More Than a Memory

Covenant meals both celebrate and ratify the treaty that has been made between the parties (e.g., Gen. 14:17–20; Exodus 12; 24:9–11). Those who receive by faith the reality the Lord’s Supper communicates—Christ and all his benefits—are sealed in the passage from condemnation and death to justification and life. Those who eat and drink without faith still receive Christ, but as Judge rather than Justifier (1 Cor. 11:29).

In our Western intellectual heritage (aka American Evangelicalism), “remembering” means recalling to mind a no longer present reality. This is worlds away from the biblical, Hebrew conception, which recognizes that “Do this in remembrance of me” denotes participating here and now in certain events that define and confirm both our past and future relationship with our covenant Lord. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper is an eschatological sign and seal; we not only are nourished by Christ now but are being prepared for the wedding feast of the Lamb when Christ returns and ushers in the new creation (Luke 22:16, 18; 1 Cor. 11:26; Rev. 19:5–9).

Those who tend to separate the creaturely signs from the divine things they signify (e.g., Barth and many contemporary evangelicals) break apart the visible, historical, institutional church and its practices, on one hand, and the relatively unknown and unknowable true spiritual community of believers, on the other. This separation has often been linked to a weak doctrine of the work of the Spirit.

Those who tend to confuse signs and what is signified (e.g., Roman Catholicism and the Radical Orthodoxy movement) transform consecrated creaturely reality into something substantially different and replace the particular, natural body of Jesus Christ with his ecclesial body. The church’s proclamation is no longer the One who died, rose, and will come again but our own present manifestation of Christlikeness. Christ with all his benefits communicates himself to us, creating a church that is united to him but cannot replace him. We do not complete or continue Christ’s person and work but receive it and share it with others.


Understanding the The Messianic Heir

All of God’s covenantal purposes converge in Jesus Christ. As the eternal Son who would take on our humanity, he is Mediator of the covenant of redemption; as the second Adam, he has fulfilled the covenant of creation on behalf of the elect; as the incarnate, crucified, and risen Savior and Lord, he is head and heir of the covenant of grace, along with all whom he has redeemed.

The Faithful Adam and True Israel

Like Adam, Israel failed to drive the serpent out of God’s sanctuary, succumbing to his seduction. But God promised to preserve a remnant from destruction, from whom the Messiah would come, who would finally crush the serpent’s head and deliver not only Israel but the nations.

Messianic Savior: Son of David

The Davidic covenant is like that with Abraham: an unconditional, unilateral promise of God’s own faithfulness to his Word—in David’s case, the promise of an heir who would reign everlastingly (2 Sam. 7:11–17 and reiterated throughout the prophets). The New Testament takes pains to identify Jesus as this royal son of David’s line. Yet he would not restore the temporal theocracy of the Jewish nation but rather would reign over all the earth in righteousness and peace, bringing Jews and Gentiles together in the unending kingdom promised to David.

Son of Man, the Second Adam

The Son of Man is God’s earthly messianic representative, who is given everlasting dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth—although his kingdom does not arise from any earthly regime (see esp. Dan. 7:9–27). In the Gospels, this title is Jesus’ favorite self-designation, emphasizing his mission to judge, to save, and to reignAlthough Son of Man, as the fulfillment of Adamic sonship, often emphasizes Jesus’ humanity (e.g., Matt. 20:28; Mark 2:27–28), especially in John’s gospel this title carries a simultaneous emphasis on Jesus’ deity (e.g., John 3:13; John 6:53–58; 8:28).

Servant of the Lord

In Isaiah’s Servant Songs (esp. chaps. 42, 49, 50, 52–53, 61), Israel’s corporate commission as God’s covenant servant is embodied in the person of the Messiah to come, the true and faithful Israel, who will secure redemption through obedience and suffering. Jesus proclaimed himself to be this servant (Luke 4:16–21), as did the apostles (e.g., Matt. 12:17–21).


The Cosmic Trial and Solidarity in Adam

We should not pit this legal analogy for the human story against the relational, which is just as important; both are integral to a covenantal account. The Holy Spirit is the divine witness, who pronounces God’s blessing on creation and makes us true witnesses to God and his works. But there is a false witness, Satan, who in the garden first misinterprets God’s Word and then denies it (Gen. 3:1–5). He succeeds in getting Adam and Eve to doubt God’s Word and attempt to go behind it to discover something hidden about God himself. In this way, we submitted God and his ways to our sovereign judgment. God, however, arrived in the garden in true and righteous judgment, and the ensuing covenant trial, with its curses and promises, is echoed in every subplot of the Bible. And Adam’s new role as covenant transgressor and false witness bears on his relation to all humanity and the rest of creation as well as to God.

total-depravityAs the representative head of humanity, Adam stood in total personal righteousness, in loving fellowship with God, and with the Sabbath held out to him. After the fall, we retain a natural nostalgia for God (which we twist into idolatry) as well as a yearning to attain the consummation (twisted into self-will and oppression). In short, the human race in Adam is now the false prophet who misrepresents God’s Word, the false priest who corrupts God’s sanctuary, and the false king who exercises cruel tyranny.

Every person is now born estranged from the good Father; unwilling to be a faithful son, humanity became a slave of sin and death. The features of a covenant are clearly delineated in Genesis 1–3: a historical prologue (chaps. 1–2), stipulations (2:16–17), sanctions (2:17, over which Eve and Satan argue, 3:1–5), and judgment for transgression (3:8–19). The Tree of Life was the prize waiting for faithfulness, securing participation in God’s own Sabbath rest. Further, the terms that form the basis of an entirely new covenantal state of affairs are announced in Genesis 3:21–24. Adam’s covenantal role entailed his representation of all humanity and all creation (Gen. 3:17–18; Rom. 5:12–21; 8:20). This original covenant of creation may be defended by appeal to non-Christian as well as Christian sources. Even ancient pagan cultures grounded their laws in a narrative of original creation that was universally normative. Judaism grounds human moral solidarity in an original creational covenant with Adam. Islam affirms certain laws that are binding on all people because of a common Adamic origin. Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and our own conscience—all testify to an indelible conviction of moral accountability before a holy God for how we treat each other.

The Christian notion of a creational covenant did not arise because of a Western emphasis on legal categories; Irenaeus and John of Damascus in the East affirm an Adamic covenant, as Augustine did in the West. The beginnings of developed Reformed covenant or federal theology can easily be seen among the Reformers. All of these advocates of a creational covenant with Adam appealed to its biblical basis, not only the obvious covenantal elements in Genesis and the strong parallels between Adam and Christ but also specific passages that refer to Adam’s covenant-breaking (e.g., Hos. 6:7; Job 31:33). Israel’s national existence is in many ways a recapitulation of the creational covenant of the law of love for God and neighbor and is also crucial to understanding the biblical testimony to this covenant of works (and its distinction from the new covenant of grace, e.g., Galatians 3–4).

The creational covenant is rooted in law and love, not in grace. Again, grace presupposes fault and sin, and creation’s original integrity included neither. Against Roman Catholicism, the Reformers taught that before the fall humanity had no need of any “superadded grace” (do-num super-add-i-tum) that would keep an inherent bent toward sin and corruption from erupting beyond control. We did not fall because God removed his grace and we followed our original propensity toward sin; we fell because, against the integrity of original righteousness, we freely rebelled against God’s love. The terms of the covenant of creation cannot be, and were not, simply set aside. But owing to God’s amazing grace, they have been fulfilled in place of the elect by his incarnate Son.

The doctrine of original sin describes our collective human guilt and corruption in Adam. No doctrine is more significant for biblical anthropology, yet none has been more relentlessly criticized. The doctrine arises from two principle biblical sources: (1) the covenantal shape of all God’s dealings with humanity and (2) the specific narrative of the fall from original integrity. The concept of solidarity or representative headship—human solidarity in Adam, Israel’s solidarity in Abraham and Moses, the elect’s solidarity in Christ—is basic to the biblical worldview. It is crucial for Christian theology to affirm the historical veracity of Adam and his representative sin. While there are metaphysical or ontological consequences to Adam’s transgression of the covenant (corruption and death), the basis of these and the essence of sin itself is legal and ethical (1 Cor. 15:56)—that is, just like our commission in the image of God, original sin is to be understood in covenantal terms. In highly developed nations today, amid Pelagian and individualistic presuppositions, it is incomprehensible that each and every person could be held responsible for participation in collective guilt (not just its consequences) on the basis of one person’s own transgression. But it is basic to biblical faith that we are guilty not only for Adam’s sin but as sinners in Adam.

Fundamentalism tends to reduce sin to evil personal behaviors; liberalism tends to reduce it to evil social structures. But sin is far deeper than either account. It is a condition—we sin because we are sinners, not vice versa. We are victims and perpetrators of sin; every sinner is also sinned against, both in interpersonal and broader social contexts. Scripture will not let us contrast “us” with “them” when it comes to sin but declares that all are under sin (Rom. 3:9–12). When reduced to the merely interpersonal dimension, sin becomes negative behaviors or failure to live up to personal or cultural expectations. When the divine-human dimension is considered primary, sin becomes guilt and condemnation before a holy and righteous Lord with whom we have broken covenant. Such divergent definitions of sin thus lead to radically different views of redemption.

Two helpful distinctions are necessary to account for both humanity’s universal sinfulness and corruption and its remaining goodness and abilities. The distinction between righteousness before God and before others—While Scripture (and experience) credits unbelievers with a certain goodness, justice, and wisdom in human affairs, it is the righteousness of God’s own character that is the standard by which all will be judged. The distinction between natural and moral ability—Humans possess a natural ability to obey God’s commands but lack the moral ability to love God and neighbor in accord with God’s righteous character; our human capacities and abilities were not lost in the fall but twisted and deformed in unrighteousness.

Total depravity” does not mean that we are incapable of any justice or good before others; rather, it means that there is no aspect of our humanity that is left unfallen, from which we might make a beginning of justice and goodness before God. The soul, mind, and heart, as much as the body, are corrupt. Yet the fact that we can turn to God but will not manifests and reinforces our guilt (John 8:44; Rom. 1:18–2:16).


