March 27, 2002


Category: Theology - Soteriology :: Permalink

This evening, after teaching a couple of catechism classes, I read C. Trimp’s “The Promise of the Covenant,” in Unity in Diversity: Studies Presented to Prof. Dr. Jelle Faber On the Occasion of His Retirement. Trimp starts his short essay this way:

There is something unusual about the word “promise.” In our daily conversations “promise” usually means the pledge to do something in the future. But for the reformers of the 16th century the word had a different meaning. For them, the expression “God promises” did not primarily point to a future act. Rather, they understood it to mean God speaking in the present: God proclaims the good tiding, the gospel of the acquittal in Jesus Christ. God’s proclaiming is a speaking with a promise…. At the moment of this address the salvation of Christ comes to us, yes, God Himself comes to us with salvation. Hence our custom of speaking about “salvation in the form of promise”…. By this we do not mean that we obtain salvation in the future only. What we do mean is that the salvation of God reaches our heart and life by means of God speaking to us.

Trimp then spends some time on Luther’s view of the promise before moving to the Heidelberg Catechism. In Q&A 22 of the Catechism, we say that a Christian must believe “all that God promises us in the gospel,” which is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. Trimp writes:

It is evident that these articles speak about the deeds God performed in the past and performs in the present. Nevertheless, the articles summarize the “promises of the gospel.” For each of the twelve articles discusses the love of God towards His people. In this case “promise” comprises the meaning of the history of redemption in light of the salutary significance for the congregation and its members. The fact that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary may rightly be called the fulfilment of many promises (cf. also answer 19). Yet this fact is in turn a “promise” for the congregation, and question 36 deals with this promise.

So too the Catechism’s discussion of baptism speaks about God’s promises in connection with what God has done, is doing, and will do.

Trimp makes an important point: when we speak about the covenant promise, we aren’t speaking strictly of something God will do in the future. God pledges that past events too are for us. He gives us all Christ’s riches in the form of promises which He wants preached to His people: not “this will be yours someday if…” but “this is what God has done in Christ for you.” It’s too bad that his discussion is so brief!

Posted by John Barach @ 12:21 am | Discuss (0)

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