Why did David transport the ark on a cart? 2 Sam. 6


, ,

In 2 Samuel 6 records David’s work of bringing the Ark of God up to the City of David (Jerusalem).  The Law required that the Ark be carried on posts held by the Priests. But David did not have the Ark on posts, but rather put it on a cart pulled by cows?

Carrying the ark on a cart was contrary to the legal requirement (Num. 7:9), according to which it was always to be borne by the Levites. “The Hebrews here probably imitated a Phœnician or Philistine custom. The Phœnicians, namely, seem to have had sacred carts, on which they carried about their gods (Münter, Relig. der Karthager, p. 120), and the oxen were sacred to Baal (p. 15).” (Stähl., David p. 39). See 1 Sam. 6:7

 John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 1 & 2 Samuel (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 416.

Richard Sibbes Sermons on Canticles, Sermons 2.4


, , , , ,

The previous post on this sermon may be found here:

The next branch is,
III. Christ’s acceptation.

Sibbes here considers the words:

I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have gathered my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.’

Sibbes takes the general sense of the words to mean that Christ comes to his garden to gather the fruit raised upon by his own grace. Christ has engendered the profit of the Church. But he does not merely to receive, but he comes to bestow comfort and grace upon his people. This creates desire for even more Christ in his people

Whence we observe,
That God accepts of the graces of his children, and delights in them.

He then states three reasons why God accepts the graces of his children. First, because of the relationship he bears:

First, Because they are the fruits that come from his children, his spouse, his friend. Love of the person wins acceptance of that which is presented from the person. What comes from love is lovingly taken.

We far too often undervalue the nature of our relationship to God. He calls us by the closest and most enduring of relationships: son, wife, friend. The church is called, family, household, people and body. These are relationships which overcome difficulties.

The second reason God values the graces is due to their source:

Second, They are the graces of his Spirit. If we have anything that is good, all comes from the Spirit, which is first in Christ our husband, and then in us.

As Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 3:18, we are transformed into the glory of Christ by seeing the glory of Christ. And as it says 1 John 3:2, we will become like Christ when we see him as he is:

Christ sees his own face, beauty, glory, in his church; she reflects his beams; he looks in love upon her, and always with his looks conveys grace and comfort; and the, church doth reflect back again his grace. Therefore Christ loves but the reflection of his own graces in his children, and therefore accepts them.

This is precisely the purpose of being made in the image of God: it is to reflect God.

Finally, he accepts our graces due to his own gracious nature:

Third, His kindness is such as he takes all in good part. Christ is love and kindness itself. Why doth he give unto her the name of spouse and sister, but that he would be kind and loving, and that we should conceive so of him? We see, then, the graces of Christ accepting of us and what we do in his strength.

Sibbes then explains what we offer in light of what Christ has done in making an offering to God on our behalf:

Both we ourselves are sacrifices, and what we offer is a sacrifice acceptable to God, through him that offered himself as a sacrifice of sweet smelling savour, from which God smells a savour of rest. God accepts of Christ first, and then of us, and what comes from us in him.

Because of Christ has done, we may come to God:

We may boldly pray, as Ps. 20:3, ‘Lord, remember all our offerings, and accept all our sacrifices.’ The blessed apostle St Paul doth will us ‘to offer up ourselves,’ Rom. 12:1, a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God, when we are once in Christ. In the Old Testament we have divers manifestations of this acceptation. He accepted the sacrifice of Abel, as it is thought, by fire from heaven, and so Elijah’s sacrifice, and Solomon’s, by fire, 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chron, 21:26.

He then concludes:

So in the New Testament he shewed his acceptation of the disciples meeting together, by a mighty wind, and then filling them with the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:3. But now the declaration of the acceptation of our persons, graces, and sacrifice that we offer to him, is most in peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost, and from a holy fire of love kindled by the Spirit, whereby our sacrifices are burned. In the incense of prayer, how many sweet spices are burned together by this fire of faith working by love; as humility and patience in submitting to God’s will, hope of a gracious answer, holiness, love to others, &c.

Richard Sibbes, Sermons on Canticles 2.3 (Encouragements from the Church’s Marriage Christ)


, , , , ,

The previous post in this series may be found here.

God has given us the analogy of marriage not merely as some sort of intellectual exercise, but as a means of coming to understand our relationship with God. Sibbes makes four applications, uses, which are to draw from an understanding the marriage between Christ an the church: 

First, Sibbes offers an encouragement to the discouraged. A true saint will be understood not by an apparent perfection, but by a grief for sin. Anyone can appear moral and well-behaved. I imagine the Devil would have impeccable table manners and would offer up the largest gift to charity if it served his purpose. But there is something no Devil can do: repent. When Christian and Pliable are walking along early in Pilgrim’s Progress, they are identical: they both very much desire heaven. The distinction is that Christian feels his sin.

Moreover, a true believer can sin — even sin grievously. 

The true distinction of a believer is a sorrow for sin; it is a sickness which never seems to stay away for long. Even are best moments are marred by sin. 

And coming near to Christ then seems a terror to a stricken conscience. It is to this one that Sibbes makes the first application: 

Use 1. Let us oft think of this nearness between Christ and us, if we have once given our names to him, and not be discouraged for any sin or unworthiness in us. Who sues a wife for debt, when she is married? Uxori lis non intenditur. Therefore answer all accusations thus:—‘Go to Christ.’ If you have anything to say to me, go to my husband. 

