Spurgeon: the suffering of Christ and the honor of God

20 12 2011

“And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but He received it not. ” – Mark 15:23

A golden truth is couched in the fact that the Saviour put the myrrhed wine-cup from His lips. On the heights of heaven the Son of God stood of old, and as He looked down upon our globe He measured the long descent to the utmost depths of human misery; He cast up the total of all the agonies which expiation would require, and abated not a jot. He solemnly determined that to offer a sufficient atoning sacrifice He must go the whole way, from the highest to the lowest, from the throne of highest glory to the cross of deepest woe. This myrrhed cup, with its soporific influence, would have stayed Him within a little of the utmost limit of misery, therefore He refused it. He would not stop short of all He had undertaken to suffer for His people. Ah, how many of us have pined after reliefs to our grief which would have been injurious to us! Reader, did you never pray for a discharge from hard service or suffering with a petulant and wilful eagerness? Providence has taken from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke. Say, Christian, if it had been said, “If you so desire it, that loved one of yours shall live, but God will be dishonoured,” could you have put away the temptation, and said, “Thy will be done”? Oh, it is sweet to be able to say, “My Lord, if for other reasons I need not suffer, yet if I can honour Thee more by suffering, and if the loss of my earthly all will bring Thee glory, then so let it be. I refuse the comfort, if it comes in the way of Thine honour.” O that we thus walked more in the footsteps of our Lord, cheerfully enduring trial for His sake, promptly and willingly putting away the thought of self and comfort when it would interfere with our finishing the work which He has given us to do. Great grace is needed, but great grace is provided.

Spurgeon’s Devotional Aug 18th p.m.





Does God Change His Mind?

20 12 2011

There are more than a few texts in the Bible that destabilize our theological frameworks.  One such text comes from Jonah 3.10 which reads “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”  The problem of God “relenting,” or “repenting” or changing his mind is that it seems as if God’s will is dependent upon human interaction.  If this is true, there as some human actions which could in a way, force God’s hand.  Because this is an idea that most Christians and philosophers have always resisted, the reader needs a way to interact with verses such as Jonah 3.10.  Most of the interactions with verses such as this, particularly from the Reformed world have been a disappointment.  However, the excerpt from Jacques Ellul’s splendid commentary from Jonah posted below is a wonderful engaging of God’s repentance.  It might seem like a slow start and you may have to read it several times to fully appreciate, but I can promise you it is well worth your time.  There is precious gold to be found in the passage below.

When Nineveh repents, God repents too:  ”God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it” (3:10).  This is a surprising term to be used of God, and yet it is a common one in Scripture.  God decides something, and then events change.  Thus God changes his mind.  He repents.  It is useless to avoid the difficulty this causes by saying it is only a manner of speaking.  Philosophers say that God cannot change.  True enough!  But the God revealed in Scripture is not the God of the philosophers.  Nor can one attribute this to primitive characteristics in the people of Israel.  Historians call this a gross anthropomorphism and one must not take it too seriously.  To be sure it is an anthropomorphism.  But God is not the God of historians.  To be noted first in relation to this repenting is that God repents of the evil he was going to do but never repents of the good.  This general rule is formulated by St. Paul (Romans 2) and it is confirmed by a survey of texts.  Only once to my knowledge do we read that God repented of the good that he had done, and this is explained more by literary than theological considerations.  In effect this repenting takes place only when there is risk of some evil, some human suffering.

Again it is no doubt important to emphasize that the same Hebrew words are not used for repentance of Nineveh and God’s repenting.  In a general way Scripture has different terms for man’s repentance and the Lord’s repenting.  As concerns man,shubh implies a change, a modification in attitude and direction (a conversion) in his very being, as we have seen.  As concerns God, the word macham is the usual term, and this does not imply a change of direction but inner suffering which must be consoled.  It is suffering not because of self but because of the relation between self and others.  This can happen in the relation between God and man, whether because man does not respond to God’s appeal or because of God’s justice necessarily demands man’s condemnation.  The just and perfectly holy God condemns, and can do no other, but where man repents, when man changes, God suffers for having condemned him.  One cannot say absolutely that he suppresses condemnation.  For in effect God does not change.  What is done is done.  What God has decided he has decided, the more so as it is decided for all eternity.  When it is said that God repents, it means that he suffers, not that he changes what his justice has deemed necessary.

