Archive for the ‘John Gill’ Category

Curt Daniel’s Thesis: Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill

March 14, 2010

Fred Butler had asked for my opinion of Dr. Daniel’s doctoral thesis (March, 1983) on the topic of John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism (the title simply reads: “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill”). As I mentioned to him immediately, I have a copy of the thesis, but I’m not read to give my full opinion of it. Nevertheless, I may be able to provide a few thoughts on it. The thoughts relate to the use of Dr. Daniel’s thesis in two ways: (1) as an alleged demonstration that John Gill is Hyper-Calvinist and (2) as a standard for “Hyper-Calvinism” in discussions of that label.

I. Was Dr. Daniel’s treatise aimed at addressing the issue of whether Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist?

The key question to the dissertation is the question of the definition of Hyper-Calvinism. The preface of the treatise explains, “The immediate aim of this work will be seen to be the definition of what has come to be known as Hyper-Calvinism.” (p. vi) The careful reader will note the odd result of this methodology. “Hyper-Calvinism” is to be treated as a label that is already applied to a nebulous thing, and the aim is simply to help determine the boundaries of that nebulous thing. The aim is not, evidently, to determine whether Gill is a Hyper-Calvinist. Instead, the aim is to determine what “Hyper-Calvinism” must include, given its existing usage against Gill.

We see this same principle of approach explained more clearly in the “Summary” section:

Since the Reformation, there have arisen several varieties of theology associated with John Calvin. One of the most extreme has come to be known as Hyper-Calvinism, but scholars have not been agreed as to what exactly constitutes this school. By a thorough examination of the works of those usually cited as Hyper-Calvinists in the context of the on-going progress of Calvinism in general, a definite pattern can be detected and through an investigation of the pertinent doctrines a definition of the term ‘Hyper-Calvinism’ can be attained.

(p. x)

Notice then that Daniel does not propose to examine whether Gill is a Hyper-Calvinist, but rather proceeds based on the assumption that Gill has been properly labeled a Hyper-Calvinist and seeks to define Hyper-Calvinism based on Gill’s theology.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Daniel is remarkably vague in terms of what constitutes hyper-calvinism for him. In the “Summary” section, Daniel states:

Specifically this means that the most tangible tenet of Hyper-Calvinism has been the rejection of the theology of the Free Offer (with special reference to the word offer’), Duty-Faith (that saving faith in Christ is required by the Moral Law of all who hear the Gospel), and indiscriminate invitations to redemptive privileges and responsibilities.

(p. x)

One wonders whether Daniel means to suggest that Hyper-Calvinism has some intangible tenets in addition to the tangible ones. Nevertheless, let me provide a few comments on this pseudo-definition of “Hyper-Calvinism” as applied to Gill.

It does seem that Gill did not like to use the term “offer” in reference to the gospel and that Gill distinguished carefully between the moral law and the gospel. These points seem (at least on their face) to agree with Daniel’s description of Gill. Finally, it would be hard to imagine that Gill (as a Calvinist) could fail to reject indiscriminate invitations to redemptive privileges and responsibilities, since those privileges and responsibilities belong to the redeemed (and Calvinists reject universal redemption). Gill, however, did teach that the gospel is to be preached to men indiscriminately. Thus, if one were to consider “redemptive privileges and responsibilities” to simply mean the gospel, then Daniel’s description would not appear to be accurate.

My point in this post, however, is not to argue with Daniel’s characterization of Gill (that would require me to do more than state my facial agreement or disagreement with him). Instead, my point is to note that Daniel’s thesis proceeds from the assumption that there is a nebulous thing referred to by the time of Daniel’s writing (1983) as “Hyper-Calvinism” and the assumption that John Gill’s theology is within the boundaries of that theological label.

Thus, in debates over the proper use of the label “Hyper-Calvinism” it would not be appropriate to claim that Dr. Daniel’s lengthy thesis is proof that Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist. It did not aim to provide that proof, and the methodology employed by Curt Daniel guaranteed that Gill would fall within the boundaries of “Hyper-Calvinism” regardless of the details of Gill’s theology.

We have, sadly, seen quite a number of people attempt to argue that Gill must be a Hyper-Calvinist on Dr. Daniel’s authority. As noted above, however, the bulk of Daniel’s thesis is concerned simply with defining “Hyper-Calvinism” on the basis of Gill, not determining whether Gill should be included in the label. There is a brief section (pp. 746-67) that interacts a little with Englesma over whether the label is correct, but that is hardly the focus of Dr. Daniel’s work.

II. If we use Dr. Daniel’s thesis to define Hyper-Calvinism, what is the result?

One obvious result of using Dr. Daniel’s thesis to define “Hyper-Calvinism” is that my beloved brethren in the Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) will end up getting labeled. Dr. Daniel explains:

This could be summarized even further: it is the rejection of the word ‘offer’ in connection with evangelism for supposedly Calvinistic reasons. In all our researches, the only real tangible thing which differentiates the Hyper from the High Calvinists is the word ‘offer’. The Supralapsarians were brought to the very door of Hyper-Calvinism but those who accepted free offers failed to enter into the realm of the most extreme variety of Calvinism that the history of Reformed theology has yet seen.

(p. 767)

The PRC has historically opposed the use of the term “offer” in connection with the gospel, because of the connotations associated with that word. They have rightly noted that in relatively modern times the term has become associated with a synergistic soteriology. There was an older Reformed usage, however, and that usage is reflected in documents like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith. For example:

Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

(London Baptist Confession of Faith 7:2)

Also see:

Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

(Westminster Confession of Faith 7:3)

Even see:

The olde Testament is not contrary to the newe, for both in the olde and newe Testament euerlastyng lyfe is offered to mankynde by Christe, who is the onlye mediatour betweene God and man, being both God and man.


The Old Testament is not contrary to the New, for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man, being both God and man.

(Thirty Nine Articles, 7)

Thus, those Presbyterians of the Scottish tradition (such as myself) and Reformed Baptists (such as my friend, Dr. James White) have confessional grounds for using the term in a specific way that predates the modern times. In contrast, the three forms of unity (Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism), which reflect the Dutch heritage of the PRC, do not include a similar usage of “offer.”

There is also some Continental precedent for “offer” usage:

What Is the Church? The Church is an assembly of the faithful called or gathered out of the world; a communion, I say, of all saints, namely, of those who truly know and rightly worship and serve the true God in Christ the Savior, by the Word and Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers of all benefits which are freely offered through Christ.

(Second Helvetic Confession, 17)

See also:

Likewise the external call itself, which is made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also, who earnestly and sincerely calls. For in his Word he most earnestly and truly reveals, not, indeed, his secret will respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but our responsibility, and what will happen to us if we do or neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God who calls, that they who are called come to him and not neglect so great a salvation, and so he earnestly promises eternal life to those who come to him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, “It is a trustworthy saying: For if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself (2 Tim 2:12Ä13). Neither is this call without result for those who disobey; for God always accomplishes his will, even the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the salvation of the elect who fulfill their responsibility, or the inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before them. Certainly the spiritual man in no way determined the eternal purpose of God to produce faith along with the externally offered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because God approved every truth which flows from his counsel, it is correctly said to be his will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life (John 6:40). Although these “all” are the elect alone, and God formed no plan of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and Christ therefore died not for everyone but only for the elect who were given to him; yet he intends this in any case to be universally true, which follows from his special and definite purpose. But that, by God’s will, the elect alone believe in the external call which is universally offered, while the reprobate are hardened. This proceeds solely from the discriminating grace of God; election by the same grace to those who believe, but their own native wickedness to the reprobate who remain in sin, who after their hardened and impenitent heart build up for themselves wrath for the Day of Judgment, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God

(Formula Consensus Helvetica, Canon 19)

This precedent, however, is Swiss – not Dutch – and consequently not so persuasive to our Dutch Reformed brethren. Thus, some of the most conservative of them (particularly those in PRC) continue to oppose the use of the term “offer” in connection with evangelism, even while taking the position that this is simply consistent Calvinism, not “hyper-Calvinism.” They continue to oppose that term, even while maintaining the duty of all sinners to repent – and even while continuing to evangelize the lost indiscriminately.

