Pain and Glory

If the Spirit of God does not animate me, I am a dead man walking.

The men of God throughout the ages who were of any use did not obey the Scriptures in their own strength. Rather they leaned hard into the power given from above. Howell Harris endured numerous beatings; George Whitefield would preach thrice daily and then return to his quarters to intercede for hours more; Francis Asbury would travel through the American Frontier to preach to little shacks of people gathered. These men could never have done what they did without that divine influence which enlivened their bodies with a usefulness beyond themselves.

I have experienced recently such death within myself that no human help will do. I have spent too long living in my own strength. I cannot endure the trials of this life in what strength I have of my own life. Nor can you believer.

Some day there will be such trials upon the world as have never been known to this earth before. Have you considered that your life is being prepared for such days if indeed it is being prepared? Have you pains, and toils and broken heartedness beyond every energy to endure? Take heart that you are not alone, a divine influence and that alone can lift you above your pain and pour into your life such strength as will keep you sustained in your pain.

It is given to the church to experience not only green pastures and quiet waters but also that deathly valley where there is no light but the occasional rays from the Shepherd’s lamp. Do you know that valley? I assure you, the church is about to become acquainted with that valley and its only comforts will be the Shepherd’s staff of guidance, rod of protection and presence. That alone. There is no other well of living water.

Is your heart shattered, dreams dashed, and plans foiled? God help you to trust him with your plans and dreams and hopes. If he fulfills them, they will be in his time. Should he delay them, he will do so with the eye on the greater glory of our eternal happiness and earthly good.

Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and he will do it.

Exhausting Scripture for doctrine

In a course I’m taking this semester, one of the assignments is to evaluate the different “theories” of Christ’s atonement and either support them from Scripture or reject them.

Part of the reason that studying theology as an abstraction and academic discipline or even looking through the historic creeds and confessions is not sufficient to be a healthy Christian is because of this principle I first heard described by Paul Washer. In sum, you can grasp Calvin, Luther, Lloyd-Jones, and on about any particular doctrine. They build upon one another, they draw from Scripture, but ultimately they can be mastered and exhausted for everything they understood about a doctrine, say of atonement. You cannot do this with Scripture. You will never have an exhaustive knowledge of anything in Scripture so that you have drained it to the dregs and no one else ever has to think through it or find some buried treasure in studying it.

The illumination of the Holy Spirit is like seeing the light gleam through a diamond or crystal. You may think you’ve seen all there is to be seen in a text, but the Holy Spirit is free to turn the diamond before the eyes of another tomorrow that has an insight that you never saw. Or even yourself a year from now. Scripture, as a living and active, though unchanging, document will never yield everything to anyone no matter how erudite, how spiritual, how holy.

The different denominations, so far as they are faithful to the gospel’s essentials, often have an abundance of light on a particular facet of life, truth or something else which, left isolated, leaves that church or denomination imbalanced. Together with the light given to each member of the body of Christ we will display the whole of what can be seen on Earth until we see face to face rather than through a glass darkly.

I think I’m going to look for light in each theory in so far as I think they faithfully represent the scriptures.

The cost of answered prayer

Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for–believe that you have received it and it will be yours.


Mark 11:24

Have you ever prayed something, and just decided, man, Jesus promised I would receive this if I believe I have? And then you do?

Sometimes what happens is an instantaneous answer in shining glory. Yet I have recently been plunged into the sort of trial which makes me empathize with the psalmist in Ps. 66,

10 For you, God, tested us;
you refined us as silver is refined.
11 You lured us into a trap;
you placed burdens on our backs.
12 You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,

v10-12

I am still somewhat in that place of testing with relief interspersed in it. The psalmist gives hope to such people whose heads have been ridden over by people sent by God himself:

but you brought us out to abundance.

v12b

The cost of answered prayer is often utter desolation in the heart and life of the intercessor. Yet the answer is a sweet abundance which satisfies all shores. I will continue to pray but it’s incredibly difficult.

Jonathan Edwards’ Personal Narrative

An Autoiography, A PERSONAL NARRATIVE, by Jonathan Edwards

I had a variety of concerns and exercises about my soul from my childhood; but had two more remarkable seasons of awakening, before I met with that change by which I was brought to those new dispositions, and that new sense of things, that I have since had. The first time was when I was a boy, some years before I went to college, at a time of remarkable awakening in my father’s congregation. I was then very much affected for many months, and concerned about the things of religion, and my soul’s salvation; and was abundant in religious duties. I used to pray five times a day in secret, and to spend much time in religious conversation with other boys; and used to meet with them to pray together. I experienced I know not what kind of delight in religion. My mind was much engaged in it, and had much self-righteous pleasure; and it was my delight to abound in religious duties. I, with some of my schoolmates, joined together and built a booth in a swamp, in a very retired spot, for a place of prayer. And besides, I had particular secret places of my own in the woods, where I used to retire by myself; and was from time to time much affected. My affections seemed to be lively and easily moved, and I seemed to be in my element when engaged in religious duties. And I am ready to think, many are deceived with such affections, and such a kind of delight as I then had in religion, and mistake it for grace.

