Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black X

When Mr. Black objects against Mr. White that unconditional surrender to the authority of Scripture is irrational, then Mr. Grey nods approval and says that, of course, the “rational man” has a perfect right to test the credibility of Scripture by logic. When the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign election of some men to salvation this must mean something that fits in with his “rational nature.” When Mr. Black objects to Mr. White that unconditional surrender to Scripture is rationalistic, then Mr. Grey again nods approval and says that, of course, genuine human personality has a perfect right to test the content of Scripture by experience. When the Bible speaks of God controlling by his counsel whatsoever comes to pass, this must mean something that fits in with man’s “freedom.” God created man and gave man a share in his own freedom; men therefore participate in his being.

For instance, when we say that we should presuppose the authority of Scripture, this is often called fideism. That is incorrect, of course. It is often over-simplified in order to indict opponents, but definitions like “the doctrine that knowledge depends on faith or revelation”, while superficially damaging, are insufficient, upon further study. Plantinga defines the term as the “exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason and utilized especially in the pursuit of philosophical or religious truth”, and says further that a fideist  “urges reliance on faith rather than reason, in matters philosophical and religious” and who “may go on to disparage and denigrate reason.”[1] What this fails to account for is the Reformed doctrine of faith as a supernatural gift – and the corresponding gift of a renewed mind in the regenerate man. We are not presupposing a contentless, reasonless faith – a faith which is opposed to reason. We are presupposing the Triune God of Scripture – a Scripture full of content, which fully engages the mind and presupposes a reasoned understanding of that content. We presuppose the triune God, yes – but the Triune God of Scripture. That is where we start, and that is the content which we presuppose. It is not ultimately irrational. Faith is not presented as in opposition to reason, or rather than reason – but reason, as well as faith, is subject to God, who grants both, and who grounds both in Himself.

Scripture’s authority is not a matter of irrationality – it is a matter of listening to the creator of logic, in whose image we are created. The created logic we employ has its model in God. As Reformed believers, we believe that Scripture is selfattesting. We also believe Scripture is sufficient. Any Christian is likely to tell you that the Scripture is authoritative – the issue at hand specifically above – that it is inspired, and inerrant – but the Reformed doctrine of sufficiency goes past even those elements of Sola Scriptura.

The London Baptist Confession puts it this way:

The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience[2]

Notice: knowledge, faith and obedience. The connection I made earlier between faith and reason is hardly unique when it is clearly present in a confessional document from 1689, is it? it explains further, in a later article:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture[3]

Also note what it says about authority:

although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation.[4]

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.[5]

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.[6]

The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.[LNCF I.10[/ref]

I’m sure you are seeing the pattern here, no? The standard of authority we find here is hardly one which could be considered irrational – nor can our position be considered something unChristian! It is, quite simply, the natural, historic position of Reformed believers to hold. In fact, it can be quite easily argued that to hold any contrary position entails a compromise in the sufficiency of Scripture! If, as Scripture tells us, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds – that we are being conformed to the image of Christ – then not only our faith is a supernatural gift, but the restoration of our faculties to conform to His image is part of the regenerative work of the Spirit. Faith is a complement to our reason, not in opposition to it.

Notice Van Til’s play here. The initial objection is that the authority of Scripture as self-attesting, because it is the Word of God, and therefore sufficient, is first irrational. Mr. Grey sagely nods, and affirms man’s right to “test” Scripture by means of logic – as if that authority is in opposition.  Mr. Grey does this to avoid the charge of fideism, as we are so often encouraged to do. His response, when presented with the doctrine of election, is to make the typical Arminian play and subject election to man’s libertarian freedom, not God’s. However, the following charge is just as problematic for Mr. Grey! If we are to test the Scripture by means of logic – if logic can bring a conviction of Scripture at the bench of man’s reason – is this not rationalistic?

Remember, in our last post – dealing with only the paragraph prior, the section was subtitled “The Authority of Scripture” (and this is the subtitle for the section we covered from VII to the aforementioned IX).  As we here enter the section subtitled “Proofs for the Existence of God”, the same issue of authority is in play! Nothing has changed. If Mr. Grey gives in from one direction, he is hit from the opposite direction. If the subject wasn’t so important, I would be afraid of belaboring it – but it stands repeating, as often as necessary. The opposite charge can be made just as easily as the other – if Christian doctrine holds that Scripture is rational, why then is it not rationalistic, especially given the highly rationalistic reply given by Mr. Grey?

The way to deal with these twinned accusations is to recognize that the unbeliever is himself embroiled in an irrational/rational dialectic – which we have also discussed in the past 3 posts! Van Til did not bring this up for no reason. It was intentional. Mr. Black is designed to show us that the indictments he raises against Christian belief – especially Mr. Grey’s brand of Christianity, are actually self-indictments.  Mr. Black is the one suffering from irrationalism and rationalism – in equal and opposite measures – and his objections demonstrate this. Insofar as Mr. Grey panders to them, he will himself be captured in them as well. When confronted with charges of irrationalism, Mr. Grey retreats to rationalism – when confronted with charges of rationalism, he retreats to irrationalism.

