Grace before Law

In the Bible, the form of covenant (in both the Old and New Testaments) is such that the indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation. “I have loved you, I have redeemed you . . . therefore, keep My commandments. . . .” But Judaism turned it the other way round. “If you keep the law, God will love you. If you keep the sabbath, the Kingdom of God will come”, etc. That is, the imperatives are made prior to the indicatives. The covenant has been turned into a contract, and God’s grace made conditional on man’s obedience. It is precisely against this inversion of the order of grace that Paul protests in Galatians 3:17-22. God made a covenant with Abraham, and although the law came four hundred and thirty years later (to spell out the obligations of grace) it did not suddenly introduce conditions of grace. It did not turn the covenant into a contract. To introduce conditions would be to break a promise.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):56

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Christ Our Priest

The doctrine of the continuing Priesthood of Christ [is one] without which it seems to me one cannot have an adequate theology of worship. Whatever else our worship is, it is our participation through the Spirit in the self-offering of Christ and the intercession of Christ. If there is one doctrine which more than any other characterised the theology of both Calvin and Knox, it was the doctrine of the sole Priesthood of Christ within His Church. It was in terms of this that they attacked the medieval concept of the priesthood, and interpreted prayer, communion, forgiveness, union with Christ and the Church as the Body of Christ.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):73

What Christ Is Doing

Worship is not so much something that WE do, but what CHRIST IS DOING and in which we are given to participate through the Spirit. He is the One mediator of all communion between God and man, who unites us with Himself in His communion with the Father as we sing our psalms and offer our prayer and praise and meet at the Table “in the name of Christ.” The great strength of the Church of Rome…is that she preserves the sense of mystery and objectivity in worship by the profound belief that Christ is exercising His Priestly ministry in the Mass. [Protestant] worship today is often far more Pelagian than anything in Rome, by its all too exclusive emphases on what WE DO.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):75-76

God’s Grace for Our Worship

The first view—probably the commonest and most widespread—is that worship is something which we do—mainly in church on Sunday. . . .

The only priesthood is our priesthood, the only offering our offering, the only intercessions our intercessions.

Indeed this view of worship is in practice unitarian, has no doctrine of the Mediator or Sole Priesthood of Christ, is human-centred, with no proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit, is too often non-sacramental, and can engender weariness. We sit in the pew watching the minister ‘doing his thing’, exhorting us ‘to do our thing’, until we go home thinking we have done our duty for another week! . . .

The second view of worship is that worship is rather the gift of participating through the Spirit in the (incarnate) Son’s communion with the Father —of participating, in union with Christ, in what He has done for us once and for all in His self-offering to the Father in His life and death on the Cross, and in what He is continuing to do for us in the presence of the Father, and in His mission from the Father to the world. . . .

The Gospel of grace, that our Father in the gift of His Son and the gift of the Spirit, gives us what He demands—the worship of our hearts and minds—lifting us up out of ourselves to participate in the very life of the Godhead. . . .

Whereas the first view can be divisive, in that every church and denomination “does its own thing” and worships God in its own way, the second is unifying, in that it recognises that there is only one way to come to the Father, namely through Christ in the communion of saints, whatever outward form our worship may take.

—James F. Torrance, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” in The Forgotten Trinity, 5-6

Da quod iubes, et iube quod vis. (“Give what You command, and command what You will.)

—Augustine, Confessions X.9

 

The Unique Center

I have long thought and taught that the right road into Christian theology is taken by reflecting on Christian worship in the light of the Bible. The Bible is supremely a manual of worship, but too often it has been treated, particularly in Protestantism, as a manual of ethics, of moral values, of religious ideas, or even of sound doctrine. When we see that the worship and mission of the church are the gift of participating through the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and the Son’s mission from the Father to the world, that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Heb. 3:1), the doctrines all unfold from that center.

—James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 9

Shared Communion

At the centre of the New Testament stands, not our religious experience, but a unique relationship between Jesus and the Father. No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him (Matt. 11.27; John 1.18, 17.25-26). This unique relationship is vividly described as one of mutual love, mutual self-giving, mutual testifying, mutual glorifying. Indeed, there is a oneness of mind between the Father and the Son, revealed supremely in the Cross, ‘to bring many sons to glory’ (Heb. 2.10), ‘that we might receive the adoption of sons’ (Gal. 4.5ff)—that we might be drawn by the Spirit into that unique life of shared communion.

—James F. Torrance, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” in The Forgotten Trinity, 10-11