Shakespeare Sonnet 1


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[1] From fairest creatures we desire increase,

[2] That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,

[3] But, as the riper should by time decease,

[4] His tender heir might bear his memory.

[5] But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,

[6] Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,

[7] Making a famine where abundance lies,

[8] Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.

[9] Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament

[10] And only herald to the gaudy spring

[11] Within thine own bud buriest thy content

[12] And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.

[13] Pity the world, or else this glutton be—

[14] To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

The sonnet fits perfectly into three quatrains and a couplet. The argument fits into the form with the first line of each quatrain a topic sentence and the couplet a conclusion.

The poem is a request that the recipient of the poem (a person of endless speculation) would have children. By having children you achieve a kind of immorality and bless the world. But selfishness is a gluttony where you spend yourself upon yourself in death.

The first stanza sets out the primary argument of the poem: have children! Shakespeare gives two reasons: It is a good to the world for the best to have children; and, it is a good to you to have one who carries on your memory:

[1] From fairest creatures we desire increase,

[2] That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,

[3] But, as the riper should by time decease,

[4] His tender heir might bear his memory.

The argument skillfully weaves the two argument into one.

The Perpetuation of Beauty

The first argument appears in lines 1-2.

[1] From fairest creatures we desire increase,

[2] That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,

There are two elements to this argument: (a) origin, and (b) desire.

Origin of Beauty

This argument would be easily missed, because it is a concept so foreign to our “modern is best” understanding. We are anxious over the newest; we think the present is best and the future is better. We have a Hegelian progress of history (I don’t mean in some technical Hegelian manner, but as a general understanding) in which the present is better than the past.

This understandings of the progress of history is precisely the opposite of pre-Hegelian forebears. The earth at the first was pristine: It was best at first. This concept appears worldview which would have been available to Shakespeare. First, the Bible begins with the Garden of Eden. The original world was pristine. But world was altered, through the Fall of Adam into sin; and then, through the devastation of the Flood.

Second, classical mythology understands the history of the world to have progressed through a series of ages beginning with the Golden Age:

First of all [110] the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods [115] without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, [120] rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods. 

 Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Works and Days. (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1914). “Then” a second, silver age of men were found upon the earth:

then they who dwell on Olympus made a second generation which was of silver and less noble by far. It was like the golden race neither in body nor in spirit. 

 Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Works and Days. (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1914).

Thus, when we think of a great good like beauty, we think of it as an artifact of the pristine world. Beauty was something in the world from an earlier age and now descended to us. The ancient was not a place of foolish superstition and bad science, it was an age of greater truth and beauty. We are not the accumulation of wisdom but the running down of the world.

With that idea in mind, consider the second line of the sonnet

That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,

The rose of beauty can be lost — indeed, it will be lost if we are not careful to preserve it.

This idea, when it exists in our present age, exists in our understanding of non-human nature. This curious, but not necessarily without foundation. Remember that the Greek concept of a Golden Age comes from a Pagan conception of the universe without a Creator-Creature divide. Moreover, the relationship of human beings to the created order is fundamentally different. The concept of the “image of God” does not appear in the same way in pagan anthropology.

On that issue, the best starting place would be Peter Jone’s, The Other Worldview.

The concept of a pristine earlier age does exist in environmentalism. There is an ecological understanding of the human beings as the agent of defection, the means of devastation. The absence of human activity is good; the presence of human activity is what makes the world worse.

The Desire for Beauty

Beauty — with truth — is also an object of desire and the charm and foundation of life. Keats in his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn famously wrote:

When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Christianity would posit this triad, the true, the beautiful and the good.

We desire the best creatures to reproduce (increase) so that beauty will continue in the world.  We – the rest of the world – desire all of the best creatures to fill the world. There is a faint echo of a biblical theme. Prosperity is always marked as “increase”:

Psalm 115:14 (KJV): The Lord shall increase you more and more,

You and your children.

“Fairest” is the praise of Canticles 1.8, 5.9, 6.1. But this is mixed with a Roman theme of an heir to bear one’s memory.

The Beautiful Should Desire the Continuation of Beauty: Memory as Immortality

The movement of lines 2-4 take this public theme of all the world desires the perpetuating of this beauty to this continuing the beauty is a private benefit of one’s memory.

The trick in the argument is the world “But” at the beginning of line 3. The But shifts the argument to a second theme. We don’t know the rhetorical trick because the But is followed by a parenthetical which distracts us.

A second But turns the private argument on its head. But you are so concerned with yourself that you do not even consider your memory.

This stanza says you have no sense of time. A theme Shakespeare will repeatedly consider is the ever present fact of death.