But what of natural or general revelation? Here surely there can be no difference, you say, between the requirements of Mr. White and Mr. Grey. Here there is no law and no promise; here there are only the facts of nature. How can you speak of any requirement at all with respect to them? Here surely Mr. White can forget his “five points of Calvinism” and join Mr. Grey in taking Mr. Black through the picture gallery of this world, pointing out its beauties to him so that with them he will spontaneously exclaim, “The whole chorus of nature raises one hymn to the praise of its Creator.”

This is where the rubber meets the road – especially when it comes to criticisms of Van Til and his method. What does it matter, when it comes to objectively true facts, such as the wonders of creation? Can’t we just agree to let bygones be bygones, and stand shoulder to shoulder with our evidentialist and classicalist brethren at this point? After all, these are the facts! Ah, says the voice in the back of Mr. White’s mind – what is the meaning of those facts? Are any of us neutral, when we examine them? Surely not – and as we will see, none of us are neutral – and neither should you be!

Let us think of Mr. White as trying hard to forget his “five points.” “Surely,” he says to himself, “there can be nothing wrong with joining Mr. Grey in showing Mr. Black the wonders of God’s creation. We believe in the same God, do we not? Both of us want to show Mr. Black the facts of creation so that he, too, will believe in God. When Mr. Black says, ‘I see no meaning in all I have seen, and I continue, just as I was, confused and dismayed,’ Mr. Grey and I can together take him to the Mt. Wilson observatory so he may see the starry heavens above. Surely the source of knowledge for the natural sciences is the Book of Nature which is given to everyone. Do not the Scriptures themselves teach that there is a light in nature which cannot be, and is not, transmitted through the spectacles of the Word? If this were not so, how could the Scriptures say of those who have only the light of nature that they are without excuse?”

After all, what does Calvinism have to do with astronomy, he tells himself? Mr. Black doesn’t see meaning in what he is shown! What is this! Even the “light of nature” is insufficient to give him understanding! But, thinks Mr. White – they leave him without excuse! This is true – but he should have remembered the words of the Confession(s).

[A]lthough the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation.[7] The “light of nature” – “and the works of creation and providence” – do manifest God’s goodness, wisdom, and power – but are sufficient only to convict – to leave them without excuse – NOT “to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation.” They are instruments of judgment, not for the provision of sufficient knowledge! Using the “light of nature” as something it was not intended for is a recipe for failure – and Mr. White has strayed from his own confession at this point.

It is also sometimes argued that for apologetic purposes, the “light of nature”, etc is sufficient – but at that point, I question whether we have the same definition of “apologetic purposes” – and further, “sufficient for what”? Yes, it is sufficient to render men inexcusable. That is not at issue, or disputed here, in any way.  Van Til here affirms this, as do all of our confessions. So, to what purpose are we at odds over? For what, other than what we have already stated is the case, is “the light of nature” sufficient for, if not for rendering men “without excuse”? At this point, it miht be helpful to reference the work here, on Romans 1 – no one is disputing that men know God, or that He makes himself known thereby. The question is, “how does the unbeliever get to saving knowledge, except by the regenerative power of the Spirit, by the preaching of the Word?” Again, I doubt any (Reformed) critic would disagree with us that this is the sole means by which saving knowledge is gained. So, what is at issue, really?

So the three men, Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black, go here and there and everywhere. Mr. White and Mr. Grey agree to share the expense. Mr. Black is their guest.

They go first to the Mt. Wilson observatory to see the starry skies above. “How wonderful, how grand!” exclaims Mr. Grey. Then to the marvels of the telescope they add those of the microscope. They circle the globe to see “the wonders of the world.” They listen to the astronauts speaking down to the earth from the vicinity of the moon. There is no end to the “exhibits” and Mr. Black shows signs of weariness. So they sit down on the beach. Will not Mr. Black now sign on the dotted line?

All of this is wonderful – but again, according to the confessions – none of this is sufficient save to convict. This is not a bad thing, necessarily. God’s glory is shown in His justice as well as in His mercy. So, this should set up for a sermon – for exegesis, right? Once you have presented the Creator, whose holiness has been sinned against, whose existence is plain – there must be the Gospel. Not further rationalistic pleas, or probabilistic maybes – but the Gospel. Is that what is presented to Mr. Black? Nope. That is what the issue is, here. That is what Van Til is critical of. Not that they showed him the wonders of God’s creation – but the reason for which they did so – and the purpose to which it was put.

As they wait for the answer, Mr. Grey spies a watch someone has lost. Holding it in his hand he says to Mr. Black: “Look around the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond that which human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which forces admiration from all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance, of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble one another. The Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work, which he has executed.

Aside from the all-too-convenient “lost a watch” here – the theology proper here is frightful. I don’t care how immense the grandeur is – did you just seriously imply that the mind of God was proportional to it? As in, within time and space? C’mon, Mr. Grey!

“Now, Mr. Black, I don’t want to put undue pressure on you. You know your own needs in your own business. But I think that as a rational being you owe it to yourself to join the theistic party. Isn’t it highly probable that there is a God?

Yes, he does want to put “undue pressure” – that was the point of the exercise – and the people you’re talking to aren’t idiots. Treat them like they are, and you deserve the answer you get.

