God’s Simplicity

Kevin DeYoung the Belgic Confession (1561), begins with the declaration “that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God” (Article 1). This may seem a strange way to open a confession. There is only one single being called God; that makes sense. But God is simple—what’s that all about?

The simplicity of God is an important truth few Christians think about any more. By “simple” we do not mean God is slow or dim-witted. Nor do we mean that God is easy to understand. Simple, as a divine attribute, is the opposite of compound. The simplicity of God means God is not made up of his attributes. He does not consist of goodness, mercy, justice, and power. He is goodness, mercy, justice, and power. Every attribute of God is identical with his essence.

Consequently, we ought not suggest, for example, that the love of God is the true nature of God while omnipotence (or holiness of sovereignty or whatever) is only an attribute of God. This is a common error, and one which the doctrine of simplicity would have us avoid. We often hear people say, “God may have justice or wrath, but he is love.” The implication is that love is more central to the nature of God, more true to his real identity than other less essential attributes. But this is to imagine God as a composite being instead of a simple.

It is perfectly appropriate to highlight the love of God when Scripture makes it such a central theme. But the declaration “God is love” (1 John 4:8) does not carry more metaphysical weight than “God is light” (1 John 1:5 ), “God is spirit” (John 4:24 ), “God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29 ), or, for that matter, Scriptural statements about God’s goodness, kindness, or omniscience. “If God is composed of parts,” Bavinck explains, “like a body, or composed of genus (class) and differentiae (attributes of different species belonging to the same genus), substance and accidents, matter and form, potentiality and actuality, essence and existence, then his perfection, oneness, independence, and immutability cannot be maintained (Reformed Dogmatics 2:176).

In other words, the simplicity of God not only prevents us from ranking certain attributes higher than others, it allows God to have “a distinct and infinite life of his own within himself” (177). He is not an abstract Absolute Idea who happens to have love, wisdom, and holiness, as if we first conceive of a being called God and then relate qualities to him. Rather, God in his very essence—within himself and by himself—is love, wisdom, and holiness. God is whatever he has. He is not the composite of his attributes, some in greater and some in lesser amounts. God is a simple being without parts or pieces. His attributes do not stick to him; he is what they are.

Among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander

Pastor John, some people look at the verses in 1 Timothy 1:18-20 and say that if Hymenaeus and Alexander once had faith, but now have shipwrecked it, we must conclude that one can lose true faith in Christ.

How would you respond to this claim? Is there more that can be said about these two men, besides, “Since other Scriptures teach perseverance, then we must assume that the faith of Hymenaeus and Alexander must have been a mere profession”?

I think the last sentence in your question does indeed go a long way towards answering your own question, though I believe much more could and should be said.

The 1 Timothy 1:18-20 passage reads:

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

To fully exegete the passage would take far more space than a short blog article would allow for, but I would like to draw out a number of points from the biblical text.
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A Primer on the Puritans

David Mathis of Desiring God Ministries interviews Joel Beeke:

Primer on the Puritans – Interview with Joel Beeke from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Handling Moral Objections to the Old Testament

Peter Williams – Moral Objections to the Old Testament: Part 1

Peter Williams – Moral Objections to the Old Testament: Part 1 from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

Peter Williams – Moral Objections to the Old Testament: Part 2: The Case of Slavery

Peter Williams – Page Lecture Series – Moral Objections to the Old Testament – Part 2: The Case of Slavery from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

Miscellaneous Quotes (90)

quotes“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

“But someone will say, ‘Didn’t Jesus say that, to be saved, you have to be as a little child?’ Of course he did. But did you ever see a little child who didn’t ask questions? People who use this argument must never have listened to a little child or been one. My four children gave me a harder time with their endless flow of questions than university people ever have. . . . What Jesus was talking about is that the little child, when he has an adequate answer, accepts the answer. He has the simplicity of not having a built-in grid whereby, regardless of the validity of the answer, he rejects it.” – Francis A. Schaeffer, “Form and Freedom in the Church,” International Congress on World Evangelization, July, 1974.

