John Calvin on Creation and the Problem of Evolution

Although we are convinced that our wit is so weak that it is pitiful, we will not give up the foolish opinion that we are wise. But when we are brought before God we are driven to know that we are nothing and that we must not deceive ourselves by our own self-worth. See how Job sets God before us here. So we would know the wisdom that is in him alone he also sets the creation of the world before our eyes. Are men so sharp-witted as to comprehend all God’s secrets? To know how he disposes the order of nature and how he has, as it were, weighed the winds and waters and other things? It is true, as I have said, that philosophers have well-conceived the reason of things that are seen in this world. But when men come to the creation, it is so wonderful a thing that they must be brought low and reverence the infinite wisdom of God and confess themselves unable to comprehend it.

John Calvin, First Sermon on Job 28:10-28

 

While obviously not addressing it, Calvin here lays his finger on the greatest problem of all evolutionary interpretations of Genesis 1-2. The normal, traditional, historical, interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (and passages like Ex. 20:9-11; Job 38; Ps. 33:6,9; 148; Is. 45:18; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5; Rev. 4:11) is that God made all things in moments of time over the course of six 24-hour days. The more one studies the universe and all that is in it, the more one is amazed at such an assertion; and the more one is utterly confounded at such a God. Which is precisely the point of Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

This is the point that Calvin makes in commenting on Job 28, and it is the point that God himself makes in Job 38. Special creation, literal interpretation, Creation science, young-earth interpretation- whatever term you wish to use- has an exalted view of God for a foundation. Such a method of interpretation lifts man’s eyes up to God only to result in man being brought low in worshipful wonder.

Theistic evolution, whether known as day-age, analogical days, literary framework, gap theory, all do just the opposite. They bring God down to man and tell him, “See, he works just like us. He just makes bigger stuff.”

We are told that Genesis 1-2 is not meant to teach ­how God created the universe, but only that he did. Yeah, because without Genesis 1-2 we would have absolutely NO idea where the world came from.

1Chronicles 16:26  For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Nehemiah 9:6  “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Job 38:4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

Psalm 8:3  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

Psalm 89:11-12  The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.  12  The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.

Psalm 96:5  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Psalm 102:25  Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Psalm 104:24  O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Psalm 115:15  May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8  Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134:3  May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 136:3-9  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;  4  to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;

Psalm 146:5-6  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;

Pro 3:19  The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens;

Isaiah 37:16  “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.

Isaiah 40:26  Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

Isaiah 40:28  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 42:5  Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:

Isaiah 44:24  Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Jeremiah 10:12  It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Jeremiah 32:17  ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

Jeremiah 51:15  “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Zechariah 12:1  The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:

Acts 4:24  And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,

Acts 14:15  “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Acts 17:24  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,

Ephesians 3:9  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Colossians 1:16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.

Hebrews 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Revelation 10:6  and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay,

Revelation 14:7  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Yes, obviously without Genesis 1-2 we would certainly be in the dark about where all things came. No, I think that Genesis 1-2 might want to teach us a little more than the simple fact that God created all things.

Then we are told that such “non-literal” interpretations do believe in a wondrous God. We are told that they look at the billions of years such an evolutionary process took and can be amazed at such wonderful care and patient providence of a God so meticulously guiding processes of change.

So we are at a theological impasse. I believe in a big powerful God who created all things in mere moments with just the word of his mouth. You believe in a wonderfully meticulous artisan God who guides all things. Who is to say which of us has a “better” view of God?

But it is a false dichotomy. Everything they believe about God, I do too: except for the billions of years.

Because “My help comes from the LORD, who patiently guided billions of millennia of death and mutation” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

In some things there is great joy in being a dimwit.

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Wilhelmus á Brakel on the vehement love of God

Oh wondrous love! God, who is love, sets his infinite love in motion to cherish with love such persons who in themselves are hateful, despicable, and condemnable. This love is not generated by the desirability of the object, but it originates within Himself, being desirous to love and to love specific individuals. Observe the following concerning this love: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3); “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). This love is so great, vehement, and incomprehensible that the Lord Himself exclaimed in amazement, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Love was the origin of eternal election;
love sent Jesus into the world to be their Surety;
love drew them out of the world to Him, translating them into the kingdom His love;
love radiates continually upon them;
love preserves them;
love brings them to glory;
and love engenders a perfect union with, and love for, Him.

