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Confessing the Impassible God

New RBAP title coming this fall

 

Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, eds. Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan.

 

 

RBAP currently has two books on divine impassibility, God without Passions: a Reader and God without Passions: a Primer. What is divine impassibility? Sam Renihan, in his newest book (God without Passions: a Primer), defines it as follows: “God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation” (19). That definition might startle you. It sounds as if God were a cold, indifferent divine rock or robot. Notice the words just used to describe God: “cold,” “indifferent,” “rock,” and “robot.” Each of these terms are creaturely; they are borrowed from the created realm. Of course God is not “cold,” “indifferent,” a “rock,” or a “robot”; He is not creature. This is exactly what the Second London Confession of 1677/89 asserts, when it says, “[God is] without body, parts, or passions” (2.1). Each of these terms – “body,” “parts,” “passions” – are indicative of creatures not the eternal Creator. “Passions” are creaturely actions which need a creaturely “body” and creaturely “parts” (i.e., faculties of the soul) in order to exist. “Passions” come into being; God is (Exod. 3:14).  Since God has neither “body” nor “parts” of which He is comprised or compounded, and due to divine immutability and eternity, He is impassible (i.e., “without…passions”).

 

But, someone might be thinking, does divine impassibility mean that God is not love? Of course not, for we are told that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The love of God is a divine perfection, co-extensive with the divine essence and, therefore, eternal. It is not a divine passion (a contradiction). Love is what God is (i.e., actually), not what God can become (i.e., potentially). God can and does reveal His love to creatures but He does not and cannot manufacture more love or deplete Himself of previous love. For to become more or less loving, for example, implies the imperfection of a previous state of existence. God’s perfections are immutable.

 

This leads to RBAP’s next book on divine impassibility, Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. This book will cover hermeneutics, exegesis, historical theology, systematic theology, the Confession, and practical theology. It will contain a Foreword by Paul Helm and has been endorsed by Earl Blackburn, Walter Chantry, James Dolezal, J. V. Fesko, Ryan McGraw, Fred Sanders, David VanDrunen, Jeffrey Waddington, and Sam Waldron.

 

 

Here is the table of contents:

 

Abbreviations………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Foreword…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Paul Helm

Preface……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Editors

 

Introduction

 

An Introduction to the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: Why is this Doctrine Important?………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

James M. Renihan

 

Part I: Theological and Hermeneutical Prolegomena

 

  1. Analogy and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility……………………………………………………..

Charles J.  Rennie

  1. Hermeneutics: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei………………………………………………….

Ronald S. Baines

 

Part II: Biblical Foundations

 

  1. The Old Testament on Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God………………

Steve Garrick with Ronald S. Baines

  1. The Old Testament on Divine Impassibility: (II) Texts on Immutability and Impassibility………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Ronald S. Baines and Steve Garrick

  1. The Old Testament on Divine Impassibility: (III) Texts on Apparent Passibilism and Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Steve Garrick, James P. Butler, and Charles J. Rennie

  1. The New Testament on Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God, Immutability, and Impassibility…………………………………………………………………………………

Richard C. Barcellos and James P. Butler

  1. The New Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Creation, the Incarnation and Sufferings of Christ, and Conclusion………………………………………………..

Richard C. Barcellos

 

Part III: Historical Theology

 

  1. Historical Theology Survey of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: Pre-Reformation through Seventeenth-Century ……………………………………………………………………..

Michael T. Renihan, James M. Renihan, and Samuel Renihan

  1. Historical Theology Survey of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: The Modern Era……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Brandon Smith and James M. Renihan

 

Part IV: Systematic Theology

 

  1. A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Impassibility and the Essence and Attributes of God…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Charles J. Rennie

  1. A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Impassibility and the Divine Affections…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Charles J. Rennie

  1. A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (III) Impassibility and Christology…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Charles J. Rennie and Stefan T. Lindblad

 

Part V: Confessional Theology

 

  1. Confessional Theology and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility……………………………….

James M. Renihan

 

Part VI: Practical Theology

 

  1. Practical Theology and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility……………………………………..

James P. Butler

 

Part VII: Conclusion

 

  1. Closing Comments and Affirmations and Denials……………………………………………………..

Ronald S. Baines and Charles J. Rennie

 

Appendices

 

  1. Review of God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God, K. Scott Oliphint……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Charles J. Rennie

  1. Review of God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion,

Rob Lister…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

James E. Dolezal

 

Scripture Index………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Name and Subject Index………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Glossary of Technical Terms and Theological Phrases…………………………………………………….