Key Points to Keep in Mind When Dealing with the Fall of Humanity

  • Adam’s representative headship accounts for the grandeur and the tragedy of human existence; it sets in motion the great trial that sets the stage for the fulfillment of all things in Jesus, the faithful last Adam.
  • The covenant of creation is implicitly and explicitly taught in Scripture, integrating both the legal and the familial aspects of humanity’s natural relationship to God and illuminating the character of Christ’s gracious work.
  • No doctrine is more significant for a biblical anthropology than original sin, although none has been subject to more criticism.
  • Human image-bearing was not lost in the fall (we retain our human personhood and dignity), but the exercise and purposes of the image have been spurned and perverted.
  • God delayed the deadly consequences of Adam’s rebellion, making space for the outworking of the covenant of grace through its promise and fulfillment in Christ.

What is the Image of God?

Creation’s origin cannot be appropriately understood apart from its eschatological aim. Creation was “very good” but in a real sense unfinished; it had before it the promise of a consummation in everlasting Sabbath blessedness. Humans were created in covenant relationship with God and one another for the purpose of securing this blessedness. Every nonbiblical anthropology begins with an assumption of the autonomous individual—intrinsically independent from God and creation and standing in sovereign judgment over God and creation.

I take the “days” of creation as analogical (though not mythological). They are God’s accommodation to his ordained pattern and commandment of six days of labor and one of rest. Eschatology is the principal motive: we were created and called to imitate God’s pattern of work (Adam’s trial of obedience) and rest (the Sabbath enjoyment held out to him). This original, creational covenant relationship is intrinsic to the meaning of being created in God’s image. All people retain some sense of God as their Lawgiver and Judge and of their obligation to love him and one another. This status as a commissioned servant of God, created in his image, renders every person both dignified and accountable. The fall did not obliterate humanity’s covenant relationship with God but divided humanity between the rebellious children of Cain and those of Seth, who called on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4).

To be created in God’s image is to be called persons in communion. Human existence and identity is not lodged in self-consciousness or in the ability to reason or to will; it is the result of being spoken by God and spoken to by God. And though all are determined as persons by the mere fact of our creation and calling in God’s image, our realization of the purpose of our personhood depends on whether we correspond to God’s intentions. Throughout Scripture, the faithful servant of God is the one who responds to the Great King’s commission, “Here I am.” Such an answer opens us up to the call of our neighbors as well as to God. The image’s relational character is undermined if it is identified with any faculty or capacity within the individual. The image is chiefly the law of love for God and neighbor written on the conscience.

Humans certainly differ from other creatures in their natural capacities for rational reflection, language, and deliberative action. By themselves, however, these distinguish us merely as more complex forms of biological life in certain respects. It is God’s command and promise and the role we have been given in his unfolding drama that marks our uniqueness. In short, the significance of the image of God is our moral likeness to our Creator and our covenantal commission in Adam to usher all creation into God’s everlasting Sabbath. The image is constituted by the following four characteristics.

  • Sonship/royal dominion—As children and servant-kings of God, we are meant to exercise righteous, respectful, responsible dominion over the rest of creation.
  • Representation—Like priests, we are meant to be analogues of God, official embassies of his character, will, and actions; this places the image in the realm of judicial commission (ethical relationship) rather than being a mirror of the divine essence (ontology).
  • Glory—We were created as temples indwelled by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Father’s glory in his Son.
  • Prophetic witness—We were created to hear God’s Word and then respond faithfully, to him in praise and to others in witness to God’s character and works.

The commission of imaging God, which Adam and his children have twisted and spurned, is truly fulfilled in all its kingly, priestly, and prophetic aspects in the eternal Son who became man, Jesus Christ, the very Image of his Father.


A Lucky Animal or know as Materialist Anthropologies

What Makes Us Human? A state of the theological debate, and a question that must be answered when studying anthropology. A fundamental shift is currently occurring in the West from a view of the self as a semidivine entity that transcends body, time, and change to a view of the self as a physical, malleable social construction of chemical interactions. Neither account is willing to receive identity from another—supremely God—as both a gift and a responsibility. Platonist or idealist ontology, with its spirit-matter dualism, has played a dominant role in philosophical and theological views of personhood. The real or “higher” self, which distinguishes humans from the nonhuman creation, is the immortal spirit (or soul or mind). This is also where the imago Dei (image of God) is centered. The body is something we inhabit and use for now but is not who we really are, certainly not forever. The closely related Neoplatonist distinction of persons into three aspects—spirit, soul, and body—a position known as trichotomy, has been a perennial temptation among a small minority of Christians.

If for Platonism all that is truly real is spiritual, then the opposite form of reductionism is materialism: there is no such thing as the soul or continued existence after bodily death. All we are and do as humans has a physical explanation. Modern science seems to support some form of materialism. Many liberal Protestant and Jewish scholars also suggest that the Old Testament is at best silent on the question of the soul and does not teach life after death. Reacting against Platonist dualism, some Christians advocate a modified monism, arguing that humans are such a unity of physical and spiritual that neither aspect may be separated or conceived distinctly from the other.

Scripture presupposes and directly affirms a distinction between the body and the soul or spirit (the dichotomy position), seen pointedly in the living soul’s presence with God after death, apart from the body. Dichotomy is not dualism; human nature is not to be identified exclusively or even primarily with the soul. The real self is the whole self, body and soul. Scripture addresses persons in their wholeness; we should not deny the (temporary) separability of body and soul in the intermediate state. While Platonism sees embodiment as a curse, biblical faith understands disembodiment as a curse.


Understanding the Doctrine of Providence

Though God reigns and his purposes are sure, the apparent randomness of nature (discussed in the previous chapter) also characterizes history. We must avoid the twin dangers of hypersupernatural fatalism and antisupernatural materialism.

Direct/Indirect Cause: The Doctrine of Concursus
Concursus, or “concurrence,” in theology refers to the simultaneity of divine and human agency in actions or events. A biblical view of concursus requires more than God’s general oversight of history. Scripture testifies both to his predestination of all that comes to pass (primary or direct causation) and to the reality and responsibility of the decisions and actions of humans (secondary or indirect causation). In permitting evil, God not only lets it happen; he determines how far it will go and how he will work it out for good. Yet God’s work in hardening hearts is not the same as in softening them: God gives the redeemed a new heart, while he gives the wicked over to their own desires. God is neither the author of evil, nor a mere spectator of it. Fatalism and materialism share a common assumption of univocity between God’s willing and acting and human willing and acting; either our activity must give way to God’s or vice versa. But God’s activity and our activity do not need to get out of each others’ way; God causes all history to serve his sovereign purposes without canceling the ordinary liberty, contingency, and reality of creaturely causation.

The Revealed/Hidden Distinction
Scripture distinguishes between matters hidden from us and those revealed to us (Deut. 29:29). God’s hidden will is distinguished from his revealed will. We must not attempt to figure out God’s secret providence; we must attend to the means he has provided for our salvation (Word and sacrament) and to earthly welfare (family, friendships, vocation, and so on). Though God has not promised to reveal to us everything we might want to know about his will for our lives and about our trials, we should trust his promises as sufficient for faith and life in Christ. After all, the time and place where evil seemed most triumphant was the cross, where it was forever defeated.

Common Grace/Special Grace|
Providence belongs to God’s common rather than special (or saving) grace, although the former ultimately serves the latter (e.g., Eph. 1:10; 3:9–12). Common grace is responsible for God’s kindness and benefits to all people indiscriminately.

  • It restrains personal and corporate human sin.
  • It restrains God’s wrath and delays his judgment.
  • It bestows goodness and kindness upon unbelievers.

To affirm God’s common grace is to recognize the God-given truth, goodness, and beauty in the world, not simply its sinfulness and corruption. When we disparage these, we are holding the providential work of the Holy Spirit in contempt.

Providence/Miracle
Unlike ordinary providence, miracles are God’s extraordinary suspension or alteration of natural laws and processes. The difference does not concern whether God is involved in every aspect of our lives, but how. The question is not whether causes are exclusively natural or supernatural, but whether God’s involvement in every moment is providential or miraculous.


Cultural Challenges to the Doctrine of Providence

Some notion of divine providence is one of the most universally attested religious assumptions throughout history, yet it is one of the most contested in the modern world, for two main reasons:

  • It is difficult to acknowledge gifts, much less a transcendent Giver, in a world of supposed givens; contemporary technologically advanced cultures are often far removed from the actual, personal sources behind the goods and services we enjoy.
  • A secularized, romantic notion of providence was employed to give divine sanction to imperialist cultures, nations, and ideologies, with devastating consequences; the terrors of the twentieth century disillusioned many regarding a “benevolent Providence” undergirding unending historical progress.

Christians must realize that, while God’s saving will in Christ has been clearly revealed in the gospel, the precise activity of God’s providential governance remains largely hidden (even from believers).


A Summary of the Incommunicable Attributes of God

God’s incommunicable attributes are most often criticized as being a philosophical or metaphysical corruption of the biblical understanding of God. But whenever such metaphysical claims have been rejected, they are replaced by others no less metaphysical. While we should never assume that the God of the Bible is identical with the “God” of classical philosophy, we must also recognize that every doctrinal account of God’s identity and character will include metaphysical claims. The question is not whether we have an ontology of God’s being and attributes but whether our ontology is biblically faithful.

A.Simplicity
God is noncomposite: he is simultaneously all that his attributes reveal. This does not mean that his attributes cannot be distinguished from one another, but that none of them are separable from God or carry a greater or lesser importance for his character. God is eternal even when he acts in time. He is not more holy than merciful, or more loving at some times than he is righteous at other times. He is holy even in showing mercy, and righteous in demonstrating his love. All that God is, is what he will always be; and in all his activity God is self-consistent.