This would not be credible if God Himself had not said this. Since God does say this, however, we now wish to believe and acknowledge this, rejoice in this, and be engaged in adoration. We wish to give Him glory, and being ignited by His love, to love Him in return. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

King’s Way: Does Rick Warren believe Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Rick Warren has again caused a stir in certain circles of the blogosphere. The newest occasion of controversy is the announcement of an agreement with a Muslim organization. The original article, Christian bloggers, and Islamic bloggers all understand the agreement to say that Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. Warren has answered that the agreement only states Muslims and Christians believe in one God. A few observations…

First, I find it particularly interesting that there are certain places that are saying nothing about this issue. In the past few months there has been considerable fallout about James MacDonald and his Elephant Room conversation with T.D. Jakes. MacDonald and the Gospel Coalition parted ways as members of the Coalition simultaneously equivocated (Justin Taylor) and criticized (Carson, Keller, Anyabwile) MacDonald’s conversation. At issue, supposedly, was the Trinity. There was never really a clear pronouncement on whether or not MacDonald was a heretic for hosting a heretic, but there was plenty of discussion. Now, in an even clearer example of someone who supposedly believes in the Trinity dialoging with people who have a clear denial of the Trinity there is nothing. Nothing from the Gospel Coalition or the men at Reformation21…why is this? Is it because of the past engagements of Warren and John Piper? As long as there is silence the void will only be filled by supposition.

Secondly, does Rick Warren believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God? I have tried to find the actual document in question and I have not been able to. Therefore, I can only take Rick Warren at his word that the statement agreed upon was that Christians and Muslims believe in “one” God and not the “same” God. There are still numerous problems with such a statement.

In the context of an interfaith agreement the statement seems to be rhetorically useless as it is parsed by Warren. A rough outline of the document’s three main points are: 1) We believe in one God; 2) We love God and our neighbor; 3) We will not seek to proselytize each other. In this context, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God.

There is no logical necessity that flows from believing in one God to loving your neighbor. What if someone believes in the Hindu god of destruction?

If we both believe in one God and we agree not to proselytize one another there are only two options. We both believe in the same “one God” so there is no need to proselytize. Or we do not believe that our “one God” is the “only God;” thereby implying that there is in fact no such being as “one God.” In either of these two options Warren is surrendering the farm. In an interfaith agreement you cannot say “one God” without meaning “same God.” If you protest this, then you should have agreed that you believe in “a God.”

That this argument is correct demonstrated by the common reaction to the agreement. Once again, an impartial journalist, Christian bloggers, and Muslim bloggers, have all understood this to an agreement that Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. When representatives from these diverse groups agree on this implication, can Rick Warren really say they have all misunderstood the meaning?

Rick Warren has built his life on communication. He has sold millions of books. He is the pastor of one of the largest churches in the world. He knows how to speak and write clearly and persuasively. For him to protest that everyone has misunderstood his meaning is rather remarkable.

Warren’s assertion that Muslims and Christian’s believe in “one God” but not the same God violates the intended meaning of the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6: “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

Warren’s interpretation of the joint statement makes him unbiblical. Everyone else’s interpretation makes him heretical. Neither option seems particularly appealing.

******UPDATE: 3/3/12 7:30 A.M.*******

Rick Warren has offered a rebuttal to the reports. Transcript of interview may be found by clicking here

A few observations:

  1. Everything he says to a member of the Christian media seems orthodox. But that doesn’t really address the issue at hand. All he has to do is make publicly available the text of the King’s Way agreement. My three year-old can tell me one thing and tell my wife something completely different, the question is what really happened?
  2. I praise the Lord for any and all souls saved as a result of Warren’s ministry. But evangelism is not a sign of orthodoxy- Matthew 23:15.
  3. Again, the simplest way to make this stop is to make public the King’s Way agreement. I find it interesting that the reporter who supposedly has or has seen the agreement has not changed his story. This is even after Warren accused him of false reporting. Why would the reporter continue to stand by what to him probably seemed a rather insignificant story?
  4. So Rick Warren has told Christians he believes in the Trinity and that Jesus is God. Great, but what has he told his Muslim friends and “brothers”?

