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Three Implications of the Empty Tomb

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Empty-Tomb-Picture

It has been said by some that all preaching consists of two elements–the ‘what’ of the text and the ‘so what’ of the text. Millions of professing Christians take one Lord’s Day a year to celebrate the wondrous reality of the empty tomb of Jesus. Jesus had power to lay down His life and to take it up again. I trust we all realize the tremendous theological and eternal implications of our Lord’s glorious resurrection. But what difference will it make between the time I am converted and the time I reach heaven? I may sing of it on Sunday but what help is it to me on Monday or Tuesday? For our churches facing so many different practical and spiritual issues, what difference does the empty tomb make? We must realize that we are dealing with more than an empty tomb. We are also dealing with an occupied throne. Jesus did not rise from the dead only to wander the earth for two thousand years. He ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand. 1 Corinthians 15 is the classic New Testament text which deals with the necessity and implications and applications that arise from both the truth of the resurrection and the horrific speculation of what it will mean for all of us if Jesus never did rise. At the conclusion of the chapter Paul (v. 58) gives three applications that arise from the fact of the empty tomb. The first is that we ought to continue steadfast and immovable in the faith. The word ‘steadfast’ can be translated to mean, sit there and don’t get up. Ground yourself here. This is reinforced by the command to be immovable. There are rocks so big that no one even tries to move. The world should see the Church of Jesus Christ holding fast to the truth of divine revelation. It is the truth of the gospel of a risen and glorified and one day returning Savior. If He is dead and decayed we can choose to hold or choose to throw away. If the tomb is empty we must stand fast.

The second application is that of Spirit empowered effort and activity to obey Him. Since Christ is risen and glorified we are to be ‘always abounding in the work of the Lord’. There is no greater motivation for Christian service and unceasing labor than the empty tomb.

The third application is the truth that our labor is not in vain. Why does Paul have to say these words? Is it not because many who profess faith lose sight of this truth? What is the point of all these labors and efforts? Why do men get home from work, wolf down a quick meal and go to prayer meeting? Why do women gather late on the Lord’s Day evening with one another to pray? Why seek to send missionaries and hand out tracts and preach the same truths to the same folks week after week? Is it fruitfulness and success that moves and motivates us to the blood, sweat, and tears of laboring for the good of the Kingdom? Paul says, if the King is risen and if the King is enthroned than nothing done for Him is meaningless. It is His triumph and not our fruitfulness that determines these realities.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville
 
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The Death of Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 18, 2014 at 12:00 pm

by Dr. William Ames

1.  The death of Christ is the last act of his humiliation in which he underwent extreme, horrible, and most acute pain for the sins of men.

2.  It was an act of Christ and not a mere matter of enduring because be met and endured it purposely.  John 10:11, I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep; and 10:18, No man takes it from me, but I lay it down myself.  For the same reason it was also voluntary and not compelled.  The act arose out of power and not merely out of weakness – out of obedience to his father and love for us, not out of his own guilt or deserving.  It was designed to satisfy through victory and not to ruin through surrender.

3.  It contained the greatest punishment because it equaled all the misery which the sins of men deserved.  Therefore, there is an abundance of words and phrases describing this death in the Scriptures.  For it is not simply called a death but a cutting off, a casting away, a treading under feet, a curse, a heaping up of sorrows, and the like, Isa. 53; Ps. 22.

4.  However, it contained the punishments in such a way that their continuance, their ordination to the uttermost [deordinatio] and other circumstances accompanying the punishments of the sins of the lost were removed from his death.  Acts 2:24, It could not be that he would be retained by death.  There are reasons for this.  First, such circumstances do not belong to the essence of the punishment itself, but are adjuncts which follow and accompany those who cannot suffer punishment so as to effect satisfaction by it.  Second, there was in Christ both a worthiness and a power to overcome, as it were, the punishment imposed. 1 Cor. 15:54, 57, Death is swallowed up in victory.  Thanks be given to God, who has given us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

5.  This death was the consummation of all humiliation.  It was by far the greatest part of that humiliation.  So Christ’s death itself is often spoken of in the Scriptures by a synecdoche of the member as the full satisfaction of his whole humiliation.

6.  Within these boundaries, the death of Christ was the same in kind and proportion as the death justly due for the sins of men.  It corresponded in degree, parts, and kind.

7.  The beginning of Christ’s spiritual death in point of loss was the passing of the joy and delight which the enjoyment of God and the fullness of grace were accustomed to bring.  He lost this spiritual joy not in principle, not basically, but rather in the act and awareness of it.

8.  The beginning of spiritual death in point of conscious realization was the tasting of the wrath of God and a certain subjection to the power of darkness.  The wrath of God was most properly signified in the cup which was given to Christ to drink. Matt. 26:39, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass fromme.

9.  The object of this wrath was not Christ as such.  It was connected only with that punishment which he underwent as our surety.

10.  Subjection to the power of darkness was not servitude, but lay in the distress which Christ felt in his mind.

11.  Because of these the soul of Christ was affected with sadness, grief, fear, and dread inagony, Matt. 26:39; John 12:27; Heb. 5:7; and Luke 22:44.

12.  The soul of Christ was affected not only in the part sometimes called lower, but also in the higher; not only nor especially through its sympathy, with the body, but directly and intimately, not principally by the compassion which it had for others, but by true suffering which it underwent in our name; not from a horror of bodily death (which many of Christ’s servants have also overcome by his power), but from a certain sense of spiritual and supernatural death.

13.  There were two effects of this agony.  First, a strong prayer showing a mind astonished and a nature fleeing from the bitterness of death-yet always conditioned by and subject to the Father’s will.  Mark 14:35, He prayed that…it might be that this hour would pass from him.  John 12:27, My soul is troubled.  And what shall I say, “Father free me from this hour?” No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Second, there was a watery sweat mixed with drops of blood dripping to the ground.  Luke 22:44, Being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

14.  In this beginning of Christ’s spiritual death there was a certain moderation and mitigation in that there was time for those duties which were to be done before his death, namely, prayers, discourses, admonitions, and responses.

15.  The moderation was both inward and outward.

16.  The inward occurred in the momentary abatements of the pressure and distress he felt in his soul.  Thus he thought of the meaning of the office he had undertaken, the glory that would arise to his Father and to himself, and the salvation of those whom his Father had given him.  He consciously chose to embrace all the miseries of death in order to obtain these ends.