B.  Self-Existence (Aseity)
God exists and acts apart from any external dependence. While God is perfect without us, he freely and generously creates and relates this creation to himself. Creatures exist in constant dependence on our relation to him. Independent of creaturely limitations, he can be trusted to bring about his sovereign purposes on behalf of his people (Ex. 3:14–15). Some—like open theists—criticize this doctrine as a Stoic ideal of detached self-sufficiency, lacking the mutual drama between God and the world seen in the Bible. Many want to deny any difference between God in himself and God as he reveals himself to us. In such ontologies of “overcoming estrangement,” God and the world are inherently related and mutually dependent. Yet God’s freedom from creation does not preclude but undergirds the very possibility of his true freedom for creation. God’s aseity marks the fundamental divide between biblical faith and all forms of pan(en)theism. At the same time, the (Stoic) deism characteristic of an ontology of “the stranger we never meet” is overturned by God’s free decision to enter into relationship with the world he has made. While the Stoic sage desires to sever his dependence on the world of which he is necessarily a part, the independent God desires to bring dependent (and sinful) creatures into communion with himself.

C. Immutability
God is unchangeable. Perfect and complete in himself from all eternity, he has no “potential” to be realized; any change would be toward imperfection. This does not mean God is static or inert; rather, he is wholly active in the fullness and completeness of his own being and cannot become more or less who he is. God is unchangeable, and so he is reliable in his judgments and promises. While his being and character do not change, his activity (energies) is manifold and freely determined. Many modern theologians who understand God’s being as “becoming” in history have challenged God’s immutability by appealing to the incarnation: “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). But the eternal Son’s assumption of human nature in the unity of his person in no way constitutes or diminishes the character of his divine nature. It is crucial to avoid two extremes: either that God is detached, unfeeling, unresponsive, or that he acts and feels and responds in the very same ways we do. Though God genuinely responds, he cannot be overwhelmed by surprise; though he truly experiences opposition, he is not overcome; and so on. The total witness of the Bible requires that we affirm both: there is real change, partnership, and conflict between God and human beings, but not within God’s inner being.

D. Impassibility
Unlike the caricature of much contemporary criticism, God’s impassibility is not unresponsiveness or emotional apathy but immunity to suffering. God’s emotional experience and responsiveness in free relation to the world are always analogical. On one hand, we must deny that God is untouched or unaffected by creaturely suffering, experiencing neither joy nor sorrow, love nor hate; on the other hand, we must affirm that God is Lord—never the passive victim, but always the free and active Judge and Justifier. To avoid the extremes of utter detachment and mutual dependence, we should keep in mind the following five points regarding God’s immunity to suffering.

  1. We must avoid a false choice between either God’s necessary relatedness to the world or the world’s unrelatedness to God.
  2. It is crucial that impassibility is an essential attribute of the triune God; though the persons engage in relationships with the world, their divine nature is not by itself the subject of action and response.
  3. We must recognize that God speaks to us analogically—in terms adequate to our understanding rather than adequate to his being.
  4. A Christian doctrine of God should supplement causal categories with (Trinitarian) communicative analogies; God is not simply Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, but the Father who speaks to us in his Son by the Spirit.
  5. We must beware of allowing a theology of the cross to become a theology of glory; a theology of “the suffering God” may inadvertently lead to a legitimization of suffering and evil, since these are said to be an integral part of God’s very being.

E.  Eternity and Omnipresence
Eternity and omnipresence refer to God’s transcendence of time and space, respectively. God’s eternity is his existence above or beyond time, simultaneously possessing the fullness of his boundless life and eternally encompassing the whole of creaturely (temporal) life. Some hold that God is sempiternal, existing within time but without any beginning or end. Biblically, however, it seems time itself is a creaturely category—like space—attributable to God only in an analogical sense referring to his transcendence of it (e.g., Ps. 90:1–4). Properly understanding God’s eternity (and the limits of our understanding in the face of this mystery) is related to the meaning of his omnipresence: it is God’s transcendence of space that brings the deepest assurance of God’s presence in all places (e.g., Ps. 139:7–8). God’s presence with his people indicates, not his spatial absence somewhere else, but his covenantal commitment to be with us to save and to bless. God is “omnitemporal” in the same way; he comprehends all times and is active within time, because he is not contained by it.

(HT: A summary of Michael Horton’s, The Christian Faith, Chapter Six)


I Now Need Formal Theological Education

Many by now have heard of Joshua Harris’s Sunday Remarks at Covenant Life Church yesterday,

“My big news is that later this spring I’m going to step down from my role as lead pastor so that I can go to seminary.”

Three thoughts come to my mind, that I wish others, not only Joshua Harris, would begin to consider when pursuing full time ministry, the pastorate, and or theological education;

1. If such formal theological education is needed for the pastorate, and it is I strongly believe, why was it not prior to your pastoral calling? Not only for Joshua, but pastor’s in general, stop taking the easy route into a so called calling, and properly prepare yourselves for what you believe to be called to. I certainly would not seek a triple bypass surgery on my heart from a called doctor who has practically practiced such operation under his own care. No, I would rather seek medical attention from a doctor who has been formally trained, certified, with such knowledge that I can entrust my physical life to. How much more should we as laity consider our spiritual life, to consider who we entrust our own soul’s well being.

2. If such formal theological education is desired, why would you (let alone many) choose Regent College? I have learned these lessons, attending a college that you later regret in life can always create problems, especially on the resume. Why not Kings College, maybe Wheaton, or Boyce, Grove City, Hillsdale, or even Liberty online? Or better yet, any bachelor degree program within America. Perhaps when The Curious Case of Benjamin Button plays a role in how you came to such decision, then yes, by all means who cares where you study, when it is only “a year with a good possibility that I [he] will stay a second year to pursue a masters degree.” How much formal theological education can one possibly fix and finish in a year, maybe two? Seems a slap in the face to those who have went and studied seven plus years formal theological education before they would even consider applying for the pastorate.

3. If such formal theological education is planned, why can it not be planned to be completed while one continues to work? If already in the pastorate, and given the numerous opportunities in todays educational programs that one could obtain formal education while still in full time or part time employment, why step down, and why leave? I deal with similar situations on a semester basis at seminary. Pastor walks in, asks to speak with me, and realizes he should have completed his M.Div. before preaching through his tenth book with his congregation, and has what he believes made a number of errors will in the pastorate. My advice to them is this: one, I am glad you have noticed this, two, repent of any sin you have caused in this failure, and three, do not quit on them as you make this transition. Just because a pastor may have mistaken here does not mean that they can go fix themselves, without walking through such fixes with his congregation.

These concerns brought about by Joshua Harris’s recent decision, go to show us the state of apperception for formal theological education in the evangelical church today. I cannot count the Facebook friends that have recently made the switch after eight to ten years in an occupation, having come to Jesus Christ, that feel compelled to start a church, pastor a church, and or start a para-church ministry. Two, I cannot count the continual conversations with Baltimore pastors over the past four-years on how they wish they had went to seminary before taken up the call of a pastor. Three, I cannot count the number of pastors who have quiet their formal education, or put it on hold because they found (or was handed) a job in minstry that they were not formally prepared to obtain. I understand there are CH Spurgeon’s in this world, but I have yet to meet 20 year-olds like him, having already mastered the biblical languages, and as well read within Puritan thought and theology as he.

 


Stop Asking Theological Questions

Yesterday I was able to give introductions to two courses I am instructing this 2105 spring semester; Theology Proper and Anthropology and Historical Books for the B.Th. students at Faith Theological Seminary. After giving two hours plus of introductory material to these courses, and hearing a number of moans and groans on why such material needed addressed I was reminded of one of FTS’s own M.Div. graduates, Francis A. Schaeffer’s who wrote on theological study,

It is naive to discuss the theological questions as theological questions until one has considered what truth means to the one who is making the theological statements.

 After spending time explaining how God is describe within theology three ways; The via negationis: A via is a “road” or “way.” The word negationis simply means “negation,” which is a primary way we speak about God. In other words, we describe God by saying what He is not. The via eminentiae, “the way of eminence,” in which we take known human concepts or references to the ultimate degree, such as the terms omnipotence and omniscience. The via affirmationis, or “way of affirmation,” whereby we make specific statements about the character of God, such as “God is one,” “God is holy,” and “God is sovereign.” (HT: Summary Taken from Everyone’s a Theologian). I find it common within Baltimore that most of my students rather discuss what they think about theology then actually taking the time to learn what the Scriptures declare for them to know about theology. Maybe, if they, like most evangelical churches today took the time to study what they claim to believe than discussing unnecessary questions, they would have actually come to asking the right questions that they need to be addressing? Then again, why not waste your time and thoughts, for there is far worse things that you could be doing, or not. Maybe, just maybe presuppositionalism does has a place in theology.


Trinitarian Cooperation in Redemption

Something to consider; Because of its authoritative source and saving content, Scripture is the very Word of the triune God.

  • Scripture is from the Father’s utterance as its source.
  • Scripture declares Christ’s person and work as its content and center.
  • The source and content of Scripture attain their ends in the perfecting agency of the Spirit.

The unified work of the persons of the Trinity in Scripture’s inspired content and form may not be divided; accounts of inspiration are skewed or insufficient whenever the manner of one person’s working is given precedence over that of the other two.

HT: Dr. Michael Horton, Chapter Four in the The Christian Faith. 