“The law is an entity, a whole, in the sight of God and was given in order to demonstrate to man that he could never do anything that could satisfy the perfect God who must demand perfection.” – Donald Grey Barnhouse

“Unless God stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him.” – R.C. Sproul

“The universe is no democracy. It is a monarchy. God Himself has appointed His beloved Son as the preeminent King.” – R.C. Sproul

“The object of our faith is neither our actions or our knowledge, but the person of Jesus Christ. Of course, trusting a person involves knowledge and assent, but we’re saved by Christ, not by doctrines. The purpose of the doctrine is to direct us to the right person and to keep us looking to him until that day when faith yields to sight.” – Michael Horton

“The clear message from Genesis to Revelation is either go to hell with your own righteousness, or go to heaven with the righteousness of Christ credited to your account by faith alone. Faith in Christ is saving; faith in anything or anyone else is superstition” – Michael Horton

John Witherspoon commenting on Revelation 6:14-17 and the terror that will come upon sinners when they stand before the wrath of the Lamb:

Mark this extraordinary expression, the wrath of the Lamb, that meekest and gentlest of all creatures; teaching us, that his former meekness and patience and suffering shall inflame and exasperate his future vengeance.

Could I conduct you to the gates of the infernal prison, I am persuaded you will hear Judas Iscariot, and all the other treacherous disciples, crying out, “O that Christ had never come in the flesh! The thunders of Sinai would have been less terrible. The frowns of Jesus of Nazareth are insupportable. O the dreadful, painful, and uncommon wrath of a Saviour on the judgment seat!”

The Lord speaks consolation to his own people, and pierce the hearts of his enemies, that they may be brought to repentance. (Sermon 6, The Love of Christ in Redemption)

“God not only initiated my salvation, He not only sowed the seed, but He made sure that that seed germinated in my heart by regenerating me by the power of the Holy Ghost.” – R.C. Sproul

“The aim of the climb is not intellectual satisfaction. The aim is worship. God gets more honor when we worship on the basis of what we know about him than he gets if we worship on the basis of what we don’t know. If our effort to know God more clearly is not an effort to love him more dearly, it will be fatal. ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’ (1 Corinthians 8:1). This means that the only knowledge worth having in the end is knowledge that leads to love — love for God and love for people.” – John Piper

“The extent of man’s fall is so great and extensive that no man by the exercise of his own will or understanding can ever save himself or become a Christian.” – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“They who avow the doctrines distinguished by the name of Calvinistic, ought, if consistent with their own principles, to be most gentle and forbearing of all men, inmeekness instructing them that oppose. With us, it is a fundamental maxim, that a man can receive nothing but what is given him from heaven (John 3:27). If, therefore, it has pleased God to give us the knowledge of some truths, which are hidden from others, who have the same outward means of information; it is a just reason for thankfulness to him, but will not justify our being angry with them; for we are no better or wiser than they in ourselves, and might have opposed the truths which we now prize, with the same eagerness and obstinacy, if his grace had not made us to differ. If the man, mentioned in John 9, who was born blind, on whom our Lord graciously bestowed the blessing of sight, had taken a cudgel and beat all the blind men he met, because they would not see, his conduct would have greatly resembled that of an angry Calvinist.” – John Newton, Memoirs of the Life of the Late William Grimshaw (London, 1825), page 67.

Calvinists who treat others harshly fall short of the gospel they mean to defend.

“I fear men who have spent most of their life telling other men that they are saved. I fear you if you’ve done that. You don’t tell men they are saved; you tell men how to be saved. God tells them they are saved.” – Paul Washer

“The religion of the Bible thus announces itself, not as the product of men’s search after God, if haply they may feel after Him and find Him, but as the creation in men of the gracious God, forming a people for Himself, that they may show forth His praise. In other words, the religion of the Bible presents itself as distinctively a revealed religion. Or rather, to speak more exactly, it announces itself as the revealed religion, as the only revealed religion; and sets itself as such over against all other religions, which are represented as all products, in a sense in which it is not, of the art and device of man.” – B. B. Warfield

Augustine, writing to Jerome and discussing his view of the Holy Scriptures:

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, ‘Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning!’ (Letter 82.3)

“When we shall see the dead rise from the grave by their own power, then may we expect to see ungodly sinners of their own free will turning to Christ.” – C. H. Spurgeon

“We are called to love others. We share the gospel because we love people. And we don’t share the gospel because we don’t love people. Instead, we wrongly fear them. We don’t want to cause awkwardness. We want their respect, and after all, we figure, if we try to share the gospel with them, we’ll look foolish! And so we are quiet. We protect our pride at the cost of their souls. In the name of not wanting to look weird, we are content to be complicit in their being lost.” – Mark Dever

“The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed.” – Patrick Henry

The Moment of Awakening

R.C. Sproul describes the moment of awakening Martin Luther had as he read Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”

Justification by Faith Alone: Martin Luther and Romans 1:17 from Ligonier Ministries on Vimeo.