Willhelmus a Brakel on Why People become Atheists: They deny the Trinity

These are the fruits of dishonoring God and of denying the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Ghost. First they propose the existence of three collateral persons—that is, existing side by side—which is followed by the notion of three gods, and eventually this culminates in denying the existence of God. These fruits proceed from a distaste for the old paths which are unknown to them and from a hankering for the promotion of that which is new. Such are the fruits of doubting the existence of God.[1]

It should be noted that Brakel argues that there are no “original” atheists. That is to say, no one comes out of the womb doubting the existence of God. Atheism is an alien condition: but it is one that can be arrived at. How does one become an atheist? First, by denying the orthodox teaching concerning the Trinity. Admittedly, the reasoning is somewhat circular: but if the Trinity is God, then denying the Trinity is atheism. Where does this denial of the Trinity come from? A repudiation of Holy Tradition and a desire for novelty. So Brakel sees the process as: denial of tradition, denial of the Trinity, denial of God. What is the remedy for one caught in such a trap?

“Persevere in reading God’s Word and join yourself to the godly in order to hear them speak about the delight they may have in God.”[2]


[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 12.

[2] Ibid, 22.

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 10: Phil. 2:5-8 What does the humiliation of Christ mean if he did not humble himself?

Sermon 10 is the last sermon on this subject that Chrysostom preached in Antioch before his “promotion” to Constantinople. As such, much of it is review and I will not take the time to go over it here again.

Towards the end of the sermon, however, Chrysostom brings out a crucial implication of Philippians 2:5-8 that I am not sure I have ever presented (50-56).[1] The crux of the passage is that Jesus humbled himself. The Son did not consider equality with the Father something he had to cling to jealously or seize with treachery. While Paul does not say in so many words that the Son was in fact equal with the Father, his whole argument demands it. If the Son were not equal to the Father it would not have been act of humility to take on flesh and submit to the Father’s will: it would have been duty. When my 3 year old son obeys me, he is not humbling himself. He “owes” me obedience. When I am “on the job” I am not humbling myself when I do what my boss tells me to do. I “owe” my boss that service.

But Jesus humbled himself. If Jesus humbled himself under the Father that means he had no obligation to do so. An inferior does not humble himself to his superior. A superior can humble himself to his inferior, or an equal can humble himself to his equal. And in fact, Jesus did both of these. As man’s superior Jesus humbled himself to be man’s servant. As the Father’s equal, Jesus humbled himself to be the Father’s Servant.


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God: Sermon 9, If Jesus is all-powerful does he need to pray to raise Lazarus?

Sermon 9 in Chrysostom’s series On the Incomprehensible Nature of God is short in length but mighty in exposition. While Chrysostom’s exegesis in sermon 8 left something to be desired, in sermon 9 he returns to a surgical precise treatment to completely undue the argument of his opponents.

The text under discussion is John 11:1-46. Chrysostom summarizes the view of the Anomoeans: “For many of the heretics are saying that the Son is not like the Father. Why? Because, they say, Christ had need of prayer to raise Lazarus back to life; if he had not prayed, he would not have brought him back from the dead” (1).[1] It is somewhat amusing that such an objection would be raised against the divinity of Christ. After all, if all it takes is prayer to raise the dead why don’t the Anomoeans simply pray to raise the dead? That would certainly lend some credence to their argument! In any event, Chrysostom simply excoriates such argument against Christ’s deity.

The Anomoeans, joined by Jews or Judaizing Christians,[2] began their assault in this text at the place where Jesus asked where Lazarus was laid (4). How can Jesus be omniscient when he does not know where Lazarus was laid? Rather than simply reverting to the standard “incarnational” or kenotic explanation, the preacher responds with some brilliant rhetorical questions of his own.

If Jesus is ignorant, then the Father must be too (5-6). Why did God ask Adam where he was? Did God not know? Why did God ask Cain where Abel was? Did God not know? Why did God tell Abraham he had to see if what he heard about the wickedness of Sodom was true? Did God not know? There must be a higher purpose to such questions from the Lord. Furthermore, returning to the text itself, if Jesus is not omnipotent how did he know four days beforehand that Lazarus was going to die? And in fact had already died? (10)

But Chrysostom does not dispense entirely with an argument based on the condescension of Jesus. The prayer of Jesus was an act of condescension to Martha who said “I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”[3] Jesus prayed because that was the extent of Martha’s faith. But Jesus had already demonstrated that he did not need to pray to raise the dead. Jesus simply told the widow’s son[4] and the young daughter of the synagogue ruler[5] to arise and they did (11). While Christ had the power to simply command the dead to rise, he condescended to pray because that is what Martha asked for.