Now God’s justice has deemed condemnation necessary because of past sin.  Repentance alone does not efface the past.  Once committed, a guilty act remains so even after repentance.  Condemnation cannot be automatically lifted.  There is no immanent mechanism.  Repentance, as an act of man, does not suppress the sins man has committed.  The two are not in balance.  What is between them is the fact that God repents, that he suffers and finds consolation.

But we must be more precise as to the meaning of this suffering.  It is not just sentiment.  It is not regret for having condemned.  It is not a kindly thought which causes God to lift the condemnation, which would imply a change of attitude.  Most of the passages speak of God repenting say that he repents of evil he had resolved to do.  He suffers the evil, and not just because of the evil, but the evil itself.  We might say with truth that God suffers the evil he has resolved to do.  He takes upon himself the evil which was the wages of man’s sin.  He suffers the very suffering which in his justice he should have laid on man.  God causes the judgment to fall on himself; this is the meaning of his repenting.  We shall see that it is in Jesus Christ that this is done plainly and for us.  Jesus Christ is precisely the one upon whom falls all the judgment and all the suffering decided for each of us, the judgment and the suffering of the world.  In reality  God’s repenting in the face of man’s repentance is Jesus Christ.  Each time there is any question of this repenting in Scripture we thus have a new prophecy of Jesus Christ who puts into effect both the justice of God and also the love of God without doing despite to either the one or the other.

It is only from this perspective of human judgment that there seems to be a change in God’s attitude.  When the Lord proclaims condemnation and then does not fulfill it, we tend to say, if we are believers, that he has changed his will, and if we are not believers, that there is no God.  But that is a purely temporal way of looking at it because we are not able to see Jesus in agony to the end of the world.  God’s purpose has not changed.  From the very beginning his aim was to save the world from his own wrath.

Ellul, Jacques, The Judgment of Jonah (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1971) pgs 98-100





Martin Luther: God’s grace in forsaking us

20 12 2011

Luther is commenting here on the fear of Abram in Gen 15.1.  Notice Luther’s description of God withdrawing himself and what it is meant to accomplish.  First, when God withdraws himself it is because of His grace, not in spite of.  After all, grace is “truly immovalbe and unchangeable.”  But rather, God will from time to time withdraw himself to humble his people and protect them from grievous sins and at the proper time restore their spirits with a word of comfort.  The pastoral applications of this are immense. Here are some questions to help you tease this out for yourself.  What role does spiritual depression play in formation?  When I feel God’s absence, could there be a good and loving reason behind his absence?  How does being humbled by God help us to rely on his promises and love Him more? 

It is no small comfort, however, to know that grace has not been taken away but is truly immovable and unchangeable, although the awareness and experience of grace is taken away for a time, and dread and fear rush in, discouraging and troubling the spirit.  The man becomes impatient, concludes that he cannot bear the wrath of God, and simply makes a devil out of God.

Christ experienced this trial in the garden (Matt 26.41), where nature was wrestling with the spirit, and the spirit indeed was willing but the flesh was weak, terrified, fearful, and troubled.  No one is truly sorrowful unless God forsakes him, just as, conversely, no one can be sorrowful when God is present.  Therefore sorrow is an indication that God has departed from us and has forsaken us for a time…

When on the other hand, as is written in the Book of Wisdom (3.7), God shines into our hearts with rays of mercy, then it is impossible for our hearts not to be glad, even though we, like Stephen, are being dragged to torture and death.

Therefore it is profitable to consider these examples, namely, that the saints who are bold in the Holy Spirit are bolder than Satan himself.  On the other hand, when they are in the clutches of trial, they tremble so much that they are afraid even of a rustling leaf.  We are reminded of our weakness in order that no matter how great the gifts are that we possess, we may not exalt ourselves but may remain humble and fear God.  From those who do not do this He turns His face away, and trouble and perplexity follow.

I want to preface these remarks to this chapter, in which we learn about what Ps. 4.3 says: “know that God has dealt marvelously with the godly,” that is, that He keeps those who are His occupied in various ways, lest they become heretics, be presumptuous with regard to their gifts, and be puffed up over against those who do not have these gifts.  For those who do this are very close to destruction.

Therefore those who are chosen as teachers of the churches to rule over others should offer special prayers that they be preserved from this affliction as from the greatest and most dangerous evil.