How Can the Puritans Help Seminary Studies?

lead_largeThe Puritans were a fascinating group of Protestants during the 16th and 17th Century intensely concerned with pious living. The seminary student of today can learn much from the Puritans. In the Puritans we see a people opposed with growing in the knowledge of God and the deep things of Christ. In thought and outlook they were radically God-centered. Their appreciation of God’s sovereign majesty was profound, and their reverence in handling his written word was deep and constant. They were patient, thorough, and methodical in searching the Scriptures.[1] In them we see a great example for the modern seminary student to emulate. The Puritans were also immensely concerned with living out the truths of Scripture in their day to day lives. Puritan Richard Baxter wrote on this point

“Sound doctrine makes a sound judgment, a sound heart, a sound conversation [life] and a sound conscience.”[2]

This shows just how closely related doctrine and practice were for the Puritans. This can be directly correlated to the seminary student of today, namely to live, love and apply the doctrinal truths learned in their studies to their daily lives. It is pointless in my opinion to enter seminary studies if this is not the student’s ultimate goal. The Puritans are one of the best examples of just how this is to be accomplished.The Puritans can also help the seminary student to read the Scripture through an Christological lens. A major principal of interpretation used by the Puritans was the idea, firmly rooted in Scripture, that all of God’s Word points to Christ.[3] This can help the student immensely in their studies because once the student grasps this important hermeneutical principle they will see the bible in a deeper and fuller sense.  Any student studying the Scriptures should desire this, namely to see Jesus Christ in all aspects of their theological studies.

The Puritans can teach the seminary student a great deal in the area of prayer and communion with God. The Puritans had a resolute prayer life and communion with God was of chief importance in their lives. The Puritan Thomas Goodwin described prayer in this manner;

“prayer is the soul’s breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly Father.”

We can see from this beautiful quote that the Puritans were zealous about prayer and took prayer seriously. They give a great example to follow and the seminary student can learn that even the most studious of students must obtain their education through thoughtful time spent in prayer. Lastly, the Puritans can teach the modern student a great deal in nearly every aspect of the Christian life and practice. I outlined in this paper a few examples of this, but the Puritans can teach us so much more.  Whether its zeal for God, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in all things, the atrocious nature of sin, or the proper understanding of doctrine. The Puritans were great teachers from the past and the modern student would be wise to learn from such men.

 

[1] The Puritan Study, “The Delights and Pains of Puritan Study”, https://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2006/09/06/the-puritan-study-part-1-the-delights-and-pains-of-a-puritan-study.html (accessed March 27,2014).

[2] Peter Lewis, The Genius of Puritanism, (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo GloriaPublications, 1977), 12.   

[3]  Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine For Life. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) 31.


Why Historical Theology Matters in a Seminary Curriculum

History-repeatsJust why is theological history important, because the study of history provides a classic mode of learning. Examinations 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.

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.

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.  Studying Historical theology links seminary students to the Church’s past. Examining the history of Church doctrine down through the ages gives students a better understanding of their own beliefs and their origins. It gives the student a solid foundation of doctrine firmly established throughout the ages and gives depth to their own faith.

Studying Historical Theology helps distinguish orthodoxy from heresy. Knowing the past is important because those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it. The heresies of today are nothing new, they are old heresies resurfaced. A good understanding of church history gives one the ability to recognize heresy. For example the modern day cult known as the Jehovah Witnesses is actually a form of the ancient heresy of Arianism, which was dealt with at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This example shows just how essential it is to know the Church’s past. It gives the student another tool to defend the truths of Christian orthodoxy against all its opponents.

Studying Historical theology also helps with biblical interpretation. Looking at the development of Christian doctrine throughout the ages helps the student to contrast one’s own interpretation with that of the church’s past. Historical theology gives the student a proper lens through which to test their own orthodoxy. For example creeds from the early church such as the Apostles Creed and the Athanasius Creed are some of the earliest attestations of proper biblical interpretation. If a believers interpretation contradicts that of these ancient creeds it would be wise to reevaluate this interpretation. These are just a few reasons why studying Historical theology is important.  It shows us that we are not alone in our Christian faith but that we stand on the shoulders of those great men who have gone before us, history matters.

 

 


Reasons to Consider a Seminary Education

seminary-woes2When one considers seminary education there are several factors that should influence the perspective student’s decision making. First and foremost, any person considering seminary education should have a love for God’s Word, along with a great desire to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Him (Eph. 3:17-19).  In my opinion this is essential, because any person desiring to study God’s Word cannot do so half heartily, he or she must do so with diligence and passion (2 Tim. 2:15).

A second reason one may consider seminary education is out of love for Christ and His Church. Even a casual on looker would be able to ascertain today that the Church is rampantly anti-intellectual and not doctrinally detailed. Seminary education is essential for anyone who desires to preach and teach the Word of God because they will be held accountable for the congregation’s edification and spiritual growth. The bible teaches that God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos.4:6). Seminary education helps a believer to grow in God’s Word, equipping them to defend sound doctrine, keeping Christ’s church doctrinally sound.

Thirdly, studying at a seminary helps equip a person’s spiritual walk because studying God’s Word inevitable leads to this end (2 Pet. 3:18). Biblical studies and spiritual growth are linked. Why one asked, because without proper study a believer will remain stagnate in their pursuit of holiness, being limited to milk rather than growing and feeding on the meat of the Word. Seminary education helps equip the believer in their walk, giving them the tools to walk wisely, and in an increasingly unbelieving and hostile world.

Fourth, seminary education can help with family worship – the study of Scripture leads to the worship of the triune God. Therefore when one begins to attend seminary and dedicate his or her time to the study of Scripture this leads to the worship of the God. Learning biblical truth at a seminary will help with family worship because when a person begins to learn biblical truth at seminary he or she will want to share the truths he or she learns with friends and family. They will want to honor God through what they have learned sharing God’s Word with the people that they love.

Lastly Seminary studies equip the believer with the tools to go out and do their part in the spreading of the gospel for Christ Kingdom. The Bible tells us to be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Seminary is a great place to study and grow in the knowledge of the truth so that we may become good soldiers of Jesus Christ and for His Kingdom.

 

 


Essential Tools Essential for Seminary Studies

theological-toolsBefore entering seminary there are several tools that a perspective student should become familiar with and learn how to use before ever taking a class. I dare say (to the traditionalist) that a lap top computer is essential. It would help the student immensely to become familiar with this technology and acquire basic computer skills. Proper note taking skills are important part of the reason why one must have a lap top prior to attending seminary. The better the student is at taking notes the more likely he or she is prepared for their quizzes, tests, and exams. Before the student begins taking notes there are several steps that can be taken to help in the note taking process. First before class begins the student would be wise to select a seat in the classroom where they can see and hear the speaker well. Second it is important when taking notes to focus on information that may be new and to consider key points and concepts. Lastly, it is helpful when taking notes to use abbreviations and short meaningful phrases when necessary. Thinking that one can keep up to speed typing every word the professor ever says is near impossible. Learning how to short hand notes will give the student the ability to keep up with the teachers lecture so that they do not fall behind.

Another area that is of importance for study is the ability to memorize and retain information. In seminary this is essential because students are often asked to read and memorize a lot of information they have never heard. Some strategies that may help the student in the memorization process are as follows, this can be done by two simple tasks. The first key is to focus on the task at hand, it is important to concentrate on the subject and not to multi task. Second, organization is helpful, organizing the subject matter into related categorize makes memorization easier. It is helpful to read the required material over and over again until you can recite it from memory. Proper Communication skills are also a skill that is used to refine for seminary students. Communication skills can help in many different areas in a person’s life and studying at seminary is no different. Communication skills are important and integral in many classroom assignments. Many seminary courses require students to give oral presentations, speeches, and sermons. Therefore students must become comfortable speaking in front of an audience and learn to articulate their ideas clearly and as intended. Learning such skills will not only help the student during their time at seminary but also in their future careers.

Lastly the ever dreaded reading assignments for seminarians can be a daunting task. It is helpful for any seminary student to begin their own disciplined plan in order to keep them accountable to the semester reading assignments. Seminary courses often require a lot of reading so it is important to set aside sometime each day to focus on reading.  Reading is important but retaining what is read is essential, taking notes as you read helps also the highlighting key passages makes retention easier. If necessary reread the text, especially parts of the text that are complicated and hard to understand. These are just a few simple tips to help any perspective seminary student in their future studies.


Understanding How the Justice & Goodness of God go Hand & Hand

Righteousness or sometimes called the Justice of God
Many understand the justice of God like that of Johnny Cash, who writes, “Go tell that long tongue liar, Go and tell that midnight rider, Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter, Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.” Yet Justice does carry two sides, but it shows forth his wrath and judgment, but does include his grace and mercy as we will see. Joel Beeke has stated that in the justice of God, “we see the moral purity in addition to God’s holiness.” As the righteous God he is, God has established a moral order for the universe.  His righteousness means that not only is he righteous and just in himself, but that he will also treat all his creatures fairly. Righteousness is associated with straightness or consistency, and integrity within relationships. In that sense, righteousness is an attribute to God and man. (Psalm 7 gives us this understanding). When it comes to God we may say that divine righteousness is the divine self-consistency within God’s own character and will.  Louis Berkhof describes this as a “strict adherence to law” but we need to understand that this is not to be conceived of in a neutral fashion. God is a law unto himself, not in a way that is given to sudden or unaccountable changes, but in a sense that is true to his own character that never changes. We cannot apply to God what was said of God’s people under the Old Testament, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes then.” God is never a law to himself in this way. God cannot deny himself, for he is faithful to himself and his holy character. The justice of God is the inherent and infinite righteousness of God. God is always straight unto himself. In the Old Testament, the basic words denoting righteousness and justice cluster around two word groups.

The Biblical Terminology of Justice
1. Misphat (mish–pawt): Comes from meaning to judge, it is the result or act of judging, giving a verdict, sentence, or decree.  It is translated often with justice, judgment, ordinances, and right. There are twenty -five passages in which this word is used in reference to God himself and his justice, ordinances and judgments. Examples; Gen. 18:25 reads “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Deut. 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” The other word used within the Jesus’ Testament is…

2. Tsadaq ([t]saw-dak): There are various nouns associated with this verb and all of which basically speak of conformity to an ethical or moral standard of righteousness. In the Old Testament that standard is the character and nature of God himself. God is called righteous and just in himself. The Bible repeatedly indicated that forensically, his judgments and dealings with all mankind are just. In the New Testament we find a rich set of words that connote the righteousness of God. Specifically…

3. Dikaios (dik-ah’-yoce): This is the New Testament term thatmeans just, agreeably to right, uprightly, righteousness. These terms are used in a variety of ways, but commonly refer to right conduct before God, or God’s right conduct to men.  The phrase “the righteousness of God” as used by Paul speaks of a forensic transaction whereby the sinner is pardoned and justified by God.  With such a comprehensive term there is a wealth of biblical material.