Chrysostom explains this marvelously:

So Martha asked for prayers, and the Savior gave her prayers. Someone else said: “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof. But only speak the word, ‘Be it done to you,’ and my boy will be cured.” And the Savior said to him: “Be it done to you according to your faith.” Another man said: “Come and cure my daughter.” And Christ said to him: “I shall follow you.” Therefore, the physician applies the cure as men wish and desire it, just as at another time a woman secretly touched the hem of his robe and secretly she was cured. And Martha said: “I am sure that God will give you whatever you ask him.” Because she asked for prayer, the Savior gives her a prayer. But it was not because he had need to pray; it was because he was accommodating himself to her weakness. He was showing her that he was not opposed to God but that whatever he does, the Father also does. (14)

Such examples could of course be multiplied many times over. We can even see the same principle working in the opposite direction. When Jesus returned to his hometown to minister, “he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”[6] Chrysostom’s reasoning is Scriptural and undeniable. And he is only getting warmed up.

The enemies of truth say the prayer of Jesus proves that he does not have the same power of the Father. Chrysostom turns his attention to the prayer and simply obliterates the argument of the heretics. The questions he asks are simple, yet forcefully persuasive. What did Jesus ask for? Nothing (17). What did Jesus pray for concerning Lazarus himself? Nothing (18). Who did Jesus pray for? The living (18-19). When did Lazarus rise? When Jesus prayed? No. Afterwards, when Jesus commanded (20). The very prayer itself serves to support the preachers argument that the prayer was a condescension to Martha and those present. Jesus did not ask the Father to raise Lazarus. Jesus did not ask for the power to raise Lazarus. Lazarus had no place in the prayer of Jesus. Jesus did not need to pray, he only needed to command. And command he did.

“Lazarus, come out here!” The dead man heard the command of his master and immediately he broke the laws of death. Let the heretics be ashamed and perish from the face to the earth! Surely, Christ’s word has proved that the prayer was not uttered to raise the dead man but because of the weakness of the unbelievers who were, at the moment, nearby. “Lazarus, come forth!” Why did he call the dead man by name? Why? If he were to have given a general command to all the dead, he would have raised all those in the tomb back to life. But he did not wish to raise them all. That is why he said: “Lazarus, come forth! I am calling you alone to come back for a time. And I am calling you before the throng here present, so that, by raising one dead man to life, I may prove my power over those who are going to die. For I, who have raised one man, will raise up the whole world. For I am the resurrection and the life.”

“Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man came forth bound with bandages. What marvelous and unexpected things Christ did! He loosed the soul from the bonds of death. He burst open the portals of hell. He shattered to bits the gates of bronze and the bolts of iron. (21-22)

This sermon in a prime of example of how John earned the name Chrysostom—golden mouth. It is a model of biblical exegesis and exposition.

 


[1] All parenthetical paragraph references refer to Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, The Fathers of the Church A New Translation (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] Chrysostom refers to “the Jews” throughout the sermon. Obviously Jews would be united with Anomoeans against the deity of Christ, but Harkins believe they may have been Judaizers since it seems they were conversant in the New Testament.

[3] John 11:22

[4] Luke 7:11-15

[5] Mark 5:40-42

[6] Matt. 13:58

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 7: The Equality and Inequality of the Father and Son & Prayer

Sermon 7 marks a transition to a new area of debate: “whether the Son and the Father have the same power and might, whether they are of the same essence” (7).[1] As mentioned previously, the Anomoeans were Arians so they denied that the Father and Son were consubstantial.[2] Chrysostom has already been laying groundwork for his arguments in previous sermons, but now this subject gets his full attention.

The arguments of Chrysostom are pretty straight-forward; it is the same line of reasoning used by many today. Jesus has the same nature as the Father because he is begotten of the Father (8-10). Things begotten have the same nature as their begetter. Trees beget trees. Dogs beget dogs. Man begets man. God begets God. While Chrysostom will address objections of the Anomoeans, he does not address the problems inherent in our conception of begetting: namely, that something begotten must have a beginning.