17.  The outward mitigation in this death came through the angel who strengthened him by speaking to him, Luke 22:43, an angel from heaven appeared to him, comforting him.

18.  There was no inward beginning of Christ’s bodily death except that natural weakening and dying which was caused from outside.

19.  The external beginning was shown in phases of loss and conscious realization.

20. In the realm of loss he was rejected by his own people and counted worse than a murderer; he was forsaken, denied, and betrayed by his most intimate disciples.  By all kinds of men, especially the leaders and those who were considered wise, he was called a madman, a deceiver, a blasphemer, a demoniac, a sorcerer, and a usurper of another’s kingdom.  He was stripped of his garments and denied necessary food.

21. In point of conscious realization. he was aware of the shameful arrest, the violent hauling away, the denial of ecclesiastical and civil justice, the mocking, whipping, and crucifixion with reproach and injury of all kinds.  Yet there was some mitigation in this death: first, in the manifestation of divine majesty through certain miracles, such as the falling of soldiers to the ground at sight of him and at sound of his voice, and the healing of Malchus’ ear; second, in the working of divine providence whereby it happened that he was justified by the judge before he was condemned.  Matt. 27:24, 1 am innocent of the blood of this just man.

22. The consummation of Christ’s death was the highest degree of the appointed punishment, and in this connection are to be considered the death itself and the continuance of it.

23.  The consummation of his spiritual punishment as loss was the forsaking of him by his Father, as a result of which he was deprived of all sense of consolation.  Matt. 27:46, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

24. The consummation of his death in conscious realization was the curse whereby he endured the full consciousness of God’s judgment on man’s sins.  Cal. 3:13, He was made a curse for us. The hanging on the cross was not a cause of or reason for this curse, but only a sign and symbol of it, Ibid.

25. The consummation of bodily death was the expiration of his soul in greatest torment and pain of body.

26. In this death there was a separation of the soul from the body, but the union of both with the divine nature remained so that a dissolution of the person did not occur.

27. This death of Christ was true and not feigned.  It was natural, or from causes naturally working to bring it about, and not supernatural.  It was voluntary and not at all compelled; yet it was violent and not from internal principles.  It was also in a certain way supernatural and miraculous, because Christ kept his life and strength as long as he would and when he desired he laid it down, John 10:18.

28.  The continuance of this death was a continuance of the state of lowest humiliation and not of the punishment of affliction, for when Christ said, It is finished, it applied to the latter punishment.

29. The continuance was the remaining under the reign of death for three days, Acts 2:24.  This state is usually and properly described as existence in Hell.

30. The burial of Christ for three days was a testimony and representation of this state.


God designed to glorify his love

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

John Owen

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

God designed to glorify his love. This is more particularly insisted on than any property of God in this matter. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” There is no property of the nature of God which he doth so eminently design to glorify in the death of Christ as his love. That we may know that God is love, that the Father himself loves us, he has sent Jesus Christ, out of his eternal love, to save sinners; and if we have not due apprehensions of these things, it is not our appearing in this place that will give glory to God.[1]

 

[1] Owen, John. The Works of John Owen. Ed. William H. Goold. Vol. 8. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 11, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Spurgeon

Rev. C. H. Spurgeon

“The blood of the everlasting covenant.”—Hebrews 13:20.

And now, what were the stipulations of this covenant? They were somewhat in this wise. God had foreseen that man after creation would break the covenant of works; that however mild and gentle the tenure upon which Adam had possession of Paradise, yet that tenure would be too severe for him, and he would be sure to kick against it, and ruin himself. God had also foreseen that his elect ones, whom he had chosen out of the rest of mankind would fall by the sin of Adam, since they, as well as the rest of mankind, were represented in Adam. The covenant therefore had for its end the restoration of the chosen people. And now we may readily understand what were the stipulations. On the Father’s part, thus run the covenant. I cannot tell you it in the glorious celestial tongue in which it was written: I am fain to bring it down to the speech which suiteth to the ear of flesh, and to the heart of a mortal. Thus, I say, run the covenant, in lines like these: “I, the Most High Jehovah, do hereby give unto my only begotten and well-beloved Son, a people, countless beyond the number of the stars, who shall be by him washed from sin, by him preserved, and kept, and led, and by him, at last, presented before my throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. I covenant by oath, and swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that these whom I now give to Christ shall be for ever the objects of my eternal love. Them will I forgive through the merit of the blood. To these will I give a perfect righteousness; these will I adopt and make my sons and daughters, and these shall reign with me through Christ eternally.” Thus run that glorious side of the covenant. The Holy Spirit also, as one of the high contracting parties on this side of the covenant, gave his declaration, “I hereby covenant,” saith he, “that all whom the Father giveth to the Son, I will in due time quicken. I will show them their need of redemption; I will cut off from them all groundless hope, and destroy their refuges of lies. I will bring them to the blood of sprinkling; I will give them faith whereby this blood shall be applied to them; I will work in them every grace; I will keep their faith alive; I will cleanse them and drive out all depravity from them, and they shall be presented at last spotless and faultless.” This was the one side of the covenant, which is at this very day being fulfilled and scrupulously kept. As for the other side of the covenant this was the part of it, engaged and covenanted by Christ. He thus declared, and covenanted with his Father: “My Father, on my part I covenant that in the fulness of time I will become man. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people will I keep the law perfectly. I will work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and; holy law. In due time I will bear the sins of all my people. Thou shalt exact their debts on me; the chastisement of their peace I will endure, and by my stripes they shall be healed. My Father, I covenant and promise that I will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. I will magnify thy law, and make it honourable. I will suffer all they ought to have suffered. I will endure the curse of thy law, and all the vials of thy wrath shall be emptied and spent upon my head. I will then rise again; I will ascend into heaven; I will intercede for them at thy right hand; and I will make myself responsible for every one of them, that not one of those whom thou hast given me shall ever be lost, but I will bring all my sheep of whom, by thy blood, thou hast constituted me the shepherd—I will bring every one safe to thee at last.” Thus ran the covenant; and now, I think, you have a clear idea of what it was and how it stands—the covenant between God and Christ, between God the Father and God the Spirit, and God the Son as the covenant head and representative of all God’s elect. I have told you, as briefly as I could, what were the stipulations of it. You will please to remark, my dear friends, that the covenant is, on one side, perfectly fulfilled. God the Son has paid the debts of all the elect. He has, for us men and for our redemption, suffered the whole of wrath divine. Nothing remaineth now on this side of the question except that he shall continue to intercede, that he may safely bring all his redeemed to glory.