Bibliography of Works Cited……………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

Here are some brief excerpts from Paul Helm’s Foreword:

 

. . . This book can be said to present an interdisciplinary exposition and so a cumulative defense of divine impassibility and of the doctrine of God of which that is an aspect. Each line of argument strengthens and supports the other. Its foundation in Scripture, and the hermeneutics employed, show the doctrine to be not speculative or abstract but to have its foundation in the varied data of the both Testaments of the Bible. The chapters on history show that divine impassibility is not a recent whimsy or the peculiar invention of a Christian sect, but the historic catholic faith. Those on the confession and the doctrine of God set out its Baptist pedigree, and the connectedness of impassibility with other distinctions made in the doctrine of God, and their overall coherence. Each line of enquiry sensitizes the palate to taste the others. There is a polemical strand throughout the book, contrasting this view with those of Open Theism and aberrant statements from contemporary Calvinists and others. But these arguments are used not to score points but to set forth and make even clearer the positive, historic teaching on divine impassibility, by contrasting it with other currently-held views.

I am honored to have been asked to write this Foreword, and delighted with what I have read. Confessing the Impassible God is heartily recommended.

 

Paul Helm

Former Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion

King’s College

London

 

 

Here are some excerpts from the endorsements:

 

How is the confessional phrase God is  “without . . . passions” to be understood? Is God really without passions? Isn’t he like us or rather aren’t we like God, made in his image? We have passions and emotions, therefore, God must have the same; or so the argument goes. Can God become emotionally hurt or distraught? Does God actually and emotionally change with varying circumstances and situations in human history? After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God repented? These are some questions that have been raised in the past century, but with renewed vigor in the last ten years.

The above questions are skillfully answered in this book Confessing the Impassible God. . . .

 

Earl M. Blackburn

Heritage Baptist Church, Senior Pastor

Shreveport, Louisiana

_______________

 

 

. . . You will find within these covers profound thought that is not all easy to grasp but well-worth the effort.

I am pleased to commend this volume. May it bring much praise to “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

 

Walter J. Chantry

Author of Today’s Gospel, Authentic or Synthetic?,

Signs of the Apostles, and Call the Sabbath a Delight

_______________

 

 

The essays in this volume constitute a wonderful blend of biblical, historical, contemplative, and practical theology all in defense of the doctrine of divine impassibility. The defense mounted is not primarily against the usual cast of detractors—Open Theists and process theologians—but against those evangelicals who imagine that abandoning or reconceiving impassibility can be done with little or no detriment to the edifice of a classical theology proper. The authors are convinced that once one begins to chip away at this crucial piece of the foundation the whole house of orthodox Christian conviction about God and his attributes begins to falter. And they are right.

. . . The result is a richly rewarding study that magnifies our unchanging God.

 

James E. Dolezal

Assistant Professor of Theology

Cairn University

_______________

 

 

Truth sometimes sounds stranger than fiction, which is why Confessing the Impassible God is a welcomed, rigorous defense of the traditional and confessional doctrine of divine impassibility. . . . The contributors provide a significant exegetical, theological, historical, and practical engagement of the issues, which makes this eminently useful for pastors, scholars, seminarians, and even people in the pews.

 

  1. V. Fesko

Academic Dean

Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology

Westminster Seminary California

_______________

 

 

Theology is not static. The church has made progress in its understanding of the Trinity, Christology, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology. However, theological development ordinarily comes through the church combating error rather than choosing a research topic for a new book. In responding to error, the church must build upon and enrich her understanding of Scripture, in dialogue with church history, with an eye toward a new generation, rather than jettison the past in the name of theological progress. This book presents the old view of divine impassibility, using old arguments, against new critics.

 

Ryan M. McGraw

Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

_______________

 

 

A spirited reclaiming of the doctrine of divine impassibility, this coherent, well-edited, multi-author project is unique in several commendable aspects. It is decisively Baptist, but advances its argument in ways that recent generations have stopped expecting from Baptist theologians. These authors are committed to the final authority of Scripture in doctrinal matters, but mastery of their tradition’s confessional resources gives them uncommon access to depths of theological understanding. In particular, they have chased the doctrine that God is “without passions” all the way down metaphysically, relating it meaningfully to the theology of the divine being as pure act, and steadfastly refusing mere voluntarism, the persistent Scotist reductionist temptation to make everything depend on God’s will rather than his nature. Evangelical projects of retrieval are becoming more common as theologians appropriate patristic and medieval resources. Confessing the Impassible God stands out for its commitment to a retrieval of the middle distance, the Baptist confessions of early modernity as the nearby trailhead to the great tradition of Christian theology. Good fences make good neighbors, and I think that, paradoxically, the decisively Baptist focus of this project is what will make it useful beyond its own Reformed Baptist confessional borders.

 

Fred Sanders

Professor of Theology

Torrey Honors Institute

Biola University

_______________

 

 

Confessing the Impassible God addresses a topic that gets to matters at the heart of our understanding of the living God. Exploring the doctrine of divine impassibility through thorough historical, confessional, systematic, and exegetical studies, the authors make a compelling case that maintaining a robust affirmation of impassibility not only secures our continuity with the long patristic, medieval, and Reformation tradition of theology proper but also guards against falling into a range of errors that entail portraying God as something fundamentally other than the God of classical, biblical Christianity.