Stanza Two: The effect upon you for your folly

You are consuming your beauty and youth while not even considering the effect this will have upon yourself and upon others:

5] But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,

[6] Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,

[7] Making a famine where abundance lies,

[8] Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.

You are making a famine of yourself.

Ironically, the poet cares for the subject than the subject does to his or her self.

The final stanza moves from argument to rebuke:

9] Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament

[10] And only herald to the gaudy spring

[11] Within thine own bud buriest thy content

[12] And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.

You are the spring of the world, but you do not care. You the Spring of the world. Your stinginess, your “niggarding” is a waste.

The beauty of your life and body can only be preserved by having a child.

One theory of Shakespeare is that Shakespeare was the front for Edward DeVere. If so, this poem makes sense as a complaint to Elizabeth Queen.


I am unaware of anyone advancing that theory and it may be just nonsense — but then most of the speculation on the “reality” behind the sonnets is nonsense. All or anyone of the sonnets could be fabrications of his imagination. Shakespeare was at the very least inventive.

The couplet draws these themes together into a rebuke

13] Pity the world, or else this glutton be—

[14] To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

It also multiples implications by the sheer compression of the languag.

You are a glutton who eats what is due another by dying- because you will die. You could do us good, but you will not.

The grave is a glutton and eats people. You are a glutton to yourself by giving yourself to the grave.

Selfishness is death in life and a severer death of being forgotten after death.

Truncheons are for louts


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Yesterday, I posted on a section from a section from Abbot’s Shakespearean grammar which discussed the difference in usage of the English language between Elizabeth and Victoria. I noted briefly that contemporary usage could not bear either the subtly of Elizabeth or the precision of Victoria. When writing that, I was thinking of Edward Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian.

Edward Mitchell decades ago made a fascinating point of the decay of the language which results in a decay of ability to think, because without words, you cannot have ideas:

Unfortunately, the plain English movement is probably not the result of a widespread conspiracy. That’s just wishful thinking. It’s simply one more head of the many-headed monster of muddled language and thought. If there were a conspiracy, it might conceivably be thwarted, but if we cut off the plain English head, another will grow in its place, and perhaps a more horrid one.

At one time I thought that I was the victim of a conspiracy myself. I was certain that the Admissions Office had salted my classes with carefully selected students, students who had no native tongue. Many of my students seem unable to express themselves in any language whatsoever. They aren’t utterly mute, of course. They can say something about the weather and give instructions about how to get to the post office. They are able to recite numerous slogans, especially from television commercials and the lyrics of popular songs and recent–very recent–political campaigns. They are able to read traffic signs and many billboards and even some newspapers, and they can claim certain emotions with regard to various teams and even individual athletes, whose names they often know. They can spin more or less predictable reveries about the past or the future either in very simple concrete terms or in sentimental banalities, or both. But they cannot pursue a process; they cannot say why evidence leads to a conclusion; they cannot find examples for analogies. They’ve never heard of analogies. They speak and write English as though they were recent immigrants from Bulgaria, whose Bulgarian itself had been totally obliterated on Ellis Island.

Of course, it was all an illusion, a phantom of wishful thinking. There was no conspiracy at all. They were just ordinary American students pretty much like any others. They were the typical product of our schools.

Everyone who has succeeded in learning a foreign language has come to “think” in that language, as we say, although we probably mean something even more complicated than that. Now it seems that there are millions of Americans who can’t think even in English. How is it with them? Do they plan, or do they merely fantasize? Do they solve problems, or do they simply rummage around for a suitable slogan? Are they the people Socrates had in mind in thinking about that unexamined life that wasn’t worth living? Can they examine life?

People in that condition don’t think of themselves as being in that condition because they don’t think of themselves–they don’t think at all. To think, we must devise connected chains of predications, which, in turn, require fluency in language. Those who are fluent in no language just don’t have the means for thinking about things. They may remember and recite whatever predications experience provides them, but they cannot manipulate them and derive new ones. Mostly, therefore, they will think and do those things that the world suggests that they think and do. For some of us, it must be very important that people in this condition remain in this condition, for we have obviously devised ways to see to that.

Truncheons are for louts. The great masters of social manipulation use language. They know, furthermore, that the establishment of a flexible and subtle language for the ruling classes is only half of what’s needed. The other half is the perpetuation of an ineffective and minimal language among the subjects. Ordinarily, the second half is assured by man’s natural propensity to bother himself as little as possible, but history occasionally requires that the rulers take some special pains to preserve the ignorance of their subjects. Our own recent history provides a splendid example of how this is done.

If you don’t know Mitchell, you should.