“Join the theistic party” – seriously? All that, for “join the theistic party!” Unbelievable. We laugh, we scoff, we think it is funny – but this sort of argumentation is commonplace. My less academic friends are going to say this is pompous – and they’d be right. My more academic friends will say “this is amateur hour” – and they’ll be right, too. The way that you are taught to argue by the proponents of these methodologies assumes a certain level of acumen – but fails to reach the philosophical heights to truly deal with an informed critic, for the most part. The way these arguments are presented, they are dealing almost exclusively in their stomping grounds – and they are quite often better in that territory than any of us are. Speaking as a layman, with lots of blue-collar friends – this is pretentious drivel. Speaking as someone who has studied apologetics for years, and read a wide swathe of the academic-level literature on the subject – this is derivative dreck – and probably just about right, for an “educated” apologist speaking to an “educated” unbeliever, from my experience.

Then, the kicker – “isn’t it highly probable that…” – he started with this, and he’s been teed up on for multiple conversations about it. Go back and read through the previous encounters again, if you don’t believe me. Then, he tops it off with the “A God” stuff that he’s *also* been lambasted for, by Mr. Black!  What does he expect is going to happen now? Oh, but he’s not done.

I’m not now asking you to become a Christian. We take things one step at a time. I’m only speaking of the Book of Nature. Of course, if there is a God, and if this God should have a Son and if this Son should also reveal himself, it is not likely to be more difficult for you to believe in him than it is now to believe in the Father. But just now I am only asking you to admit that there is a great accumulation of evidence of the sort that any scientist or philosopher must admit to be valid for the existence of a God back of and above this world. You see this watch. Isn’t it highly probable that a power higher than itself has made it? You know the purpose of a watch. Isn’t it highly probable that the wonderful contrivances of nature serve the purposes of God? [8] Looking back we are naturally led to a God who is the cause of this world; looking forward we think of a God who has a purpose with this world. So far as we can observe the course and constitution of the universe there is, I think, no difficulty on your own adopted principles, against belief in God. Why not become a theist? You do want to be on the winning side, don’t you? Well, the Gallup poll of the universe indicates a tendency toward the final victory of theism.”

There are so many cringy things in here, it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll just go in order. If you’re not asking someone to be a Christian, what are you asking them to be? A different sort of unbeliever? This was from far before Antony Flew’s time, but he’s a recent, infamous example of the failure of this approach.  It did Flew no eternal good whatsoever to convert to deism – and, in fact, he stated that “I think we need here a fundamental distinction between the God of Aristotle or Spinoza and the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations.”[9] His “conversion” was nothing of the sort. He acknowledged part of what every man knows. The Creator of all things exists, and we are guilty before Him. He didn’t acknowledge all of this (despite knowing it and suppressing that truth in unrighteousness) – and even if he had acknowledged the entirety of the preceding, it would still have been sufficient only to condemn. This was hailed as some sort of vindication of incrementalist approaches at the time. Antony Flew died in his sins. If we were to take Mr. Grey’s approach – we would also be inviting people to die in their sins.

You cannot divorce natural revelation from supernatural at this point, then expect it to not be a bait and switch later, when you try to unify them once again. What you win them with is what you win them to. Mr. Grey doesn’t believe in “a God” – why is he arguing for one? In what possible way is this not a bait and switch? This is a rotten salesman’s tactic, not a Christian doctrine – and not a Christian practice, either! That book has content. Redact it all you want, but don’t call it God’s Book of Nature after you get done snipping out the offensive parts.

The next part is what makes us, as presuppers, the most upset, when we see it from putatively Christian apologists. Do you believe all of that is only an if? If not, why argue as if that was the case? You don’t believe merely that (at least, I hope you don’t!) – so why does your argument assume something opposed to what you yourself believe? Further – if you’re not asking him to be a Christian – why even bring this up about the Son, His self-revelation – and that a God is actually the Father? Because it’s an obvious bait and switch, and you’re asking him to suspend disbelief, and arbitrarily forget everything that is integral to the nature of the God to believe in a God; as a result, you have to purposely distance yourself from the Christian theology you profess (to Christians) to believe! Is this what we are called to, brothers? Not in the least.

Further, it’s very much the case that it’s more difficult to believe in the antithesis of what the natural man will accept. What you are asking him to accept is a devolved version of what he already knows to be true, already suppresses in unrighteousness, and is already aware that he is condemned thereby! Every man knows the true God – that He created the universe (including himself), and therefore has standards of duty and moral behavior of which he stands in dereliction – standards he stands guilty of violating. That he is a sinner, and unable to rectify his state before God. It is not highly probable that the “wonderful contrivances of nature serve the purposes of God” – it is certain, and known as such by the individual to whom he is speaking. Mr. Grey isn’t “only” asking Mr. Black to “admit” to a limited set of conclusions, and no more. He’s really asking Mr. Black to admit to an artificially limited (and dare I say it – arbitrary) set of conclusions that he might thereby use those admissions in further argumentation, along similar lines. Assuming Mr. Black is an idiot seems to be Mr. Grey’s modus operandi.  He doesn’t want Mr. Black to really believe in “a God” any more than he himself believes in “a God” – he wants Mr. Black to go along with the script, so he can kick it into the next phase. For all the complaining that our evidentialist and classicalist friends do about Sye’s “scripts” – they do the same thing. Seemingly, it isn’t scriptedness that is the real problem, in their eyes – but that the “script” doesn’t meet with their approval.

“Looking back, we are” not “naturally led to a God” – Scripture does not say that “a God” is known – or is understood. The referent is directly and specifically personal.