. . . I recommend this volume to all thoughtful Christians who wish to know and worship God truly, and I expect they will find here great encouragement to embrace impassibility not as a sterile idea of Greek metaphysics but as profound biblical teaching meant to bolster our faith, hope, love, joy, and confidence in the Triune God.

 

David VanDrunen

Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics

Westminster Seminary California

_______________

 

 

Classical theism is under attack in our day. Specifically such doctrines as divine simplicity and impassibility are deconstructed in an effort to achieve a more believable and accessible God. Unfortunately this more believable and accessible God is not the God of the Bible. It would be bad enough if the enemies of Christ led the attack against classical theism, but it is so-called friends who undermine the classical biblical witness to our great and glorious self-contained triune God. The broader church and Reformed community owe a debt of gratitude to our Reformed Baptist brothers for producing Confessing the Impassible God. In this fine book, the classically biblical doctrine of divine impassibility is defined and defended, explored and exposited. . . . This volume covers the whole spectrum of the theological encyclopedia on divine impassibility. I salute the men who have been involved in the publication of this fine book.

 

Rev. Jeffrey C. Waddington
Stated Supply & Ministerial Adviser—Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church Lansdowne, PA
Ministerial Adviser—Calvary Church of Amwell (OPC) Ringoes, NJ
Panelist & Secretary of the Board—The Reformed Forum
Articles Editor—The Confessional Presbyterian Journal
Book Series Editor & Fellow—Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

_______________

 

 

There was a time when it was my opinion that the Doctrine of God or Theology Proper was settled. It seemed to me that, except for the debates over God’s eternal decree between Reformed and Arminian Christians, the Doctrine of God was of little polemic interest. If that was ever really the case, it is surely not the case now. The onslaught of Process and Open Theism, the claims that the classical Christian doctrine of God was seriously infected with Greek philosophical ideas, and the consequent and widespread proposals to modify the traditional Theology Proper of classical Christian theism are provoking widening discussion. Confessing the Impassible God provides an important, deep, and thoughtful response to the proposed revisions to the doctrine of divine impassibility—one of the hot-spots in the polemic furor among Reformed evangelicals over the Doctrine of God. I am grateful for the theologically careful and historically informed hermeneutics and exegesis of the present volume. I am grateful especially for the reminder that this book contains of the importance of recognizing the revelation of Scripture as analogical, and sometimes anthropopathic, and the importance of recognizing this in our teaching. Confessing the Impassible God deserves close study and appreciative discussion among Reformed Christians.

 

Sam Waldron

Dean of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary

Pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church

Owensboro, KY

_______________

 

 

Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, eds. Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan, coming soon from RBAP!

 

Confession-OldCOver Overlay

A Brief Statement on Divine Impassibility

A Statement of the Doctrine

A standard definition of the doctrine of divine impassibility (DDI) asserts that God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation. He is not changed from within or without; he remains unchanged and unchanging both prior to and subsequent to creation. The doctrine of divine impassibility is generally treated under the doctrine of immutability in the standard books on systematic theology. Immutability means that God is without change. The Scripture is clear on the doctrine of immutability (see Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) and the logic regarding impassibility should be clear: if God is unchangeable, then He is impassible. If God did in fact experience inner emotional changes, He would be mutable. To suggest otherwise would be to affirm that God was less than perfect to begin with: if He changes it is either for the better or for the worse, neither of which is consistent with the biblical data concerning God.

What the Doctrine Does Not Mean

The doctrine of divine impassibility does not mean that God is without affections. The Bible is clear: God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The Bible consistently teaches that God does relate to His creatures in terms of love, goodness, mercy, kindness, justice and wrath. An affirmation of divine impassibility does not mean a denial of true affections in God. However, these descriptions of God’s character are not to be understood as changing or fluctuating things. For example, the 2 London Confession of Faith of 1677/1689 affirms impassibility (God is “without passions”) and then goes on to describe God as “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…” The affirmation of impassibility does not result in removing affections from God; rather, the affirmation of impassibility upholds the fact that God is most loving because He cannot decrease nor increase; He is love! The doctrine of divine impassibility actually stresses the absolute-ness of affections in God.

Objections to the Doctrine

Some modern authors have challenged the classical doctrine of impassibility. While there are several reasons for this, two of the most persuasive ones seem to be (1) the biblical descriptions of change occurring in God and (2) the fact that Jesus Christ suffered.

In the first place, when Scripture speaks of change occurring in God, these passages do not describe actual inner emotional changes in God, but rather these passages are a means whereby God communicates “in the manner of men” so that He can effectively reveal His unchanging character to man. For instance, when Scripture speaks of God “repenting” (Genesis 6:6; Judges 2:18; 10:16; etc.), these are called anthropopathic statements. An anthropopathism is when the biblical author ascribes human emotion to God. While this may be a new word to many, most Christians are familiar with the word anthropomorphism. An anthropomorphism is used by the biblical authors when they ascribe human characteristics to God; i.e. when the Scripture says God has eyes, or a mighty right arm, or that He comes down to dwell on Mount Sinai (2 Chronicles 16:9; Isaiah 62:8; Exodus 19:20). Such descriptions are accommodations to man that are designed to communicate certain truths to man. In the same way, anthropopathisms are not descriptions of actual change in God, but are a means to communicate something concerning the character of the infinite God to man in language designed to be comprehended by man who is limited by his finite capacities.