But in process of time, my convictions and affections wore off; and I entirely lost all those affections and delights, and left off secret prayer, at least as to any constant performance of it; and returned like a dog to his vomit, and went on in the ways of sin. Indeed, I was at times very uneasy, especially towards the latter part of my time at college; when it pleased God to seize me with a pleurisy, in which he brought me nigh to the grave, and shook me over the pit of hell. And yet, it was not long after my recovery, before I fell again into my old ways of sin. But God would not suffer me to go on with any quietness; I had great and violent inward struggles, till after many conflicts with wicked inclinations, repeated resolutions, and bonds that I laid myself under by a kind of vows to God, I was brought wholly to break off all former wicked ways, and all ways of known outward sin; and to apply myself to seek salvation, and practice many religious duties; but without that kind of affection and delight which I had formerly experienced. My concern now wrought more by inward struggles and conflicts, and self-reflections. I made seeking my salvation the main business of my life. But yet, it seems to me, I sought after a miserable manner, which has made me sometimes since to question, whether ever it issued in that which was saving; being ready to doubt whether such miserable seeking ever succeeded. I was indeed brought to seek salvation in a manner that I never was before; I felt a spirit to part with all things in the world, for an interest in Christ. My concern continued and prevailed, with many exercising thoughts and inward struggles; but yet it never seemed to be proper to express that concern by the name of terror.

Sovereignty of God

From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But I never could give an account how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty that I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.

The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, 1 Tim. 1:17, “Now unto the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen.” As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven; and be as it were swallowed up in him forever! I kept saying, and as it were singing, over these words of Scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do, with a new sort of affection. But it never came into my thought, that there was any thing spiritual, or of a saving nature, in this.

From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly encouraged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated of these subjects. Those words, Song. 2:1, used to be abundantly with me, “I am the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the valleys.” The words seemed to me sweetly to represent the loveliness and beauty of Jesus Christ. The whole book of Canticles used to be pleasant to me, and I used to be much in reading it, about that time; and found, from time to time, an inward sweetness, that would carry me away in my contemplations. This I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and rapt and swallowed up in God. The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul that I know not how to express.

Growth of Spiritual Life

Not long after I first began to experience these things, I gave an account to my father of some things that had passed in my mind. I was pretty much affected by the discourse we had together; and when the discourse was ended, I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place in my father’s pasture, for contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. — I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together: it was a sweet and gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness.

After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, and moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for a long time; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things; in the mean time, singing forth, with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning; formerly nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunderstorm rising; but now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, if I may so to speak, at the first appearance of a thunderstorm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God’s thunder, which oftentimes was exceedingly entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. While thus engaged, it always seemed natural to me to sing or chant forth my meditations; or, to speak my thoughts in soliloquies with a singing voice.

I felt then great satisfaction as to my good estate; but that did not content me. I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break; which often brought to my mind the words of the psalmist, Psa. 119:28, “My soul breaketh for the longing it hath.” I often felt a mourning and lamenting in my heart, that I had not turned to God sooner, that I might have had more time to grow in grace. My mind was greatly fixed on divine things; almost perpetually in the contemplation of them. I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent. The delights which I now felt in the things of religion, were of an exceeding different kind from those before mentioned, that I had when a boy; and what then I had no more notion of, than one born blind has of pleasant and beautiful colors. They were of a more inward, pure, soul-animating, and refreshing nature. Those former delights never reached the heart; and did not arise from any sight of the divine excellency of the things of God; or any taste of the soul-satisfying, and life-giving good there is in them.

My sense of divine things seemed gradually to increase, till I went to preach at New York, which was about a year and a half after they began: and while I was there I felt them very sensibly, in a much higher degree than I had done before. My longings after God and holiness were much increased. Pure and humble, holy and heavenly, Christianity appeared exceedingly amiable to me. I felt a burning desire to be, in every thing, a complete Christian; and conformed to the blessed image of Christ; and that I might live, in all things, according to the pure, sweet, and blessed rules of the gospel. I had an eager thirsting after progress in these things; which put me upon pursuing and pressing after them. It was my continual strife day and night, and constant inquiry, how I should be more holy, and live more holily, and more becoming a child of God, and a disciple of Christ. I now sought an increase of grace and holiness, and a holy life, with much more earnestness than ever I sought grace before I had it. I used to be continually examining myself, and studying and contriving for likely ways and means how I should live holily, with far greater diligence and earnestness than ever I pursued any thing in my life; but yet with too great a dependence on my own strength; which afterwards proved a great damage to me. My experience had not then taught me, as it has done since, my extreme feebleness and impotence, every manner of way; and the bottomless depths of secret corruption and deceit there was in my heart. However, I went on with my eager pursuit after more holiness, and conformity to Christ.

