By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America
WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.
(signed) G. Washington
Source: The Massachusetts Centinel, October 14, 1789
Last weekend I had the privileged opportunity to join Dr. John Pretlove for the 2nd Annual Reformation Conference held at First Baptist Church of the Lakes in Las Vegas, Nevada. The conference centered on the theme of “Sanctification,” and response from the attendees was very positive. My thanks to Dr. Pretlove and Rolo Bernales, the Associate Pastor, for trusting me with the pulpit for three sessions. I would also like to thank Corey Williams and Anthony McDevitt for handling the audio and video (which I hope is available soon for posting).
From the movie, Luther, here is the Reformer’s speech at the Diet of Worms:
HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!
The Second Annual Reformation Conference will be held this upcoming weekend (October 26-28) at the First Baptist Church of the Lakes in Las Vegas. This year’s theme is “Sanctification.” It is often argued that if God is sovereign or if justification is through faith alone then there is no point in being concerned with holiness in everyday living. The sessions in this conference will contend for just the opposite — that holiness is both evident and required in the life of the Christian. The conference will seek to glorify God by:
- Word-centered proclamation which magnifies God’s grace through Christ Jesus
- Encouraging congregational renewal
- Strengthening the ministries of the local church and its pastors
- Exalting God’s name through Christ-centered music
Conference speakers include Dr. John Pretlove and Dr. James Galyon. If you live in the Las Vegas area or near the West Coast (Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona), I hope you will consider attending this conference. Please contact the First Baptist Church of the Lakes at (702) 254-3234 for more information.
The 2011 Grace Conference of Las Vegas will be held in October. This year’s theme, inspired by Dr. Richard Mouw’s provocative Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, seeks to both “give an answer” to those who have questions about the practicality of the doctrines of grace, and to do so with all gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Questions the conference will seek to answer in general include the following:
- How can we best be Christians in the twenty-first century?
- How do we as Christians speak gently and respectfully to non-Christians about our beliefs?
- How do we articulate our Calvinistic convictions gently and respectfully to fellow Christians who view some matters quite differently than we do?
- How do we impact the culture positively with a God-centered, Gospel-saturated worldview?
- How do we do these things without compromising Christian orthodoxy, particularly the Gospel?
The conference seeks to glorify God by:
- Word-centered proclamation which magnifies God’s grace through Christ Jesus
- Encouraging congregational renewal
- Strengthening the ministries of the local church and its pastors
- Exalting God’s name through Christ-centered music
Particular topics will include:
- True Comfort in Life & Death
- Suffering & the Sovereignty of God
- Amazing Grace vs. Cheap Grace
- Loving Fellow Christians
- Calvinism & Evangelism
Conference speakers include Dr. John Pretlove, Rev. Jim McAlees, and Dr. James Galyon. If you live in the Las Vegas area or near the West Coast (Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona), I hope you will consider attending this conference on October 28-29 (Fri-Sat). The conference website will be up later this spring. Please contact the First Baptist Church of the Lakes at (702) 254-3234 for more information.
I’ve been asked to join the mob, that is, I’ve been asked to be a contributor to the Conservative Reformed Mafia. It seems rather fitting since my military call sign is “Godfather,” don’t you think? The blog, which burst onto the blogging scene in 2007, was out of business for some time but has now returned to the blogosphere. I’m looking forward to working with Eric “Gunny” Hartman and the guys. Hope to “see” you over at CRM.
Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday is a personal presentation of the substance of Iain Murray’s May 19, 1995, address to the annual Grace Baptist Assembly in the United Kingdom. Mr. Murray addressed the subject of Charles H. Spurgeon’s contention with hyper-Calvinism during his ministry. The same year Murray gave this address, his book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching, was published. In the address, he pointed out that popular Spurgeon biographies, such as those by W. Y. Fullerton (1919) and Lewis Drummond (1992), do not consider the issue worth attention. In his autobiography, however, Spurgeon considered the matter as one of vital importance. As Murray noted in 1995, the ascension of Calvinism in theological spheres has historically resulted in the eventual appearance of hyper-Calvinism. It is my hope that the appearance of hyper-Calvinism is limited and brief. It is with this hope in mind that I present to you my interpretation of Murray’s address.
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A Summary of the Conflict
Charles Water Banks was an English itinerant minister and the editor of three publications: the Earthen Vessel, Cheering Words, and the Christian Cabinet. The December 1854 issue of the Earthen Vessel contained an essay by Banks describing his visits to the New Park Street Chapel and the benefit he received from hearing the twenty-year-old preach. The following month, an article appeared from ‘JOB’. JOB was a pseudonym for James Wells, the pastor of the Surrey Tabernacle, Borough High Street. Known as the “Borough Gunner” because of the “artillery” which “flew” from his pulpit, he argued in the anonymous article that Spurgeon’s ministry was dangerous. He wrote:
“Beware of a mock and arrogant humility, of the soft raiment of refined and studied courtesy and fascinating smile. . . . Also I have—most solemnly have—my doubts as to the Divine reality of his conversion. . . . Concerning Mr. Spurgeon’s ministry, I believe that it is most awfully deceptive…”
The conflict does not appear to be one of personalities, with the old preacher castigating the young one or being jealous of the youth’s popularity. While this notion was promoted by several of the newspapers in London, the truth of the matter is that Wells believed the hyper-Calvinistic tradition he represented was the purest form of Christianity. Questioning this tradition was equivalent to heresy, in his estimation. This tradition stood against calling individuals to believe in Jesus Christ, and Wells felt obligated to “knock down duty faith.” He claimed that if the Earthen Vessel supported Spurgeon, it would be a “disastrous change of direction.” Banks responded to the article by declaring his belief that “God had put Spurgeon on the walls of Jerusalem for usefulness.” In subsequent reports of his visits to New Park Street, Banks continued to write favorably of Spurgeon. Banks’ positive declarations regarding Spurgeon helped to turn the tide against hyper-Calvinism. Another matter which turned the tide was the conversion of T. W. Medhurst. Medhurst was a young member of the Surrey Tabernacle. He visited the Maze Pond Chapel early in 1854 to hear Spurgeon preach, even though he had been instructed to consider the young pastor a “mere Arminian.” Medhurst entered a period of distressed soul-searching and was converted eventually under Spurgeon’s preaching. Not long after his conversion, he began a ministry of street preaching and ended up becoming the first student in Spurgeon’s pastors’ college. He entered the controversy by writing a brief article in the Earthen Vessel. He stated: “Duty faith? What is it? Examine it-‘Believe and be saved. Believe not and be damned.’ It is like Mark 16:16.”
Errors of hyper-Calvinism
Spurgeon delineated four fundamental errors found within hyper-Calvinism.
1) Hyper-Calvinism denies that gospel invitations are to be delivered to all people without exception. It limits the purpose of gospel preaching to gathering the elect, and claims only the elect are to be addressed with the commands, invitations and offers of Scripture. It asserts there is to be no pleading with an entire congregation of sinners. This attitude was totally rejected by Spurgeon, who on many occasions addressed every single hearer in the following manner: “’These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.’ Look to Him, blind eyes; look to Him, dead souls; look to Him. Say not that you cannot; He in whose power I speak will work a miracle while yet you hear the command, and blind eyes shall see, and dead hearts shall spring into eternal life by His Spirit’s effectual working” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 40:502).
2) Hyper-Calvinism declares that the warrant a sinner has to come to Jesus Christ is found in his own experience of conviction and assurance.
This warrant, according to hyper-Calvinism, cannot be obtained until one receives an inward, spiritual exercise. Spurgeon, however, proclaimed that all humanity has a warrant to believe extended to them, giving them the right to place their trust in the Lord Jesus. That warrant is the universal command found in the Word of God for all to repent of their sins and believe upon the Lord Jesus. “Do not wait for your feelings to convince you that you can venture on Christ,” exhorted Spurgeon, “you have the right to come just as you are today because God is sincerely beseeching you to come to His Son for pardon.” In his 1863 sermon on the ‘Warrant of Faith’, Spurgeon tells people that if the warrant were not in the Word of God, but in the sinner’s own condition, the result will be individuals being driven to examine themselves and asking, “Have I sufficiently broken my heart?” rather than looking to an inviting Savior (MTP, 9:529).
3) Hyper-Calvinism declares that human inability prevents people from being exhorted to come to Jesus Christ.
A universal command presupposes a modicum of ability, according to Hyper-Calvinism. Spurgeon replied that he would not tone down humanity’s depravity and helplessness. He pointed out that the gospel is one of grace, and therefore it rests upon people despairing of their own resources and strength. It is only on the presupposition of total depravity that the full glory and power of the gospel can be declared, which Spurgeon claimed exalted God’s power to save. Spurgeon maintained that all people are responsible to turn to God, and that God is sovereign in salvation.
4) Hyper-Calvinism denies the universal love of God.
Hyper-Calvinism has a fearful caricature of God which presents Him as fierce and not easily induced to love sinners. Murray noted that if we fellowshipped more with Christ, then we would know and love Him more and then there would be no uncertainty that God desired the salvation of sinners. “How often would I have gathered you,” said
the Savior to recalcitrant Jerusalem.
In examining Spurgeon’s contention with hyper-Calvinism, Iain Murray came to four major conclusions:
1) Any true biblical theology is not exclusive.
The Bible’s teaching on the divine election of grace is not intended to divide Christian from Christian, but the Christian from the world. Spurgeon said he knew of many who were saved but who did not themselves believe in divine calling, and that many who persevered to the end who did not believe in the perseverance of the saints. They hold to such errors of judgment, yet we will meet with them and every believer around the cross. Spurgeon detested division in the Body of Christ.
2) There is a danger in not presenting biblical truths in the proper order.
In the final edition of John Calvin’s Institutes, justification precedes teaching on divine election. In evangelism, election is not placed in a position of priority. Rather, the doctrine of free justification through Jesus Christ is central.
3) When Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic it is a cerebral, chilling and unattractive religious system. In other words, hyper-Calvinism goes beyond the theological borders of historic Calvinism and is a different religious system than Calvinism. When William Carey went to India and Andrew Fuller led the missionary interest in England through historic evangelical Calvinism, in opposition to the existing hyper-Calvinism, change occurred in Baptist life and the Baptists began to grow.
4) It is a wonderful thing that Spurgeon, at age 20, did not succumb to hyper-Calvinism.
If he had, then the Grace Assembly would not have occurred and Spurgeon’s sermons would not be read all over the world, even as they are today.
The bonds built with some friends are so strong that they are as thick as blood, and those friends are just like family. For my family, we count the Helms’ – Doug & Selah, Andrew, Caleb, Beth, and Peter, as friends and family. The truth is, because of our relationship in Christ and because of belonging to Rock Creek Baptist Church for several years, they are family. Doug is one of my two best friends in the world, and he also served as my family’s pastor for several years. Last year, my heart sank when I spoke with him on the phone and he told me about the car wreck in which his youngest son, Peter, was involved. Pete’s body and brain were injured during the crash, and he is facing a long road to an uncertain recovery. The family has faced this circumstance with a strong faith and great love, though it has been a very difficult and draining situation. On Tuesday (May 17, 2011), Tim Laitinen’s article, Solo Zone: Flexibility in Crisis, appeared on Crosswalk. It details how the Helms’ eldest son, Andrew, left his doctoral studies at Notre Dame behind in order to help take care of Peter. After you read this article, which makes up today’s edition of Theology on Thursday, I ask that you pray for Peter and the rest of the Helms family.