The Elements of Justice
1. God’s Moral Purity: Righteousness is very close to Holiness; God does what is right, and does so while always being holy. It is a summary term in Scripture for God’s moral correct behavior or thinking. Some examples; Isaiah writes about the Lord speaking in righteousness in chapter 45, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness.” In the New Testament there are similar references; Matt. 6:33 speaks to “seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.” In Romans 5:18 “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Sometimes Christ is referred to as the Righteous One, 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This whole concept of God’s righteousness and moral purity is spoken of in reference to covenant. This brings us to the second area of Justice, the…

2. The Covenantal Context of Justice: This is particular in reference to God’s living relationship with his people, set again and again in this covenantal context.  It means that God’s righteousness is his total consistency with his covenantal revelation of himself and his covenantal pledge to his people. God shows his righteous acts to all the villages of Israel.  In terms of manifesting righteousness, it is expressive of divine integrity bound up in it.  God’s divine-human relationship is forged in the context of covenant.  That is the reason why the supreme revelation of divine righteousness is found in Jesus Christ on the cross, there the heart of God was revealed in covenantal righteousness, and it is a critical aspect of his dynamic relationship to us. In this context we can speak of human righteousness in the covenant creature.  Precisely because we are created in the divine image of the God who is consistent with his covenant, righteousness is both possible and required in us. When Jesus’ Testament speaks about human righteousness, it speaks of possessing integrity in our covenantal relationship with God. That is why the believer in the Old Testament who is described as righteous, is the one who is radically faithful to his covenant obligations (Deut. 24:13).  God looks upon this action as righteous in his own sight. There are two aspects vivid in Jesus’ Testament. The principle that the righteousness of God is manifested in one, terrible condemnation, and two, merciful deliverance.  This is a result of a proceeding truth, which is, the absolute integrity of God to the revelation given of himself in his covenant. If we lack either perspective which lies at the root of his righteousness we lose the full biblical picture of God’s righteousness. There is a side that speaks of his love and grace and that which speaks of his re-trib-u-tive justice. Example:  Consider Martin Luther. Luther named the righteousness of God as retributive, viewing the idea as a thought of punishing.  He hated the word righteousness.  That righteousness is not to be equated only with punishing/retributive justice and began to understand God’s righteousness as manifested in the gospel as part of God’s mercy and covenant faithfulness.  Luther came to understand that as a righteous God he is a Savior. This moves him from seeing it in terms of justice as also manifested in grace and salvation within the context of covenant.

3. Justice &Righteousness (from the root ṣdq) in the Old Testament it is a simultaneously forensic and relational term. It is a “right relationship” that is legally verified by obedience to the covenantal stipulations. It is related closely to mišpaṭ (justice). God’s righteousness is also connected with his mercy, especially in the Psalms. “The maintenance of the fellowship now becomes the justification of the ungodly. No manner of human effort, but only that righteousness which is the gift of God, can lead to that conduct which is truly in keeping with the covenant.” God has a moral vision for his creation, which is revealed in the various covenants that he makes with human beings in history, and his righteousness involves his determination to see that vision through to the end for his glory and the good of creation. At the same time, God’s righteousness cannot simply be collapsed into his mercy (i.e., justification by grace through faith). As the revelation of God’s moral will (i.e., law), God’s righteousness condemns all people as transgressors; as the revelation of God’s saving will (i.e., the gospel), God’s righteousness saves all who believe (Ro 3:19–26). In both cases, God upholds his own righteousness. Against Albrecht Ritschl’s view, which collapses righteousness into mercy, Barth affirms that God’s righteousness includes the concept of distributive justice—“a righteousness which judges and therefore both exculpates and condemns, rewards and also punishes.” Yet for Barth, this condemnation turns out to be just another form of love and grace. According to Barth, God’s wrath is always a form of mercy. However, in Scripture, God’s wrath is his righteous response to sin and his mercy is a free decision to grant absolution to the guilty. As we have seen, God is free to show mercy on whomever he will and to leave the rest under his just condemnation. The righteousness that God discloses in the law brings condemnation, but the gift of righteousness that God gives brings justification and life (Ro 3:19–22). Once again, it is at the cross where we see the marvelous unity of divine attributes that might seem otherwise to clash. This paradox is lost if mercy, righteousness, and wrath are synonymous terms.

The Applications of Justice
To the saved: There are much more nuanced applications for the believer of Christ than the unbeliever.

1. We should reflect God’s justice/righteousness.

2. In financial dealings we should be equitable, reflecting the fairness of God.  This is something that is not thought of as often as it should be.

3. We should revere God’s justice. We read of that in 1 Peter 1, where Peter speaks in vv. 17-19.  We understand that God judges rightly and only by Christ’s righteousness that we have been saved.  The Lord loves judgment and forsakes not his saints.

4. We also hope in God and his justice for remuneration, Isa. 30:18.  God will make things right on the Day of Judgment. We know that he will be righteous and judge even though we don’t see it here.  2 Thess. 1:4-8. We should defer to God’s justice for retribution, Rom. 12:19.  God is in control and exercises just retribution.

5. We should appeal to God’s justice; we do so in our intercessions. Example; Gen. 18:23-25, Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?  He appeals to the righteousness of God.  We should model that for our people too.  We should rest in God’s promises that he will perform them since he is always righteous and true to his Word.  God is always true to his word of warning and salvation and grace. He is just in his dealings with his children. He protects us and guards us and works all things together for good.  God will not forsake us nor make any mistakes with us.  God is righteous. We should bless and praise God for his righteousness, Ps.  33:4-5 reads, “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

To the unsaved: They are called to repentance.  No one can escape God’s righteous judgment. Rom. 2:3 reads, Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” [6]  People need to be warned and we need to warn them in our ministry not to despise God’s goodness and forbearance.  Paul goes on to say in Romans 2:4, the unbeliever looks around and doesn’t see punishment for wrong done right now and presumes that God will not punish at all forgetting God’s timeless character. God’s righteousness stands over that and declares that God will judge without respect of person, by standards of law and gospel therefore you must repent and get right before God, you must immediately seek his face in repentance and faith.

The Goodness of God
Is one of the most familiar themes of the Scriptures when speaking about God.  He is good in an incredible diversity of ways to all his creatures. Most Reformed systematic theologians take up the attributes of mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering.  That does not mean that each of these terms are identical, but it does mean that a God who is fundamentally good expresses that goodness in many different ways like; mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering. Michael Horton wonderfully writes on this area, “God’s knowledge, wisdom, and power are inseparable from his goodness. In fact, in the strict sense, Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mk 10:18). God’s infinite goodness is the source of all creaturely imitations. Precisely because God does not depend on the world, his goodness is never threatened. God is good toward all he has made, even his enemies (Ps 145:9, 15–16; Mt 5:45). He can afford to be, because he is God with or without them.

The Biblical Terminology of Goodness
1. Towb (tobe = tove): This is the most common word within the OT.  It is used as an adjective, sometimes as a verb, but mostly as a noun, translated good, goodness, kindness, prosperity, bountiful.  It’s specifically used of God’s goodness 84 times in the OT.  The LORD is good and does good.

2. tuwb (toob = toov): meaning; goodness, gladness, to go well with, and it is used of God at least 17 times with the OT.

3. yatab (yaw-tab): to do good and to do well; used of God 19 times in the OT; refers to God’s beneficent attitude particularly in his dealings towards his people. In the NT we read of 2 main family words…

4. agathos (ag-ath-os): the most general word for good, what is morally proper, beneficial.  Translated as good or well, used 10 times of God’s goodness in the NT.

5. chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace): refers to moral excellence; usually translated goodness, kindness, gentleness, used 6-7 times of God of its eight times used in the NT. All of these combined, the Scriptures speak 136 times that God is referred to as good.

The Displays of God’s Goodness
1. Creation: God is concerned about the well being of his own creation and does things to promote that well -being, but not outside of righteousness and holiness.  Rather because he does what is righteous and holy he promotes their well-being. One of the classic texts is James 1:17, “every good gift and perfect gift…no variableness or shadow of turning.” Another text is Matt. 7:11, where it refers to human beings knowing how to give good gifts to their children….It comes as no surprise to us given the inherent goodness of God that Scripture abounds with God’s goodness in a variety of ways. God declares his creative goodness when he declares his creation good.  In Ps. 136:5-9, his goodness endureth forever. Puritan Stephen Charnock, spends 11 pages on the display of God’s goodness in creation. There he expounds the idea that the world was made for man, to gratify man with all his goodness. Creation drips with God’s goodness.

2. Providence: Ps. 136:25 reads, “who gives food to all flesh, his goodness endures forever.”  God gives it to all flesh, all living creatures. He provides food for man and beast alike. His providence manifests itself in a variety of ways: in its covenantal foundation, Gen. 6:17-19 and 9:8-11.  The point is that God is good to Noah as a covenant keeping God in the realm of natural things.  God perpetuates life in our family and society. He tempers the curse that man deserves, Gen. 9:2.  He makes abundant provision to keep us alive, restrains sin in society, and calls men to repentance.  God is lavish; his providence is not only keeping people alive but he gives abundantly.  How good God is in so many ways in his providence that we often take for granted.  There is a special kind of goodness that he manifests in a special providence over those that fear him.  The Lord preserves all them that love him. It focuses particularly on his children. The Lord pities them that fear him.

3. Redemption: Preeminently God’s goodness in his redemption of us.  This is apparent in his dealings with the exodus and redemption from Egypt.  Manifested today as well in redeeming us from sin in Jesus Christ and in bringing the Holy Spirit to teach us the things of God.  Every individual believer in his path of salvation experiences the goodness of God.  We receive every spiritual blessing as believers in Christ Jesus.  That is God’s goodness. God applies his redemption to us initially (Eph. 2:1-10), but also by continuing to apply redemption to us over and over again.  Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  One day, God’s goodness will lead us into the new heavens and new earth, we will sin no more, Ps. 23:6.