Secondly, the sufferings that Jesus Christ went through were real. He was despised and rejected by men, He was betrayed by Judas, delivered into the hands of the Romans, and at the request of the unbelieving Jews, He was crucified. It is important to remember that Jesus Christ was unique: He is one glorious Person with two natures, human and divine. Christianity from the New Testament period on always predicated the suffering of Christ to His human nature. In other words, Christ as God did not suffer and die, but Christ as Man. There are not two Christs, but one Christ who has two natures. To confine the suffering and death of Christ to His humanity protects divine impassibility. Conversely, impassibility protects from the notion of a God who suffers and dies.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is much more that can be said. The goal with this post is simply to provide a basic definition, explanation, and to highlight why the doctrine is essential. It is crucial to understand that it is the doctrine of impassibility that secures God’s relational character to His creatures; it alone provides the foundation for the confession’s declaration that God is “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…”

 

 

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Did Hosea Really Marry a Harlot?

There are three main interpretative approaches to Hosea chapters 1-3. The first is the symbolic view which treats the marriage as a symbol or a vision utilized by God to teach Israel lessons about His marriage to them. This view is held by a lot of the older commentators. For instance, John Calvin says, “There is no doubt but that God describes here the favor He promises to the Israelites in a type or a vision: for they are too gross in their notions, who think that the prophet married a woman who had been a harlot.”[1] The commentators who take this position indicate that if Hosea had in fact married a harlot, his ministry would have been undermined.

The second position may be called the proleptic view. The idea here is that Gomer was chaste when Hosea married her and then she engaged in unfaithfulness. This doesn’t really solve the potential problem; it still sets forth a situation where God commands Hosea to marry a woman that He knew would be a harlot.

The third position is the literal view. I believe this is the correct interpretation for several reasons. First, the narrative reads as straightforward history. The LORD commanded Hosea, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry” (1:2a). The prophet then went and married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim and she bore him a son (v. 3). She conceived again and bore him a daughter (1:6) and “when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son” (1:8). Secondly, the “children of harlotry” spoken of in 1:2a were more than likely the children born to Gomer prior to her marriage with Hosea. The three children referenced in 1:3-9 are best understood as children born to Hosea and Gomer, and thus they would not have been children of harlotry. Verse 3 makes clear that Jezreel was a son born to Hosea. We have no reason from the text to suppose otherwise concerning Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. Thirdly, the woman Hosea marries according to 1:2 is “a wife of harlotry” and the same woman he is called to recover in 3:1 is guilty of adultery.[2] Hosea married Gomer who had been guilty of harlotry. He had three children with her, each of which carried a particular message through their God-determined names to the northern kingdom, and subsequent to this, Gomer engaged in adultery and thus the prophet was commanded to recover her again (3:1-5). Fourthly, the priests of Israel were prohibited from marrying harlots (Lev 21:7, 13-14), but prophets were not subject to the same prohibition according to God’s law. Therefore, it is best to understand that this was in fact a literal marriage between the prophet and Gomer and it was contracted according to the command of God to serve as an acted parable of the LORD’s relationship with Israel.

Why is this literal view significant? In the first place, the reason given by God for Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is stated 1:2b, “For the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.” McComiskey comments,

The clause ‘because the land has committed great fornication [which has led them] away from the LORD’ (1:2) states the reason for Hosea’s marriage – it was because the people were guilty of spiritual fornication. They might have pointed the finger at Gomer and gossiped about the prophet who married her, but they were no better than she. The marriage of Hosea and Gomer was an eloquent depiction of Yahweh’s marriage to His errant people.[3]

Secondly, though the LORD condemned the conduct of the people of Israel and used the preaching of the prophet to call them to repentance, He also communicated a message of hope concerning the restoration of Israel. In 1:3-9, the names of Hosea’s three children indicate that the northern kingdom would come to an end (1:4), the people would be judged without pity (1:6), and they would be considered not God’s people (1:9). As if anticipating the possible objection, “what about the LORD’s promise to Abraham?” the prophet looks forward to the days of the New Covenant in 1:10-11. The latter half of chapter 2 (vv. 14-23) also looks forward to the New Covenant when the names of the three children would be reversed and the blessing of God would come upon the church.[4]