The preacher does recognize a somewhat related argument however: Jesus is a son and so are we so there must not be any difference between us. Chrysostom responds that even though we are called sons of God, he is the only begotten Son. We are adopted, but he is begotten (11-12). Because Jesus is the only begotten, he shares in the glory and substance of the Father so Jesus says things like:

  • Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9
  • I and the Father are one. John 10:30
  • For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. John 5:21
  • that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. John 5:23
  • My Father is working until now, and I am working. John 5:17

Chrysostom anticipates the Scriptural objection his foes will raise: there are multiple passages that demonstrate the Son is lower than the Father. For example, the fact that the Son prays to the Father shows he does not have the same power (14-15). Chrysostom gives four main reasons for this phenomenon of Scripture.

First, the incarnation (16-17). Jesus had to demonstrate that he was true man. As a man Jesus was completely dependent upon the Father. If Christ did not demonstrate that he was true man, what hope could man have for his salvation?

Second, the inability of his hearers to comprehend the truth (18-26). This idea of Jesus’ condescension to his hearers is a destructive weapon in the hands of liberal critics of the Scripture, but Chrysostom handles it well. Over and over again, the foes and disciples of Jesus responded with wonder, anger, disgust, and revulsion to Jesus’ “more sublime words” (18). Had Christ simply appeared on the scene teaching and only taught the deeper spiritual truths about his identity, he would have quickly lost all hearers.

Third, to teach humility (27). As the preacher states,

If someone is teaching humility of heart, he does this not only by what he says but by what he does. He is moderate in both word and deed. Christ said: “Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart.”

Fourth, to make clear that God is not a monad (28). The truth of the Trinity is multifaceted and incomprehensible. As has been said, try to understand it and you will lose your mind; deny it and you will lose your soul. Had Jesus only taught his unity with the Father, it would have been even easier to fall into the belief that there is only one person in God. Even with the mixed testimony of Scripture, Sabellius found enough to teach that the Father and Son are not two distinct persons. Without the teaching about Christ’s humility, it would be even easier to fall into this heresy.

The remainder of the sermon is devoted to a fuller explanation of how the incarnation “lowered” the Son to a place of prayer (34-54). For this, Chrysostom devotes his attention to the apostle John’s account of the last supper and Jesus’ prayer in the garden.

The sermon is concluded with another exhortation on prayer (55-64).

Surely, prayer is a harbor for those caught in a storm; it is an anchor for those tossed by the waves; it is a staff for those who stumble. Prayer is a treasure for the poor, security for the rich, a cure for the sick, a safeguard for those in good health. It keeps our blessing inviolable and quickly changes our ills to good. If temptation comes, it is easily repelled. If loss of possessions or any of the other things which cause grief to our souls befall us, prayer is quick to drive them all away. Prayer is a refuge from every sorrow, a basis for cheerfulness, a means for continual pleasure, a mother for our philosophy and way of life. (61)


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] See post on sermon 4

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 6: On the office of elder and the commercialization of Christmas

The sixth sermon in this series has no explicit treatment on God’s incomprehensibility, yet it is instructive in other ways. The sermon is a panegyric[1] delivered on the feast day of Philogonius.

In the sermon we see something of Chrysostom’s concept of the communion of the saints. The preacher is careful to emphasize that the remembrance of the departed saint does nothing to add to his glory in heaven. Instead, it is the living who draw encouragement and are even bettered by contemplating the lives of those departed saints (2,3).[2] Those saints who have gone onto heaven in no way need our prayers for they have entered perfect rest.

For today marks the anniversary of his entrance into a life of peace and calm in heaven. There, in heaven, he has moored his ship in a harbor in which there can be no suspicion of future shipwreck, fear, or pain. (3)

Chrysostom offers a meditation on Hebrews 12:22-23[3] and the themes of the church on earth and in heaven and on the celebration of feasts on earth and in heaven (5-10). The pinnacle of the differences is described by Chrysostom in paragraph 9:

Truly this is a marvelous festal gathering, What makes it greater than all others is the fact that, in the midst of the assembly, moves the king of all who are gathered there. After Paul[4] had said: “To countless angels in festal gatherings,” he went on to say: “And to God the judge of all.” And who ever saw a king coming to a festival? Here on earth no one has ever seen it. But those who are in heaven constantly behold their king, They can see him in their midst and they can also see how he sheds on all who are gathered there the brightness of his own glory.

