Non Sequitur

Although there has been much interchange between orthodox evangelical brethren (and I use “orthodox” as a courtesy) and those who hold to the doctrine of the church as expressed in highly valued church confessions (and rightly so – these confessions, for the most part (depending on the confession) hold the doctrines of Scripture), I have been surprised that there are those who disagree with the established doctrine of God and the Trinity.

After all, what could be more plain than that which all the Reformed confessions – well – confess, about the most important doctrine of our faith?

Let’s review:

WCF — Chapter II: Of God, and of the Holy Trinity SDFO — Chapter II: Of God and of the Holy Trinity LBCF/PCF — Chapter II: Of God and the Holy Trinity

1. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his won glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

1. There is but one only living and true God; who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure Spirit, invisible, without body, parts or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

1. The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest; his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature; so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in, and of himself; and is alone, in, and unto himself, all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures, which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being. of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service or obedience, as creatures, they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.

2. God, having all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creature which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and he hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth; in his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain; he is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands; to him is due from angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, as creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.

3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolyGhost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

3. In the unity of the God-head there be three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolyGhost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. Which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence upon him.

3. In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolySpirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations;which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.

If there is any disagreement with the Nicean understanding of our Triune God in these three statements of our faith, I do not find it.

By the way, the LBCF goes further than the others, but in no manner disagrees with them, nor would our brothers of those confessions find anything to disagree with in the 1689.

It appears that all historical, confessional believers are in agreement on these matters (excepting those who claim to subscribe to a Scriptural confession, but redefine it to their ends – but that is beyond the scope of this bit of blurb article)

The problem, therefore, is a lack of being anchored to what the apostolic doctrine, handed down by faithful men to other faithful men who have passed it down to other faithful men have consistently taught (2nd Timothy, anyone?).

Not all catholic doctrine is to be mindlessly adhered to – in fact, those on this site hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith – but that doctrine which we agree upon with our brethren has been well stated.

When it comes to the doctrine of God – Theology Proper – all the confessions hold to that which was first stated in Nicea, and confirmed again in Chalcedon. There has been no ambiguity regarding the most important doctrine of our faith for years, until the 20th and 21st centuries.

This article is not a scholarly treatment of the questions and arguments which have been put forward, but it does affirm that which has been passed down by faithful men of God to other faithful men of God, up to the present.

When it comes to Scripture, we are quick, as the body of Christ, to affirm there is no error in it, but when it comes to the Doctrine of God, although innovation of the same was handled in the early church, apparently, it is fair game, and we are left to wonder why such is the case.

Mystery surrounds our God, but not in the manner some have re-imagined. He is so clear in His communication to us – His Scripture – that it boggles the minds of we who hold to sound doctrine regarding His self revelation, which was challenged by heretics in the early church, and soundly defeated by good men of God. He stated that He is all that He is, uncreated. He stated that He does not change, and He stated that such is true of Him in all His Persons, undividedly.

He has further stated that the Son and the Spirit are co-eternal with the Father. These are unequivocal truths found in Scripture.

What has been contested is that which was defeated in the early church, namely, that God has any properties aside from His nature, and that in the Trinity, the Son, who is equally God, has been eternally subjugated to the Father.

Scripture, and the orthodox Reformed confessions, are ever agreed on these matters, as should all believing Christians always be.

God, before creation, was eternally, unchangeablely, blessed and happy within Himself. Being perfection, He had no  need of a perfunctory order where either the Son or the Spirit submitted to the Father. As the confessions state, soundly based upon the early creeds, which in turn were based on Scripture, God was complete within Himself. There was no need for subjugation of one divine person to another, nor should we expect such was true of our unchangeable God.

The eternal Son being ever subject to the eternal Father is a man-made construct, based on the understanding of God by equating the Triune Being to those whom He created.

Likewise, as has been said by very many Reformed theologians of the past (and many today) “all that is in God is God.” There is no room for “added properties”, whether they are called “creational properties,” or “covenantal properties.”

Man cannot understand the relations within the Triune God by imposing those relations of the created creature which are made known to man by natural revelation – it simply will not work. God, as He has revealed Himself in Special Revelation – i.e., Scripture – is not subject to the changes and vagaries of man’s existence. God is unique, and man is created.