Finally, the marriage of Hosea and Gomer is probably intended to shock us a bit. The literal view of the marriage may cause a degree of discomfort among New Covenant Christians. We are, after all, supposed to be equally yoked and a godly man should never marry a harlot. While I am certainly not condoning marrying harlots, we should appreciate that this was a unique command given by God in a specific redemptive historical situation. With this necessary qualification given, what is more shocking – Hosea’s marriage to Gomer or God’s marriage to Israel? As faithful as Hosea was, he was still a sinner. For God the LORD to take such a bride demonstrates His grace, mercy, and lovingkindness. The fact that He saves such people IS shocking. The first century Jews were scandalized by God’s redemptive plan (1 Co 1:23); no doubt 8th century B.C. Jews were shocked as are modern readers of this ancient love story. As McComiskey notes,

The prophecy of Hosea is a tapestry of grace. As the prophet loves a woman whose crudeness and brazenness must have hurt him deeply, so God’s grace comes to His people in their unloveliness. Our spiritual condition is never so low that God cannot woo and receive us back to Himself as Hosea received Gomer.[5]

So to answer the question posed in the title of this post, yes, Hosea did marry a harlot. The important thing to remember concerning this incident recorded in Hosea 1-3 is not that Hosea married a harlot, but that God did.



[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XIII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 1996), 123.

[2] Some posit that there were two different women the prophet was commanded to love. I do not believe this is the case.

[3] Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Hosea,” An Exegetical and Expository Commentary on the Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 2006), 1:16.

[4] See Paul’s use of this passage in Ro 9:25-26. Cf. 1 Pe 2:10 also.

[5] Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Hosea,” An Exegetical and Expository Commentary on the Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 2006), 1:17.

wheatfield

The Cessation of the Miraculous

In Joshua chapters 3-4, the children of Israel cross the Jordan into the Promised Land due to the wondrous power of God. In chapter 5, the children of Israel celebrate by the sacramental signs: circumcision and Passover. During the Passover celebration, the author emphasizes that the children of Israel “ate of the produce of the land” (Josh 5:11, two other references in v.12). This emphasis highlights an important point: the God who promised the gift of the land with all of its attendant grain, was now fulfilling that promise and His covenant people were reaping the benefits of His faithfulness.

In Josh 5:12, we read “Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.” This highlights an important principle: the cessation of the miraculous (God’s provision of manna) does not imply the cessation of God’s active power in sustaining His covenant people. Whether through the extraordinary manna or the ordinary produce of the land, God is faithful. It is a curious fact that we are inclined to see God’s power displayed when He spares a young man’s life in an automobile accident, but less likely to see God’s power in keeping most of us from automobile accidents each and every day.

If I may draw a parallel: the church today in some quarters seems discontent with the produce of the land and appears to be seeking manna from heaven. Of course, God is still sovereign, still omnipotent, and still able to perform the miraculous. However, in this new covenant setting, the gift of the Spirit in the normal, ordinary events of church life is still our Sustainer and Shield. God is as present in a corporate prayer meeting that is conducted without bells and whistles, as He was in the prayer meeting recorded in Acts 4. The absence of tongues and prophesying, the absence of miraculous displays of healing through human instruments, and the absence of the sort of things we read regularly in the book of Acts does not mean the absence of God. We are to faithfully employ the means of grace given by our good God and enjoy His sustaining power, even if it is just the produce of the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lords-prayer-4x3

The Preface to the Lord’s Prayer

In Mt 6:1-18, the Lord Jesus addresses the issue of man’s approach to religious observances (almsgiving, prayer, fasting). He cautioned His disciples against praying like hypocrites and heathens. The Lord then gives His disciples a model to use for prayer. Calvin comments on the prayer:  “[Christ] embraces, therefore, in six petitions what we are at liberty to ask from God. Nothing is more advantageous to us than such instruction. Though this is the most important exercise of piety, yet in forming our prayers, and regulating our wishes, all our senses fail us. No man will pray aright, unless his lips and heart shall be directed by the heavenly Master.”[1] It is important to note that Jesus says, “In this manner, therefore, pray” – He doesn’t say “repeat after me with blind repetition” – that would be tough to sustain in light of vv.7-8. It is also important to note that after the preface, there are six petitions with a specific order:  God comes first. The Bible is conspicuously God-centered and while the unbeliever balks at such a truth, the believer delights in it. Prior to the petitions, the Lord Jesus highlights another important truth concerning prayer:  the believer is not to rush into the presence of his Father and immediately start asking for things; but rather the believer is to ponder who God is and ascribe praise, worship, and adoration to the Father. There are obvious exceptions to this general rule (the moment before a car collision, a fall from a high place), but the pattern ought to be reflected in the believer’s prayer life.

