Mere Fidelity: “On Creeping Perichoresis”

Mere FidelityIf you follow any discussions about the Trinity nowadays, you’re likely to hear the idea of “perichoresis”, or the mutual indwelling of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s long been a piece of trinitarian theology. But does it and should it have applications elsewhere in our theology? Like our doctrine of humanity, or our view of creation? That’s the issue we take up this week on Mere Fidelity as we interact with this article by Peter Leithart.

Hope you enjoy the show.

Also, you may find this article by Karen Kilby helpful, as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

Lord, Have Mercy (12 Theses on the Mercy of God)

mercyA Christian cannot dwell too much on the mercy of God. God is infinite and as such, so is his mercy. We cannot come to an end of it. God is good and his goodness towards sinners in our misery, weakness, and rebellion takes the form of mercy. Mercy that forgives. Mercy that blesses. Mercy that treats us gently. Mercy that covers all–yes, even that unspeakable shame you dare not mention to the closest friend. Mercy that gives new life to sinners who have thrown theirs away, pursuing it in a million different broken cisterns instead of drawing from the freely-proffered fountain of life. The good news of the gospel is that the Triune God has shown us mercy in Christ. It doesn’t get more basic than that.

And yet, all too often in the practical Christian life, we don’t give it more than a passing thought. This might strike some as strange of me to say. Many of us can think of any number of Christians who regularly appeal to the mercy of God to excuse, or justify their sinful wanderings or lack of seriousness in the Christian life. But you have to see that’s not the same thing as “dwelling”, or giving serious thought to the mercy of God. That’s a juvenile confusion of mercy with careless license. Anyone who has given thought to the mercy of God cannot treat it lightly.

Considering the mercy of God with prayer and in the Spirit leads to repentance and deep, faithful, love. That’s precisely why Paul begs the Romans to offer their bodies as living sacrifices as a reasonable act of worship, “in view of God’s mercy.” After eleven chapters of outlining God’s mercy through the God’s faithfulness to his creation, his promises to Israel, and the whole world–including sinners under judgment–Paul thinks it’s eminently reasonable to call his readers to holy, faithful living, with no thought that this should provoke license or apathy.

With that in mind, then, it seems helpful to outline some thoughts on the mercy of God. And by “outline”, I mean “quote Thomas Watson” who very helpfully laid out twelve theses on mercy in his Body of Practical Divinity. (And if you’re wondering, yes, I am on a Watson kick because WHERE THE HECK HAVE PEOPLE BEEN HIDING HIM THIS IS AMAZING STUFF!!!!).

His theses will come in italics, then I’ll offer commentary. But honestly, you should go read it here, because Watson is just a preaching beast. I mean, he’s got one-liners for days like, “The sun is not so full of light as God is full of mercy.” Really, he’s just so good.

Alright, so the twelve theses.

[1] It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful.  For Watson, the whole narrative points up God the merciful redeemer. When God gives Moses his name in Exodus and recounted later on, God heaps up the merciful adjectives (slow to anger, compassionate, forgiving, etc), but only one or two concerned with judgment (by no means clearing the guilty).

[2] God is more inclinable to mercy than wrath. Luther called wrath God’s “alien work.” It’s foreign to him. He only punishes when his hand his forced. His mercy, though? It’s offered before we even think to ask for it. Get that through your head: God’s mercy towards you was God’s idea.

[3] There is no condition, but we may spy mercy in it. Even in our darkest moments, the roughest situations of persecution and misery, we are able to see God’s mercy at work to save and bless his children.

[4] Mercy sweetens all God’s other attributes. Holiness or justice without mercy is a threat. That’s judgment waiting to happen. But with mercy? They are sweet comforts.

[5] God’s mercy is one of the most orient pearls of his crown; it makes his Godhead appear amiable and lovely. Watson points out that when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God says he’s going to make his goodness pass before him and “show you my mercy” (Exod 33:19). Mercy is God’s glory.