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Imagine getting that phone call: a loved one has been involved in a horrible traffic accident in another state. Can you freeze-frame your life at that moment, putting everything else on hold to jump on a plane to be at your loved one’s hospital bedside? Of course, many people can’t. But Andrew Helms could. A single doctoral student at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame, Helms rushed to consult with his advisors, and then scrambled to the airport for a flight home to Texas. Granted, working on a doctorate doesn’t require the same type of on-site commitment and responsibility as being professionally employed. But neither can graduate studies be easily maintained when you’re fraught with the relentless urgency of having a loved one undergo multiple surgeries. In different hospitals. By various specialists. With progress measured in excruciatingly indistinct increments. All of which awaited Andrew and his family as his brother’s long road to recovery began that summer day last year.
Brother, Can You Spare the Time?
At 18 years old, Peter is Andrew’s youngest brother, with two other siblings in the middle.Being the oldest has always given Andrew a tendency to play the role of protector for his brothers and sister, despite what he describes as “a healthy mixture of camaraderie and rivalry” between them. “They are specially placed in my life for me to practice the discipline of brotherly love,” Andrew unabashedly reasons.“It’s easier to see how much they need my love when they are in trouble.”
For the first few hours after that initial, crisis phone call, nobody really knew if Peter would survive. His small car had been hit broadside by a full-sized pickup truck at full speed, and heroic witnesses to the crash assumed the worst until paramedics arrived and managed to find a pulse. They rushed Peter by helicopter to a Fort Worth trauma center, suffering from severe paralysis, puncture wounds to his face, broken facial bones, and bleeding in his brain. Surgeons were able to drill a hole in Peter’s skull to relieve some of the pressure on his brain, and they believed his spinal cord had been spared serious injury. And the Lord spared his life. But little else.
Today, after ten months and several surgeries, Peter remains in a minimally conscious state, unable to communicate or voluntarily move his body except for slight twitches and eye movements. Although the progress that has taken place has been a blessing, that progresss has been disappointingly slow in coming. Yet family members have rallied around, joined by congregants from their church and friends in their community around Fort Worth to support the family in ways we never realize we need until such a crisis.
Most days, everyone’s time is spent maintaining a steady regimen of physical therapy so Peter’s limbs retain a range of motion and flexibility. Doctors remain hopeful about his prognosis, but he’s yet to reach the point where he’s eligible for intensive rehabilitation. So the family soldiers on with Peter at home, where his hospital bed has commandeered their former living room, and everyone’s routine now centers around his care.
Lessons of Faith and Purpose
The emotional, physical, and even spiritual toll on Peter’s family and friends has been immense, but at the same time, profoundly faith-building. As a doctoral philosophy student, Andrew has developed a keen awareness of how his own relationship with Christ has flourished during what could be a season of despondency. “During the hardest moments, in the midst of deep grief and fear for Peter and all the things that he seems to have lost, God has sustained and comforted me with this thought: All those things… are gifts from Christ. Everything beautiful and praiseworthy in Peter is a direct reflection of Christ’s beauty and praiseworthiness. Therefore, nothing is really lost; instead, we’re being directed to look up from the broken image, back to the Person who formed it to resemble himself, and who really possesses those good things by right.”
Of all the truths God may be revealing about himself by allowing Peter’s present condition, Andrew sees a particular relevance for all saints who suffer. “In the present difficult circumstances, Peter has been given the great gift of reflecting and identifying with Christ in his humiliation and suffering. If that’s the case, then, because of his unity with Christ, Peter will be exalted and restored someday. So, this injury is actually a gift straight from the hand of a gracious God who plans for Peter to be holy… rather than a gifted artist or an intellectual genius.”
Andrew also can’t escape less complex reminders about the purposes of community in faith. “God’s been helping me see that for us Christians, human relationships are the training ground for, and entry into, close communion with himself. The presence of other people in our lives calls for us to develop deep habits of sacrifice and self-giving. We have to learn humility by sacrificing our desires to the good of others, as bearers of the image of God.”
This Present Present of Singlehood
Which, in a way, helps to explain why Andrew’s singleness has been an odd sort of blessing. His professors at Notre Dame graciously offered him a leave of absence for a year to help with his brother’s recovery. So Andrew simply stayed in Texas after flying down the day of Peter’s accident, relieved to be able to support his family without competing responsibilities.
“Given Peter’s accident, I am grateful for my current state of singleness,” Andrew acknowledges. “Being unmarried has made it much easier than it would have been for me to give my time and effort towards his care and rehabilitation… I had this freedom to change my location and devote my time to helping my brother for a year. I don’t know what I would have done in other circumstances.”
“As a Christian who is unmarried, I am trying to use the free time that I have—that would have been used up caring for a wife and a family—in service to Christ and his church. This year, that means serving my brother in his time of need.” Granted, a one-year hiatus during his pursuit of a doctorate won’t be catastrophic to Andrew’s career. It’s even been educational in itself. “It has changed me as a person: made me more grateful, more confident, more loving, less afraid of what people think of me,” he reflects. “During the hardest moments, in the midst of deep grief and fear for Peter and all the things that he seems to have lost, God has sustained and comforted me.”
As his hiatus from Notre Dame starts winding down, and as his brother’s condition continues to stabilize, Andrew has begun looking towards the future once more. And although singlehood has been a unique advantage so far, he’s willing to, shall we say, broaden his relationship horizons. “I hope that God’s plan for me involves marriage in the near future,” he admits. “At the same time, I am not waiting on marriage to make me happy or give me purpose in life. I already have those things in Christ.”
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Recently, several posts on this blog have dealt with the question, “Is God the Author of Sin?” and answered emphatically, “NO!” One of these posts shared the thoughts of Phil Johnson, another shared a presentation by John Piper, and one was my own reply to the inquiry (God: Not the Author of Sin). Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday considers this topic once more, with John MacArthur answering the question, “Is God Responsible for Evil?“
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If God is sovereign, is He responsible for evil?
No. Scripture says that when God finished His creation, He saw everything and declared it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Many Scriptures affirm that God is not the author of evil: “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33)-and if that is true, He cannot in any way be the author of evil.
Occasionally someone will quote Isaiah 45:7 (KJV) and claim it proves God made evil as a part of His creation: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (emphasis added). But the New American Standard Bible gives the sense of Isaiah 45:6-7 more clearly: “There is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.” In other words, God devises calamity as a judgment for the wicked. But in no sense is He the author of evil.
Evil originates not from God but from the fallen creature. I agree with John Calvin, who wrote,
. . . the Lord had declared that “everything that he had made . . . was exceedingly good” [Gen. 1:31]. Whence, then comes this wickedness to man, that he should fall away from his God? Lest we should think it comes from creation, God had put His stamp of approval on what had come forth from himself. By his own evil intention, then, man corrupted the pure nature he had received from the Lord; and by his fall drew all his posterity with him into destruction. Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity-which is closer to us-rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination. [Institutes, 3:23:8]
It is helpful, I think, to understand that sin is not itself a thing created. Sin is neither substance, being, spirit, nor matter. So it is technically not proper to think of sin as something that was created. Sin is simply alack of moral perfection in a fallen creature. Fallen creatures themselves bear full responsibility for their sin. And all evil in the universe emanates from the sins of fallen creatures.
For example, Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world because of sin. Death, pain, disease, stress, exhaustion, calamity, and all the bad things that happen came as a result of the entrance of sin into the universe (see Genesis 3:14-24). All those evil effects of sin continue to work in the world and will be with us as long as sin is.
God is certainly sovereign over evil. There’s a sense in which it is proper even to say that evil is part of His eternal decree. He planned for it. It did not take Him by surprise. It is not an interruption of His eternal plan. He declared the end from the beginning, and He is still working all things for His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).
But God’s role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends. Ultimately He is able to make all things-including all the fruits of all the evil of all time-work together for a greater good (Romans 8:28).
This past Sunday evening the world was abuzz with the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by members of US Navy SEAL Team 6. I was utilizing my laptop, looking at FB, when the news was breaking. On that particular social medium many were rejoicing at the fact that the infamous terrorist was deceased, many gleefully so. Shortly after hearing the news I posted the verses from Proverbs 24:17-20:
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him. Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.
On the one hand, I was relieved at the news that bin Laden had finally met justice in this life. On the other, I did not delight in the fact that a human being perished. When the news was being announced, my eldest son asked, “So, Dad, does that mean that Osama bin Laden is in Hell now?” I replied, “Yes, son, and that’s a very sad deal. It isn’t to be taken lightly.”
Pastor John Piper addressed the matter of bin Laden’s death on his blog on Monday, considering how God views the matter. This week’s edition of Theology on Thursday is a reproduction of Dr. Piper’s post, “Is God Glad Osama bin Laden’s Dead?“
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God’s emotions are complex—like yours, only a million times more. Right now, your emotions about bin Laden are not simple, i.e. not single. There are several, and they intermingle. That is a good thing. You are God-like. In response to Osama bin Laden’s death, quite a few tweets and blogs have cited the biblical truth that “God does not delight in the death of the wicked.” That is true. It is also true that God does delight in the death of the wicked. There are things about every death that God approves in themselves and things about every death that God disapproves in themselves.
Is God Double-Minded?
This is not double talk. All thoughtful people make such distinctions. For example, if my daughter asks me if I like a movie, I might say yes or no to the same movie. Why? Because a movie can be assessed for its 1) acting, 2) plot, 3) cinematography, 4) nudity, 5) profanity, 6) suspense, 7) complexity, 8 ) faithfulness to the source, 9) reverence for God, 10) accurate picture of human nature, etc., etc., etc. So my answer is almost always “yes, in some ways, and no in other ways.” But sometimes I will simply say yes, and sometimes no, because of extenuating circumstances.
Here is why I say God approves and disapproves the death of Osama bin Laden:
In one sense, human death is not God’s pleasure:
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? . . . For I do not pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live. (Ezekiel 18:23, 32).
In another sense, the death and judgment of the unrepentant is God’s pleasure:
Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. (Ezekiel 5:13]
[Wisdom calls out:] Because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you. (Proverbs 1:25–26)
Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her! (Revelation 18:20)
As the Lord took delight in doing you good . . . so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. (Deuteronomy 28:63)
We should not cancel out any of these passages but think our way through to how they can all be true.
God is Not Malicious or Bloodthirsty
My suggestion is that the death and misery of the unrepentant is in and of itself not a pleasure to God. God is not a sadist. He is not malicious or bloodthirsty. The death and suffering considered for itself alone is not his delight. Rather, when a rebellious, wicked, unbelieving person is judged, what God has pleasure in is the exaltation of truth and righteousness, and the vindication of his own honor and glory. (For further discussion of God’s heart in judgment see the section in The Pleasures of God called “How Is God Like George Washington?”, pp. 147–149.)
When Moses warns Israel that the Lord will take pleasure in bringing ruin upon them and destroying them if they do not repent (Deuteronomy 28:63), he means that those who have rebelled against the Lord and moved beyond repentance will not be able to gloat that they have made the Almighty miserable.
God is not defeated in the triumphs of his righteous judgment. Quite the contrary. Moses says that when they are judged they will unwittingly provide an occasion for God to rejoice in the demonstration of his justice and his power and the infinite worth of his glory (see also Romans 9:22–23).
Let this be a warning to us: God is not mocked. He is not trapped or cornered or coerced. Even on the way to Calvary he had legions of angels at his disposal: “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord”—of his own good pleasure, for the joy that was set before him.