The Lord Jesus instructs His people to address God as “Father.” This title is loaded with meaning. In the first place, the Christian does not address blind fate or impersonal power, but rather a personal Father. Secondly, the title indicates the gracious character of God’s relation to us.  We are dead in trespasses and sins and completely alienated from God, but He “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph 1:5). This also indicates that this particular prayer is the possession of believers only. Carson notes, “The early church was right to forbid non-Christians from reciting this prayer as vigorously as they forbade them from joining with believers at the Lord’s Table.”[2] Thirdly, the title indicates that God our Father hears us. A fundamental problem with heathen idols is that “They have ears, but they do not hear” (Ps 115:6) – not so our God! The Lord Jesus said that when we got into our secret room, the Father who sees in secret will hear us and reward us openly. Fourthly, the title demonstrates that our Father cares for us. Peter encouraged his readers that when they pray, there are to do so by “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). Finally, the title reminds the believer that our Father loves us. Thomas Watson wrote, “He loves His children with such a love as He loves Christ (Jn 17:26). It is the same love, for the unchangeableness of it. God will not more cease to love His adopted sons than He will to love His natural Son.”[3]

The Preface to the Lord’s Prayer not only calls the believer to address God as Father, but it also encourages the child of God to remember that the Father is “in heaven.” God occupies a position of authority over His creation. In theological terms, this means that God is transcendent.  While God is omnipresent (is always present with His people), He is also independent of His creation and over His creation. Secondly, the position of God in heaven reminds the believer that God is sovereign. The Psalmist demonstrates a fundamental difference between the gods of the nations who cannot speak, see, hear or smell, with the God of heaven and earth who is in the heavens and therefore “He does whatever He pleases” (Pss 115:3; 135:5-6). Thirdly, the position of our Father encourages the believer by reminding him of God’s omnipotence. God may love His people, hear them when they call upon Him, and care for them, but stripped of His ability to come to their aid, He would be reduced to an impotent, albeit sentimental being, who cannot undertake on behalf of His children.

The Preface to the Lord’s Prayer further teaches that prayer is to be intelligent. The heathen are known for multiplying words in order to be heard; the believer is to pray with intelligence to his prayer hearing God. Intelligence here should not be misunderstood; intelligence means knowing the Bible, knowing good theology, and praying God’s thoughts back to Him. The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 puts it this way, “prayer… [is to be with] understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance…” The practice of Christian prayer is not an exercise wherein the believer empties his mind and approaches an idol in a spirit of ecstasy and carnality; but rather it is an exercise where the believer understands who God is and approaches Him accordingly. Because this is the case, the believer must know God and must address Him accordingly. Prior to rushing in to the presence of God and telling Him all the things He can do for you, take some time, reflect upon the written word, understand who your Father is, delight in the position of absolute sovereignty He occupies, and then worship through prayer.

 



[1] John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke (trans. William Pringle; Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1840; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), XVI, p.317.

[2] D.A. Carson, Matthew, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:  Matthew-Mark (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2010), p.204.

[3] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (Carlisle:  PA, 1890 [1993]), p.17.

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The Believer and Discouragement

Contrary to some notions that often affect the church, believers face difficulties and discouragements in the Christian life.  The Christian “must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  The Christian who lives godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  In a world that opposes God and His Christ, how can believers even think they will escape the difficulties and discouragements that are part and parcel of such a system?  Added to this, the believer’s Master was described by the Prophet Isaiah as a “Man of sorrows” and one “acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).  The book of Hebrews states that our Lord “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb 5:8).  In light of these truths, the question is not “will I have difficulty and discouragement” but rather “what am I supposed to do in the midst of difficulty and discouragement?”

The Prophet Micah faced difficulties and discouragements during his ministry in Judah in the 7th century B.C.  In chapter 7 of his book, Micah begins with a lamentation because he had no godly companionship.  He laments that “the faithful man has perished from the earth” and that there was “no one upright among men” (v.2).  The leadership of Judah was also ungodly (vv.3-4) which further highlighted the extensive corruption of society.  Added to this, there was no comfort to be had even in family relations as this basic institution of society had also disintegrated.  I daresay that most Christians who read this blog have at least one person they can turn to in their churches or in their families; such was not the case for Micah.  If we ask the question:  “what did Micah do in order to deal with these difficulties he encountered?” we must acknowledge that he did not leave Judah for a better society, nor did he seek aid from professional counselors.  In fact, the question “what did he do,” is better put, “in Whom did he trust?”

As Micah continues in chapter 7, we find that it was theology that pulled him through the difficulties and discouragements facing him.  We tend to think that theology and biblical truth are the possession of the academic elite or of the teachers in the church.  We desperately need to recognize that theology is the stuff that not only informs us of who God is and what He does, but it is also the stuff that steadies the believer when faced with the trials of life.  For instance, Micah’s understanding of who God is and what God does enabled him to declare, “Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me” (v.7).  He understood that while Judah would in fact fall (probably a reference to coming exile), she would in fact rise by the power of God (v.8).  He understood that those who made fun of Judah (v.10b) and challenged their God, would be brought to certain judgment (vv.9-10a).  He understood that the remnant would expand (vv.11-13), and that due to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ which he had previously reported in chapter 5.  He understood that the people of God would triumph because the God of the people – the Lord, would shepherd them (vv.14-15) and that He would destroy their enemies (vv.16-17).