The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness; to be with God, and to spend my eternity in divine love, and holy communion with Christ. My mind was very much taken up with contemplations on heaven, and the enjoyments there; and living there in perfect holiness, humility, and love; and it used at that time to appear a great part of the happiness of heaven, that there the saints could express their love to Christ. It appeared to me a great clog and burden, that what I felt within, I could not express as I desired. The inward ardor of my soul seemed to be hindered and pent up, and could not freely flame out as it would. I used often to think, how in heaven this principle should freely and fully vent and express itself. Heaven appeared exceedingly delightful, as a world of love; and that all happiness consisted in living in pure, humble, heavenly, divine love.

I remember the thoughts I used then to have of holiness; and said sometimes to myself, “I do certainly know that I love holiness, such as the gospel prescribes.” It appeared to me that there was nothing in it but what was ravishingly lovely; the highest beauty and amiableness — a divine beauty; far purer than any thing here upon earth; and that every thing else was like mire and defilement in comparison of it.

Holiness, as I then wrote down some of my contemplations on it, appeared to me to be of a sweet, pleasant, charming, serene, calm nature; which brought an inexpressible purity, brightness, peacefulness and ravishment to the soul. In other words, that it made the soul like a field or garden of God, with all manner of pleasant flowers; enjoying a sweet calm, and the gentle vivifying beams of the sun. The soul of a true Christian, as I then wrote my meditations, appeared like such a little white flower as we see in the spring of the year; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun’s glory; rejoicing, as it were, in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrancy; standing peacefully and lovingly, in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms, to drink in the light of the sun. There was no part of creature holiness that I had so great a sense of its loveliness, as humility, brokenness of heart, and poverty of spirit; and there was nothing that I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this — to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.

While at New York, I was sometimes much affected with reflections on my past life, considering how late it was before I began to be truly religious; and how wickedly I had lived till then: and once so as to weep abundantly, and for a considerable time together.

On January 12, 1723, I made a solemn dedication of myself to God, and wrote it down; giving up myself, and all I had, to God; to be for the future in no respect my own; to act as one that had no right to himself, in any respect. And solemnly vowed to take God for my whole portion and felicity; looking on nothing else as any part of my happiness, nor acting as it were; and his law for the constant rule of my obedience; engaging to fight with all my might against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the end of my life. But I have reason to be infinitely humbled, when I consider how much I have failed of answering my obligation.

I had then abundance of sweet religious conversation in the family where I lived, with Mr. John Smith and his pious mother. My heart was knit in affection to those in whom were appearances of true piety; and I could bear the thoughts of no other companions but such as were holy, and the disciples of the blessed Jesus. I had great longings for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world; and my secret prayer used to be, in great part, taken up in praying for it. If I heard the least hint of any thing that happened in any part of the world, that appeared, in some respect or other, to have a favorable aspect on the interests of Christ’s kingdom, my soul eagerly catched at it, and it would much animate and refresh me. I used to be eager to read public newsletters, mainly for that end; to see if I could not find some news favorable to the interest of religion in the world.

I very frequently used to retire into a solitary place, on the banks of Hudson’s river, at some distance from the city, for contemplation on divine things and secret converse with God; and had many sweet hours there. Sometimes Mr. Smith and I walked there together, to converse on the things of God; and our conversation used to turn much on the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and the glorious things that God would accomplish for his church in the latter days. I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the Holy Scriptures of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.

Further Reflections

I came away from New York in the month of April, 1723, and had a most bitter parting with Madam Smith and her son. My heart seemed to sink within me at leaving the family and city, where I had enjoyed so many sweet and pleasant days. I went from New York to Wethersfield, by water, and as I sailed away, I kept sight of the city as long as I could. However, that night, after this sorrowful parting, I was greatly comforted in God at Westchester, where we went ashore to lodge; and had a pleasant time of it all the voyage to Saybrook. It was sweet to me to think of meeting dear Christians in heaven, where we should never part more. At Saybrook we went ashore to lodge on Saturday, and there kept the sabbath; where I had a sweet and refreshing season walking alone in the fields.

After I came home to Windsor, I remained much in a like frame of mind as when at New York; only sometimes I felt my heart ready to sink with the thoughts of my friends at New York. My support was in contemplations on the heavenly state; as I find in my diary of May 1, 1723. It was a comfort to think of that state, where there is fullness of joy; where reigns heavenly calm, and delightful love, without alloy; where there are continually the dearest expressions of love; where is the enjoyment of the persons loved, without ever parting; where these persons who appear so lovely in this world, will really be inexpressibly more lovely and full of love to us. And how sweetly will the mutual lovers join together, to sing the praises of God and the Lamb! How will it fill us with joy to think that this enjoyment, these sweet exercises, will never cease but will last to all eternity! I continued much in the same frame, in the general, as when at New York, till I went to New Haven as tutor of the college; particularly once at Bolton, on a journey from Boston, while walking out alone in the fields. After I went to New Haven, I sunk in religion, my mind being diverted from my eager pursuits after holiness, by some affairs that greatly perplexed and distracted my thoughts.