Conclusion

The main point above has been to demonstrate that it is inappropriate to argue that Dr. Daniel’s doctoral thesis is a 900 page demonstration of Gill’s alleged Hyper-Calvinism. Instead, it is a 900 page work that takes Gill’s identity as a Hyper-Calvinist largely as an unproven premise. Pointing that fact out is not the same as providing a demonstration that the premise was wrong.

Secondarily, we have noted that those who are confessional Presbyterians (aside from the Dutch) or Reformed Baptists tend to avoid Dr. Daniel’s definition of Hyper-Calvinism, even if only narrowly. Whether or not we reject his definition as grouping those who truly deny man’s responsibility with those who truly hold to man’s responsibility, we may note that Dr. Daniel’s definition is not broad enough for the purposes of those who have, in recent times, attempted to rely upon him.

One final note before closing. Dr. Daniel seems to vacillate a little over the issue of what constitutes “Calvinism.” At certain times he seems to attempt to use Calvin’s theology to define Calvinism. However, towards the conclusion of the thesis we find an interesting acknowledgment:

In a similar way, it has long been popular to define ‘Calvinism’ in terms of the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’. Without arguing the point that Calvin himself does not speak of ‘Five Points’, it must be acknowledged that these Points were formulated at Dort and are historically and technically more appropriate to defining ‘Calvinism’ than ‘Calvin’s theology’. Whether there is a difference between the two is another matter.

(pp. 760-61)

– TurretinFan

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Response to Tony Byrne’s Challenge

March 12, 2010

Tony Byrne (aka Ynottony) is one of the culprits behind the defamation of my friend Dr. White as supposedly being a “hyper-Calvinst.” Tony has suggested, in his own defense, that one could use the following approach:

Step 1: Ask White for specific biblical proof that God desires the eternal salvation of any of the non-elect.

Step 2: Follow Robert Reymond’s advice and consult John Gill’s explanation of the given passage.

Step 3: Use John Gill’s explanation against White’s proof-text.

Step 4: Repeat step 1, 2 then 3 ad infinitum :-)

Will David [Hewitt] do it? No. He wouldn’t last 5 minutes in White’s chat channel. Frankly, I don’t think he will get past step 1.

(source)

Let’s be clear about a few things up front: none of the folks that Tony has accused are hyper-Calvinists. John Gill is one of the most eminent Baptist theologians that has ever lived. He was already proficient in Latin and Greek at age 11. There are few equals to him for scholarship and acumen. Dr. Robert Reymond is also a scholar, and has taught at Covenant Seminary for over twenty years. Both Gill and Reymond have written systematic theologies, and Gill has written a commentary on the entire Bible. Dr. White teaches at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (for nearly 15 years) and is one of the leading Reformed apologists (he hasn’t written a systematic theology, although he has written a number of books).

We must also acknowledge that folks sometimes accuse Gill of either being a hyper-calvinist or having “hyper tendencies.” These accusations are unfounded, and folks who make such accusations (even if they are themselves scholars) should be called to task for this. The like accusations against Drs. White and Reymond are similarly unfounded.

But let’s get to Tony’s strategy. Tony’s shibboleth for hyper-calvinism is the erroneous touchstone of whether a person is willing to say that God desires, in any sense, the salvation of the reprobate. This is the wrong touchstone. The serious error of hyper-calvinism lies not in that, but in other areas, as I’ve previously demonstrated.

Nevertheless, even if one were to use that as the touchstone, Dr. White does and would agree that if one uses the term “desire” in the sense of something being God’s revealed will, then God desires the salvation of all men, in that he commands that all men everywhere repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He might cite as support for this:

Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

We should note, of course, that “all men” here refers (in context) to both Jews and Greeks, but the point is nevertheless the case that the gospel is presented indiscriminately to Jews and Greeks.

John Gill, in his commentary on the entire Bible, comments thus:

but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent; that is, he hath given orders, that the doctrine of repentance, as well as remission of sins, should be preached to all nations, to Gentiles as well as Jews; and that it becomes them to repent of their idolatries, and turn from their idols, and worship the one, only, living and true God: and though for many hundreds of years God had neglected them, and sent no messengers, nor messages to them, to acquaint them with his will, and to show them their follies and mistakes; yet now he had sent his apostles unto them, to lay before them their sins, and call them to repentance; and to stir them up to this, the apostle informs them of the future judgment in the following verse. Repentance being represented as a command, does not suppose it to be in the power of men, or contradict evangelical repentance, being the free grace gift of God, but only shows the need men stand in of it, and how necessary and requisite it is; and when it is said to be a command to all, this does not destroy its being a special blessing of the covenant of grace to some; but points out the sad condition that all men are in as sinners, and that without repentance they must perish: and indeed, all men are obliged to natural repentance for sin, though to all men the grace of evangelical repentance is not given: the Jews (a) call repentance מצות התשובה, “the command of repentance”, though they do not think it obligatory on men, as the other commands of the law. The law gives no encouragement to repentance, and shows no mercy on account of it; it is a branch of the Gospel ministry, and goes along with the doctrine of the remission of sins; and though in the Gospel, strictly taken, there is no command, yet being largely taken for the whole ministry of the word, it includes this, and everything else which Christ has commanded, and was taught by him and his apostles; Matthew 28:20.

Now, nothing that Gill has said there would create any problem for what someone like Dr. White might say. Yet, perhaps Mr. Byrne would wish to insist that Gill has artfully avoided saying that anyone is commanded to believe. However, Gill was not afraid to use such terminology. Commenting on John 12:39-40 (The Cause of God and Truth, Part 2, Chapter 1, Section 2), Gill wrote:

It is certain, that the impossibility of their after believing, is to be resolved into the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, to which they were justly left, having contemned both the doctrines and miracles of Christ. It is of no great moment whether the he, who is said to blind and harden, be God or Christ, or whether the words be rendered, it hath blinded, etc. that is, malice or wickedness hath blinded, or be read impersonally, their eyes are blinded, etc. Since God, or Christ, blind and harden, not by any positive act, or putting in blindness or hardness, but by leaving and giving men up to the blindness and hardness of their hearts, and denying them grace; which was the cause of these Jews; so as never to be converted, or turned even by external repentance and reformation, that they might be healed in a national way, or be preserved front national ruin. All which is consistent with God’s command, and Christ’s exhortations to them to believe, which were antecedent to the judicial blindness and hardness of their hearts, and were, with the miracles and doctrines of Christ, aggravations of their unbelief; and therefore, they might he justly objected to them by the evangelist as their great crime, as it certainly was; being owing to the perverseness of their wills, and the evil dispositions of their hearts.