Transcript

He says, “Here in it,” in the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’” A verse taken from the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament that is cited three times in the New Testament. As Luther would stop short and say, “What does this mean, that there’s this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith? What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith?” Which again as I said was the thematic verse for the whole exposition of the gospel that Paul sets forth here in the book of Romans.

And so, the lights came on for Luther. And he began to understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not those who would achieve it actively, but that would receive it by faith, and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God.

Now there was a linguistic trick that was going on here too. And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare. And it came from the Roman judicial system. And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, makes unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word. The word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

And so Luther said, “Woa, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?” It’s what he called a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. Namely, the righteousness of Christ. And Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

Defending Calvinism

radiomicBack in March this year, I had the privilege of being interviewed on the Apologia Radio show and was asked a number of questions about Divine election. I continue to get good feedback from people who have listened to the broadcast.

Today someone wrote,

“Feeling incredibly blessed by this episode of Apologia Radio tonight. I’ve listened to it a total of at least 6 times since it’s aired. Each time a) makes me want to dive in to Scripture for the next week without any sleep but b) brings me a whole new level of understanding. I really encourage everyone to challenge their traditions and listen with an open heart to what is being said.”

If you have yet to hear the show online, perhaps it can be a blessing to you. It can be found at this link.

The “God is a Gentleman” Myth

In an article entitled, “The Illusion of a Gentleman God,” Robert Bernecker shows why those who say “God is a Gentleman and would never violate human free will” have not been reading their Bibles very closely at all.

Spurgeon’s Depression

I think Spurgeon regarded Bunyan as a friend. He said the book he valued most, next to the Bible, was The Pilgrim’s Progress. “I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire.”

Perhaps one of the reasons Spurgeon resonated with this classic was its realistic portrayal of depression, doubt, and despair. Spurgeon and Bunyan, like their Savior, were men of sorrow, acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). When Bunyan went to prison for preaching the gospel, his heart was almost broken “to pieces” for his young blind daughter, “who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides.”

Spurgeon’s depression could be so debilitating that he could “weep by the hour like a child”—and not know why he was weeping. To fight this “causeless depression,” he said, was like fighting mist. It was a “shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.” It felt, at times, like prison: “The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back.”

Spurgeon felt what C. S. Lewis describes after losing his wife, in one of the most honest and painful passages I have ever read. Lewis said that when all is well and life is happy, God seems present and welcoming with open arms.

But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited?… Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in our time of trouble?

Some will find that sense of bewildering despair hard to comprehend, perhaps even a bit exaggerated. But for those who have been there, it is all too real.

For those who have felt trapped in Doubting-Castle, guarded by Giant Despair, take heart that the best of Christians have stayed there too. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). And for those who have never darkened its harrowing doors, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (v. 12).

What is most instructive in Bunyan’s allegory is how Christian and Hopeful finally find the way of escape. Christian says:

“What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting- Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and hopeful immediately came out.

What was the key? It was called “Promise.” God has given us “his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4).

How do we know these promises will come true? Because “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ Jesus]” (2 Cor. 1:20).

How do we take hold of these promises? By faith, in hope. God tells us, “call upon me in the day of trouble,” with the result that “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). As we believe His promises by faith, He gets all of the credit and the glory (Rom. 4:20).

And did you notice where Bunyan says that the key was all along? In Christian’s “chest pocket.” I think Bunyan here is pointing us to Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” We all know that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), But this “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), cannot do its piercing, sanctifying, healing work if it remains simply on display in our homes rather than dwelling at home in our hearts. If we take God’s Word with us, if we meditate on it day and night, we will always have our weapon in battle no matter where we are.

So, dear Christian, take God’s Word—especially His promises—into your heart today, by faith and in hope. And the next time you find yourself in Doubting-Castle, and hear the terrifying rumblings of Giant Despair at the double-bolted door, remember that you have had the key of escape all along. If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.