At the one point in the history of the universe where God looked trapped, he was in charge, doing precisely what he pleased—dying to justify the ungodly like you and me.
(Adapted from The Pleasures of God, pp. 66-74.)
Ancient-Future Faith, by the late Dr. Robert E. Webber, has as its “fundamental concern” to “find points of contact between classical Christianity and postmodern thought.” Webber notes that classical Christianity (the Early Church) was “shaped in a pagan and relativistic society much like our own.” Rather than being an accommodation to paganism, classical Christianity was “an alternate practice of life.” Grasping this fact, Webber contends, “Christians in a postmodern world will succeed, not by watering down the faith, but by being a countercultural community that invites people to be shaped by the story of Israel and Jesus.” In writing on the topic of Christian spirituality in a postmodern world, Webber discusses a vital issue — Christocentric spirituality:
Many people seem to think that spirituality is something that inheres within them as a result of what they do to be spiritual–that becoming spiritual is a matter of works. However, Christ is our spirituality. God in Christ has become humanity and has lifted humanity into a relationship with the divine. Spirituality is not a matter of works, but freedom to be in Christ. Evangelical spirituality in a postmodern world needs to begin with the proclamation that Jesus is our spirituality. It is his life, death, and resurrection that make us acceptable to God. We cannot love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, but Jesus can and has. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves, but Jesus can and has. It is Jesus Christ, therefore, who presents us to the Father, and it is because of him and through him and in him that we are spiritual. Spirituality begins with simple yet profound trust in Jesus.
Athanasius, the great fourth-century theologian, captured the essence of an incarnational spirituality in his famous saying that “God became man in order that man may become God.” (By this he did not mean that we could become divine essence; rather, through the grace of God we can “participate in the divine nature” [2 Peter 1:4] and become heirs with Christ, sharing in the glory that is God’s own glory.) We become incorporated in Christ through our conversion and identification with his death and resurrection in baptism. The pattern of spirituality is death and resurrection. We are to continually die to the old person and habitually be related to the new person. (See Romans 6; Galatians 5; Colossians 3.)
Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday may be the briefest on record, yet nonetheless very worthwhile for the sake of meditation. John Hendryx, the creator and editor of Monergism.com, was described by the late Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk) as “a brilliant guy, a first class debater, and not your usual knuckle-headed, stick-in-the-mud Calvinist.” Michael also noted, “John’s presentation of historic reformed theology, and his application of it in contemporary evangelicalism, is characterized by excellence and kindness, two qualities missing in a lot of theologians.” Today I present you with a quote from John regarding legalism:
“Legalism is a distortion of the gospel which denies that Jesus Christ is completely sufficient for salvation. That some additional element of self-effort, merit or faithfulness on our part is necessary to either attain or maintain a just standing before God. (Gal.3:3)” – John Hendryx
Phillip R. Johnson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Moody Bible Institute, is probably best-known for the blog he founded, PyroManiacs. He has been associated with John MacArthur the past three decades, editing most of his books, and also serving as the executive Director of Grace to You, the Christian audio ministry featuring MacArthur’s preaching and teaching. Johnson also pastors an adult fellowship group called GraceLife at Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA). He earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Moody Bible Institute. On June 30, 2006, he posted, “Is God arbitrary? Did He ‘create’ evil?”, a response to an e-mail he received from a “gung-ho ultra-high Calvinist.” Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday, a republication of Phil Johnson’s post, continues the thread of recent posts regarding the issue of God not being the “author of sin.”
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Today I’m answering an e-mail I received after making some comments about God’s sovereignty and the origin of evil. I subsequently heard from a gung-ho ultra-high Calvinist who suggested that if God is truly Sovereign, He must be both the author and efficient cause of evil as well. Indeed, he insisted, citing the KJV rendition of Isaiah 45:7, “God created evil.”
My correspondent, who remains anonymous, wrote the words in red italics:
It is common to hear men defend God against the charges of being arbitrary. Yet if these nervous brethren would but consult their English dictionaries as well as their theologies they would find that arbitrary is a most Scripturally appropriate adjective for the Almighty. Certainly the LORD is not capricious, but He and He alone may properly be arbitrary.
Let’s see, shall we?
ar bi trar y (ar’ bi-trer-ee) 1. determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle 2. despotic, tyrannical, ruling by whim, usually oppressively
It is that sense of the word that people usually mean when they say God is not arbitrary. He is not subject to fits of whimsy. He is a God of order and of law—a “principled sovereign”—and though we may not always understand His ways, we know He is never irrational, erratic, or inconstant (James 1:17). He always acts in accord with His own consummate holiness and perfect righteousness. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Of course, He is bound by no rule higher than Himself, but nonetheless, all that He does must be consistent with His own immutable character. Thus He cannot be “arbitrary.”
Concerning your statement “sin is not itself a thing created—not a substance—but the exact opposite. It’s a want of moral perfection in a fallen creature.” I would point out that neither are souls, angels, nor evil “substances.”
Did you notice that further in the same context, I wrote: “Evil is neither substance, being, spirit, nor matter. That’s why it is not proper to speak of evil as having been created”?
Human souls and angels are beings and thus can be created. Technically, even spirit beings have substance—even though it is not material substance. (One of the dictionary definitions of substance is “essential nature; essence.” It is in this sense that the Nicene Creed, for example, speaks of the Son as being “of one substance” with the Father—even though God is a Spirit.)
Evil, on the other hand, is a defect—a subtraction and deconstruction of what God created.
Scripture is quite clear in teaching that evil was no part of God’s creation. When He finished creating everything, He looked at all His creation and pronounced it “very good.” If you insist that God created evil, you contradict His own assessment of what He made.
To say God created evil would contradict a number of other Scriptures as well, including 1 Corinthians 14:33: “God is not the author of confusion.” For if He is the author of all evil, then He must be the author of confusion as well.
Now look at Isaiah 45:7. There, God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (KJV). Does this mean what you suggest it means? Not to a Hebrew reader. Other translations capture the sense of the statement more accurately: “I make peace and create calamity” (NKJV). “I bring prosperity and create disaster” (NIV). “Causing well-being and creating calamity” (NASB).
The Hebrew word translated “evil” in the KJV is a word that means “adversity,” or “affliction.” It’s talking about the calamitous consequences of sin; not ontological evil per se.
There is, of course, a true sense in which God decreed evil as part of His eternal plan. It did not enter the universe by surprise or against His sovereign will. He remains sovereign over it. He even uses it for good. But in no way is He the author or the creator of it.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:18).
Is God the Author of Sin?
To state that God is the “Author of Sin” is to declare that God is the efficient cause of evil. This is, as Jonathan Edwards noted in his classic work, On the Freedom of the Will, something which is “a reproach and blasphemy.” Edwards stated emphatically that God was in no way whatsoever “the Agent, or Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing.” He argues, instead, that God permits sin and at times does not restrain it. Nonetheless, He simultaneously disposes events in such a manner as to bring about “wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes.”
Historic documents from the Reformed tradition – confessions, catechisms, and canons, all deny that God is the author of sin. The delegates from the Synod of Dort, speaking of the heated issue of reprobation, make in plain in the Canons that this doctrine in no way makes God “the author of sin,” which is “a blasphemous thought!” The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Baptist Confession of Faith (1689/Second London Confession) are identical in asserting:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
Both confessions go on to declare:
Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.
This is not unlike the earlier Baptist Confession (1646/First London Confession), which states:
God had decreed in Himself, before the world was, concerning all things, whether necessary, accidental or voluntary, with all the circumstances of them, to work, dispose, and bring about all things according to the counsel of His own will, to His glory: (Yet without being the author of sin, or having fellowship with any therein) in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, unchangeableness, power, and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree…
Consistency on this matter is shared by the Belgic Confession, which insists:
We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.
The Second Helvetic Confession, in addressing the cause of sin, condemns Florinus. Florinus defended the position that God is the author of evil. For this, he was rightly denounced by Irenaeus. The confession clearly maintains, in agreement with St. Augustine:
It is expressly written: “Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness. Thou hatest all evildoers. Thou destroyest those who speak lies” (Ps. 5:4 ff.). And again: “When the devil lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Moreover, there is enough sinfulness and corruption in us that it is not necessary for God to infuse into us a new or still greater perversity. When, therefore, it is said in Scripture that God hardens, blinds and delivers up to a reprobate mind, it is to be understood that God does it by a just judgment as a just Judge and Avenger. Finally, as often as God in Scripture is said or seems to do something evil, it is not thereby said that man does not do evil, but that God permits it and does not prevent it, according to his just judgment, who could prevent it if he wished, or because he turns man’s evil into good, as he did in the case of Joseph’s brethren, or because he governs sins lest they break out and rage more than is appropriate. St. Augustine writes in his Enchiridion: “What happens contrary to his will occurs, in a wonderful and ineffable way, not apart from his will. For it would not happen if he did not allow it. And yet he does not allow it unwillingly but willingly. But he who is good would not permit evil to be done, unless, being omnipotent, he could bring good out of evil.” Thus wrote Augustine.
Jerome Zanchius, a strict predestinarian writing “Observations On the Divine Attributes” in his Absolute Predestination, follows St. Augustine’s thinking in regard to the nature of sin and its ‘cause’. He confesses that God “created, preserves, actuates and directs all things,” but that this does not mean, “that God is therefore the cause of sin, for sin is nothing but anomia, illegality, want of conformity to the divine law (1 John iii. 4), a mere privation of rectitude; consequently, being itself a thing purely negative, it can have no positive or efficient cause, but only a negative or deficient one, as several learned men have observed.”
St. Augustine taught that all things created by God are good; evil is not good; therefore, evil was not created by God. He added that since God created everything, and He did not create evil, that evil is not a ‘thing’. In dealing with the questions, “From where does evil come?,” and, “Why does evil exist?”, the Doctor of Grace answers, “Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’’” He observes that evil always injures, and such injuries are always a deprivation of good. “All which is corrupted is deprived of good,” he wrote. In other words, evil is equivalent to moral black hole, a nothingness which results when goodness is removed. St. Augustine observed that the choice made by Adam and Eve in Eden was a turning away from the good, that is, from the greater good to a lesser “good.” “For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil—not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked.” Evil is, therefore, the act of choosing the lesser good, or choosing that which God has forbidden (even though it involved the good thing which He created). St. Augustine teaches the source of evil – choosing this lesser good – is in the free will of the persons, declaring, “free-will was the cause of our doing ill,” and, that evil was a “perversion of the will, turned aside from…God.” St. Augustine holds not only that God created free creatures, but also that His wisdom entails the greatest amount of good possible (i.e., plenitutde). Therefore, God has allowed evil for a time, and is neither its author nor its victim.
The Cry of Hyper-Calvinism
Modern hyper-Calvinists are not unlike Friedrich Schleiermacher, who mocks St. Augustine’s teaching that God gave good creatures the freedom of will to do evil. Schleiermacher holds that a good being would never sin, even if it were free to do so. He claims that evil would then have to create itself ex nihilo. Schleirmacher, like the modern hyper-Calvinists, errs in believing that evil is a ‘thing.’