He then explains this proposition from a different position. If Christ has paid all for our sin, what is left to be paid? 

God is just, but he will not have his justice twice satisfied, seeing whatsoever is due thereunto is satisfied by Christ our husband. What a comfort is this to a distressed conscience! If sin cannot dismay us, which is the ill of ills and cause of all evil, what other ill can dismay us? 

Sibbes makes another observation from the phrase “a weaker vessel”. This phrase is one of those propositions that seems especially foreign to our culture. But if we consider that the original is with God and the analogy is with us, we can see the purpose of the proposition:

He that exhorts us to bear with the infirmities one of another, and hath enjoined the husband to bear with the wife, as the weaker vessel, 1 Pet. 3:7, will not he bear with his church as the weaker vessel, performing the duty of an husband in all our infirmities?

The second application brings some hope. God does not merely love his weaker wife: he changes her. God does not love us because we are lovely, but he makes us lovely in loving us:

Use 2. Again, his desire is to make her better, and not to cast her away for that which is amiss. And for outward ills, they are but to refine, and make us more conformable to Christ our husband, to fit us for heaven, the same way that he went. They have a blessing in them all, for he takes away all that is hurtful, he pities and keeps us ‘as the apple of his eye,’ Zech. 2:8. Therefore, let us often think of this, since he hath vouchsafed to take us so near to himself. Let us not lose the comfort that this meditation will yield us. We love for goodness, beauty, riches; but Christ loves us to make us so, and then loves us because we are so, in all estates whatsoever.

The third use is to use this grace and goodness of God to draw us off from sin. We are kept from sin by use of means. As contemplate the goodness of this good husband, this perfect God who hates all sin and seeks to rescue us from sin, it transforms us. 

Sibbes makes an interesting observation about human nature:

We are, as we affect;† our affections are, as their objects be. If they be set upon better things than ourselves, they are bettered by it.

We become the thing we love. As our affections are set on a thing, we are changed in the direction of that thing:

For the prime love, when it is rightly bestowed, it orders and regulates all other loves whatsoever.

Our love regulates all else. And so, and only when, our love is rightly set upon God in Jesus Christ is will our life be rightly ordered. We must labor to keep our affections in right order and set upon Christ alone. Only then will our life be rightly ordered:

In other things we lose our love, and the things loved; but here we lose not our love, but this is a perfecting love, which draws us to love that which is better than ourselves. We are, as we affect;† our affections are, as their objects be. If they be set upon better things than ourselves, they are bettered by it. They are never rightly bestowed, but when they are set upon Christ; and upon other things as they answer and stand with the love of Christ. For the prime love, when it is rightly bestowed, it orders and regulates all other loves whatsoever. No man knows how to use earthly things, but a Christian, that hath first pitched his love on Christ. Then seeing all things in him, and in all them, a beam of that love of his, intending happiness to him, so he knows how to use everything in order. Therefore let us keep our communion with Christ, and esteem nothing more than his love, because he esteems nothing more than ours.

We will know if Christ is truly our espoused if we submit our will and desires onto his (and you see how this matches with the sorrow a true believer feels when confronted with his own sin). 

Finally, this knowledge of Christ as husband of the church should bring joy. 

First, consider what a greatness it is to be brought into union with Christ: all things are ours (1 Cor. 3:21-23):

The excellency of this condition to be one with Christ, is, that all things are ours. For he is the King, and the church the Queen of all. All things are serviceable to us. It is a wondrous nearness, to be nearer to Christ, than the angels, who are not his body, but servants that attend upon the church. The bride is nearer to him than the angels, for, ‘he is the head and husband thereof, and not of the angels,’ Heb. 2:16. What an excellent condition is this for poor flesh and blood, that creeps up and down the earth here despised!

Second consider our need for Christ. Sin has created an infinite debt; what would we do without Christ’s provision:

But especially, if we consider the necessity of it. We are all indebted for more than we are worth. To divine justice we owe a debt of obedience, and in want of that we owe a debt of punishment, and we cannot answer one for a thousand. What will become of us if we have not a husband to discharge all our debts, but to be imprisoned for ever?

And let no one think that they have sinned beyond the mercy and grace of God, the merit of Christ’s death:

A person that is a stranger to Christ, though he were an Ahithophel for his brain, a Judas for his profession, a Saul for his place, yet if his sins be set before him, he will be swallowed up of despair, fearing to be shut up eternally under God’s wrath. Therefore, if nothing else move, yet let necessity compel us to take Christ.

Third, knowing the greatness, the goodness, the necessity of receiving from Christ let us be won over by his offer; let us renew our desire and come to him:

Consider not only how suitable and how necessary he is unto us, but what hope there is to have him, whenas he sueth to us by his messengers, and wooeth us, whenas we should rather seek to him; and with other messengers sendeth a privy messenger, his Holy Spirit, to incline our hearts. Let us therefore, as we love our souls, suffer ourselves to be won. But more of this in another place.

