A View of Some Divine Truths, Edward Polhill, God's Self-Disclosure, image of God, The Fall, Theology Proper
This is an abridgment with notes on Edward Polhill’s first chapter of A View of Some Divine Truths. The previous notes on this chapter may be found here
God’s self-existence and self-sufficiency in all things means that God has no need of his creation. That such a great being would invade his own privacy, as one theologian one-time expressed it is a matter of “supereffluent goodness:
That such an infinite All-sufficient One should manifest himself, must needs be an act of admirable supereffluent goodness, such as indeed could not be done without stooping down below his own infinity, that he might gratify our weakness.
We have no words which could reach or describe God, who is so far above our ability and our reason. And yet God has disclosed himself to us in the Scripture and in the Incarnation:
His name is above every name; nevertheless, he humbles himself to appear to our minds in a scripture image; nay, to our very senses in the body of nature, that we might clasp the arms of faith and love about the holy beams, and in their light and warmth ascend up to their great Original, the Father of lights and mercies.
God hath manifested himself many ways.
He set up the material world, that he, though an invisible spirit, might render himself visible therein: all the hosts of creatures wear his colours.
The evidence of God’s self-disclosure in nature is a matter admitted in various ways by pagans and philosophers. And what is it that they have observed:
Almighty power hath printed itself upon the world, nay, upon every little particle of it: all the creatures came out of nothing, and between that and being is a very vast gulf.
First, creation shows infinite power:
It was an infinite power, which filled it up and fetched over the creatures into being; it was an Almighty word, which made the creatures at an infinite distance hear and rise up out of nothing. The old axiom, ex nihilo nihil fit, is nature’s limit and a true measure of finite powers; but when, as in the creation, nature overflows the banks, when nullity itself springs up and runs over into a world, we are sure that the moving power was an infinite one.
Second, creation displays God’s infinite wisdom:
And as infinite power appears in the being of the creatures, so doth infinite wisdom in their orders and harmonies. The curious ideas and congruities, which before were latent in the Divine breast, are limned out upon outward and sensible things, standing in delicate order and proportion before our eyes. The world is a system of contraries made up into one body, in which disagreeing natures conspire together for the common good: each creature keeps its station, and all the parts of nature hang one upon another in a sweet confederacy.
Here Polhill makes note of natural agency:
Mere natural agents operate towards their ends, as if they were masters of reason, and hit their proper mark, as if they had a providence within them. Such things as these teach us to conclude with Zeno, that λόγος, reason, is the great artist which made all; and to break out with the Psalmist, O Lord, how manifold are thy works? in wisdom hast thou made them all.
Creation also shows God’s goodness, which is a thing even pagans could observe:
And as the two former attributes show forth themselves in the creatures, so also doth infinite goodness: all the drops and measures of goodness in the creature lead us to that infinite goodness which is the fountain and spring of all. Pherecydes the philosopher, said, that Jupiter first transformed himself into love, and then made the world; he, who is essential love, so framed it, that goodness appears every where: it shines in the sun, breathes in the air, flows in the sea, and springs in the earth; it is reason in men, sense in brutes, life in plants, and more than mere being in the least particles of matter.
There is a belief held by the Manichees – and if you would like a modern version think about the “force” in Star Wars in there are two equally powerful principles – that the world is ruled by two equally power gods. Polhill will have none of this and points goodness of God displayed in creation:
The Manichees, who would have had their name from pouring out of manna, did brook their true name from mania, that is, madness, in denying so excellent a world to be from the good God. The light in their eyes, breath in their nostrils, bread in their mouths, and all the good creatures round about them, were pregnant refutations of their senseless heresy: the prints of goodness everywhere extant in nature, shew the good hand which framed all.
And the capstone of creation: the creation of man in the image of God:
In the making of man in his original integrity, there was yet a greater manifestation. In other creatures there were the footsteps of God, but in man there was his image; a natural image in the very make of his soul, in the essential faculties of reason and will, upon which were derived more noble and divine prints of a Deity than upon all the world besides.
The moral uprightness of original man could see this display of God’s glory in all things:
And in that natural image there was seated a moral one, standing in that perfect knowledge and righteousness, in which more of the beauty and glory of God did shine forth, than in the very essence of the soul itself. His mind was a pure lamp of knowledge, without any mists or dark shades about it, his will a mirror of sanctity and rectitude without any spot in it; and, as an accession to the two former images, there was an image of God’s sovereignty in him, he was made Lord over the brutal world; without, the beasts were in perfect subjection to him: and within, the affections. Now to such an excellent creature, in his primitive glory, with a reason in its just ἀκμὴor full stature, the world was a very rare spectacle; the stamps and signatures upon the creatures looked very fresh to his pure paradisical eyes: from within and from without he was filled with illustrious rays of a Deity: he saw God everywhere: within, in the frame and divine furniture of his soul, and without, in the creatures and the impresses of goodness on them: he heard God everywhere; in his own breast in the voice of a clear unveiled reason, and abroad in the high language and dialect of nature. All was in splendour; the world shone as an outward temple, and his heart was in lustre like an oracle or inward sanctuary; everything in both spake to God’s honour. Such an excellent appearance as this was worthy of a Sabbath to celebrate the praises of the Creator in.
