The grace, and good will of God is, either noted generally, whereby God doth benefit all men; or particularly, whereby he doth good to the Elect in Christ: but this universal, and general grace ought to be discerned from the singular, and particular: as also the universal, and common benefits towards all, as they are men, from the Particular towards men, as they are Christians.
May 27, 2016
Lucas Trelcatius, A Brief Institution of the Common Places of Sacred Divinity. Wherein, the Truth of every Place is proved, and the Sophismes of Bellarmine are reprooved, trans. John Gawen (London: Imprinted by T. P. for Francis Burton, dwelling in Paules Church-yard, as the Signe of the Green Dragon, 1610), 218–219.
And so after the first manner of speaking, I do confess, that there is a certain general grace of God, and a certain free choice of Election laid open to all, without exception: that he may receive it, that hath a will to receive it, so that under this word laid open God’s outward calling be understood, which consists in precepts, in exhortations, in Rules, written either in the ten Commandments, or in the conscience, or in preaching of the word. And in this sense may we rightly say: Pharaoh himself wanted not the grace of God, nor Saul: no nor any of the rest, whom he did oftentimes allure with gentle promises: terrify with miracles, reward with gifts, invite to repentance with prolonging punishment: suffer with much patience alluring and calling all men daily to amendment of life. All which be infallible tokens of his merciful will, called Voluntas Signi.
But after the second manner of speaking: if we behold the mercy of God, and that grace which maketh acceptable or if we respect that will of his, wherewith he not only willeth all to be saved, but wherewith he bringeth to pass, that these whom he will, shall be saved: the matter doth declare it self sufficiently: that that Mercy and Grace of accepting those things, whereunto they are called is not laid open for all and every one indifferently, but is distributed through a certain special dispensation and peculiar Election of God: whereby they that are called according to the purpose of his grace, are drawn to consent. By means whereof it cometh to pass, that the same calling according to God’s purpose failing, every man hath not in his own hand to choose, or refuse that earnest desire and general Grace indifferently offered, but such as have either received the gift of God, or are denied the gift of God. Neither doth the matter so wholly depend upon the choice of our will, either in choosing, or refusing totally: for then might it be verified, that there was no Predestination, before the foundations of the world were laid, if our Election were necessarily guided by our wills, and that our will were the foundation of our Salvation. Therefore whereas they say, that God doth accept them, which will embrace his grace, and reject them which will not receive it, is altogether untrue. Nay it rather had been more convenient to fetch our fountain from the wellspring of Grace, then from the puddle of our own will. So that we might speak more truly, on this wise: That God doth endue us with his grace, and favorable countenance, because we should be willing to embrace his ordinances and Commandments: on the contrary part, as concerning those that will not receive his grace offered, that such do worthily perish. And that the very cause, that they will not receive it, doth not arise, because their will is not helped: and that they do therefore not receive it, because they are not themselves received first.
Walter Haddon and John Foxe, Against Ierome Osorius, Bishop of Siluane in Portingall and against his slaunderous inuectiues. An Aunswere Apologeticall: For the necessary defence of the Euangelicall doctrine and veritie (London: Printed by John Daye, dwellyng ouer Aldergate, 1581), 209v–210v. [some spelling updated]
The will of God is taken [in a] manner of ways: sometimes for his secret counsel, wherewith all things are necessarily carried to the end, whereunto God hath directed them before. And so do we say, that nothing is done besides this will: It is also sometime[s] taken for that, which God approveth, and maketh acceptable unto himself: And in this sense, we do see many things done, now and then, contrary to his will discovered in the scriptures. And therefore according to his will, God is said, that he willeth all men, to be saved, whereas yet not all, nay rather but a very few are saved.
Ibid., 227v–r. [some spelling updated]
May 25, 2016
Classical theists have sometimes represented God’s immutability in such a sense that they have portrayed him as being virtually frozen in timeless immobility and impassibility. They reason that any movement or feeling on his part such as anger, joy, or grief must either improve his condition or detract from it. But since neither is possible for a perfect being, he remains, to use James I. Packer’s characterization of this position, in an ‘eternally frozen pose’8 as immobile and impassible, that is, inaccessible to and incapable of feelings or emotions.