And Gill gets even more explicit regarding the two wills distinction in the same work, at part 3, section 2:

This argument proceeds upon God’s will of command, which does not thwart his will of purpose. These two wills, though they differ, are not contradictory; the purpose of God is from eternity: his command is in time; the one is within himself, the other put forth from himself; the one is always fulfilled, the other seldom; the one cannot be resisted, the other may; the will of command only signifies, what is the pleasure of God should be the duty of man, or what he should do, but not what he shall do. Now admitting that it is God’s will of command, that not only all to whom the Gospel is vouchsafed, but even all mankind, should repent, believe, and obey; it does not follow, that it is the determining will of God to give grace to all men to repent, believe, and obey; nor does it contradict such a will in God, determining to give grace to some, to enable them to repent, believe, and obey, and to deny it to others. Could it be proved, that either God has willed to give this grace to all men, or that there is no such will in God to give it to some, and deny it to others, the controversy would be shut up, and we should have no more to say.

Notice how Gill even uses the word “duty” in relation to the revealed will of God and the connection between the revealed law and the gospel offer. It is the will of command that all men should repent, believe, and obey. It is not the determining will of God that they shall.

And again Gill writes (same book, Part 3, Section 2, VI:2):

It is man’s duty to believe the word of the Lord, and obey his will, though he has not a power, yea, even though God has decreed to withhold that grace without which he cannot believe and obey. So it was Pharaoh’s duty to believe and obey the Lord, and let Israel go; though God had determined to harden his heart, that he should not let them go. However there are many things which may be believed and done by reprobates, and therefore they may be justly required to believe and obey; it is true, they are not able to believe in Christ to the saving of their souls, or to perform spiritual and evangelical obedience, but then it will be difficult to prove that God requires these things of them, and should that appear, yet the impossibility of doing them, arises from the corruption of their hearts, being destitute of the grace of God, and not from the decree of reprobation, which though it denies them that grace and strength, without which they cannot believe and obey in this sense, yet it takes none from them, and therefore does them no injustice.

Notice how Gill explicitly affirms that it is the duty of men generally to believe the word of the Lord and to obey his will.

Still further in the same book, discussing Acts 3:19 (Part 1, Section 32, 2):

Besides, as has been observed, the exhortation to repent here made, is not made unto all men, but to the Jews, on a very remarkable occasion, and was blessed to many of them, to the turning them away from their iniquities; for many of them which heard the word, believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand (Acts 4:4). If it should be replied, that though the exhortation to repentance is not here made to all men; yet it is elsewhere expressly said, that God commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Let it be observed, that as this command to repentance does not suppose it to be in the power of man; nor contradicts its being a free-grace gift of God; nor its being a blessing in the covenant of grace, and in the hands of Christ to bestow; so neither does it extend, as here expressed, to every individual of mankind; but only regards the men of the then present age, in distinction from those who lived in the former times of ignorance: for so the words are expressed: and the times of this ignorance God winked at; overlooked, took no notice of, sent them no messages, enjoined them no commands of faith in Christ, or repentance towards God; but now, since the coming and death of Christ, commandeth all men, Gentiles as well as Jews, everywhere to repent; it being his will, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations (Luke 24:47): but admitting that it has been God’s command in all ages, and to all men that they repent; as all men are indeed bound, by the law of nature, to a natural repentance, though all men are not called by the gospel to an evangelical one; yet I see not what conclusions can be formed from hence against either absolute election or particular redemption.

We see it yet again, in the same book, discussing Acts 9:18:

And again, in Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 4, Chapter 7, 5b:

Whether repentance is a doctrine of the law or of the gospel? the answer to which is, that such who sin ought to repent of sin; this God has commanded, the law of nature teaches; and so far as this is to be considered as a duty incumbent on men, it belongs to the law, as all duty does; but then the law makes no account of repentance for sin; nor does it admit of it as a satisfaction for it; nor gives any encouragement to expect that God will receive repenting sinners into his grace and favor upon it; this is what the gospel does, and not the law; the law says not, repent and live, but do and live.

Notice that Gill here is quite explicit that those who sin are commanded to repent of sin. It is a command of the gospel, not the law, but it is a command.

We see this again in the same book, Book 6, Chapter 12, 1a:

Nor is the gospel ministry an offer of Christ, and of his grace and salvation by him, which are not in the power of the ministers of it to give, nor of carnal men to receive; the gospel is not an offer, but a preaching of Christ crucified, a proclamation of the unsearchable riches of his grace, of peace, pardon, righteousness, and life, and salvation by him. Yet there is something in which the ministry of the word, and the call by it, have to do with unregenerate sinners: they may be, and should be called upon, to perform the natural duties of religion; to a natural faith, to give credit to divine revelation, to believe the external report of the gospel, which not to do, is the sin of the deists; to repent of sin committed, which even the light of nature dictates; and God, in his word, commands all men everywhere to repent: to pray to God for forgiveness, as Simon Magus was directed by the apostle: and to pray to God for daily mercies that are needed, is a natural and moral duty; as well as to give him praise, and return thanks for mercies received, which all men that have breath are under obligation to do. They may, and should be called upon to attend the outward means of grace, and to make use of them; to read the Holy Scriptures, which have been the means of the conversion of some; to hear the word, and wait on the ministry of it, which may be blessed unto them, for the effectual calling of them. And it is a part of the ministry of the word to lay before men their fallen, miserable, lost, and undone estate by nature; to open to them the nature of sin, its pollution and guilt, and the sad consequences of it; to inform them of their incapacity to make atonement for it; and of their impotence and inability to do what is spiritually good; and of the insufficiency of their own righteousness to justify them in the sight of God: and they are to be made acquainted, that salvation is alone by Christ, and not other ways; and the fullness, freeness, and suitableness of this salvation, are to be preached before them; and the whole to be left to the Spirit of God, to make application of it as he shall think fit.

We should note that Dr. White does not refuse to use the term “offer” in connection with the gospel (link to example). Consequently Dr. White would not fall prey, as Gill might appear to here, to the “offer” shibboleth that some use who wish to use the label “hyper-calvinist” liberally.

And Gill says the same thing again, with respect to the command to repent, in the same book, Book 1, Chapter 4, 3b2:

Men of all nations, Jews and Gentiles, are the subjects of repentance; for all are under sin, under the power of it, involved in the guilt of it, and liable to punishment for it, and God has commanded “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). During the time of John the Baptist, and of our Lord’s being on earth, the doctrine of repentance was only preached to the Jews; but after the resurrection of Christ he gave his apostles an instruction and order “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47), in consequence of which the apostles first exhorted the Jews and then the Gentiles to repent, and particularly the apostle Paul “testified both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God”, as well as “faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

Now, allow me to make one final important distinction. If Tony means to insist that God’s general desire with respect to salvation should be understood not as to man’s duty, but rather as to God’s desire for his own action, we must insist that it is blasphemy to assert that God desires to save the reprobate and cannot do so. It is the pleasure of God that it is the duty of men who hear the gospel to believe it.