Children’s Ministry circa 1720: We need better teachers, and we need to give “Children’s” ministers more respect



IMG_1879 copy

James Saurin was a pastor in The Hague. He died in 1730. In his sermon “The Perfection of Christian Knowledge” (published in English in 1784), he laments that those who teach the children are too often the least skilled:

The carelessness that prevails in our choice of the first sort of teachers, cannot be sufficiently lamented. The care of instructing our children is commended to people more fit for disciples than masters, and the meanest talents are thought more than sufficient to teach the first principles of religion. The narrowest and dullest genius is not ashamed to profess himself a divine and a catechist.

And yet what capacity does it not require to lay the first foundations of the edifice of salvation! What address to take the different forms necessary to insinuate into the minds of catechumens and to conciliation their attention and love! What dexterity to proportion instruction to the different ages and different characters of learners! How much knowledge, and how many accomplishments are necessary to discern what is fundamental to a child of twelve years of age and what is fundamental to a youth of fifteen years of age! What one child of superior talents cannot be ignorant of without danger, and what another of inferior talents may remain innocently unacquainted with!

Heads of families, this article concerns you in a particular manner. What account can you render to God of the children with whom he hath instructed you, if, while you take such pains and are at so much experience ot them them the liberal arts, are at so much negligence in teaching them the knowledge of salvation? Not only in the a future state ought you to fear the punishment of so criminal a conduct; you will be punished in this present world. Children ignorant of religion will but little understand their duty to their parents. They will become the cross, as they will be the shame and infamy of your life. They will shake off your yoke as soon as they have passed their childhood, they will abandon you to the weakness, infirmities and disquietudes of old age, when you arrive at that distasteful period of life, which be rendered agreeable only with the care, tenderness, and assiduity of a well-bred son.

Let us all unite in endeavors, my dear brethren, to remove this evil. Let us honor an employment, which nothing but the licentiousness of the age could have rendered contemptible. Let us consider that, as one of the most important truths of the state, one of the most respectable posts of society, which is appointed to seminate religious principles in our children, to inspire them with  piety, to guard them against the snare that they meet with in the world, and, these, by means, to render them dutiful in childhood, faithful in conjugal life, tender parents, good citizens and able magistrates.

James Saurin, “The Perfection of Christian Knowledge,” in Attributes of God: Volume I, 2nd ed., trans. Robert Robinson (London: E. Fawcett, Black Friars, 1784), 70-71.

Metaphor in Scripture and Analogical Reasoning (How to Talk About God)


, , , , , , , , , ,

In the previous post on Richard Sibbes Second Sermon on the Canticles, Sibbes makes this point:

Indeed, taking the advantage of such relations as are most comfortable, to set out the excellent and transcendant relation that is between Christ and his church; all other are not what they are termed, so much as glasses to see better things. Riches, beauty, marriage, nobility, &c., are scarce worthy of their names. These are but titles and empty things. Though our base nature make great matters of them, yet the reality and substance of all these are in heavenly things. True riches are the heavenly graces; true nobility is to be born of God, to be the sister and spouse of Christ; true pleasures are those of the Spirit, which endure for ever, and will stand by us when all outward comforts will vanish.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 23.

Below, I am going to outline some of the ideas which are relevant to this question of analogy and analogical thinking and talking about God. This is by no means exhaustive — and I am going to end with a conflict between Gordon Clark and Van Til on analogy.

This concept of an analogy between divine and human things was not new to Sibbes. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae in response to the question of any name can be applied to God in a literal sens, answered:

I answer that, According to the preceding article, our knowledge of God is derived from the perfections which flow from Him to creatures, which perfections are in God in a more eminent way than in creatures. Now our intellect apprehends them as they are in creatures, and as it apprehends them it signifies them by names. Therefore as to the names applied to God—viz. the perfections which they signify, such as goodness, life and the like, and their mode of signification. As regards what is signified by these names, they belong properly to God, and more properly than they belong to creatures, and are applied primarily to Him. But as regards their mode of signification, they do not properly and strictly apply to God; for their mode of signification applies to creatures.

Thomas goes on to write, that we can only speak of God by means of analogy:

I answer that, This name “God” in the three aforesaid significations is taken neither univocally nor equivocally, but analogically. This is apparent from this reason: Univocal terms mean absolutely the same thing, but equivocal terms absolutely different; whereas in analogical terms a word taken in one signification must be placed in the definition of the same word taken in other senses; as, for instance, “being” which is applied to “substance” is placed in the definition of being as applied to “accident”; and “healthy” applied to animal is placed in the definition of healthy as applied to urine and medicine. For urine is the sign of health in the animal, and medicine is the cause of health.

The same applies to the question at issue. For this name “God,” as signifying the true God, includes the idea of God when it is used to denote God in opinion, or participation. For when we name anyone god by participation, we understand by the name of god some likeness of the true God. Likewise, when we call an idol god, by this name god we understand and signify something which men think is God; thus it is manifest that the name has different meanings, but that one of them is comprised in the other significations. Hence it is manifestly said analogically.

Article 7. Whether names which imply relation to creatures are predicated of God temporally?

The doctrine of analogy brings together rather disparate elements of the Christian tradition (it’s not always that one cites Thomas Aquinas and Van Til).  The doctrine of analogy rests upon the Creator-creature distinction, and here Van Til makes as good a point as anyone:

God is “infinite,” “eternal,” and “unchangeable” in his being. Because God’s being is such, and because man’s being is finite, temporal, and changeable, in short, because there is the ontological distinction, man can have no univocal knowledge of such a being as God. Nor can man, because of the ontological distinction, know what God knows in the same way as God knows it, whether that knowledge pertains to God Himself or to some created thing.

