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

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 11, 2014 at 5:40 am


The doctrine of God’s impassibility has seized the attention of many in the Reformed Baptist world. This is partly due to the recent reappearance of Dr. Robert Gonzales’ lengthy reframing of the doctrine on his blog, It Is Written. It would appear that he has gained a few sympathizers along the way, but the hope is that such sympathy is the consequence of misunderstanding rather than actual misgivings about the confessional and classical understanding of impassibility. What follows is an attempt to give a relatively brief and accessible critique of Gonzales’ position. He has put before us a view of impassibility that undermines the perfections, absoluteness, aseity, and immutability of God, and treats the eternity and transcendence of God as though they were a problem that He must overcome.

What is meant by Impassibility?

The word impassibility has reference to the London Baptist Confession’s statement that God is “without. . . passions” (LBC 2:1). Does God have passions (passio/pati)? When we hear the word passion, we might think of the ‘passion of Christ,’ which refers to the suffering of Christ. Therefore, to say that God is impassible, or without passions, is to say that God, as God, cannot suffer. But merely to equate passion with the passive suffering victim, or impassibility with the inability to suffer, would be an oversimplification.

The theological tradition, from which our confessional statement arose, recognized at least three nuances to the word passio (noun) or pati (infinitive) depending upon the context and subject to which it is applied. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, raises the question whether man’s intellect is a passive power (potentia passiva) of the soul, or in what sense “to understand is to undergo (pati)” change. In seeking to discover in what sense the intellect undergoes passion when someone begins to understand something, Aquinas explains that something may be said to undergo passion (pati) in three ways.

Firstly, in its most strict sense, when from a thing is taken something which belongs to it by virtue either of its nature, or of its proper inclination: as when water loses coolness by heating, and as when a man becomes ill or sad.

A passion is therefore the effect of an action that is always accompanied by change. In this first and most proper sense, a passion refers to a change for the worse, as when a man, whose natural inclination is his own happiness, loses his joy and becomes sad. But this is not the only sense in which something may be said to undergo passion.

Secondly, less strictly, a thing is said to be pati, when something, whether suitable or unsuitable, is taken away from it. And in this way not only he who is ill is said to be pati, but also he who is healed; not only he that is sad, but also he that is joyful; or whatever way he be altered or moved.

The second sense is both inclusive of, and broader than, the first. Something may be said to undergo passion whenever it suffers a loss, regardless of whether it is for the better or the worse. When a man becomes joyful he loses his sadness, and when he becomes healthy he loses his illness. This change, even if for the better, may also be called a passion. In both uses of the word, the subject undergoes some kind of loss. For something to undergo a loss, it must be composed of matter and form, for it is the matter that undergoes change. But, if we recall Aquinas’ original question, the intellect is not composed of matter and form and therefore does not undergo a loss when it begins to understand something. In what sense, then, is it said to undergo a passion?

Thirdly, in a wide sense (communiter) a thing is said to be pati, from the very fact that what is in potentiality to something receives that to which it was in potentiality, without being deprived of anything. And accordingly, whatever passes from potentiality to act, may be said to be pati, even when it is perfected. And thus with us to understand is to be pati. (Summa Theologica, I.a q.79 a.2)

The third sense is both inclusive of, and broader than, the first two; It does not presuppose the necessity of either a body/matter or a loss in order for something to undergo passion. As Mark-Robin Hoogland observes, “All bodies presuppose passiones, but not all passiones presuppose a body; passio in the third sense of the word does not” (God, Passion and Power, 118). The human intellect is one such example. When someone begins to understand something, the intellect does not suffer loss, but rather receives something. In such a case, it would not be proper to say that the intellect suffers. And yet it may still be said to undergo passion, both because the potential to be perfected implies the presence of imperfection, but also because it undergoes change when its intrinsic potential is actualized.