In September, 1725, I was taken ill at New Haven, and while endeavoring to go home to Windsor, was so ill at the North Village, that I could go no further; where I lay sick for about a quarter of a year. In this sickness, God was pleased to visit me again with the sweet influences of his Spirit. My mind was greatly engaged there on divine and pleasant contemplations, and longings of soul. I observed that those who watched with me, would often be looking out wishfully for the morning; which brought to my mind those words of the psalmist, and which my soul with delight made its own language, “My soul waiteth for the Lord, more than they that watch for the morning; I say, more than they that watch for the morning”; and when the light of day came in at the window, it refreshed my soul from one morning to another. It seemed to be some image of the light of God’s glory.

I remember, about that time, I used greatly to long for the conversion of some that I was concerned with; I could gladly honor them, and with delight be a servant to them, and lie at their feet, if they were but truly holy. But some time after this, I was again greatly diverted with some temporal concerns, that exceedingly took up my thoughts, greatly to the wounding of my soul; and went on through various exercises, that it would be tedious to relate, which gave me much more experience of my own heart, than ever I had before.

Since I came to Northampton, I have often had sweet complacency in God, in views of his glorious perfections and of the excellency of Jesus Christ. God has appeared to me a glorious and lovely Being, chiefly on the account of his holiness. The holiness of God has always appeared to me the most lovely of all his attributes. The doctrines of God’s absolute sovereignty, and free grace, in showing mercy to whom he would show mercy; and man’s absolute dependence on the operations of God’s Holy Spirit, have very often appeared to me as sweet and glorious doctrines. These doctrines have been much my delight. God’s sovereignty has ever appeared to me a great part of his glory. It has often been my delight to approach God, and adore him as a sovereign God, and ask sovereign mercy of him.

I have loved the doctrines of the gospel; they have been to my soul like green pastures. The gospel has seemed to me the richest treasure; the treasure that I have most desired, and longed that it might dwell richly in me. The way of salvation by Christ has appeared, in a general way, glorious and excellent, most pleasant and most beautiful. It has often seemed to me, that it would, in a great measure, spoil heaven, to receive it in any other way. That text has often been affecting and delightful to me, Isa. 32:2, “A man shall be a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest,” etc.

It has often appeared to me delightful, to be united to Christ; to have him for my Head, and to be a member of his body; also to have Christ for my Teacher and Prophet. I very often think with sweetness, and longings, and pantings of soul, of being a little child, taking hold of Christ, to be led by him through the wilderness of this world. That text, Mat. 18:3, has often been sweet to me, “Except ye be converted and become as little children,” etc. I love to think of coming to Christ, to receive salvation of him, poor in spirit, and quite empty of self, humbly exalting him alone; cut off entirely from my own root, in order to grow into, and out of Christ; to have God in Christ to be all in all; and to live by faith on the Son of God, a life of humble, unfeigned confidence in him. That Scripture has often been sweet to me, Psa. 115:1, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” And those words of Christ, Luke 10:21, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” That sovereignty of God which Christ rejoiced in, seemed to me worthy of such joy; and that rejoicing seemed to show the excellency of Christ, and of what spirit he was.

Sometimes, only mentioning a single word caused my heart to burn within me; or only seeing the name of Christ, or the name of some attribute of God. And God has appeared glorious to me, on account of the Trinity. It has made me have exalting thoughts of God, that he subsists in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The sweetest joys and delights I have experienced, have not been those that have arisen from a hope of my own good estate; but in a direct view of the glorious things of the gospel. When I enjoy this sweetness, it seems to carry me above the thoughts of my own estate; it seems, at such times, a loss that I cannot bear, to take off my eye from the glorious, pleasant object I behold without me, to turn my eye in upon myself, and my own good estate.

My heart has been much on the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world. The histories of the past advancement of Christ’s kingdom have been sweet to me. When I have read histories of past ages, the pleasantest thing, in all my reading, has been to read of the kingdom of Christ being promoted. And when I have expected, in my reading, to come to any such thing, I have rejoiced in the prospect all the way as I read. And my mind has been much entertained and delighted with the Scripture promises and prophecies, which relate to the future glorious advancement of Christ’s kingdom upon earth.

I have sometimes had a sense of the excellent fullness of Christ, and his meetness and suitableness as a Savior; whereby he has appeared to me, far above all, the chief of ten thousands. His blood and atonement have appeared sweet, and his righteousness sweet; which was always accompanied with ardency of spirit; and inward strugglings and breathings, and groanings that cannot be uttered, to be emptied of myself, and swallowed up in Christ.