One theologian wrote, “Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news, My head’s been wet with the midnight dew, I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee, He spoke to me in the voice so sweet, I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet, He called my name and my heart stood still, When he said, “John go do My will!” Johnny Cash experience the goodness of God.

The Practical Applications of God’s Goodness
1. We should contemplate God’s goodness, Ps. 107:43 reads, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”

2. We should hunger and plead to grasp God’s goodness.

3. We should proclaim God’s goodness. Having been forgiven much they ought to forgive much.  Having tasted of the love of God we ought to love him.  Our lives ought to reflect that goodness in our lives, imitate it, and love our enemies, Matt. 5:45.

4. We should anticipate God’s goodness.  We should not wallow in unbelief and fear the worst and we forget that God is always good, Ps. 27.  One way to not become overwhelmed in trying circumstances is to consider, when has God not been good to me?  That will take care of your problems. We should appreciate his goodness; treasure it, love it, Ezra 3:11.

5. We should show deep respect for God for his goodness, Ex. 34:8.  The goodness of God ought never to produce shallowness in us, but sacred worship.  Irreverent familiarity is an abuse of God’s goodness and doesn’t come from him.  So many say that God is good and flippantly go on their way, but a real understanding of God’s goodness makes us make haste, bow our heads and worship.

 

 


John Owen on the Spirit of Adoption

If you are doubtful concerning your state and condition, do not expect an extraordinary determination of it by an immediate testimony of the Spirit of God. I do grant that God doth sometimes, by this means, bring in peace and satisfaction unto the soul. He gives his own Spirit immediately “to bear witness with ours that we are the children of God,” both upon the account of regeneration and adoption. He doth so; but, as far as we can observe, in a way of sovereignty, when and to whom he pleaseth. Besides, that men may content and satisfy themselves with his ordinary teachings, consolations, and communications of his grace, he hath left the nature of that peculiar testimony of the Spirit very dark and difficult to be found out, few agreeing wherein it doth consist or what is the nature of it. No one man’s experience is a rule unto others, and an undue apprehension of it is a matter of great danger. Yet it is certain that humble souls in extraordinary cases may have recourse unto it with benefit and relief thereby. This, then, you may desire, you may pray for, but not with such a frame of spirit as to refuse that other satisfaction which in the ways of truth and peace you may find. This is the putting of the hand into the side of Christ; but “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

*** Taken from John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 594.


Understanding both, the Justice and Goodness of God

Righteousness or sometimes called the Justice of God

Many understand the justice of God like that of Johnny Cash, who writes,

“Go tell that long tongue liar, Go and tell that midnight rider, Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter, Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.” Yet Justice does carry two sides, but it shows forth his wrath and judgment, but does include his grace and mercy as we will see.

Joel Beeke has stated that in the justice of God, “we see the moral purity in addition to God’s holiness.” As the righteous God he is, God has established a moral order for the universe.  His righteousness means that not only is he righteous and just in himself, but that he will also treat all his creatures fairly. Righteousness is associated with straightness or consistency, and integrity within relationships. In that sense, righteousness is an attribute to God and man. (Psalm 7 gives us this understanding). When it comes to God we may say that divine righteousness is the divine self-consistency within God’s own character and will.  Louis Berkhof describes this as a “strict adherence to law” but we need to understand that this is not to be conceived of in a neutral fashion. God is a law unto himself, not in a way that is given to sudden or unaccountable changes, but in a sense that is true to his own character that never changes. We cannot apply to God what was said of God’s people under the Old Testament, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes then.” God is never a law to himself in this way. God cannot deny himself, for he is faithful to himself and his holy character. The justice of God is the inherent and infinite righteousness of God. God is always straight unto himself. In the Old Testament, the basic words denoting righteousness and justice cluster around two word groups.

The Biblical Terminology of Justice

1. Misphat (mish–pawt): Comes from meaning to judge, it is the result or act of judging, giving a verdict, sentence, or decree.  It is translated often with justice, judgment, ordinances, and right. There are twenty -five passages in which this word is used in reference to God himself and his justice, ordinances and judgments. Examples; Gen. 18:25 reads “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Deut. 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” The other word used within the Jesus’ Testament is…

2. Tsadaq ([t]saw-dak): There are various nouns associated with this verb and all of which basically speak of conformity to an ethical or moral standard of righteousness. In the Old Testament that standard is the character and nature of God himself. God is called righteous and just in himself. The Bible repeatedly indicated that forensically, his judgments and dealings with all mankind are just. In the New Testament we find a rich set of words that connote the righteousness of God. Specifically…

3. Dikaios (dik-ah’-yoce): This is the New Testament term thatmeans just, agreeably to right, uprightly, righteousness. These terms are used in a variety of ways, but commonly refer to right conduct before God, or God’s right conduct to men.  The phrase “the righteousness of God” as used by Paul speaks of a forensic transaction whereby the sinner is pardoned and justified by God.  With such a comprehensive term there is a wealth of biblical material.

The Elements of Justice

1. God’s Moral Purity: Righteousness is very close to Holiness; God does what is right, and does so while always being holy. It is a summary term in Scripture for God’s moral correct behavior or thinking. Some examples; Isaiah writes about the Lord speaking in righteousness in chapter 45, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness.” In the New Testament there are similar references; Matt. 6:33 speaks to “seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.” In Romans 5:18 “so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men Sometimes Christ is referred to as the Righteous One, 1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” This whole concept of God’s righteousness and moral purity is spoken of in reference to covenant. This brings us to the second area of Justice, the…

2. The Covenantal Context of Justice: This is particular in reference to God’s living relationship with his people, set again and again in this covenantal context.  It means that God’s righteousness is his total consistency with his covenantal revelation of himself and his covenantal pledge to his people. God shows his righteous acts to all the villages of Israel.  In terms of manifesting righteousness, it is expressive of divine integrity bound up in it.  God’s divine-human relationship is forged in the context of covenant.  That is the reason why the supreme revelation of divine righteousness is found in Jesus Christ on the cross, there the heart of God was revealed in covenantal righteousness, and it is a critical aspect of his dynamic relationship to us. In this context we can speak of human righteousness in the covenant creature.  Precisely because we are created in the divine image of the God who is consistent with his covenant, righteousness is both possible and required in us. When Jesus’ Testament speaks about human righteousness, it speaks of possessing integrity in our covenantal relationship with God. That is why the believer in the Old Testament who is described as righteous, is the one who is radically faithful to his covenant obligations (Deut. 24:13).  God looks upon this action as righteous in his own sight. There are two aspects vivid in Jesus’ Testament. The principle that the righteousness of God is manifested in one, terrible condemnation, and two, merciful deliverance.  This is a result of a proceeding truth, which is, the absolute integrity of God to the revelation given of himself in his covenant. If we lack either perspective which lies at the root of his righteousness we lose the full biblical picture of God’s righteousness. There is a side that speaks of his love and grace and that which speaks of his re-trib-u-tive justice.

Example:  Consider Martin Luther. Luther named the righteousness of God as retributive, viewing the idea as a thought of punishing.  He hated the word righteousness.  That righteousness is not to be equated only with punishing/retributive justice and began to understand God’s righteousness as manifested in the gospel as part of God’s mercy and covenant faithfulness.  Luther came to understand that as a righteous God he is a Savior. This moves him from seeing it in terms of justice as also manifested in grace and salvation within the context of covenant.

3. Justice &Righteousness (from the root ṣdq) in the Old Testament it is a simultaneously forensic and relational term. It is a “right relationship” that is legally verified by obedience to the covenantal stipulations. It is related closely to mišpaṭ (justice). God’s righteousness is also connected with his mercy, especially in the Psalms. “The maintenance of the fellowship now becomes the justification of the ungodly. No manner of human effort, but only that righteousness which is the gift of God, can lead to that conduct which is truly in keeping with the covenant.” God has a moral vision for his creation, which is revealed in the various covenants that he makes with human beings in history, and his righteousness involves his determination to see that vision through to the end for his glory and the good of creation.

At the same time, God’s righteousness cannot simply be collapsed into his mercy (i.e., justification by grace through faith). As the revelation of God’s moral will (i.e., law), God’s righteousness condemns all people as transgressors; as the revelation of God’s saving will (i.e., the gospel), God’s righteousness saves all who believe (Ro 3:19–26). In both cases, God upholds his own righteousness. Against Albrecht Ritschl’s view, which collapses righteousness into mercy, Barth affirms that God’s righteousness includes the concept of distributive justice—“a righteousness which judges and therefore both exculpates and condemns, rewards and also punishes.” Yet for Barth, this condemnation turns out to be just another form of love and grace. According to Barth, God’s wrath is always a form of mercy. However, in Scripture, God’s wrath is his righteous response to sin and his mercy is a free decision to grant absolution to the guilty. As we have seen, God is free to show mercy on whomever he will and to leave the rest under his just condemnation. The righteousness that God discloses in the law brings condemnation, but the gift of righteousness that God gives brings justification and life (Ro 3:19–22). Once again, it is at the cross where we see the marvelous unity of divine attributes that might seem otherwise to clash. This paradox is lost if mercy, righteousness, and wrath are synonymous terms.

The Applications of Justice

To the saved: There are much more nuanced applications for the believer of Christ than the unbeliever.

1. We should reflect God’s justice/righteousness.

2. In financial dealings we should be equitable, reflecting the fairness of God.  This is something that is not thought of as often as it should be.

3. We should revere God’s justice. We read of that in 1 Peter 1, where Peter speaks in vv. 17-19.  We understand that God judges rightly and only by Christ’s righteousness that we have been saved.  The Lord loves judgment and forsakes not his saints.