Jim Halsey, “A Preliminary Critique of Van Til: The Theologian A Review Article,” Westminster Theological Journal 39, no. 1 (1976): 122. But we will get back in a moment to that last bit, “know what God knows in the same way as God knows it.” Henry makes a very similar point:

The Bible affirms not simply that God differs from all finite created beings. It declares also that God is the supremely knowable reality, and is so in view of his intelligible self-revelation and disclosure of reliable information about his nature, purposes and acts. It denies, however, that God is in all respects wholly other than man who bears his image.

The analogy of attribution affirms a likeness between God and the creaturely in specific perfections or attributes in distinction from mere analogical relationships.

Carl F. H. Henry, “Methods of Determing Divine Attributes” in God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 5 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 86–87. Analogical thinking, due to the Creature-Creator distinction necessitates some sort of analogical use of language to talk about God:

Thus, when we predicate to God things from creation, we cannot predicate any of their limitations to him. We can only ascribe the actuality the creature received from the Creator. In this sense, creatures are both like and unlike God. That opens the door to understanding by analogy.

The only alternatives to analogy are skepticism or dogmatism: Either we know nothing about God, or we assume that we know things in the same infinite way in which he knows them.

Norman L. Geisler, “Analogy, Principle Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 22. And so Geilser agrees with Aquinas.

The necessity of analogical thinking was illustrated by Athanasius in dispute with some Arians (those who denied the divinity of the Son), when they argued that God “begetting” the Son means that the Son is a creature. He responded by making an analogical argument:

Words so senseless and dull deserved no answer at all; however, lest their heresy appear to have any foundation, it may be right, though we go out of the way for it, to refute them even here, especially on account of the silly women who are so readily deceived by them. When they thus speak, they should have inquired of an architect, whether he can build without materials; and if he cannot, whether it follows that God could not make the universe without materials4. Or they should have asked every man, whether he can be without place; and if he cannot, whether it follows that God is in place, that so they may be brought to shame even by their audience. Or why is it that, on hearing that God has a Son, they deny Him by the parallel of themselves; whereas, if they hear that He creates and makes, no longer do they object their human ideas? they ought in creation also to entertain the same, and to supply God with materials, and so deny Him to be Creator, till they end in grovelling with Manichees. But if the bare idea of God transcends such thoughts, and, on very first hearing, a man believes and knows that He is in being, not as we are, and yet in being as God, and creates not as man creates, but yet creates as God, it is plain that He begets also not as men beget, but begets as God. For God does not make man His pattern; but rather we men, for that God is properly, and alone truly5, Father of His Son, are also called fathers of our own children; for of Him ‘is every fatherhood in heaven and earth named6.’ And their positions, while unscrutinized, have a shew of sense; but if any one scrutinize them by reason, they will be found to incur much derision and mockery.

Athanasius of Alexandria, “Four Discourses against the Arians,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. John Henry Newman and Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 320. We may wish to add here Calvin’s statement in the Institutes that God must accommodate himself to our limited understanding and does this by means of an analogy:

What, therefore, does the word “repentance” mean? Surely its meaning is like that of all other modes of speaking that describe God for us in human terms. For because our weakness does not attain to his exalted state, the description of him that is given to us must be accommodated to our capacity so that we may understand it. Now the mode of accommodation is for him to represent himself to us not as he is in himself, but as he seems to us. Although he is beyond all disturbance of mind, yet he testifies that he is angry toward sinners. Therefore whenever we hear that God is angered, we ought not to imagine any emotion in him, but rather to consider that this expression has been taken from our own human experience; because God, whenever he is exercising judgment, exhibits the appearance of one kindled and angered. So we ought not to understand anything else under the word “repentance” than change of action, because men are wont by changing their action to testify that they are displeased with themselves. Therefore, since every change among men is a correction of what displeases them, but that correction arises out of repentance, then by the word “repentance” is meant the fact that God changes with respect to his actions.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 227.

And now as promised, back to Van Til:

Van Til tells us that the Christian is always to think “analogically”: “Our reasoning then must always and everywhere be truly analogical.… The necessity of reasoning analogically is always implied in the theistic conception of God.”8 But what does it mean to “reason analogically” in contrast to “reasoning univocally”? If we but keep the three elements of analogy in mind, we cannot go far astray in our answer to this question. To reason analogically will mean, for the regenerate consciousness, reasoning as a dependent creature. “Dependent upon what?”, we might well ask. The answer can only be, “dependent upon the self-revelation of the Creator as that self-revelation has been inscripturated in the Bible. Thinking analogically entails:


   (a)      thinking under the authority of the Scriptures and therefore of necessity:

   (b)      being in covenant with God (by regeneration), and hence:

   (c)      recognizing the finite, creaturely status of our thoughts as these thoughts are derivative of their Original (God).

   (d)      Consequently, our reasoning (use of the law of non-contradiction) will accord with (a) above. We will see the significance of this point in a little while.

