aimed for the transformation of this world. Such a religion was bound sooner or later to discard all the supernatural resources available to it. Prophetically, Vos declared:

The days are perhaps not far distant when we shall find ourselves confronted with a quasi-form of Christianity professing openly to place its dependence on and to work for the present life alone, a religion, to use the language of Hebrews, become profane and a fornicator like Esau, selling for a mess of earthly pottage its heavenly birthright.[48]

Vos finished telling his hearers about the reality and joys of heaven. Faith deals with heaven as it exists. Hope seizes upon it as it will be in the end. Hope soars to the goal of God’s work in history, the finished heaven of redemption filled with the glory of Christ.

Heaven is the goal of redemption, religion being older than redemption. But, redemption is the summit of religion. The vision of God as God and the vision of God our Savior melt into one. “The life above will be a ceaseless coming to Jesus, the Mediator of a better covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than Abel. The Lamb slain for our sins will be all the glory of Emmanuel’s land.”[49]

The highest thing that can be said of the promised city above is that it is the city of God. He dwells in the midst of it, and this is ultimately why believers are heavenly-minded. Believers long to be with God in fullness. “A heaven that was not illuminated by the light of God, and not a place for closest embrace of him, would be less than heaven.”[50]

John DeWaard

When the Presbyterian Church of America was formed in 1936, one of its first leaders was John DeWaard, pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin.[51] In the December 12, 1936 issue of the Machen-edited Presbyterian Guardian, DeWaard encouraged ministers in the new church to follow Vos’s exegetically-based, Christ-centered preaching. Reflecting upon his time as a student at Princeton under Vos, DeWaard said that he loved Vos for teaching the students to love God’s Word and to proclaim that Word with joy. “We did not leave class with four or five outlines for sermons we could use in the pulpit later, but we did leave class with the desire to show the people what joy and pleasure there is in the study of the Word.”[52]

DeWaard acknowledged that “perhaps there is no one in our fellowship who can do what Dr. Vos succeeded so well in doing.”[53] But if the preachers in the new church could attempt to do the same thing in a small way, their spiritual lives would be enhanced. He concluded,

Unless by the help of the Holy Spirit we can send our people back to the Bible to see for themselves whether these things which we teach them are true, our building is in vain and our efforts will go down in history as an illustration of how men ought not to use the Holy Bible.[54]

Edmund Clowney

In 1961 Orthodox Presbyterian minister and Westminster Seminary professor Edmund Clowney published Preaching and Biblical Theology,[55] which advocated applying the biblical-theological insights of Vos to preaching.[56] Clowney defined biblical theology using Vos’s definition (“that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible”), then moved to questions of the authority of preaching, the perspective of preaching, and the relationship of biblical theology to the content of sermons. Clowney argued that the essential presuppositions of biblical theology “are the principles of revelation and inspiration claimed and assumed by the Bible itself. This is clearly seen and stoutly asserted by Geerhardus Vos in the introduction to his Biblical Theology.”[57]

Clowney recognized with Vos that the discipline of biblical theology could not rightly exist apart from a recognition of the objectivity of revelation. When critics deny the objectivity of revelation, they inevitably undermine theology in the name of history. Biblical theology, rightly understood, does justice to the unity of divine counsel and the diversity that recognizes the historical and progressive character of revelation.

According to Clowney, then, “the preacher who takes up Vos’s Biblical Theology for the first time enters a new world, a world which lifts up his heart because he is a preacher. Biblical theology, truly conceived, is a labor of worship.”[58] Clowney then added:

Beside Vos’s Biblical Theology should be set his little book of sermons, Grace and Glory. There we hear a scholar preaching to theological students (the sermons were delivered in Princeton Seminary), but with a burning tenderness and awesome realism that springs from the grace and glory of God’s revelation, the historical actualization of the eternal counsel of redemption.[59]

In his discussion of biblical theology and the character of preaching in the section, “The Time in Which We Preach,” Clowney affirmed Vos’s belief that believers living between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ are joined in the same redemptive setting, no matter how many years they might be separated in time and by the advancement of technology and culture.[60] Clowney illustrated this truth from the perspective of the Apostle Peter. By faith, Peter recognizes that, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “he stands in the new age, the time of fulfillment, the time of the coming in of the kingdom of God with power.”[61] This eschatological perspective, namely, that he ministers in the time of the ascended Christ with the power of Christ’s Spirit, gives both urgency and joy to Peter’s preaching.