Reflecting upon the threefold sense above, Hoogland concludes:

What all these views of passio have in common is that pati is the consequence of an action (actio): the patiens is being acted upon, undergoes something. This undergoing may be specified by “suffering”, when an evil action is directed towards someone or something, so that his/her/its nature and integrity is violated. An action towards someone or something can also be experienced or described in a neutral sense, without a value judgment (good or bad). When in a particular context pati is used or understood in this sense, it may well be translated by the neutral word “undergoing.” It is obvious that when pati is used in the common sense [i.e., the third sense], it cannot be translated as “suffering”. In the case of knowledge “receiving” seems to cover the content: getting to know something by receiving knowledge (which presupposes an action of giving by someone or something else). Hence in all three cases “undergoing”, with a further qualification if needed, seems to be what Thomas understands by pati/passio. (112-113)

God is Impassible in the sense that He is unable to undergo “inner emotional changes of state, either of comfort or discomfort, whether freely from within or by being acted upon from without” (Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, 39). In God there can be no emotional undergoing, whether conceived in a negative, neutral, or positive sense, for there is no potentiality in Him to be either corrupted or actualized in further perfection. He is in Himself pure act, most perfect, fully personal, utterly loving, in every conceivable way immutable, and absolute Being. However, it is precisely at this point, as it has been understood throughout the majority of church history, that the doctrine of divine impassibility has more recently undergone attack.

Bob Gonzales and Impassibility: Rejection by Way of Redefinition

Viewing those who seek to defend the classical and confessional view of impassibility as traditionalists clinging to an unbiblical man-made tradition overly dependent upon philosophical speculation, Gonzales espouses a view he readily describes as “something close to biblicism.” Advocating a more literal reading of the so-called biblical anthropopathisms, he chides the framers of our Confession for interpreting these passages merely with respect to the actions of God ad extra. For Gonzales, a more literal reading of these expressions is to be preferred. God in some way undergoes, ad intra, an emotional stirring in response to his people.

While the older Reformed theologians would offer correctives regarding “what God’s emotions are not”, Gonzales complains that they did not “provide a compelling positive model of divine affections.” Focusing almost exclusively on the first two definitions of passio which presuppose the sort of undergoing that involves a body, Gonzales argues that God’s incorporeality does not necessarily exclude the possibility of genuine emotional change. He asks, “why can’t God experience the psychological aspect without the physical?” In other words, because God is a transcendent, sovereign, immutable spirit, He does not come by these emotions by sense and surprise after the manner of corporeal men. While man’s emotions are the result of being acted upon from without, God’s emotions are caused from within. Quoting Rob Lister, he affirms, “God has eternally known and ordained not only his creature’s actions, but also his [read: internal and emotional] responses to those actions.” In other words, God decrees His own ad intra emotional responses that He experiences in the context of the ad extra temporal outworking of His decree. Put more simply, God decrees His own “relational mutability” and “voluntary emotions”. However, if this were correct, it would be difficult to see how God could escape the sort of passion described in Aquinas’ third definition.

Divine Impassibility Under Attack: Does God have Passions? (Part 2)

Chuck Rennie
Sycamore Baptist Church
East Moline, IL

Johnny Farese and the Sovereignty of God

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 10, 2014 at 7:32 am

They Have Their Reward

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 7, 2014 at 7:01 pm

A loving father approached his two young sons to teach them a lesson they would never forget. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he began. I’ll give you each a dollar a day for the next month, or else I’ll give a hundred dollars at the end of the month, your choice.” “A dollar a day,” the first thought to himself. “That sounds so good! I could stop on the way from school and buy a candy bar every day!” So the first son chose option one. The other deferred to the end of the month. As the weeks passed, the first son was having a good time. He decided to try many different kinds of candy bars and choose a favorite. The other son sometimes felt a little jealous, but he kept thinking about the much larger gift his father had promised. It wasn’t always easy, but he knew he had made the much better choice. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the month was over. The big day for the second son had come. His father was true to his word. A hundred dollars was enough for a shiny new bicycle. When the first son saw it, suddenly all those candy bars, now long gone, seemed worthless. He was filled with regret, and resolved never to make the same mistake again. Delayed gratification is enhanced gratification.

The Lord Jesus Christ has taught us this principle in the Sermon on the Mount. He contrasts two kinds of people. The first live for the present. They seek instant gratification, even in their religion. The second are Jesus’ true disciples. They are future oriented, humble, God-fearers, practicing secret devotion and self-denial, and by patient continuance in well doing they seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life in the age to come (Rom 2.7). Hear the Lord’s counsel from Matthew 6 (emphasis mine):

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

The original culture where Jesus first spoke these words was intensely religious and peculiarly Jewish. The proud Pharisees parading their religion were generally held in awe and admiration. Many who would not imitate them still thought their extreme religious commitment was praiseworthy. Jesus urged His disciples to shun the common, worldly perspective. The hypocrites’ steps go down to hell. “They have their reward,” now, in this life, and that is all there is.

Our culture today, in some ways, could hardly be more different. A man praying aloud on a street corner is thought deranged, and pitied, if not despised as a villain. Giving to the poor fares a little better, but fasting is for kooks.