[6] Even the worst taste God’s mercy; such as fight against God’s mercy, taste of it; the wicked have some crumbs from mercy’s table. God makes his sun shine on the good and the bad, gives oxygen to both those who praise him, as well as those who curse his name. Everyone has experienced God’s mercy.

[7] Mercy coming to us in a covenant is sweetest. Common mercy is great, but the specific mercy we receive through the work of Christ is the sweetest. Sunshine is fine, but forgiveness, adoption, and justification, are beautiful works of mercy surpassing all of the rest.

[8] One act of mercy engages God to another.  Some might think that God’s mercy is a one-time thing. But, in fact, God’s mercy is more like a domino set. Election leads to justification leads to holiness leads to glorification. A parent keeps giving.

[9] All the mercy in the creature is derived from God, and is but a drop of this ocean. Every act of mercy you’ve ever encountered is actually provoked by the God who is the source of all mercy. It is God working mercy through human servants. And it’s just the tiniest glimpse of the reservoirs of mercy he has ready to pour out.

[10] As God’s mercy makes the saints happy, so it should make them humble. Saints don’t swagger, they rejoice. Acknowledging your need for mercy should be a humbling reality. Plus, you should be too busy praising God for his mercy than to be bragging about your own non-existent awesomeness compared to others.

[11] Mercy stays the speedy execution of God’s justice. That people aren’t currently being punished is not a sign of God’s weakness, nor the inevitability of judgment for unrepentant sin. It’s God’s kindness and a sign of his willingness that we should repent.

[12] It is dreadful to have mercy as a witness against anyone. His final thesis is one of warning. When you’ve made an enemy, even of mercy, then you’re hosed. Mercy is your only hope. Don’t fight it.

Watson continues on with the various uses this doctrine has for those who consider it length. It draws us into greater love of God, confidence of our salvation, and works of mercy towards others which demonstrate the glory of God’s mercy in our own lives. I would urge you today: consider the mercies of God, rest in them, and praise him.

Soli Deo Gloria

God is a Spiritual Being. But What Does that Even Mean?

sinai

Israel never saw God’s form at Sinai, only smoke, fire, and lightning.

Q-4: What is God?

A: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

-Westminster Shorter Catechism

I don’t think most of us give thought to the fact that God is a Spirit (John 4:24). I know I hadn’t much until I was forced to think through some of the metaphysics of spiritual beings in my class on medieval philosophy in college (Angels, Humans, and Evil, I think it was called). In any case, we discussed the differences between angels and humans (at least according to Aquinas) and one of the main ones was that angels are pure spirits, intelligences with no bodies. So what does it mean for God to be spiritual?

Thomas Watson, in his sermon commenting on this question in Body of Practical Divinity states:

By a spirit I mean, God is an immaterial substance, of a pure, subtile, unmixed essence, not compounded of body and soul, without all extension of parts.

God being spirit means that God is not material, not bodily, not made up of parts you can pull apart and put back together. Sounds simple enough.

Angels and Souls are Spiritual, though, too? Some Clarifications

Still, if this is what it means for God to be spiritual, then that raises the question that occurred to me in college. If God is an immaterial substance, and angels are immaterial substances, what distinguishes them? Is God just bigger? Do they run into each others? What’s the difference? Watson, again, anticipates the question:

The angels are spirits. We must distinguish spirits. The angels are created, God is a Spirit uncreated. The angels are finite, and capable of being annihilated; the same power which made them is able to reduce them to their first nothing; but God is an infinite Spirit. The angels are confined spirits, they cannot be duobus locis simul, but are confined to a place; but God is an immense Spirit, and in all places at once. The angels, though spirits, are but ministering spirits (Heb 1:14). Though they are spirits, they are servants. God is a super-excellent Spirit, the Father of spirits (Heb 12:2).