But this is not the Bible’s description of God. The God of the Bible is constantly acting into and reacting to the human condition. In no sense is the God of Scripture insulated or detached from, unconcerned with, or insensitive and indifferent to the joys and miseries of fallen mankind. Everywhere the Bible depicts him both as one who registers grief and sorrow over and displeasure and wrath against man’s sin, and as one who in compassion and love has taken effective steps in Jesus Christ to reverse the misery of his elect and even the rest of mankind to a degree. Everywhere Holy Scripture portrays him as entering deeply into authentic interpersonal relations of love with his people and truly caring about them and their happiness. As W. Norris Clarke states, the biblical God is a ‘religiously available God on the personal level’.9
To say then that God is unchangeable or immutable must not be construed to mean that he cannot and does not act. The God of the Bible acts, indeed, acts with passion, on every page of Scripture. In other words, he is not static in his immutability; he is dynamic in his immutability. But his dynamic immutability in no way affects his ‘Goodness’. To the contrary, he would cease to be the God of Scripture if he did not will and act in the ways the Bible ascribes to him. But he always wills and acts, and Isaiah declared, in faithfulness to his decrees: ‘In perfect faithfulness,’ Isaiah sings, ‘you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago’ (25:1). Therefore, Louis Berkhof is correct, in my opinion, when he concludes:
The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God.... The Bible teaches us that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their lives with them. There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises.10Thus, as Jürgen Moltmann has most notably contended in our time,11 whenever and wherever God’s impassiblity is interpreted to mean that he is impervious to human pain or incapable of empathizing with human grief we must renounce it and steadfastly distance ourselves from it.12 For while such is descriptive of Aristotle’s concept of God as ‘thought thinking thought’ and of Buddha, it is in no sense descriptive of the God of Holy Scripture who as a God of infinite love showed his love to suffering humankind by giving his own Son up to the death of the cross.13 John R. W. Stott bears testimony to my point here with the following words:
In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. This is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.... There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ ... is God’s ... self-justification in such a world’ as ours.14When our Confession of Faith declares then that God is ‘without ... passions’ it means that he has no bodily passions such as the need to satisfy hunger of the desire to fulfill himself sexually. We do however affirm that God is impassible in the sense that the creature cannot inflict suffering, pain, or any sort of distress or discomfort upon God against his will. Insofar as God enters into such experiences, it is always the result of his deliberate voluntary decision. God’s experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us. Ours come upon us often unforseen, unwilled, unchosen, and forced upon us against our wills. His are foreknown, willed, and chosen by him and are never forced upon him ab extra apart from his determination to accept them. In short, God is never the creature’s unwilling victim. Even when Jesus hung upon the cross his suffering was according to the predeterminate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). And he himself said, you will recall: ‘No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This ... I received from my Father’ (John 10:18).
8. J. I. Packer, “Theism for Our Time,” in God Who is Rich in Mercy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 16.
9. W. Norris Clarke, “A New Look at the Immutability of God,” in God, Knowable and Unknowable, edited by Robert J. Roth (New York: Fordham, 1973), 44.
10. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 59.
11. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (London: SCM, 1974).
12. God’s ‘passibility’ pertains to him only at the level of his tri-personhood, not at the level of his essential deity.
13. We will say more about God’s love in the ninth address.
14. John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1986), 335–6.
Robert L. Reymond, ‘What is God?’—An Investigation of the Perfections of God’s Nature (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2007), 100–103.
By what they have said about his immutability, as a consequence of their understanding of God’s eternality as involving timelessness, classical theists have sometimes portrayed God as One virtually frozen in timeless immobility or inactivity (this is one example of the theological mischief which accrues to the ascription of timelessness to God). These theists correctly argue that since God is a perfect being, he is incapable of any ontological change, since any change must be either for the better or for the worse. He cannot change for the better since he is already perfect, and he cannot change for the worse since that would result in his becoming imperfect. The same holds true, it is incorrectly argued, with regard to any motion or activity on his part. Any movement must either improve his condition or detract from it. But neither is possible for a perfect Deity. Therefore, he remains in an “eternally frozen pose” (Packer’s characterization) as the impassible God. But this is not the biblical description of God. The God of Scripture is constantly acting into and reacting to the human condition. In no sense is he metaphysically insulated or detached from, unconcerned with, or insensitive or indifferent to the condition of fallen men. Everywhere he is depicted both as One who registers grief and sorrow over and displeasure and wrath against sin and its ruinous effects and as One who in compassion and love has taken effective steps in Jesus Christ to reverse the misery of men. Everywhere he is portrayed as One who can and does enter into deep, authentic interpersonal relations of love with his creatures, and as a God who truly cares for his creatures and their happiness. In sum, as W. Norris Clarke declares, God is a “‘religiously available’ Go on a personal level.”41 To say then that God is unchangeable, that is, “immutable,” must not be construed to mean that he cannot and does not act. The God of the Bible is portrayed as acting on every page of the Bible! He is not static in his immutability; he is dynamic in his immutability. But his dynamic immutability in no way affects his essential nature as God (that is, his “Godness”); to the contrary, he would cease to be the God of Scripture if he did not will and act in the ways the Bible ascribes to him. But he always wills and acts, as Isaiah declared, in faithfulness to his decrees: “In perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago” (Isa. 25:1). Berkhof correctly concludes:Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 178–179.