So who are the conspicuous public figures that are almost universally admired, grabbing all the gusto of the moment with no thought for Judgment Day? Hollywood celebrities must be near the top of the list.

Last Sunday 43.7 million viewers tuned in to the Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen Degeneres,[1] a wealthy, lesbian comedian. It was the now famous “selfie” which crashed Twitter[2] that got me thinking about this. She posed with about 11 other celebrities—well dressed, all smiles, and obviously having fun. The image seems the very picture of good cheer and success, and millions and millions of Americans are evidently very envious.

Almost immediately the image brought to my mind Jesus’ words, “They have their reward.” Unbelievers like these seek instant gratification. They often achieve it, but it is like four weeks of candy bars. A nearer analogy would be the happy sow that eats well because the farmer is fattening her for the slaughter at the end of the season, and she has no idea what is coming.

A recent online article from ScienceNews claims, “Delaying gratification is about worldview as much as willpower,” and explains,

Willpower alone doesn’t explain why some children forgo a marshmallow in hand for the prospect of getting two gooey treats later. Kids’ beliefs about the reliability of the people around them, such as the trustworthiness of an experimenter, can dramatically shape their willingness to wait for a sweeter payoff, a new study finds.[3]

How do real Christians persevere in lives of delayed gratification? Not by willpower, but by faith and hope. We trust God, believe His Word, and confidently expect His praise and reward when the Lord Jesus Christ returns for us.

Dear reader, you should rather pity Ellen and her ilk than envy them. They are having “their best life now.” Pray for their salvation, and pray against the influence of their pernicious example. If you give, pray, and fast in secret as a disciple of Christ, your Father in heaven has far better things prepared for you.

1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. 2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb (Psa 37.1-2).

–D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA


Lent and the Sufficient Work of Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 5, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been inclined to focus on the practice of Lent.  I’ve seen my Roman Catholic friends do this for years, but I never gave it much thought.  Yet Lutherans, Anglicans, and other denominations inheriting the Reformation tradition also observe this part of the liturgical calendar.  Most people who practice Lent sacrifice something from their daily life (usually a food item) from Ash Wednesday until Maundy Thursday.

Its purported purpose is to imitate the suffering and temptation of Christ during His forty-day fast in the desert.  In centuries past, the methods of penance were much more serious compared to the types of self-denial we commonly see today.  Giving up sweets (for example) during the Lenten season may indeed trivialize the sufferings of Christ, but that’s not my main reason for opposing the practice.

Of the many theological errors before us, one of the most common is the confusion between historia salutis (redemption accomplished) and ordo salutis (redemption applied).  The former represents those once-for-all, unrepeatable events in redemptive history.  Roman Catholicism, for example, makes the serious mistake of confusing historia salutis and ordo salutis with respect to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (i.e., their practice of the Mass in which Christ is “re-sacrificed”).  Charismatic movements do the same thing with Pentecost.

Similarly, the practice of Lent takes the historia salutis event of Christ in the desert and turns it into something which can be counterfeited on an individual level.  In doing so, it fits perfectly with a works-righteousness mentality.  Inherent within Lent is the idea that its practice brings one “closer to God,” making a man-centered mockery of God’s grace.

Another unbiblical aspect of Lent is the very public manner in which it is practiced.  Jesus condemned hypocrites for their outward displays of piety (Matt. 6:1-18), revealing the self-righteous nature of such gestures.  Lent is very legalistic as well and Paul warns us against binding the conscience in areas which God has left free (Rom. 14:1-12).  True sanctification involves the recognition that our consciences are liberated by Christ’s teachings (Mark 7:17-18) while also understanding that the corrupt, sinful heart is what separates us from God (vv. 20-23).

Looking at this unbiblical practice of self-imposed legalism, one can easily see why the Puritans decided to scrap the liturgical calendar entirely.  The human heart loves this type of legalism and it greatly obscures the Gospel.  There is something seriously wrong when people begin to see the Christian life in these terms.  Having a meatless Friday isn’t going to bring us closer to God.

Indeed, the Christian life involves a daily introspection coram Deo that is much deeper than giving up chocolate or television for forty days.  It’s understandable that Roman Catholics would keep this practice given their view of justification, but it pains me to see fellow Protestants engaging in Lent because it completely goes against the grain of Reformation theology.