The preacher does not mention it, but this actually relates to his earlier sermons in this series. The very first sermon was on the subject of man’s imperfect knowledge of God. Though barely mentioned, Chrysostom’s assumption throughout that sermon was that man’s knowledge would one day be “perfect.” In sermons three and four Chrysostom repeatedly asserted that the angles failure to “see” God meant they could not know God. So we begin to see that the beatific vision is reserved for those who have entered eternal rest. What is the true extent of that knowledge of God? Is it comprehensive? Chrysostom does not address these questions.

In remembering Philogonius Chrysostom has some very pastoral counsel for those who would seek greatness in the service of Christ:

Listen to the words Christ spoke to Peter after the resurrection. Christ asked him: “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter replied: “Lord, you know that I love you.” What did Christ then say? He did not say: Throw away your money. Fast from food. Live the hard life. Raise the dead, Drive out demons.” Christ did not bring forward or command any of these things or any other miracle or act of virtue. He passed all these by and said: “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Why did Christ say this? Because he wished to show us not only what is the strongest sign of love for him but also to point out the love which he himself shows for his sheep. So now he makes this the strongest proof which Peter can give of his love for him. For Christ’s words practically mean: “He who loves my sheep loves me.” (16)

Chrysostom continues blessing the office of the elder and Philogonius’ service in it (14-22), but of more interest to the modern hearer is what the preacher turns his attention to in the second half of his address (23-41). The feast day of Philogonius falls on December 20 which is, of course, just days before the celebration of Christmas. It is this celebration that Chrysostom devotes the rest of his sermon to.

I sometimes sympathize with those who question the celebration of Christmas. After all, no such observance is enjoined by Scripture and December 25 was almost certainly not the day Jesus was born. Yet in a very practical sense, Chrysostom is right to call it “the mother of all holy days” (23). Obviously,

Had Christ not been born in the flesh, he would not have been baptized, which is the Theophany or Manifestation; nor would he have been crucified, which is the Pasch; nor would he have sent down the Spirit, which is Pentecost. So it is that, just as different rivers arise from a source, these other feasts have their beginning from the birth of Christ. (24)

Chrysostom seems to look down into our own say when he seems to speak of the commercialization of Christmas. (Or perhaps, we should see that our day was not so different from his.) The preacher pinpoints why some care so little for the day:

Away with the business of the law courts! Away with the business of the City Council! Away with daily affairs together with their contracts and business deals! I wish to save my soul. “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?” The magi went forth from Persia. You go forth from the affairs of daily life. Make your journey to Jesus; it is not far to travel if we are willing to make the trip. (34)

Indeed, the soul that contemplates the mystery of the Incarnation of the Messiah cannot help but to celebrate the day:

He became a man, he took upon himself the form of a servant, he was spat upon, he was slapped in the face, and, finally, he did not refuse to die the most shameful death. For he poured forth his blood on the cross. (17)
For the fact that Christ, who became man, also died was a consequence of his birth. Even though he was free from any sin, he did take upon himself a mortal body, and that should make us marvel. That he who is God was willing to become man, that he endured to accommodate himself to our weakness and come down to our level is too great for our minds to grasp. It makes us shudder with the deepest holy fear; it fills us with terror and trembling. (25)

So in a fitting pastoral application, especially for a year like this in which Christmas falls on Sunday, Chrysostom exhorts:

And this is why I ask and beg all of you to be here in church for that feast with all zeal and alacrity. Let each of us leave his house empty so that we may see our master wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This is a sight which is filled with holy fear and trembling. It is incredible beyond our every expectation.
What defense or excuse will we have when, for our sake, he comes down from heaven, but we do not even leave our homes to come to him? The magi were strangers and foreigners from Persia. Yet they came to see him lying in the manger. Can you, a Christian, not bear to give a brief measure of time to enjoy this blessed sight? (26-27)

 


[1] A panegyric is a festival speech. It is classified as epideictic rhetoric. “Epideictic is perhaps best regarded as including any discourse, oral or written, that does not aim at a specific action or decision but seek to enhance knowledge, understanding, or belief, often through praise or blame, whether of persons, things, or values.” G.A. Kennedy, “The Genres of Rhetoric,” in S.E. Porter, Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, 330 B.C-A.D. 400 (Leiden: Brill, 1997) 43-50 cited in David E. Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Rhetoric (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 162.

