And we may take notice in our passage, that whatever be the interest, duty, and office of any, to act in the name of others towards God, in any sacred administrations, the same proportionably is their interest, power, and duty to act towards them in the name of God in the blessing of them. And therefore ministers may authoritatively bless their congregations. It is true, they can only do it declaratively, but withal they do it authoritatively, because they do it by virtue of the authority committed to them for that purpose. Wherefore the ministerial blessing is somewhat more than the eutical, or a mere prayer. Neither is it merely doctrinal and declaratory, but that which is built on a particular especial warranty, proceeding from the nature of the ministerial office. But whereas it hath respect in all things unto other ministerial administrations, it is not to be used but with reference unto them, and that by them by whom at that season they are administered.[xiv]
[i] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews with Preliminary Exercitations, Volume V, in The Works of John Owen, Volume XVIII, ed. William Gould (N.p: Johnstone & Hunter, 1854; reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), vol. V, 316.
[ii] Ibid., 370.
[iii] William S. Plumer, The Law of God (n. p: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864, reprint, Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1996), 258.
[iv] Owen, Hebrews, V, 316. Owen notes that commentators in his time generally recognized four types of benedictions: 1. “benedictio potestativia,” or those which are absolute and communicated directly by God and from God. 2. “benedictio authoritativia,” which are pronounced in God’s name and by direct warrant or command from him. 3. “benedictio charitativa,” by which a blessing comes to others by means of prayer on their behalf for things that are according to the will of God. 4. “benedictio reverentialis,” which is a blessing directed to God by his people. See Owen, Hebrews, V, 370-371. However, Owen ruled out the first of these as irrelevant, since all blessings ultimately proceed from God and this category is too broad to be meaningful. The third category is also to be ruled out because prayer is not a benediction in the proper sense of the term, but the asking of God to bestow one. The fourth category should also be excluded because blessings directed towards God are, properly speaking, doxologies rather than benedictions. Hebrews 7:7 states that in the benediction bestowed upon Abram, “the lesser is blessed by the greater.” In a doxology, the greater is blessed by the lesser. According to Owen, both paternal and sacerdotal blessings are included under heading number 2. This is the only category that I have chosen to take up in this chapter. Apart from the extraordinary examples cited from Genesis, I will also not discuss the ways in which God has designed parents ordinarily to bless their children, although Owen’s discussion is thought provoking and practical. See pg. 372-373.
[v] For an insightful exposition of the character and scope of this blessing, see Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1948, reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 58. This blessing also includes a partial doxology, but still bears the overall characteristics of a benediction.
[vi] Owen, Hebews, V, 320.
[vii] Ibid., 319.
[viii] The fact that the blessing was bestowed upon a different person than Jacob intended does not mean that benedictions somehow possess magical power or are automatically effective to those that receive them. Isaac thought he was blessing Esau, but God had predestined that the blessing should belong to Jacob (see Gen. 25:23; Mal. 1:2-5; Rom. 9:6ff.). At the time, Jacob foolishly believed that it was by his own doing that he had received the blessing and he apparently had not yet learned to live by faith in the promises and grace of God. He demonstrated a similar way of thinking when he believed that he could cause the flocks to give birth only to speckled and spotted lambs by placing colored rods before their faces (Gen. 30:34-33). He does not seem to have truly learned to live by faith in the promises until he was faced with the fear of reunion with his brother and plead the promises of God in his prayer (Gen. 32:9-12). What he eventually learned, and what all who hear benedictions every week in local churches must also learn, is that although the promises of God will never fail, “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established” (Is. 7:9).
[ix] For a useful exposition of the content of the Aaronic Blessing, see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentatuch, vol. II, 40-42.
[xi] The presence of God that is a blessing to his people is the terror and doom of his enemies. Because the Lord blesses and keeps his people, causes his face to shine upon them to be gracious to them, and lifts up his countenance upon them to give them peace, it is his presence among them that guards them from those who seek to harm them. Is this what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:9)?
[xii] Although Paul mentioned “sabbath days” in Colossians 2:16, I do not believe that he intended to include the principle of the fourth commandment. For the reasons why this is the case see Pipa, Lord’s Day, (Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1997), chapter 7.