But, most importantly for Clowney, biblical theology’s value as taught by Vos was that it centered preaching on its essential message, Jesus Christ. “Salvation is of the Lord, and the message of the gospel is the theocentric message of the unfolding of the plan of God for our salvation in Jesus Christ. He who would preach the Word must preach Christ.”[62]

Jay Adams

Jay Adams was not as complimentary of Vos’s preaching. Although Adams states that he does not wish to impugn the use of biblical theology as it helps the preacher avoid moralizing and makes a sermon Christian, he believes that Vos’s sermons lacked a proper application. In his book Truth Applied, he writes, “Conservative biblical-theological preachers, sailing in the wake of Geerhardus Vos, tend to ignore (or even oppose) the use of application in a sermon.”[63] Adams was even more forceful in “Reflections on Westminster Theology and Homiletics.” He states, “Vos’s Grace and Glory is an interesting and helpful volume, but what you find there are not sermons but excellent essays. Yet, there were students [at Westminster Seminary] who took this book as exemplary of what preaching ought to be.”[64] In a word, Adams saw Vos’s sermons as being Christ-centered, but not practical, and, thus, not really sermons at all.[65]

Adam’s complaint that Vos’s sermons lack application brings into view two prominent questions: 1) How did Vos understand the relationship of doctrine and practice in his preaching; and 2) What is “practical” in his preaching?

In “Running the Race,” his sermon on Hebrews 12:1–3, Vos addressed the relationship between exhortation and practical application in his opening words.[66] He declared:

These verses stand at the beginning of one of the five hortatory sections which are so characteristic of the Epistle to the Hebrews. There is perhaps no other book in the New Testament in which the two elements of theological exposition and practical application are so clearly distinguishable and yet so organically related as in this epistle.[67]

Vos lauded the writer to the Hebrews for keeping right doctrine and right practice together. “The writer never made exhortation a substitute for doctrine.”[68] This is why in Hebrews 5:12–13 the writer lamented the lack of spiritual progress of the Hebrew Christians. “He has just as much in mind their failure to make progress in the doctrinal apprehension of Christianity as the lack of development in the more practical province of their religious life.”[69]

It is clear from this passage in the sermon that Vos believed that failure in doctrine is failure in practice. The two are interrelated. The preacher, like the writer to the Hebrews, relies upon the inherent power of the truth to commend itself and work its way as applied by the Holy Spirit. The preacher knows that the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces the soul and becomes the judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

As Vos continued in the sermon, what he saw as “practical” for the believer from the text became clear. It was a heavenly-mindedness that sought the cultivation of one’s communion with the living God. As a runner would lay aside that which would endanger his success, so a “believer who has set his face towards the future, heavenly life must divest himself of every concern with the present world which would retard his steady progress towards the higher kingdom.”[70]

This does not mean that the Christian should be indifferent to his natural environment on the earth. What it does mean is the Christian should not have his portion in this present life in the same manner that the children of this world have it. The believer who casts his lot with the world and not with the spiritual world resembles the fornicator Esau who for a mess of pottage sold his birthright.

Charles Dennison

Charles Dennison commented on Adam’s complaint that Vos’s preaching lacked application. At root, according to Dennison, this was a complaint about Vos’s failure to promote cultural involvement in preaching. “Adams makes a transition from the neo-Puritan mindset to the laws of counseling to the laws by which you maintain new life,”[71] said Dennison. In that model, Vos’s redemptive-historical exegesis with its emphasis upon Christ and the heavenly, self-denial, and suffering, becomes an abstraction.