Once, as I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception — which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him; to serve and follow him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity. I have several other times had views very much of the same nature, and which have had the same effects.

I have many times had a sense of the glory of the Third Person in the Trinity, and his office of Sanctifier; in his holy operations, communicating divine light and life to the soul. God, in the communications of his Holy Spirit, has appeared as an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness; being full and sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul; pouring forth itself in sweet communications; like the sun in its glory, sweetly and pleasantly diffusing light and life. And I have sometimes had an affecting sense of the excellency of the Word of God, as the word of life; as the light of life; a sweet, excellent, life-giving, word; accompanied with a thirsting after that word, that it might dwell richly in my heart.

Often, since I lived in this town, I have had very affecting views of my own sinfulness and vileness; very frequently to such a degree as to hold me in a kind of loud weeping, sometimes for a considerable time together; so that I have often been forced to shut myself up. I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness, and the badness of my heart, than ever I had before my conversion. It has often appeared to me, that if God should mark iniquity against me, I should appear the very worst of all mankind; of all that have been since the beginning of the world to this time; and that I should have by far the lowest place in the world to this time; and that I should have by far the lowest place in hell. When others, that have come to talk with me about their soul concerns, have expressed the sense they have had of their own wickedness by saying, that it seemed to them, that they were as bad as the devil himself; I thought their expressions seemed exceeding faint and feeble, to represent my wickedness.

My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination; like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. Very often, for these many years, these expressions are in my mind and in my mouth, “Infinite upon infinite — Infinite upon infinite!” When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss, infinitely deeper than hell. And it appears to me, that were it not for free grace, exalted and raised up to the infinite height of all the fullness and glory of the great Jehovah, and the arm of his power and grace stretched forth in all the majesty of his power, and in all the glory of his sovereignty, I should appear sunk down in my sins below hell itself; far beyond the sight of every thing, but the eye of sovereign grace, that can pierce even down to such a depth. And yet, it seems to me that my conviction of sin is exceeding small and faint; it is enough to amaze me, that I have very little sense of my sinfulness. I know certainly, that I have very little sense of my sinfulness. When I have had turns of weeping for my sins, I thought I knew at the time that my repentance was nothing to my sin.

I have greatly longed of late for a broken heart, and to lie low before God; and when I ask for humility, I cannot bear the thoughts of being no more humble than other Christians. It seems to me, that though their degrees of humility may be suitable for them, yet it would be a vile self-exaltation in me, not to be the lowest in humility of all mankind. Others speak of their longing to be “humbled in the dust”; that may be a proper expression for them, but I always think of myself, that I ought, and it is an expression that has long been natural for me to use in prayer, “to lie infinitely low before God.” And it is affecting to think, how ignorant I was, when a young Christian, of the bottomless, infinite depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy and deceit, left in my heart.

I have a much greater sense of my universal, exceeding dependence on God’s grace and strength, and mere good pleasure, of late, than I used formerly to have; and have experienced more of an abhorrence of my own righteousness. The very thought of any joy arising in me, on any consideration of my own amiableness, performances, or experiences, or any goodness of heart or life, is nauseous and detestable to me. And yet, I am greatly afflicted with a proud and self-righteous spirit, much more sensibly than I used to be formerly. I see that serpent rising and putting, forth its head continually, every where, all around me.

Though it seems to me, that in some respects, I was a far better Christian, for two or three years after my first conversion, than I am now; and lived in a more constant delight and pleasure; yet of late years, I have had a more full and constant sense of the absolute sovereignty of God, and a delight in that sovereignty; and have had more of a sense of the glory of Christ, as a Mediator revealed in the gospel. On one Saturday night, in particular, I bad such a discovery of the excellency of the gospel above all other doctrines, that I could not but say to myself, “This is my chosen light, my chosen doctrine;” and of Christ, “This is my chosen Prophet.” It appeared sweet, beyond all expression to follow Christ, and to be taught, and enlightened, and instructed by him; to learn of him, and live to him. Another Saturday night (Jan. 1739) I had such a sense, how sweet and blessed a thing it was to walk in the way of duty; to do that which was right and meet to be done, and agreeable to the holy mind of God; that it caused me to break forth into a kind of loud weeping, which held me some time, so that I was forced to shut myself up, and fasten the doors. I could not but, as it were, cry out, “How happy are they who do that which is right in the sight of God! They are blessed indeed, they are the happy ones!” I had, at the same time, a very affecting sense, how meet and suitable it was that God should govern the world, and order all things according to his own pleasure; and I rejoiced in it, that God reigned, and that his will was done.