Sacrificing a favorite food or pastime is not a means of sanctification.  We must allow the simplicity of the Gospel to break through the traditions of man, even the seemingly innocuous ones.  There are much bigger issues out there than Lent to be sure, but it’s a man-centered legalism which has no place among the people of God.  The work of Christ is sufficient.

Josh Dermer

Josh is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington DC and a member of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Warrenton, VA.

To Lent or reLent? Some thoughts on a recent post at The Gospel Coalition

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm


Recently, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) site posted a blog entry entitled – “Lent Is About Jesus: A Free Devotional Guide.” No, I did not make that up. You can read the whole thing here. As I read the post and thought about it a bit, I concluded I would like to respond to it. So, as many of you do on various blogs, I sent a comment to that post. Before sending the comment, however, I sent copies of my response to a few friends, just to make sure I was responding correctly and clearly. They encouraged me to post my thoughts. Here is (below) what I sent to TGC’s site, which is still awaiting moderation, even though there has been at least one comment posted after I sent mine, I received notice of that post via email, and there were, at one point this afternoon, 25 comments and now there are only 24, as of 2:41pm Pacific time. I hope that changes, but in case it does not (which will not be the first time my comments at TGC have been deleted, if, in fact, that is the case), here it is.


This is not helpful to me as an individual or, especially, as a pastor. It creates more work for me.

Though there are many, many problems I have with this post, I will share but two.

First, moralizing John’s preparatory ministry is terrible–hermeneutically, theologically, and practically. Your post says:

“At the onset of Jesus’ ministry, John announced his coming in fulfillment of Isaiah 40: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This is the cry of Lent: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make room for him in your thoughts and activities and affections.”

This goes against, for example, what Dr. Carson’s Commentary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament advocates (and I think rightly). The Gospels narrate these kinds of things for us because they are telling us what happened in fulfillment of the OT and in relation to John the Baptist and the incarnation and ministry (i.e., His sufferings and glory) of Christ. Drawing these kinds of “practical” applications from these types of texts is simply wrong. The Epistles are God’s theological commentary upon and ecclesiastical applications of some of the events depicted for us in the Gospels. Nowhere do we see John’s preparatory ministry interpreted and applied as your post does in the Epistles (or anywhere else in the Bible). The fact of the matter is this: The way has already been prepared for the Lord by John and in fulfillment of God’s Word via Isaiah. We don’t “Prepare the way of the Lord!” John already did that. We can certainly gain confidence in the veracity of the Word of God due to this and connect the dots between the OT, John, and Jesus; but to tell people “Make room for him in your thoughts and activities and affections” based on John’s preparatory ministry is, at best, naive and at worst, a moralizing/allegorizing of a text that ends up creating new laws for God’s people–laws invented by man. “God alone is Lord of the conscience.”

Second, the following words are very troubling to me:

“The practice of giving something up for Lent is a way of entering into the wilderness with Jesus. Don’t worry about whether your sacrifice is a good one. It’s not a contest. Just make your aim to know Christ more fully, and trust him to lead you.”

“…entering into the wilderness with Jesus”? What does that mean and where has God revealed that it is His will for us to enter such? The fact is that Christ already entered the wilderness for us and won! This statement betrays a hermeneutic that is too horizontal, allegorizing, and misses the point of Christ’s wilderness experience. He was driven there to be tempted as our representative and win; unlike Adam in the garden and Israel in the wilderness, Jesus does not give-in to the devil.

TGC brothers, this post makes more work for local church pastors. It is destructive. It erodes confidence in those involved with TGC. Recently a Mark Driscoll interview was posted on TGC blog where he gave somewhat of a “pass” to Joel Osteen. Check this out by Mark Dever. This is what we need from TGC; a clear sound for truth and against error.

I hope you will consider these things in the spirit they are intended. I think this post should be deleted and a humble apology posted in its place.


Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Paldmale, CA

What is a divine covenant and what is the New Covenant in contrast to the Old Covenant?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 4, 2014 at 6:52 am

What is a divine covenant? A basic definition of a divine covenant is as follows: A divine covenant is a relational arrangement, initiated by God’s sovereign dispensing of his kindness, goodness, and wisdom toward man. In other words, divine covenants start with God and come to man. They come from him to us. In this sense, they are not contracts or pacts between two equals. There are no negations between God and man concerning these covenants. Divine covenants are the means through which God reveals his kindness, goodness, and wisdom to man. The specific concern of divine covenants, in the words of Nehemiah Coxe, is “the benefits [God] will bestow on [man], the communion [man] will have with [God], and the way and means by which this will be enjoyed by [man].”[1] Divine covenants are concerned with the benefits God’s bestows, the type of communion man may have with God, and the means to obtain these things. When divine covenants demand conditions of obedience on man’s part, they can be viewed as covenants of obedience or works. When a divine covenant provides all it requires, it is a covenant of grace. In the discussion below, you will notice that I view the Old Covenant as a conditional covenant, a covenant of works, and the New Covenant as the covenant of grace.