If Dennison was correct, then the question is not about Vos’s use of imperatives, or if his sermons had “application,” but the nature and form of the imperatives Vos did use. Dennison contended that Vos’s imperatives were run through the cross of Jesus Christ. Rather than promoting the transformation of society through activism, or therapy in which one learns to cope with life in this world, Vos urged believers to have the mind of Christ, looking not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Dennison also saw Vos’s understanding of Pauline eschatology as fueling Vos’s vigorous opposition to liberal theology’s approach to preaching and life. Liberalism’s disregard of the supernatural in Christianity made eschatology, in Vos’s words, “a large mountain of offense.” [72] This was reflected in preaching that was non-redemptive and thoroughly moralistic. Paul taught, however, that faith lays hold of the eschatological Christ as life-giving Spirit. The distinctiveness of Christianity as it is lived by those who embrace it comes from this connection with the realm of the Spirit, which is the supernatural realm.[73]

Even though Vos ceased preaching in 1913, he did not cease his opposition to the spread of liberal theology in the Presbyterian Church or at Princeton. That same year, however, brought Francis Patton’s retirement as president of the seminary. The question soon would become whether the institution thought the same way about the destructiveness of modern critical thought as Vos did.

Endnotes

[1] One of his sermon notebooks is in the Heritage Hall Archive of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

[2] In his last year at Princeton in 1931–1932, Vos preached a final time at Miller Chapel. According to student Ray Lindquist, “Prof. Vos took out of his Bible a pensioned manuscript, worn, torn and discolored. ‘Perhaps’ he said, ‘this sermon can be preached one more time.'” It was not recorded which sermon Vos preached. Letter, Ray Lindquist to Frederick W. Cassell, May 5, 1989. Geerhardus Vos, Box 3, Special Collection at Princeton Theological Seminary.

[3] Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory (Grand Rapids: Reformed, 1922).

[4] In 1994 the Banner of Truth Trust published an updated edition of Grace and Glory that included ten additional Vos sermons. Two sermons were from the book of Hebrews and two from 1 Corinthians. Single sermons were from the Psalms and the books of Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1994).

[5] Ibid., x.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., xi.

[8] Ibid.

[9] All biblical quotes from this point on are from the King James Version.

[10] At nearly 7,500 words, which if delivered at a rate of 100 words per minute would be a one-hour-and-fifteen-minute sermon, “The Wonderful Tree” is the longest published Vos sermon. It shares themes from his 1891 address, “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology” (in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos [Shorter Writings], ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. [Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980], 234–67]) and his 1898 article dealing with Hosea, “The Modern Hypothesis and Recent Criticism of the Early Prophets” (Presbyterian and Reformed Review 9, no. 34 [1898]: 231–38).

[11] Vos, Grace and Glory (1994), 3.

[12] Ibid., 4.

[13] Ibid., 5.

[14] Ibid., 9.

[15] Ibid., 24.

[16] “Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness” and the sermon which followed, “Seeking and Saving the Lost,” recount many of the themes that can be found in Vos’s 1903 book, The Kingdom of God and the Church.

[17] The copy is in the Montgomery Library of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

[18] Vos, Grace and Glory (1922), 44.

[19] Ibid., 46.

[20] Ibid., 49.

[21] In his book Christianity and Liberalism, Machen expanded upon the truth that the redemptive precedes the ethical in Christianity. He wrote, “Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity—liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.” J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 47.

[22] Vos, Grace and Glory (1922), 54.

[23] Ibid., 55.

[24] Ibid., 56.

[25] Ibid., 57.

[26] Vos, “Seeking and Saving the Lost,” Grace and Glory (1994), 52.

[27] Ibid., 53.

[28] Ibid., 64–65.

[29] Ibid., 65–66.

[30] In the original Grace and Glory it was the shortest sermon at 4,480 words. Vos’s daughter Marianne said that this was her father’s Easter sermon. Interview, Marianne Vos Radius by Charles G. Dennison, February 27, 1992, at the Raybrook Assisted Living Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Archives of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

[31] See Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen (Willow Grove, PA: OPC Committee for the Historian, 2004), 52. Interestingly, twenty years later Machen was thinking again about Vos and preaching. In Machen’s sermon manuscript, “Church of the Living God, pillar and ground of Truth,” preached at Princeton’s Miller Chapel on March 30, 1924, Machen wrote, “The church of Christ is here described in exalted terms; but it is not regarded here or elsewhere in the New Testament, as an end in itself; on the contrary it is regarded as an agency for the propagation of the gospel.” Machen added in the margin, “Vos says this is wrong.” Archives of Westminster Theological Seminary. Thanks to Eric B. Watkins, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine, Florida, for this reference.