On the side of the Father this part of the covenant has been fulfilled to countless myriads. God the Father and God the Spirit have not been behindhand in their divine contract. And mark you, this side shall be as fully and as completely finished and carried out as the other. Christ can say of what he promised to do, “It is finished!” and the like shall be said by all the glorious covenanters. All for whom Christ died shall be pardoned, all justified, all adopted. The Spirit shall quicken them all, shall give them all faith, shall bring them all to heaven, and they shall, every one of them, without let or hindrance, stand accepted in the beloved, in the day when the people shall be numbered, and Jesus shall be glorified.[1]

 

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons. Vol. 5. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1859. Print.

Only a Prayer Meeting?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 24, 2014 at 7:54 am

Prayer

 Scene 1

A room in a church building, a classroom, with seating for about 40, is dark and empty. One enters, flicks on the lights, adjusts the thermostat, and sits down. Everything’s quiet. A few minutes later others begin arriving. Chatter begins. They’re happy to see each other. They’re not dressed up. Some have just come from work, some from home or somewhere else. They look like ordinary folks. At the appointed hour, a pastor stands and calls them to begin the meeting. His voice is heard in a devotional message. Then he announces some prayer requests. Hands are raised and brief reports or new requests are mentioned. A brother stands to pray aloud, and then another. An hour passes, maybe an hour and a half. The last amen concludes the meeting, but some linger. The number present dwindles to just a couple, and the last one checks the thermostat and turns out the lights.

Many churches conduct meetings like this, usually weekly. Circumstances differ but the substance is the same. Some gatherings are smaller, others larger. Some are louder and more enthusiastic, others reflective and subdued. Some leaders in prayer use much Scripture and theological language, while others are plain, childlike in their simplicity. Some meetings are more impressive, others not.

Scene 2

The vision is ineffably glorious. The scope of the scene is vast, but everything focuses upon the source of light, a throne in the midst of myriad angels and saints. Seated upon the throne is the Lord Jesus Christ, high and lifted up. He is being worshipped by all, and yet His humanity is undeniable. He bears the scars of His Passion, but in a body free from all the miseries and limitations of His earthly life. The sounds of His praises are almost deafening, the sweetest music creatures ever offered, a new song for the Lamb that was slain, and for the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Surrounding Him are four heavenly beasts and twenty-four elders. They fall down before Him in reverent obeisance, yielding up the whole of their being to honor Him above all others. All here recognize this Lord of glory as their King. Their hearts and wills are perfectly zealous to carry out His barest wish.

Besides these, there are many angels round about the throne, and the number of them is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands. The words they offer to Him in song are loud, yet extremely clear and powerful:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!

This is the praise to be offered by every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them:

Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.

Suddenly you notice the twenty-four elders are not empty-handed. Every one of them has a harp, employed in the service of this heavenly worship. And look! They also have golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints!

Let Him Who Has Eyes to See

Behold the Church in the Presence of Christ

We know this scene portrays spiritual realities because it is revealed to us from God in Revelation 5. Read it carefully, reverently, and with great reflection. Let your spirit soar as you see by faith what is invisible to unbelievers.

Among many choice gems in this chapter, it says, “The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5.8 ESV). A related passage reads,

3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand (Rev 8.3-4).

The thoughtful reader of Revelation sees that these prayers have special reference to the ardent pleas of martyrs before Christ’s throne. They are calling for justice, for their vindication as God’s faithful servants and for punishment of those who persist in their persecution of His church. “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6.10).

But the Lord also hears the prayers of the church militant, when we cry to Him for Christ’s coming, and the consummation of the kingdom glorious. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

Prayer as burning incense, with its fragrant smoke ascending from the altar to heaven, is a metaphor taken from Psalm 141.2, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” The prayers of the gathered saints, offered up with godly fear and holy purpose, are a sweet smell to the Lord who sees and knows all. Only the church of Jesus Christ prays acceptably to Him, while the rest of the world does not pray or instead sacrifices to mere idols. The Spirit-filled local churches are His temple, where believer-priests faithfully carry out our ministry of glorifying God in this present age, anticipating our eternal ministry of unfettered, blissful worship in the age to come.

Do you have the faith to appreciate that these two scenes are one?

–D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA
http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com

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The Reformation Isn’t Over

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 21, 2014 at 4:39 am

james-white

With the ebb and flow of human history, the forces arrayed against the church and her Lord and the particular front upon which the battle rages hottest will change. Rome’s theology has evolved and her arguments have been modified, but the issues remain very much what they were when Luther and Eck battled at Leipzig, only modified and complicated. God’s kingship, man’s depravity and enslavement to sin, and the insatiable desire of sinners to control the grace of God will always be present. And today, the sufficiency, clarity, and authority of Scripture are at the forefront, just as they were then. The need for the Reformation will end when the church no longer faces foes inside and out who seek to distort her purpose, her mission, her message, and her authority. Till then, semper reformanda.

Read it here

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The Motive of Sanctification

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 20, 2014 at 1:31 pm

abraham-booth

 

Abraham Booth (1734-1806)

.Christ indeed finds His people entirely destitute of holiness and of every desire after it, but He does not leave them in that state. He produces in them a sincere love to God and a real pleasure in His ways…

The vast importance of sanctification and the rank it holds in the dispensation of grace appear from hence: It is the [goal] of our eternal election—a [primary] promise and a distinguished blessing of the Covenant of Grace; a precious fruit of redemption by the blood of Jesus; the design of God in regeneration; the primary intention of justification; the scope of adoption, and absolutely necessary to glorification…Sanctification, therefore, may be justly denominated a [primary] part of our salvation and is much more properly so termed than a condition of it. For to be delivered from that bondage to sin and Satan under which we all naturally lie and to be renewed after the image of God must certainly be esteemed a great deliverance and a valuable blessing.