Our second question is: What is the New Covenant in contrast to the Old Covenant? To answer this question we will look at how the Old Testament promises the New Covenant and how the New Testament explains and applies the New Covenant. Consider Jeremiah 31:31-34, which says:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– 32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying,’Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (NKJV)

This New Covenant is promised to be revealed as a covenant and be formally or historically inaugurated in the future (v. 31). This covenant is “not like the covenant” at Sinai, a covenant which could be and was broken by Old Covenant Israel (v. 32). The New Covenant cannot be broken. The New Covenant secures various blessings for all in the covenant–(1) the law written on the heart (v. 33), (2) the universal saving knowledge of God within the covenant community (v. 34a), and (3) the universal forgiveness of sins within the covenant community.

Another Old Testament text which speaks about the New Covenant is Jeremiah 32:40. The LORD says through Jeremiah, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.” Notice the language of “everlasting covenant” (cf. Isa. 61:8; Heb. 13:20). God will not turn away from those in this covenant, like he did when Old Covenant Israel broke the covenant, turning away from him. God will work in hearts and none in this covenant will turn away from him.

Finally, consider Ezekiel 36:24-27. This is clearly a promise of the New Covenant.

24 “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

Everyone in this covenant is forgiven of all their sins (v. 25). Everyone in this covenant has a new heart (v. 26). Everyone in this covenant possesses the Spirit of God as the effective cause of their obedience (v. 27).

Everything promised by the New Covenant is given. Several times God says, “I will.” The result of those “I wills” is pardon of sin, a new heart, and power to obey the law of God. Everything required is provided. In this sense, the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant. The blessings of the Old Covenant were conditioned upon Israel’s obedience to the law of Moses (cf. Exod. 19:5-6 and Lev. 26:3ff.). In the New Covenant, God bestows all the blessings of the covenant upon all its members. As a result of what God does to them and in them, they obey. However, their obedience is not a condition to be met in order to be blessed; it is the result of having been blessed. It is the fruit of covenant membership not the condition.

The New Testament confirms this understanding of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is formally or historically inaugurated by the shed blood of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 26:26-29 [Mark 14:22-24]; Luke 22:19-20). In Matthew 26:28, Jesus said, “For this is My blood of the new covenant.” In other words, Christ brings the blessings of the New Covenant to us through what he does for us. The blessings of the New Covenant are conditioned upon what Christ does, not us. Its blessings are enjoyed by those in the church–Jew and Gentile (2 Cor. 3:1-3, 6). Its virtue is that by which all true believers were saved prior to its formal, historical inauguration. Listen to Hebrews 9:15 and 10:1-4.

15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Heb. 9:15)

1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-4)

Anyone saved prior to the formal or historical inauguration of the New Covenant were saved by its saving virtue. This is why the 2nd LCF says in 8.6, “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.”

The New Covenant is permanent, unlike the Old Covenant (Heb. 8:7, 13; 13:20-21; cf. Isa. 61:8). It is better than the Old Covenant because it has better promises (Heb. 8:6). It ensures the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of all its participants.

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:11-12)

The benefits of redemption include justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification and these benefits are enjoyed by all in the New Covenant. It is all of grace, apart from any and all works of the law (Gal. 2:16 and Eph. 2:8-9). We do not receive these benefits of redemption by doing to earn but by believing in Christ. It is not conditioned upon our obedience to God’s law.

The saving efficacy of the New Covenant is based on what Christ did for us and has nothing to do with what we do for Christ. It secures all the blessings promised by it through the work of Christ. Christ earns the blessings of the covenant by obeying (Rom. 5:19; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 10:5-10). He fully satisfies all the demands of God’s law. He also exhausts damnation for us on the cross (John 19:30; Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 1:3). He earns the gift of the Spirit for us as well (Acts 2:33). And He confers upon believers in the gospel all these benefits through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). The New Covenant is a gracious covenant, the covenant of grace.