These innovations by contemporary theologians trying to explain God’s relationality and the Son’s subjection to the Father according to human philosophies, and/or seeking to exegete the Scripture as if it contradicted itself (which is contrary to orthodox Reformed hermeneutics) in order to match those philosophies (which really results in eisegesis), are simply misplaced. When Scripture states that God does not change, and another passage in Scripture seems to say that He did change, in contradiction to the fact that God does not change, the primary passages which define God’s being, substance and character take precedence over those passages defining things about God in human language, for this – human language – is accommodated to our finite understanding in order to communicate to us things which are true of God in a manner which we would normally associate with other finite beings, not to inform us that God did, indeed, change. Thus, we may view His anger as abating, His love as increasing or decreasing, and such things, when in fact, these are simple finite expressions of His infinite, unchanging existence and being. Since this is a brief article, we will not go more into this now. (There are other articles on this site which speak to this a bit more, as well as books recommended which speak to these things extensively.)

Returning to the main thrust of this article, to say God changes and does not change, and that the Son has the same relation to the Father from everlasting as He took on as the God-man through the incarnation, as the title of this article says, simply does not follow from Scripture. Non Sequitur.

 

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HERMENEUTICS: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei

This is the title of chapter two of CONFESSING THE IMPASSIBLE GOD: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility (CIG). The purpose of this chapter is to highlight the two most necessary hermeneutical principles that are required when doing theology – not only theology proper, as is the concern of CIG, but all theology. As the title states, these are the hermeneutical principles of Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei, which are the Latin phrases for The Analogy of Scripture and The Analogy of the Faith.

Before going forward, defining these most important hermeneutical principles, and stating where they come from, is necessary.

To put it simply, these principles are not formulated and then imposed upon Scripture, but rather, and drawn from the way that the Biblical writers themselves did theology. Thus, they come from Scripture, and so, from God – they are principles of understanding Scripture which the Author of Scripture imbedded in His Special Revelation to us, that we might not make the mistake of pitting Scripture against Scripture, but could rather understand it, and all the doctrines which it teaches us, by a synthesis of the whole. Continue reading “HERMENEUTICS: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei”

CONFESSING THE IMPASSIBLE GOD: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional

12231648_10208210204476288_1225569603_nDoctrine of Divine Impassibility[1] – A Review of Section One, Chapter 1

It has been my pleasure, and a great aid to learning this most important doctrine of our great and glorious God, to read through this volume over a period of time. Just the Introduction by Paul Helm is worth obtaining the book, but each section of the book builds upon and is foundational to the next section. It is my opinion that this is the most important theological work to come out within the last fifty years – perhaps longer – as this doctrine has been under attack in evangelical and even Reformed circles recently.

The editors, in the Preface, note the importance of the doctrine under consideration:

The book is structured as follows. The Introduction presses home the importance of the doctrine of divine impassibility. Readers will be challenged to recognize that tinkering with divine impassibility as classically understood has implications that always end up compromising other fundamental articles of the Christian faith.[2] Continue reading “CONFESSING THE IMPASSIBLE GOD: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional”

God Exists Outside of Creation

12231648_10208210204476288_1225569603_n

Our Title is somewhat misleading, but this will become apparent within the context of our article (note that the article is from the manuscript of a sermon that was preached at our church).

Note also, these articles from sermons are largely based in what I have learned by reading various classical works regarding Classical Theism, as well as various contemporary works treating of this most foundational doctrine. Of all these works, the one I recommend to our readers of this blog would be Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, available here: (Reformed Baptist Academic Press) – to my mind, this is at least the most important theological book to come out in the last 50 years, if not longer. Continue reading “God Exists Outside of Creation”

Does God Change?

It is of note, and the most great importance, to observe that none of the Reformers or Puritans conceived of God as having to “take on covenantal/relational properties” which were in addition to His “essential essence.” Such thoughts of God as He is, and in how He defines His being and existence in His Scripture, were not only unknown to the orthodox of the church in all ages, but especially unknown to the orthodox of the church in that most orthodox time of theological exposition of the Scriptures by very learned men of God, the Reformation and post-Reformation Scholastic period.

They dealt with those who posited God as being able to experience emotions as the consequence of His relating to men, and classified them as heretics (primarily the Socinians, among others).

To them, and all orthodox and Reformed since the inception of the church, to think God changes (responds or relates to properties in His creatures) was a most horrifying thought. They knew that our sure hope, faith and practice was grounded in He who changes not, and the idea that He might change, to them (rightly so), filled them with consternation, for if God changes, in one degree at any time, that which He has sworn by and of Himself (there being none greater to swear byHebrews 6:13-18) is therefore liable to the vagaries of change. He who is immutable thus displays mutability in relation to His creatures, and so their sure hope of He who changes not is lost.