So, apparently, there are a few. First, and most important is that God is Creator and angels are created. For that reason, God infinite, without boundaries or limits to his power, location, or anything else. Angels are still created beings, finite in knowledge, power, and yes, even location. They are upheld in their existence by God at every moment and could wink out of existence should he decide to remove his hand. In Christian theology, you always have to reckon with the Creator/creature distinction. Mess with that, and just about everything else falls out of place.

Okay, well, what about human souls? Sure, humans are soul + body, but what if I’m feeling extra dualist today and I want to play up the spirituality of the soul? What distinguishes human spirits from God’s Spirit, especially since humans are God’s Image. Apparently heretics like Osiander and Servetus actually thought the soul was the essence of God communicated to human beings. Watson says that’s silly. We’re made in his “image and likeness.” God’s essence is incommunicable, but “When it is said the soul is a spirit, it means that God has made it intelligible, and stamped upon it his likeness, not his essence.”

But what about this whole “partakers of the divine nature” business in 2 Peter 1:4? Well, here Watson gives a standard Reformed response:

We are made partakers of the divine nature, not by identity or union with the divine essence, but by a transformation into the divine likeness.

Okay, that’s clear enough so far. But say I know my Old Testament pretty well. Do you know how often we read about people seeing God walking around, using his hands, sitting on a throne, and all kinds of corporeal, physical stuff? Well, yes, I do. And so does Watson. In response to that charge made by a party named the “Anthropomorphites” who believe that God has a physical body, he gives their exegesis and hermeneutics a little tune-up.

First, he lays out the clearer statements of Scripture about the nature of bodies and spirits according to Jesus and the rest of Scripture:

It is contrary to the nature of a spirit to have a corporeal substance. ‘Handle me, and see me: for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.’ (Luke 24:49)…Now that God is a Spirit, and is not capable of bodily shape or substance, is clear, for a body is visible, but God is invisible; therefore he is a Spirit. ‘Whom no man has seen, nor can see’ (I Tim 6:16.), not by an eye of sense. A body is terminated, can be but in one place at once, but God is everywhere, in all places at once; therefore he is a Spirit (Psa 139:9, 8.). God’s centre is everywhere, and his circumference is nowhere. A body being compounded of integral parts may be dissolved; quicquid divisibile est corruptibile: but the Godhead is not capable of dissolution, he can have no end from whom all things have their beginning. So that it clearly appears that God is a Spirit, which adds to the perfection of his nature.

If this is true, then what are we to do with the language of Scripture?

Bodily members are ascribed to God, not properly, but metaphorically, and in a borrowed sense. By the right hand of the Lord is meant his power; by the eyes of the Lord is meant his wisdom.

This is an example of allowing Scripture to clarify Scripture, using the direct statements on the nature of bodies and so forth, to then set the parameters for how we read other texts. On this reading, Scripture gives a clear directive to read these passages as communicating truth, but figuratively, not literally. Again, that seems simple enough.

But Why Does it Matter?

Okay, with all that said, who cares? Why is the “spirituality” of God an important point to understand? It doesn’t immediately seem to be emphasized in Scripture, even if it seems to be taught. Of what use is it for us to know and dwell on this reality?

Well, for starters, that’s one of those things that makes the Incarnation all that more amazing. The God who is immaterial, unbounded, and so forth, deigns, in Christ, to assume or add to himself a body, which is not natural to him. That’s just part of the glory of the Gospel–God becomes what is not God in order to reconcile us to himself.

But Watson presses beyond this to draw out a number of implications I can only briefly touch on.

First, Watson says that if God is spiritual, that means he’s impassible–not capable of being harmed, overcome, or anything human foes might think to do to him. What are you going to do? Chuck a spear at him? His essence is beyond all harm. That is grounds for worship and comfort.

Second, if God is Spirit, then Watson thinks that should put image-worship or veneration to bed. God is Spirit and no likeness of him can be made suitable to his perfection.

 ‘To whom then will ye liken God, or what likeness will ye compare unto him?’ (Isa 40:18)How can you paint the Deity? Can we make an image of that which we never saw? Ye saw no similitude. God is a Spirit.

