Faith Must Increase

June 25th, 2010

Faith and a desire for more faith frequently go hand in hand. The reason is that through faith we lay hold upon God, and in grasping the infinite object, the utter inadequacy of each single act of appropriation immediately reveals itself in the very act. It is the same in the Gospel: ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’.

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology

But what advantage have godly men by these temporal promises?
Answer. This is not their advantage, to be always abounding in these outward things; that is, neither so de facto and eventually, nor were it meet it should be so. But 1. They have a promise of what is needful and useful simply, even of temporal things, which no wicked man has. They shall (Psa. 84) want no good thing; yea, though lions suffer hunger (Psa. 34:10), yet they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.
2. They may pray for these things so far as they are needful, and may confidently expect them, and go to God for them, by virtue of that right, ere they get them. So it is our daily bread by allowance, and promised before we get it (Matt. 6:11).
3. If a natural man abound, he cannot promise himself the continuance of meat till the end of his life; no, not so much as his dinner tomorrow, nor life till then. But, if a believer live, he may expect the continuance of as much food as shall be necessary for him; if he have nothing, he may confidently promise himself both life and food tomorrow, if either or both of them be needful, more than a wicked man, that has more wealth, health, and outward protection, can do.
4. He may promise himself the blessing, and the sanctified use of what he enjoys, which another cannot.
5. He may have peace, whether he have or want, in the enjoyment of creatures, or in their scarcity, because he has a right to them; for it is not from want of right to creature-comforts that scarcity of them comes, but God, like a wise and skilful physician, keeps back meat for health, where there is abundance in the right, and to be given also when needful. So that, comparing him with a wicked man, whether he have or want, whether he enjoy more plentifully, or be in scarcity, he has still the better of him by far; which should make us all love godliness the more, which has so great an advantage as this attending it.

-James Durham, Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments speaking of the promise attached to the 5th Commandment, and of the promise that godliness has for the life that now is.

It Ought to Mean Something

June 19th, 2010

One of Miller’s tricks is to be constantly using apocalyptic language, to sprinkle every page with phrases like “cosmological flux”, “lunar attraction” and “interstellar spaces” or with sentences like “The orbit over which I am travelling leads me farther and farther away from the dead sun which gave me birth.” The second sentence in the essay on Proust and Joyce is: “Whatever has happened in literature since Dostoievsky has happened on the other side of death.” What rubbish it is, when you think it out! The key words in this kind of writing are “death”, “life”, “birth”, “sun”, “moon”, “womb”, “cosmic” and “catastrophe”, and by free use of them the most banal statement can be made to sound picturesque, while what is outright meaningless can be given an air of mystery and profundity. Even the title of this book, The Cosmological Eye, doesn’t actually mean anything, but it sounds as though it ought to mean something.

-George Orwell, “Review of The Cosmological Eye by Henry Miller”

Which nicely sums up quite a bit of theological literature as well, though of course words like “semiotic” are substituted for dramatic terms.

God is Wisdom

June 13th, 2010

Wisdom (sapientia) is predicated univocally only of God inasmuch as God alone is truly wise — and therefore is predicated equivocally of human beings. Therefore, when predicated of God, wisdom does not indicate a genus of wise things of which God is one. The divine sapientia is a proper attribute of God: it is divine wisdom in the sense of being identical with the divine essence in its utter simplicity and its freedom from all composition. The theologia archetypa, then, is God himself, the identity of self and self-knowledge in the absolutely and essentially wise God.

(Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena to Theology, p.231)

And that ought to show that the doctrine of divine simplicity is a very fruitful ground for meditation.

Respect of persons is wrong in the context of justice, with regard to judgement (Proverbs 24:23). When it comes to matters of justice, right and wrong, crime and punishment, the persons, the individual characteristics of the litigants are irrelevant. When a murderer is brought to trial it doesn’t (that is to say, in justice it doesn’t) make any difference whether that murderer is rich or poor, famous or unknown, smart or stupid, Korean or Icelandic, male or female, Christian or Muslim, likeable or aggravating, Deuteronomy 1:17. It’s not a situation where the rich, powerful, famous or popular can escape; nor is it proper that the poor, weak or unpopular should be favored, Exodus 23:1-3; Leviticus 19:15: Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. It’s not a popularity contest; it’s not a beauty pageant; it’s not a quiz show; it’s a courtroom, and all that matters is guilt or innocence. Wrong is wrong, no matter who commits it.
It’s interesting that the Bible makes such clear prohibitions against favouring the poor: outside of Israel, that doesn’t seem to have ever been a temptation. Roman law, for instance, did not allow poor people to sue the rich, although the rich could sue the poor. While sympathy cannot be allowed to override right, it is very intriguing that it was only within the context of those whose lives were in some way affected by God’s grace that it would seem to be something that needs to be warned against. We see in our day that this prohibition against favouritism towards the poor needs to be trumpeted again: one of the most successful ploys you can use to get special treatment for yourself is to play the victim card. If you are a victim, the feeling seems to go, it can’t be right to punish you for anything, no matter what you’ve done. The French anthropologist René Girard has pointed out that this is a radical change from the way society used to be. In ancient times, the community would vent its wrath upon a scapegoat of some kind: a victim would be sacrificed in one way or another, and peace would be restored. But since Christ has come and the story of His unjust condemnation and subsequent resurrection from the dead (a clear vindication of His righteousness as over against the officials who condemned Him), that’s all changed. Before the victim was assumed to be unrighteous, and that wasn’t a point of dispute; now, we assume that the victim is right, and the officials are wrong. The Bible gives us a more balanced position: it upholds the absolute righteousness of everything God, the ultimate authority, does; and it shows us that human “justice” is often simply cruelty according to parliamentary procedure. But it is remarkably helpful for our understanding of the ancient and modern worlds to realize that the events of Christ’s life have had such a powerful sociological impact.

From James Sutherland, The Late Seventeenth Century:

As Dr. Samuel Mintz has shown, Hobbes forced his critics to debate with him on his own terms, and not by simply citing Scripture or falling back on traditional authority. ‘The critics were satisfied that they had cut Hobbes down to size; in fact they had yielded, slowly and imperceptibly but also very surely, to the force of his rationalist method.’