This thought was so foreign to the orthodox in the church of all ages, up to the 17th century, that all those who proposed such changes in God were rightly labeled heretics.

We, however, having lost this witness of God about Himself which the church knew in the majority of its existence, are now tolerant of those who suggest that God has an “essential essence” which does not, and cannot change, and a “relational, or covenantal” essence which He has somehow willed to change in His dealings with His creatures.

There are those who teach, not only at orthodox evangelical institutions (the termorthodoxis used broadly, here), but at accepted orthodox Reformed institutions (again, abroadunderstanding of the termorthodoxis here implied), that God responds to the situation of His creatures.

Brethren, these things ought not to be! Our orthodox forefathers had it right!

We are so eager to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), that we have (too many of us) forgotten that unity is also of the  “unity of the faith,” meaning the body of that confessional doctrine so delivered to us by our Lord through His apostles (Ephesians 4:13a; Jude 1:3b).

Doctrine is the teaching of the Scriptures which informs our theology. This doctrine is unified – as God is One, and cannot be separated into component parts, so is His doctrine which was “once for all delivered unto the saints.”

Where we begin to separate the doctrine of God from the simplicity and aseity of our God, as if He must take on properties outside of Himself in order to relate to us, at that point, I must insist, we are turning from orthodoxy into heresy. Our fathers in the faith condemned these sort of departures from the Doctrine of God as heresy: Why do we hesitate to do the same?

This matter IS that important.

To God alone be the glory – Bill Hier

Confessing the Impassible God part I

As I read Confessing the Impassible God something struck me.  It wasn’t just the importance, weight, or substance of the topic or the far reaching implications of the doctrine of Impassability.  What initially drew me in was the structure of the book itself.   The content of each chapter, as well as each part, has the strength and coherency to stand alone and be read and understood independently.  However when you take these collection of essays together you end up with a robust picture of this doctrine.  This picture in turn guides and directs pathways to possible further and in more detail study.  CIG capitalizes on each individual author’s expertise, their personal and professional study, and their ability to articulate their research in a digestible manner for the average layman.  The synthesis of these component essays shows a seamless and logical move from one chapter to the next; from one part to the next, each building on the summation of the previous with the cumulative effect of seeing the up close detailed beauty of this doctrine without losing sight of the grand macro view painted concerning this aspect of theology proper.   The editors, in the preface, outline the structure, content and movement of the book.  From the preface alone the books development becomes apparent.  

Why is a proper view of the doctrine of Impassibility so important?

What is the theological methodology and hermeneutic employed?

What is a proper exegesis of the most relevant texts?

What is the history of the church’s definition of classical theism?

How does Impassibility fit in systematic theology?

What are the implications and effects on an understanding of other truths outlined in the confession?

What are some of the practical outworkings of this doctrine in our daily Christian lives and worship?

What can confidently be affirmed and denied about Impassibility?

How are objections to the definition of classical theism dealt with polemically?

From the multifaceted approach what is clear is the unanimity of the editors, with each other and as they show, with the bulk of historical Christianity.

The foreword written by Dr. Paul Helm, the preface written by the editors, and the introduction written by Dr. James Renihan all make mention of the theological method and hermeneutics  used in defining the  doctrinal position of classic theism.  The significance to this is then shown that Confessing the Impassible God starts Part I:  Theological and Hermeneutical Prolegomena, dedicating the first 2 chapters to presenting the critical elements to developing and understanding the doctrine of impassibility from a biblically driven perspective.

From the foreword by Dr Paul Helm p26

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.

From the preface by the editors p29-30

Prior to providing a positive explication of the doctrine, we outline our theological method.  Chapter 1 discusses the theological grammar of the doctrine of divine impassibility. Important concepts such as biblical metaphysics, act and potency, and the analogy of being are discussed. These are basic and crucial concepts to understand at the outset. Chapter 2 offers an introduction to the hermeneutical method employed throughout. These two chapters together reflect our commitment to the traditional language of classical theism and the hermeneutics of the Reformed tradition as articulated in the English Reformed Confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As readers will become aware in reading the subsequent sections, the issue of method is crucial and foundational in this discussion.

From the introduction by Dr James Renihan p 44

Our theological method is quite simple and straightforward. We provide a prolegomenon to the doctrine of divine impassibility (chapter 1) to introduce readers to some of the technical issues that will be addressed in subsequent chapters. Along with this is an introductory chapter on hermeneutics.