As Gill explains, The Cause of God and Truth, Part 3, Section 3, II (second II):

It should be proved that there is in God a general will that all men should be saved, or that he anywhere wishes for and desires the salvation of all the individuals of mankind. For God to will or wish the salvation of all men, and intend the death of Christ for that purpose, and yet not save all men, is inconsistent with the perfection of his nature and the immutability of his counsel. Nor is this argument, that God wills not what he sees not fit to execute, attended with those dreadful consequences as are suggested; as “that God is not willing any should obey his will who doth not obey it; and that he is not unwilling any one should sin whom he restrains not from it; and that he is not willing any one should repent who doth not repent.” Since God commanding and approving will is one thing, and his determining will another, in the former sense God wills what he does not see fit to execute; it is what he commands and approves of, that men should obey his will, abstain from sin, and repent of it, when he does not see fit to give them grace to enable them to do these things; but God never wills, that is determines, any thing but he sees fit to execute, and does execute, it. Besides, it is one thing for God to will and wish, that is, command and approve, what is entirely man’s duty to do, though he does not see fit to give him grace to execute it, which he is not obliged to do; and another thing to will and wish the salvation of all men, which entirely depends upon himself, and which, if he did wish, he would surely see fit to execute.

-TurretinFan

Baking Clay Pots – Subtracting Water or Adding Hardness?

October 9, 2009

Louis Ruggiero (aka LouRugg) asked my friend Dr. White:

Oh and by the way, when Turretinfan said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by taking away his common sense, I almost fell off my chair. Did he get that stuff from you, or did he make that one up on his own?

I answer:

One of the problems with the debate is that it does seem that LouRugg, despite apparently working on a book on Calvinism, has some significant gaps in his understanding of Reformed theology. That’s why he was apparently shocked that I didn’t argue that God zapped Pharaoh with hardening rather than withdrawing his blessing from him.

Where did I get the idea from? Well, I got it from Scripture. I got it from the fact that Paul contrasts hardening with mercy just as we might contrast light and darkness. Thus, I drew the inference that God’s hardening of a man is God’s act of not showing him some mercy. In the debate I called this God withholding from Pharaoh “common sense” though others might like the term “common grace.”

The passage in Romans 9 gave me further confirmation of this approach through the analogy of the potter and the clay. As I was thinking about the hardening and the potter, I thought: how does a potter harden a pot? The answer is, at least in part, by baking the pot – removing the water from the clay. The water that provides the softness is removed rather than some additional chemical that causes hardness being added. Now, I know that there are other things that go into the hardening of earthenware vessels, but that aspect is a significant one.

And it is not as though this is just a conclusion to which I arrived, but upon which I am at odds with the Reformed churches. Quite to the contrary, it is the widely held Reformed position. To wit,

John Gill:

God may be said to harden and blind, by denying them that grace which can only cure them of their hardness and blindness, and which he, of his free favour, gives to his chosen ones, (Ezek. 36:26, 27) but is not obliged to give it to any; and because he gives it not, he is said to hide, as he determined to hide, the things of his grace from the wise and prudent, even because it so seemed good in his sight, (Matthew 11:25, 26).

– John Gill, Of the Decree of Rejection

A.W. Pink:

Thus it was with each of us whilst in a state of nature. Sin blinds and hardens, and naught but Divine grace can illumine and soften. Nothing short of the power of the Almighty can pierce the calloused conscience or break the sin-petrified heart.

– A.W. Pink, The Restoration of David

R.L. Dabney:

Again: it is said, Scriptures teach, that the sin of the non–elect was not the ground of their preterition. “In John 10:26, continued unbelief is the consequence, and therefore not the ground of the Pharisees preterition” (Matt. 11:25; Rom. 9:11 18). “God’s will,” they say, “and not the non-sin, is the ground of His purpose to harden.” And “Esau was rejected as much without regard to his evil, as Jacob was elected without regard to his good deeds.” To the first of these points I reply, that the withholding of God’s grace is but the negative occasion of a sinner’s unbelief, just as the absence of the physician from a sick man is the occasion, and not the cause, of His death.

– R.L. Dabney, Predestination

Edward Payson:

The inspired writers teach us, very explicitly, that after a time, God ceases to strive with sinners, and to afford them the assistance of his grace. He gives them up to a blinded mind, a seared conscience, and a hard heart.

– Edward Payson, Sermon 18

John Calvin (who, you will note, suggests that in the case of Pharaoh God not only removed grace but also sent Satan):

3. Ancient writers sometimes manifest a superstitious dread of making a simple confession of the truth in this matter, from a fear of furnishing impiety with a handle for speaking irreverently of the works of God. While I embrace such soberness with all my heart, I cannot see the least danger in simply holding what Scripture delivers. when Augustine was not always free from this superstition, as when he says, that blinding and hardening have respect not to the operation of God, but to prescience (Lib. de Predestina. et Gratia). But this subtilty is repudiated by many passages of Scriptures which clearly show that the divine interference amounts to something more than prescience. And Augustine himself, in his book against Julian, [The French adds, “se retractant de l’autre sentence;” retracting the other sentiment.] contends at length that sins are manifestations not merely of divine permission or patience, but also of divine power, that thus former sins may be punished. In like manner, what is said of permission is too weak to stand. God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission. We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When his light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when his guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence he is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method, which comes much nearer to the exact meaning of the words, is when executing his judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases. Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord 268“had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand (Deut. 2:30). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.

4. In accordance with the former methods it seems to be said,174174 Ezek. 7:26; Psalm 107:40; Job 12:20, 24; Isiah 63:17; Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 10:1; 3:19. “The law shall perish from the priests and counsel from the ancients.” “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.” Again “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” These passages rather indicate what men become when God deserts them, than what the nature of his agency is when he works in them. But there are other passages which go farther, such as those concerning the hardening of Pharaoh: “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” The same thing is afterwards repeated in stronger terms. Did he harden his heart by not softening it? This is, indeed, true; but he did something more: he gave it in charge to Satan to confirm him in his obstinacy. Hence he had previously said, “I am sure he will not let you go.” The people come out of Egypt, and the inhabitants of a hostile region come forth against them. How were they instigated? Moses certainly declares of Sihon, that it was the Lord who “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” (Deut. 2:30). The Psalmists relating the same history says, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). You cannot now say that they stumbled merely because they were deprived of divine counsel. For if they are hardened and turned, they are purposely bent to the very end in view. Moreover, whenever God saw it meet to punish the people for their transgression, in what way did he accomplish his purpose by the reprobate? In such a way as shows that the efficacy of the action was in him, and that they were only ministers. At one time he declares, “that he will lift an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth;” at another, that he will take a net to ensnare them; and at another, that he will be like a hammer to strike them. But he specially declared that he was not inactive among theme when he called Sennacherib an axe, which was formed and destined to be wielded by his own hand.175175 Isa. 5:26; 7:18; Ezek. 12:13; 17:20; Jer. 2:.23; Isa. 10:15. Augustine is not far from the mark when he states the matter thus, That men sin, is attributable to themselves: that in sinning they produce this or that result, is owing to the mighty power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases (August. de Prædest. Sanct).