Now, in the enjoyment of that deliverance and in the participation of this blessing consist the very essence of sanctification. Hence, the word is used to signify that word of divine grace by which those that are called and justified are renewed after the image of God. The effect of this glorious work is true holiness or conformity to the moral perfections of the Deity. In other words, love to God and delight in Him as the chief Good…To love the Supreme Being is directly contrary to the bias of corrupt nature. For as natural depravity consists in our aversion to God, which manifests itself in ten thousand various ways, so the essence of true holiness consists inlove to God. This heavenly affection is the fruitful source of all obedience to Him and of all delight in Him, both here and hereafter. Nor is it only the true source of all our obedience: it is also the sum and perfection of holiness because all acceptable duties naturally flow from love to God

The persons on whom the blessing of sanctification is bestowed are those that are justified and in a state of acceptance with God. For concerning them, it is written—and it is the language of reigning grace: “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Heb 8:10). The blessing here designed and the favor here promised are that love to God and that delight in His Law and ways that are implanted in the hearts of all the regenerate. [These constantly incline] them to obey the whole revealed will of God as far as they are acquainted with it. Sanctification is a New Covenant blessing; and in that gracious constitution, it is promised as achoice privilege, not required as an entitling condition.

Those happy souls who possess the invaluable blessing and are delivered from the dominion of sin are not under the Law, neither seeking justification by it nor [exposed] to its curse. [They are] under grace, completely justified by the free favor of God, and live under its powerful influence. This text strongly implies that allwho are under the Law as a covenant or [whoare seeking acceptance with the eternal Judge by their own duties are under the dominion of sin, whatever their characters may be among men or however high their pretenses may be to holiness. And as those that are under the Law have no holiness, they can perform no acceptable obedience…A man’s person must be accepted with God before his works can be pleasing to Him.

To set the subject in a clearer light, it may be of use to consider that to constitute a work truly good, it must be done from a right principle, performed by a right rule, and intended for a right endIt must be done from a right principle: this is the love of God. The great command of the unchangeable Law is “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God” (Deu 6:5; Mat 22:37). Whatever work is done from any other principle, however it may be applauded by men, is not acceptable in the sight of Him Who searches the heart. For by Him, principles as well as actions are weighed.

It must be performed by a right rule: this is the revealed will of God. His will is the rule of righteousness. The Moral Law, in particular, is the rule of our obedience. It is a complete system of duty; and considered as moral, [it] is immutably the rule of our conduct…

It must be intended for a right end: [this] is the glory of the Supreme Being. “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1Co 10:31) is the peremptory command of the Most High. As this is the end for which Jehovah Himself acts in all His works, both of providence and grace, so it is the highest end at which we can possibly aim. No man, however, can act for so sublime an end but he that is taught of God and fully persuaded that justification is entirely by grace… For until then, he cannot but refer his supposed good actions principally to self and his own acceptance with God. This is the highest end for which such a person can possibly act, though he often proposes other and baser ends. But those works that are truly good and that the Holy Spirit calls the fruits of righteousness are, in the design of their performer as well as in the issue, to the glory and praise of God…

To confirm the argument and to illustrate the point, I would observe that man is a fallen creature, entirely destitute of the holy image and love of God. So far from loving his Maker or delighting in His ways, he is an enemy to Him…Neither the commands of the Divine Law—though the strictest and purest imaginable—nor all the vengeance threatened against disobedience to those commands can work in our hearts the least degree of love to God the Lawgiver

Fallen man, therefore, cannot love God but as He is revealed in a Mediator. He must behold his Maker’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ before he can love Him or have the least desire to promote His glory. Now, as there is no revelation of the glory of God in Christ but by the Gospel, and as we cannot behold it but by faith, it necessarily follows that no man can unfeignedly love God or sincerely desire to glorify Him while ignorant of the truth. But as there is the brightest display of all the divine perfections in Jesus Christ, and as the Gospel reveals Him in His glory and beauty, so through the sacred influence of the Holy Spirit sinners behold the infinite amiableness and transcendent glory of God in the Person and work of Immanuel. The Gospel [is] a declaration of that perfect forgiveness that is with God and of that wonderful salvation that is by Christ, [both of] which are full, free, and everlasting. By whomsoever the Gospel is believed, peace of conscience and the love of God are in some degree enjoyed, while in proportion to the believer’s views of the divine glory revealed in Jesus and his experience of divine love shed abroad in the heart will be his returns of affection and gratitude to God as an infinitely amiable Being, considered in Himself as inconceivably gracious to needy, guilty, unworthy creatures. His language will be, “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psa 116:12; 103:1).

Being born from above, he delights in the Law of God after the inward man (Rom 7:22) and is habitually desirous of being more and more conformed to it, as it is a transcript of the divine purity and a revelation of the divine will. Now he is furnished with that generous principle of action: love to God. The obedience he now performs and that which God accepts is but the obedience of a child or of a spouse, not the service of a mere mercenary in order to gain a title to life as a reward for his work, much less of a slave that is driven to it by the goad of terror. [It is the obedience] of one who regards the divine commands as coming from a father or from an husband. Being dead to the Law, he lives to God (Gal 2:19).

I said, “Being dead to the law.” This is the case of none but those that are poor in spirit and have received the atonement in the blood of Christ, those who rely on His work alone as completely sufficient to procure their acceptance with God and as perfectly satisfying an awakened conscience, respecting that important affair. So the Apostle: “Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ…But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held” (Rom 7:4, 6). In these remarkable words, the believer is described as being dead to the Law and the Law as dead to him. By which are signified that the Law has no more power over a believer to exact obedience as the condition of life or to threaten vengeance against him in case of disobedience than a deceased husband has to demand obedience from a living wife; or because of disobedience to threaten her with punishment…But though the Law, as a covenant, ceases to have any demands on them that are in Christ Jesus, yet as a rule of conduct and as in the hand of Christ, it is of great utility to believers and to the most advanced saint. Nor, thus considered, is it possible that it should be deprived of its authority or lose its use. For it is no other than the rule of that obedience that the nature of God and man and the relation subsisting between them render necessary. To imagine the Law vacated in this respect is to suppose that relation to cease that has ever subsisted—and cannot but subsist—between the great Sovereign and His dependent creatures, who are the subjects of His moral government. Nor, thus considered, are its commands burdensome or its yoke galling to the real Christian. He approves of it! He delights in it after the inward man (Rom 7:22)! For, as a friend and a guide, it points out the way in which he is to manifest his thankfulness to God for all His favors. And the new disposition he received in regeneration from his Law-fulfiller inclines him to pay it the most sincere and uninterrupted regards. The obedience he now performs is in newness of spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6).