The theological method presented in these first 2 chapters is a gold mine of information, resources to be used in uncovering and detailing doctrine from scripture in the way that scripture prescribes.  The glossary at the end of the book is a helpful tool when first approaching the first chapter.  Part 1 of this book provides all of the necessary blocks needed to sort through all of the relevant issues when dealing with the impassibility of God.  Described in these chapters are the basic concepts and terminology used in discussing God and His perfection, the methods used to employ these concepts, a biblical apologetic for the concepts and methods, and a basic set of hermeneutical principles that scripture teaches us to use when interpreting it.  Sprinkled throughout the book are common objections to each point whether dealing with concept, methodology, hermeneutic, exegesis, application or conclusion.  In chapter 1 Charles Rennie does a great job of posing these objections and comprehensively answering them.  The polemical approach to refuting and dismantling oppositional claims then presenting a biblical defense is not only effectively persuasive, but balanced.  The basis of the positive claims are rooted in and find their authority from the text of scripture.  The case he lays out is logical, clear, user friendly and drawn from a combination of  both descriptive and prescriptive passages.  He answers the basic questions of how the finite creature is to truly apprehend and discuss the infinite God, more specifically how God teach us this is to happen. The footnotes in this chapter add much to the explanation as well as citing his reference material, a good jumping off point for further independent study.  In chapter 2 Ronald Baines explains the hermeneutical foundation of scriptural interpretation.  In answering the objection that it is a grid imposed on scripture to achieve a specific interpretation, he argues that these principles express the exegetical and theological continuity as well as the intertextuality of the text.  Standing with the interpretive methods used by Moses and the prophets, the Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself, Dr Baines puts forth the ideas of interpretation intimated by the post reformation writers in the 2 London Baptist Confession of Faith.

LBCF 1.1

The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased

LBCF 1.4

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.

LBCF 1.6

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture:

LBCF 1.7

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.

LBCF 1.9

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture

(which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

 

The foundational content, method, and hermeneutic expressed in Part 1 of this book prove themselves to be of the utmost importance, a most valuable resource tool to use and apply when studying the scriptures.  The doctrine of impassibility, and its foundational content, has far reaching implications to the rest of our understanding of God as wells as all the other doctrines glean from scripture.  This content, the method and hermeneutic described in Part 1 are used to draw from scripture what God has said about any doctrine and its interrelation and continuity.  An appropriate understanding and consistent use of this method and hermeneutic applied to any and all study of scripture leans to proper handling and dividing of God’s word.  The analogy of teaching a man to fish aptly applies to this.  To suggest dedicating the primary portion of attention, energy, effort and time in the first 2 chapters in Confessing the Impassible God would be understating the value and impact of what can be learned and applied to the remaining life time of daily bible reading.

Cali

Is God Faithful According To His Character?

For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)

This is one of the texts set forth in the Introduction of CONFESSING THE IMPASSIBLE GOD, The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility.

Since I will be mentioning this book and its editors often in the upcoming months, I will not bother to do so at this time (you will hear about these faithful servants of our God enough in future posts).

However, it would be most remiss of me to not mention the author of this Introduction, our esteemed and well used of the Lord brother, James M. Renihan. Although his credentials speak well of him, let our Lord estimate that acquiescence to His glory which our dear brother has been blessed to be used of Him withal.

I am not plugging the book (which I will, and which you MUST read), but simply establishing that which is said in this most simple of verses, regarding the nature of our God. I trust you will research this further, as I also trust that this simple statement of our God’s nature will encourage and strengthen you to simply take Him at His word.

That word is this: We, who are His people, will never suffer His wrath against sin because He has promised us, according to His unchangeable nature, that He has counted these to be satisfactorily dealt with in His Son.

I trust that you are aware of the doctrine of the satisfaction of the Father’s wrath against sin being completely vindicated by His Son coming into time and space, which is to say, redemptive history, to pay fully for the sins of God’s people, and all else that that entails.

Trusting that you know the above, I will be content to address the mentioned passage, in the hope you might seek the fullness of exposition that is in the aforementioned chapter of the book under consideration.

That which I address is simply this: God does not change. This is NOT a statement of “Covenantal Properties,” as some have suggested, but that simple statement of our God of His faithfulness, based in His essence and existence, that nothing done consequent to His everlasting existence can ever effect a change in He who deals with us according to His grace, which means, therefore, “We are not consumed.”

This is our comfort; this is our hope. Our God’s Word is as sure as He is, therefore, we will never fail of His grace, for it, as He, comprehends us in His trustworthiness, which He proved of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

He was consumed, therefore, according to our God’s unchangeable character, purpose and promise, we are not, nor ever will be.