The difference between the Old and New Covenant is not one of an administration of the same covenant (e.g., from stage one to stage two or from a legal administration to a gracious administration of the same covenant). The difference between the two is one of kind or essence. The Old Covenant demands obedience to secure its temporal blessings or promises; the New Covenant confers its blessings or promises, which are eternal. The promised blessings of the Old Covenant depended on the obedience of its citizens; the promised blessings of the New Covenant depend upon the obedience of Christ. The Old Covenant is conditional for its citizens; the New Covenant is unconditional for its citizens. The Old Covenant is temporal; the New Covenant is eternal.

Richard C. Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

[1] Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005) 36.

The Panic Button

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm


The quickest and surest way to bring about change in a society is to instill a sense of panic.  In a nation, in a community, and yes, in the churches, if you can convince people that we are in peril, that their very survival is at stake, they will welcome many changes that under other conditions would not be tolerated.

For some time now church leaders have been hitting the panic button and issuing dire warnings about the future of the church in our society. We must get our heads out the sand, see what is happening and above all else respond with appropriate change. We can’t do things the old way, people don’t want that, they won’t embrace that, you can’t say it that way, we have to change, change, change.

The statistics regarding the number of churches closing and the rate of declension in membership among American bible believing churches should certainly have our attention.

I recently came across these words written by a prominent pastor, “Our lot is cast in an age of abounding unbelief, skepticism and, I fear I must add, infidelity. Never, perhaps, since the days of the early Roman persecution of the church was the truth of revealed religion so openly and unblushingly assailed — and never was the assault so speciously and plausibly conducted.” And then carefully consider these words that I came across on the internet a few weeks ago by another prominent pastor, “It is come to be taken for granted by many people, that Christianity is not even a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length assumed to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this was an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of…ridicule, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”

Pop quiz?   What prominent pastors wrote these dire warnings?

The first prominent pastor I quoted is J. C. Ryle. He wrote those words in 1879. The second quotation is from Bishop Butler who wrote  in 1736.

When Paul wrote to Timothy and told him to be steadfast in the faith and to preach the Word he did so against the prospect of great changes coming to the church. People would not want sound doctrine and if Timothy gave them sound doctrine he could anticipate that the flock would likely go elsewhere and find preachers and teachers to give them what they wanted.

There are certainly churches that need to change and that need to change drastically. The Bible calls for repentance and for reformation. Churches who are unfaithful to their calling and commission must change. Churches aware of sin in their midst and compromises in their doctrine and practices must change. But we must not change due to fear, and we must not alter due to the pressures of society. Every pressure we feel to change must be produced by the weighty pressure of exegesis and not the enormous pressure of an empty pew. Before we push that panic button, let’s remember it’s been there for a long time and let’s remember how faithful men responded in the past.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville

An Orthodox Catechism by Hercules Collins

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on February 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

Orthodox Catechism

This catechism, first published in 1680, is a Particular (i.e., seventeenth-century Calvinistic) Baptist revision of the Heidelberg Catechism. The editors slightly revised the original for modern use.

The book includes the original Preface by Collins, a Foreword by James M. Renihan, and an Introduction by Michael Haykin and G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.

Here are the chapter titles from the table of contents:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface by Hercules Collins
  • Foreword by James M. Renihan
  • Introduction by Michael A. G. Haykin and G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.
  • General Introduction and The First Part: Of  Man’s Misery
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (Introductory Questions)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Father)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Son)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Holy Spirit)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (The Sacraments)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (Baptism)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (The Lord’s Supper)
  • The Third Part: Of Man’s Thankfulness (Introductory Questions)
  • The Third Part: Of Man’s Thankfulness (The Law of God)
  • The Third Part: Of Man’s Thankfulness (Prayer)
  • The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds

124 pages
Published 2014

A great tool for solid, doctrinal instruction in church and home.

Available here

The Lord’s Day

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on February 22, 2014 at 9:15 am

Consider carefully the following evidence that the redemption accomplished through Christ’s resurrection determined the day for Christian worship:

  1. Jesus Christ arose on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1). He entered into his rest from labor, not on Saturday (the seventh day), but on Sunday (the first day of the week). As Jesus entered into his rest on the first day, so he encourages us to begin the week by resting in the confidence that He will provide for all our needs for seven days with only six days of labor.
  2. Jesus Christ appeared to His assembled disciples on the first day of the week, as well as to Mary and to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (John 20:10; Luke 24:13). By these appearances on the first day of the week, the resurrected Lord set a pattern for meeting with His disciples. They began expecting to meet with Him on the day of his resurrection, which is the first day of the week.
  3. Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples one week later on the first day of the week, with doubting Thomas present this time (John 20:26). Already a new pattern of assembly for worship was emerging. God’s new covenant people were making it a habit to assemble together on the first day of the week, the day of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus honored these assemblies by appearing to the disciples at this time, and encouraged their faith in Him as the resurrected Lord.
  4. The resurrected Christ poured out his Spirit on the assembled disciples exactly fifty days after the Sabbath of the Jewish Passover, which was the first day of the week(Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15–16). The word Pentecost means “fifty,” referring to the fifty days after the Sabbath of the Passover. Forty-nine days would span seven Jewish Sabbaths or Saturdays, and the fiftieth day would then fall on a Sunday, the first day of the week. So it would appear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came on the first day of the week, when God’s new covenant people were assembled for worship. So the pattern would be established more firmly. Both the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit occurred on the first day of the week.
  5. As Paul spread the gospel of Christ among Jews and Gentiles throughout the world, the first day of the week was used as the time for Christians to assemble for worship.In Greece, Paul and Luke assembled with the people of God to break bread and to hear the preaching of God’s word on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). This was the day that the people of the new covenant assembled to hear God’s word.
  6. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth to establish the pattern for their presenting of offerings for the service of the Lord. He ordered the Christians in Corinth to follow the pattern that had already been set with the churches in Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1). On the first day of every week they were to consecrate their offerings to the Lord (1 Cor. 16:2). This schedule for honoring the Lord had become the pattern for God’s people throughout the churches. The churches were not to present their offerings any time they wished. Rather, on the first day of each week, all the Corinthian Christians were to follow the pattern that had already been set among the Galatian churches. The first day of the week was the designated time for the presentation of offerings to the Lord.

O. Palmer Robertson

Why on Sunday? New Horizons, March 2003.


Typology: Adam and Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on February 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm

 1.     A few introductory thoughts on typology

First, a type is a historical person, place, institution, or event that was designed by God to point to a future historical person, place, institution, or event. An example would be the sacrificial system revealed to us in the Old Testament. That institution was designed by God to point to Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice.

Second, that to which types point is always greater than the type itself. In other words, there is some sort of escalation in the anti-type (i.e., fulfillment). For example, “the blood of bulls and goats” could point to Christ but they could not and did not do what Christ’s sacrifice did – take away sins.

Third, types are both like and unlike their anti-types. There is both correspondence and escalation. The blood of animals was shed; the blood of Christ was shed. The blood of animals did not take away sins; the blood of Christ takes away sins.

Fourth, anti-types tell us more about how their types function as types. The blood of Christ takes away sins; the blood of animals pointed to that.

2.     Adam and Christ as an example of biblical typology

Adam was “a type of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). Adam was a type of Christ in his prelapsarian state. Adam was a type of Christ as a public person (1 Cor. 15:22), he represented others. Adam’s failure is seen in the fact that he disobeyed or he failed to obey (Rom. 5:12ff.). But what if he had obeyed? Would he have stayed in the state in which he was created – able to sin and able not to sin? I don’t think so and, I think, for good reason. This is no mere speculative or abstract question. The Bible does give us answers to this question and understanding the typological relationship between Adam and Christ is one key (the key?) that unlocks the answer for us. Let’s think through this together.

In Romans 5:21, God says, “even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Note the prepositional phrases: “through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ.” The righteousness that is “to eternal life” comes as a gift to sinners and is based on Christ’s obedience or “through [His] righteousness.” The life-unto-death obedience of Christ constitutes a righteousness “to eternal life.” In other words, in his sinless human nature as the anti-type of prelapsarian Adam, Christ earned eternal life for us. Listen to Guy Waters on this passage:

The fact that Christ purchased eternal “life” for his own, and that he did so for those who were eternally “dead” in Adam means that Christ’s work was intended to remedy what Adam had wrought (death), and to accomplish what Adam had failed to do (life). Paul emphasizes disparity in his argument precisely in order to underscore the breathtaking achievement of what Christ has accomplished in relation to what Adam has wrought. This means that if Adam by his disobedience brought eternal death, then his obedience would have brought eternal life. In other words, Christ’s “obedience” and its consequence (“eternal life”) parallel what Adam ought to have done but did not do. The life that Adam ought to have attained would have been consequent upon Adam’s continuing, during the period of his testing, in obedience to all the commands set before him, whether moral or positive. This life, it stands to reason, could be aptly described “eternal.””[1]

