Enjoying the The Immutability of God

Recently I was given the opportunity to lecture for a Sunday School class at New Covenant Presbyterian Church, where I am a member. Teaching the past four years has now become the weekly norm for myself; teaching four days a week at the bachelor level at Faith Theological Seminary, and two days a week in the logic stage at Granite Classical nerves have left when instructing a class or course. Yet when it comes to teaching within the church, I cannot seem to get rid of them. It took one opening joke, and a five minute disclaimer before I got into the lesson, but during that time the nerves had gone and what you read below is what I addressed in regards to the topic I was assigned, the immutability of God.

Introduction: The Definition of Immutability
Chapter five is titled “God Does Not Change” covering the doctrine theologians call Immutability.  What is Immutability you may ask? In summary, The Immutability of God is an attribute where God is unchanging in his character, his will, and his covenant promises. It is important to make mention that God’s immutability defines all his other attributes: he is immutably wise, he cannot but be merciful, good, and gracious. As A.W. Pink has said, “This is one of the Divine perfections which is not sufficiently pondered. It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures.” You would think the doctrine of Immutability would be easy to understand, or at least grasp when we read Scripture like Malachi 3:6, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. Here we read what God plainly states that he is unchangeable.  He never undergoes mutation and never ceases to be what he is. In Ps. 102 we read, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth” showing us that God does not age or decay. In Isa. 40:28 we read the immutability of his being, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” All that he is, and all that he was, he will always be.

Point One: The Doctrine of Immutability
Scripture has no specific term for the doctrine of divine immutability. Yet the concept is taught in four different ways in the Bible;

1. A biblical writer/author will often say that there is no change in God or that he will endure. God is the same from one day to the next.  We saw that from Mal. 3:6, and Ps. 102:26 and read about this in the New Testament as well; Heb. 1:11-12, “they will perish, but you remain… But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” Heb. 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” All these verses teach us that God does not change.

2. A number of passages single out an attribute of God and declare that this attribute does not change. For example; the Psalmist in Ps. 103:17 portrays God’s mercy and moral attributes as never ending, stating, “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.” Heb. 6:17-18, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”

3. A number of texts teach that God’s purposes do not change. His counsels and his will are unchangeable, for example in Prov. 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” In Ps. 33:11 we read that it is “the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” Isa. 14:24, “The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.”

4. The Bible speaks of God as unchanging in his promises. There is a special emphasis placed on this truth in 2 Cor. 1:20 “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” God keeps and will keep his promises; he is unchanging in his promises.

Point Two: Defining Gods Immutability
While immutable, God yet communicates himself to the changeable. The sun does not change whether it scorches or warms and a coin remains a coin whether it is called a price or pledge. A pillar remains the same whether on the right or on the left.  The idea is that there is a difference between the absolute and the relational. Historical Theologian Dr. Muller states, “God’s immutability denotes such a state that is not subject to any change. This immutability since whatever it possesses is incapable of mutation. God’s being, God’s knowledge, and God’s will are immutable.” Theologically we may state that there are three basic aspects of God’s immutability.

1. The first is what theologians call God’s absolute immutability in being, knowledge and will. It marks every distinctive of God’s nature, every attribute of God.

2. Secondly, God’s relative immutability. God is also unchangeable with regard to his relational activity, his creation, acts of redemption. Nothing changes in him, even though the sun hardens mud and thaws ice, the sun is being true to its quality of being the sun.  When God’s thoughts or will responds to his creature, it may have a different impact on different creatures, but it doesn’t mean there is a change in God himself.

3. Lastly, God’s mediatorial immutability. Scripture tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus changed, in that, he took a human nature to himself and that human nature changed every day, yet the divinity of Christ does not change with the assumption of his humanity. Even now his human nature is exalted, a mediatorial permanency of Christ in his human nature.

Point Three: The Difficulties with Immutability
Other texts in the Scriptures seem to indicate that God does change. For example Ex. 32:14 reads, “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” In Ps. 106:45, “For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” Some texts speak of God repenting of what he thought to do as in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did… God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” At one place in 1 Sam. 15:11 the Scriptures read, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”  It is important that we Christians interpret these texts through various hermeneutical aids. I would like to provide you with three ways to look at such texts within the Scriptures.

1. We must recognize that some of these passages that seem to indicate that God changes are to be considered as interpretations of what is not human or personal in human terms. These are called anthropomorphisms (an-thro-pomorph-isms). In Ex. 32:14 “the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” Here the Lord repented/relented of the evil that he thought to do against his people. God threatens total destruction and Moses intervenes as intercessor. In essence, Moses repents for the people of Israel, and then becomes an advocate for them. Moses threw himself before God pleading, (paraphrasing here) If You are going to take out your anger, blot out my name, but don’t ruin Your reputation.  As Moses prays in this way, God repents of the evil he thought to do to Israel.  Does God change?  It may seem so to our minds, yet it is important to see that God’s standards are such that he hates sin and must punish sin.  There is no option for God, he demands punishment, however his unchanging nature has said that if a sinner repents he will forgive and bless. When Moses pleads and repents on behalf of the people this affects a relational change between God and the people.  We could almost argue that God must forego completely destroying Israel because of his promises to Abraham. God changes, anthropomorphically, but really he was using that warning, as a threat.  Moses is reporting this in an anthropomorphic way. God “repented” of the evil he had planned to do.