John 5:39: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”

Believe the witness, not as the Pharisees did not, but according to our God’s character – He is truth, and cannot lie. We have life, because as He is true, “We are not consumed.” for His Son gave all, that we may live.

Trust God to be true to His nature and Word.

THE COMFORT OF GOD’S UNCHANGING LOVE

As the conversations regarding Theology Proper (the doctrine of God) are coming more to the fore, it occurs to me what comfort that which is the classical doctrine of God (classical theism, or orthodox theism), gives to the believer.

I recently posted a comment to a dialog that was on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog. The Original Posted Article was by Pastor Jim Butler, of Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack. The article by Pastor Butler, may be found here, entitled A BRIEF STATEMENT ON DIVINE IMPASSIBILITY. I highly recommend not only reading the article, but the comments which follow, which will show certain things that are coming to light in this present age.

What is inherent in the discussion is that God has perfections, not passions or emotions. God’s perfections are that by which we derive our great comfort, and I find that which most greatly comforts me is that, in His eternal, infinite, unchanging being, He gives to us a love which is based in His love of Himself. We have no fear, because that which is of God cannot ever change.

1 John 4:18-19: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

The love with which we love Him is based upon, grounded in, and derived from the love which He first loved us with. Since that love is His love of His Son, we are given to not have fear of circumstances in this life, or of eternal judgment, and His love is being perfected in us. Because God is pure act (Exodus 3:14), all that He is continues from “everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2). His love continues because “God is love,” and that not as an addition or mood, but part and parcel with His essence and being, which cannot change. This is the love with which He first loved us – Himself. God is not love as a component of His being, but in His being “God is love.”

No mistake should be made, or is here intended, as to that which I am stating about our God. I am not saying that all that God is, is love alone. Indeed, Scripture gives us the truth that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), jealous (Exodus 20:5), righteous (2 Chronicles 12:6; Psalm 7:11; 11:7) and many other things which are but a definition of that way we perceive Him, for He is all of those things, all at once, without addition or subtraction or change, infinitely.

Therefore, while we speak of God, we can never completely properly portray Him, even with the words He has condescended to give us those views of Himself in His revelation. He not only is love, but is also defined by Himself in myriad other ways which accommodate our understanding, but do not give us that full knowledge of Him which is only His (1 Corinthians 2:11; cf. Romans 11:33). When we grasp that which He has given us to know about Him, we must say “these are but the outskirts of His ways” (Job 26:14). Regarding these different expressions which sound like human emotions to us, we must always keep in mind, as with all those passions expressed and experienced by mankind, that these things which are temporally felt, suffered, and expressed by and to us, are but the shadow of a shadow of that which is true of our God in unchangeable, infinite, eternal, uncreated manner.

God is indeed jealous of that which is true of Him, and He will – in fact does – consume those who hate Him, according to the unchanging good and righteousness which He is, yet this in no way detracts from that love He has everlastingly decreed to express towards those who are encompassed within His decree of election in Christ Jesus. He is jealous as an outworking of His righteous perfection of good as opposed to anything that is not perfect and good as He is, yet we must not suppose this is jealous (nor that we are consumed by Him in the same way as we think of our being consumed by the passion of jealously) in the manner of men, but rather, that these finite expressions are accommodated to our understanding as those He created, that we may indeed stand at the outskirts of the interminable reaches approaching who He is to gain that merciful and loving understanding of Him He has allowed (indeed, the usage of such language as “allow” is, itself, a proof of accommodation, for God does not “allow” one thing and not “allow” another – as the apostle wrote, “we speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh”). We may not know Him exhaustively, but we may know Him as He has revealed Himself, which is yet such a broad range of knowledge of Him that we can say we have been granted to know Him who is unknowable in a manner suited to our comprehension (and this is only true of those He has given His Spirit to abide in to understand these things1 Corinthians 2:12-16).

This is reason for great hope, for our God cannot be affected by the pallium of human investiture.  Regardless of how we see or perceive Him, He remains as He is: most serene, most blessed in and of Himself, and it is of that unchanging blessedness which He has deigned to give to us, those whom He created, as He wills.