Jim Halsey, “A Preliminary Critique of Van Til: The Theologian A Review Article,” Westminster Theological Journal 39, no. 1 (1976): 125–126. But there is one further matter of Van Til to consider: how great is the disjunction between human and divine thought. An important aspect of Van Til’s thought is that he posits a “hard distinction” in the analogy between Creator and creature:

Again, because of the emphasis Van Til places upon the ontological distinction between God’s being and knowledge and man’s being and knowledge, there can never be any one to one correspondence between the divine and the human mind. For example, God’s concept of a rose and our concept of that same rose will not correspond on a one to one basis at any juncture.5 This lack of identity does not lie in the fact that God knows more about the rose than does man; rather, the difference lies in the ontological level of God’s knowledge. This is but another way of saying that God’s knowledge of the rose proceeds upon a qualitatively different plane than does man’s. If analogy were simply a matter of knowing “more than,” the distinction to be drawn between divine knowledge and human knowledge would be a quantitative and not a qualitative one. If the difference were only quantitative, emphasis would fall upon the commonality, upon the ultimate univocism, of the divine being and the human being.

It is abundantly clear, from even a cursory reading of Van Til, that it is not the quantitative difference that finds emphasis in the doctrine of analogy: “For man any new revelational proposition will enrich in meaning any previous given revelational proposition. But even this enrichment does not imply that there is any coincidence, that is, identity of content between what God has in his mind and what man has in his mind.… There could and would be an identity of content only if the mind of man were identical with the mind of God.”6

Jim Halsey, “A Preliminary Critique of Van Til: The Theologian A Review Article,” Westminster Theological Journal 39, no. 1 (1976): 123–124. This led to a serious conflict with Gordon Clark (you can read about the history of their conflict in lots of places; just search their names and your find endless posts on the issue). I just want to highlight some of the intellectual nature of the conflict:

But Van Til is equally insistent that this divine self-revelation, by the Spirit’s enabling illumination, can produce in men a “true” knowledge of God, although their knowledge will be only “analogical” to God’s knowledge of himself— it will never correspond to God’s knowledge at any single point! How Van Til can regard this “never corresponds” knowledge as “true” knowledge is, to say the least, a serious problem. Perhaps he means that the Creator is willing to regard as “true” the knowledge that men derive from his self-revelation to them even though it is not univocal knowledge at any single point, because due to human finiteness he had to adapt his revelation to creaturely finite comprehension. God’s verbal reve-lation to human beings, in other words, since it is “creature-oriented” (that is, “analogical”), is not a univocal statement of his understanding of himself or of anything else and thus can never produce anything higher than a creaturely (“analogical”) comprehension of God or of anything else. If this is what Van Til means, it is difficult to see how, with his explicit rejection of the univocal element (see his “corresponds at no single point”) in man’s so-called “analogical” knowledge of God, Van Til can rescue such knowledge from being in actuality a total equivocality and no true knowledge at all. It is also difficult to see how he can rescue God from the irrationality in accepting as true what in fact (if Van Til is correct) he knows all the while coincides at no single point with his own knowledge, which is both true and the standard of truth.

Against all this, Clark contended that Van Til’s position leads to total human ignorance:

 If God knows all truths and knows the correct meaning of every proposition, and if no proposition means to man what it means to God, so that God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge do not coincide at any single point, it follows by rigorous necessity that man can have no truth at all.11

He further argues:

 If God and man know, there must with the differences be at least one point of similarity; for if there were no point of similarity it would be inappropriate to use the one term knowledge in both cases.… If God has the truth and if man has only an analogy [this “analogy” containing no univocal element], it follows that he (man) does not have the truth.12

Clark illustrates his point this way:

 If … we think that David was King of Israel, and God’s thoughts are not ours, then it follows that God does not think David was King of Israel. David in God’s mind was perchance prime minister of Babylon.

       To avoid this irrationality, … we must insist that truth is the same for God and man. Naturally, we may not know the truth about some matters. But if we know anything at all, what we know must be identical with what God knows. God knows the truth, and unless we know something God knows, our ideas are untrue. It is absolutely essential therefore to insist that there is an area of coincidence between God’s mind and our mind. One example, as good as any, is the one already used, viz., David was King of Israel.13

Clark concludes:

        If God is omnipotent, he can tell men the plain, unvarnished, literal truth. He can tell them David was King of Israel, he can tell them he is omnipotent, he can tell them he created the world, and … he can tell them all this in positive, literal, non-analogical, non-symbolic terms.14

Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998), 99–100.

Richard Sibbes, Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 2.2 (How to use scriptural analogies)


, , , , , ,

The prior post in this series may be found here.

At this point, Sibbes moves onto the image of the Church as the bride, the spouse. He begins this with a consideration of the Church’s nobility. As the Bride of Christ, the Church is a queen to Christ’s King; the Church is nobility.

At this point, Sibbes makes an important observation when it comes to analogy of heavenly and earthly things. The Scripture everywhere provides us with analogies between our world and heavenly realities. Without analogies, there would be no means for us to understand anything concerning God.

Take the proposition: God is love. If there were no love in human existence, if we lived as animals, reproduction without commitment and affection; then the statement that God loves would utterly incomprehensible. God created a mechanism of human love so that we would have an analogy to understand God’s love.