4. We also hope in God and his justice for remuneration, Isa. 30:18.  God will make things right on the Day of Judgment. We know that he will be righteous and judge even though we don’t see it here.  2 Thess. 1:4-8. We should defer to God’s justice for retribution, Rom. 12:19.  God is in control and exercises just retribution.

5. We should appeal to God’s justice; we do so in our intercessions. Example; Gen. 18:23-25, Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?  He appeals to the righteousness of God.  We should model that for our people too.  We should rest in God’s promises that he will perform them since he is always righteous and true to his Word.  God is always true to his word of warning and salvation and grace. He is just in his dealings with his children. He protects us and guards us and works all things together for good.  God will not forsake us nor make any mistakes with us.  God is righteous. We should bless and praise God for his righteousness, Ps.  33:4-5 reads, “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

 To the unsaved: They are called to repentance.  No one can escape God’s righteous judgment. Rom. 2:3 reads, Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?”  People need to be warned and we need to warn them in our ministry not to despise God’s goodness and forbearance.  Paul goes on to say in Romans 2:4, the unbeliever looks around and doesn’t see punishment for wrong done right now and presumes that God will not punish at all forgetting God’s timeless character. God’s righteousness stands over that and declares that God will judge without respect of person, by standards of law and gospel therefore you must repent and get right before God, you must immediately seek his face in repentance and faith.

The Goodness of God: Is one of the most familiar themes of the Scriptures when speaking about God.  He is good in an incredible diversity of ways to all his creatures. Most Reformed systematic theologians take up the attributes of mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering.  That does not mean that each of these terms are identical, but it does mean that a God who is fundamentally good expresses that goodness in many different ways like; mercy, grace, loving kindness, and longsuffering. Michael Horton wonderfully writes on this area,

“God’s knowledge, wisdom, and power are inseparable from his goodness. In fact, in the strict sense, Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” (Mk 10:18). God’s infinite goodness is the source of all creaturely imitations. Precisely because God does not depend on the world, his goodness is never threatened. God is good toward all he has made, even his enemies (Ps 145:9, 15–16; Mt 5:45). He can afford to be, because he is God with or without them.

The Biblical Terminology of Goodness

1. Towb (tobe = tove): This is the most common word within the OT.  It is used as an adjective, sometimes as a verb, but mostly as a noun, translated good, goodness, kindness, prosperity, bountiful.  It’s specifically used of God’s goodness 84 times in the OT.  The LORD is good and does good.

2. tuwb (toob = toov): meaning; goodness, gladness, to go well with, and it is used of God at least 17 times with the OT.

3. yatab (yaw-tab): to do good and to do well; used of God 19 times in the OT; refers to God’s beneficent attitude particularly in his dealings towards his people.

In the NT we read of 2 main family words…

4. agathos (ag-ath-os): the most general word for good, what is morally proper, beneficial.  Translated as good or well, used 10 times of God’s goodness in the NT.

5. chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace): refers to moral excellence; usually translated goodness, kindness, gentleness, used 6-7 times of God of its eight times used in the NT.

All of these combined, the Scriptures speak 136 times that God is referred to as good.

The Displays of God’s Goodness

1. Creation: God is concerned about the well being of his own creation and does things to promote that well -being, but not outside of righteousness and holiness.  Rather because he does what is righteous and holy he promotes their well-being. One of the classic texts is James 1:17, “every good gift and perfect gift…no variableness or shadow of turning.” Another text is Matt. 7:11, where it refers to human beings knowing how to give good gifts to their children….It comes as no surprise to us given the inherent goodness of God that Scripture abounds with God’s goodness in a variety of ways. God declares his creative goodness when he declares his creation good.  In Ps. 136:5-9, his goodness endureth forever. Puritan Stephen Charnock, spends 11 pages on the display of God’s goodness in creation. There he expounds the idea that the world was made for man, to gratify man with all his goodness. Creation drips with God’s goodness.

2. Providence: Ps. 136:25 reads, “who gives food to all flesh, his goodness endures forever.”  God gives it to all flesh, all living creatures. He provides food for man and beast alike. His providence manifests itself in a variety of ways: in its covenantal foundation, Gen. 6:17-19 and 9:8-11.  The point is that God is good to Noah as a covenant keeping God in the realm of natural things.  God perpetuates life in our family and society. He tempers the curse that man deserves, Gen. 9:2.  He makes abundant provision to keep us alive, restrains sin in society, and calls men to repentance.  God is lavish; his providence is not only keeping people alive but he gives abundantly.  How good God is in so many ways in his providence that we often take for granted.  There is a special kind of goodness that he manifests in a special providence over those that fear him.  The Lord preserves all them that love him. It focuses particularly on his children. The Lord pities them that fear him.

3. Redemption: Preeminently God’s goodness in his redemption of us.  This is apparent in his dealings with the exodus and redemption from Egypt.  Manifested today as well in redeeming us from sin in Jesus Christ and in bringing the Holy Spirit to teach us the things of God.  Every individual believer in his path of salvation experiences the goodness of God.  We receive every spiritual blessing as believers in Christ Jesus.  That is God’s goodness. God applies his redemption to us initially (Eph. 2:1-10), but also by continuing to apply redemption to us over and over again.  Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  One day, God’s goodness will lead us into the new heavens and new earth, we will sin no more, Ps. 23:6.

One theologian wrote,

“Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news, My head’s been wet with the midnight dew, I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee, He spoke to me in the voice so sweet, I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet, He called my name and my heart stood still, When he said, “John go do My will!” Johnny Cash experience the goodness of God.

The Practical Applications of God’s Goodness

1. We should contemplate God’s goodness, Ps. 107:43 reads, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”

2. We should hunger and plead to grasp God’s goodness.

3. We should proclaim God’s goodness. Having been forgiven much they ought to forgive much.  Having tasted of the love of God we ought to love him.  Our lives ought to reflect that goodness in our lives, imitate it, and love our enemies, Matt. 5:45.

4. We should anticipate God’s goodness.  We should not wallow in unbelief and fear the worst and we forget that God is always good, Ps. 27.  One way to not become overwhelmed in trying circumstances is to consider, when has God not been good to me?  That will take care of your problems. We should appreciate his goodness; treasure it, love it, Ezra 3:11.

5. We should show deep respect for God for his goodness, Ex. 34:8.  The goodness of God ought never to produce shallowness in us, but sacred worship.  Irreverent familiarity is an abuse of God’s goodness and doesn’t come from him.  So many say that God is good and flippantly go on their way, but a real understanding of God’s goodness makes us make haste, bow our heads and worship.

 


A Child’s Failing

A father out of indulgence may pass by a failing when his son waits upon him; for instance, suppose he should spill the wine and break the glass; but surely he will not allow him to throw it down carelessly or wilfully.”

Every one can see that there is a grave distinction between sins of infirmity and wilful transgressions. A man may splash us very badly with the wheel of his carriage, as he passes by, and we may feel vexed, but the feeling would have been very much more keen if he had thrown mud into our face with deliberate intent. By the grace of God, we do not sin wilfully. Our wrongdoing comes of ignorance or of carelessness, and causes us many a pang of conscience, for we would fain be blameless before our God. Wilfully to offend is not according to our mind. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Deliberation and delight in sin are sure marks of the heirs of wrath. Sin in believers is a terrible evil, but there is this mitigation of it, that they do not love it, and cannot rest in it. The true son does not wish to do damage to his father’s goods; on the contrary, he loves to please his father, and he is himself grieved when he causes grief to one whom he so highly honors. O my Lord, I pray thee let me not sin carelessly, lest I come to sin presumptuously. Make me to be watchful against my infirmities, that I may not fall by little and little.

*** Taken from C. H. Spurgeon, Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Distilled and Dispensed (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883), 18.


Bird Tied by a String

A bird that is tied by a string seems to have more liberty than a bird in a cage; it flutters up and down, and yet it is held fast.

WHEN a man thinks that he has escaped from the bondage of sin in general, and yet evidently remains under the power of some one favored lust, he is woefully mistaken in his judgment as to his spiritual freedom. He may boast that he is out of the cage, but assuredly the string is on his leg. He who has his fetters knocked off, all but one chain, is a prisoner still. “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me” is a good and wise prayer; for one pampered sin will slay the soul as surely as one dose of poison will kill the body. There is no need for a traveller to be bitten by a score of deadly vipers, the tooth of one cobra is quite sufficient to insure his destruction. One sin, like one match, can kindle the fires of hell within the soul. The practical application of this truth should be made by the professor who is a slave to drink, or to covetousness, or to passion. How can you be free if any one of these chains still holds you fast? We have met with professors who are haughty, and despise others; how can these be the Lord’s free men while pride surrounds them? In will and intent we must break every bond of sin, and we must perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, or we cannot hope that the Son has made us free. O thou who art the free Spirit, break every bond of sin, I beseech thee.

***Taken from C. H. Spurgeon, Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Distilled and Dispensed (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883), 7–8.


Enjoying the Omnipotence 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.”

Defining God’s Omnipotence
Chapter eight in our book covers the doctrine theologians call the omnipotence of God, commonly referred to in the Reformed circles as the Sovereign Power of God. The term omnipotencecomes from the Latin Potestas which means power, and Omni meaning all – thus we use the theological term omnipotence to describe that God is the all-powerful one. As creatures we have power too, this attribute is communicable, but incommunicable in that our power is limited, whereas God’s power is without limits or an end. God alone has self-existent power; this is something we do not have. The Scriptures teach of God’s incommunicable power (Omnipotence) specifically in three ways;

1. He alone has infinite power in Ephesians 1:19-23 “and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

2. He alone has eternal power in Romans 1:20 “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

3. He alone has unchangeable power in Isa. 40:28 “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.

 

The Misconceptions of God’s Omnipotence
1. Total Omnipotence:
This is the doctrine of scholastics who claim that God is capable of doing everything without any limitation whatsoever. They are usually those who commonly enjoy telling others that God cannot be placed in a box. This understanding of total omnipotence leads to absurd conclusions that God for example can sin, cease to exist, effect contradictions making yes equal no, or the common question I get in seminary, “what if God chose to leave the Trinity” as if an unchangeable covenant between them could take place. It is important for us to know that the Scriptures make it clear that there are things that God cannot do. God is not a man that he should lie, and we know God cannot lie. 2 Tim. 2:13 we read, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God will keep his promise in remaining faithful and cannot deny himself.  James 1:13 reads, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot be tempted with evil. The Scriptures, the very Word of the Lord himself limits what God can or cannot do. God does not have unqualified power to unaccountable changes of mood or behavior (commonly called capricious (ca-pri-cious). Three things in God’s character limit his power; One, his ideality, he is ideal. Two, His immutability, he is unchangeable, and three, his sovereignty, he cannot do something against his decree. The point we need to maintain on omnipotence is that God is consistent in his nature and cannot do something inconsistent with his own perfections.