[2] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[3] But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (ESV)

[4] Chrysostom, as with most patristic writers, attributed authorship of Hebrews to Paul.

John Chrysostom On The Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 5: Only the Trinity knows the Trinity

Sermon 5 is the longest sermon in the series of 12 sermons On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, but like the previous two sermons Chrysostom has lengthy conclusion that has little to do with the stated thesis of the series as the final third of the sermon deals with the subject of prayer (43-62). [1]

Chrysostom deals intricately with the texts of John 1:18 and 6:46, “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, himself declared him. Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God, he has seen the Father.” The fact that “no one” has seen the Father except the Son is not meant to exclude the Holy Spirit, but all created beings (5-6). For support, Chrysostom turns to Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 2:11, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (7). This is certainly delicate reasoning, but it is sound. “No one” cannot exclude the Spirit in John or the Son in 1 Corinthians. Because we know God’s word is true and his testimony concerning himself is trustworthy, John 1:18; 6:46; and 1 Cor. 2:11 must all be true. So “no one” must indeed refer to all creatures outside of the Trinitarian communion.

Chrysostom then enters into a discussion that is, frankly, an amazing display of exegesis. The preacher turns his attention to 1 Corinthians 8:6, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” As “no one” separates the Trinity from all creation, so “one” separates the Trinity to itself. To prove the equality of the Son and Father Chrysostom demonstrates that “God” and “Lord” are used interchangeably of the Father and Son. Paragraph 12 offers a concise summary,

 Some names are common to several; others are proper to one. There are common names to show that the essence is exactly the same; there are proper names to characterize what is proper to the personal realities. The names “Father” and “Son” characterize what is proper to the personal realities; the names “God” and “Lord” show what is common. Therefore, after Paul set down the common name of “one God,” he had to use the proper name so that you might know of whom he was speaking. He did this to prevent us from falling into the madness of Sabellius.

The preacher then goes through Old and New Testament Scriptures demonstrating that the Father and Son are each called Lord and God (13-24). Returning to his main text, Chrysostom again asserts that knowledge necessitates identity. As men do not know the essence of angels, so neither angels nor men know the essence of God. The preacher goes even further in an amusing fashion. Not only are men incapable of knowing the essence of angels or God, they are incapable of knowing their own essence:

 And why should I speak of what kind of essence the soul has? It is not even possible to say how it exists in the body. What answer could anyone give to this question? That it is extended throughout the bulk of the body? But that is absurd. To exist that way is proper only to bodies. That this is not the way that the soul exists in the body is clear from this example. If a man’s hands and feet are amputated, the soul remains whole and entire and is in no way mutilated by the maiming of the body.
Then it does not exist in the whole body but has it been gathered together in some part of the body? If that is true, the rest of the parts must be dead, because whatever lacks a soul is altogether dead. But we cannot say that. What we must say is that we know not that the soul is in our bodies but that we do not know how it is there. God has shut us off from this knowledge of the soul for a reason. So that, out of his great superiority, he might curb our tongues, hold us in check, and persuade us to remain on earth and not to meddle out of curiosity with matters which are beyond us. (28-29)

This also points to an important conclusion to be made plain before Chrysostom turns his attention to prayer. There is something inherently off-putting to the statement that a person cannot comprehend God. Even when time is taken to explain weight of “comprehend”; even when it is acknowledged that things can be truly known of God; for some it is hard to hear that God cannot be known in his essence. Chrysostom has a helpful analogy:

 Tell me this. Suppose that two men are obstinately arguing with each other about whether they can know how large the sky is. Suppose that one of them says that it is impossible for the human eye to encompass it, and the other would contend that it was possible for a man to measure the entire sky by using the span of his hand. Which of these two would we say would know the size of the sky? Would it be the one who argues how many spans wide the sky is? Or would it be the one who admits that he does not know? Surely the man who admits he does not know the size of the sky when he sees its magnitude will have a better understanding of how large the sky is. When it is a question of God, will we not use the same discretion? Would it not be the ultimate madness if we failed to do so? (39)

Underlying the sermons of Chrysostom is a trust in the word of Scripture. This trust underlies his philosophy and epistemology too. It is not adventurous, brave, or noble, to go beyond the bounds of Scripture. It is folly and madness. Neither is it weak or ignoble to rest content in the knowledge that Scripture does provide. To stay within the bounds of Scripture is true security, it is full sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 4: with thoughts on the Trinitarian significance of the phrase “only begotten Son.”