The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there is no movement in God. . . . The Bible teaches us that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their life with them. There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of actions, or His promises.42Thus whenever divine impassibility is interpreted to mean that God is impervious to human pain or incapable of empathizing with human grief it must be roundly denounced and rejected. When the Confession of Faith declares that God is “without . . . passions” it should be understood to mean that God has no bodily passions such as hunger or the human drive for sexual fulfillment. As A. A. Hodge writes: “we deny that the properties of matter, such as bodily parts and passions, belong to him.”43
We do, however, affirm that the creature cannot inflict suffering, pain, or any sort of distress upon him against his will. In this sense God is impassible. J. I. Packer says this well:
Insofar as God enters into experience of that kind, it is by empathy for his creatures and according to his own deliberate decision, not as his creatures’ victim. . . . The thought of God as apathetos, free from all pathos, characterized always by apatheia, represents no single biblical term, but was introduced into Christian theology in the second century: what was it supposed to mean? The historical answer is: not impassivity, unconcern, and impersonal detachment in face of the creation; not insensitivity and indifference to the distresses of a fallen world; not inability or unwillingness to empathize with human pain and grief; but simply that God’s experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us, for his are foreknown, willed and chosen by himself, and are not involuntary surprises forced on him from outside, apart from his own decision, in the way that ours regularly are. In other words, he is never in reality the victim whom man makes to suffer; even the Son on his cross . . . was suffering by his and the Father’s conscious foreknowledge and choice, and those who made him suffer, however free and guilty their action, were real if unwitting tools of divine wisdom and agents of the divine plan (see Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:20).44_______________
41. Clarke, “A New Look at the Immutability of God,” in God, Knowable and Unknowable, ed. Robert J. Roth (New York: Fordham, 1973), 44.
42. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 59.
43. A. A. Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1869), 73–4.
44. Packer, “Theism for Our Time,” ed. Peter T. O’Brien and David G. Peterson, God Who is Rich in Mercy (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker, 1986), 7, 16–17.
May 6, 2016
Amyraut’s doctrine, although hardly a reprise of Calvin, arguably fell within confessional boundaries set by the Canons of Dort: it was never formally condemned as a heresy.
Richard Muller, “Beyond Hypothetical Universalism: Moïse Amyraut (1596–1664) on Faith, Reason, and Ethics,” in The Theology of the French Reformed Churches: From Henri IV to the Revocations of the Edict of Nantes, ed. Martin I. Klauber (Reformed Historical-Theological Studies, eds. Joel R. Beeke and Jay T. Collier; Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 198.
Nearly all the older scholarship went astray from the actual evidence in its assumptions that hypothetical universalism per se ran counter to the Reformed confessions—notably, the Canons of Dort—and that Amyraut’s form of hypothetical universalism, derived from the theology of his teacher, Cameron, was representative of hypothetical universalism in general.
Ibid., 205. [Note: Warfield is an example of the misguided older scholarship that involves mischaracterization and historical lumping. See B. B. Warfield, The Westminister Assembly and its Work (1959 repr.; Edmonton, AB, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 56, 144n94; The Plan of Salvation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1915), 118.]
Given that Amyraut’s hypothetical universalism did not arise out of a significantly different outlook on theology or rest on a different method from that of his Reformed orthodox contemporaries, his theology ought not to be read out of the context of that orthodoxy and its Scholastic methods—nor, indeed, ought Amyraldian or Salmurian theology to be interpreted as a heresy and set outside of the bounds of the orthodoxy of the era. Certainly, Amyraut’s detractors accused him of heresy, but there is no synodical decision or confessional document that confirmed the accusation. In short, Amyraldianism was a form of Reformed orthodoxy that other orthodox Reformed writers pointedly opposed and censured, but it remained within the confessional boundaries and partook of the same Scholastic method Amyraut’s opponents employed.