“[S]ince the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” – it twice uses αὐτοῦ – a personal pronoun. It isn’t a God – but the God – the God whom they know. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” The silly plea at the end can go unmentioned, as self-refuting. (Lest some think it’s over the top – I’ve heard nearly its duplicate before, and many others like it.)

The universal knowledge of God (which we have talked about at some length elsewhere on this site) makes this presentation something for which, as we will see in the next sections, Mr. White cringes from – and rightly so. You can’t pair this sort of incrementalism with a thoroughgoing Reformed Theology. That is, however, the way we are taught to argue about the *existence* of God by the practitioners of these methodologies – where we wouldn’t argue that way elsewhere.

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  1. [1]87, “Reason and Belief in God,” in Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (eds.), Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
  2. [2]LBCF I.1
  3. [3]LBCF I.6
  4. [4]LBCF I.1
  5. [5]LBCF I.4
  6. [6]LBCF I.5
  7. [7]LBCF/WCF I.1 – the LBCF has an additional statement prior to this; “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience,”
  8. [8]Ed. footnote 48: The notion that a watch implies a watchmaker was set forth by William Paley and has become a common approach to the design argument, or teleological argument, for the existence of God.
  9. [9]https://infidels.org/kiosk/article/antony-flew-considers-godsort-of-369.html – feel free to peruse the rest of his comments on the subject.

Podcasts: Fixing backlinks

Many of the podcasts we did previously still point to incorrect urls on the old domain. I’m going through a number of them and fixing incorrect references. They should all work later this am.


The Ease of Failure

Just a bit ago, I saw a video clip wherein JD Greear was said to have claimed “the Bible changed over time.”  Given current controversy, I gave it a watch, and was shocked to discover him answering his interviewer’s question (billed in the caption as “Does the Bible change over time?”)  “of course it does!”

Shock! Amaze! Horror!

Except… that is not what the clip actually said. What made me wonder was the kick up into high gear that his following words made – he started talking exceptionally fast – often a sign that you have an important point to make – OR that you are recovering from a mistake in speech – as learned as someone who had speech therapy for quite a while, due to a catastrophically bad stuttering issue. The clip *actually* begins with the b in “Bible” only partially included – “-ible change over time?” Greear’s answer then begins with “of course it does!”

In any case, it made me wonder what the context was – and how it went on. So, I found the interview in question.  Yeah, it doesn’t say “does the Bible change over time.” She asks “Does understanding of the Bible change over time?” A very different question, I hope you’d agree!

Basically, whether intentionally or not (and I have to believe it was intentional, sadly), the clip was altered to give the impression that he was denying the authority of Scripture by his answer. The question was presented as does the Bible change, in the introduction of the clip. Only the one who clipped this can tell us whether it was intentional – but the introduction given along with it certainly inserted information that wasn’t present in the clip!

Whatever issues we might have with someone’s teaching, it’s not acceptable to misrepresent it – or to uncritically pass along misrepresentations as fact. That, dear brothers and sisters, is libelous[1] – and specifically forbidden by Scripture – and especially against elders in the Church[2]. It’s hard to remain faithful – and the ease of failure is deceptive.  I came within a whisker today of doing so. God’s grace is amazing, is it not?

The full interview in question may be found here. The tweeted clip in question can be found here.

UPDATE: The author of the clip claims, in subsequent tweets, that she merely erred in the timing of her recording’s start. I have no reason to disbelieve her, although I am still curious why she chose to use an altered beginning of the interviewer’s question in the description. Perhaps that, too, was mistaken. In any case, I am gratified that there has been a retraction, of a sort. She has since deleted the tweet listed above, and replaced it with a link a larger section of the interview. Unfortunately, this doesn’t repair the damage inflicted by it earlier in the day – a lesson which we should all take to heart.

  1. [1]Col 3:8
  2. [2]1 Ti 5:19

Still Greater Abominations

As we mentioned previously, JD Greear, citing Jen Wilkin approvingly, claimed that God “whispers” about some sins, and “shouts” about others. Confusingly, just prior, he asserted that homosexuality was “one corruption among many” – a frequent theme was “is that equally depraved in your book?” He further cited that the Bible seems to “whisper” about sexual sins, in general. What we addressed last time was that the theme of Romans 1 was that sexual depravities are, in fact, a form of idolatry. Further, that this sort of idolatry was emblematic of God’s giving them over to a depraved mind.

In the Old Testament, harlotry was the emblematic sin with which God described the idolatry of Israel – and in many cases, that was literal. The worship of Tammuz was not one such case. Ezekiel 8 describes an angelic vision, with successively “still greater abominations than these.” The second-to-last in this series is a picture of a group of women “weeping for Tammuz.” Tammuz was just a minor fertility God – but the women were out here in the midst of the temple performing rites to a pagan god. This wasn’t the only sort of idolatry condemned by God in this series – but it was worse than the idol at the altar gate, the incense burned for a multiplicity of idols in the temple courts. Why? I think because it was in a group. The first was an idol, yes – but it doesn’t depict the worship. The second depicts worship, but it is each *elder* to his own idol(s), in the dark, and not in concert with others. In this case, the idolaters are collectively, publicly – in the north gate entrance to the temple, the house of God – worshipping a false god. The last vision shows a group of elders, with their backs to the altar, inside the temple, worshipping the sun as a group.