As with the third sermon, Chrysostom offers little new in the form of argument in the fourth sermon in his series On the Incomprehensible Nature of God.  In the first 10 paragraphs Chrysostom recapitulates the argument of the previous sermon.[1] The final 19 paragraphs are a pastoral exhortation to attend carefully and reverently the service of the church. In the intervening paragraphs Chrysostom again attempts to advance the argument that the angels cannot comprehend God.

In sermon 4, Chrysostom returns from the speculative arguments in his previous sermon to more exegetically sound footing. He begins with thoughts on Ephesians 3:8-10:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Again we see that an aspect of God is described as unknowable: his riches in Christ. And again the argument is pressed, “If the riches are unfathomable, how could he who gave the gift of the riches fail himself to be unfathomable?” (15). Beyond this, we see that God is using the church to teach the angels about his own wisdom. Therefore the same type of argument pursued so effectively in sermon 1 applies to angels as well: if they do not know the wisdom of God they “do not have a perfect comprehension of God’s essence” (13).

Unfortunately, this treatment is all too brief (11-16) for in the remaining chapters the preacher falls into the same errors as he did in the previous sermon. Paragraphs 17-31 are an exposition of John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Chrysostom offers the standard explanation to harmonize this verse with those passages that speak of individuals “seeing” God: namely, that God manifested himself in an act of condescension without revealing his eternal essence. As in the previous sermon, when Chrysostom sticks to the intended referent of the text (i.e. man) he does well, but when he attempts to apply it to angels he goes off-track. In trying to argue so strongly for his position, he actually weakens it. The preacher would have been better served devoting more time to passages the clearly speak of the ignorance of angels (Eph. 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12); or on passages that speak of the exclusivity of God’s knowledge of himself.

Nevertheless, Chrysostom does offer some thought worthy commentary on the title, “only begotten Son.”

The name son belongs to men and it belongs to the Christ. But it belongs to us by analogy; it belongs to Christ in its proper sense. The title only begotten is his alone and belongs to no one else, even by analogy. Therefore, from the title which belongs to no one but to him alone you must understand that the title Son, which belongs to many, is his in its proper sense and meaning. This is why John first said, “only begotten,” and then, “Son.” (26)

While this series of sermons is identified as On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, the Anomoeans had more problems than the belief they could know God as God knows himself. They were Arians and so regarded Christ as less than God. Chrysostom will address this aspect of their heresy in later sermons, but he is already laying the groundwork for that.

Speaking of the Trinity is inherently dangerous, yet it is even more dangerous not to speak of it. Almost everything that can be said rightly about the Trinity can be taken the wrong way, or understood incorrectly. The most biblically accurate way we can speak of the Trinity is in the terms, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Yet there are potential pitfalls even here. If there is “Father” and “Son” there must be a time when the Son was not. If there is “Father” and “Son”,  and “Holy Spirit” can we really consider the Spirit a person? Chrysostom begins to address this difficulty by reminding us of the true nature of the analogical language used of the Trinity.

When we speak of a son of a father we naturally understand that there was a time during which the father existed and the son did not. Until 1974, my father existed and I did not. The Arians took this analogically and applied it to the Trinitarian relationship of the Father and the Son: there was a time when the Son was not. But Chrysostom reminds us that they are reversing the analogy. Jesus is not the Son to the Father in all the ways that I am son to my father. Rather, I am son to my father in ways that Jesus is Son to his Father. I love my father, I trust my father, I seek to please my father, I have my father’s nature. These, and not procreation, are essential to the nature of “sonship.” If procreation were essential to sonship, we would not have adoption.

The use of “only begotten” simply reinforces this. “From this title you may believe that the common title of son is not common but is peculiar to him and belongs to no other as it does to him. Mysteriously, “only begotten” and “son” combine to teach us to put aside as untrue one of our certainties when consider the relation of the Father and the Son. If Jesus is the only Son of the Father, the Father and Son must both be eternal. If God is Father of only one Son, and if he is eternal, he must be eternally a Father of that Son. If the Son did not exist, neither would the Father. How is he Son? Because he is begotten. How is he without beginning? Because he is only begotten.

 


[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).