I would believe in Classical Christian Theism, if only it were Christian

One of my best friends from college sent me a paper he wrote on Divine Impassibility. The subject intrigues me because the doctrine on the one hand is foreign to the God I know through Scripture. Impassibility a part of a family of beliefs about the nature of God. In other words, what is God really like?

Impassibility under my friend’s definition means “God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation.”1 Impassibility is a part of a family of doctrines under the umbrella of “Classical Christian Theism” (hereafter CCT) which has been a focus of some theologians recently. These theologians go so far as to define this family of doctrines as ‘orthodoxy’ (gk. literally meaning “right opinion”) – the minimum standard belief to be Christian. 

What is the foundation for these doctrines? Are they explicitly biblical and taught explicitly by the Bible? Further are people who deviate really ‘heretics‘? Is this the standard of orthodoxy?

It seems from the early days of the Church, these doctrines were embraced wholeheartedly. Men like Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 AD), Irenaeus (130-202 AD), Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Tertullian (155 – 240 AD), Origen of Alexandria (184 – 253 AD), and Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373 AD), all expressed these doctrines (impassibility and others in the family of this doctrines) in one form or another. But let’s be clear, this was not a monolithic belief: there were variations in each’s position. I say all this because this seems to be the biggest reason for people to support it. The church fathers believed it and pretty much everyone did as well until 200 years ago.

Where did the fathers’ get this doctrine? How did they express it? 

The Two Streams

It seems that regarding the Patristics’ doctrine of God  there were two streams, the first was Scripture which they then theologized through the terminology of Greek philosophy

The Bible

An example of immutability (part of the family of doctrines) would be 1 Samuel 15:29,

“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

Only a few verses before, God says,

“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. (v.11)

And at the end of the chapter

And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. (v. 35)

Given the seeming contradiction, and the rule of Scripture that it will not contradict itself, one of those passages does not mean what it appears to mean. Gregory of Nyssa (335 – 395 AD) interprets God’s regret (or repentance) as anthropomorphic.2 CCTers take this a step further make a rule of interpretation out of passages like these that whenever Scripture talks about God’s actions (“regret”), it’s non-literal and anthropomorphic; whenever it talks about his nature (“He is not a man”), it’s to be taken literally. 

Philosophy/Metaphysics

The idea that the patristics got much of their doctrine from Greek philosophy is sometimes called “the Hellenization Hypothesis.” Despite what CCTers say, this is the biggest problem with CCT. It’s not merely that CCT is influenced by Greek philosophy but rather by metaphysical concepts not taught by Scripture. Metaphysics is about the nature of being. What is a thing and its properties? In this discussion, it means what is the nature of God and what is he like?

Unfortunately, this is where the church for most of its history has capitulated to natural theology (general revelation – things we think we know about God outside of Scripture) rather than relying on Scripture to understand God. 

Underlying Impassibility is the idea that if God were changing he would be an imperfect being. This is true as far as it goes, but the application of that idea that for God to interact with Creation or respond would constitute a change in God is not an objection raised by Scripture, but rather from philosophy. It’s a part of a doctrine called “divine simplicity” which means

divine simplicity denies any physical or metaphysical composition in the divine being. This means God is the divine nature itself and has no accidents (properties that are not necessary) accruing to his nature. There are no real divisions or distinctions in this nature. Thus, the entirety of God is whatever is attributed to him.  Divine simplicity is the hallmark of God’s utter transcendence of all else, ensuring the divine nature to be beyond the reach of ordinary categories and distinctions, or at least their ordinary application. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 3

The origins are quite extra-biblical. Greek philosophy starting as far back as Thales (640–546 BC), Anaximenes (588–524 BC), Parmenides (515–450 BC) believed “all things are of a single substance.” Plato (428–348 BC) contributed the idea that there was a unity in “Forms. ” He believed in “a supreme good constituting a unity beyond all ordinary being.” Aristotle (384–322 BC) developed the idea into a “supreme being to be a subsisting and unchanging form that is also a first mover.”4

Aristotle’s phrase of a “first mover” (or “first cause”) is important because it’s littered throughout CCTers works including James E. Dolezal’s All That Is in God (p. 6, 15-16, 87), after Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274 AD), the Christian systematizer of Aristotle’s philosophy, whom we will discuss shortly. Obviously this is not a concept explicitly drawn from Scripture.

The Jewish philosopher and theology/philosophy harmonizer Philo of Alexandria (30 BC-50 AD) was among the first to bring the Greek philosophical concepts into a marriage with the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was perhaps the first to reject as anthropomorphic God’s emotions and actions in Scripture based on philosophical categories (Stoicism, Platonism), as God was clearly outside of the world.5

While CCTers deny the role philosophy played in the patristics’ understanding of God, the connection is beyond refutation. Here’s the biggest proof that CCT is based on philosophical speculations rather than the teaching of Scripture: theologians of all three monotheistic religions have said that God must be simple.