The first thing, then – indeed the chief thing – to remember in addressing this most foundational doctrine of our faith is this: We are out of our dept. That which may be comprehended about God is given of God to us, but of all that He has entrusted us to know of Him, primarily in special revelation (Scripture), and secondarily through natural, or general revelation, the thing He drives home, time and again, is that we cannot know Him exhaustively. He is infinite and eternal, the only being of which it can be said that never did He have a beginning, nor will He have an end, or experience change. When He describes Himself to us in His Scripture, He is giving us brief glimpses, as of catching a view of a distant sun, thousands – no, billions and billions – of universes removed, through the most monstrous telescope which could ever be made, with atmospheric disturbances in our field of vision each microscopic measurement  of the way.

When we think of His glory, we must understand we are seeing that which we cannot approach in fractions of fractions of reflections. As the apostle Paul spoke of “in a glass darkly,” and made comparison to the eternal state with God as “then face to face,” He nevertheless did not contradict what he states elsewhere of the inability of man, whether perfected of God or before, to truly know God (1 Corinthians 13:12; cf. Romans 11:33; 1 Timothy 6:13-16).

The breakdown which has often – too often – come to the fore in the current discussions among modern Reformed and orthodox evangelical theologians is that of analogical predication, which is language, such as we use, to describe God. In other words, God uses the language He gave to man to define Himself to man, and He does this in two ways: 1) By descriptions of Himself, and 2) by descriptions of what He does in the world (and this is very simplistically put). It should be obvious that passages which speak of who God is – that is, as to His essence and being – necessarily establish the meaning of passages speaking of that which God does.

As a for-instance, God tells us, in Psalm 90:2, Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. This is God giving us information about His essence and being through Moses’ prayer. He is not one who came into existence, nor is His existence, essence and being limited by that which He created. He has always been, and will always be, the great I AM THAT I AM. In light of this fact, anything God does within His creation which has temporal results that are now, then pass away, must not be thought of as referring to that which He essentially is. Also, such effects are outside of God’s essence and being, which is to say, though He causes them to come about, and so affects that which exists within His creation, He is not, in turn, in any manner affected by these changes. His love is a perfection, as is His righteousness and other attributes, so that He is these things unchangeably, eternally and infinitely, all at once. Nothing He does changes Him, and nothing done by those whom He created affects Him to bring about change in Him.

It is precisely because of who He is that His love is able to interact with that which He created without, in turn, causing Him to respond to those things which His creatures undergo. Since God is pure act, His love never had a beginning, cannot grow, and will never end. It is perfect in the quality and quantity (if we may use such a term of He who cannot be measured) that God is perfect, which is why, when the theologians of the church throughout history speak of those emotive passages in Scripture which would be passions for us, they call them perfections when referring to God. That which is perfect has no need of anything to be added to it to become more perfect (realizing the expression “more perfect” is an oxy-moron), and so it is with God in all that He is. He is perfectly merciful, therefore there is no need that He respond to the sufferings of His creatures with any further mercy elicited by their sufferings.

It is precisely here that some modern theologians, trying to explain the language of emotion predicated of God in Scripture, go astray. They cannot imagine a God who did not suffer with His people, therefore they base their observations and expositions of those passages which show us that analogous relationship between the Creator and His creatures in backwards fashion. Where they should allow the passages which speak of the being and essence of God to determine the meaning of the passages which speak of His interaction with His creatures, they reverse this order, and in doing so, predicate change of God based on a univocal (one-to-one) relationship of the Creator with those He created. Instead of a God who tells us He cannot change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), and instead of taking comfort in the God who perfectly loves and is perfectly merciful at all times, they attribute the malleable nature of the creature to Him, in order to bring Him down to a level they can understand (but God cannot be understood as a man understands another man Psalm 50:21).

Instead of the comfort of a perfection of love, righteousness and mercy that is beyond the ability of man to comprehend, they posit these traits in the One who created them to be responsive, when God has no need to respond, since He is already perfect in all these things all at once, forever.

If we were to take all the human miseries of all time and bundle them together, God’s love and compassion would be more than enough to encompass these without His need to react to them, because for God, where all these are perfect, He cannot become more complete in them. It is because He is perfect that we take comfort. A God who could change would not be the God of Scripture, nor would He be able to offer us that solace that comes from knowing that He is the most loving, most compassionate, most just God, for there are none like Him. He is the Creator, who was perfect in all these things at one and the same time, without beginning or end, before ever He created, and He cannot become more perfect in any of them. His perfections are at one with who He is, which is to say, His essence.

This is our comfort in the love of God. Perfect love does, indeed, cast out fear.