2. There are a number of texts based on the fact that the condition by which God was going to change was met.
This is the covenantal language throughout the Bible.  If you do X I will do Y, but if you do A, I will do B.  Sometimes the conditional language is implicit, other times it is very explicit. Take for example the passage we read in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did… God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” God had warned Nineveh to repent through the prophet Jonah. Forty days and Nineveh would be overthrown, but in Jonah 3:10 God does not send judgment.  In the message there is an implicit condition – repent is the only way you can avoid being overthrown in forty days.  Is not this what we do with our children too? If you do not clean your room you are going nowhere tonight. We should have no trouble dealing with Jonah 3:10 as we do our children. It is an implicit condition and Nineveh met the condition. God foreknows this because he foredained it to take place. He has chosen not only what will happen, but also the means to that end in which it happens.

3. The third type of change language indicates literal changes that invariably are changes in God’s relationships with people.

According to Acts 9 Jesus is angry about Saul persecuting the Church and he confronts Saul. Paul was once a child of wrath, but now has become a child of God, but none of that means that God did not choose Paul from eternity. None of it involves a change in God’s decrees or ethical norms, but the relational change was one that we see with our eyes in accord with God’s revealed method of salvation.  It is not a change in the constitution of God.

Point Four: The Misunderstandings of Immutability
There are many misunderstandings and pitfalls when it comes to this attribute.

1. God is immutable, but not inactive. God’s immutability does not imply his immobility or his inactivity. God acts and works bringing things into existence, and brings people into being. God remains the same even though he acts and works.  The fact that God still acts and works does not change his character. Charles Hodge taught this at Princeton Theological Seminary by stating, “God is not a stagnant ocean, but ever living, thinking, acting, ever suiting his actions to the demand to his character and to his immeasurably great wise designs.” This doctrine does not put God out of relationship to his characters and space and time.

2. God is immutable, but not anti-social or impersonal. God always insists that he is the personal God.  God is not autistic, reclusive, incommunicative, or withdrawn from interaction.  He interacts with angels, saves men, covenantally faithful, discloses himself in his Word, he is a living personal God.  It is only a Calvinist that can see that God is personal and active and at the same time sovereign.

3. God is immutable, but not impassive in the sense that God has or knows no emotion. The impassivity of God has created a lot of debate.  Everyone is agreed that immutability is not apathy, but God acts and reacts to historical events and to individual people, but not everyone agrees that God responds emotively, that God has emotions that exercises his will. Our God is not the unmoved mover of the pagan philosophers.  He is not an insensitive computer, but God responds to obedience with delight and joy and responds to need with compassion and mercy and responds to sin with anger, responds with grief to the suffering of his people.

4. God is immutable, but not implacable. This is another way of saying that God’s immutability is that he is not incapable of relenting.  He is not harden, he retains not his anger forever.  He will not always chide.  When men repent, God “repents” of the evil which he threatened.  There is no need to stumble over this.  Scripture teaches us differently, telling us in Jonah that God saw their works and God “repented” of the evil.  This repentance of God is not the act of a losing his deity.  He has promised he would show mercy to the penitent.

5. God is immutable, but not unapproachable. God repeatedly says that he is a prayer answering God and encourages us to come to him with intercessory prayer.  He is a God who loves to hear the cry of the needy (Ps. 145). God delights to hear cries for mercy. He is approachable and in the New Testament we see that personified in the Lord Jesus Christ.  God is very approachable, not because of prayer itself, but upon prayer this is what he has determined from all eternity.  The God who ordains the ends ordains the means. He ordained from eternity that Moses’ prayer would prevail, using those prayers to carry out his immutable will in Ex. 32, likewise he does the same for your prayers you lay at the feet of Christ’s to make intercession for you. That is good news, that is very good news for you.

6. God’s immutability does not preclude development in his covenant relationship with his people. Because he is immutable, his moral law and gospel way of salvation are unchangeable and recorded as his revealed will for sinners, and God progressively discloses these norms in a series of historical covenants with his people.

7. God Incarnate has immutable deity, but not immutable humanity. Because God is the immutable God when the Word became flesh he did not cease to be what he always was.  He hid his deity behind his humanity, but he still remained divine.  His humanity was changing constantly just as ours is (Luke 2) Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.

Conclusion: Practical Conclusions for Us
1. This gives stability and comfort for the godly.  The fact that he is the Lord and he changes not and we are not consumed shows the unchanging protection God has for his church.

2. This doctrine of God’s immutability is also humbling. Puritan Hugh Binning writes, “when we think on God’s unchangeableness let us consider our own vanity which is like a summer flower, we are so changeable, and seem so unlike God.  To be one thing and then another thing is a property of sinful and wretched man.”

3. This doctrine is also dreadful to the ungodly. God is unchangeable, and his plan for justice on those who are not in Christ will take place.

4. As man may rage at the destruction of God, the Word of God endures forever. It shows how useless it is in trying to ruin God’s Word.

5. It calls his people to submit to God’s decisions about our lives, for His unchangeable will, will be done, and not our own.

6. It calls us to set our hope on what he has promised to do. We look to the unchangeable God for certainty, because we know that he will work all things to our good better than we could do ourselves.

7. It teaches us to commit our cause to his doing. As Creator, we must place our trust in God rather than man. While you and I continue to have doubt after doubt in this life, you can rest assure that you never need to doubt in God.

8. We are comforted that he never forgets our problems or is oblivious to our need.  He knows the needs of our life better than ourselves.

9. As Redeemer, his redemption is unchangeable, and he will never turn against us. The Immutability of God is the guarantee of our salvation.

10. We are promised that he will always do us good and preserve us, and that will never change no matter what the situation.