I care about this for two related, though independent reasons. First, as a citizen of a republic, I know that the ability of the republic to persist relies upon the ability of all its citizens to think and and act in a complex political area; an area which necessitates subtle aspects of law and ethics. I can’t imagine we will survive on that account.  On this count, I would point also to Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.

Second, as a Christian, I profess a religion which holds, “In the beginning was the Word”. I base upon theology upon a book which is both simple and profound. The book requires great attention to words: genre, history, context. Christianity is a religion of profession: and while the original witnesses were not sophists in the Greek tradition of rhetoric, they spoke with great precision.


Historical precision in the English Language

Edward Abott in his Shakespearean grammar makes an interesting observation about the use of words. In Elizabethan English entails a compression of language. A single word could be pressed for a number of concepts. The Victorian period made plain the precise purpose of the language.

He does not go as far as the present; but I am not certain that our contemporary idiom can bear the weight of modals (could should would). In a language bare of nuance and abused by social media demands, and a humanities education more concerned with “justice” and less with humanities, this discussion of words would be incomprehensible:

One great cause of the difference between Elizabethan and Victorian English is, that the latter has introduced or developed what may be called the division of labour. A few examples will illustrate this.

The Elizabethan subjunctive (see VERBS, SUBJUNCTIVE) could be used

1 optatively, or

2 to express a condition or

3 a consequence of a condition,

4 or to signify purpose after that.

Now, all these different meanings are expressed by different auxiliaries–would that! should he come, he would find, that he may see,–and the subjunctive inflection is restricted to a few phrases with if. To walk is now either (1) a noun, or (2) denotes a purpose, in order to walk. In Elizabethan English, to walk might also denote by walking, as regards walking, for walking; a licence now discarded, except in one or two common phrases, such as I am happy to say, &c. Similarly, Shakespeare could write of vantage for from vantage-ground, of charity for for charity’s sake, of mine honour for on my honour, of purpose for on purpose, of the city’s cost for at the city’s cost, of his body for as regards his life, made peace of enmity for peace instead of enmity, we shall find a shrewd contriver of him for in him, did I never speak of all that time for during all that time. Similarly by has been despoiled of many of its powers, which have been divided among near, in accordance with, by reason of, owing to. But has been forced to cede some of its provinces to unless and except. Lastly, that, in Early English the only relative, had been already, before the Elizabethan times, supplanted in many idioms by who and which; but it still retained its meanings of because, inasmuch as, and when; sometimes under the forms for that, in that; sometimes without the prepositions. These it has now lost, except in a few colloquial phrases.

As a rule, then, the tendency of the English language has been to divide the labour of expression as far as possible by diminishing the task assigned to overburdened words and imposing it upon others.

Kuyer Common Grace 1.2



The previous post in this series is here.

In the second chapter of Common Grace, Kuyper makes an interesting move: he anchors common grace in the Noahic Covenant. He does not deny the existence of common grace prior to Noah (he explicitly states that it “began in paradise”); however, he posits the current structure and distribution of that grace in the covenant God made with Noah. Prior to Noah, “all of human life appears to have degenerated”. The picture of the world in Genesis 6 is quite terrifying:

Genesis 6:1–8(ESV)

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lordsaid, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

The Lordsaw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lordsaid, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.


Genesis 6:11(ESV)

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.

Of this circumstance, Kuyper writes:

You can see clearly that if the One who created us had not intervened and had not called into being a new order of things, that is, a new living situation, the church would have ceased to exist, and our entire race would have perished in its own pitiful ungodliness.

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), 14.

The flood then sweeps away the old world:

2 Peter 3:5–6 (ESV)

5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

With the destruction of the Old World, God then set in order temporal world into its current configuration and upholds it in its current state in accordance with the Noahic Covenant.

Soul Afflicting Days

This introduction of Thomas Watson to a sermon entitled God’s Anatomy Upon Man’s Heart was given it seems during or just after the English Civil War. He asks the question, why has there been such strife, such violence?

This lead to ask the same question of my own nation. Yes we are not at self-war; but we are not well. Everyone feels justified in inflicting worse upon his countryman; all think themselves most hurt most righteous in responding. Sinning more powerfully (because what political speech would meet the exactly demands of the Bible for speech?) seems wisest.

And so Watson says

We are met this day to humble our souls, and to bring our censer, as once Aaron did, and step in, that the wrath of the great God may be appeased. And was there ever more need to lie in sackcloth, than when the kingdom almost lies in ashes? or to shed tears, than when this nation hath shed so much blood? These days are called in scripture, Soul-afflicting days, Lev. 23:9. ‘For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.’ And certainly that may be one reason why there is so much state-affliction, because there is so little soul-affliction. Our condition is low, but our hearts are high. God sees with what hearts we now come, what is our spring, what our centre; his eye is upon us. So saith my text, ‘All things are naked and open.’

