Stephen Charnock’s Understanding of God

Stephen Charnock 2 croppedFor Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) the being of God is necessarily bound up with the concepts of essence and existence. In Charnock’s exposition of John 4:24 “God is a Spirit”. “He hath nothing corporeal, no mixture of matter, not a visible substance, a bodily form. Charnock notes that (John 4:24) is the only place in the whole Bible where God is explicitly described as a Spirit.  Charnock states if God exists He must be immaterial because material by nature is imperfect.  Charnock also describes God in two ways, by affirmation God is good and God has no body.

Charnock begins by noting the difficulty of this topic. In his attempt to understand eternity Charnock contrast the attributes of God with the concept of time. Eternity is perpetual duration, without beginning or end, but time has both beginning and an end.  He explains how God as God must be eternal, and that eternity properly belongs to God. The Scriptures constantly speak of God as eternal (Exodus 3:14, Rom. 16:26). Nothing can give being to itself. Acts, whatever they may be, are predicated on existence, a cause precedes an effect. God’s very existence proves that He has no being from another, otherwise He would not be God therefore God must be eternal.

Charnock describes how when God acts He does so according to the counsel of His own infinite understanding. No one is His counselor. Charnock speaks of the divine will as something that is not rash, but follows “the proposals of His Divine mind, he chooses that which is fittest to be done.” Knowledge and wisdom differ insofar as knowledge is the “apprehension of a thing, and wisdom is the appointing and ordering of things.” God possesses an essential and comprehensive wisdom. The Son of God however is the personal wisdom of God. Wisdom, as a necessary perfection in God, is manifested in the Son of God, who “opens to us the secrets of God.” The work of Christ manifests the wisdom of God as both the just and the justifier of the ungodly; but Christ also reveals the preeminent wisdom of God, for in the incarnation the finite is united with the infinite, immortality is united to mortality, and a nature who made the law is united to a nature under the law all in one person.

For StephenCharnock Christ is the image of God’s holiness because since God in His glory is “too dazzling to be beheld by us,” the incarnation makes it possible for the elect to not only behold the holiness of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), but also become holy like God through Jesus Christ. Therefore in God’s goodness he provides a means in which we can apprehend this holiness, the application of this therefore has a Christ centered focus.

Charnock  affirms a threefold dominion in God, that which is natural and therefore absolute over all things; that which is supernatural or gracious, which is the dominion God has over the Church; and that which is glorious (i.e. eschatological), which refers to the kingdom of God as He reigns over saints in heaven and sinners in hell. The first dominion is founded in nature; the second in grace; the third in regard to the blessed in grace; in regard of the demand, in demerit in them, and justice in him. The dominion of God is to be distinguished from His power. The latter has reference to His ability to affect certain things, whereas the former speaks of His royal prerogative to do as He so chooses.

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