The problem with analogy, is that we can run the analogy in the wrong direction. A great many errors take place, because we begin with the metaphor — the creation — and then try to force the original to conform and be limited by the metaphor. Thus, Sibbes writes:

Riches, beauty, marriage, nobility, &c., are scarce worthy of their names. These are but titles and empty things. Though our base nature make great matters of them, yet the reality and substance of all these are in heavenly things.

There is some similarity to the Platonic concepts of forms, where an original in the higher realm becomes the basis for what we experience in this realm. While not any sort of Platonic expert, I see a fundamental difference between the Christian understanding of analogy and Plato’s forms. There are aspects of this world which have been created for the purpose of functioning as analogies; however, not everything in this world must be considered an analogy. Moreover, the things in the creation do not pre-exist in some fashion prior to our creation: the relational categories, how God relates to his creation did not exist in practice prior to the creation. Love does pre-exist creation, but love of spouse does not.

Back to the concept of analogy. When considering an analogy between creation and God we must be careful in how we handle the analogy:

True riches are the heavenly graces; true nobility is to be born of God, to be the sister and spouse of Christ; true pleasures are those of the Spirit, which endure for ever, and will stand by us when all outward comforts will vanish.

That mystical union and sweet communion is set down with such variety of expressions, to shew that whatsoever is scattered in the creature severally is in him entirely. He is both a friend and a brother, a head and a husband, to us; therefore he takes the names of all. Whence we may observe further,

How then do we go about understanding the nature of the analogy of marriage. To properly read the analogy, Sibbes takes his cue not directly from his observation of human marriage in 17th century England, but from how the Scripture develops the analogy. He is the matter of the first marriage: a sort of birth of Eve (a sister and a spouse in a fashion:

That the church is the spouse of Christ. It springs out of him; even as Eve taken out of Adam’s rib, so the spouse of Christ was taken out of his side. When it was pierced, the church rose out of his blood and death; for he redeemed it, by satisfying divine justice; we being in such a condition that Christ must redeem us before he would wed us. First, he must be incarnate in our nature before he could be a fit husband; and then, because we were in bondage and captivity, we must be redeemed before he could marry us: ‘he purchased his church with his own blood,’ Acts 20:28. Christ hath right to us, he bought us dearly.

Next, he considers the matter of consent in marriage: this is what I will do. This is important aspect of Augustinian theology where faith is preceded by the work of the Spirit. Faith is true faith, but it is wrought faith. Our consent to the marriage is true consent, but it is Spirit-wrought consent:

Again, another foundation of this marriage between Christ and us, is consent. He works us by his Spirit to yield to him. There must be consent on our part, which is not in us by nature, but wrought by his Spirit, &c. We yield to take him upon his own terms; that is, that we shall leave our father’s house, all our former carnal acquaintance, when he hath wrought our consent. Then the marriage between him and us is struck up.

Sibbes then notes some additional elements of comparison: the wife takes the husband name — the Church is called by the name of Christ. The Church comes with her debt, which is paid by the husband. Moreover, the husband conveys to the spouse all of his wealth and honor. Third, there are friends of the bride who extol the beauty and desirability of the husband (Christ).

Sibbes makes an interesting observation from a provision in the Law: Deuteronomy 21:12 (AV), “Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails”. A woman who was brought in as a wife from a foreign nature conquered by Israel would be married, but before she comes in there is a cutting off of her former life:

Before she should be taken into the church, there must be an alteration; so before the church, which is not heathenish, but indeed hellish by nature, and led by the spirit of the world, be fit to be the spouse of Christ, there must be an alteration and a change of nature, Is. 11:6–8; John 3:3. Christ must alter, renew, purge, and fit us for himself. The apostle saith, Eph. 5:24, it was the end of his death, not only to take us to heaven, but to sanctify us on earth, and prepare us that we might be fit spouses for himself.

What Luther learned about understanding the Bible

I am currently reading Herman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. I have found book repeatedly informative. I don’t know if it would be a good first biography for one to read in Luther, because it does concern itself primarily with Luther’s spiritual development.

When Luther became a doctor of theology his primary job was to teach the Bible. His teaching combined elements of the cloister and the university:

What made Luther’s teaching style unique was his combination of scholarship and devotion: he explained the Bible texts carefully using the most recent scholarly insights and then applied these to faith life. 5 During the Middle Ages, people had felt that academic theology was sterile and of little practical use. Monastic theology countered this sterility with an emphasis on the practice of a godly lifestyle. Luther’s exegesis merged these two traditions of university and monastery; this was novel but eagerly accepted by the students. It was also attributed to Luther’s success as professor that from 1515 to 1520 the number of students in Wittenberg doubled.

Luther has special Bibles printed which left spaces between the lines and had wide margins so his students could take notes (the original journaling Bible).

Luther also learned to teach the students to understand the Bible from their own reading:

Luther learned things that he in turn could also pass on to others: one becomes a theologian through oratio, meditatio, and tentatio—prayer, meditation, and trial.

For Luther, reflection was not a vague or woolly feeling about a text. Rather, it meant weighing the Word while listening in prayer, thinking deeply about the meaning of a Hebrew concept or a Greek term. According to Luther, it concerned the “rechewing” of the text8 until it opened up, as it were, and revealed the content. 9 As a result of engaging with the Word of God in this way, Luther became increasingly convinced that people have no inherent means by which they can access God. Man does not only sin; he is a sinner. Before God he stands only as a sinner, and if he denies that, then he makes God into a liar. 10 Every attempt to make oneself right before God—whether in consciousness of guilt, knowledge of sin, distress of the conscience, or remorse—is senseless. God’s grace only gets its due and honor when a person acknowledges that he or she is a sinner.lp

Thomas Aquinas

God adopts men as children, in as much as through his infinite bounty, he admits them to the participation of his inheritance, to which naturally they would have no right. But in what does the inheritance of God consist?

