Alumni Interview: Brian Lee Part 4
6. What insights have you gained from your study of Cocceius?
Incorporating unity, progress, and diversity in our understanding of the covenants is key to reading the Bible, because it puts Christ and the cross at the center of the story.
The redemptive historical unity and unfolding of the Bible was one of the great revelations of my time of study at Westminster; I felt like the scales fell from my eyes in virtually every biblical lecture. And Cocceius and the story of covenant in the early Reformed tradition shows that this redemptive historical perspective is essential to the Reformation’s turn ad fontes, to the sources of our faith in Scripture. It is essential in a crucial sense to the Gospel. I’m convinced that this insight sets Westminster California apart from every other seminary out there, and it is a reflection of its fidelity to the Word of God and the Scriptures.
Another insight is the crucial apologetic value of the contrast between Law and Gospel. Cocceius is a highly polemical theologian, arguing constantly against his unholy trinity of theological opponents: Socinians (unitarians), Papists, and Jews (which by the way runs contrary to our stereotypes of biblical theologians being meek and mild peacemakers and systematicians as dogmatic polemicists). Cocceius saw that all three of these groups in their own way denied the redemptive significance of Christ and the cross, and as a result flattened or misconstrued the true contrast between redemptive history before and after his coming. So Rome proposes salvation by a sacrificial system, fundamentally unchanged from the Old Testament, and Jews believe that the Law of the Old Testament is sufficient to save, and Socinians (radical Arminians, really) held that we were saved by the moral instruction and example of Christ. All three groups failed to grasp the contrast between Law and Gospel, which is in part the contrast between Moses and Christ. Why should a Jew become a Christian, Cocceius asks, if the Old Testament contains everything they need? Why should Rome abandon their ceremonies?
And this results in Cocceius’s most radical and most controversial insight, expressing the contrast between the way Old and New Testament saints experienced justification by highlighting the New Testament terms “paresis” and “aphesis,” or “passing over” vs. “forgiveness” (Rom 3:25, Heb. 10:18). The promise of justification is the same from Genesis to Revelation (unity), but the saints under the law lived with a slave-like fear of death and punishment that is altogether absent from New Testament saints (diversity, cf. Heb. 2:15). His Reformed brethren (Gisbert Voetius, et al) sought such a distinction was crazy, and this is why President Godfrey joked that Cocceius was a proto-dispensationalist. I think it is remarkably insightful and probably biblical… and extremely useful in our evangelistic and homiletic undertakings. When we promise the OT promise and NT fulfillment of the cross, we must grasp the contrast between these two epochs, or we fail to account for its significance.
Importantly, Cocceius grasps that adequately accounting for progress and diversity is key to defending the unity of the Scriptures. The unity is found in the progress, because the unity is found in Christ. In his preface to his Hebrews commentary, he says “What shall we say to our opponents, that two is one?” The great Reformation insight into the unity of the Scriptures only bears fruit when the diversity is accounted for.
7. Do you have a favorite quote(s) from Cocceius?
My favorite quote from my doctoral studies is not from Cocceius, but Francis Junius (1545 – 1602), who by the way is a remarkable figure on the cutting edge of redemptive historical thought and deserving of further study:
“Christus via, veritas, et vita: quid igitur Christianus, nisi viator in veritate contendens ad vitam? Beatus servus ille quem Dominus ipsius invenerit ita facientem.”(Leiden, 1598)
“Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. What, therefore, is a Christian, unless a traveler in the way of truth contending for life? Blessed is the servant whom the Lord finds doing these things.”
“Pilgrims on the way of truth contending for life” is a beautiful way to think of our Christian life, especially when it is grounded in our Savior being the way, the truth, and the life.
Probably my favorite Cocceius quote illustrates his insistence that the fullness of the benefits of justification aren’t experienced until the coming of Christ, and it comes down to this, that “The members have nothing, unless it is in their head” (from Moreh nebochim, §78). And the context is Cocceius saying that we believers and members of Christ don’t possess anything unless Christ our head possesses it. If Christ is perfected by his sufferings to be our savior, then there is a real difference in the blessings of the saints before and after his coming; Old Testament saints didn’t experience the perfection of their sufferings until Christ did. This is a central argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the reason why the term “perfection” or “consummation” plays such a key role in that book. And this explains the great longing and expectation Old Testament saints had for their Messiah, and the great comfort and satisfaction New Testament saints have in resting in his completed work. If we deny this contrast, we actually deny a key aspect of our comfort.