5. Moreover, that the ministry of Satan is employed to instigate the reprobate, whenever the Lord, in the course of his providence, has any purpose to accomplish in them, will sufficiently appear from 269a single passage. It is repeatedly said in the First Book of Samuel, that an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, and troubled him (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10; 19:9). It were impious to apply this to the Holy Spirit. An impure spirit must therefore be called a spirit from the Lord, because completely subservient to his purpose, being more an instrument in acting than a proper agent. We should also add what Paul says, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth,” (2 Thess. 2:11, 12). But in the same transaction there is always a wide difference between what the Lord does, and what Satan and the ungodly design to do. The wicked instruments which he has under his hand and can turn as he pleases, he makes subservient to his own justice. They, as they are wicked, give effect to the iniquity conceived in their wicked minds. Every thing necessary to vindicate the majesty of God from calumny, and cut off any subterfuge on the part of the ungodly, has already been expounded in the Chapters on Providence (Book 1 Chapter 16–18). Here I only meant to show, in a few words, how Satan reigns in the reprobate, and how God works in both.

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 4

The bottom line, though is that LouRugg should at least have read the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) which states the general Reformed position (the London Baptist Confession saying essentially the same thing):

VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had; and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, Section 6

While God can send Satan to render us even more obstinate, it is sufficient for God to remove his grace from us. Like the earth that God softens with his showers (Psalm 65:10) or hearts can become instead hard and parched simply by his removal of the water of grace. And he can turn that parched ground into a pool if He wishes as well (Isaiah 35:7), showing mercy on whom he will show mercy and hardening whomsoever he wishes (Exodus 33:19 and Romans 9:15&18).

-TurretinFan

Response to Buracker on Israeli Idols

September 2, 2009

BJ Buracker aka StupidScholar has posted a response (link to response) to an earlier post of mine on the Israeli idols of Elohim (link to my post).

BJB writes:

1. The use of Elohim (God or “gods”) is inconclusive. It may refer to Yahweh, but does not have to. Something else would have to suggest that before we make that conclusion. TF seems to recognize this in the post, but he holds that the use of Elohim suggests that the reference is YHWH.

I answer:

Agreed.

BJB writes:

2. The link between the calves and the Exodus event is, likewise, inconclusive. It certainly fits a Yahwistic interpretation, but it fits others, as well. If the Israelites did not intend for the calf in Exod/Deut to be YHWH, surely they would claim that this new god had been the real deliverer. This is (or could be) an instance of attributing to a false god the attributes of YHWH. For instance, if they had said, “This is the elohim that created us from nothing,” then they would simply be attributing YHWH’s creative ability/acts to the idol, not necessarily claiming that the idol was (or represented) YHWH.

I answer:

This argument is problematic because another god with the name “Elohim” is not one of the options at (1). This argument is also problematic because it is unclear why anyone would think that other gods than Jehovah were deliverers. Saying “surely they would” isn’t very persuasive for me. If the Israelites are going to embrace polytheism, why attribute the acts of one god to another?

BJB writes:

Hence, I don’t find the Israelites’ reference to the Exodus to be convincing proof that they intended the calf to be YHWH. Given that the Exodus was so significant and recent and that the calf would be used as their national god, it only makes sense that the new national god would be “given” credit for that deliverance.

I answer:

I’m not sure what would be “convincing proof,” but perhaps that’s irrelevant. The temporal proximity of the Exodus is a double-edged sword: while it would be significant, it was also still fresh in their memory as to who did it. To transfer the credit would seem odd, to say the least.

BJB writes:

3. There is ample evidence that calves were symbols/idols of other national gods at the time, particularly of Canaan and Phoenecia. In fact, other Jewish literature (e.g. Tobit 1:5) links the calf with the idol Baal explicitly. It seems possible, if not probable, that the Israelites were adopting the gods of other nations.

I answer:

a) No, Tobit does not link the calf with Baal. It links a calf with Baal.

Tobit 1:5 Now all the tribes which together revolted, and the house of my father Nephthali, sacrificed unto the heifer Baal.

b) Baal seems to have been a generic name for false gods, not a specific god. Thus, Scripture sometimes speaks of Baalim (the plural form of Baal). But since Scripture frequently uses the appellation Baal for Baal and Baal worship, it is unclear why Scripture would not use that description if a false god was being worshiped here.

c) It also does not fit well with the Nehemiah account.

BJB writes:

Matthew Henry (see his note on Exod 32:3, 4) actually believes that the calf was an Egyptian god rather than a Canaanite or Phoenecian god, although calves were important religious symbols there too. He supports this with reference to Ezek. 20:8; 23:8, where the prophet says that they had not forsaken their Egyptian ways. This also makes sense of Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:39, 40 that the Israelites had turned back to Egypt in heart (though not in location).

I answer:

As far as the weight of Matthew Henry’s opinion, I agree that it is mighty. Nevertheless I think the counter-arguments are significant. As far as the calf being taken from the surrounding nations, I agree. I would tend to think the best guess is Egypt, as Poole suggests. Yet, while that is the ante-type, they don’t name an Egyptian deity here (nor any other deity), and the deliverer is the one who delivered from Egypt.

BJB writes:

4. The fact that one idol was taken to Dan and another to Bethel does not prove that they signified YHWH. It at most indicates that the calves were to signify the same god. As with point #1, further evidence would have to be used to show that this one god was, in fact, YHWH.

I answer:

The point of the argument regarding Dan and Bethel was to note that “Elohim” in that instance should not be thought to be referring to more than one deity, since the two calves were not supposed to be two different gods. That’s an underminer for the argument that the use of the plural form “elohim” is indicative of a god other than Jehovah.

We find additional confirmation of the matter from 1 Kings 14:7-10

1 Kings 14:7-10
Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over my people Israel, and rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it thee: and yet thou hast not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in mine eyes; but hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back: therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

As Poole explains:

Other gods, and molten images, or other gods, to wit, (for so and oft signifies among the Hebrews, as hath been formerly noted,) molten images, namely, the golden calves; which he calls others gods, not as if the Israelites esteemed the calves made of their own gold to be gods indeed, which it is incredible should find belief with any man in his wits, especially with the whole body of the Israelites, who knew that the ark and cherubims, though made by God’s special direction, were not gods, but only pledges of God’s presence, &c.; nor as if they thought them to be other gods in a strict and proper sense; for it is apparent that they still pretended to worship the God of their fathers, as the Jews at Jerusalem did, though in a differing manner: but only because God rejected their whole worship; and howsoever they called or accounted it, he reckoned it a manifest defection from him, and a betaking of themselves to other gods, or devils, as they are called, 2 Chronicles 11:15, by whose instigation they were led to such idolatrous practices, and whom alone they served and worshipped therein, whatsoever pretences they had to the contrary.

Likewise, Matthew Henry (whom you found to be persuasive with regard to the Exodus account):

3. He charges him with his impiety and apostasy, and his idolatry particularly: Thou hast done evil above all that were before thee, 1 Kings 14:9. Saul, that was rejected, never worshipped idols; Solomon did it but occasionally, in his dotage, and never made Israel to sin. Jeroboam’s calves, though pretended to be set up in honour of the God of Israel, that brought them up out of Egypt, yet are here called other gods, or strange gods, because in them he worshipped God as the heathen worshipped their strange gods, because by them he changed the truth of God into a lie and represented him as altogether different from what he is, and because many of the ignorant worshippers terminated their devotion in the image, and did not at all regard the God of Israel. Though they were calves of gold, the richness of the metal was so far from making them acceptable to God that they provoked him to anger, designedly affronted him, under colour of pleasing him. In doing this, (1.) He had not set David before him (1 Kings 14:8): Thou hast not been as my servant David, who, though he had his faults and some bad ones, yet never forsook the worship of God nor grew loose nor cold to that; his faithful adherence to that gained him this honourable character, that he followed God with all his heart, and herein he was proposed for an example to all his successors. Those did not do well that did not do like David. (2.) He had not set God before him, but (1 Kings 14:9), “Thou hast cast me behind thy back, my law, my fear; thou hast neglected me, forgotten me, and preferred thy policies before my precepts.