This doesn’t demonstrate that sexual sins are more serious, but it does establish that some sins are more serious than others. Not a shout or a whisper – but greater and lesser condemnations.

Our historic catechisms tell us the same thing – and two I am about to cite name the previous passage as a prooftext. In Keach’s catechism, developed to accompany the London Baptist Confession, Q90 asks:

Q. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?

The answer is as follows:

A. Some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. (Ezekiel 8:13; John 19:11; 1 John 5:16)

In the Westminster Larger Catechism, developed to accompany the Westminster Confession, Q150 addresses this point:

Q. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?

The answer is as follows:

A. All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Scripture proofs used are as follows:

1 John 19:11. Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. Ezekiel 8:6, 13, 15. He said furthermore unto me, Son of man, seest thou what they do? even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary? but turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations…. He said also unto me, Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do…. Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. 1 John 5:16. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. Psalm 78:17, 32, 56. And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness…. For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works…. Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies.

So, these are, respectively, what historic Baptists and Presbyterians have taught on this subject from the beginning. The objection might be made that they don’t specifically mention homosexuality, or other sexual sins. I think they do. The categorization “in themselves” used by both catechism answers refers to that, and in the Westminster, at least, those “aggravations” are also delineated, in Q151. Please do note the painstaking attention to proofs in this section, so that it might be evident that this subject was considered to be of considerable importance. I will footnote them all for you, as well.

Q. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?

A. Sins receive their aggravations,

1. From the persons offending[1] if they be of riper age,[2] greater experience or grace,[3] eminent for profession,[4] gifts,[5] place,[6] office,[7] guides to others,[8] and whose example is likely to be followed by others.[9]

2. From the parties offended:[10] if immediately against God,[11] his attributes,[12] and worship;[13] against Christ, and his grace;[14] the Holy Spirit,[15] his witness,[16] and workings[17] against superiors, men of eminency,[18] and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto;[19] against any of the saints,[20] particularly weak brethren,[21] the souls of them, or any other,[22] and the common good of all or many.[23]

3. From the nature and quality of the offense:[24] if it be against the express letter of the law,[25] break many commandments, contain in it many sins:[26] if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions,[27] scandalize others,[28] and admit of no reparation:[29] if against means,[30] mercies,[31] judgments,[32] light of nature,[33] conviction of conscience,[34] public or private admonition,[35] censures of the church,[36] civil punishments;[37] and our prayers, purposes, promises,[38] vows,[39] covenants,[40] and engagements to God or men:[41] if done deliberately,[42] wilfully,[43] presumptuously,[44] impudently,[45] boastingly,[46] maliciously,[47] frequently,[48] obstinately,[49] with delight,[50] continuance,[51] or relapsing after repentance.[52]

4. From circumstances of time9[53] and place:[54] if on the Lord’s day,[55] or other times of divine worship;[56] or immediately before[57] or after these,[58] or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages;[59] if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled[60].

This has been quite an interesting study for me – I admit, I had completely forgotten about the sheer level of detail in this section of the Catechism – but Greear’s comments brought it to mind immediately – so, score one for the Catechism, eh? Notice the verse(s) used to demonstrate offenses against the “light of nature” – Romans 1:26-27! The very text at issue, no? This isn’t some modernistic “backlash at the culture” position we hold.

I will demonstrate it, from an older commentary on the Westminster Catechism, by Thomas Ridgley, the copy linked was published circa 1855, but originally dating from the early 18th century. On pg. 426, he begins with a discussion of q150, then continues onto q151 on that same page. On 428, he makes it to his discussion on “the light of nature”. He cites 1 Cor. 5:1[61] as an additional example. So, the Catechism cites Romans 1:26-27, our commentator adds 1 Cor 5:1 – both are sexual sins. Over and over in these “aggravations”, we see sexual sins featuring prominently. The idolatries of God’s people are likened again and again to adultery, to fornication, to harlotry by God in the OT – and even in the NT. In fact, later on in this paragraph of commentary, Ridgley cites Jude 4, where grace is turned to “lasciviousness” – ἀσέλγειαν. In fact, just a few verses later on in Jude, we are told that

“And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

Exhibited as an example – the conspicuous judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah was an example – a visual aid, if you will – of God’s anger toward sexual immorality. The “dark exchange” of Romans 1 is that of corruptible for incorruptible – and emblematic of that exchange is a giving over to lusts, to degrading passions. That giving over expresses itself in a further exchange – the natural function for that which is unnatural – and men burn in their desire for one another, abandoning the natural function of the woman.  The category of sexual sin – and the further depravity of unnatural sexual sins, like incest, homosexuality, and the like, are examples of the depths and degradations to which we sink when given over – and of God’s justice in punishing such depravity after he lifts his veil of common grace, by which he restrains our sin.

I understand the desire to counteract the simplistic proposition that says, bare of explanation, that “those sins are just *worse*”. I really do. However, driving into the ditch on the opposite side by emphasizing (with little to no explanation – and on the basis of them all being listed in series, no less!) that sins are all equal in the eyes of God – while, well, some are *actually* just whispered about… that’s not acceptable either. Why are we making up a new system of categorization when we have a great body of work already assembled on the topic? Why re-invent the wheel?

