Thursday, March 15, 2012

On This We Rest Our Hope - Happy Birthday Leon Morris

Leon L. Morris, the late principal of Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia, was born 98 years ago today (March 15, 1914) in Lithgow, New South Wales.  My first introduction to the methods of Biblical Theology were in a NT Theology class in which we used Morris's New Testament Theology (Zondervan, 1990).  I have used lessons learned in that class to this day with great profit along with a handful of his books and commentaries.

In honor of Morris's birthday, I selected an article from Robert Bradshaw's bibliography on his website,  The article I read to day is The Wages of Sin. Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1954. London: The Tyndale Press, 1954.  

Morris begins his lecture by arguing that the mere acknowledgment of death as "the normal end of our fleshly existence" is not enough.  There is more.  He continues, "This 'more' is closely linked with man's sin [and] runs through the New Testament.  Death is not only an event, it is a state."  In short, the NT views death as "an unnatural evil as well as a biological necessity" and as "an enemy."

From this point, Morris organizes the NT data under four major headings: 1) The Enemy, 2) The Enemy Territory, 3) The Enemy in Battle, and 4) The Enemy Defeated, followed by a Conclusion.  

I'd like to offer a few highlights from my reading.

I. The Enemy
  • Death is personified in the NT as "a reigning monarch."
  • "Death and sin have a close liaison..."
  • "[Man] is not a free agent who can determine whether he will die or not.  Physically he is condemned to death and spiritually he is already dead."
II. The Enemy Territory
  • Death and sin
    • "Man dies, not simply as a body, but in the totality of his being, as a unity with physical and spiritual aspects." 
    • "[I]t is impossible to take up a position which affirms 'Death is biologically necessary, but theologically it is not inevitable'; for our theology and our science should not contradict one another."
    • "[P]hysical death is perhaps the most spectacular consequence of sin, but the really important thing is that man is now introduced into a different sphere spiritually as well as physically.  The stamp of death is on all of his life."
    • "[D]eath is the ineluctable consequence of sin, so that it is impossible for sin to exist without death as its corollary."
    • "Where sin reaches its fulfillment, there is death."
  • Death the divine penalty for sin (This section brought a lot of clarity to my thinking on the relation of God to death.)
    • "[D]eath and sin are connected by divine appointment, so that we are to discern the hand of God in the death which is visited upon the sinner."
    • "It is due to God that death is the penalty of sin."
    • "It is important to be clear on this. While, as we saw earlier, from one point of view the connection between sin and death is the most natural thing in the world, yet that is not the whole story. There is not simply an automatic process, for the hand of God is in it all. Death is the penalty decreed by Him. This means that the sinner’s plight is not hopeless as it would be if he were caught in the vortex of remorseless cosmic laws, or involved in some grim sequence governed by an inexorable fate. If death is God’s penalty, life is His gift."
  • The nature of death
    • "To live with a concern primarily for the things of the flesh, to live without love is to live at enmity with God. And this is death."
  • The second death
    • "[D]eath's territory is as wide as sin is co-extensive with the human race.  It remains to notice that it extends through time and beyond..."
    • "[T]he second death is not mere quiescence or sleep, but a painful evil, something to be feared and avoided."
III. The Enemy in the Battle
  • "The Bible is interested in life rather than death, and death must be thought of not so much as having existence in its own right as being the negation of eternal life, the life which is proper to man."
  • "Deliverance from death is associated with the death of Christ."
  • "J. K. Mozley has a truer insight when he says ‘It is not true that the New Testament speaks with many unharmonious voices on the death of Christ. One thought recurs again and again: that death is God’s answer to and settlement with sin; in Christ shedding His blood for the remission of sins, bearing sins, putting away sins, made sin, we are brought to the moral centre of things where the supreme righteousness of God is manifested, and God justifies Himself for ever’." (The Heart of the Gospel, p. 38.)
  • "His death is our death, and we may be said to have died in Him."
  • "The death of Christ, then, appears as a great battlefield with the conflict between God on the one hand, and sin and death and all the powers of evil on the other. While the New Testament does not give a detailed explanation of the conflict, it makes it clear that in His death Christ was waging decisive war with death. By death He overcame death, and those who are His are associated with Him in His death, so that what that death achieved, it achieved for them."
IV. The Enemy Defeated
  • "But the resurrection of our Lord is the great event on which the whole New Testament turns, and it marks a signal and complete victory over the enemy. He died, as all men must, but on the third day He rose triumphant over all the powers of death and hell."
  • "It is an integral part of His resurrection triumph that He not only broke free from the prison house but became possessed of the keys, so that His own are no longer to be bound there.  This is emphasized in the biblical insistence that everlasting life is to be understood in terms, not of the immortality of the soul, but of the resurrection of the body."
  • There is thus a note of tranquil assurance in the New Testament. Believers, it is true, must still live out their fleshly life within the sphere which is death’s own―their physical existence is the common lot of man and is stamped with the seal of death. But for them is the certainty that the last word is not with death, but with death’s Conqueror, and whether they live or die they can rest in Him.  But though they will not know the full meaning of victory over death until they learn it on the farther shore, yet believers here and now enter into the experience of triumph over death."
"What emerges clearly from our study of the New Testament documents is the fact that death characteristically is regarded as something completely unnatural, an alien, a horror, an enemy.  It is not simply an event, but a state, and it is connected very closely with sin. But the important teaching of the New Testament is not that death is an evil, or that man cannot overcome it, but that death has been decisively defeated in the atoning death of the Saviour, who ‘abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel’ (2 Tim. i.10). On this we rest our hope" (emphasis mine).

What a legacy!  Thank you, Leon Morris, for directing us to the power of the gospel in the person and work of Jesus Christ!