Book Review: The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture: What the Early Church Can Teach Us. Author: Michael Graves


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Graves explains the purpose of the book:

The present book aims to describe what Christians in the first five centuries of the church believed about the inspiration of Scripture. I will do this by identifying various ideas that early Christians considered to be logical implications of biblical inspiration. In other words: What is true of Scripture as a result of its being inspired? What should divine inspiration cause us to expect from Scripture?

The most common text used to understand the doctrine of inspiration of scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV)

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

This was also the text used by the early Church to speak of inspiration, but the early interpreters put the accent in a different place than our contemporaries:

It is interesting to note, however, that early Christian interpreters did not invest as much energy as modern Christians have in working out a precise definition of the term “God-breathed” (theopneustos). Rather, for the Church Fathers the most important term in this passage is ōphelimos, which means “profitable” or “useful.”

Using this as an organizing principle, Graves then goes through 20 means by which early Christians read the Scripture in such a way as to be profitable. There are four chapters which lay out the means by which Scripture was read so as to be profitable. The second chapter begins the detailed analysis and speaks of five ways in which the Scripture could be “useful”. For it was useful for “instruction”. Scripture is useful because it provides examples to follow.

The third chapter concert the spiritual and supernatural dimensions of Scripture. This chapter includes four aspects of the supernatural dimension, which includes the famous four-fold meaning or use of Scripture:

John Cassian used Proverbs 22:20 to identify three senses beyond the literal sense, bringing the total number of senses to four: the “literal” sense (history — things past and visible), “tropology” (moral explanation), “allegory” (prefiguring another mystery), and “anagogy” (pointing to heavenly realities). Cassian’s system was passed on to the Middle Ages and ultimately became the well-known medieval “four senses of Scripture,” which are summarized nicely in the following epigram quoted by Nicholas de Lyra (d. 1349): “The letter teaches events, allegory what you should believe, morality teaches what you should do, anagogy what mark you should be aiming for.” The Church Fathers’ belief that Scripture has more than one sense converged with numerous other beliefs that they held, such as that Scripture is useful for instruction, and that all Scripture teaches a unified message. The concept of a higher sense provided some helpful theological tools for the early church but also generated problems.

The fourth chapter concerns “modes of expression” in the Scripture; the fifth, historicity and facility of scripture; and the sixth, agreement with the truth.

Each of the 20 topics discussed begins with a clear statement of the principle. Graves then puts the interpretative principle in the context of both the Greco-Roman and Jewish history of interpretation. Having clearly stated the principle and putting it into historical context, Graves then gives multiple examples of the use of the principle by Christian interpreters, often putting the interpreters into tension with other writers (and sometimes showing development by an individual Christian interpreter).

He then ends each section with a his evaluation of the usefulness of this interpretative principle for the contemporary church. These sections are irenic, humble and quite useful.

The book does precisely what it claims to do. It provides numerous primary source references (which makes it possible to “check his work”). The writing is clear. Even though he is dealing with a technical subject (how to read a text), he never devolves into needless jargon. You don’t need a seminary education to follow his argument; however, the work is not frivolous or breezy.

All in all I found the work very useful and would recommend it to anyone wishing to learn more on this subject. For what he aims to do, I could not image that one could better execute the project.

W.H. Auden, A Shilling Life Will Give You All Facts


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A shilling life will give you all the facts:

How Father beat him, how he ran away,

What were the struggles of his youth, what acts

Made him the greatest figure of his day;

Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,

Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea;

Some of the last researchers even write

Love made him weep his pints like you and me.


With all his honours on, he sighed for one

Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;

Did little jobs about the house with skill

And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still

Or potter round the garden; answered some

Of his long marvellous letters but kept none



First, this is a Shakespearean Sonnet: three quatrains with end rhymes on alternating lines; pentameter lines; ended with a couplet.  He breaks the form somewhat in that line 13 carries on a thought from the previous quatrain; whereas, Shakespeare typically set the lines of the couplet off more distinctly.

1 A shilling life will give you all the facts:

2 How Father beat him, how he ran away,

3 What were the struggles of his youth, what acts

4 Made him the greatest figure of his day;

The first stanza introduces us to an unnamed “hero”. First, he is sufficiently well-known to be the subject of a biography. Line 4 tells us he was a great man “the greatest figure of his day”.