Take for example this website article exploring the Islamic concept of “Tawhid” (oneness): 

Therefore, as God, the Exalted, is completely simple, and composition, which implies contingency,poverty, and dependence on another, does not affect Him absolutely, He is perfect in all aspects and possesses all the Names and Attributes, and He is the very ground of reality and the essence of being, without His existence bearing any taint of non-existence, and without His perfections bearing any taint of. imperfection. Hence-He is sheer being, for were non-existence to find way into Him; the evil of composite things, which consists of the composition of existence and non-existence, would find way into Him. Thus He is the sheerness of Knowledge, the sheerness of Life, the sheerness of Power, the sheerness ‘of Sight,’ of Hearing and all other perfections.”6

Listen also to this:

To say that God is simple is to negate any composition from him. This means that His attributes are at the core of His essence (صفاته عين ذاته) and there can be no separation between his attributes! This has been mentioned by Imam Ja’afar al Sadiq (as) in another narration that says, “And Knowledge is His Essence, and so are Power, Hearing, and Sight His Essence.”7

Thus, divine simplicity comes not from the explicit teaching of Scripture but speculation based on human reasoning which any religion can adopt. Islamic theologians who reject the Bible, nonetheless, like Aquinas, integrate Aristotle’s concepts into the mix as being revelatory about God. 

Other Islamic theologians have said the same including  Avicenna (980–1037 AD), and Averroes (1126–98 AD).7

Listen to Paul about the ability of people to peer into God through human wisdom:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21.

It is telling that you will find entries for divine impassibility, immutability divine simplicity, and aseity in philosophical encyclopedias. These entries scarcely refer to any Bible passages at all but are full of speculations based on man’s fallible reason. I do not mean to say that these are without any biblical warrant but there is a danger in allowing our philosophy to inform our theology rather than vice versa.

I may write more entries on this because of the incredible audacity of CCTers to call this orthodoxy whereas it is actually speculation

James E. Dolezal whose book All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism has lobbed grenades at theologians who are not in step with these speculations. These theologians include J.I. Packer, Bruce Ware, D.A. Carson, John Frame among others. 

What is the biblical foundation of Dolezal’s attack? Under the misnamed heading “Biblical Basis for Divine Simplicity” hear the supposed biblical basis for the doctrine:

There is no single biblical proof text for this doctrine. It follows, rather, by way of good and necessary consequence from a number of other doctrines that are clearly taught in Scripture. And though the cognitive realization of divine simplicity requires that we contemplate the implications of other doctrines, it is not for that reason any less biblical.8

In a footnote to that last statement he says the following:

In claiming that divine simplicity is a biblical doctrine, it does not follow that one can only arrive at this doctrine by considering the biblical witness…9

In other words he claims this is knowable outside of Scripture which is his real claim. That we can know God without Scripture. 

As suggested in the remarks of Aquinas and Charnock above, one can also arrive at the conclusion God is simple by contemplating what is required for him to be the first cause of being.10

Please note that this “first cause” presupposition is a claim of Aristotle who did not know God. 

Let me summarize what Dolezal is saying: he doesn’t have a Scripture proof  but it should just be self-evident to us through speculative thinking. And thus we should censure anyone who disagrees with our speculation as heretics. 

Philosophical Speculations are Open to Scriptural and Philosophical Analysis

What we have in CCT are impositions upon the God of Scripture based on philosophy. Since its based on philosophy and not Scripture, it’s open to critique of the philosophical methodology of gaining those conclusions not to mention Scripture itself. God indeed has emotions, which any plain reading of Scripture displays. God indeed enters into time and enters into relationships (covenants). 

If a protestant is true to sola Scriptura, we must reject this imposition of the philosophers upon the God of the Bible which transcends the folly of man’s wisdom.

I’ll let Spurgeon have the final word:

It is a bold thing to speak of God as moved by joy or affected by grief, but still, since He is no God of wood and stone, no insensible block, we may, speaking after the manner of men, declare that God rejoiced over His risen Son with exceeding joy, while the Son rejoiced also because His great work was accomplished. Remembering that passage in the prophet, where God speaks of His saints, and declares that He will rejoice over them with singing, what if I say that much more He did this with His Son, and, resting in His love, He rejoiced over the risen One, even with joy and singing. 13

  1. Renihan, Samuel, God without Passions: A Reader (Palmdale, CA: Printed by Richard Barcellos for Reformed Baptist Academic Prefs, 2015), 19.
  2. Oden, Thomas. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2005), 259
  3. https://www.iep.utm.edu/div-simp/
  4. Ibid.
  5. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12116-philo-judaeus#anchor13
  6. https://themuslimvibe.com/faith-islam/understanding-tawhid-part-8
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://www.iep.utm.edu/div-simp/#H1
  9. Ibid.
  10. Dolezal, James. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 44.
  11. Ibid,  n7p44.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Spurgeon, Charles. Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 15: 1869, from https://books.google.com/books?id=kt46DwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA163&dq=the%20Gospel%20of%20Abraham’s%20Sacrifice%20of%20Isaac%20spurgeon&pg=PA166#v=snippet&q=%22He%20rejoiced%20over%20the%20risen%20One%22&f=false

Calling Made Clear

I was speaking with a someone today, uncertain about their calling. In the beginning process of exploring the road they felt the Lord place on their heart, this person expressed misgivings about whether the Lord had called and whether they were equipped for such a task.

