A Study Series in Heavenly Mindedness by Geerhardus Vos. 1
NOTE: Each post in this series is designed to be used for group settings as well as personal study and comes with theological questions for reflections and discussion.
ABRAHAM IN ROMANS, GALATIANS AND HEBREWS
Although all of these epistles are ultimately relaying the same vision of faith, the context of each letter displays a different aspect of faith. In the Pauline corpus, faith is connected to trusting in the saving grace of God unto Justification. Both in Romans, Galatians and in Hebrews, Abraham is set forth as the model of faith. In the Pauline corpus, Abraham serves the interest of the federal and forensic transaction which renders mankind in Adam righteous.
In Hebrews, the connection is broader and mainly eschatological. Naturally in Hebrews, Abraham’s story is more prominent because, his very pilgrimage was evidence of not only saving faith, but also of faith that was the “organ of apprehension of unseen and future realities” (p.110). While in Paul’s letters, faith is the instrument that lays hold of the righteousness of God (cf. Gal. 2.15-21; 3.6-14), in the book of Hebrews faith is the instrument by which invisible things become visible and tangible as it were.
This should not surprise us since Hebrews is saturated with the invisible things of God in types and shadows, all of which find a heavenly point of reference (cf. Heb. 8.5; Ex. 25.40). (see especially, Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, (Eerdmans, 1956) Chapter III).
- The tabernacle
- The priesthood
- The sabbath
- The land
- The city
JESUS THE TRAILBLAZING BELIEVER
As our trailblazer, Jesus is himself an example of a true “believer,” and that, as the believer par excellence. What we find in Jesus is a life that we can identify with because he has identified with us. He became like his brethren in everything (Heb. 2.17), he was tempted even as we are, yet without sin, and the Old Testament priests were types of this very thing (Heb. 5.1-4). Though they were sinfully weak, Jesus was sinlessly weak in the flesh and came only in the “likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8.3), again, “yet without sin” (Heb. 4.15). For this very reason, the sinless Son is our unfailing Intercessor (Heb. 7.25-26). Because he identifies with us in his entrance into the world, we can look to him as our example even as we fix our eyes on him as we make our way out of this world and into the next (Heb. 12.1-3).
The faith of Jesus was also obedient faith. Though Jesus did not need righteousness for himself, nevertheless, because he was righteous and pious, he has unbroken fellowship with God (Heb. 5.7). The sufferings of Christ were his pedagogy, even as he learned obedience through the things that he suffered (Heb. 5.8), a remarkable mystery! So too, believers today can learn from the example of Jesus to endure under a great ordeal of suffering, persecution and temptation (Heb. 10.36; 12.3). Hebrews casts a picture of this world in the imagery of the “wilderness”; we are in the wilderness of sin and what we need is perseverance and endurance (Heb. 10.36). And looking to Jesus and all who follow in his way, we hold fast to our own confession until the end (Heb. 12.1).
There are also some departures from the analogue of the faith of believers to Christ. One of those of course being the meritorious nature of Jesus’ faith/faithfulness. By remaining constant under trial, the Son earned our righteousness, citizenship and eternal life (cf. Heb. 12.23-24). His sacrifice perfects and prepares his people for their heavenly abode. This is the faithfulness of the Mediator whose blood is better than Abel!
However, we should always be mindful that Jesus’ obedient faith was not for the purpose of personal justification, forgiveness or righteousness, he had these things from the outset. Vos writes of the difference between faith for justification in “specific trust” for that end:
Faith in that other sense of specific trust, through which a guilty sinner becomes just in the sight of God, our Lord could not exercise, because He was sinless (p.110).