Micah’s theological understanding comes to glorious expression in the final verses of his prophecy.  In a play on his own name, he asks the question that Israel posed after having been delivered from Egypt (cf. Ex 15:11), “Who is a God like You?  Pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?” (v.18). Micah is not seeking information; Micah is rejoicing in free grace!  God passes over the transgression of His people (v.18) and “does not retain His anger forever; because He delights in mercy.” His character is such that He delights to demonstrate mercy to His people.  His conduct is such that He passes over their transgression.  It is important to remember that God does not pass over His people’s transgression by pretending they do not sin or by turning a blind eye to their sin.  Rather, as Paul will later explain in Romans 3, God passes over His people’s transgression because He set forth His Son Jesus Christ as the propitiation who bore the wrath of God for His people’s sins.    Micah ends by recounting more of God’s character, “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (v.19), and God’s covenantal faithfulness, “You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old” (v.20).

The believer will certainly face his share of difficulties and discouragements in this world (see Jn 16:33 if you’re still not convinced).  The believer must not grumble, complain, play the victim, or call into question the goodness and mercy of God.  The believer must arm himself with the knowledge of the Bible and good theology in order to navigate through such trying times.  The believer must not let circumstances or bad experiences rob him of confidence in God.  The believer must, like Micah the Prophet, look to the character and conduct of God and rejoice in Him who “does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”

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Revelation: The Commission of John

John’s Relationship With His Audience

John writes in Rev. 1:9, “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island of Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  John identifies with his audience in three important aspects of Christian living:  tribulation, kingdom, and patience.  John spoke as one who shared in the sufferings of Jesus Christ.  He was not immune from the tribulation facing his audience; he shared in it.  D.S. Clark writes, “He stood with them on common ground.  Every hardship they bore, he endured.  Every prospect of martyrdom they faced, he had already contemplated.  He was even in the vanguard bearing the first baptism of fire and blood.  They would listen to the words of one who suffered in their sufferings, and stood in the forefront of their dangers.”

It is important to notice that John’s worldview does not involve tribulation only, but he is a partaker along with his audience of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  From John’s vantage point, the kingdom of Christ is not a future event waiting to happen; it is a present reality that God’s people currently enjoy.  The kingdom of Christ was inaugurated at His ascension (Acts 2:30ff and Rev. 12:5) and was in place in the first century when John wrote.  While he sat exiled on Patmos, John was a partaker of a glorious kingdom!  The church today needs to recover the vision promised in the prophets (see for example Is. 9:6-7 and Dan. 7:13-14), celebrated in the Psalter (see Pss. 2, 22, 45, 72, and 110 for a sampling), and fulfilled at the first advent of Jesus Christ (see Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:29-36; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; 1 Thess. 2:12; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:13).  The Lord Christ bestowed a kingdom upon His disciples (Lk. 22:29) and we ought to proceed as loyal subjects.

A fitting summary statement of the book of Revelation is Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Revelation addresses the tribulation Christians face in the world.  God does not lie.  He tells it like it is.  He does not hide the difficulties associated with following Christ in a hostile world.  The Christian life can be a life punctuated by suffering and trial and tribulation and torture and persecution and imprisonment and death.  But Revelation always directs us back to the throne of Christ who has overcome the world and therefore bids us to “be of good cheer.”

This participation in tribulation and kingdom produces patience.  John says he is a brother and companion in the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience of Jesus Christ.  The patience John refers to means “patient endurance; bearing up under pressure” and is translated “perseverance” in Rev. 3:10 (cf. also Rom. 5:3-4).  Is this not God’s way?  He gives us a kingdom but we dwell in a hostile land.  This promotes perseverance on the part of His children as they strive to be faithful and imitate their Master who was tried while a King.  G.K. Beale writes, “This is a formula for kingship:  faithful endurance through tribulation is the means by which one reigns in the present with Jesus.  Believers are not mere subjects in Christ’s kingdom.  ‘Fellow partaker’ underscores the active involvement of saints not only in enduring tribulation, but also in reigning in the midst of tribulation.”

John’s Commission

While John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” the glorified Christ commissioned him to write the book of Revelation.  Commenting on the phrase “in the Spirit,” D.S. Clark writes, “We cannot describe this psychological state other than to suppose that all the channels of his being were open toward God, ready for the reception of any divine communication.”   The reference to the “Lord’s Day” is commonly understood to be a reference to Sunday, the Christian day of worship.  As James Durham noted, “As the Lord’s Supper is for the remembrance of His death till He come again; so is this day for remembering the work of redemption, and His resurrection, till He come again.”

The nature of John’s commission is consistent with much of what occurred in the Old Testament when a man of God was called to proclaim the message of God.  G.K. Beale and Sean McDonough state, “The introduction of John’s commission is coined in the language of the prophet Ezekiel’s repeated rapture in the Spirit, thus identifying John’s revelation with that of the OT prophets (cf. Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 11:1; 43:5).  His prophetic authority is enforced by the description of the voice that he heard as “a great voice as a trumpet,” evoking the same voice that Moses heard when Yahweh revealed Himself to him on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:16, 19-20).”