Should any pretenders to holiness, the genuine offspring of the ancient Pharisees, object that by faith we make void the Law, our answer is ready: “God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Rom 3:31), both by the doctrine and the principle of faith. By the doctrine of faith: because we teach that there is no salvation for any of the children of men without a perfect fulfillment of all its righteous demands. This, though impossible to a fallen, enfeebled creature, was punctually performed by Messiah the Surety. [This righteousness] being placed to the account of a believing sinner renders him completely righteous. Thus the Law, so far from being made void, is honored, is magnified, and that to the highest degree! The obedience performed to the preceptive part of the Law by a divine Redeemer, and the sufferings of an incarnate God on the cross in conformity to its penal sanction, more highly honor it than all the obedience that an absolutely innocent race of creatures could ever have yielded [or] than all the suffering that the many millions of the damned can endure to eternity. By the principle of faith: for as it purifies the heart from an evil conscience through the application of atoning blood, so it works by love—love to God, His people, and His cause, in some degree conformable to the Law as the rule of righteousness…If anyone therefore pretends to believe in Christ, to love His name, and to enjoy communion with Him, who does not pay an habitual regard to His commands, he is “a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1Jo 2:4). For our Lord…informs us also that the reason why any one does not keep his sayings is because he does not love Him, whatever he may profess to the contrary. That is no love, which is not productive of obedience; nor is that worthy [of] the name of obedience, which springs not from love. Pretensions to love without obedience are glaring hypocrisy; and obedience without love is mere slavery…The Gospel only can furnish us with such principles and motives to obedience as will cause us to take delight in it. When we know the truth as it is in Jesus, then, and not until then, the ways of wisdom will be ways of pleasantness. Then faith will work by love to God and our neighbor.

From The Reign of Grace, from Its Rise to Its Consummation

Abraham Booth (1734-1806): English Baptist preacher; considered one of the most learned men of his day; born in Blackwell, Derbyshire, England.

To Be Continued

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm

This past week brought home the realities of death and the world to come in a powerful way. I awoke on Monday morning to find the news that a dear friend, Johnny Farsese, had gone to be with the Lord on the Lord’s Day afternoon. A few hours later my wife called to tell me that her older sister, Gini, who had been battling ALS (Lou Gerhig’s disease) had seemingly contracted pneumonia. About an hour later she phoned again to tell me that Gini was with the Lord.

I first heard about Johnny in 1986 from Pastor Al Martin when I was a student at the Trinity Ministerial Academy. Johnny was born with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy.

This meant that Johnny never walked. By the time I met him he was completely bed ridden. He has lost the ability to swallow and in later years had great difficulty communicating. In the blessed providence of God, Johnny came to age in the days of increased computer technology which he was able to master with his limited mobility. With the advent of email I began a ‘professional’ relationship with Johnny in the early 1990’s as he would kindly distribute emails from our church to others for their prayers. At some point along the way personal notes began to be exchanged and we went from being simply brothers involved in mutual ministry to being friends with one another. Through one means or another Johnny and I discovered that we were firmly entrenched on either side of baseball’s greatest rivalry. The first time I was in Florida to preach at Johnny’s church he found out that the Yankees were playing the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon and he invited me and my wife to come, enjoy some pizza and watch the game on his big screen TV. To make things interesting we said that the loser would have to wear the rival’s cap for a time. Sad to say this day’s game meant that I wore the Red Sox cap for some hours. When the Sox finally won the World Series I was able to rejoice with Johnny (several times over the years at it turned out). I was fond of telling him that I loved him more than I hated them!

I truly did come to love Johnny. Not just as a figure on the internet or a man seen through videos, but as a man who battled hard for his joy and who was determined to do what he could do for the Savior. His emails always ended with the words of Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.”

Through the years when I thought of the resurrection and the glory of the final triumph of Jesus over the full extent of the curse I would think of Johnny. What, but the power of God could undue the cruelty of the curse on that body? How God will be glorified in that day when all the bodies of the redeemed will be forever without the curse.

I am thankful that because for him to live was Christ, death is now his gain. Johnny joins his voice now and forever with saints and angels with unending and sinless joy. I envy him.

I first met my sister in law, Gini in 1986 when my relationship with my wife to be took off. Gini and her husband Steve had met at Wheaton College and were gifted musicians. Those who knew Gini were impressed with her vibrant personality and gifts in playing the piano, singing, and acting. Gini grew up in a godly home and had some struggles with her faith but had in recent years returned to her foundation. A little over two years ago we had some concern about some numbness and tingling in Gini’s hands and some slight slurring of her speech. A battery of tests indicated that there might be some vitamin deficiencies. We soon found out that the diagnosis was much more grim. ALS is one of the most devastating diseases to plague mankind. All who loved Gini watched helplessly as the disease took it’s toll. The ability to sing and then to talk, and then to walk. She and her family bore these sufferings with both grace and joy. There was no hint of bitterness towards God, no self pity. What would have struck most folks who saw her was a radiating happiness in the midst of crushing disappointment and increasing pain. Her life was focused outwardly to others. She made painful journeys to attend my daughter’s play and another daughter’s graduation. She went to our niece’s wedding in September and with grit and determination rose from her wheelchair when the bride came down the aisle. With the hope of eternal life in Christ, there is a sense of relief as one leaves the pains of this world. J. C. Ryle once preached a sermon to children where he spoke of three places. One place is this world where there are many tears. The second place was hell where there is nothing but tears. And the final place was heaven where there are no tears. This past week these two loved ones entered that place where there are no tears. At God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. Tears have been and will be shed on this side but not theirs. Emptiness is felt here and fullness there. Their joy, though now complete, will get better when their bodies, ravaged and battered and now fading away are raised with power. The lame will leap with joy and the mute will sing. Oh, glorious day!

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville
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The Cosmos

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 14, 2014 at 9:16 am

cosmos

“The Cosmos is all that is – or ever was – or ever will be.”  With those words made famous by Carl Sagan a generation ago, “The Cosmos” is being reworked for a new generation on the Fox television network.  It was shown Sunday night on TV.  A generation ago I watched and marveled at so much of the grander of the original.  I watched this new installment by DVR on Monday in High Definition.  What I found was much the same as the original, with better graphics, newer scientific information, but the same underlying presuppositions.