We creatures need some addition to have a treasure. But God does need anything outside of himself, therefore the inheritance cannot be some mere creature – for everything beyond God is a creation of God, something less than God:

By an inheritance of some one is meant those goods which form his riches. Now that which forms the riches of God, is the fruition of God himself; for God needs not other goods outside of himself, but is rich in himself and of himself, and is completely happy by the enjoyment of himself.

What then would be the inheritance of God:

Therefore the inheritance of God is the fruition of God, that is to say, the happiness proper of God.

How then may may creatures partake of the happiness of God, when we are so unfit to receive it

And when he adopts men as children, he admits them to share in this happiness, which is natural to himself, but supernatural to them. And since man of himself is unable to attain such beatitude which transcends the power of his nature, God himself renders him capable through the gift of grace. Hence we see how much superior the divine adoption is to the human one. Man does not make the adopted fit but supposes him such, and therefore adopts him; whilst God, on the contrary, supposes man to be not fit, and, by adopting him, renders him fit for the attainment of the heavenly inheritance.

From Chapter III, Jesus Christ the Word Incarnate.

How the Doctrine of Simplicity Guards the Trinity


, , , , ,

Simplicity is the understanding that God is not composed of parts. There are no attributes or generic nature lying around which when combined in the right way produce God, like a recipe produces a cake.

First, God’s existence (act of being) and essence (quiddity) cannot be constituent components in Him, each supplying what the other lacks. Rather, God must be identical with His existence and essence, and they must be identical with each other. It is His essence to be. Strictly speaking, His act of existence is not what He has, but what He is.

Dolezal, James E.. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism . Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

A second aspect of simplicity guards against dividing God’s attributes into separate things — parts of God:

Now Christian theology has always been more or less conscious of this calling. On the whole, its teaching has been that God is “simple,” that is, sublimely free from all composition, and that therefore one cannot make any real [i.e., ontological] distinction between his being and his attributes. Each attribute is identical with God’s being: he is what he possesses. In speaking of creatures we make all sorts of distinctions between what they are and what they have. A person, for example, is still human even though he or she has lost the image of God and has become a sinner. But in God all his attributes are identical with his being. God is light through and through; he is all mind, all wisdom, all logos, all spirit, and so forth.67 In God “to be is the same as to be wise, which is the same as to be good, which is the same as to be powerful. One and the same thing is stated whether it be said that God is eternal or immortal or good or just.” Whatever God is, he is that completely and simultaneously. “God has no properties but is pure essence. God’s properties are really the same as his essence: they neither differ from his essence nor do they differ materially from each other.”

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 118.  These are admittedly difficult things to keep in mind — because this is not how our world exists.

Creatures are created things — they exist because they were composed, built by God.  But such segregation and separation of parts became more extraordinary with the entrance of death:

What then is spiritual death? Of course it entails severing the bond that God created in us at creation, but which bond? The answer is: the spiritual bond that connects our soul with God. Not only our body is tied to our soul with a bond, but [at creation] our soul was also tied with a bond to God. That bond is automatically unraveled through sin, and thus immediately at this point death enters simultaneously with sin. Instead of drinking in life with God, the soul is thrown back upon itself, even as a pipe unscrewed from the water supply empties out and dries up. It is thus entirely understandable that there is a dying, a death, in two respects. One involves the tearing asunder of the bond between body and soul in us, the other is a dying in which the bond between the soul and God is torn apart.

Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World: The Historical Section, ed. Jordan J. Ballor, Melvin Flikkema, and Stephen J. Grabill, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman and Ed M. van der Maas, vol. 1, Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Acton Institute, 2015), 247.

Hence being a creature and living in a world which decays into parts makes the concept of a simple God very difficult.

This difficulty seems acute when we come to something such as the Trinity. How is that a simple God could be one God and three Persons? The obvious answer is to try to divide God into three Persons and then try to compose something which have sufficient interaction to make some sort of a “one”.

Yet, a division into parts, indeed into three gods, is unacceptable if we are to take the Scripture seriously. The New Testament, which more fully discloses the Trinity, does not lessen the absolute unity of the One God (indeed, this is one of the things which makes the early Church’s veneration of Jesus as God so striking — how indeed could these early Christians have believed in One God, One Father and One Son — not to mention One Spirit — all at once). Christianity cannot maintain its integrity and permit any division of God into any parts:

To affirm God’s spirituality is also to affirm his simplicity. Christian faith is adamant that God is one and indivisible, that he does not encompass within himself disparate parts or quantities.

Donald G. Bloesch, God, the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 90.