While many hyper-Calvinists claim adherence to the historic Reformed confessions, they have ignored the clear statements made within them in regard to God not being the author of sin. Those who stand within the stream of Reformed orthodoxy are generally maligned by hyper-Calvinists. For example, Francis Cheung declares that many Reformed Christians hold “unbiblical traditions and irrational assumptions,” and are “too quick to say, ‘No, God is not the author of sin,” when “questioned on whether God is the ‘author of sin.’” He castigates the likes of Reformed stalwarts, such as A. A. Hodge, R. L. Dabney, and W. G. T. Shedd, for “trying to give man some power of ‘self-determination,’ and some kind of freedom…” To disagree with Cheung on this point is, in his estimation, to “stupidly chant” about making God the author of sin. Ignoring Christian wisdom as found in the Early Church Fathers and the historic Reformed documents, Cheung has no qualms about claiming that God is the author of sin. He claims, “The truth is that, whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin.”
With a quick sweep, he denounces the “popular Reformed answer” as a “defective” answer to “satisfy human standards of fairness and righteousness.” He claims the “biblical approach” to this question is to “rebuke man for questioning and objecting in the first place.” For Cheung and other hyper-Calvinists, God is the efficient cause of both natural and moral evil, and freedom, in any meaningful sense, is dismissed. He claims God causes and controls all desires, including sinful ones. He pronounces St. Augustine’s position as incorrect and inconsistent, and, against the vast array of Reformed confessions and theological writings, Cheung claims his position is the only “coherent and defensible position,” and is the true “Calvinism.” Others “must rather quickly retreat into mystery and paradox,” whereas he declares boldly that sin is “enslaved to God” and the two are enmeshed in such a way that to affirm anything else is “dualism.” In regard to “freedom,” Cheung warns his readers, “Do not let ignorant people confuse or deceive you.”
While Cheung dismisses giants of the faith and ignores the entire gamut of Reformed confessions, he claims that he is not a hyper-Calvinist because (in his thinking) he isn’t a fatalist and believes the gospel is to be proclaimed to all (despite denying the “well-meant offer”). Nonetheless, he attacks historic, orthodox Calvinists (A. A. Hodge, in particular) for being nothing more than “Arminians and Open Theists” in their theological application, and charges them not with holding “inconsistent Calvinism,” but holding something which “is not Calvinism or Christianity at all.”
As I’ve noted previously, hyper-Calvinistic theology claims that God is the author of sin and evil, and that human beings have absolutely no will whatsoever. It is a system which exceeds the boundaries of Calvinistic and Christian orthodoxy, and is generally marked by a narrow, condescending spirit. In my opinion, the responsibility of Reformed Christians is to pray for individuals who hold to this theology while seeking to win them away from it. It is also our responsibility to denounce it emphatically as a non-Calvinistic/non-Reformed system which exceeds the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy.
In 1998, Dr. John Piper presented a session at the annual Jonathan Edwards Institute entitled, “Jonathan Edwards on the Decrees of God.” During the course of his presentation, Dr. Piper draws on Edwards to discuss how God is sovereign over all things, including evil, yet without being the author of sin. This presentation is reproduced with permission.
Fourteen years ago Charles Colson wrote, “The western church – much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace – desperately needs to hear Edwards’ challenge. . . . It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards.” That conviction lies behind The Jonathan Edwards Institute and behind this conference. And I certainly believe it.
Most of us, having only been exposed to one of Edwards’ sermons, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” do not know the real Jonathan Edwards. We don’t know that he knew his heaven even better than his hell, and that his vision of the glory of God was just as ravishing as his vision of hell was repulsive – as it should be.
Most of us don’t know:
- that he is considered now, by secular and evangelical historians alike, to be the greatest religious thinker America has ever produced
- that he not only was God’s kindling for the Great Awakening in the 1730′s and 1740′s, but was also its most penetrating analyst and critic
- that he was driven by a great longing to see the missionary task of the church completed, and that his influence on the modern missionary movement is immense because of his Life of David Brainerd
- that he was a rural pastor for 23 years in a church of 600 people
- that he was a missionary to Indians for 7 years after being asked to leave his church
- that, together with Sarah, he reared 11 faithful children
- that he lived only until he was 54 and died with a library of only 300 books
- but, nevertheless, his own books are still ministering mightily after 250 years.
But not as mightily as they should. Mark Noll, who teaches history at Wheaton and has thought much about the work of Edwards has written:
Since Edwards, American evangelicals have not thought about life from the ground up as Christians because their entire culture has ceased to do so. Edwards’s piety continued on in the revivalist tradition, his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-entranced world-view or his profoundly theological philosophy. The disappearance of Edwards’s perspective in American Christian history has been a tragedy.
One of the burdens of this Conference, and certainly one of the burdens of my life, is the recovery of a “God-entranced world-view.” “Evangelicals Seeking the Glory of God,” in my understanding, means “evangelicals seeking a God-entranced world view.” But what I have seen over 18 years of pastoral ministry and six years of teaching experience before that, is that people who waver with uncertainty over the problem of God’s sovereignty in the matter of evil usually do not have a God-entranced world view. For them, now God is sovereign, and now he is not. Now he is in control, and now he is not. Now he is good and reliable when things are going well, and when they go bad, well, maybe he’s not. Now he’s the supreme authority of the universe, and now he is in the dock with human prosecutors peppering him with demands that he give an account of himself.
But when a person settles it Biblically, intellectually and emotionally, that God has ultimate control of all things, including evil, and that this is gracious and precious beyond words, then a marvelous stability and depth come into that person’s life and they develop a “God-entranced world view.” When a person believes, with the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27), that “The almighty and everywhere present power of God . . . upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand” – when a person believes and cherishes that truth, they have the key to a God-entranced world view.
So my aim in this second message is to commend to you this absolute sovereign control of God over all things, including evil, because it is Biblical, and because it will help you become stable and deep and God-entranced and God-glorifying in all you think and feel and do.
And when we set our face in this direction, Jonathan Edwards becomes a great help to us, because he wrestled with the problems of God’s sovereignty as deeply as anyone. And I want you to know how he resolved some of the difficulties.
So my plan is to lay out for you some of the evidence for God’s control of all things, including evil. Then I will deal with two problems. 1. Is God then the author of sin? 2) And why does he will that there be evil in the world? I will close with an exhortation that you not waver before the truth of God’s sovereignty, but embrace it for the day of your own calamity.
1. Evidence of God’s Control
First, then, consider the evidence that God controls all things, including evil. When I speak of evil, I have two kinds in mind, natural and moral. Natural evil we usually refer to as calamities: hurricanes, floods, disease, all the natural ways that death and misery strike without human cause. Moral evil we usually refer to as sin: murder, lying, adultery, stealing, all the ways that people fail to love each other. So what we are considering here is that God rules the world in such a way that all calamities and all sin remain in his ultimate control and therefore within his ultimate design and purpose.
If you are wondering whether there is a connection between this message and the one I gave this afternoon (on the foreknowledge of God), there is. The denial of God’s foreknowledge of human and demonic choices is a buttress to the view that God is not in control of evils in the world and therefore has no purpose in them. God’s uncertainty about what humans and demons are going to choose strengthens the case that he does not plan those choices and therefore does not control them or have particular purposes in them.
For example, Gregory Boyd, in his book God at War, says, “divine goodness does not completely control or in any sense will evil.”
Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God’s will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed.
In other words “the Bible does not assume that every particular evil has particular godly purpose behind it.”
This is diametrically opposed to what I believe the Bible teaches and what this message is meant to commend to you for your earnest consideration.
1.1 Evidence that God Controls Calamity
Consider the evidence that God controls physical evil – that is, calamity. But keep in mind that physical evil and moral evil almost always intersect. Many of our pains happen because human or demonic agents make choices that hurt us. So some of this evidence can serve under both headings: God’s control of calamities and God’s control of sins.
Life and death
The Bible treats human life as something God has absolute rights over. He gives it and takes it according to his will. We do not own it or have any absolute rights to it. It is a trust for as long as the owner wills for us to have it. To have life is a gift and to lose it is never an injustice from God, whether he takes it at age five or age ninety-five.
When Job lost his ten children at the instigation of Satan, he would not give Satan the ultimate causality. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). And, lest we think Job was mistaken, the author adds, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22 RSV).
In Deuteronomy 32:39 God says, “There is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” When David made Bathsheba pregnant, the Lord rebuked him by taking the child. 2 Samuel 12:15 says, “Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was sick . . . . Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died.” Life belongs to God. He owes it to no one. He may give it and take it according to his infinite wisdom. James says “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. . . . You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’” (James 4:14-15; see 1 Samuel 2:6-7).
One of the calamities that threatens life is disease. In Exodus 4:11, God says to Moses, when he was fearful about speaking, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” In other words, behind all disease and disability is the ultimate will of God. Not that Satan is not involved; he is probably always involved one way or the other with destructive purposes (Acts 10:38). But his power is not decisive. He cannot act without God’s permission.
That is one of the points of Job’s sickness. When disease happened to Job, the text makes it plain that “Satan . . . afflicted Job with sores” (Job 2:7). His wife urged him to curse God. But Job said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” (Job 2:10). And again the author of the book commends Job by saying, “In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.” In other words: this is a right view of God’s sovereignty over Satan. Satan is real and may have a hand in our calamities, but not the final hand, and not the decisive hand. James makes clear that God had a good purpose in all Job’s afflictions: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose (telos) of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). So Satan may have been involved, but the ultimate purpose was God’s and it was “compassionate and merciful.”
This is the same lesson we learn from 2 Corinthians 12:7 where Paul says that his thorn in the flesh was a messenger of Satan, and yet was given for the purpose of his own holiness. “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!” Now, humility is not Satan’s purpose in this affliction. Therefore the purpose is God’s. Which means that Satan here is being used by God to accomplish his good purposes in Paul’s life.
There is no reason to believe that Satan is ever out of God’s ultimate control. Mark 1:27 says of Jesus, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” And Luke 4:36 says, “With authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.” In other words, no matter how real and terrible Satan and his demons are in this world, they remain subordinate to the ultimate will of God.
Another kind of calamity that threatens life and health is violent weather and conditions of the earth, like earthquakes and floods and monsoons and hurricanes and tornadoes and droughts. These calamities kill hundreds of thousands of people. The testimony of the Scriptures is that God controls the winds and the weather. “He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread” (Psalm 105:16). We see this same authority in Jesus. He rebukes the threatening wind and the sea, and the disciples say, “Even the wind and the sea obey Him” (Mark 4:39, 41).
Repeatedly in the Psalms God is praised as the one who rules the wind and the lightning. “He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers” (Psalm 104:4). “He makes lightnings for the rain, [he] brings forth the wind from His treasuries” (Psalm 135:7). “He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow . . . Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word” (Psalm 147:18; 148:8; see 78:26). Isaac Watts was right, “There’s not a plant or flower below but makes your glories known; and clouds arise and tempests blow by order from your throne.” Which means that all the calamities of wind and rain and flood and storm are owing to God’s ultimate decree. One word from him and the wind and the seas obey.
Another kind of calamity that threatens life is the action of destructive animals. When the Assyrians populated Samaria with foreigners, 2 Kings 17:25 says, “Therefore the LORD sent lions among them which killed some of them.” And in Daniel 6:22, Daniel says to the king, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths.” Other Scriptures speak of God commanding birds and bears and donkeys and large fish to do his bidding. Which means that all calamities that are owing to animal life are ultimately in the control of God. He can see a pit bull break loose from his chain and attack a child; and he could, with one word, command that its mouth be shut. Similarly he controls the invisible animal and plant life that wreaks havoc in the world: bacteria and viruses and parasites and thousands of microscopic beings that destroy health and life. If God can shut the mouth of a ravenous lion, then he can shut the mouth of a malaria-carrying mosquito and nullify every other animal that kills.