Likewise Gill:

for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger; the two calves of gold; for however he might colour things over, and pretend he did not look upon these as gods, but as representations of God, and that he did not worship them, but God by them, yet the Lord considered it as idolatry, than which nothing is more provoking to him:

We see the same implicit understanding in the so-called “Apostolic Constitutions” (which are plainly forgeries):

For you know undoubtedly that those that are by us named bishops, and presbyters, and deacons, were made by prayer, and by the laying on of hands; and that by the difference of their names is showed the difference of their employments. For not every one that will is ordained, as the case was in that spurious and counterfeit priesthood of the calves under Jeroboam; [1 Kings 13:33] but he only who is called of God.

– [Pseudo-]Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, Section 5, Paragraph 46

The same implicit commentary is in Athanasius:

For when the lawful Bishops, men of advanced age, had some of them been banished, and others forced to fly, heathens and catechumens, those who hold the first places in the senate and men who are notorious for their wealth, were straightway commissioned by the Arians to preach the holy faith instead of Christians. And enquiry was no longer made, as the Apostle enjoined, ‘if any be blameless [Titus 1:8]:’ but according to the practice of the impious Jeroboam, he who could give most money was named Bishop; and it made no difference to them, even if the man happened to be a heathen, so long as he furnished them with money.

– Athanasius, Apology to Constantius, Section 28

Sulpitius Severus (lived about A.D. 363 – 420) is somewhat more ambiguous, though he seems to have the same implicit commentary:

But, since Roboam held Jerusalem, where the people had been accustomed to offer sacrifice to God in the temple built by Solomon, Jeroboam, fearing lest their religious feelings might alienate the people from him, resolved to fill their minds with superstition. Accordingly, he set up one golden calf at Bethel, and another at Dan, to which the people might offer sacrifice; and, passing by the tribe of Levi, he appointed priests from among the people. But censure followed this guilt so hateful to God.

– Sacred History, Book 1, Chapter 41

Tertullian’s comments are a bit ambiguous – he could reasonably be seen as either agreeing or disagreeing with the thesis above:

For, withal, according to the memorial records of the divine Scriptures, the people of the Jews— that is, the more ancient— quite forsook God, and did degrading service to idols, and, abandoning the Divinity, was surrendered to images; while “the people” said to Aaron, “Make us gods to go before us.” And when the gold out of the necklaces of the women and the rings of the men had been wholly smelted by fire, and there had come forth a calf-like head, to this figment Israel with one consent (abandoning God) gave honour, saying, “These are the gods who brought us from the land of Egypt.” For thus, in the later times in which kings were governing them, did they again, in conjunction with Jeroboam, worship golden cattle, and groves, and enslave themselves to Baal. Whence is proved that they have ever been depicted, out of the volume of the divine Scriptures, as guilty of the crime of idolatry; whereas our “less”— that is, posterior— people, quitting the idols which formerly it used slavishly to serve, has been converted to the same God from whom Israel, as we have above related, had departed. [1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]

– Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 1

Ambrose’s comments are quite interesting. It’s unclear whether he simply remembers the story wrong or whether he considers the altar at Bethel to be a temple of God (despite being unauthorized). I’d be hesitant to draw overly strong conclusions from Ambrose’s comments, particularly when he refers to Jeroboam’s “father” which would be no one of any particular significance. It’s quite possible that he has conflated Rehoboam and Jeroboam:

But when in the temple of our God, that wicked king Jeroboam took away the gifts which his father had laid up, and offered to idols upon the holy altar, did not his right hand, which he stretched out, wither, and his idols, which he called upon, were not able to help him? Then, turning to the Lord, he asked for pardon, and at once his hand which had withered by sacrilege was healed by true religion. So complete an example was there set forth in one person, both of divine mercy and wrath when he who was sacrificing suddenly lost his right hand, but when penitent received forgiveness.

– Ambrose, Concerning Virginity, Book 2, Chapter 5, Section 38

What’s more, Scripture makes it clear that the golden calves of Jeroboam were not Baal (or baalim), since Jehu eliminated Baal-worship but sinned with Jeroboam:

2 Kings 10:25-29
And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, Go in, and slay them; let none come forth. And they smote them with the edge of the sword; and the guard and the captains cast them out, and went to the city of the house of Baal. And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them. And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day. Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel. Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan.

BJB writes:

5. Not one of those passages clearly identifies the idol with YHWH. The closest is the reference to the feast for YHWH, but notice that YHWH is still not associated directly with the calf, only with the feast.

I answer:

Now this is a truly curious counter-hypothesis. Israel ascribes the great deliverance to some other god or gods and then goes on to celebrate a feast for Jehovah? This seems improbable, to say the least.

BJB writes:

Now, I must admit that these passages also do not identify the calves with any other deity either. However, there does not seem to be enough in the passages to demand that the calves were representations of YHWH, as I hope I have shown.

I answer:

There seem to be a lot of evidences in favor of the calf-worship being Israel violating the second commandment as reiterated in the prologue of the Decalogue:

Exodus 20:22-26
And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods (elohim) of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods (elohim) of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

God is talking about the way in which He is to be worshiped, and excluding human artifice beyond a simple dirt or uncut stone altar (setting aside, for the moment, the tabernacle worship).

There’s a much more expanded version in Deuteronomy 4, where Moses explains (I’ve included only a portion of the relevant discussion):

Deuteronomy 4:15-19
Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

We also see in that same context this practice of referring to the idols themselves as “gods”:

Deuteronomy 4:28 And there ye shall serve gods (elohim), the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

BJB writes:

In fact, those Israelites that turn to these calves do not seem to have any desire to worship YHWH at all. Rather, the people turn away from Moses and (presumably) what he represented, that is YHWH (Exodus 32); Jeroboam makes the 2 calves to rival YHWH worship in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12); and Hosea 8:1-4 indicates that the people were in direct rebellion against YHWH by setting up their own kings, princes, and (probably) calves.

I answer:

a) Wait a second. A minute ago they were celebrating a feast to Jehovah, now they have no desire to worship Him?

b) The more natural explanation is that calf substituted for Moses, and the calves for the temple of Solomon.

c) There is no question that calf-worship was rebellion, just as making any image of God would be rebellion.

BJB writes:

In other words, in each of these cases, the (self-avowed) motivation appears to be rebellion against YHWH and/or fear of some other circumstance (e.g. Moses’ absence; rivalry between the northern and southern kingdoms), rather than a desire to worship and serve YHWH. I would suggest that, in fact, they weren’t trying to worship YHWH at all but rather establishing a substitute deity.

I answer:

Again, this contradicts the “feast to Jehovah” and the seeming reverence that Jeroboam has for Jehovah despite his idolatry. We agree that this sin, like every violation of the first table, is one that is ultimately of rebellion against God.

BJB writes:

Since this whole discussion arose in response to Catholic apologetics, I feel it is important to note that the Israelites motivation is shown to be radically different than those posed by modern Catholics (and Orthodox) in their use of statues and icons.

I answer:

I would not agree, but that is neither here nor there as far as this particular discussion is concerned.

