What photographs adorn your walls, shelves, tables and desk? Most of us surround ourselves with pictures of our loved ones that remind us of them and prompt memories of particular occasions that we don’t want to forget. No doubt you have some favourite pictures – perhaps you carry one around in your purse or wallet, or (more likely) set as your phone’s lockscreen. It’s very unlikely that you have only one single picture of your loved ones, because one just can’t do them justice. So you have a whole range – from different angles, at different ages, bringing out different aspects of their personality: the romantic setting, the action shot, the noble pose, the playful, goofy, candid snap. And even then, several gigabytes’ worth of pictures later, you still haven’t captured them.
If that’s true of us as ordinary human beings, how much more true is it of the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have a photograph, a painting or even a description of his physical appearance, but in the Scriptures he is revealed in a wide and rich variety of ways. One of these ways is in numerous metaphors – word pictures – that provide us with insight into different aspects of the Lord’s person and work. Each of these is like a portrait of Christ: Altar, Banner, Chosen Stone, Fountain, Hope, King, Master of the House, Rain, Refiner, Temple, and many more.
In a new book, two pastors in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America – Gordon Keddie and David Whitla – have compiled a ‘photograph album’ or ‘picture gallery’ of forty of these portraits of the Lord which I want to commend to the readers of Gentle Reformation.
The book is based on a series of communion sermons preached over several years by Keddie and Whitla, colleagues at Southside RPC in Indianapolis. Gordon Keddie is now retired after a long and fruitful ministry in both his native Scotland and the USA; David Whitla has just been appointed as professor of church history at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Between them they have many years of pastoral experience and theological understanding, all of which comes out clearly in this book.
Why is this ‘photo album’ worth your time and money? Let me suggest several reasons.
- Because of the subject of the portraits. There is no-one more worthy of our contemplation than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is ‘altogether lovely’, ‘the most handsome of the sons of men’, the one who must have the preeminence, the one who is ‘all in all’. We enjoy learning about and reflecting upon the lives of great men. Here is the greatest human being there has ever been and could ever be – the only one who is truly worthy of our attention and admiration. Any book that helps us see him more clearly is worth our time.
- Because of the artist of the portraits. These portraits were painted by the Holy Spirit of God. They weren’t dreamt up by men who liked to think of Christ as a lion or a lamb or a shepherd. They were chosen by the third Person of the Godhead to reveal a particular facet of Christ’s being and work to us. The reason the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples was to enable them to complete the revelation of him that they couldn’t take in before the cross and resurrection (Jn 14.26, 16.13-14). Only the Spirit of God himself is able to understand the mind of God and reveal it to human beings (1Cor 2.11).
- Because of the mount and frame of the portraits. How a portrait is mounted and framed significantly affects how it is viewed. It can be distorted by the wrong style or colour of material of the frame and mount. Keddie and Whitla have framed and mounted these portraits on the clear exegesis of Scripture. Scripture sets the boundaries of what they say – there is no fruitless speculation here about Christ. They carefully take each portrait in its own setting in Scripture and explain it in its context. It would be easy to take any of these metaphors and use them as a jumping off point into all kinds of weird and wonderful flights of fancy, but in every case the authors are concerned only to bring out what the Spirit is saying about the Lord Jesus in each passage.
- Because of the effect of the portraits. What do you do with a portrait? You look at it – you gaze, behold, admire. And the more you do so, in the best of portraits, the more you see. That should be the effect these portraits have on us the viewer. We will see our Saviour more fully and more clearly than before. And the better we see him, the better we should love him, trust him, worship him, and serve him. As the authors say in their preface, ‘All of these studies seek to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ in his person and work. They are sent out with the prayer that the Lord will bless his Word and draw every reader more closely to himself.’ May the Lord grant that prayer abundantly!
Portraits of Christ, by Gordon Keddie and David Whitla, is published by Crown & Covenant Publications, and is available from the publisher (www.crownandcovenant.com) in the US and the Covenanter Bookcentre (www.covenanterbooks.com) in the UK, as well as Amazon and all the usual outlets.