All other kinds of calamities
Other kinds of calamities could be mentioned but perhaps we should simply hear the texts that speak in sweeping inclusiveness about God’s control covering them all. For example, Isaiah 45:7 says God is the “The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.” Amos 3:6 says, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” In Job 42:2, Job confesses, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” And Nebuchadnezzar says (in Daniel 4:35), “[God] does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” And Paul says, in Ephesians 1:11, that God is the one “who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
And if someone should raise the question of sheer chance and the kinds of things that just seem to happen with no more meaning than the role of the dice, Proverbs 16:33 answers: “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.” In other words, there is no such thing as “chance” from God’s perspective. He has his purposes for every roll of the dice in Las Vegas and every seemingly absurd turn of events in the universe.
This is why Charles Spurgeon, the London pastor from 100 years ago said,
I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.
When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,
What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man.
1.2 God’s Control over Moral Evil
Now consider the evidence for God’s control over moral evil, the evil choices that are made in the world. Again there are specific instances and then texts that make sweeping statements of God’s control.
For example, all the choices of Joseph’s brothers in getting rid of him and selling him into slavery are seen as sin and yet also as the outworking of God’s good purpose. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers when they fear his vengeance, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Gregory Boyd and others, who do not believe that God has a purpose in the evil choices of people (especially since he does not know what those choices are going to be before they make them), try to say that God can use the choices that people make for his own purposes after they make them and he then knows what they are.
But this will not fit what the text says or what Psalm 105:17 says. The text says, “You meant evil against me.” Evil is a feminine singular noun. Then it says, “God meant it for good.” The word “it” is a feminine singular suffix that can only agree with the antecedent feminine singular noun, “evil.” And the verb “meant” is the same past tense in both cases. You meant evil against me in the past, as you were doing it. And God meant that very evil, not as evil, but as good in the past as you were doing it. And to make this perfectly clear, Psalm 105:17 says about Joseph’s coming to Egypt, “[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” God sent him. God did not find him there owing to evil choices, and then try to make something good come of it. Therefore this text stands as a kind of paradigm for how to understand the evil will of man within the sovereign will of God.
The death of Jesus offers another example of how God’s sovereign will ordains that a sinful act come to pass. Edwards says, “The crucifying of Christ was a great sin; and as man committed it, it was exceedingly hateful and highly provoking to God. Yet upon many great considerations it was the will of God that it should be done.” Then he refers to Acts 4:27-28, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (see also Isaiah 53:10). In other words, all the sinful acts of Herod, Pilate, of Gentiles and Jews were predestined to occur.
Edwards ponders that someone might say that only the sufferings of Christ were planned by God, not the sins against him, to which he responds, “I answer, [the sufferings] could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer. [Therefore] even the free actions of men are subject to God’s disposal.”
These specific examples (which could be multiplied by many more instances) where God purposefully governs the sinful choices of people are generalized in several passages. For example, Romans 9:16: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Man’s will is not the ultimately decisive agent in the world, God is. Proverbs 20:24: “Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?” Proverbs 19:21: “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.” Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Jeremiah 10:23: “I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.”
Therefore I conclude with Jonathan Edwards, “God decrees all things, even all sins.” Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, “He works all things after the counsel of His will.”
2. Two Questions
And I pose two questions as an evangelical who is seeking the glory of God, and who longs for a Biblical, God-entranced world-view. 1) Is God the author of sin? 2) Why does God ordain that evil exist? What are the answers that Jonathan Edwards gave to each of these questions?
2.1 Is God the Author of Sin?
Edwards answers, “If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.” But, he argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin. God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his “positive agency.”
God is, Edwards says, “the permitter . . . of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted . . . will most certainly and infallibly follow.”
He uses the analogy of the way the sun brings about light and warmth by its essential nature, but brings about dark and cold by dropping below the horizon. “If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness,” he says, “it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness of nature in the sun.” In other words, “sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence.”
Thus in one sense God wills that what he hates come to pass, as well as what he loves. Edwards says,
God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn’t hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.
This is a fundamental truth that helps explain some perplexing things in the Bible, namely, that God often expresses his will to be one way, and then acts to bring about another state of affairs. God opposes hatred toward his people, yet ordained that his people be hated in Egypt (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 105:25 – “He turned their hearts to hate his people.”). He hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but commands him to let his people go (Exodus 4:21; 5:1; 8:1). He makes plain that it is sin for David to take a military census of his people, but he ordains that he do it (2 Samuel 24:1; 24:10). He opposes adultery, but ordains that Absalom should lie with his father’s wives (Exodus 20:14; 2 Samuel 12:11). He forbids rebellion and insubordination against the king, but ordained that Jeroboam and the ten tribes should rebel against Rehoboam (Romans 13:1; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 12:15-16). He opposes murder, but ordains the murder of his Son (Exodus 20:13; Acts 4:28). He desires all men to be saved, but effectually calls only some (1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26-30; 2 Timothy 2:26).
What this means is that we must learn that God wills things in two different senses. The Bible demands this by the way it speaks of God’s will in different ways. Edwards uses the terms “will of decree” and “will of command.” Edwards explains:
[God's] will of decree [or sovereign will] is not his will in the same sense as his will of command [or moral will] is. Therefore it is not difficult at all to suppose that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended that virtue or the creature’s happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature. His will of decree is his inclination to a thing not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with reference to the universality of things. So God, though he hates a things as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things.
This brings us to the final question and already points to the answer.
2.2 Why Does God Ordain that there Be Evil?
It is evident from what has been said that it is not because he delights in evil as evil. Rather he “wills that evil come to pass . . . that good may come of it.” What good? And how does the existence of evil serve this good end? Here is Edwards’ stunning answer:
It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .
Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.
So the answer to the question in the title of this message, “Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be?” is no, just the opposite. God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil. The effort to absolve him by denying his foreknowledge of sin (as we saw this afternoon) or by denying his control of sin (which we have seen this evening) is fatal, and a great dishonor to his word and his wisdom. Evangelicals who are seeking the glory of God, look well to the teaching of your churches and your schools. But most of all, look well to your souls.
If you would see God’s glory and savor his glory and magnify his glory in this world, do not remain wavering before the sovereignty of God in the face of great evil. Take his book in your hand, plead for his Spirit of illumination and humility and trust, and settle this matter, that you might be unshakable in the day of your own calamity. My prayer is that what I have said will sharpen and deepen your God-entranced world view, and that in the day of your loss you will be like Job who, when he lost all his children, fell down and worshipped, and said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
By John Piper © Desiring God
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Before the average believer today learns what Reformed theology (i.e., Calvinism) actually is, he first usually has to learn what it’s not. Often, detractors define Reformed theology not according to what it actually teaches, but according to where they think its logic naturally leads. Even more tragically, some hyper-Calvinists have followed the same course. Either way, “Calvinism” ends up being defined by extreme positions that it does not in fact hold as scriptural. The charges leveled against Reformed theology, of which hyper-Calvinism is actually guilty, received a definitive response at the international Synod of Dort (1618–1619), along with the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
Is God the Author of Sin?
The God of Israel “is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4–5). In fact, James seems to have real people in mind when he cautions, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Sin and evil have their origin not in God or creation, but in the personal will and action of creatures.
Scripture sets forth two guardrails here: On one hand, God “works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:15); on the other, God does not — in fact, cannot — do evil. We catch a glimpse of these two guardrails at once in several passages, most notably in Genesis 45 and Acts 2. In the former, Joseph recognizes that while the intention of his brothers in selling him into slavery was evil, God meant it for good, so that many people could be saved during this famine (vv. 4–8). We read in the same breath in Acts 2:23 that “lawless men” are blamed for the crucifixion, and yet Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God….” The challenge is to affirm what Scripture teaches without venturing any further. We know from Scripture that both are true, but not how. Perhaps the most succinct statement of this point is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (chap. 3.1): “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;” — there’s one guardrail — “yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established,” and with that, the second guardrail. The same point is made in the Belgic Confession of Faith (Article 13), adding that whatever God has left to His own secret judgment is not for us to probe any further.
Is the Gospel for Everyone?
Isn’t it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone?
But didn’t Christ die for the elect alone? The Canons of Dort pick up on a phrase that was often found in the medieval textbooks (“sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect only”) when it affirms that Christ’s death “is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world” (Second Head, Article 3). Therefore, we hold out to the world “the promise of the gospel … to all persons … without distinction ….” Although many do not embrace it, this “is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves” (Second Head, Articles 5–6).
Here once again we are faced with mystery — and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff in speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardly through the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spirit inwardly through the same Gospel (John 6:63–64; 10:3–5, 11, 14–18, 25–30; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; 2 Tim. 1:9). Both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists ignore crucial passages of Scripture, resolving the mystery in favor of the either-or: either election or the free offer of the Gospel.
Grace for Everybody?
Does God love everybody, or is His kindness simply a cloak for His wrath — fattening the wicked for the slaughter, as some hyper-Calvinists have argued?
Scripture is full of examples of God’s providential goodness, particularly in the Psalms: “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made …. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:9, 16). Jesus calls upon His followers to pray for their enemies for just this reason: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44). Christians are supposed to imitate this divine attitude.
The doctrine we are talking about has come to be called “common grace,” in distinction from “saving grace.” Some have objected to this term (some even to the concept), insisting that there is nothing common about grace: there is only one kind of grace, which is sovereign, electing grace. However, it must be said that whatever kindness God shows to anyone for any reason after the fall, can only be regarded as gracious. Once again, we face two guardrails that we dare not transgress: God acts graciously to save the elect and also to sustain the non-elect and cause them to flourish in this mortal life. While it is among the sweetest consolations for believers, election is not the whole story of God’s dealing with this world.
When we, as Christians, affirm common grace, we take this world seriously in all of its sinfulness as well as in all of its goodness as created and sustained by God. We see Christ as the mediator of saving grace to the elect but also of God’s general blessings to a world that is under the curse. Thus, unbelievers can even enrich the lives of believers. John Calvin pleads against the fanaticism that would forbid all secular influence on Christians, concluding that when we disparage the truth, goodness, and beauty found among unbelievers, we are heaping contempt on the Holy Spirit Himself who bestows such gifts of His common grace (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.15).
Is Calvinism a License to Sin?
The first thing we need to say, with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is that if we are never accused of preaching antinomianism (that is, grace-as-license), we probably have not preached the Gospel correctly. After all, Paul anticipates the question, “Shall we then sin that grace may abound?” precisely because his own argument from 3:9 to this point has pressed it: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (5:21). At the same time, some Reformed Christians, especially those liberated from legalistic backgrounds, seem to end Paul’s argument at Romans 5:21, concluding, in effect, “God likes to forgive, I like to sin — the perfect relationship!”
The difference between being accused of antinomianism (literally, anti-law-ism) and being guilty as charged is whether we are willing to follow Paul on into chapter 6. There the apostle answers this charge by an announcement of what God has done! At first, this would seem to favor antinomians, since they place all of the emphasis on what God has done and reject, or at least downplay, the importance of imperatives. Yet in fact, what Paul announces is that God has accomplished not only our justification in Christ, but our baptism into Christ. His argument is basically this: being united to Christ necessarily brings justification and regeneration, which issues in sanctification. He does not say that Christians should not, or must not, live in sin as the principle of their existence, but that they cannot — it is an impossibility. That they do continue to sin is evident enough, especially in chapter 7, but now they struggle against it.
