The Usefulness Of The Cross -- By: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 41:2 (Spring 1979)
Article: The Usefulness Of The Cross
Author: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

The Usefulness Of The Cross*

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

In commenting on I Peter 4:12, 13 and what is said there about Christian suffering, Calvin speaks of the “usefulness of the cross.”1 This usefulness, as he sees it, has two parts: (1) the refining trial God makes of our faith and (2) our becoming partakers with Christ. In this address I will reflect on what Calvin considers the “far surpassing” utility of the second aspect, what Peter and the rest of the New Testament, especially Paul, call the fellowship or participation of Christians in the sufferings and death of Christ. I propose to do this by exploring our theme (Christian suffering) within the context of the broader, perenially debated issue of biblical eschatology, particularly the eschatology of the New Testament. A subtitle to these remarks, then, could be “Eschatology and Christian Suffering.”


Taking a very large view and surveying biblical studies as a whole over the past century, it is fair to say that few developments, if any, have had such a far-reaching impact as preoccupation with the eschatology of the New Testament writers, a preoccupation which has eventually come to dominate New Testament studies. This development has involved intense debate, but a basic consensus has emerged, and this consensus, it should be recognized, differs in certain important respects from the previously accepted understanding of eschatology (although we note in passing that so far as explicit use of the word

*An address given at Westminster Theological Seminary on April 24, 1979 at the inauguration of Dr. Gaffin as Professor of New Testament; printed here with slight modifications and the addition of footnotes.

“eschatology” is concerned, this conventional understanding is apparently no earlier than the beginning of the nineteenth century2 ).

In bold strokes the difference is this: According to the traditional understanding, eschatology is a topic of dogmatic (systematic) theology, limited to those “last things” associated with and dating from the second coming of Christ, including the intermediate state following death. In the newer consensus, eschatology is expanded to include the state of affairs that has already begun with the work of Christ in what the New Testament calls “the fulness of time(s)” (Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:10), “these last days” (Heb. 1:2

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