** all footnotes are not included because of it being a blog post.


The Challenge of the Future for Christianity

Islamic-CorrectnessKey points Christians need to consider with Islam;

  1. The rise of militant Islam is the most pressing challenge facing the Christian church as it looks toward the future.
  2. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath reveal a conflict far deeper than a war on terrorism, namely the clash between Western and Islamic civilizations.
  3. The long history of violent conflict between Christians and Muslims has been intensified in recent years owing to the Saudi promotion of Wahhabism, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the militant Muslim portrayal of the United States and the West as enemies of Islam.
  4. Although it is impossible to predict for certain, current patterns suggest that over 60% of the world’s population will be Christian or Muslim in 2050, with ten of the world’s twenty-five largest states possibly becoming the scene of serious interfaith conflict.

A summary from chapter twenty two of John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III Church History Volume Two From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2013), 828-839.

Christianity on the horizon looks to be engaged in a series of challenges to living out Christian faith in a fallen world.  Many of these burdens carry over from the twentieth century, and include global poverty and sexual abuse, moral decline, and racial tensions.  There is also a more immediate challenge to be faced in the rise of militant Islam. Despite academic predictions that religion would eventually be absorbed by secularism, realities such as the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States demonstrate the ongoing potency of religion.  Perpetrated in the name of religion, the attacks initiated the U.S.’s war on terror, which was perceived by many in the Arab world as a war on Islam.  The conflict between the West and the Islam appears to be far deeper than a matter of theological differences.  It is a clash of civilizations, a war of cultures and values.  Militant Muslims view the West as a corrupt and corrupting evil whose existence must be eliminated. Christianity and Islam have had a long history of violent conflict.  In recent decades tensions have been reinvigorated.  Reasons for this include the founding of Saudi Arabia and its use of oil money to promote Wahhabi Islam, the ongoing Arab-Israeli Conflict, and militant Islam’s continuing portrayal of the United States and the West as the religious enemy of Islam. Demographic research suggests the likelihood of future conflict Christians and Muslims.  By 2050 it is expected that sixty percent of the world’s population will be either Christian or Muslim.  Ten of the world’s twenty-five largest states are poised to for serious religious conflict between growing Christian and Muslim segments of their populations.  Nigeria is an example of a nation that has the potential for such future religious violence.  Christian missionary activity in the “10/40 window” is another source of provocation, as Muslims see this as a religious, political and cultural threat.  Tensions also continue within Islam between its main branches, as well as between those with moderate views and those with more militant interpretations of Sharia law.

Enjoying the Incomprehensibility of God

Puritan Richard Baxter writes,

From this greatness and immensity of God also your soul must reverently stay all its busy, bold inquiries, and know that God is to us, and to every creature, incomprehensible. If you could fathom or measure him, and know his greatness by a comprehensive knowledge, he were not God. A creature can comprehend nothing but a creature. You may know God, but not comprehend him; as your foot treads on the earth, but does not cover all the earth. The sea is not the sea, if you can hold it in a spoon.”[1]

[1] Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

Wyatt Cash at Two

Yesterday was picture day at Granite Classical, where I work on Mondays and Wednesdays, and take my son (Wyatt) with me. Below are some of the pictures that were taken I wanted to share with those who follow me here on my personal blog. Thanks for viewing.



Why So Serious

"I don't wanna cheese dad"

“I don’t wanna cheese dad”


Finally Smiles

The Puritans & Covenants

What were some varying views among reformed theologians regarding the distinction between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace?
Dutch theologian Herman Witsius stated that the covenant between the Father and the Son “is the foundation of the whole of our salvation.” David Dickson saw the covenant of redemption as the basis for the temporal covenant of grace.  John Brown of Haddington saw this in a different light he sees a clear distinction between the two covenants. Edmund Calamy echoes Brown on this point. He suggested that the Father made the covenant of grace with Jesus Christ from all eternity. Calmay’s view is consistent with the Westminster documents, these documents maintain that the covenant of grace was not a mere afterthought of God in response to the fall but instead was made with Jesus Christ from all eternity, being a contract of God the Father with God the Son from all eternity as mediator for the salvation of the Elect.
Some reformed theologians then distinguished between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, where others preferred to speak of covenant of grace as having an eternal and a temporal aspect.

Where did the concept of the eternal covenant between God the Father and God the Son originate in the eyes of Richard Muller?
Dr. Richard Muller believed that the idea of this eternal covenant may have originated in the writings of Cocceius, “but its roots are most probably found in the earlier Reformed meditation on the trinitarian nature of the divine decrees.” Muller sees hints of this concept in the writings of Luther. The early Reformer Johannes Oecolampadius(1482-1531), in his lectures about Isaiah speaks of a covenant between the Father and the Son. The concept can be located also in John Calvin and his successors. David Dickson however most likely introduced the terminology of the covenant of redemption.

What were some texts that Thomas Goodwin and Patrick Gillespie saw as proving Christ was appointed as prophet, priest and king?
Thomas Goodwin saw such passages as Deuteronomy 18:15, priest Hebrews 3:1-2, and king Psalm 2:6. Patrick Gillespie elaborates on Goodwin’s point adducing a series of texts to prove that Christ’s appointment by the Father represents an important aspect of what constitutes a covenant. One of the most common texts sited is 1 Peter 1:20, which speaks of Christ as for ordained before the foundation of the world. Some other texts such as Psalm 89:9, Isaiah 42:6, Hebrews 5:5 confirm that Christ was by an eternal act of God’s will called to this work, and that long before He came into the world.

