Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Christ's Face a "Very Present Pledge of Salvation"

“...we lack nothing for an abundance of all good things and for assurance of salvation so long as the Lord is our God. And rightly so! For if his face, the moment that it has shone forth, is a very present pledge of salvation, how can he manifest himself to a man as his God without also opening to him the treasures of His salvation? He is our God on this condition: that he dwell among us, as he has testified through Moses [Lev. 26:11]. But one cannot obtain such a presence of him without, at the same time, possessing life. “ -John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, CH. X, Section 8.

Here is another surprising (for me) little meadow opening up in Calvin's prose, a familiar theme, one that should be familiar I think to every Christian: the face of Christ. It is hard for me to imagine a person truly looking into Christ's face in comprehension and yet thinking there might be others of equal value. I am forced by love to think of their minds as darkened.

The present intimacy with Christ cannot really be sectioned off. But I think there is a place for contemplation of the future and of the past within this present intimacy. The past in seeking to allow God to shape your life into a story worth telling, the future in memento mori, etc. both to clear up one's judgment and thereby clear up the capacity to see Christ.

Calvin's reflection from Scripture on the Christ's face as the very present pledge of salvation is hymned in a beautiful poem by John Donne, one of the peaks of the English language:

by John Donne

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
    Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
    And do run still, though still I do deplore?
        When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
                    For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
    Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
    A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
        When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
                    For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
    My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
    Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
        And having done that, Thou hast done ;
                    I fear no more.

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