BJB writes:

Therefore (finally!), I don’t find these texts showing YHWH worship through the use of symbols/idols or even YHWH worship at all. YHWH worship is possible but not explicit, and I would argue that it is also not probable. Indeed, I believe that it looks more like the Israelites are worshiping something/someone other than YHWH when they use these golden calves.

I answer:

For the reasons given above and in the original post, I’d respectfully disagree.

-TurretinFan

Spurgeon – Quotation and Three Observations

February 9, 2009

The following was preached by Charles Spurgeon on Sunday Evening, October 7, 1866, on the verse, “Therefore He says: Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14) Of course, the following is just a snippet of this sermon.

But I must close, and the last point is THE PROMISE WITH WHICH CHRIST ENCOURAGES US TO AWAKE. The promise is, “Christ shall give you light.” What does that mean? Why, light may mean sometimes instruction. We are often in the dark, and puzzled about difficulties, but do you know half the difficulties in the Bible spring from a cold state of mind: but when the heart gets right, the head seems to get right too, in great measure. I remember a person puzzling himself fearfully with the passage in Scripture about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He went and looked at Dr. Gill about it, he went to Thomas Scott about it, and he went to Matthew Henry about it; and these good divines all puzzled him as much as they could, but they did not seem to clear up the matter.
The good man could not understand how Jesus Christ could say as he did, ‘How oft would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldest not!’ One day he received more grace, and got a love for souls, and then the old skin of narrow mindedness which had been large enough for him once began to crack and break, and he went to the passage then, and said, ‘I can understand it now; I do not know how it is consistent withe such and such doctrine, but it is very consistent with what I feel in my heart.’
And I feel just the same. I used to be puzzled by that passage where Paul says that he could wish himself accursed from God for his brethren’s sake. Why, I have often felt the same, and now understand how a man can say in the exuberance of love to others, that he would be willing to perish himself if he could save them. Of course it never could be done, but such is the extravagance of a holy love for souls that it breaks through reason, and knows no bounds. Get the heart right and you get right upon many difficult points.

(Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 12, pp. 586-87 (Sermon 716, Section III))

As noted in the subject of this post, I’d like to provide three observations.

1. Something Spurgeon Got Right

Spurgeon was right to note the importance of getting one’s heart right, if one wishes to understand doctrine. This is what the Puritans called “experimental” religion. The more modern word would be “experiential.” Christianity involves a lot of doctrines, but Christianity is not just an academic exercise – it is primarily a way of life. If we are Jesus’ disciples we follow Him: not just to the stacks of our local theological library, but in our heart and throughout our life. This living a life for Christ is, of course, informed by study – but it also informs our study. When we hate sin with our hearts, we can begin to appreciate the flaws of objections to the true religion from theodicy. When we love others and give of ourselves for them, we can begin to understand God’s love for us. Of course, one must first hear and understand the basic gospel in order to begin to follow Jesus, but as we follow Jesus the head, the heart, and the feet should work together – one illuminating the other, through the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit.

2. Something of Interest to Gill-bashers

A few people who dislike Dr. John Gill have suggested that Dr. Gill was a “hyper-Calvinist” and have suggested that Spurgeon shared their distorted view of this learned doctor and eminent Calvinist theologian. This quotation should help to disabuse them of their error. Notice that here, even while Spurgeon is implicitly suggesting that neither Gill, Scott, or Henry has quite the right explanation of the verse in question, Spurgeon refers to these men as “good divines,” and even gives Dr. Gill the dignity of first mention among the group.

3. Something that Spurgeon Got Wrong

Spurgeon made a very common mistake in misquoting the words of our Lord. He quotes the verse in question as “How oft would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldest not!” (another version of the sermon I found says, “How often would I have gathered you, but you would not!” but I believe this is simply an attempt to modernize the sermon’s language) Jesus’ real words were:

Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

or in Luke

Luke 13:34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!

Notice what Spurgeon has got wrong:

1) “How often would I have gathered thy children” and
2) “and ye would not.”

Spurgeon’s modification of the verse seems to demonstrate that he himself did not fully understand it, for he changes what Jesus said, such that (as modified) Jesus is seeking to gather the same group as is willing contrary to His will. In fact, however, the text makes a distinction. As I have explained in more detail elsewhere (link), the first group are the denizens and people of Jerusalem, the latter group are the leaders of Jerusalem.

This is one instance of the reason one will find me rarely relying on Spurgeon for theology. I consider him to be an outstanding preacher – skilled in rhetoric and with a very moving manner of presentation. On the other hand, while he does sometimes provide some good insights (as noted above), there is an unfortunate lack of depth in his theological abilities. He is preeminently a preacher, not a theologian.

-TurretinFan

John Gill on God’s Love

January 9, 2009

John Gill, sometimes falsely accused (particularly by Amyraldians, and quasi-Amyraldians) of being a hyper-Calvinist, had this to say about God’s love:

2. As to the objects of God’s love, it is special and discriminating. He loves some, and not others. It is true, he has a general love and regard to all his creatures. He is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. They all share in the bounties of his providence. He makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good. He sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. But then, he has chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. Hence he bestows peculiar blessings on those to whom he bears a peculiar love. David says, Psalm 106:4, Remember me with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: very plainly intimating, that it was special and discriminating; of a different nature from that which he bore to others. A full instance of this distinguishing love, we have in Mal. 1:2, 3, I have loved you, saith the Lord; yet ye say, wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and hated Esau. And, as I said before, no other reason can be given of this distinction, which God makes among the lost sons of Adam, but his own sovereign will; who will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will be gracious to whom he will be gracious, let a wrangling world say what they please.

Read this and more of Gill’s powerful insight into the love of God at the following link (link).

-TurretinFan

John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism (?)

December 10, 2008

One oft-repeated charge against the great theologian, John Gill, has been that is a “hyper-Calvinist.” Leading the way amongst the crowd of folks levying such a charge would seem to be Dr. Curt Daniel, whose 900 page doctoral thesis was titled “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill.” I was pleased to see that at least one person has found the time to provide a detailed review of the thesis (link). It seems to me that the most valuable part of the book review is found in a few short paragraphs:

By failing to make this fundamental distinction, Daniel labels all who deny the “offer” as hyper-Calvinists, regardless what specific doctrine of the offer they have in mind. The result is that those whose rejection of the “offer” consists of a denial of universal love dependent on the will of the sinner are tarred with Daniel’s broad brush of hyper-Calvinism, even though they preach to all and call all to believe in Jesus Christ.

The second fault is gross. Daniel argues that genuine Calvinism is the doctrine of a saving love of God and a death of Jesus Christ for all without exception. On this basis, the proper “offer” is, in fact, the “bold declaration” to all who hear the gospel, “God loves you, Christ died for you, and now God pleads with you to believe so that you may be saved” (p. 459). Accompanying this offer is “a sufficient common grace” that enables all to accept the offer, if only they will (pp. 161, 162).

It is Daniel’s basic thesis that hyper-Calvinism began to develop when, after Calvin, the Reformed faith adopted limited atonement. This jeopardized the offer. What is necessary for the warding off of hyper-Calvinism is the embrace of universal atonement. This involves repudiating the decree of reprobation.