How are we to worship and conceive of him, then? Here Watson gives a Christologically-focused answer:

We must conceive of him spiritually. In his attributes; his holiness, justice, and goodness, which are the beams by which his divine nature shines forth. We must conceive of him as he is in Christ. ‘Christ is the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15). Set the eyes of your faith on Christ as God-man. In Christ we see some sparklings of the divine glory; in him there is the exact resemblance of all his Father’s excellencies. The wisdom, love, and holiness of God the Father, shine forth in Christ.‘He that has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:4).

Third, “If God be a Spirit, it shows us, that the more spiritual we grow, the more we grow like to God.” To turn your eyes to God and your desires to the heavens away from mere earthly concerns is to grow in the likeness of God.

Fourth, God’s being a Spirit means that our worship ought to spiritual too. For Watson that means a number of things. (1) Worship is without ceremonies, as the OT ceremonies have been abrogated, so why return to the shadows with man-made replacements? (2) It is to worship him with faith in the blood of the Messiah, with zeal, with prayer, with true consecration, without the vain pretenses of outward shows.

Fifth, this should move us to ask for the Spirit that we may become more spiritual:

The essence of God is incommunicable; but not the motions, the presence and influences of his Spirit. When the sun shines in a room, not the body of the sun is there, but the light, heat, and influence of the sun.

Sixth, Watson reminds us that if God is Spiritual, shouldn’t we expect his blessings to be spiritual?

This may comfort a Christian in all his labours and sufferings; he lays out himself for God, and has little or no reward here; but remember, God, who is a Spirit, will give spiritual rewards, a sight of his face in heaven, white robes, a weight of glory. Be not then weary of God’s service; think of the spiritual reward, a crown of glory which fadeth not away

We neglect the spiritual nature of God to our own detriment. We miss out on part of the glory of Jesus in the gospel, the nature of true worship, and so much more.

Watson’s meditations remind us, once again, that everything about God is worthy of worship. Nothing we learn about Father, Son, and Spirit can fail to contribute to our love of God or his glory if we think it through with care and prayer.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Seventeen Ways To Aim At God’s Glory (A Puritan Listicle)

watsonI usually have a couple opportunities a year to ask students the question, “What would you say is the meaning of life?” The replies are usually confounded stares, shrugs, or somewhat more knowing responses along the lines, “The meaning of life? Well, you know, that’s such a big question. How can we know such a thing?” Then, when they’re good and ready, I say, “Well, actually, it’s pretty simple” and I hit ’em with Westminister Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1: What is the chief end of man?
A. 1: To glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Westminster helpful condenses the Bible’s answer to the ultimate meaning of life into one short, seven word answer. We were made to glorify and enjoy. That’s why God made us. It’s that simple. Everything in our life is somehow supposed to be ordered towards the glorification of God and our enjoyment of God.

Of course, that just raises a host of other relevant questions. Assuming we buy that answer, what is God’s glory and what is it to glorify God? Why should we glorify God? And how can we glorify God? Well, it is to such questions that the great 17th Century Puritan Divine Thomas Watson turned his attention in the first proper section of his classic sermon series commenting on the catechism A Body of Practical Divinity. I picked the work up this week and I gotta be honest, this is fantastic stuff. It’s rich, careful, and learned, but because Watson is preaching, the writing is just lively!

What and Why?

So what does Watson have to say? Well, to begin, he distinguishes the nature of God’s glory. First, there’s God’s own, internal glory, his luminous being that he possesses without any relation to anything but his own Triune life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is glorious. But second, there’s ascribed glory–the kind of glory that creatures can “give” him so to speak, through their being and actions, that reflect or acknowledge God’s glory. It’s the honor we show him.

Okay, but what is it to glorify God? Watson says that “glorifying God consists in four things: 1: Appreciation, 2. Adoration, 3. Affection, 4. Subjection. This is the yearly rent we pay to the crown of heaven.” As we appreciate God, worship him alone, love and delight in him, as well as obey him in all things, we give him glory.

