Spurred on by Hebrews; Gearing up for Institutes

What a great book Hebrews is. I just finished reading through Hebrews while using F.F. Bruce’s commentary on the epistle as a study guide (my first-ever commentary). Though it took me a few months to finish, it was an edifying, challenging, and helpful study. I can now confidently say that Hebrews is near the top of my favourite books of the Bible.

One thing that I loved about Hebrews is its format and sublime, coherent argument. It’s pretty much a sermon in written form, and is rich with theological truths, exposition of Old Testament passages, exhortations, and prayer. If I ever went into the pastorate, I would be very tempted to read/preach the entire book as a sermon, since it’s already pretty much in that form and would take less than an hour. Themes that come up again and again are those of Christ as mediator, the primacy of the new covenant initiated by Christ’s finished work compared to the old covenant, the supremacy of Christ in all things, warnings against apostasy or “coasting”, and encouragement to continued perseverance in faith modeled after those who have gone before us.

Some of the many key passages for me include these excerpts (click the links to read full passages):

2:1-4: Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it….

4:12-16: …For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin…

9:13-15: …how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God…

10:23-36: …let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings…Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance…

13:20-21: Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

Further, I really appreciated Bruce’s closing paragraph to his commentary:

“Christians are Christians by virtue of certain acts of God which took place at a definite time in the past, but these acts of God have released a dynamic force which will never allow Christians to stick fast at any point short of that divine rest which in this life is always a goal to be aimed at and never a stage which has been reached. The faith once for all delivered to the saints is not something which can be caught and tamed; it continually leads the saints forth to new ventures in the cause of Christ, as God calls afresh…To continue to follow a certain pattern of religious activity or attitude just because it was good enough for our fathers – these and the like are temptations which make the message of Hebrews a necessary and salutary one for us to listen to…As Christians survey the world today, they see very much land waiting to be possessed in the name of Christ; but to take possession of it calls for a generous measure of that forward-looking faith which is so earnestly urged upon the readers of this epistle…So in a day when everything that can be shaken is being shaken, let us give thanks for the unshakable kingdom which we have inherited, which endures forever when everything else to which men and women may pin their hopes disappears and leaves not a wrack behind.” (p. 392)

For the rest of the year/semester, I’m going to stick to my fall list, while taking a break from the harder, denser study tools like commentaries. Once the new year rolls around though, I want to try to tackle another ambitious project: John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. My home church, gave me the Institutes as a college graduation gift, and I haven’t opened them since other than as a quick reference.

According to an article from Ligonier Ministries, the two volume, 80 chapter, 1,500+ page work can be read in less than a year if read at a pace of four subsections per day (4-5 pages each day). Ligonier also offers the advice that this work is intimidating, but not as difficult as it may seem. Indeed, “many things that are worthwhile are difficult, and those who do pass up this work because of its size are missing the opportunity to sit at the feet of one of the church’s great teachers.”

The Institutes are broken into four books: the first discusses God, Scripture, and revelation; the second discusses the fall, the law, the incarnation, and the atonement; the third discusses faith and the Christian life; and the fourth discusses the sacraments and the church [source: Ligonier]. Knowing my good and bad reading habits, reading the Institutes straight through would be impossible, so I’m aiming to read one book at a time, broken up by other lighter studies. Anyone care to join in the fun? I won’t be blogging through the Institutes, but would love accountability and/or reading companions.

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One thought on “Spurred on by Hebrews; Gearing up for Institutes

  1. Joel, I like that you read through Hebrews with a quality commentary in hand. So often we just rely on our own impressions and don’t take full advantage of good study tools God has provided for us. I think that’s great. The Institutes… Hmmm…

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