The fathers at Dort recognized the charge that the Reformed doctrine “ leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh and the devil,” and leads inevitably to “libertinism” and “renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please” (Conclusion). Yet they would neither surrender the comfort of justification by Christ’s righteousness imputed nor of sanctification by Christ’s resurrection life imparted. Perfection of sanctification in this life is impossible, but just as impossible is a condition known today as the “carnal Christian.” One is either dead in Adam or alive in Christ. Again, some wish to resolve this mystery: either we can be free from all known sin, as John Wesley taught, or we can be in a state of spiritual death, as antinomianism teaches. However satisfying to our reason, such an easy resolution in either direction ignores the clear teaching of Scripture and robs us of the joy of such a full salvation.
So the two guardrails on this point emerge from the fog of legalism and antinomianism: justification and sanctification are not to be confused, but they are also not to be separated.
In addition to these other charges, Reformed theology is often regarded as “rationalistic” — that is, a system built on logic rather than on Scripture. However, I hope we have begun to see that the real rationalists are the extremists on either side of these debates. The wisdom of the Reformed confessions is that they refuse to speculate beyond Scripture and insist on proclaiming the whole counsel of God, not simply the passages that seem to reinforce one-sided emphases. It is not a question of where the logic should lead us but where the Scriptures do lead us. It might be easier to resolve the mystery in simple, either-or solutions, but such a course would certainly not be safer. So let us too strive to read all of the Scriptures together, keeping a sharp lookout for those guardrails!
© Tabletalk magazine (2005). Reproduced with permission.
Generally, I believe debates can be healthy, thought-provoking events. I’m very glad, for example, that a brilliant scientist who is also a Christian – John Lennox – has been willing to enter the academic arena and debate the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Lennox is compelling, not only because he is able to articulate the Christian worldview ably and discuss scientific thought expertly, but also because he is quite winsome in his approach. I believe academic and public settings are quite appropriate for such debates for believers. In fact, the Apostle Paul was willing to do this very thing in places like Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-21). While the Apostle was also willing to enter debate in houses of worship, namely synagogues, he did so in order to evangelize those who had not yet embraced the Lord Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 17:1-12).
Are formal doctrinal debates in houses of worship, namely church buildings, healthy, thought-provoking events? I’m not convinced they are. As early Christians gathered for worship, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). While seminaries and colleges are academic institutions in which appropriate religious debates may be engaged, church buildings should be reserved for teaching apostolic doctrine, fellowship, observance of the sacred ordinances, and prayer.
Next week a debate is occurring in my own back yard between Jamin Hubner and Josh Feinberg (representing the “Reformed/Calvinist perspective”), and Shandon Guthrie and Jordan Fishel (representing the “Arminian/Molinist perspective”). The pair of debates, to be held at Living Grace Foursquare Church, concern whether or not salvation can be lost, and whether election is unconditional. On the one hand, I’m glad that those with opposing viewpoints on these matters are willing to meet together and discuss their differences. On the other hand, I’m concerned that such an event will merely cause both sides to become entrenched more firmly in their respective positions and simply further division within the Body of Christ and empty the cross of its power (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
Over the years I’ve made it plain that I am not a follower of John Calvin, but of Jesus Christ, nonetheless, my theological moorings are clearly in the “Reformed/Calvinist” camp. For this reason, I’m further concerned about this debate because those claiming to be of my camp are actually outside of it. The moderator of the first debate, Jeff Stackhouse, serves as the pastor of Grace Reformed Church in Las Vegas. The congregation’s website claims, “We are Reformed in our distinctives and thinking,” and “stand firmly on a reformed and Baptistic heritage; therefore, we adhere to the historic 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.” However, in clear opposition to the Baptist Confession (1689), Stackhouse teaches that God is the author of sin. The Baptist Confession declares (3.1):
God has decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things which shall ever come to pass. Yet in such a way that God is neither the author of sin nor does He have fellowship with any in the committing of sins, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (emphasis added)
When those claiming to be Reformed Baptists align themselves in endeavors with those who hold positions clearly at odds with our confession, it produces confusion among those attempting to understand and discuss our actual beliefs. Rather than upholding and advancing the beliefs we hold dear, this diminishes them. Jamin Hubner, Josh Feinberg, and James White need to pay strict attention to their alliances for this very reason. This is another reason I believe a formal debate within a house of worship is a bad idea. Christians who might want to explore what orthodox Christians of another stripe believe, and attend a debate in the church setting, may hear a few arguments and comments and be forced to conclude that such Christians aren’t really orthodox at all.
For the members of Living Grace Foursquare Church and others in the Las Vegas area who would like to discuss, and even informally debate these vital doctrines, please know that I’d enjoy sitting down with you over a cup of coffee somewhere outside the church setting. Just drop me a line.
John Newton (1725 – 1807), a sailor and slave trader who was converted by the grace of Jesus Christ and became an Anglican clergyman and prominent abolitionist, is best known for his beloved hymns, “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.” Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday comes from Newton, not in song, but in exhortation, discussing study in “The School of Suffering”:
I suppose you are still in the ‘school of the cross’, learning the happy are of extracting ‘real good’ out of ‘seeming evil’, and to grow tall by stooping. The flesh is a sad untoward dunce in this school; but grace makes the spirit willing to learn by suffering; yes, it cares not what it endures, so that sin may be mortified, and a conformity to the image of Jesus be increased. Surely, when we see the most and the best of the Lord’s children so often in heaviness, and when we consider how much He loves them, and what He has done and prepared for them, we may take it for granted that there is a need-be for their sufferings. For it would be easy to His power, and not a thousandth part of what His love intends to do for them should He make their whole life here, from the hour of their conversion to their death, a continued course of satisfaction and comfort, without anything to distress them from within or without. But were it so, would we not miss many advantages?
In the first place, we would not then be very conformable to Jesus, nor be able to say, “As He was, so are we in this world.” Methinks a believer would be ashamed to be so utterly unlike his Lord. What! The master always a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, and the servant always happy and full of comfort! Jesus despised, reproached, neglected, opposed, and betrayed; and His people admired and caressed! He living in the poverty, and they filled with abundance; He sweating blood for anguish, and they strangers to distress!
How unsuitable would these things be! How much better to be called to the honor of experiencing a measure of His sufferings! A cup was put into His hand on our account, and His love engaged Him to drink it for us. The wrath which it contained He drank wholly Himself; but He left us a little affliction to taste, that we might remember how He loved us, and how much more He endured for us than He will ever call us to endure for Him.
Again, how could we, without sufferings, manifest the nature and truth of the Christian graces! What place should we then have for patience, submission, meekness, forbearance, and a readiness to forgive, if we had nothing to try us, either from the hand of the Lord, or from the hand of men! A Christian without trials would be like a mill without wind or water; the contrivance and design of the wheel-work within would be unnoticed and unknown, without something to put it in motion from without. Nor would our graces grow, unless they were called out to exercise; the difficulties we meet with not only prove, but strengthen, the graces of the spirit. If a person were always to sit still, without making use of legs or arms, he would probably wholly lose the power of moving his limbs at last. But by walking and working he becomes strong and active. So, in a long course of ease, the powers of the new man would certainly languish; the soul would grow soft, indolent, cowardly, and faint; and therefore the Lord appoints His children such dispensations as make them strive and struggle, and pant; they must press through a crowd, swim against a stream, endure hardships, run, wrestle, and fight; and thus their strength grows in the using.
By these things, likewise, they are made more willing to leave the present world, to which we are prone to cleave too closely in our hearts when our path is very smooth. Had Israel enjoyed their former peace and prosperity in Egypt, when Moses came to invite them to Canaan, I think they would hardly have listened to him. But the Lord allowed them to be brought into great trouble and bondage, and then the news of deliverance was more welcome, yet still they were but half willing, and they carried a love to the flesh-pots of Egypt with them into the wilderness.
We are like them. Though we say this world is vain and sinful, we are too fond of it; and though we hope for true happiness only in Heaven, we are often well content to stay longer here on earth. But the Lord sends afflictions one after another to quicken our desires, and to convince us that this world cannot be our rest. Sometimes if you drive a bird from one branch of a tree he will hop to another a little higher, and from thence to a third; but if you continue to disturb him, he will at last take wing, and fly quite away. Thus we, when forced from one creature-comfort, perch upon another, and so on. But the Lord mercifully follows us with trials, and will not let us rest upon any; by degrees our desires take a nobler flight, and can be satisfied with nothing short of Himself; and we say, “To depart and be with Jesus is best of all!”
I trust you find the name and grace of Jesus more and more precious to you; His promises more sweet, and your hope in them more abiding; your sense of your own weakness and unworthiness daily increasing; your persuasion of his all-sufficiency, to guide, support, and comfort you, more confirmed. You owe your growth in these respects in a great measure to His blessing upon those afflictions which He has prepared for you, and sanctified to you. May you praise Him for all that is past, and trust Him for all that is to come!
ANNOUNCEMENT: The 2011 Grace Conference of Las Vegas will be held in October. This year’s theme, inspired by Dr. Richard Mouw’s provocative Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, seeks to both “give an answer” to those who have questions about the practicality of the doctrines of grace, and to do so with all gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Questions the conference will seek to answer in general include the following:
- How can we best be Christians in the twenty-first century?
- How do we as Christians speak gently and respectfully to non-Christians about our beliefs?
- How do we articulate our Calvinistic convictions gently and respectfully to fellow Christians who view some matters quite differently than we do?
- How do we impact the culture positively with a God-centered, Gospel-saturated worldview?
- How do we do these things without compromising Christian orthodoxy, particularly the Gospel?
The conference seeks to glorify God by:
- Word-centered proclamation which magnifies God’s grace through Christ Jesus
- Encouraging congregational renewal
- Strengthening the ministries of the local church and its pastors
- Exalting God’s name through Christ-centered music
Particular topics will include:
- True Comfort in Life & Death
- Suffering & the Sovereignty of God
- Amazing Grace vs. Cheap Grace
- Loving Fellow Christians
- Race Relations in the Church
- Calvinism & Evangelism
If you live in the Las Vegas area or near the West Coast (Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona), I hope you will consider attending this conference on October 28-29. The conference website will be up later this spring.
Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday features a few quotes from the Emerald Isle’s patron saint. St. Patrick (c. 387—493) was a Romano-Briton who served as a Christian missionary to Ireland. Two letters he wrote still exist and detail parts of his life. At age 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and forced into slavery. After six years of subjugation, he escaped and returned home to Britain. Shortly thereafter, he entered ministry as a vocation and was ordained as a bishop. Patrick returned to the land of his captivity in order to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Irish.
Patrick’s love for the Irish stemmed from his sense of obeying Christ’s command to love one’s enemies. The Celtic culture in which he labored was entrenched in paganism, particularly the native earth-based Druid religion. After proclaiming the gospel throughout Ireland, despite antagonism from both religious and political leaders, a showdown occurred on March 26, 433 – Easter Sunday. The king, in concert with the agency of the Druids, commanded that all fires should be extinguished until a signal blaze was kindled at the royal residence. The purpose of the command was to defy the “God of Christianity.” Patrick refused to obey, and started a fire on Easter Sunday. Chieftans and Druids gathered, with pagan priests performing incantations for the land to be covered by darkness. Clouds filled the air and darkened the region. Patrick then challenged them to remove the clouds, which they were unable to do. After Patrick prayed to the Lord, the clouds lifted, and sunshine filled the land. The chieftans and people were filled with awe, and converted to Christianity.
Legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from Ireland even though all evidence suggests the island was never home to any of the reptiles. However, the legend may be explained by the fact that the Druids utilized the symbol of the serpent quite frequently. Even coins minted in Gaul reflected this icon. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the holy Trinity by showing the people a shamrock – a three-leaf clover. It is believed he did this immediately following the showdown with Druid priests. St. Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the date of his death.
Here are some declarations made by Patrick during his lifetime:
- I am Patrick, a sinner, must uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many.
- (Prayer) Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
- Before I was humiliated I was like a stone that lies in a deep mud, and he who is mighty came and in his compassion raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on the top of the wall.
- The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart, so that I should recall my sins.
- If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though they may despise me.
- That which I have set out in Latin is not my words but the words of God and of apostles and prophets, who of course have never lied. He who believes shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be damned. God has spoken.
- No one should ever say that it was my ignorance if I did or showed forth anything however small according to God’s good pleasure; but let this be your conclusion and let it so be thought, that – as is the perfect truth – it was the gift of God.
After earning a PhD from Princeton University, and DD from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Dr. Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) taught apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia, PA). Known world-wide in the area of apologetics, he wrote numerous works, including The Defense of the Faith and Modern Thought. Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday is a reproduction of an essay written by Dr. Van Til entitled “Calvin as a Controversialist.” He writes:
Calvin’s activity as a controversialist began with his “sudden conversion” to the Protestant faith. To become a Protestant was, for Calvin as well as for Luther, to become an Augustinian who tested Augustine’s teaching by Scripture.
All controversies about the nature of man, his sin and his salvation, must be settled by exegesis of Scripture. For “although the Lord represents both himself and his everlasting Kingdom in the mirror of his works with very great clarity, such is our stupidity that we grow increasingly dull toward so manifest testimonies, and they flow away without profiting us. For with regard to the most beautiful structure and order of the universe, how many of us are there who, when we lift up our eyes to heaven or cast them about through the various regions of earth, recall our minds to a remembrance of the Creator, and do not rather, disregarding their Author, sit idly in contemplation of his works? In fact, with regard to those events which daily take place outside the ordinary course of nature, how many of us do not reckon that men are whirled and twisted about by blindly indiscriminate fortune, rather than governed by God’s providence? Sometimes we are driven by the leading and direction of these things to contemplate God; this of necessity happens to all men. Yet after we rashly grasp a conception of some sort of divinity, straightway we fall back into the ravings or evil imaginings of our flesh, and corrupt by our vanity the pure truth of God. In one respect we are indeed unalike, because each one of us privately forges his own particular error; yet we are very much alike in that, one and all, we forsake the one true God for prodigious trifles. Not only the common folk and dull-witted men, but also the most excellent and those otherwise endowed with keen discernment are infested with this disease.
“In this regard how volubly has the whole tribe of philosophers shown their stupidity and silliness! For even though we may excuse the others (who act like utter fools), Plato, the most religious of all and the most circumspect, also vanishes in his round globe.”1
It is not, argues Calvin, that some nations are better or worse than others. It is “the human mind” that spouts forth “an immense crowd of gods.”
“For this reason, Paul declares that the Ephesians were without God until they learned from the gospel what it was to worship the true God (Eph. 2:12-13). And this must not be restricted to one people, since elsewhere he states generally that all mortals ‘became vain in their reasonings’ (Rom. 1:21) after the majesty of the Creator had been disclosed to them in the fashioning of the universe. For this reason, Scripture, to make place for the true and only God, condemned as falsehood and lying whatever of divinity had formerly been celebrated among the heathen; nor did any divine presence remain except on Mt. Zion, where the proper knowledge of God continued to flourish (Hab. 2:18, 20). Certainly among the pagans in Christ’s lifetime the Samaritans seemed to come closest to true piety; yet we hear from Christ’s mouth that they knew not what they worshiped (John 4:22). From this it follows that they were deluded by vain error.”2
“It is therefore in vain that so many burning lamps shine for us in the workmanship of the universe to show forth the glory of its Author. Although they bathe us wholly in their radiance, yet they can of themselves in no way lead us in the right path.”3
The “invisible divinity” is clearly manifest in all the world about us. “We have not the eyes to see this unless they be illumined by the inner revelation of God through faith.”4
“That brightness which is borne in upon the eyes of all men both in heaven and on earth is more than enough to withdraw all support from men’s ingratitude—just as God, to involve the human race in the same guilt, sets forth to all without exception his presence portrayed in his creatures. Despite this, it is needful that another and better help be added to direct us aright to the very Creator of the universe. It was not in vain, then that he added the light of his Word by which to become known unto salvation; and he regarded as worthy of this privilege those whom he pleased to gather more closely and intimately to himself.”5
Of special importance is what Calvin says of our knowledge of ourselves. “No one can look upon himself,” says Calvin, “without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he ‘lives and moves’ (and has his being) (Acts 17:28).”6
Calvin refers to this statement in Book I, Chapter XV, p. 183. He now speaks of the necessity of understanding the nature of man’s fall in Adam. “The knowledge of ourselves,” says Calvin, “is twofold: namely, to know what we were like when we were first created and what our condition became after the fall of Adam.”7
Man was created in God’s image. But “there is no doubt that Adam, when he fell from his state, was by this defection alienated from God. Therefore, even though we grant that God’s image was not totally annihilated and destroyed in him, yet it was so corrupted that whatever remains is frightful deformity. Consequently, the beginning of our recovery of salvation is in that restoration which we obtain through Christ, who also is called the Second Adam for the reason that he restores us to true and complete integrity.”8
What is included in this renewal of the image of God in man? Paul comprehends under it “knowledge,” “pure righteousness and holiness” and “what was primary in the renewing of God’s image also held the highest place in the creation itself.”9
Now the philosophers, Calvin argues, have no knowledge of the fact of the fail of man. Since “this was hidden from them, it is no wonder they mix up heaven and earth!”10 The “Philosophers, ignorant of the corruption of nature that originated from the penalty for man’s defection, mistakenly confuse the two very diverse states of man.”11
The conclusion of the matter is that if we are to know ourselves aright, we must know ourselves as being restored to God in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness through Christ—and the gift of his Spirit. As B. B. Warfield puts it, according to Calvin the fallen man needs new light, given him in the Scriptures speaking of Christ and new sight, given him by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
In order that “truth might abide forever in the world with a continuous succession of teaching and survive through all ages, the same oracles he had given to the patriarchs it was his pleasure to have recorded, as it were, on public tablets.”12
“Now, in order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture. Hence, there also emerges the beginning of true understanding when we reverently embrace what it pleases God there to witness of himself. But not only faith, perfect and in every way complete, but all right knowledge of God is born of obedience. And surely in this respect God has, by his singular providence, taken thought for mortals through all ages.”13
And faith wrought in us by the Holy Spirit is the eye by which we see the light of Scripture as it lightens up all things. “Faith is the principle work of the Holy Spirit . . . by faith alone he leads us into the light of the gospel, as John teaches: to believers in Christ is given the privilege of becoming children of God, who are born not of flesh and blood, but of God (John 1:12-13). Contrasting God with flesh and blood, he declares it to be a supernatural gift that those who would otherwise remain in unbelief receive Christ by faith. Similar to this is that reply of Christ’s: ‘Flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father, who is in heaven’ (Matt. 16: l7).”14 The Holy Spirit always points to Scripture. He gives no man revelations independent of Scripture.15
In speaking of the Scriptures in the way he does, Calvin tells King Francis I simply embracing “the common cause of all believers, that of Christ himself” and defending it against those who persecute them in his realm is not defending the subjectivism of the fanatics who pass by the Scripture as a dead letter and appeal directly to the Holy Spirit for revelations from God.
In his defense of Scripture as the only final source and criterion of truth for sinful men Calvin is, with Luther, concerned to defend the once-for-all finished work of salvation for men by the death and resurrection of Christ. Both the Roman Catholic church and the “fanatics” make their final appeal to the would-be-self-sufficient man. In starting with a philosophy of Aristotle and building its theology upon it, Romanism has a wrong view of God and with it a wrong view of man.
The Triune God
What the evangelical cause requires is, therefore, a clear statement to the effect that the true knowledge of self and the true knowledge of God are involved in one another and that this true God is the triune God of Scripture. God is the “one fit witness to himself, and is not known except through himself. But we shall be ‘leaving it to him’ if we conceive him to be as he reveals himself to us, without inquiring about him elsewhere than from his Word.”16 And God reveals himself in Scripture as the triune God. “Indeed, if we hold fast to what has been sufficiently shown above from Scripture—that the essence of the one God is simple and undivided, and that it belongs to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; and on the other hand that by a certain characteristic the Father differs from the Son, and the Son from the Spirit—the gate will be closed not only to Anus and Sabellius but to other ancient authors of errors.”17
Calvin was therefore much concerned that no one might find any excuse for thinking of the Son and the Spirit as any less God in themselves than the Father. The idea of Sola Scriptura implies and is implied by the idea of Solus Christus. Scripture has no absolute authority except it be the Word of Christ as the Son of God, God in himself as well as the Father given by the Holy Spirit.
God in Himself
No wonder that those who spurned the Scriptures as the final source and standard for man’s knowledge of himself and of God were also opposed to Calvin’s insistence on the aseity of Christ. Says Warfield: “Particular occasion of offence was given by Calvin’s ascription of ‘self-existence’ (aseity, aujtousi;a) to the Son and the consequent designation of Him by the term aujtovqeo”.”l8 Calvin made this assertion of Christ’s “self-existence” over against Gentiles who “asserted that it was exclusively God the Father who could be so designated.”19
Calvin’s theological effort was to set the biblical view of man and God squarely over against every form of man-centered philosophy. It had taken Augustine much of a lifetime after his conversion to set the gospel free from the neo-Platonic-Plotinican notion of the scale of being. Calvin stood on the shoulders of Augustine and therefore saw more clearly than Augustine the need of thinking biblically at every point. The believer’s whole philosophy of nature and of history is but a conceptual expression of what Christ, in Scripture, has told him about the past, the present, and the future.
All the philosophers including Plato, the best of them, have lost themselves in their round globe. They have suborned their brilliant ability of thought in the interest of “holding under” the truth about themselves as sinners before their creator God. All men are as created image-bearers of God and as such cannot help but know that they are creatures of God and sinners against God. How do I, as a believer in Christ, know that the unbeliever “knows” this? Because Christ has told me in the Scriptures. And how do I know that Christ is telling me the truth on this matter in Scripture? Because he has told me.
The triune God speaking to me in Scripture tells me that God spoke to all men in Adam and told him to be a king, a priest, and a prophet under him. But Adam listened to Satan and in so doing assumed that God was together within himself surrounded by factual contingency. This was pure irrationalism. But to know that such was the case Adam had also to assume that he was able to say intelligently that God could not be what he said he was, i.e., the one who had determined the whole course of history from its beginning. There could not be any such thing as a plan of God according to which all things come to pass.
Now Roman Catholic theologians and philosophers, especially Thomas Aquinas, had a philosophy and theology that were a synthesis between the man-centered thinking of the Greeks and the God-centered thinking of Scripture. In this synthesis system the man-centered point of view had become predominant by the time of Calvin. In the name of Christ the church was persecuting those, and only those, who truly trusted for salvation in Christ.
Calvin as well as Luther came to the defense of Christ’s little ones. They needed, he was sure, a manual which would set forth the gospel of justification by faith, clearly over against the basic error of the “mother-Church.”