What was some varying views among Reformed theologians on the role of the spirit in the covenant of redemption?
Samuel Rutherford points out some differences among Reformed theologians. He states that not all mutual intratrintarian agreements must be called covenants and so suggests that only the Son is ordained (1 Peter1:20), with His own consent, to be Mediator. Reformed orthodox trinitarianism necessitates the Spirit’s presence in the Father-Son agreement. Scottish theologian James Durham notes that “All three persons give the command, and concur as the infinitely wise orders of the decree.”  He argues then for the Spirit’s role as a contracting partner.

How did Thomas Goodwin describe the threefold distinction of God’s immanent, transient, and applicatory acts?
First, Thomas Goodwin describes these acts as follows.

  1. One, Immanent in God toward us, as His eternal love set and past upon us, out of which He chose us, and designed this and all blessings to us.
  2. Two, transient, in Christ done for us; in all He did or suffered representing us, and in our stead.
  3. Three, applicatory, wrought in us, and upon us, in endowing us with all those blessings by the Spirit, as calling, justification, sanctification, and glorification.

A Puritan Understanding of Satan

What were the four points Puritan Isaac Ambrose made in regards to demonic angels as principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies ?
On “Principalities” Ambrose writes, Satan rules over the entire world and is called the “prince of this world” and “god of this world”. God in justice gave Satan leave to prevail and rule in the sons of disobedience.  Next Ambrose describes “Powers” Demons are filled with a mighty power. They can control natural forces such as lightning and wind (Job 1:16, 19), the bodies of animals (Matt. 8:32). They can afflict believers with disease. (Job 2:7). Ambrose next describes the “Rulers of the darkness of this world.” He designates Satan’s dominion in terms of its time, the age of Adam’s fall until Christ coming. The place earth as opposed to the heavens. Satan’s subjects those persons in darkness, the spiritual night of sin and ignorance. Lastly Ambrose describes “Spiritual wickedness” As spirits Ambrose says demons can attack us indivisibly in any place at any time. As wicked spirits they are evil and malicious. Their main work according to Ambrose is to damn souls, these wicked spirits not only tempt us to fleshly sins but to spiritual sins, such as unbelief, pride, hypocrisy etc.

How  is Satan described as ultimately fulfilling God’s purposes?
The powers of Satan are described as limited by God for His divine purposes to do good to those whom He has chosen. The Puritans saw Job as a prime example of Satan’s limitations.  Stephen Carnock wrote on this subject the following “The goodness of God makes the devil a polisher while he intends to be a destroyer.” This polishing makes are metal shine. Indeed, God’s wisdom rules over Satan’s schemes so that the devil accomplishes God’s plans.

What were some of the devices of Satan cataloged by Spurstowe and what were some of the remedies given by various Puritan writers?
Device one described by Spurstowe is that Satan leads men from lesser sins to greater. The remedy given by Spurstowe is as follows “Take heed of giving place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27). Brooks wrote “The least sin is contrary to the law of God, the nature of God, the being of God, and the glory of God.” Another device described by Spurstowe is how the devil persistently urges men to a particular sin. Satan inserts evil thoughts in the mind (John 13:2). The remedy given is to reject the promises of sin. Brooks wrote on this the following , “ Satan promises the best, but pays with the worst, he promises honor and pays with disgrace, he promises pleasure and pays with pain, he promises life and pays with death, but God pays as He promises, for all payments are made in pure gold.”

What biblical passages did Jonathan Edwards see as describing types of Satan?
Jonathan Edwards considered the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:12 to be a type of Satan. Edwards said the phrase “son of the morning” referred to Lucifer as the most glorious of the angels and “the very highest of all God’s creatures”. Likewise in Ezekiel 28:12 Edwards saw the “king of Tyre” as a type of devil who fell from grace.

How did Edwards see the revelation to the angels,“that God’s Son would become man” as the cause of Satan’s rebellion?
Edwards wrote that “Satan, or Lucifer, or Beelzebub, being the archangel one of the highest angels, could not bear it (the incarnation) thought it below him” to serve the lowly man, Jesus. Satan’s rebellion resulted in events that brought to pass the very thing Satan sought to avoid namely the incarnation of Christ and His exaltation over all angelic powers. Edwards’s view of the fall of the rebellious angels parallels his view of the confirmation of the elect angels in that both center on the Lord Jesus Christ.

How did the Puritans Understand Angels?

How did Richard Goodbeer distinguish between the Puritan religious ideal and popular magical beliefs of the time?
Richard Goodbeer made a distinction between supplicative verses manipulative spirituality. The magical worldview was “fundamentally manipulative” he said, as men and women used rituals to control spiritual powers. The Puritans worldview by contrast was fundamentally supplicative, as people submitted themselves and their desires to the sovereign Lord through faith and prayer. On the popular level however these distinct approaches tended to blend together. The more God and Jesus Christ were emphasized the more the world of spirits diminished.