Inquiring minds might persist in asking “Well, why should we?” Watson gives five reasons for that as well. First, God gives us our being. He made us. So give him glory. Second, he gave us our being so that we might glorify him. That’s the purpose written into our DNA. Third, God is actually worthy of the glory. He just is that good. Fourth, everything else from angels to anthills glorifies God, so why not humanity? Are we the only ones going to be that obtuse? Fifth, we must glorify God. It’s really our only hope in this life of any ultimate good.

But How?

Well, now that those preliminaries are out of the way, the question becomes, “How can we?” If it’s that important, how should I go about this all-consuming task? I mean, I’ve got a job, a spouse, maybe kids, an education, and any number of other things that occupy my time. How do go about glorifying God in all that? Well, being a Puritan, Watson doesn’t leave you in the lurch. He actually lists 17 ways you can go about glorifying God. (And for those of you wondering, no, he doesn’t actually say “seventeenthly”, but he legitimately could.)

I’ll go ahead and just give you the abridged list, but it’s worth following up and reading the whole exposition here:

[1] It is glorifying God when we aim purely at his glory. It is one thing to advance God’s glory, another thing to aim at it. God must be the Terminus ad quem, the ultimate end of all actions…We do this…

(1.) When we prefer God’s glory above all other things; above credit, estate, relations; when the glory of God coming in competition with them, we prefer his glory before them…

(2.) We aim at God’s glory, when we are content that God’s will should take place, though it may cross ours…

(3.) We aim at God’s glory when we are content to be outshined by others in gifts and esteem, so that his glory may be increased…

[2] We glorify God by an ingenuous confession of sin…it acknowledges that he is holy and righteous, whatever he does.

[5] We glorify God by believing. Rom 4:40. ‘Abraham was strong in faith, giving glory to God.’ Unbelief affronts God, it gives him the lie; ‘he that believeth not, maketh God a liar.’ I John 5:50. But faith brings glory to God; it sets to its seal that God is true. John 3:33.

[4] We glorify God, by being tender of his glory. God’s glory is dear to him as the apple of his eye. An ingenuous child weeps to see a disgrace done to his father. Psa 69:9. ‘The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.’ When we hear God reproached, it is as if we were reproached; when God’s glory suffers, it is as if we suffered. This is to be tender of God’s glory.

[5] We glorify God by fruitfulness. John 15:5. ‘Hereby is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.’ As it is dishonouring God to be barren, so fruitfulness honours him. Phil 1:1: ‘Filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise of his glory.’ We must not be like the fig tree in the gospel, which had nothing but leaves, but like the pomecitron, that is continually either mellowing or blossoming, and is never without fruit. It is not profession, but fruit that glorifies God. God expects to have his glory from us in this way…

[6] We glorify God, by being contented in that state in which Providence has placed us. We give God the glory of his wisdom, when we rest satisfied with what he carves out to us. Thus Paul glorified God. The Lord cast him into as great variety of conditions as any man, ‘in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft,’ 2 Cor 11:13, yet he had learned to be content. Paul could sail either in a storm or a calm; he could be anything that God would have him; he could either want or abound. Phil 4:13….This man must needs bring glory to God; for he shows to all the world, that though he has little meal in his barrel, yet he has enough in God to make him content: he says, as David, Psa 16: 5,’The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance; the lines are fallen to me in pleasant places.’