Line two is interesting in its cadence, because it breaks down into two five syllable section each which begin with “how”.  In context, these are given almost as clichés.

It is not until the second stanza that we learned what made him great:


5 Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,

6 Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea;

7 Some of the last researchers even write

8 Love made him weep his pints like you and me.


The fifth line gives us a series of action verbs: fight, fish, hunt, work. He did not merely work,  he “worked all night” (at what or when we are not told; but we are to be impressed).  He was an explorer of land and sea (even naming a sea).

This was a tremendous man of action.

Lines 7 and 8 foreshadow the last section of the poem and act as a transition. First, “last researchers” will be paralleled by “astonished critics”.  And we also must wonder at the object of this love which made him weep.

That it was “last researchers” is even more interesting, because these were people who peered beneath the surface of this great man. Why was he such a great man?


9    With all his honours on, he sighed for one

10  Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;

11  Did little jobs about the house with skill

12  And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still


13  Or potter round the garden; answered some

14  Of his long marvellous letters but kept none

With all his honours: This man was lauded by everyone, but he sought the honor of someone else, who we will learn, did not even keep his letters.

Why wasn’t the love of the whole world enough for him? Where was this one at home? Was it his mother or his father? (He did run away from home). Was it a woman whose love he could not gain?

The critics are astonished: why?  Did think that such great acts necessarily were motivated by some cause which would inspire everyone?

With this Auden is getting at something profound about human beings. Even the most famous person, the most powerful, the wealthiest, the most well-loved, the most talented, or whatnot, is still in the end a human being whose world really involves very few. He ran away from home because of his father. There was someone at home whose love he struggled to gain and who would not even keep the “marvelous letters” from the “greatest figure of his day”.

And so in the end it is love and acceptance – not of everyone, because those others don’t really know us (only the “latest researchers” even uncovered the facts; and when they did, they became “astonished critics”).

That you love, that you know me, that you remember matters than all else.

In a culture so wildly driven with celebrity and so willing to make idols and to slander and destroy such celebrities, it might be useful to contemplate this poem. There is a sympathy here which is lacking in so much public discourse.

Kuyper, Common Grace 1.1


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Prior to the English translation of Kuyper’s work on Common Grace, I saw several quotes from Kuyper — obviously without full context. These quotations were pressed into service for various agendas. Therefore, it was wonderful that Kuyper’s works have now been translated into English and are available through Lexham Press (logos).  I will try to summarize the basic thrust of the chapters

Kuyper Common Grace, Vol. 1, chapter 1

Following the creation of humanity there came the Fall. Having become estranged from God, humanity could not receive other than condemnation and punishment from God without God coming graciously to his creation. To this end God set forth a new covenant of grace toward humanity which manifested to individuals as salvation and to humanity as a whole in temporarily mitigating certain immediate effects of the Fall (which also refers to as “forbearance”) .

Thus, there are three basic aspects of God’s grace to humanity: particular grace to individuals into salvation, covenant grace to the people of God as a people, and common grace to humanity on the basis of their being human beings. He also seems a Trinitarian pattern here of the work of the Spirit (he merely asserts but does not argue the Trinitarian point at length).

The common grace was first raised at length by John Calvin in The Institutes and was based upon the observation that those who were outside of God’s saving grace still exhibited reason and beauty. How do we explain such a thing? Do we deny the various commendable things seen among those who reject God? Or, do we lessen the Fall, and turn the Fall into a stumble and limp? Calvin solved the problem by explaining that God gives a sort of grace to even unbelievers to permit the continuance of the world of men after the Fall.

Kuyper notes that the issue has been discussed by various Reformed theologians, but no one has considered the matter at length. Therefore, his work proposes to look at the matter at length.

Jerry Bridges on Training in Godliness

We Christians may be very disciplined and industrious in our business, our studies, our home, or even our ministry, but we tend to be lazy when it comes to exercise in our own spiritual lives. We would much rather pray, “Lord, make me godly,” and expect Him to “pour” some godliness into our souls in some mysterious way. God does in fact work in a mysterious way to make us godly, but He does not do this apart from the fulfillment of our own personal responsibility. The second principle in Paul’s exhortation is that the object of this training was growth in Timothy’s personal spiritual life. Elsewhere Paul encourages Timothy to progress in his ministry, but the objective here is Timothy’s own devotion to God and the conduct arising from that devotion. Even though he was an experienced, well-qualified Christian minister, Timothy still needed to grow in the essential areas of godliness—the fear of God, the comprehension of the love of God, and the desire for the presence and fellowship of God.

 Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1983), 33.

Edward Polhill, A View of Some Divine Truths, 1.2 (God’s self-disclosure)


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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.