How Samuel Willard describes how angels reflect God, like God and how did he describe angles as falling short of God?
First, Willard explains how like God angels are Spirits an invisible substance. Second, since angels are Spirits they cannot be felt. Third, Spirits are the most agile, active, or nimble beings among creatures. Angels are God’s swift messengers to do his will. They travel faster than lightning. They are never tired. They are like the wind. Fourth, Spirits are the strongest among created beings. They excel in strength and are called powers. One angel can fight off an army of men. Consider what angels did at the empty tomb (Matt. 28:2-7). Fifth, Spirits are the most incorruptible of created beings. This refers to their power, not their purity. Lesser creatures cannot harm angels of annihilate them. Sixth, Spirits are rational substances, endowed with the noblest faculties of understanding and will. Angels fall short of God in a number of ways Willard says. One, Spirits are creatures, but God is not. He is and was and is to be.Two, God is a pure act, but angels have potentiality to be, or not to be, and so to change. Third, Angels are limited by their own essence to one place at a time. Fourth, Angels are under the dominion of their Creator. Five, as Spirits, the essence and acts of angels are different. They do not share in God’s simplicity whereby we can say that God loves and is love.

According to the Puritans what is the office and present work of angles?
William Ames said the work of angles is to celebrate the glory of God and execute His commandments, especially for the heirs of eternal life. Angles also according to Manton also delight in the gospel (1 Peter 1:12). Manton stated, “As we behold the sun that shineth to us from their part of the world, so do the angels behold the sun of righteousness from our part of the world, even Jesus Christ the Lord, in all the acts of meditation with wonder and reverence. The Puritans believed the angles were greatly involved in God’s providence throughout the world. James Ussher wrote that angles have general duties “in respect of all creatures”, namely that they are the instruments and ministers of God for the administration and government of the whole world.

Describe the Puritan understanding on the history of Angles?
The Puritan view on the history of angels begins with God’s eternal decree for them. It continues with their creation, the fall of some angles and the continued righteousness of others, and role of angels in redemptive history. Concluding with the angles role at the end of the age. First in the Westminster Larger Catechism on God’s eternal decree concerning angels’ states, God by an eternal and immutable decree, out of His mere love, for the praise of His glorious grace, hath elected some angels to glory and passed over and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, thus angels and man have a parallel in election and reprobation. Two, God created angels (Col. 1:16). Three, God established some elect angels in righteousness. Four, God employed angels as servants of the present providence. Lastly, God brings the consummation of history through angels. Angels are prominent figures in the eschatology of the Larger Catechism, which says Christ will come to judge the world “with all his holy angels” (Matt. 25:31).

Describe some of the varying views among the Puritans regarding our communion with angels?
Puritans like Henry Ainsworth wrote on this topic the following “These heavenly spirits have communion, not only with God, in whose presence they stand, but also with us, the children of God, through faith, by which we are come unto the great assembly of the many thousands of them (Heb.12:22). Ainsworth also reflected the caution of other Puritans in writing “God hath in ages past, before the incarnation of Christ, more frequently employed them outwardly in revealing his will unto men, then in these last days he doth, since he hath opened unto us the whole mystery of His counsel by His Son (Heb. 1). Ambrose, on the other hand ascribed nearly everything in God’s providence in the world to the work of angels, even in the provision of our daily bread.

Learning from William Perkins on Election

WilliamPerkinsPortraitHow did William Perkins see Jesus Christ as the foundation, means, and ends of election?

William Perkins writes on this topic the following, “Election is God’s decree whereby of his own free will he hath ordained certain men to salvation, to the praise of the glory of his grace. There appertain three things to the execution of this decree, first the foundation, secondly the means, thirdly the degrees. The foundation is Christ Jesus, called of his Father from all eternity to perform the office of the Mediator, that in him all those which should be saved might be chosen.”

How did William Perkins see predestination as being carried out through the covenants?

Perkins taught that God established a covenant of works with Adam in paradise, thus setting a covenantal context for the fall. Similarly, He made the covenant of grace as the context for the salvation of the elect.

How did William Perkins see reprobation as a logical concomitant of election, and what were the differences he emphasizes between the two?

Perkins wrote “If there be an eternal decree of God, whereby he chooseth some men, then there must needs be another whereby he doth pass by others.” Two differences of emphasis exist between reprobation and election, however. First God willed the sin and damnation of men but not with the will of approval or action. God’s will to elect sinners consisted of His delight in showing grace and His intent to work grace in them. But God’s will to reprobate sinners did not include any delight in their sin, nor any intent to work sin in them. Rather He willed not to prevent their sinning because He delighted in the glorification of His justice. Second, in executing reprobation, God primarily passes over the reprobate by withholding from them His special, supernatural grace of election.

How did Williams Perkins see preaching as essential for bringing in the elect?

Munson writes, “Perkins’ golden chain of the causes of salvation is linked through the instrument of preaching. Perkins wrote on the preaching of the Gospel “This gospel must be preached. It is the allure of the soul, whereby men’s forward minds are mitigated and moved from an ungodly and barbarous life unto Christian faith and repentance.” Perkins also said “The gospel preached is that ordinary means to beget faith.” Plain and powerful preaching of Scripture was not merely the work of a man, but a heavenly intrusion where the Spirit of the electing God speaks.

What was the Puritans view regarding the Eternal Generation of the Son?

The Son’s generation was connected to the idea that the Father is the fountain of all deity (fons totius Deitatis). Thomas Goodwin uses this term, but he was always careful to insist that the Son and Spirit were “very God of very God”. Leigh speaks of the order of the persons to explain the doctrine, “the Father is the first person from himself, not from another both in respect of his Essence and person. The Son is the second Person, from his Father in respect of his Person and filiation, existing by eternal generation, after an ineffable manner (and is so called God of God) by reason of his Essence he is God himself. The Holy Spirit is the third person proceeding from the Father and the Son in respect of his person.” Leigh refers to the Nicene Creed to referring to the Son as (“God of God”) to speak of the Son’s eternal generation. Thomas Goodwin likewise argues for the “begottenness” or “eternal generation” of the Son based upon the Father communicating to the Son the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead.