If we divide God into Gods, if we try to somehow lessen the simplicity of God to better make sense of the Trinity — to our thinking — we end up creating something which is an addition to God. The very act of trying to find divisions of being in the Godhead, to make the Trinity more easily comprehensible, will create something extra to God which is necessary for the God to be God (and what could such a thing be?):

By reason of its incomplexity and simplicity, divine essence is indivisible. Not being made up, as matter is, of diverse parts or properties, it cannot be divided or analyzed into them: “The nature of the Trinity is denominated simple, because it has not anything which it can lose and because it is not one thing and its contents another, as a cup and the liquor, or a body and its color, or the air and the light and heat of it” (Augustine, City of God 11.10).

William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 223. The divided parts would be something not-God.

Here is where are thinking must be precise — and precisely where it is most difficult. If we were to think of individual persons who were human beings, we would think of human nature and then human beings. They would be divided by place and appearance and whatnot:

In a multitude of beings of the same kind or class there is something more in the being of the individual than just the nature or essence by which it is defined. That is, something more than the nature or essence as such gives it distinction from all others in the class. This distinctive quality may be one’s particular matter or perhaps some other accidental features of its being.

Dolezal. Location in time and space are something which exist independently of human nature and permit us to distinguish one person from another. One man lived in New York in 1900 another man lived in Los Angeles in 2000. That time and space is an accident which is coupled to human nature and distinguish the two men (there would be numerous accidents which could be used to distinguish both men). Those distinguishing marks are things which can be separated from human nature while the human nature remains.

Yet, as we have seen, if we were to distinguish the members of the Trinity in the same way, we would draw on something outside of God to add to the Son or the Father, some “particularizing feature” which would not be God to distinguish God from God:

But in God, there can be nothing that He is that lies outside His nature—no determination of His being in addition to His essence. If there were, God would require something beyond His divinity, His Godness, for the fullness of His being. For God to be divine and for God to be this God we call Yahweh are one and the same reality. Thus, divinity cannot be a genus or species in which divine persons exist as so many particular instantiations.

Those who maintain the classical doctrine of simplicity deny that there is any distinction in God between suppositum and nature. God has no real particularizing features over and above His divine nature. This feature of simplicity rules out any possibility that true divinity could appear in a plurality of beings really distinct from each other, for instance, as true humanity (nature/essence) is able to appear in a plurality of really distinct humans (supposita). It is thus divine simplicity that undergirds monotheism and ensures that it does not just so happen that God is one, but it must be that God cannot but be one being because of what it means to be God.

Dolezal, James E.. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism . Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

How then to we maintain the simplicity of God and the Trinity? The Trinity is how this one God is:

What, then, are we saying about God when we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? First, it should be observed that we are not speaking of things that are distinct from the Godhead itself. Whenever we speak of the three, we are in fact speaking of the one, but under different aspects or modes of being. We alternatively speak of the one God Father-wise, Son-wise, and Spirit-wise—in sum, relation-wise. These relations are not something really distinct from the divine substance. As John Owen puts it, “A divine person is nothing but the divine essence…subsisting in an especial manner.”37 The challenge is that in our creaturely experience our talk about substances and our talk about relations must necessarily be distinguished. When we speak of what belongs to humans as human, we speak of them according to substance. When we speak of them as a parent, child, friend, employee, and so forth, we speak according to relation. Because these two realities—substance and relation—are not strictly identical in the human subject, we speak of them as really distinct features of the human’s being. Indeed, we have no other speech pattern available to us. But in God, relations are not features of His being that exist over and above His substance. They add nothing to the substance. They are not principles of actuality adjoined to the divine essence that determine it to exist in some sense, as if the essence were something abstract that is then made concrete in the persons. In God, there is no mixture of abstract and concrete. We are forced to speak of God’s essence under the rubric of substance terminology and relation terminology, which Augustine calls “substance-wise” and “relationship-wise.”38 Our inability to say or even think both at once is why we must proceed in this double way of speaking of the one God.39 Yet this double way of speaking of God, alternatively according to substance and relation, is not to be understood to mirror a double way of being within Himself. He is not composed of substance and relations as creatures are.

Dolezal, James E.. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism . Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

Dolezal quotes Owen in brief, here is the entire paragraph. And in what might be the only instance in Western Civilization, a quotation from John Owen may be clarifying:

The distinction which the Scripture reveals between Father, Son, and Spirit, is that whereby they are three hypostases or persons, distinctly subsisting in the same divine essence or being. Now, a divine person is nothing but the divine essence, upon the account of an especial property, subsisting in an especial manner. As in the person of the Father there is the divine essence and being, with its property of begetting the Son, subsisting in an especial manner as the Father, and because this person has the whole divine nature, all the essential properties of that nature are in that person. The wisdom, the understanding of God, the will of God, the immensity of God, is in that person, not as that person, but as the person is God. The like is to be said of the persons of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Hereby each person having the understanding, the will, and power of God, becomes a distinct principle of operation; and yet all their acting ad extra being the acting of God, they are undivided, and are all the works of one, of the selfsame God. And these things do not only necessarily follow, but are directly included, in the revelation made concerning God and his subsistence in the Scriptures.

A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity.

In short, simplicity is necessary to protect the doctrine of the Trinity, because it prevents a collapse of God’s oneness into some lesser threeness. To solve the “problem” of three-ness, we need not carve up God but rather understand that the Divine Essence is relational in this manner. While our language and comprehension force us to consider the matter of substance and relation separately; we must not draw the invalid conclusion that substance and relation are separate in God. Our linguistic and intellectual limitations are not limitations in God.