Why then do we not see God’s glory so plainly? What has made it difficult to see this expression of God:
But, alas! sin soon entered, and cast a vail upon this manifestation; on the world there fell a curse, which pressed it into groans and travailing pains of vanity; the earth had its thistles, the heavens their spots and malignant influences, all was out of tune, and jarring into confusion.
At this point, Polhill takes up a very contested issue: in what way precisely did the Fall effect man:
In man all the images of God more or less suffered; the orient reason was miserably clouded, the holy rectitude utterly lost: without, the beasts turned rebels; and within, the affections.
Polhill lists irrationality, behavior and affection: the mind, the heart and the hands were all disordered. At point, God then turned to a new means of disclosing himself to man. If man could not accurately read God’s goodness in creation, God would give a new disclosure, first in the law; then in Christ. In this section of the essay, Polhill is generally tracking the argument of the first five chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans: God was manifest in creation but human beings became disordered in their reason, affections and behavior. Paul then turns to the law as evidence of God’s working and of Christ who redeemed.
First, God makes a promise of the redemption
Nevertheless God, who is unwearied in goodness, would further manifest himself. Promises of the Messiah, and of grace in him, brake forth unto lapsed man; and as appendants thereof, there came forth sacrifices and other types to be figures of heavenly things, and a kind of Astrolabe to the pious Jews, that by earthly things they might ascend unto celestial.
This would be the first evangel in Genesis 3:15:
Genesis 3:15 (NASB95)
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
The sacrifices and other types were being developed in even before Moses and the law; such as Abraham offering Isaac. Next comes the law of Moses
Also the moral law was given forth by God: the spiritual tables being broken, material ones were made; holiness and righteousness being by the fall driven out of their proper place, the heart of man, were set forth in letters and words in the decalogue.
Notice how he explains the works of the law; it works in a way to undo the effects of the Fall in disordering reason, affections and actions. First, it restore reason:
This was so glorious a manifestation, that the Rabbins say that mountains of sense hang upon every iota of it. The Psalmist, in the 19th Psalm, having set forth how the sun and heavens shew forth God’s glory, raises up his discourse to the perfect law, which, as it enlightens the inward man
It directs actions:
, is a brighter luminary than the sun which shines to sense; and, as it comprises all duties within itself, is a nobler circle in morality than the heavens, which environ all other bodies, are in nature.
Then it restores right affection, being designed to bring about love of God and man:
“The commandment,” saith the Psalmist, “is exceeding broad,” (Ps. 119:96🙂 it is an ocean of sanctity and equity, such as human reason, the soul and measure of civil laws, cannot search to the bottom. Love to God and our neighbour is the centre of it; and as many right lines as may be drawn thither, so many are the duties of it. Whatsoever it be that makes up the just posture of man towards his Maker or fellow-creatures, is required therein.
It surpasses all human laws:
Human laws are δίκαια κινούμενα, moveable orders, such as turn about with time; but the moral law is by its intrinsical rectitude so immortalized, that, as long as God is God, and man, it cannot be altered.
Then the final revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth:
After all these manifestations, God revealed himself to the world in and by Jesus Christ; this is the last and greatest appearance of all.
Jesus was able to display God in a way that no mere creature could:
In the inferior creatures there is a footstep of God, but not his image; in man there is his image, but a finite, a created one: but Jesus Christ is the infinite uncreated image of God. The nearer any creature doth in its perfections approach to God, the more it reveals him; life shews forth more of him than mere being, sense than life, reason than all the rest: but, oh! what a spectacle hath faith, when a human nature shall be taken into the person of God, when the fulness of the Godhead shall dwell in a creature hypostatically!
This display of God in the Incarnation was to display the Creator and show his power, wisdom and goodness; just as the original creation had displayed God before Man’s sin marred his ability to see. Moreover, this display of God encompasses the written revelation of God by being a living word:
Here the eternal word which framed the world was made flesh; the infinite wisdom which lighted up reason in man assumed a humanity; never was God so in man, never was man so united to God, as in this wonderful dispensation; more glory breaks forth from hence, than from all the creation. We have here the centre of the promises, the substance of the types and shadows, the complement of the moral law, and holiness and righteousness, not in letters and syllables, but living, breathing, walking, practically exemplified in the human nature of Jesus Christ.