Eternal life was earned by Christ for us and given by Christ to us. The quality of life Christ attains for us and gives to us is not what Adam had and lost but what Adam failed to attain. Adam did not possess “eternal life.” Listen to Robert Shaw, commenting on the Covenant of Works:

There is a condition expressly stated, in the positive precept respecting the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God was pleased to make the test of man’s obedience. There was a penalty subjoined: ‘In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.’ There is also a promise, not distinctly expressed, but implied in the threatening; for if death was to be the consequence of disobedience, it clearly follows that life was to the reward of obedience. That a promise of life was annexed to man’s obedience, may also be inferred from…our Lord’s answer to the young man who inquired what he should do to inherit eternal life: ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments’ (Matthew 19:17); and from the declaration of the apostle, that ‘the commandment was ordained to life’ (Romans 7:10).[2]

Just as Adam’s disobedience brought upon him a status not his by virtue of creation, so Adam’s obedience would have brought upon him a status not his by virtue of creation. Christ as anti-typical Adam, the last Adam, takes his seed where Adam failed to take his.

Consider the fact that Adam sinned and fell short of something he did not possess via creation, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We know that, in Paul’s writings, Adam was the first man who sinned. The first man sinned and fell short of the glory of God; he fell short of something he did not experience via his created status. He was not created in a state that could be called “glory” and he fell short of that state by sinning. He failed to attain to that state because he sinned. In other words, Adam was created in a state that could have been improved. Listen to John Owen:

Man, especially, was utterly lost, and came short of the glory of God, for which he was created, Rom. iii. 23. Here, now, doth the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God open itself. A design in Christ shines out from his bosom, that was lodged there from eternity, to recover things to such an estate as shall be exceedingly to the advantage of his glory, infinitely above what at first appeared, and for the putting of sinners into inconceivably a better condition than they were in before the entrance of sin.[3]

For Owen, “the glory of God” here does not refer exclusively to what God possesses, but what God confers.

Listen to Paul in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God…and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” Charles Hodge says:

It is a[n]…exultation, in view of the exaltation and blessedness which Christ has secured for us. …The glory of God may mean that glory which God gives, or that which he possesses. In either case, it refers to the exaltation and blessedness secured to the believer, who is to share the glory of his divine Redeemer.[4]

We get glory because it is conferred upon us and that because of what Christ has done for us. This is that to which Adam fell short.

The Old Testament spoke about the Messiah who would come, suffer (due to Adam’s sin and us in him), and enter into glory (Luke 24:46; Acts 26:19-23; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). The Son of God incarnate both suffered and entered into glory, which I think means a glorified state in his human nature after his sufferings via his resurrection and due to his obedience. In other words, his human nature became what it was not at the resurrection. Sufferings and glory is another way of saying humiliation and exaltation. Paul speaks of the Son’s humiliation and exaltation in Romans 1:1-4 and Philippians 2:6-9. His representation in the state of humiliation started at his conception and ended at his death-burial. Upon his death-burial, because of his obedience to the point of death, “God highly exalted Him…” The incarnate Son of God obeyed and suffered due to sin; he entered into glory as a result or reward for his obedience and he did both as the last Adam representing those given to him by the Father before the world began.

Adam failed to comply with the condition of the covenant God imposed upon him and brought with that the ruin of the human race. He fell short of the glory of God, a state of permanent existence in God’s special presence he did not possess via creation. But here is the good news – another came, the last Adam, the anti-type of the first Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered, then entered into glory at his resurrection, who will bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10), who will also “gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). Listen to Owen on 2 Thessalonians 2:14, ““The glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or the obtaining a portion in that glory which Christ purchased and procured for them…”[5] Christ purchased glory for all he came to save. He did so as the anti-typical, last Adam. He suffered to take care of the justice of God and his obedience-unto-death got him exalted, entering into glory, and all those who are his will enter into glory as well. The last Adam takes his seed where the first Adam failed to take his. The anti-type is better than or greater than the type.

In this brief discussion, we can see that both Adam and Christ were historical figures, Christ is greater than Adam, Christ is both like and unlike Adam, and Christ as anti-type (and the explanation of his work by the biblical writers) helps us understand Adam’s function as type better.

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

[1] Guy P. Waters, “Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works” in Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen, Editors, The Law is not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 230.

[2] Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Geanies House Fern, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), 124-25.

[3] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Volume II (Edinburgh, Scotland and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, Reprinted 1990), 89.

[4] Charles Hodge, Romans (Edinburgh/Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 133.

[5] Owen, Works, XI:203.


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