The subtler treatment of this topic already exists. Look at how Ridgley treats q150, back on page 426. His commentary begins like this;

Though all sins are objectively infinite, and equally opposite to the holiness of God, yet there are some circumstances attending them of so pernicious a tendency that they render one sin more heinous than another; so that it is not to be thought of, without the greatest horror and resentment, and it exposes the sinner to a greater condemnation, if it not be forgiven.

So, while sin, by its nature, is objectively infinite in that it is against the infinite God, the circumstances of their commission (or the nature of the sins themselves) make them more or less heinous, and deserving of punishment. Note the distinction being made, and the care taken to be faithful to the Biblical witness. There are *60* proofs for 151! About 90 verses worth. That is extraordinary care, even for a catechism, no? This should tell us that this question deserves more than ordinary attention to detail, and a great deal of precision.

God does not whisper about sexual sin. The sexual sins of humanity receive quite a bit of attention in the OT law, and those condemnations are reiterated in the NT, as well. Sexual sin is a form of idolatry, and a sign of God’s removal of common grace, and the advent of His judgment. We would do well to heed that sign. Sexual sins – especially those which demanded the death penalty under the OT law – were not “equally depraved.” Romans actually explains why that is, and I wish his sermon had been more clear – and showed more fidelity to the text he preached.

I call JD Greear to repent of his claims that heinous sexual sin is “equally depraved”, and to renounce the teaching that God “whispers” about it.

Ezra 9:13-14. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?

 

  1. [1]Jeremiah 2:8. The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit.
  2. [2]Job 32:7, 9. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom…. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.

    Ecclesiastes 4:13. Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

  3. [3]1 Kings 11:4, 9. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father…. And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice.
  4. [4]2 Samuel 12:14. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

    1 Corinthians 5:1. It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

  5. [5]James 4:17. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

    Luke 12:47-48. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

  6. [6]Jeremiah 5:4-5. Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the LORD, nor the judgment of their God. I will get me unto the great men, and will speak unto them; for they have known the way of the LORD, and the judgment of their God: but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.
  7. [7]2 Samuel 12:7-9. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

    Ezekiel 8:11-12. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.

  8. [8]Romans 2:17-24. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
  9. [9]Galatians 2:11-14. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But
    when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
  10. [10]Matthew 21:38-39. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
  11. [11]1 Samuel 2:25. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.

    Acts 5:4. Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

    Psalm 5:4. For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.

  12. [12]Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
  13. [13]Malachi 1:8. And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.

    Malachi 1:14. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.

  14. [14]Hebrews 2:2-3. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.

    Hebrews 7:25. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

  15. [15]Hebrews 10:29. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

    Matthew 12:31-32. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

  16. [16]Ephesians 4:30. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
  17. [17]Hebrews 6:4-6. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
  18. [18]Jude 8. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.
    Numbers 12:8-9. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed.

    Isaiah 3:5. And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable.

  19. [19]Proverbs 30:17. The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the
    valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.

    2 Corinthians 12:15. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.

    Psalm 55:12-15. For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company. Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.

  20. [20]Zephaniah 2:8, 10-11. I have heard the reproach of Moab, and the revilings of the children of Ammon, whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified themselves against their border…. This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the LORD of hosts. The LORD will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen.

    Matthew 18:6. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

    1 Corinthians 6:8. Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

    Revelation 17:6. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

  21. [21]1 Corinthians 8:11-12. And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

    Romans 14:13, 15, 21. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way…. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died…. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

  22. [22]Ezekiel 13:19. And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies?

    1 Corinthians 8:12. But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

    Revelation 18:12-13. The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

    Matthew 23:15. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

  23. [23]1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

    Joshua 22:20. Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.

  24. [24]Proverbs 6:30-33. Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.
  25. [25]Ezra 9:10-12. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments, Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.

    1 Kings 11:9-10. And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded.

  26. [26]Colossians 3:5. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

    1 Timothy 6:10. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Proverbs 5:8-12. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger; And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof.
    Proverbs 6:32-33. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.
    Joshua 7:21. When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

  27. [27]James 1:14-15. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

    Matthew 5:22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Micah 2:1. Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand.

  28. [28]Matthew 18:7. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

    Romans 2:23-24. Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through
    you, as it is written.

  29. [29]Deuteronomy 22:22, 28-29. If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel…. If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

    Proverbs 6:32-35. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away. For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts.

  30. [30]Matthew 11:21-24. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

    John 15:22. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

  31. [31]Isaiah 1:3. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

    Deuteronomy 32:6. Do ye thus requite the LORD, O foolish people and unwise? is not he thy father that hath bought thee? hath he not made thee, and established thee?

  32. [32]Amos 4:8-11. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.

    Jeremiah 5:3. O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.

  33. [33]Romans 1:26-27. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
  34. [34]Romans 1:32. Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    Daniel 5:22. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.

    Titus 3:10-11. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.

  35. [35]Proverbs 29:1. He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
  36. [36]Titus 3:10. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.

    Matthew 18:17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.

  37. [37]Proverbs 27:22. Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.

    Proverbs 23:35. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.

  38. [38]Psalm 78:34-37. When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.

    Jeremiah 2:20. For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot.

    Jeremiah 13:5-6, 20-21. So I went, and hid it by Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me. And it came to pass after many days, that the LORD said unto me, Arise, go to Euphrates,
    and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there…. Lift up your eyes, and behold them that come from the north: where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock? What wilt thou say when he shall punish thee? for thou hast taught them to be captains, and as chief over thee: shall not sorrows take thee, as a woman in travail?