The commissioning of John was enjoined with a vision of the Commissioner, as was the case in the OT.  John is given a vision of the glorified Christ who has come to use John to set forth His word to the tried and troubled churches in Asia Minor.  John’s message is relevant for us today as we are still called to tribulation, kingdom loyalty, and perseverance to the end.

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Why Pray if God is Sovereign?

In Matthew chapter 6, the Lord Jesus Christ cautions His disciples against praying as the hypocrites (v.5) and the heathen (v.7).  He then prescribes a model prayer for His disciples’ use.  Prior to the model prayer (or, “Lord’s Prayer” as it is commonly called), Jesus makes this statement in v.8, “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”  This statement is a corrective to the technique employed by the heathen:  use many words so that God (or the gods) will hear you and answer.  Jesus is saying that you cannot manipulate God or control God or exercise certain formulas in order to make God perform; rather, He knows what you need before you ask Him.  It is important to notice what Jesus does not say; He does not say, “Your Father knows the things you have need of so don’t bother asking Him.”  No, the Lord Jesus says “He knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” – the Lord assumes we will present our petitions before God.  This is consistent with the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 65:24, “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”  God is a sovereign God and therefore knows the end from the beginning and has certainly decreed all things that come to pass.  If God were not sovereign; if God did not decree all things; if God did not possess absolute authority over all things, prayer would be useless.

In light of this biblical truth, people often ask, “Why pray if God is sovereign?”   The Scripture gives several reasons why believers ought to pray to a sovereign God.  Here are just a few of those reasons.  In the first place, prayer is a natural response from the born again child of God.  In the discussion concerning prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus does not command believers to pray, He assumes that they will pray.  When the Lord speaks to Ananias and tells him to make contact with the newly converted Saul of Tarsus, He describes Saul this way, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11).  It is true that hypocrites pray (remember Mt 6:5) and therefore we can say that “not all that glitters is gold.”  However, it is equally true that gold does in fact glitter and therefore a man who has been brought out of darkness into marvelous light by the sovereign grace of God cannot help but pray.  Secondly, prayer is commanded.  While Jesus assumes believers pray in Mt 6, the rest of the Bible contains various commands to pray.  We might be tempted to think, “if it is part of my life as a new man to pray, why would I have to be commanded to pray?”  There are a whole host of things Christians ought to do, but nevertheless they also need to be commanded to do them; such is the way with remaining sin.  Thirdly, prayer is an act of worship.  God has ordained prayer as a means by which the believer submits to his Father and expresses praise and adoration for His goodness.  This facet of prayer is displayed in the life of Job.  After having experienced the loss of most everything that was near and dear to him, Job did not seek solace in worldly comforts or books with catchy titles like “Ten Principles on Dealing with Grief.”  No, the Scripture says, “Then Job arose, tore His robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.  And he said, ‘naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.  In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:20-22).  Our difficulties do not lessen the beauty and glory of God.  Our difficulties do not remove the obligation or privilege of worshiping God.  Upon later reflection, many seasoned saints have witnessed how difficulties drove them to a more earnest worship of their heavenly Father.  Fourthly, prayer to a sovereign God is an exercise of the believer’s faith.  From time to time books appear or sermons are preached which maintain the unbiblical notion, “prayer changes God.”  Prayer does not change God, but rather prayer changes us.  God is our Rock, He is unchanging, and He is all powerful.  It is not God that needs to change; we need to change.  In prayer, the believer’s faith is exercised, his dependence upon God is strengthened, and slowly but surely, the believer is conformed to God’s will.  Finally, prayer is a means by which the believer may unburden himself with One who cares for him, as Peter writes, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).  Calvin summarizes in this manner,

 “Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to Him, or of exciting Him to do His duty, or urging Him as though He were reluctant.  On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek Him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on His promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into His bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.”[1]

 

In conclusion, the believer must also realize that prayer does not exist in isolation from the Bible.  The Bible informs us concerning God, His being, His attributes, and His purpose in the world and with His people.  We must know Him as God through our Lord Jesus, trust Him as our heavenly Father, and realize that He has purposed to work all things for good for His people (Rom 8:28) which even includes difficulties, trials, and tribulations.  With this understanding of prayer, perhaps the more legitimate question is, “Why pray if God is not sovereign?”

 



[1] John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke (trans. William Pringle; Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1840; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), XVI, p.314.

 

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J. Gresham Machen: Valuing God

“We value God solely for the things He can   do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end.  And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need.  If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things – even lofty and unselfish things – then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail.  When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God; we have tried religion we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed.  Of course it has failed!  God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call.  He is not content to minister to the worldly needs of those who care not a bit for Him…Has it ever dawned on us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all?  If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”  (“What is Faith?”)