This is intended to be a brief meditation on the comfort of our everlastingly, infinite, unchanging God for the purpose of our comfort in and of Him, so I will end it with the apostle’s benediction:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

SDG – Bill

EDIT – Upon a brief interaction with a beloved brother in the Lord, I want to say that I do affirm that God has emotions, but not as we think of them. Emotions, as God has them, being pure unchangeable act in infinite and eternal being and essence as He is, are not unstable, or brought upon Him where He now feels love, now feels mercy, now feels hatred, or wrath, etc.

Rather, God is, in Himself, most pure and complete in a manner we cannot conceive of for ourselves. He is unique, with none to compare with Him. It is precisely because of the constancy of His emotions, which I have called “perfections” in the article above (along with other theologians of the past among the Reformed and earlier), that I choose that terminology.

“Just Click”

Certain doctrines should “just click” with those who seek to know God as He has revealed Himself in His special revelation to those who are His people.

For instance, that God is immutable (unchangeable) should preclude any teaching on the Doctrine of God that even comes close to suggesting that He has made Himself mutable (changeable) in any manner. The Scripture is just too clear on the fact that God does not change, period, and any suggested relational or analogical arguments to the contrary are based on a number of philosophies of man that, while seeking to guise themselves in the veneer of being based on the Biblical facts, in fact, ignore the overall context of His Scriptures.

There are some Scripture passages that actually do “stand on their own” (Although I would be one who is quick to assert that although some passages stand on their own, no single passage of Scripture stands alone). Among them are passages we value greatly, to our finite and eternal comfort and standing.

Malachi 3:6:  “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

How does one circumvent such a passage as this with appeals to isolated anthropomorphisms and/or anthropopathisms, even when such an appeal is to various Scripture references that those so proposing these malleable qualities to our God are multiplied, without consideration of the overall context of Scripture?

The answer is, of course, that such a plain passage cannot, in fact, be circumvented, and no matter the character of those who seek to do so in the pursuit of understanding our relationship with God, there will not come any Scriptural evidence to the contrary that our God, indeed, “does not change.”

Please notice, although a large body of literature by past and present biblical scholars exists, I do not make my appeal to them. It is not that there would not be many more in defense of the classical doctrine of God, or that there are some in defense of various forms of the modified doctrine of God; no, rather, I do not wish to bias the appeal to Scripture at this point with an argument from authority, for I believe (as any unbiased reader of the Scripture must believe, at this point), that there is no ambiguity or verifiable change wrought by the corpus of the entirety of Scripture to this simple statement of our God: “I do not change.”

Wherein, then, inclusive of the entirety of the body of Scripture, are we to understand that our God means, by this unequivocal statement (that He does not change), as to His unique essence, or being, but that He does change as to His relation to His creation? Where is this distinction of ontological meaning given us in the Scripture, if it indeed is given (which I purport it is not)?

As a “for instance,” in Genesis 6:6, we are told, “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” This seems to indicate an actual change in the manner in which God viewed those He created, but in view of His proclamations that we are saved because He does not change, are we to see this statement as if it were indicative of His changing relationally to those He has created? In other words, do we manipulate the Scriptural data in a manner wherein God seemingly contradicts Himself?

Is not the very fact that our God does not change the foundation of our comfort in His promises?

This is not intended to be an exhaustive article on the various anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms of Scripture; rather, it is an invitation for us to view our God as He has presented Himself within that Scripture, for our comfort and benefit.

What it boils down to is whether or not God changes in His intrinsic character – all arguments from anthropomorphisms or anthropopathisms in Scripture do, and indeed must, not only pale, but become the finite representations of aspects of God which they are intended to be, if God, as He presents Himself in Holy Writ, in reality, declares that He does not change, whether intrinsically (as to His infinite, eternal self), or relationally (as those who argue that the anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms given to us to describe characteristics of our God insist is the case, thereby differentiating between God’s eternal, infinite character, and the manner in which He relates to His creation after He, in fact, created).

This is, after all, the crux of the matter: if God changes, those who are His cannot expect His infinite, eternal promises to be effectual, regardless of explanations of His relationship with His creation being in flux because He has, indeed, created. The foundation of our hope is that God cannot lie, and cannot fail to keep His promises, in accordance with His character. If, at any time, His attributes can ebb or increase, or He adds new attributes to Himself to relate to us, our foundation has become that which we are: mutable, like the creation, not the Creator.

The plain fact of the matter is that, despite analogical language (wherein God reveals eternal, infinite aspects of Himself to us by use of terminology we understand in relation to ourselves), we have the assurance of Scripture that tells us, quite plainly, our God does not change.