[7] We glorify God by working out our own salvation. God has twisted together his glory and our good. We glorify him by promoting our own salvation. It is a glory to God to have multitudes of converts; now, his design of free grace takes, and God has the glory of his mercy; so that, while we are endeavouring our salvation, we are honouring God…

[8] We glorify God by living to God.2 Cor 5:55. ‘That they which live should not live to themselves, but unto him who died for them.’ Rom 14:4. ‘Whether we live, we live unto the Lord.’ The Mammonist lives to his money, the Epicure lives to his belly; the design of a sinner’s life is to gratify lust, but we glorify God when we live to God. We live to God when we live to his service, and lay ourselves out wholly for God…

[9] We glorify God by walking cheerfully. It brings glory to God, when the world sees a Christian has that within him that can make him cheerful in the worst times; that can enable him, with the nightingale, to sing with a thorn at his breast. The people of God have ground for cheerfulness. They are justified and adopted, and this creates inward peace; it makes music within, whatever storms are without. 2 Cor 1:1. I Thess 1:1

[10] We glorify God, by standing up for his truths. Much of God’s glory lies in his truth. God has intrusted us with his truth, as a master intrusts his servant with his purse to keep. We have not a richer jewel to trust God with than our souls, nor has God a richer jewel to trust us with than his truth. Truth is a beam that shines from God. Much of his glory lies in his truth. When we are advocates for truth we glorify God…

[II] We glorify God, by praising him. Doxology, or praise, is a God-exalting work…Though nothing can add to God’s essential glory, yet praise exalts him in the eyes of others. When we praise God, we spread his fame and renown, we display the trophies of his excellency. In this manner the angels glorify him; they are the choristers of heaven, and do trumpet forth his praise. Praising God is one of the highest and purest acts of religion. In prayer we act like men; in praise we act like angels. Believers are called ‘temples of God.’ I Cor 3:16. When our tongues praise, then the organs in God’s spiritual temple are sounding…

[12] We glorify God, by being zealous for his name...Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger; it carries forth our love to God, and our anger against sin in an intense degree. Zeal is impatient of God’s dishonour; a Christian fired with zeal, takes a dishonour done to God worse than an injury done to himself…Our Saviour Christ thus glorified his Father; he, being baptized with a spirit of zeal, drove the money-changers out of the temple. John 2:14-17. ‘The zeal of thine house has eaten me up.

[13] We glorify God, when we have an eye to God in our natural and in our civil actions. In our natural actions; in eating and drinking. I Cor 10:0I. ‘Whether therefore ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.’ A gracious person holds the golden bridle of temperance; he takes his meat as a medicine to heal the decays of nature, that he may be the fitter, by the strength he receives, for the service of God; he makes his food, not fuel for lust, but help to duty. In buying and selling, we do all to the glory of God…We glorify God, when we have an eye to God in all our civil and natural actions, and do nothing that may reflect any blemish on religion.

[14] We glorify God by labouring to draw others to God; by seeking to convert others, and so make them instruments of glorifying God. We should be both diamonds and loadstones; diamonds for the lustre of grace, and loadstones for attractive virtue in drawing others to Christ.

[15] We glorify God in a high degree when we suffer for God, and seal the gospel with our blood.John 21:18, 19. ‘When thou shalt be old, another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not: this spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.’ God’s glory shines in the ashes of his martyrs…

[16] We glorify God, when we give God the glory of all that we doWe glorify God, when we sacrifice the praise and glory of all to God. I Cor 15:50. ‘I laboured more abundantly than they all,’ a speech, one would think, savoured of pride; but the apostle pulls the crown from his own head, and sets it upon the head of free grace: ‘yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.’

[17] We glorify God by a holy life. Though the main work of religion lies in the heart, yet our light must so shine that others may behold it…When the saints, who are called jewels, cast a sparkling lustre of holiness in the eyes of the world, then they ‘walk as Christ walked.’ I John 2:6. When they live as if they had seen the Lord with bodily eyes, and been with him upon the mount, they adorn religion, and bring revenues of glory to the crown of heaven.

Watson keeps going through the many uses we can put this to as well as the various ways we can enjoy God, but this seems like quite enough material enough for now. Certainly Watson shows us that there isn’t an inch of our life, time, energies, affection, living or dying, that can’t be turned to the glory of God. So what are you waiting for? Get to glorifying!

Soli Deo Gloria