[xiii] The temple had the added significance of being the dwelling place of the special presence of God. While it stood, it was evident that the entrance into the most holy place was not yet made manifest (Heb. 9). Christ entered into the heavenly sanctuary and offered himself as a sacrifice for sins so that in our worship today we come “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). As Van Dooren has pointed out, under the new covenant, the temple has been turned on its side and we have direct access to the heavenly sanctuary in our worship through Jesus Christ. Van Dooren, Beauty of Reformed Liturgy, (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Premier Publishing, 1980), ch. 1.
[xiv] John Owen, Hebrews, vol. V, 319.
[xv] The efficacy of Scriptural benedictions has already been considered in part under the treatment of the Aaronic Blessing. Matthew 10:11-13 also sheds light up this subject. When the apostles entered into a house in the name of Christ, they were to give their greeting. If the household was worthy of the greeting, peace was imparted to them through the apostolic greeting. In the same way, benedictions are a means of imparting grace to those who receive them by faith.
[xvi] If a minister is not available, then it is not proper that a ruling elder should proclaim the benediction upon the congregation. Even though ruling elders share the same office as teaching elders/ministers and have teaching responsibilities themselves, pronouncing the benediction appropriately falls into the same category as the public reading and preaching of the Scriptures. The one who proclaims it must be the one who is the herald of God, sent to proclaim the word of God publicly as an ambassador entrusted with authority. If there is no minister present at a worship service, I recommend that a ruling elder be appointed to pray for a blessing at the close of the service. In this way, the blessing is still sought from God with confidence, though it loses the effect of being pronounced and received as from his own lips. This is similar to the difference between a child being assured of the love of his parents and finding security and comfort in that fact even though the parents never say a word, and the reassurance of the parents telling their child that they love him. In both cases the child is blessed and secure as a matter of fact, but who can deny the added comfort that a child has in being told and reminded of the love of their parents?
If a ministerial student is exhorting and a minister is present, then the minister should pronounce the benediction.
[xvii] Plumer, 258.
[xviii] With respect to this blessing, Donald Macleod cited George S. Stuart as saying, “When the minister comes to this last act in awe and wonder that God has commissioned him for this giving, the words will quiver and burn with the glory of their meaning – the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – the love of God – the communion of the Holy Ghost – actually given as the supreme blessing to his worshiping people.” Donald Macleod, Presbyterian Worship: Its Meaning and Method (Richmond: John Knox Press), 1965.
[xix] For the biblical use and meaning of anaginosko see George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 207.
[xx] The first time I began to think through the nature of the benediction was the first time I attended a worship service in a Presbyterian church (OPC). To my surprise, at the close of the service the minister said, “Beloved congregation of the Lord, look up and receive the Lord’s blessing.”
[xxi] Plumer, 258.
[xxii] Robert Rayburn asserts that since “there are many excellent benedictions in Scripture” the minister should not make up his own when the Holy Spirit has put so many at his disposal. Rayburn, O Come Let us Worship: Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 217. However, this slightly misses the point. He should not substitute his own words in place of Scripture because the nature of his office does not permit him to do so. Just as with the Call to Worship, to use a benediction not found in Scripture, however true its sentiments, would be an abuse of ministerial authority. For this reason, the recent book by Robert Vasholz on Benedictions goes beyond the proper use of benedictions in corporate worship by adding a host of man-made, though “Scripturally enriched” benedictions. This book reflects the fact that in most cases, churches have retained the use of benedictions in corporate worship, while they have lost the theological moorings upon which benedictions are founded. See Robert Vasholz, Benedictions: A Pocket Resource, Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2007.
[xxiii] Rayburn, Come Let us Worship, 217.
[xxiv] For the proper use of doxologies in corporate worship, see Plumer, 254-258.
[xxv] Van Dooren, Beauty of Reformed Liturgy, 48. In the Dutch Reformed context in which Van Dooren ministered, the liturgy is more restricted and the minister is allowed the use of these two passages only in pronouncing the benediction. In light of what I have said above, however, it does not seem that the form of the benediction should be restricted so heavily so long as appropriate passages of Scripture are used. I also do not see why the Trinitarian blessing from 2 Cor. 13:14 should be given priority over the numerous other forms of apostolic blessings.
[xxvi] Plumer, 261.