This is the remedy for hyper-Calvinism! This exotic mixture of Arminianism and Amyraldianism, Daniel calls, with a kind of fetching modesty, “Low Calvinism.” It is, indeed, low – very low. It is abased and debased “Calvinism.” The glory of salvation in this gospel belongs to the sinner. Using his “sufficient common grace” rightly, he not only saves himself by accepting the offer but also makes the death of Christ atoning and the love of God successful.

Nevertheless, I encourage the reader to check out the entirety of the book review for himself.

Undoubtedly, Gill made errors – but to label Gill a Hyper-Calvinist is really quite imbalanced and inappropriate. I submit as evidence this commentary by John Gill on Matthew 11:28:

Mat 11:28 – Come unto me,…. Christ having signified, that the knowledge of God, and the mysteries of grace, are only to be come at through him; and that he has all things relating to the peace, comfort, happiness, and salvation of men in his hands, kindly invites and encourages souls to come unto him for the same: by which is meant, not a local coming, or a coming to hear him preach; for so his hearers, to whom he more immediately directed his speech, were come already; and many of them did, as multitudes may, and do, in this sense, come to Christ, who never knew him, nor receive any spiritual benefit by him: nor is it a bare coming under the ordinances of Christ, submission to baptism, or an attendance at the Lord’s supper, the latter of which was not yet instituted; and both may be performed by men, who are not yet come to Christ: but it is to be understood of believing in Christ, the going of the soul to him, in the exercise of grace on him, of desire after him, love to him, faith and hope in him: believing in Christ, and coming to him, are terms synonymous, Joh_6:35. Those who come to Christ aright, come as sinners, to a full, suitable, able, and willing Saviour; venture their souls upon him, and trust in him for righteousness, life, and salvation, which they are encouraged to do, by this kind invitation; which shows his willingness to save, and his readiness to give relief to distressed minds. The persons invited, are not “all” the individuals of mankind, but with a restriction,

all ye that labour, and are heavy laden; meaning, not these who are labouring in the service of sin and Satan, are laden with iniquity, and insensible of it: these are not weary of sin, nor burdened with it; not do they want or desire any rest for their souls; but such who groan, being burdened with the guilt of sin upon their consciences, and are pressed down with the unsupportable yoke of the law, and the load of human traditions; and have been labouring till they are weary, in order to obtain peace of conscience, and rest for their souls, by the observance of these things, but in vain. These are encouraged to come to him, lay down their burdens at his feet, look to, and lay hold by faith on his person, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice; when they should enjoy that true spiritual consolation, which could never be attained to by the works of the law.

And I will give you rest; spiritual rest here, peace of conscience, ease of mind, tranquillity of soul, through an application of pardoning grace, a view of free justification by the righteousness of Christ, and full atonement of sin by his sacrifice; and eternal rest hereafter, in Abraham’s bosom, in the arms of Jesus, in perfect and uninterrupted communion with Father, Son, and Spirit. The Jews say (y), that מנוחת תורה, “the law is rest”; and so explain Gen_49:15 of it: but a truly sensible sinner enjoys no rest, but in Christ; it is like Noah’s dove, which could find no rest for the soles of its feet, until it returned to the ark; and they themselves expect perfect rest in the days of the Messiah, and call his world מנוחה, rest (z).

(y) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 39. 3. (z) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 150. 2.

-TurretinFan

Thoughts on the Gospel and Government

July 12, 2008

One of my friends in an Internet chat room I visit, recently challenged me to consider what form of government is most conducive to the spread of the gospel. I believe this brother wanted to suggest that a pluralistic, liberal (original sense of the word) republican democracy is the best form.

There are ways in which this is true. Freedom of speech gives us freedom to preach. Freedom of assembly gives us freedom to engage in communion with our fellow-saints. Freedom of religion prevents currently prevailing religions from stomping us out using the force of government under color of law. Those are all valid points.

Let me give the reader a counter-point, though. Historically the gospel seems to have spread well at times/places where Christianity was persecuted and at times when there was a hierarchical government. The latter may simply be circumstantial, as the concept of a pluralistic, liberal republican democracy is a modern phenomenon.

With respect to the former issue, persecution provides an intrinsically stronger witness for Christians. It is obvious to everyone that it takes more sincerity to advocate the resurrection of Christ when doing so risks your life, than when doing so may make you a millionaire televangelist. When it is – to all appearances – easy to be a Christian, our faith in Christ is less clearly seen to be genuine.

Consider how Scripture even demonstrates the principle. Recall Job. Satan made exactly this argument: of course Job worships God, he has an easy life; take away his happiness and he’ll curse God.

When Job did not curse God, but rather praised him saying, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” That’s a testimony that the world and the devil are shaken by. That answer leaves little doubt for any but the most hardened skeptic to doubt that Job’s faith in God was genuine.

Thus, a country where Christianity is persecuted provides a way for Christians to demonstrate that they are genuine believers, which combats the widespread current view among non-Christians in liberal democracies that Christians are hypocrites.

Persecution has another advantage as well: it helps us test the genuineness of our own faith. That’s why James, the servant of God, can tell us:

James 1:2-3
2My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

James (to quote John Gill) is speaking of temptations,

not the temptations of Satan, or temptations to sin; for these cannot be matter of joy, but grief; these are fiery darts, and give a great deal of uneasiness and trouble; but afflictions and persecutions for the sake of the Gospel, which are so called here and elsewhere, because they are trials of the faith of God’s people, and of other graces of the Spirit of God. God by these tempts his people, as he did Abraham, when he called him to sacrifice his son; he thereby tried his faith, fear, love, and obedience; so by afflictions, God tries the graces of his people; not that he might know them, for he is not ignorant of them, but that they might be made manifest to others; and these are “divers”: many are the afflictions of the righteous; through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom; it is a great fight of afflictions which they endure, as these believers did; their trials came from different quarters; they were persecuted by their countrymen the Jews, and were distressed by the Gentiles, among whom they lived; and their indignities and reproaches were many; and their sufferings of different sorts, as confiscation of goods, imprisonment of body, banishment, scourgings, and death in various shapes: and these they “fall” into; not by chance, nor altogether at an unawares, or unexpectedly; but they fell into them through the wickedness and malice of their enemies, and did not bring them upon themselves through any crime or enormity they were guilty of: and when this was their case, the apostle exhorts them to count it all joy, or matter of joy, of exceeding great joy, even of the greatest joy; not that these afflictions were joyous in themselves, but in their circumstances, effects, and consequences; as they tried, and exercised, and improved the graces of the Spirit, and worked for their good, spiritual and eternal, and produced in them the peaceable fruit of righteousness; and as they were attended with the presence and Spirit of God, and of glory; and as they made for, and issued in the glory of God; and because of that great reward in heaven which would follow them; see Matthew 5:11. The Jews have a saying, “whoever rejoices in afflictions that come upon him, brings salvation to the world.” (T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 8. 1.)

With all those things in mind, we must continually call to remembrance the fact that we are to honor whatever form of government that we find ourselves under, as having divine authority. As it is written:

Romans 13:1-7
1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Blessed be God who has given us ministers of justice as well as minister of the gospel,

-TurretinFan

John Gill’s Magnum Opus

February 5, 2008

John Gill was an amazingly prolific writer.

It’s hard to pick between:

A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (volume 1) (volume 2) (volume 3) or (abridged)

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (link1) (link 2)

I’ll confess to not having read through either of those, even in the abridged form, though I’ve read much of Gill’s exposition as the occasion warranted.

-Turretinfan


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