There are those who appeal to the incarnation, wherein God the Son took upon Himself human form, to show that God, prior to the incarnation, after creating, also took upon Himself relational attributes in order to properly communicate Himself to His creation. However, again, going to the Scripture, we have a plain statement, as to the divinity of God the Son:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

That this verse is speaking about our Lord’s divinity is apparent, because even during His incarnation, as to His humanity, He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) This does not presuppose any change to the divine, but rather, the human nature. Our Lord, living as a man, was subject to temptations, suffering, and eventually, death on the cross, as ordained before the world began. All these things establish the fact that our Lord, as to His humanity, was fully human (though without sin), but when we consider His divinity, we are assured that He does not change.

Since this is a short and simple article, at this point, one wonders, why would anyone wish to prove that God, whether the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, indeed does undergo change, in relation to His creation?

One brother whom I respect greatly said that he thought such a modified version of the doctrine of God better explained the biblical data. He then went on to address the passages where God demonstrates aspects of Himself to us in terms which we would use to describe ourselves as proof that such analogical language surely could not be used to simply show us that God does not change, but, in fact, shows us that He does have changes (such as mutable emotions). Passages such as God repenting (being sorry, regretting) that He had made man (Genesis 6:6) and being grieved in His heart for doing so, certainly must mean that God had emotions similar to those we experience, right?

Also, are we not told we can grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30)?

We certainly are, and certainly God intends us to understand from such passages that He has emotions (this will be further addressed below), but the question would be, at this point, that although God uses such anthropopathic expressions to define aspects of His eternal, infinite, immutable being to us, are we to assume He intends us to comprehend such as contradicting those other passages which tell us he does not change?

Again, going to the Scripture, we find God stating the difference between Him and His created creatures, through the prophet Balaam:

Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

The point of the passage is rather obvious. Although God uses analogical language to describe aspects of His eternal, infinite, unchanging character to His creatures, He is not like His creatures in any aspect or respect. Therefore, when we read again that He is not a man that He should repent (have regret) in 1 Samuel 15:29, and that statement comes after God telling Samuel that He regrets having made Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11), we do not understand this as God having emotions such as those He created experience, nor do we understand it as God contradicting Himself. Consequently, because God states so categorically in His Scriptures that He cannot change, and that He is not like His creatures, we must look for evidence in those Scriptures that inform us what, exactly, He means by using such analogical language to define those aspects of Himself which are definitively not like man’s.

Isaiah 46:9-10Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.

Psalm 50 is very instructive in showing the difference between God and those He created. After reciting that which is proper before Him, and that which is not, and what He, as the only One who can and will judge the peoples, He makes this statement:

 

Psalm 50:21:  These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

This is the verdict from God, who is not such a one as those whom He is judging, to those who lived in a manner where they said they served the Lord, yet were themselves liars, spurned His precepts, agreed with and practiced thievery, and spoke evil and slandered all those around them. His judgment is based in who He is, which never changes, and so is righteous, against those who are the epitome of inconstancy.

Furthermore, God declares He has decreed the end from the beginning, and that His counsel will stand. In that counsel, we know that He decreed, at a certain point and time in redemptive history, to have His Son pay the penalty for the sins of His people. Is it so difficult to understand that God expresses those divine emotions He defines in a manner which sounds similar to His creatures according to decreeing so from evermore? Is it so difficult to believe that this God, who has unequivocally told us that He does not change (and that such immutability is the reason that His decreed mercy keeps us from being consumed by His decreed wrath), has purposed, within that eternal counsel, to express divine anger, love, etc. at specific times and points in His creation, towards various of His creatures, in accord with His will?

In this way, we understand that although God expresses emotions, these are not mutable expressions of change in His being, but decreed expressions of His willed intentions towards various of His creatures, and in this way, we may, indeed, understand that He is not like us whom He created. These decreed expressions are, according to His omniscience, given to interact with His creatures at specific times, in specific places, according to that same active foreknowledge of all the events He decreed coming to pass at those intersections of finite time and space, in order to communicate His will and Himself to His finite creatures, to accomplish His willed ends.

This is perfectly in accord with the language of His decreeing the end from the beginning, and makes perfect sense of the biblical data, so that we do not have to seek to accommodate His manner of being, which has no beginning or end, and cannot be acted upon by an outside agent or force, with the finite means of our understanding.

Indeed, with the apostle, all we can do is behold the infinite, eternal, unchanging God with awestruck wonder, and it seems fitting to end this short article with his words:

Romans 11:33-36: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

SDG – Bill