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.

Exegetical Tools Used by the Puritans to Interpret Scripture

The Westminster Confession of Faith makes some important points about the interpretation of Scripture, including chapter 1.9: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” A text may demand an allegorical interpretation because it literally is an allegory, but theologians are not to go to the text with the fourfold method (the literal sense “is that which is gathered immediately out of the words,” which is then coupled with the “spiritual sense,” divided into allegorical, tropological, and anagogical) in mind as a basic presupposition for interpreting the Bible. The Scriptures themselves must dictate how they are to be interpreted.

Another specific exegetical tool used by the Puritans to interpret Scripture is the analogy of faith (analogia fidei). Needed explained are the differences between the analogy of faith and the analogy of Scripture (analogia Scripturae). The Scriptures interpret the Scriptures, so that “when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture,… it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” The analogy of faith (analogia fidei) resulted from the fact that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore possesses an intrinsic consistency and unity. That is to say, the Scriptures do not contradict themselves. The analogy of faith maintains the internal consistency of the Scriptures, which are not contradictory. The analogy of faith differs from the analogy of Scripture (analogia Scripturae) insofar as the analogy of faith is a principle whereby a theologian uses the “general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci [passages] as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts.” The analogy of Scripture, however, more specifically has in view the interpretation of unclear passages by comparing with clearer passages that are related to the difficult text in question.

Another specific exegetical tool used by the Puritans to interpret Scripture is to understand the limits of human reasoning. John Owen did not mince any words when it came to another fundamental aspect of interpreting the Bible. Those who attempt to interpret the Scriptures “in a solemn manner, without invocation of God to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation to him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from anyone who so proudly and ignorantly engageth in a work so much above his ability to manage.” Owen affirmed that the Holy Spirit works on the minds of the elect so as to enable them to understand the Scriptures since He is the immediate author of all spiritual illumination. Christians cannot assume this will happen, as if to take for granted this spiritual privilege; rather, they must pray that God would enable them to understand His mind and will, which apart from the Spirit is impossible. We must not allow our fallible reasoning a place of preeminence above the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit enables Christians to receive all of the truths of Scripture without letting reason dominate the way. If reason was to dominate our interpretation this will lead to various theological errors. Goodwin claims that the cause of all theological errors “hath been for the want of reconciling these things together.” He clearly has in mind those who exalt reason over revelation, which meant that so many glorious truths were denied in favor of reason. Reason cannot work out the mysteries of the Bible. If reason becomes the primary principle, and not faith, we will understand nothing, or little, of the mysteries of salvation. In the same way, Flavel suggests that reason is no better than a “usurper when it presumes to arbitrate matters belonging to faith and revelation.” Instead, reason sits at the feet of faith. Indeed, God’s works are not unreasonable, “but many of them are above reason.”

What Was a Major Principle of Biblical Interpretation used by the Puritans?

Answer, A Christological focus. Now what the puritans meant by the phrase Christological focus in interpretation needs explained. A major principle of interpretation used by the Puritans was the idea, firmly rooted in Scripture, that all of God’s Word points to Christ.

  • John Owen states, “There are, therefore, such revelations of the person and glory of Christ treasured up in the Scripture, from the beginning unto the end of it, as may exercise the faith and contemplation of believers in this world, and shall never, during this life, be fully discovered or understood.”
  • Thomas Adams (1583–1652) remarks that Christ is the “sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line…. Christ is the main, the centre whither all these lines are referred.”
  • Similarly, commenting on how Christ is the scope of the Scriptures, Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) remarks: “Christ is the pearl of that ring, Christ is the object, the centre wherein all those lines end: take away Christ, what remains?—Therefore, in the whole scriptures let us see that we have an eye to Christ; all is nothing, but Christ.”

Because Christ, as the God-man, makes revelation possible to sinful, finite creatures, He also becomes the foundation and center of the Bible. Christ is, as it were, the fundamentum Scripturae (basic principle of Scripture).

The Similarities and Differences Between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace

In The Ark of the Testament Opened (1681), Patrick Gillespie spends a good deal of time highlighting the similarities and differences between the covenants of works and of grace. In both covenants, God was the efficient cause; that is, He is the author of both covenants. In both, the moving cause is the grace of God. The goal of both covenants is the glory of God. If God’s grace was glorified in the first covenant, it was much more glorified in the person of His Son in the second covenant, which, by way of eminency, has the privilege of the title “covenant of grace.” In both cases, God enters into covenant with man. In each covenant, God provided strength or ability for the persons in covenant with Him to fulfill the conditions of the covenants. The two covenants also agree insofar as they are effectual toward the ends for which God made them. The covenant of works is still effectual after the fall as a way to curse and condemn men. The covenant of grace has an efficacy not present in the covenant of works because the Son of God places Himself under a covenant of works for the elect. The covenants of works and of grace also demand the same thing, namely, a perfect  righteousness that will enable the person to stand before the tribunal of God. The conditions in both covenants are set by God and not man. Both covenants had sacraments as signs and seals. Finally, Gillespie notes that in both covenants the “Confederates needed something more than habitual Grace, for fulfilling the conditions of these Covenants, and persevering in a Covenant-state of life.” In other words, perseverance in the garden would have been a supernatural grace given to Adam. In the same way, in the covenant of grace, believers need supernatural grace in order to persevere in the covenant.
Having discussed the similarities between the two covenants, Gillespie turns his attention to the differences between the two covenants, “which are manifold and substantial.” While both covenants are designed to advance the glory of God, they nevertheless differ in their special ends. The first covenant was made with man in innocency; he was to persevere in the garden through his obedience. The second covenant was made with sinful man in order to restore him to happiness. The end of the covenant of works was God’s glory as Creator, but in the covenant of grace, the goal is God’s glory as Redeemer. Returning to the matter of the “strength of perseverance,” Gillespie notes how the covenant of works was more dependent upon Adam and his natural strength, whereas in the covenant of grace believers are far more dependent upon God and His grace. Gillespie posits that the conditions of the first covenant were not any one act of obedience but rather multiple acts of obedience (i.e., perfect and perpetual). However, in the second covenant the initial act of a lively faith in Christ fulfills the condition of the covenant. Gillespie continues by stating, the ability to fulfill the conditions in the covenant of works was innate to Adam, but in the covenant of grace the conditions fulfilled by believers are not properly their own (Eph. 2:8; John 15:5).
 HT: As Identified by Patrick Gillespie: (1617–1675) in his work The Ark of the Testament Opened.