This person, without much prodding or reminding, recited this truth themself so they are on great footing. The discussion was insightful and made me want to explore more on this issue.

“The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29.

The passage cited above is about Israel. Paul recites Israel’s being the subject of promises which God will never forsake. Thus, there is a future salvation for ethnic Jews (that is, those who will one day in this world embrace Christ). How does this relate?

When God places a call, he does something which is unmistakable and distinct. Paul describes himself as “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1) even “from my mother’s womb” (Galatians 1:15). Is the servant of God any different? His call was so remarkable that he could say “necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). This is a call that cannot be missed.

Paul was an apostle which few would debate is a unique role. How can we say today’s persons called to serve Christ are set apart in an incredible way like him? Indeed, even if we extend this sort of set-apart distinction to (biblically speaking: male) pastors, what about the women of the church? Are they likewise set apart in this extraordinary way? Do those who are not called to the offices of the church (elder, deacon – biblically reserved for males) have such a call upon them?

I think that those who set themselves apart to seek the Lord can have a call placed upon them. Even Saul of Tarsus was once a simple disciple and only after a period of proven faithfulness could he say,

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,” (1 Tim 1:12).

Thus there was a period when Paul was just being a faithful believer and from there the Lord laid on him his apostleship.

In terms of particular calls for non-church office holders, consider the account of William Wilberforce. He was an English politician who after his conversion considered resigning his public office to pursue full-time ministry. John Newton discouraged him from doing so saying in a letter,

“It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.”

Letter from December 7, 1785. Cited in John Pollock’s William Wilberforce (David C Cook, 2013).

Wilberforce heeded the counsel and threw himself into the life of politics for the glory of God. Wilberforce made the abolishment of slavery in Britain his life’s ambition. It was far from certain that this would be the case, however. Writing from his deathbed in 1791, John Wesley wrote to Wilberforce saying,

Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Cited from CT.

Clearly the call of God, and special empowering of God was required to do conquer the slaveholding powers, as Wesley saw clearly. Because in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act made slavery a crime throughout British Empire, there are special empowerings for non-church office holders which God himself empowers . Wilberforce died only three days after it was passed, having spent himself on the duty.

You may be set apart for a particular task which only you and God know. Whatever it is, when that call comes it will be unmistakable because if God calls you, it’s “irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). Some of the more interpretive translations helpfully clarify, “God never changes his mind when he gives gifts or when he calls someone” (GWT). You just can’t miss it. God promises here. Set yourself apart to serve the Lord with the whole of your life and his desires, whether in that task or something else he calls to, will grasp you and not let you go until you do all his good purpose. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deeddo it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).

Fire of God Fall

There is a fire of God which is necessary for the functioning of the body of Christ. Tongues of Fire, clothing of power, a poured out Spirit. We need truth, but that’s not enough. God needs men and women of fire. Men honed in by suffering, trained in the Word and having obtained an anointing from the Holy Spirit. We need those who not only know the Word but know the God of the Word.

Where is the hunger for more? A holy discontentment! I was once chastised for hungering for more of God than I had yet experienced by a good-intentioned Christian who cautioned, “it’s dangerous to want ‘more.'”

I say is dangerous to be content with how much we have. Where is the groan of David:

God, you are my God; I eagerly seek you.
I thirst for you;
my body faints for you
in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
My lips will glorify you
because your faithful love is better than life.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
at your name, I will lift up my hands.
You satisfy me as with rich food;
my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.
When I think of you as I lie on my bed,
I meditate on you during the night watches
because you are my helper;
I will rejoice in the shadow of your wings.
I follow close to you;
your right hand holds on to me.

Ps 63:1-8, CSB

Perhaps the key is in verses 9-11 where the source of David’s insatiable thirsts for God is clear:

But those who intend to destroy my life
will go into the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the power of the sword;
they will become a meal for jackals.

David’s life is threatened and thus, he thirsts. Maybe the Lord needs to remove our contentment, put us into danger in order to give this hunger. What’s the payoff? Utter satisfaction for those who thirst:

11 But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by him will boast,
for the mouths of liars will be shut.

Are you thirsting for God like David? Do you realize that the enemies of God can “go into the depths of the earth” and “given over to the power of the sword” – proverbially speaking of the Lord’s sword, the Word?

Let it be Lord.