The first twenty minutes were by far the best.  The show did a remarkable job showing the staggering and unimaginable immensity of the universe.  They tried to encapsulate the scientific knowledge we have gained, as many believe it to be, and take us on a journey through our solar system and beyond using the scientific method.

The scientific method is explained in simple, easy to understand terms:

1.  Test ideas by experiment and observation.

2.  Build on those ideas that pass the test and reject the ones that fail.

3.  Follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything.

These are the rules that the natural man follows in his quest for knowledge, and in themselves they are not bad.  The problem is, they are impossible to keep objectively and “The Cosmos” series often wanders far from these rules.  Imagination and speculation are inserted with the same certainty as what we believe are the facts.  No one is neutral.  Man is totally depraved, and without the understanding that there is an eternal Creator God, man’s search for knowledge will lead him astray.

As they show the wonder of the universe, through pictures, CGI graphics and animation, this is where we as Christians can rejoice.  Our great God created all of this.  We are discovering more and more of what He has made.  His creation far exceeds what we have known in its immensity and complexity.  We can and should expect to learn more as the years go by.  The knowledge gained, by the light of natural revelation, should humble us and cause us to worship and serve the Creator.  But natural revelation, which testifies to the Creator is never enough.  Instead, man in his depravity proves the truth again and again which is explained so well in Romans 1:18-23.

The Cosmos IS the “god” of this new series and evolution is their authoritative bible.  The means whereby everything comes to pass are accident, chaos, and time.   Theories and imagination become realities, and their own rules are broken when they asked to “question everything”.  It appears they only want us to question the existence of God Himself, and give a natural explanation for all that there has been, is and will be.  The sun, moon and stars were the gods of ancient civilizations.  Not much has changed, but “the god” is now much larger.  The Cosmos is the god of this series, and Carl Sagan is the prophet.

Is there value in the series?  Everyone needs to judge for themselves and their family.  This type of program does fascinate me, and I expect to tape and watch them all, just as I saw all of the original series done by Sagan himself.  Do understand the series is not pure science and you will be bombarded by the things our society bombards us with daily.  Take a tour of the Grand Canyon, read the explanatory signs that are posted, and you will find much the same thing.

But this series goes even further.  It is a mixture of science, pseudo-science, imagination, pop psychology, philosophy and religion.  They are trying to answer the great questions of existence while denying the existence of God.  They pit science against religion and by implication take their shots at those who would believe in God today.  With the matter of fact presentation given, one wonders if they even understand where they have taken their own “leap of faith”.

They mock the foolish men who once thought the earth to be the center of the universe.  What they willfully forget is our “cosmic address” does not matter.  Our physical place in the universe is not what ultimately matters nor is this what God speaks about in the Scriptures.

God made all things for His own glory.  While the majesty and immensity of the universe overwhelms us, do not forget that His providence rules over all.  This is true from the macro to the micro.  And do not forget, God has His eye on this earth specifically and man in particular.  It should overwhelm us to think that God made all that is, in the beginning, and we only see a speck of it.  There is the vastness of what is still unseen, of the material and spiritual and much of it is unimaginable to our finite minds.  Yet His watch care is here.  God made man in His own image from the dust of the ground.  The God-man came into this world.  The cosmos is not God.  The cosmos is the creation, and man is the crowning glory of that creation.  That should not cause us to be arrogant, but humble in the sight of a God who is more glorious than we truly comprehend.

Pastor Steve Marquedant
Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Ontario, California
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Divine Impassibility Under Attack: Does God have Passions? (Part 2)

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 12, 2014 at 1:11 am

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A Friendly Rejoinder

What follows is intended to be a brief and incomplete critique of Gonzales’ reframing of the classical and confessional view of impassibility. There are certain assumptions that someone must have if they are to adopt Gonzales’ view. That is not to say that either Gonzales or those who sympathize with him claim to hold to all of these assumptions. Nevertheless, whether intended or not, the following must be assumed in order to adopt his view.

1.   Gonzales would have us assume that God acquires new relationships as a result of creation.

Prior to stating his thesis, Gonzales rightly affirms that God’s “immutability precludes any ontological change”, and that “what God wills decretively is immutable”, and that “God is ethically immutable”, and finally “that God is perfect and constant in his emotional or affective capacity.” Although the language of the last affirmation is ambiguous and bears a greater resemblance to Barth’s divine constancy than to the classical language of impassibility, Gonzales’ desire to uphold these truths is to be commended. However, it is impossible to see how he manages to do this in light of his thesis that God decrees His own change “in terms of his relationships with his creatures”, which he unashamedly calls “relational mutability.”

Surely, we must affirm the distinction between God’s hidden and revealed will. The Scripture will sometimes depict (if you will) a “relational mutability” according to God’s revealed will in response to His creatures. For example, God pronounced judgment upon Nineveh, only to relent from that judgment in response to their repentance. However, His relenting does not reveal a change in God, but reveals God’s hidden and immutable will to effect a change in the Ninevites. And while I would prefer to believe that this is what Gonzales intends by the unfortunate phrase “relational mutability”, he insists that he is speaking about more than a revealed change in God’s temporal actions. He is not concerned with the manifold actions of God in which God discriminately bestows His immutable and infinite love upon His creatures, but rather the degree to which that love is felt in the heart of God. He is speaking about a decreed emotive and relational change in God in relation to his creatures.

It is difficult to see how such a relational change would not effect an ontological change in God, who does not possess love or goodness as an accidental property as we do, but is love. How does One who is love change from one emotional state to the next in relation to us without changing what He is in relation to Himself? Moreover, what would it mean for God to undergo change “in terms of his relationships with his creatures”? Are we prepared to say that God acquires new relationships as a result of creation? Such a conclusion would require both God and creature to belong to the same order, thereby undermining God’s absoluteness and aseity.