[32] Vos, Grace and Glory (1994), 71. Vos preferred to use the first person plural pronouns “we” and “us” when preaching. In the six sermons in Grace and Glory, he used “we” an average of forty times per sermon and “us” an average of twenty-six times per sermon. In the same sermons, he used the pronoun “you” an average of three times per sermon.

[33] Ibid., 74–75.

[34] Ibid., 75–76.

[35] Ibid., 78.

[36] Ibid., 80.

[37] Ibid.

[38] “The More Excellent Ministry” shared many of the same themes as Vos’s 1912 article, “The Eschatological Aspects of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit” (in Biblical and Theological Studies, faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary [NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912]) and his 1930 book, The Pauline Eschatology (repr., Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1979).

[39] Ibid., 91–92.

[40] Ibid., 94.

[41] Ibid., 102.

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Heavenly-mindedness” reflected Vos’s insights from the Epistle to the Hebrews that can be found in his 1907 article “The Priesthood of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews” and his 1915 article “Hebrews, The Epistle of the Diatheke” in Shorter Writings.

[44] Geerhardus Vos, “Heavenly-mindedness,” in Grace and Glory (1994), 109.

[45] Ibid., 111.

[46] Ibid., 113.

[47] Ibid., 114.

[48] Ibid., 119.

[49] Ibid., 122.

[50] Ibid., 122–23.

[51] The Presbyterian Church of America was renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939.

[52] John J. DeWaard, “Higher Ground,” Presbyterian Guardian 3, no. 5 (December 12, 1936): 97.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Edmund P. Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961).

[56] In his 2003 book, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway), Clowney revealed in part how he was introduced to Vos and biblical-theological preaching. He wrote, “Before Geerhardus Vos at Princeton Theological Seminary brought into American Calvinism the history of redemption and revelation, classical Reformed theology used separate proof-texts to establish biblical doctrines. John Murray at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, however, had studied under Vos at Princeton. Murray taught a course in biblical theology. He proceeded through the periods of the history of redemption; creation to fall; fall to flood; flood to the call of Abraham; Abraham to Moses; Moses to Christ” (17). Clowney and Murray’s colleague at Westminster, Cornelius Van Til, also advocated preaching in a biblical-theological way along the lines of what Vos promoted. See, John R. Muether, Cornelius Van Til (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 215.

[57] Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, 13.

[58] Ibid., 19.

[59] Ibid.

[60] The classic expression of this in Vos’s teaching is found in the Biblical Theology where he declared, “Still, we know full well that we ourselves live just as much in the New Testament as did Peter and Paul and John.” Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 1987), 303.

[61] Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, 66.

[62] Ibid., 74. Dennis Johnson and Eric B. Watkins have built upon Clowney’s advocacy of redemptive-historical preaching in a Vosian manner in their respective books, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007) and The Drama of Preaching (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016).

[63] Jay E. Adams, Truth Applied (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 20–21.

[64] Jay E. Adams, “Reflections on Westminster Theology and Homiletics,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, ed. David VanDrunen (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 263.

[65] For a helpful analysis of Adam’s preaching methodology, see Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim, Kindle location 688–809.

[66] “Running the Race” was published in the 1994 edition of Grace and Glory. Consequently, it appeared after Adams’s remarks in Truth Applied in 1990, but before his chapter “Reflections on Westminster Theology and Homiletics” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine in 2004.

[67] Vos, “Running the Race,” in Grace and Glory (1994), 124.

[68] Ibid., 124.

[69] Ibid., 125.

[70] Ibid., 131.

[71] Comments to author, May 22, 1994.

[72] Vos, Pauline Eschatology, vii.

[73] Comments to the “Vos Group” meeting in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, May 17, 1993.

Danny E. Olinger is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, November 2017.

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