THE FAITH IN HEBREWS IS AN ESCHATOLOGICAL REALITY
Grace and Glory is perhaps most remarkable and unique because of Vos’ comprehensive grasp of the overarching teaching of Scripture and how everything in Scripture stands in perfect organic harmony to the plan and purpose of God in Christ. Heavenly Mindedness is perhaps the most penetrating example of this very thing in this small collection of sermons. As we consider how faith operates in Hebrews, over against Romans or Galatians in terms of faith as “the instrument of justification,” in Hebrews, faith is deeply eschatological. Just as an aside, of course this eschatological dynamism of faith is not lacking from the rest of the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor. 5.7):
Here in Hebrews the conception is wider; faith is “the proving of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for.” It is the organ for apprehension of unseen and future realities, giving access to and contact with another world. It is the hand stretched out through the vast distances of space and time, whereby the Christian draws to himself the things far beyond, so that they become actual to him. (p. 110)
Thus, even as Jesus’ faith was for the ultimate purpose that he might render a perfect sacrifice, he then went through the interdimensional portal of the “two registers” (Kline’s term), as Hebrews says, “a high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4.14). Even as Jesus lived in light of the things “not seen” and “another world”; so too believers, because of our union to him, share in this other-worldly vision by faith. This confirms the very heart of Christian faith, “I go prepare a place for you” (John 14.1-3). Even as the Father had prepared a place for him, at his right hand, so too, Jesus promises that we too, overcoming by faith alone (in keeping with Romans), are trusting for a future unseen reality that we too will sit on the Son’s glorious throne (in keeping with Hebrews) (cf. Rev. 3.21). What wonder! This is heavenly mindedness.
As Vos points out elsewhere, through faith, Jesus was able to transcend as it were, this world of suffering and death and “project” his soul into the future:
By very reason of the contrast between the higher world to which He belonged and this dark lower world of suffering and death to which He had surrendered Himself it could not be otherwise than that faith, as a projection of his soul into the unseen and future, should have been the fundamental habit of the earthly life of his human nature, and should have developed in Him a degree of intensity not attained elsewhere. (p.110-111)
This is Vos’ way of saying, the world has never seen such pure faith than that of Jesus’ own complete trust in the unseen realm that enabled him to rise above this dark world of sin, suffering and death. Consequently, those who are united to him by faith also are called unto the same pursuit of heavenly mindedness along the sojourn of life.
Colossians 3:1–2 1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
According to one Catholic scholar, Thomas Aquinas focused his deepest theological energy on eschatology. He mentioned Charles Taylor’s critique of modern culture as a kind of society that now is oriented purely on an “imminent frame.” That is, people lack an eschatological worldview. It is hard for us to be heavenly minded. There are all sorts of obstacles to this as well both from within and without the Church. Secular worldviews presents man with a mere materialistic orientation in life that consists of the things that we can purchase and use for personal consumption and personal satisfaction. Dominion theology calls us to strive for a “this worldly” philosophy of the gospel as well as eschatology that sees the world slowly improving. But scripture, and in particular in a very special way, the book of Hebrews often transcends the earthly plane and ultimately directs us to a heavenly vision at Christ’s right hand. The audience in Hebrews are facing real life circumstances, some of them dire as persecution was a constant reality (cf. Heb. 10.32ff.). Contrary to conventional wisdom, the author does not direct them toward the political realm, or social reform or the education system, activism, or the economy; the author of Hebrews directs God’s people to look not at the things that are seen but the things that are unseen, not at things that can be shaken, but at things that are unshakable (Heb. 12.25-29 cf. 2 Cor. 4.16-18). This simply brings out the teaching of the kingdom of God in Hebrews as consisting of spiritual union and communion with God now even as we await the arrival of the kingdom in all of its fullness at the consummation. As Vos will go on to show, this alone can give us a truly transcendent hope that penetrates beyond this world. From our perspective, we do not yet see all things visibly subject to him (Heb. 2.8), by faith we know they are.
Questions for Theological Reflection and Discussion
- What other differences can we find between Paul’s Letters in Romans and Galatians and the book of Hebrews?
- Why is Abraham so important for the life of the believer today?
- What is the proper relationship between the earthly and heavenly things? Do heavenly things reflect an earthly reality, or do earthly things reflect a heavenly reality? What other Scriptures support your position?
- How is Jesus’ faith exemplary for us in the book of Hebrews? What is the limitation between the faith of believes and Christ?
- What are the two kinds of faith that arise from Romans and Galatians on the one hand and Hebrews on the other? What references support each type of faith?
- What is apprehended by the faith which the book of Hebrews stresses?
1 Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached at Princeton Seminary (Banner of Truth Trust, ed. 2020). Heavenly Mindedness Ch. 9, pp.109-130.