  39. [39]Ecclesiastes 5:4-6. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?

    Proverbs 20:25. It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.

  40. [40]Leviticus 26:25. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and
    when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be
    delivered into the hand of the enemy.
  41. [41]Proverbs 2:17. Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.

    Ezekiel 7:18-19. They shall also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror shall cover them; and shame shall be upon all faces, and baldness upon all their heads. They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels: because it is the stumblingblock of their iniquity.

  42. [42]Psalm 36:4. He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil.
  43. [43]Jeremiah 6:16. Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
  44. [44]Numbers 15:30. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

    Exodus 21:14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

  45. [45]Jeremiah 3:3. Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.

    Proverbs 7:13. So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him.

  46. [46]Psalm 52:1. Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually.
  47. [47]3 John 10. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words, etc.
  48. [48]Numbers 14:22. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice.
  49. [49]Zechariah 7:11-12. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.
  50. [50]Proverbs 2:14. Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked.
  51. [51]Isaiah 57:17. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.
  52. [52]Jeremiah 34:8-11. This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother. Now when all the princes, and all the people, which had entered into the covenant, heard that every one should let his manservant, and every one his maidservant, go free, that none should serve themselves of them any more, then they obeyed, and let them go. But afterward they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids.

    2 Peter 2:20-22. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

  53. [53]2 Kings 5:26. And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?
  54. [54]Jeremiah 7:10. And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?

    Isaiah 26:10. Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the LORD.

  55. [55]Ezekiel 23:37-39. That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house.
  56. [56]Isaiah 58:3-5. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

    Numbers 25:6-7. And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand.

  57. [57]1 Corinthians 11:20-21. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
  58. [58]Jeremiah 7:8-10. Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?

    Proverbs 7:14-15. I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee.

    John 13:27, 30. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly…. He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

  59. [59]Ezra 9:13-14. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?
  60. [60]2 Samuel 16:22. So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

    1 Samuel 2:22-24. Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress.

  61. [61]1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.

Futile Speculations

An excerpt from Exposition of Romans 1:16-2:26: The Knowledge of God – found in In Antithesis Vol. 1, No. 1

 

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. – (διότι γνόντες τὸν θεὸν οὐχ ὡς θεὸν ἐδόξασαν ἢ ηὐχαρίστησαν ἀλλ’ ἐματαιώθησαν ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς αὐτῶν καὶ ἐσκοτίσθη ἡ ἀσύνετος αὐτῶν καρδία)

It should go without saying that it’s plainly stated in the text that “they knew God”; unfortunately, it has long been fashionable, instead of taking the text for what it says, to circumvent the usage of “know” by the insertion of the philosophical terminology of respective eras, or to question whether it really means “know”. The question, of course, should not be whether they know God, but how. Many of the aforementioned philosophical considerations are, in fact, asking “how”, not whether; but it remains plain that the contextual meaning of “know” can be seen in the text, and brought out from it, without the necessity of philosophical eisegesis. The sentence, as mentioned previously, opens with διότι, which ties it to the previous sentence, and links them together argumentatively. The end of vs. 20 tells us that they are without excuse – without a defense – without an apologetic. This is because they knew God; but they did not honor Him, glorify Him , as God (οὐχ ὡς θεὸν ἐδόξασαν) – or give thanks to Him (ἢ ηὐχαρίστησαν). Because they knew God, this is their duty, and their proper response; yet their response was otherwise, so they have no defense before Him. To try to explain away the knowledge that men have of God is, quite simply, to cut the heart out of Paul’s presentation of the state of man before God. There is no way around it, there is no option here presented. To say that men, for whatever reason, have not the knowledge of God is to leave them with an excuse – which is precisely the opposite of what Paul here tells us. Any definition of the knowledge of God which leaves men with an excuse, according to the text, is hereby precluded; if your definition of knowledge, whatever that may be, results in man not knowing God; the problem is with your definition.

The knowledge of God here discussed is explained over the course of the previous verses; it is revelatory, it is sufficient, it is inescapable, and it is clear. It is revelatory, because the text tells us it is. God made it manifest to them. It is sufficient, because (a) God is who has made it manifest, and (b) It renders men indefensible before God. It is inescapable, because man is a creation of God, in His image, as well as a part of creation – he cannot escape himself, and neither can he escape his environment. It is clear, again, because God has made it thus. The text says, expressly, that what God has revealed is clearly seen, and understood. Paul’s argument is inexorable, it is perspicuous, and it is unavoidable. Men are without an excuse, because they know God, know who He is, what is required of them, and that they have a necessary covenantal relationship with Him as His creatures. Yet, they neither glorify God as they are required to do, nor do they thank the God they know for what they know He has given them, in His common grace. In their suppression of the truth (which they are in possession of) their foolish hearts are darkened. All of their deliberations, their speculations, or arguments (διαλογισμός), are useless, worthless, or futile (ματαιόω). They have no apologetic for their lack of proper response to the God they know, and are required to glorify and give thanks to. Romans 1:21 is not the end of Paul’s argument, however. His argument, in fact, continues on through the majority of Romans; we lack the time, or the space, to examine it in detail in this particular article, but we should, indeed, look at it in terms of the overarching argument of this great epistle. In the meantime, we will continue on.