Thomas Goodwin’s Position on Adam’s Natural Theology Before the Fall of Adam

For Goodwin, supernatural revelation is explicitly christocentric, and only Christ could merit a supernatural end on account of the dignity of His person, something Adam could never do as a man “from the earth” contrasted with the “man from heaven,” Jesus Christ. Goodwin explains the distinction between natural righteousness and supernatural grace as the difference between knowledge of God that is natural to man and knowledge of God in a supernatural way that goes “above nature.”  Goodwin considers these two ways of knowing God in the state of innocence.

Goodwin claims that Adam did not have complete, innate knowledge of God’s attributes and so needed to enlarge his “inbred, obscure” knowledge of God.  Similarly, Adam had the knowledge of God’s will sown in his heart, which included the moral law. When confronted with a moral decision, Adam had an innate sense of what to do in any given situation. This moral law remains in humans after the fall, but it is reduced to a mere shadow, “an imperfect counterfeit.”  Further, in agreement with what has been noted above, Adam’s knowledge was improved by observation of creation.

In Goodwin’s mind, whether Adam possessed supernatural knowledge or not comes down to the type of faith—natural or supernatural—required of him under the covenant of works. Supernatural faith, according to Goodwin, enables humans to know revelation from God above the requirements of nature.  Faith is infused for this reason, and most divines refer to faith as a supernatural gift.  Not only did Adam have the “inbred light of nature,” he also “had another window and inlet of knowledge, even revelation from, and communication with, God.”  For this reason, aware that some divines have affirmed that Adam had supernatural revelation from God, Goodwin aims to prove that Adam’s faith was natural—as opposed to the supernatural faith believers receive in the covenant of grace—which means that all Adam had under the covenant of works was natural theology.

John Owen’s Thoughts on Supernatural Revelation

The inspiration of Scripture
In view is the Word of God, which for Owen has a threefold meaning: “hypostatikos, endiathetos, and prophorikos.”  The hypostatic (“personal”) Word has reference to the person of Christ.  The latter two Greek terms speak of the “internal” or “inherent” (endiathetos) Word and the “spoken” (prophorikos) Word.  The Bible, God’s supernatural revelation, is expressed in words and committed to writing.  Faith arises from the authority and truth of God in the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth of God’s Word because the Spirit is truth.  The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit infallibly assures believers that Scripture is God’s Word.

The truth of the Bible
Owen states that an internal, efficacious work of the Holy Spirit must illuminate the minds of believers so that they not only recognize the divine authority of Scripture, but also embrace the truths contained therein.  The internal witness of the Spirit persuades believers that the Scriptures really are the very words of God.  Thus Scripture, for Owen, is self-evidencing and has an innate efficacy because of its Author.  Light and power constitute the self-evidencing nature of Scripture as the Word of God.  Light, like God and Scripture, does not require proof of authenticity.

Christ the source of knowledge
Owen speaks of Christ as the “sacred repository” of all truth.  Owen provides the ontological basis, in the glory of Christ’s person as the God-man, for revelation to be communicated from God to humanity; He is the Mediator not only in salvation, but also in all communication between God and fallen humanity.  No one but the God-man has the ability to declare perfectly the revelation of God.  So the “great end” of Christ’s coming was to reveal God (Matt. 13:35; John 1:18).

Covenantal context for the knowledge of God
God revealed Himself to Adam in the context of a covenant (the covenant of works). If this was true for Adam in the garden, how much more for the elect in the covenant of grace?  Owen would argue that all true theology is based on a covenant, which means that supernatural theology is best understood covenantally.  In the covenant of grace, God reveals His love and grace toward His people.  But those truths are all proposed to God’s people in the various post-lapsarian covenants in and by Christ.  Owen would demonstrate in his own writings, revelation was progressive along covenantal lines, but in the new covenant God speaks definitively and most gloriously in the person of Jesus Christ.

What was the basic framework in which the Puritans understood biblical history?

There are two ways according to the Puritans in which man finds acceptance with God one being works the other faith. The former was possible in the first covenant, (the covenant of works) but with the entrance of sin into the world, sinners must go outside of themselves and place their faith in the One who placed Himself under the covenant of works or be damned for failing to fulfill the terms of the covenant of works themselves. This is the covenant of grace; Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law for fallen humanity by saving a particular people for Himself (Galatians 4:4). The Puritans understood some similarities between the two covenants while forcefully  insisting upon an absolute antithesis at the point of how a sinner may be justified before God (Ephesians 2:8).