When we speak of the relationship of a father and son, we are describing two mutually dependent parties that belong to the same order. It is on this basis that the formation of the relationship effects a change in both parties. But God and creation are neither mutually dependent nor belong to the same order. As Michael Dodds points out, such relationships are customarily called “mixed relationships” when the nature of the relationship is

real in one term but of idea only in the other. This occurs when the two extremes do not belong to the same order. For instance, the relationship between human knowledge and the object known is real with respect to knowledge, since it arises from and truly depends on that object. But the object, as a reality existing in nature outside the intentional order, does not depend in any way on the knower and has no real relation to knowledge. Our knowledge depends on the object, but the object in no way depends on our knowledge. Its relation to knowledge is therefore in idea only, insofar as the intellect apprehends it as the term of the relationship of knowledge. (The Unchanging Love of God, 165-166)

The relation of Creator and creature is a “mixed relation”. Therefore, we must maintain with the older theologians that God acquires no new relation to us, although He has freely related us to Himself. Having life and being in Himself, He does not depend upon creation, and yet He has most intimately related us to Himself as the cause of our creation and the very source of our being (esse). Put differently, creation does not effect a new relation in God, but rather God effects a change in creation. Thus Charnock says,

There was a new relation acquired by the creature, as, when, a man sins, he hath another relation to God than he had before,––he hath relation to God, as a criminal to a Judge; but there is no change in God, but in the malefactor. The being of men makes no more change in God than the sins of men. As a tree is now on our right hand, and by our turning about it is on our left hand, sometimes before us, sometimes behind us, according to our motion near it or about it, and the turning of the body; there is no change in the tree, which remains firm and fixed in the earth, but the change is wholly in the posture of the body, whereby the tree may be said to be before us, or behind us or on the right hand or on the left hand. God gained no new relation. (Existence and Attributes, 1.339)

God effects change, but is Himself unchanged. To suggest that God acquires new relations as a result of creation and providence requires the assumption that God and man belong to the same order, thereby threatening the aseity and absoluteness of God. Perhaps this assumption explains best why Gonzales is so comfortable attributing anthropopathic language properly to God.

2.   Gonzales would have us assume that it is possible for God to decree his own mutability.

Rejecting Open Theism, and attempting to guard the sovereignty of God, Gonzales affirms that “God’s emotions or affections are not caused from without (i.e., passive)”, but rather “from within (i.e., active)”. His desire is to affirm the emotivity of God, but not in such a way that suggests that He is a passive victim whose emotions are caused from something outside Himself. Alternatively, Gonzales would have us believe that God freely and sovereignly decrees His own emotional mutability.

In addition to the resemblance to what is known as voluntarism, Gonzales has not escaped characterizing God as a passive victim. Instead of a God who is passively acted upon from without, he has framed a God who is passively acted upon from within. Rather than the God of the Scripture who is, and must be, pure actuality (actus purus), his God is sovereignly actualizing His own passive potentiality, undergoing emotional change (cf. Aquinas’ third definition above). In decreeing His own mutability, He is made passive in relation to His own decree, thereby undermining both his immutability and the divine perfections (i.e., actus purus).

3.   Gonzales would have us assume that because God is impassible He must be passible.

Gonzales is equally concerned to guard God’s transcendence, although it is unclear what he means by this term. At one point he reduces it to “God’s supreme authority”, and on another occasion to “God’s immutability and eternality”. Furthermore, his discussion regarding God’s relation to time and history, or the relationship of God’s transcendence to His immanence, is equally unclear. At one moment he seems to suggest the very thing he previously denied, that the various passages which predicate an emotional undergoing in God refer, rather, to God’s infinite, immutable, simple, and eternal affections refracted in his temporal actions. But throughout he has insisted that these passages refer to more than God’s actions, leaving the reader uncertain as to what exactly he is suggesting. Is the issue merely epistemological, or is it ontological, as if to provide a description of God responsively experiencing His emotions in time and history?

Part of the confusion stems from a misconstrued understanding of the older Reformed view of God’s relation to time. He writes, “Older theologians spoke of God’s relationship to space as both outside (immensity) and also throughout (omnipresent), but they tended to speak of God’s relationship to time only in terms of his being outside of time (atemporal).” He is correct on the first account, but fails to apply the same observation to the latter. Richard Muller observes that,

This pattern of relationality appears consistently throughout the Reformed doctrine of God . . . What has often not been noted in discussions of the doctrine of divine attributes is not only that the pattern of argument explicitly reflects a sense of absolute and relative attributes but also that this pattern is frequently achieved by pairings of attributes. Thus, God is said to be both immense and omnipresent, both infinite and eternal . . . . Not that these pairs indicate different attributes but rather the same attribute considered first ad intra and second ad extra.

Thus, Muller concludes,

[This] provides a view of the consistent foundation in God for all of his relations to the world order and points toward the relational attribute in each pairing. Thus, the God who is immense in and of himself is omnipresent in relation to the world; the God who is infinite in and of himself is eternal in relation to the world. The parallel between the pairs is also important here: eternity is not an attribute that takes God out of relation to the temporal order, as it has often been interpreted in the twentieth century. Eternity is, by definition, a relational attribute that identifies God as in full relation to all time, just as omnipresence identifies God as in full relation to all places. (“God: Absolute & Relative, Necessary, Free, & Contingent”, in Always Reformed, 58-59)

Because God is infinite in Himself, he is eternal in relation to the world. God’s eternality is not something that hinders “but defines the nature of the divine relationality” (Muller, 60). In other words, the God who is transcendent (e.g., infinite) is the very God who is immanent (e.g., eternal), that is, transcendently present and active within the world. It is baffling then when Gonzales concludes that “God really responds emotively to events that transpire within history. One might say that God is ‘impassible’ from the perspective of his transcendence and ‘passible’ from the perspective of his immanence.” Gonzales would have us believe that because God is impassible He must be passible. Surely, God is infinite and therefore eternal, that is, radically free to be active and present within time as one who is transcendently infinite. The latter necessarily follows from the former. But it is difficult to see how this would lead us to say that because God is impassible in Himself, He must also be passible in relation to the world. The latter does not necessarily follow from, but rather contradicts, the former. Moreover, it is difficult to know what this would even mean. It assumes some sort of dualism in God, leaving us wondering which God is God, or at the very least, implying that the God who is is not the same God who is with us.

4.   Gonzales would have us assume that we can describe what God is.

What does it mean that God’s compassion grew (Hos 11:8)? Whereas the older theologians would proceed to explain what it does not mean, Gonzales attempts to “provide a compelling positive model of divine affections.” In other words, they emphasized what God is not, whereas Gonzales seeks to describe what God is. Furthermore, he accuses the older theologians of “equivocation” because they stopped short of describing what God is, and, by his estimation, explained away the literal reading of the text. What Gonzales calls equivocation and finds so utterly insufficient, the church has commonly identified as negative theology (via negativa).