Other sins- such as wrathfulness, impatience, and drunkenness- naturally bring shame because of their foulness.  Those who indulge in them know that they have sinned.  Consequently, they blush.  But vainglory and trust in one’s own wisdom or righteousness is a sin of such a kind that it is not recognized as sin.  Instead, men thank God for it, as the Pharisee does in the Gospel (Luke 18.9-14); they rejoice in it as in an extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore it is an utterly incurable devilish evil.

From this God preserves saintly Abraham by subjecting the glorious conqueror to such an affliction that it is necessary to comfort him with a divine word…

Luther, Comentary on Genesis vol. II (LW vol. 3 pg 8-9)





Calvin: God, Worship, and Idolatry

19 12 2011

Below is an excerpt from John Calvin’s Institutes on the Christian Religion ch 12. I have linked through to the whole of his Institutes on CCEL (fantastic resource!). Calvin’s Institutes (two volume set) is one of the most cherished works in my library. It was given to me by a dear friend and old prayer partner Adam Chapman. I have read them and re-read them a number of times and am always impressed and the knew wealth of knowledge and insight that Calvin is still able to provide. For example, you may notice in Section 1.1 that knowledge of God is incomplete unless it is enjoined with worship of God. What a timely and stern warning to students of theology who love accumulating knowledge but do not accumulate a love for God! These and other jems you will find below. Some come out easy, some only with hard work. Either way I hope you enjoy it.

GOD DISTINGUISHED FROM IDOLS, THAT HE MAY BE THE EXCLUSIVE OBJECT OF WORSHIP.

Sections.

1. Scripture, in teaching that there is but one God, does not make a dispute about words, but attributes all honour and religious worship to him alone. This proved, 1st, By the etymology of the term. 2d, By the testimony of God himself, when he declares that he is a jealous God, and will not allow himself to be confounded with any fictitious Deity.

2. The Papists in opposing this pure doctrine, gain nothing by their distinction of δυλια and λατρια.

3. Passages of Scripture subversive of the Papistical distinction, and proving that religious worship is due to God alone. Perversions of Divine worship.

1. We said at the commencement of our work (chap. 2), that the knowledge of God consists not in frigid speculation, but carries worship along with it; and we touched by the way (chap. 5 s. 6, 9, 10) on what will be more copiously treated in other places (Book 2, chap. 8)—viz. how God is duly worshipped. Now I only briefly repeat, that whenever Scripture asserts the unity of God, it does not contend for a mere name, but also enjoins that nothing which belongs to Divinity be applied to any other; thus making it obvious in what respect pure religion differs from superstition. The Greek word εὐσέβεια means “right worship;” for the Greeks, though groping in darkness, were always aware that a certain rule was to be observed, in order that God might not be worshipped absurdly. Cicero truly and shrewdly derives the name religion from relego, and yet the reason which he assigns is forced and farfetched—viz. that honest worshipers read and read again, and ponder what is true.9191 Cic. De Nat. Deor. lib. 2 c. 28. See also Lactant. Inst. Div. lib. 4 c. 28. I rather think the name is used in opposition to vagrant license—the greater part of mankind rashly taking up whatever first comes in their way, whereas piety, that it may stand with a firm step, confines itself within due bounds. In the same way superstition seems to take its name from its not being contented with the measure which reason prescribes, but accumulating a superfluous mass of vanities. But to say nothing more of words, it has been universally admitted in all ages, that religion is vitiated and perverted whenever false opinions are introduced into it, and hence it is inferred, that whatever is allowed to be done from inconsiderate zeal, cannot be defended by any pretext with which 105the superstitious may choose to cloak it. But although this confession is in every man’s mouth, a shameful stupidity is forthwith manifested, inasmuch as men neither cleave to the one God, nor use any selection in their worship, as we have already observed.

But God, in vindicating his own right, first proclaims that he is a jealous God, and will be a stern avenger if he is confounded with any false god; and thereafter defines what due worship is, in order that the human race may be kept in obedience. Both of these he embraces in his Law when he first binds the faithful in allegiance to him as their only Lawgiver, and then prescribes a rule for worshipping him in accordance with his will. The Law, with its manifold uses and objects, I will consider in its own place; at present I only advert to this one, that it is designed as a bridle to curb men, and prevent them from turning aside to spurious worship. But it is necessary to attend to the observation with which I set out—viz. that unless everything peculiar to divinity is confined to God alone, he is robbed of his honour, and his worship is violated.