Define Natural & Supernatural Theology According to the Puritans

For the Puritans, natural theology was linked to the creation of Adam in the image of God, and because of this, he was blessed in a natural theology (theolgia naturalis), or knowledge of God both innate and acquired from the handiwork of God around him. Some Puritans theologians debated among themselves whether all knowledge of God before the fall was natural or supernatural. Supernatural theology entails special revelation by God outside of his general revelation of nature. The Puritans agreed on the fact that Adam possessed a natural theology.  There were some Puritans that disagreed whether or not Adam possessed a supernatural theology before the fall, Puritans such as John Owen limited supernatural theology not until after the fall because he maintains that originally revelation was partly supernatural and that this part was intended to increase daily. Thomas Goodwin believed that Adam’s end would have been continual life in the Garden of Eden, because only through Christ could he have acquired eternal life.  John Owen seemed to suggest that both supernatural and natural theology coexisted before the fall, whereas Thomas Goodwin rejected this idea.

What was John Owen’s threefold understanding on the Inspiration of Scripture?

The Word of God for John Owen has a threefold meaning “hypostatikos, endiathetos, and prophorikos.” The “hypostatic” (personal) Word has reference to the person of Christ. The latter two Greek terms found commonly  in patristic literature and used by Philo of Alexandria, speak of the (internal or inherent) “endiathetos” Word and the spoken “prophorikos” (spoken) Word. The logos prophorikos is the Bible, God’s supernatural revelation, expressed in words and commited to writing. Supernatural revelation provides objective ground for supernatural illumination, and John Owen constantly ties together the fact of divine revelation and the concept of approaching it.

John Owen’s Understanding of Covenant Pertaining to the Knowledge of God

John Owen argued that all true theology is based on covenant, which means supernatural theology is to best understood covenantally. Trueman described how the doctrine of the covenant “allows for the bridging of the ontological chasm that exists between an infinite self-existent Creator and a finite, dependent creation.” John Owen demonstrated in his writings, revelation was progressive along covenantal lines, but in the new covenant God speaks definitively and most gloriously in the person of Jesus Christ.  John Owen’s writings describe two lines of thought on how Scripture as revelation relates to the doctrine of the covenant, first there is the vertical line of God’s gracious will to save. Second there is the horizontal line of the gradual revelation of God’s salvific will in history which starts in the Garden of Eden and climaxes in the birth, life and death of Christ. 

How for John Owen and other Puritans was Christ the source of knowledge?

John Owen described Christ as the “sacred repository” of all truth. Puritan Edward Reynolds (1599-1676) similarly acknowledges that Christ is the “sum and center of all divinely revealed truth.” Because He is God incarnate, Christ makes theology possible. Owen distinguishes between the theology of the God-man, Jesus Christ and the theology of everyone else. Christ theology is innate in Himself (Col.2:3) as so this theology far exceeds that of anyone whose knowledge of God must be acquired from without. Christ knowledge of God is something utterly beyond believers, He nevertheless provides the ontological basis, in the glory of His person as the God-man, for revelation to be communicated between God and humanity; He is the mediator not only in salvation, but also in all communication between God and fallen humanity.

What were the ten attributes of God that Puritan Stephen Charnock said could be understood by fallen man in light of nature?

Stephen Charnock describes ten specific attributes that can be understood by the light of nature;

  • One, the power of God in creating a world out of nothing (exnihillo).
  • Two, the wisdom of God, in the order, variety and beauty of creation.
  • Three, the goodness of God, in the provision God makes for His creatures.
  • Four, the unchangeableness of God, for if He were mutable, He would lack the perfection of the sun and heavenly bodies, “wherein no change hath been observed.”
  • Five, His eternity, for he must exist before what was made in time.
  • Six, the omniscience of God, since as the Creator He must necessarily know everything He has made.
  • Seven, the sovereignty of God, “in the obedience his creatures pay to him, in observing their several orders, and moving in the spheres wherein he set them”.
  • Eight, the spirituality of God, insofar as God is not visible, “and the more spiritual any creature in the world is, the more pure it is.”
  • Nine, the sufficiency of God, for He gave all creatures a beginning, and so their being was not necessary, which means God was in no need of them.
  • Ten, His majesty, seen in the glory of the heavens.

Charnock concludes that all these attributes of God may be known by sinful man by observation of the natural world.

Why Study Historical Theology?

1. The study of history provides a classic mode of learning. Examination of primary and secondary sources help students to think about their subject rigorously. They must learn to organize and assess evidence, analyze problems, interpret complex events, and, finally, to write with clarity and precision. In short, studying Church History helps students learn how to learn.

2. History is popular. History’s special appeal comes from its distinctive subject matter, the human past. Church History is interesting because it deals with real people and events, not with abstractions.  The history of the Christian Church from the earliest times to the present offers a boundless variety for selecting favorite topics and pursuing personal interests.

3. Historical knowledge is important. Amnesia is devastating on the individual level. If I do not know who I am and where I have come from, then I cannot know where I am or should be headed.

Paxman vs Brand

Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman talks to Russell Brand about voting, revolution and beards.

Woman Burned by McDonald’s Hot Coffee, Then the News Media

Manton on the Sonship of the Believer

Some do more improve their privileges than others do. Now they cannot rationally expect the best and richest fruits of this gift, and to be enabled and enlarged by the Spirit, who do not give such ready entertainment and obedience to his motions, as the more serious and fruitful Christian doth.

– Thomas Manton