2.  Actual Omnipotence: This view of God’s Omnipotence claims that God can only do what he actually does since he is unchangeable. Some people have dressed this up and called it process theology (which I mentioned before when dealing with God’s immutability). Those who espouse this error try to disconnect God in every way discretely from the evil they see in the world.  This particular understanding of omnipotence teaches that God cannot do anything about it, that he is helpless in himself, that he cannot fix or aid the problem of sin within the world. God is doing the best he can and would put an end to evil if he could, but he cannot.  This depreciates and belittles God’s credibility and weakens him in that it would make God a liar, because God has repeatedly asserted that God is over all things, good, and even evil. For example we read in Eph. 1:11, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Jesus himself asserts that this is false in Matt. 26:53, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Jesus could have summoned angels, but refrained from doing what he could have done.

Biblical Concept of God’s Omnipotence: In summary God can do anything and everything that he wills to do merely by willing it, since nothing can restrain him and nothing is too hard for him. This omnipotence is commonly broken down into three areas by theologians.

1. Concrete Substance: Most Reformed theologians (Calvin, Berkhof, Bavinck, and Brakel) refer to this as God’s ordinate power.  This relates to what God ordains and orders and purposes to do. They recognize the close association of God’s will and God’s power.  God’s power is part of his sovereign will.  There is overlap here; systematic theologian Louis Berkhof “classifies it as an attribute of sovereignty.” The great Princeton Theologian Charles Hodge distinguishes the power of God from the sovereignty of God. While yet the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck: doesn’t give it separate treatment, he states “there is a great deal of overlap” between the power and sovereignty of God.  Because I am more infatuated with the Dutch than Presbyterians, I have followed Bavinck’s example this morning – combining the Lord’s power overlapped with his sovereign rule (joking of course).

The focus on the word sovereignty draws our attention to the authority of God. God has power to effect and bring to pass what he will. Sovereignty has the right to do what he wills. The difference is in this area, it differs on the exclusive right of God that he disposes of creation as he wills. This is what man hates to hear, because man despises anything that challenges his autonomy.  Man resists sovereign power because that gives God the right to do with us as he will.  Some Reformed theologians properly define it as God’s sovereign will, like Berkhof (Cf. page 80) and Stephen Charnock (page 364) and Charles Hodge (vol. 1, 407-8). This teaches us three things: One, to give the Almighty the praise and honor that are his due, two, we ought to face our own limitations to recognize that we are not omnipotent, our entire life depends on God, and three, we should trust God and not charge him foolishly even when we experience severe afflictions.

2.  Supernatural Instrument: God can do everything merely by willing it. That is the supernatural instrument. He needs no other means (Ps. 33). He is capable of working miraculously without created means and working above them at his pleasure, even though he usually works through means.

3.  Infinite Source:Since nothing can restrain God, nothing is too hard for him – this is hard to grasp in our finite minds. The Scriptures speaks that nothing is too hard for the Lord.  This infinite source is an infinite source for us in daily life as well. It speaks of the infinite potentiality of God, who serves in relationship to resistance, in relation to difficulty, and in relation to feasibility.  No amount of opposition can oppose successfully God’s design, and there is no task God cannot complete.  Nothing is beyond the realm of feasible for God, to do exceeding above what we ask or think, as Paul reminds us in Eph. 3:20.  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Some refer to this as God’s absolute power, because the Scripture presents it in absolute terms.  The actual exercise of God’s power does not express its limits in absolute power of God.  God’s power to do everything falls within the scope of God’s infinite potentiality. This distinction is used discreetly and we must have great caution here as well because some scholastics have employed this distinction of total omnipotence. There is a sense in which we can speak of God’s absolute power, but not mean total omnipotence. For a further study on this area, you can read Louis Berkhof on page 80 or Charles Hodge in volume 1 on page 409 on God’s supernatural power exercised without means. 

Practical Applications taken from God’s Omnipotence
1. This should teach us that all rebellion is futile.

2. This should teach us to trust God in all situations to believe what he says and what he promises to do, even if it is scientifically impossible. Past Example, Sarah laughed, but God rebuked her for laughing, there were those who laughed at the plagues of Egypt, but God rebuked. Present Example, today the world laughs at creation but God will rebuke. It is important to understand that God’s Word is true – let God be true, because every man is a liar.

3. As for pastors, it can become depressing I am sure to not come across, or see conversions taking place in one’s congregation they are ministering in. This doctrine should teach the pastor and his members that God’s infinite potential is able to convert the most hardened sinner.  We cannot do it and we learn that more and more by experience. No matter how wholeheartedly one may preach, the pastor does not convert the sinner, but with God all things are possible because of his power, men like Saul become Paul.

The Display of God’s Omnipotence
One can see God’s sovereign power in a number of ways within the Scriptures.

 

  1. God’s Omnipotence in Creation: Psalm 33:6-9, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
  2. God’s Omnipotence in Providence: Jeremiah 32:17-19, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty indeed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.”
  3. God’s Omnipotence in Salvation: Luke 2, the virgin birth, miracles of Christ, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and the application of salvation by his Spirit.
  4. God’s Omnipotence in Eschatology: The consummation of salvation here takes place, the 2nd coming of Christ, the glorification of the Church, the purification of the world by fire, the Final Judgment, eternal punishment of the wicked, eternal glory of heaven, and the abyss of hell; all proclaim God’s omnipotence sovereign power and rule over all things.

 

The Practical Relevance of God’s Omnipotence

  1. God’s supreme power instructs his people, it instructs us to bend the knee to no man and to call no man master, to serve the Lord not to live in the face of fear of man.
  2. God’s supreme power helps us to see deceivers for what they really are.
  3. God’s supreme power comforts his people in that what he has done for us, he will continue to do, until his return in Jesus Christ.
  4. God’s supreme power exhorts his people to bless him and praise him in creation, providence and redemption, to acknowledge and honor him, and to have confidence in him.
  5. God’s supreme power exhorts us to obey him and hope and wait for him, to seek him with great expectancy.
  6. God’s supreme power calls sinners to cease rebellion against the Lord and flee to Jesus Christ for pardon before such power consumes them.

 


Nestorianism, Orthodoxy, Kingship, Priesthood and Mediator

Explain Nestorianism and the differences betweenthis view and the traditional orthodox understanding on the person of Christ?
Nestorianism maintains that Christ having two distinct natures, existed as two distinct persons. Many understood Nestorius to be arguing for two personal subjects in Christ, a man and a god similar to the ancient heresy of Paul of Samosata who argued that Jesus a man had been possessed by the divinity.  Nestorius did not mean that but this has become the popular meaning of the heresy of Nestorianism.  The Councils of Nicea in 325 A.D.Costantinople 381 A.D. and Chalcedon helped to establish the orthodox understanding on the Person of Christ. These Councils affirm that Christ is the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds God of God, Light of Light very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. This same Lord Jesus Christ for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. Christ is one person with two natures one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation;  the distinction of nature’s being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated in to two persons, but one and the same Only begotten God the Word, Jesus Christ.

Explain the distinction John Owen made concerning the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament compared to the revelation of Christ in the New Testament?
John Owen made an important distinction concerning the revelation Christ delivered to the church in the Old Testament, the Son revealed God’s will to the prophets in His divine person, sometimes mediated through angels. In the revelation of the gospel Christ taking on humanity then taught it immediately Himself. Owen explains how Christ being omniscient, He knows everything there is to know. However in his mediatorial office, He revealed the will of the Father in an according to His human nature.

What were the two functions Stephen Charnock and John Owen ascribed to Christ priesthood explain?
Charnock noted that there are two functions of Christ’s priesthood one of oblation and intercession, Charnock notes they are both joined together, but one as precedent to the other. The oblation precedes the intercession and the intercession could not be without the oblation. John Owen agreed that these two acts must not be separate for it belongs to the same mediator for sin to sacrifice and pray. Owen states how in heaven Christ’s intercessory work is continued oblation of Himself. Christ impetrated, merited, or obtained by His death, must be applied on to upon them for whom He intended to obtain it, or else His intercession is in vain, He is not heard in the prayers of His mediatorship.  Owen makes the point that the particularity of Christ’s death on the cross relates to His intercessory work in heaven.

How did Puritans such as Reynolds describe Christ exaltation in relation to His office as King?
The Puritans and particularly Reynolds addressed this issue of Christ’s exaltation in relation to His kingship. The exaltation of Christ as King is fully realized in His enthronement said Reynolds. Goodwin saw this to be realized at His ascension when a military triumph is accorded Him (leading captivity captive) which shows that Christ subdued His enemies at the cross according to Goodwin.

Explain the threefold view Thomas Goodwin held pertaining to the glory of Christ and it application to Christ’s role as mediator?
Goodwin saw Christ glory as threefold, the first glory which all the orthodox agreed upon is that the Christ divine nature cannot be diminished in any way. The Son in His divine nature is coequal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Goodwin saw this glory as Christ essential glory. Secondly Goodwin saw how Christ has a personal glory not shared with the Father or the Spirit namely the glory of His person as the God-man; this belongs to Christ alone on account of the hyposatical union. Christ thirdlypossesses the glory of His office as mediator of the covenant of grace.


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.

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.