It may be proper here more particularly to attend to the subtleties which superstition employs. In revolting to strange gods, it avoids the appearance of abandoning the Supreme God, or reducing him to the same rank with others. It gives him the highest place, but at the same time surrounds him with a tribe of minor deities, among whom it portions out his peculiar offices. In this way, though in a dissembling and crafty manner, the glory of the Godhead is dissected, and not allowed to remain entire. In the same way the people of old, both Jews and Gentiles, placed an immense crowd in subordination to the father and ruler of the gods, and gave them, according to their rank, to share with the supreme God in the government of heaven and earth. In the same way, too, for some ages past, departed saints have been exalted to partnership with God, to be worshipped, invoked, and lauded in his stead. And yet we do not even think that the majesty of God is obscured by this abomination, whereas it is in a great measure suppressed and extinguished—all that we retain being a frigid opinion of his supreme power. At the same time, being deluded by these entanglements, we go astray after divers gods.

2. The distinction of what is called δυλια and λατρια was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honours to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity. For it is plain that the worship which Papists pay to saints differs in no respect from the worship of God: for this worship is paid without distinction; only when they are pressed they have recourse to the evasion, that what belongs to God is kept unimpaired, because they leave him λατρια. But since the question relates not to the word, but the thing, how can they be allowed to sport at will with a matter of the highest moment? But not to insist on this, the utmost they will obtain by their distinction is, that they give worship to God, and service to the others. For λατρεὶα in Greek has the same meaning as worship in Latin; whereas 106δουλεὶα properly means service, though the words are sometimes used in Scripture indiscriminately. But granting that the distinction is invariably preserved, the thing to be inquired into is the meaning of each. Δουλεὶα unquestionably means service, and λατρεὶα worship. But no man doubts that to serve is something higher than to worship. For it were often a hard thing to serve him whom you would not refuse to reverence. It is, therefore, an unjust division to assign the greater to the saints and leave the less to God. But several of the ancient fathers observed this distinction. What if they did, when all men see that it is not only improper, but utterly frivolous?

3. Laying aside subtleties, let us examine the thing. When Paul reminds the Galatians of what they were before they came to the knowledge of Gods he says that they “did service unto them which by nature are no gods,” (Gal. 4:8). Because he does not say λατρια, was their superstition excusable? This superstition, to which he gives the name of δυλια, he condemns as much as if he had given it the name of λατρια. When Christ repels Satan’s insulting proposal with the words, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve,” (Mt. 4:10), there was no question of λατρια. For all that Satan asked was προσκὺνεσις (obeisance). In like manners when John is rebuked by the angel for falling on his knees before him (Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9), we ought not to suppose that John had so far forgotten himself as to have intended to transfer the honour due to God alone to an angel. But because it was impossible that a worship connected with religion should not savour somewhat of divine worship, he could not προσκὺνει̑ν (do obeisance to) the angel without derogating from the glory of God. True, we often read that men were worshipped; but that was, if I may so speak, civil honour. The case is different with religious honour, which, the moment it is conjoined with worship, carries profanation of the divine honour along with it. The same thing may be seen in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:25). He had not made so little progress in piety as not to confine supreme worship to God alone. Therefore, when he prostrates himself before Peter, he certainly does it not with the intention of adoring him instead of God. Yet Peter sternly forbids him. And why, but just because men never distinguish so accurately between the worship of God and the creatures as not to transfer promiscuously to the creature that which belongs only to God. Therefore, if we would have one God, let us remember that we can never appropriate the minutest portion of his glory without retaining what is his due. Accordingly, when Zechariah discourses concerning the repairing of the Church, he distinctly says not only that there would be one God, but also that he would have only one name—the reason being, that he might have nothing in common with idols. The nature of the worship which God requires will be seen in its own place (Book 2, c. 7 and 8). He has been pleased to prescribe in his Law what is lawful and right, and thus restrict men to a certain rule, 107lest any should allow themselves to devise a worship of their own. But as it is inexpedient to burden the reader by mixing up a variety of topics, I do not now dwell on this one. Let it suffice to remember, that whatever offices of piety are bestowed anywhere else than on God alone, are of the nature of sacrilege. First, superstition attached divine honours to the sun and stars, or to idols: afterwards ambition followed—ambition which, decking man in the spoils of God, dared to profane all that was sacred. And though the principle of worshipping a supreme Deity continued to be held, still the practice was to sacrifice promiscuously to genii and minor gods, or departed heroes: so prone is the descent to this vice of communicating to a crowd that which God strictly claims as his own peculiar right!

read Calvin’s Institutes online by clicking here