The “story” of Scripture must be told once more, and it must be set forth in all its implications. The believer must be shown what Paul means when he says that believers must do all things, whether they eat or drink or do anything else, to the glory of God. Believers cannot see what this means and therefore cannot act on it unless they see that things are what they are as revelatory of the plan of God. Those who do not believe this are still in darkness; they are still deluded by the god of this world; they are still where I was before I was born again by the Spirit of God, by the electing grace of the triune God. “Nothing is acceptable with God that is done by his enemies. And all those are his enemies to whom he imputes sin.” This last sentence, says Polman, “is worth gold. It strikes the heart of the Thomistic view and causes the Augustinian truth with its absolute contrast between flesh and spirit to triumph.”20
Calvin feels in his bones the terrifying thought “that God is the avenger and righteous judge with respect to every departure on the part of those who have thought and said things not calculated to enhance his glory.”21
Imputed sin, what an unjust and an immoral idea, any good Roman Catholic, any good neo-orthodox theologian, would say. And only those to whom the righteousness of Christ is imputed know what imputed sin means. They and they only know that the wrath of God rested upon them for their sin and that now they are redeemed from that wrath by the righteousness of Christ by the electing grace alone imputed unto them.
Says Polman: “Thus the grace of God in Jesus Christ, as it alone elevates God’s glory, presenting itself in Scripture and accepted by faith with rock-like certainty and personally appropriated with joy, constitutes the heart of Christian instruction.”22 Polman is speaking here of the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes. This first edition had an obviously practical purpose. It seeks to set the children of God free from the thraldom of an ecclesiastical policy based on a theology based on a man-centered philosophy. “In complete agreement with this practical aim of the first edition of his Institutes,” says Polman, “Calvin deals in it with the election by God of believers in Christ only, in Christ as their head.”23
The term “predestination” is mentioned only once in the first edition of The Institutes. Calvin is concerned with God’s sovereign election of the members of Christ in their head before the foundation of the world.24 By his decree God controls and directs all things he has created, i.e., the entire course of history, including the daily life and final destiny of every man. “The Scriptures teach plainly that, according to his eternal good pleasure without regard to sin or virtue, God has predestined some to everlasting life and others to everlasting damnation. “For Calvin,” says Polman, “Romans 9:11 is the classical passage on this subject. His conviction is therefore not the product of philosophical speculation but of biblical exegesis.”25 There is for Calvin no principle of rationality and causality above to which man may or can intelligently appeal for the explanation of themselves in relation to the cosmos. We rob God of a part of his glory if we do not attribute to him the right to determine the ultimate issue of human life and death to man.
From what has been said it is apparent that Calvin’s theology required a “Copernican revolution” of the traditional method recommending Christianity to non-believers. The traditional method of apologetics, developed best by Thomas Aquinas, constructed its view of man in relation to God and from the bottom up. Thomas did not think that the “philosophers” mixed up heaven and earth because they did not know about the fall of mankind in Adam. Aristotle’s philosophy must not be rejected but supplemented by the Christian story. The Christian story needs theism of the philosophers as its foundation. How otherwise, argues Thomas, can believers show unbelievers that the story is reasonable.
Aquinas sought to show the unbeliever that the Christian story is in accord with logic and in accord with fact. Calvin sought to show that “logic” and “fact” have meaning only in terms of the “story.” The unbeliever appeals to a “logic” that is above the Creator-creature distinction—to thought in general, human and divine—as identical with being. Aquinas thinks he can satisfy the demands of the unbeliever with respect to the requirements of logic and of thought as such. Calvin requires the “philosopher” to give its proper place to the fall of man and recognize that the creature must submit his logical efforts to the Creator-Redeemer of man.
Aquinas thinks he can satisfy the demands of the unbeliever with respect to the idea of facts, as such. Calvin requires the “scientist” to give its proper place to the fall of man and recognize that facts are, and cannot be anything but, expressive of the all-controlling plan of God.
Aquinas offers Christianity to the natural man as an hypothesis that, in his open-minded search for truth, he will find to be better than any other. Calvin challenges the natural man to relinquish his claim to be the rightful judge as to whether the claims of Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life are true or false and, with true repentance for following the god of this world, prostrate himself before the triune God of Scripture.
Man cannot know himself except he know himself as a sinner saved by grace. When by the gift of the Holy Spirit he has become a Christian, he has therewith at the same time become a theist. When he has thus become a Christian theist, he looks back to the pit from which he has been dug. “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world, for after that the world by its wisdom knew not God, it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Following Calvin rather than Aquinas, we may today point out that in all the history of thought, except that which is based upon the Christian story, man cannot identify himself. He would have to do so in relation to a world of pure contingent factuality made correlative to an abstract, timeless principle of rationality which, in the nature of the case, cancel each other out. If modern scientists, modern philosophers, and modern theologians would escape their inability even intelligently to ask any question, let alone find any answer, they can do so only by accepting the answer the triune God has given man in Scripture. Without submitting to this God, he is a prophet without a mantle, a priest without a sacrifice, and a king without a crown.
* * * * *
1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. XX, pp. 63-64.
2. Ibid., p. 67.
3. Ibid., p. 68.
4. Ibid. 5.
5. Ibid., pp. 69-70.
6. Ibid., p. 35.
7. Ibid., book I, chapter XV, section 3.
8. Ibid., section 4, p. 189.
10. Ibid., section 8, p. 196.
11. Ibid., section 7, p. 194.
12. Ibid., chapter VI, section 2, p. 71.
13. Ibid., p. 72.
14. Ibid., book III, chapter I, section 4, p. 541.
15. Ibid., book I, chapter IX.
16. Ibid., chapter XIII, section 21, p. 146.
17. Ibid., chapter XII, section 22, p. 147.
18. Calvin and Calvinism (Oxford University Press, 1931), p. 233.
19. Ibid., p. 234.
20. A. D. R. Polman, De Predestinatielar van Augustinus, Thomas van Aquino en Calvyn (T. Wever, 1936), p. 314.
22. Ibid., p. 319.f
25. Ibid., p. 328.
Ash Wednesday (also known as dies cinerum, ‘day of ashes’) is a moveable feast day, observed exactly 46 days before Paschal (Easter) Sunday (40 days, not including Sundays). It is a day of repentance and marks the beginning of Lent (a period of fasting in preparation for Easter). Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ceremony where congregants come before the minister, who dips his thumb into ashes and marks their foreheads with the sign of the cross as a symbol of repentance. As he does this, he reminds them, “Remember, O man, that thou art but dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” He may also utter the phrases, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” and “Repent, and hear the Good News.” The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.
The Holy Scriptures indicate dusting oneself with ashes (and wearing sackcloth) was a way for penitents to express mourning over sin. Job, for example, said to the LORD, “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Other examples include laws for purification (Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13), the repentance of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6-8), and the Lord Jesus’ warning to Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20-21; Luke 10:13). Protestant/Evangelical groups which observe Ash Wednesday include: Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Methodists/Wesleyans, Nazarenes, the Church of God (Anderson), and some Baptists.
This year (2011), Ash Wednesday will be observed tomorrow (March 9).
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, better known as Tertullian (c. 155 – 230), was an early Church leader and Christian apologist. The son of a Roman centurion who was raised in Carthage as a pagan, Tertullian was a notable attorney during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. After his conversion, he became the first great writer in Western Christianity and is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the Latin Church.” He is responsible for the introduction of the terms, “Trinity,” “Old Testament,” and “New Testament,” as well as the theological formula, “three Persons, one Substance.”
This edition of “Theology on Thursday” focuses upon Tertullian’s (quite theological) thoughts on persecution.
“Nor would the devil’s legion have had power over the herd of swine unless they had got it from God; so far are they from having power over the sheep of God. I may say that the bristles of the swine, too, were then counted by God, not to speak of the hairs of holy men.”
“For what is the issue of persecution, what other result comes of it, but the approving and rejecting of faith, in regard to which the Lord will certainly sift His people? Persecution, by means of which one is declared either approved or rejected, is just the judgment of the Lord.”
“This (persecution) is the fan which even now cleans the Lord’s threshing floor the Church, I mean winnowing the mixed heap of believers, and separating the grain of the martyrs from the chaff of the deniers.”
“If persecution proceeds from God, in no way will it be our duty to flee from what has God as its author; a twofold reason opposing: for what proceeds from God ought not on the one hand to be avoided, and it cannot be evaded on the other.”
“You are deceived if you think that a Christian can live without persecution. He suffers the greatest persecution of all who lives under none.”
The excerpts from McLaren and Gulley & Mulholland, along with Rob Bell’s promotional video, reveal a great deal of emotion drawn from human relationships, but there is no discussion of what God reveals about the matter of Hell in His written Word. The “Achilles’ heel” of McLaren’s theology and the “empty hell” for which Gulley and Mulholland wish are ultimately the result of one thing…unbelief. Romans 10:17 states that, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God.”
The Lord Jesus Christ declared that when He returns that all the nations will be gathered before Him and that “He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). Those on His right will be told, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34); but to those on His left it will be announced, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Those who have refused to believe God and do His will “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous,” those who have believed God and done His will, will have “eternal life” (Mt. 25:46). There are many other portions of Scripture in which the Lord Jesus deals with this topic (e.g., Mt. 10:28, 23:33; Mark 9:42-29; Luke 12:5). But, ultimately, it comes back to the issue of faith/unbelief. As the Lord Jesus teaches the parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), He notes that Lazarus requests Abraham to send a warning to his five brothers about the torments of Hades (vv. 27-28). Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (v. 29). In other words, Abraham says, “They must listen to the written Word of God on this matter. They must heed the warning found there.” Lazarus replies, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (v. 30). The patriarch is not swayed, declaring, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31). God has sent warning, not just in the Gospel passages from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also through the mouths of Moses and the Prophets.
Whether we like it or not the Bible teaches that there is a literal Hell. Christians cannot keep the parts of Scripture they like while dismissing the sections they dislike. It’s an all or nothing package. The question is whether we will trust God by believing what He has said or if we will refuse to submit to what He has revealed. God has warned us through His written Word that Hell is a place of “unquenchable fire” (Mk. 9:44), a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:48).
Prior to her conversion my mother was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After being involved with that group for some time and thinking through their theology, she decided that there was no point to being a part of the group. Missing for some time from their meetings, a couple of representatives came to the door. She told them she was never returning to the Kingdom Hall. When they asked her why not, she replied, “If there is no Hell, then how I live doesn’t matter. I can live however I want.” She then slammed the door in their faces. My mother comprehended that erroneous theology correctly. If there is no Hell, and if everyone will ultimately be saved, then this life counts for nothing. If Gandhi’s “goodness” and Hitler’s horrendous crimes are forgotten and both men end up in Heaven, as universalists affirm, then how have their lives mattered? What good did it to Gandhi to suffer? Why does it matter that Hitler massacred 12 million people in concentration camps? Why does it matter now to feed the poor or care for the environment or work for justice? It doesn’t, ultimately. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we live forever.” The worldview advocated by those adhering to “Christian Universalism” is convoluted and contradictory. But, if the Lord Jesus Christ “will come to judge the living and the dead” as the Apostles’ Creed affirms, then what we do in this counts. We must one day give an account to God for our decisions and indecisions, our actions and inactions (Romans 14:22). This life does count and it will matter for all eternity. We are, therefore, to do good in such ways as feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless and speaking a kind word to the discouraged. We are, therefore, to refrain from doing evil in such ways as taking the lives of the “unwanted,” raping and pillaging the weak, ignoring the plight of oppressed and treating others with contempt. Hell, yes it matters!
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.