It is thought that the via negativa is the result of a prior commitment to Aristotelian metaphysics and an idolatrous reading of the Scripture through the lens of the Reformed tradition. But nothing could be further from the truth. Gonzales would do well to acknowledge that no one comes to the Scripture entirely neutral. Those of us who believe that the Reformed tradition, as it is summarized in our Confession, is a faithful summary of what the Scripture teaches, find great help in our interpreting the Scripture by said tradition. Conversely, none of us would advocate reading the Scripture through the lens of Pelagius, or Arminius, or the individualistic spirit of the age. Moreover, none of us escape the influences of philosophy upon our theological discourse about God. We may not prefer Aquinas, but we cannot reject his metaphysics without replacing it with another. As Michael Horton once said, “The most dangerous theologians are those who pretend to avoid metaphysical/logical/philosophical categories.”

Notwithstanding the influences of philosophy and tradition, these are not the driving force behind the via negativa. Negative theology, presupposes, above all, the biblical conviction that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite, who is Being in Himself without genus or species (Exod 3:14; Jn 1:18). Therefore, he transcends our ability to define what He is. Everything from above comes from below; we come to know God, the first cause, by His created effects (Rom 1:20), but these effects belong to a different order and genus. Thus, even our language and concepts about God come from below, as He reveals Himself to us according to a creaturely knowledge of reality. Thus, God is always more than the revelation of Himself, even as the cause is always greater than the effect. Roger Hutchinson observes,

As God is known only of himself, so we must only learn of him, what he is. As for man, he knoweth no more what God is, than the unreasonable beasts know what man is; yea, and so much less, as there is more difference between God and man, than between man and beast. (The Image of God, 16)

Therefore negative theology begins with the scriptural presupposition that God is essentially incomprehensible, unsearchable (Rom 11:33), indescribable (2 Cor 9:15), inaccessible (1 Tim 6:16), all of which are predicated in a doxological context. In other words, the goal of the via negativa is not to solve the mystery of God, but to apprehend the mystery and respond in doxology. Therefore, the negative theologian will come to the biblical text, not with idolatrous philosophical or traditional biases, but with deep seated scriptural convictions, so that “whatever is said of God should always be understood by way of [His] preeminence, so that anything implying imperfection is removed” (Aquinas). This axiom led the older theologians to the judgment that certain predications of God were improper when considered in the context of the divine perfections and other biblical truths about God.

Such an approach to the Scripture does not explain away the text, much less the mystery, but rather seeks to know the mystery of God communicated in the text. The via negativa takes seriously God’s transcendence and seeks to provide necessary corrections and cautions to our affirmative theology. And in doing so, it takes these texts, as well as our finite limitations, seriously. In saying what a passage cannot mean, we gain a more accurate and affirmative theological understanding of what it does mean. Of course this is not to undermine our language of faith, for it is the only language we have, which is why Calvin and others can explain a text via negativa, and then turn around and use the very same language affirmatively in their discourse. Negative theology does not undermine the language of faith, but rather clarifies the meaning of that language when predicated of a God who does not belong to the same order.

While negative theology is often depicted as philosophically speculative, it is in actuality very modest concerning what it believes it is capable of predicating about God (Ecc 5:2). Ironically, the “something close to biblicism” which Gonzales advocates is dangerously and carelessly speculative. His almost purely positive approach rests upon the assumption that we can describe what God is. Against all protest, it has to be pointed out that such an approach presupposes that somewhere along the line we may speak of God univocally, so that not only is man in some way like God, but God is also in some way like man. Yet Aquinas would retort,

Although it may be admitted that creatures are in some sort like God, it must nowise be admitted that God is like creatures. . . For, we say that a statue is like a man, but not conversely; so also a creature can be spoken of as in some sort like God, but not that God is like a creature. (Summa Theologica, I.a. q.4 a.3)

Perhaps unwittingly, Gonzales adopts a kind of “perfect being theology,” but not in the sense which Aquinas or the Reformed Scholastics spoke of God’s perfections. Applying the via eminentia without adequate regard to the via negativa, his God is like man, just more perfect. Perhaps that is an overstatement, but what’s clear is that Gonzales thinks he knows, and therefore can describe, what God is.

Conclusion

Like a tapestry, our Confession is a beautifully woven interconnected system of doctrine. If we begin to pull on one thread, the tapestry may begin to unravel. Of course, not every statement in the Confession is of equal significance. For example, when we interview applicants for church membership and they communicate doctrinal disagreement with the Confession, the question naturally arises, “Which part of the Confession?” Some threads are more integral to the whole, and when pulled, threaten to distort the object of our faith and undermine the foundation of our hope.

Let us not lose sight of what is at stake here. We are talking about chapter 2 in our Confession, Of God and of the Holy Trinity. We are dealing with a view of impassibility that threatens to undermine God’s absoluteness, aseity, immutability, eternity, transcendence, and the divine perfections, to say nothing of the many Christological and soteriological implications. We are dealing with the orthodox understanding of the Church throughout the ages regarding the doctrine of God, which ought to make every one of us wary of Gonzales’ relatively novel amphibological reframing of that doctrine.

Such a low view of our Confession and our theological tradition is typical of the broader evangelical world, as was seen in James MacDonald’s defense of T.D. Jakes’ view of the Trinity in 2011. MacDonald replied to criticism with “something close to biblicism”, saying, “I do not trace my beliefs to creedal statements that seek clarity on things the Bible clouds with mystery. I do not require T.D. Jakes or anyone else to define the details of Trinitarianism the way that I might.” Perhaps MacDonald would agree with Gonzales that his critics are unreasonable traditionalists and hyper-confessionalists that isolate themselves from the broader Christian community (i.e., the T.D. Jakes of the world). The irony, however, is that such a lack of regard for the historic creeds and confessions causes the Gonzales’ of this world to isolate themselves, historically and theologically, from the broader Christian tradition.

Divine Impassibility Under Attack: Does God have Passions? (Part 1)

Chuck Rennie
Sycamore Baptist Church
East Moline, IL
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