Professing to be wise, they became fools, – φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ ἐμωράνθησαν

Professing, or affirming their own wisdom, they act foolishly. In other words, by their pretensions of wisdom – by setting themselves up as the wise men, they have made fools of themselves. This brings to mind 1 Cor 1:18ff, where the “wisdom” of the world and the “foolishness” of God is contrasted; and, interestingly, where the “power of God” to salvation is also referred to. It would be beneficial to examine the parallels involved in these two passages; there are many. This verse also calls to mind the many verses in the Psalms and Proverbs concerning wisdom and foolishness. Also recall 2Ti 2:23, in connection with this verse and the preceding. In fine, the foolishness of man comes out all the plainer when he professes to be wise. This thought, however, is not completed in this verse.

and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. – καὶ ἤλλαξαν τὴν δόξαν τοῦ ἀφθάρτου θεοῦ ἐν ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος φθαρτοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πετεινῶν καὶ τετραπόδων καὶ ἑρπετῶν

The first use of “exchange” (ἤλλαξαν) is here, and will be further explained shortly. The suppression of the truth seen earlier is here expressed. The exchange of glory for the Creator is with glory for the creature. Of the incorruptible, the immortal (ἄφθαρτος), for the corruptible, the mortal (φθαρτός). Note the antithesis in the forms here – ἄ is the only change in the two words – the negation of φθαρτός. This exchange is of the real thing, for the image of the real thing. The ἐν ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος φθαρτοῦ for δόξαν τοῦ ἀφθάρτου θεοῦ. I cannot help but note the connection of this exchange to the “darkened” (σκοτίζω) in vs. 21. The picture hearkens back to Matthew 4:16, Luke 2:32, Ephesians 5, and will be seen shortly in 2:19; it also finds parallel in 1Tim. 6:16; μόνος ἔχων ἀθανασίαν φῶς οἰκῶν ἀπρόσιτον. The light of the incorruptible wisdom and glory of God is exchanged for the darkness of corruption, foolishness, and dishonor.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. – διὸ παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν αὐτῶν εἰς ἀκαθαρσίαν τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν ἐν αὐτοῖς

We again see διό used to tie the previous verse and this verse together. Because of the preceding, God delivers them up, gives them over (παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς). What does He give them over in, or to? ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν αὐτῶν εἰς ἀκαθαρσίαν – in the lusts, or desires of their foolishly darkened hearts, to impurity. They are in the state of their lustful foolishness, and God gives them over to impurity.[1] For what reason? τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν ἐν αὐτοῖς – that their bodies might be dishonored among them. Interestingly, this seems to be a direct tie to their refusal to honor God in vs. 21. If God is not honored, he gives them over to dishonor the very things that they are professing to honor, instead. That which they have exchanged for is thus shown to be just as worthless as their speculations are.

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. – οἵτινες μετήλλαξαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ ψεύδει καὶ ἐσεβάσθησαν καὶ ἐλάτρευσαν τῇ κτίσει παρὰ τὸν κτίσαντα ὅς ἐστιν εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ἀμήν

“Verse 25 reverts to the thought of verse 23. This virtual reiteration serves three purposes-it unfolds the character of the offense, it reaffirms the ground upon which the judicial infliction rested, and it vindicates the gravity of the infliction by emphasizing the religious perversity on account of which the penalty was imposed.”[2] The truth of God (τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ θεοῦ) here exchanged is that which God has made manifest, explained in vss. 18-20. The lie (ψεῦδος) is that which they are suppressing that manifest truth with. This suppression is expressed in the service and worship of the creation, rather than the Creator. As to ψεῦδος, a case can, and should be made that this refers back to φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ, in vs. 22. Their affirmation of wisdom is a self-attestation. It does not look to God as the fount of wisdom, and, frankly, denies the claim Paul presents in Col 2:2-3 – that all wisdom and knowledge is hidden in Christ. In short, the lie exchanged for truth is autonomy.

♦ End excerpt


What I mean to point out by sharing this exegetical passage is that the entire thrust which with the argument of Romans begins is that the dishonor of bodies, the giving over to lusts, is an exchange – of corruptible depravity for incorruptible glory. This is the emblematic, visible sign of the “dark exchange” of the Fall – of creation enslaved.

This is worship of the creation – a specific idolatry of the image of God, replacing the worship of God Himself.  Sexual immorality is idolatry. 

Hence, any claim that sexual immorality is a sin about which God “whispers” (per J.D. Greear’s approving citation of Jen Wilkin) is patently, egregiously false.

He turns the momentum and impetus of the text on its ear by so doing.

  1. [1]The Epistle to the Romans, Murray, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, 43-44
  2. [2]The Epistle to the Romans, Murray, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, 45

Questions about the Form of TAG

I saw the following questions left for me elsewhere on the Internet so I will take a moment to briefly respond.

1. “Van Til and Bahnsen claim that TAG is neither inductive nor deductive. Do the other things they say about TAG also imply this, and if so, how?”

To my knowledge, Van Til and Bahnsen never use the acronym ‘TAG,’ although Bahnsen repeats the phrase ‘Transcendental Argument for God.’ Searching this site reveals a fair amount of rather heated discussion and evidence regarding Van Til and Bahnsen’s claims to the effect that transcendental argument is neither inductive nor deductive.

2. “What is the logical structure of a transcendental (as opposed to a deductive or an inductive) argument? Is Van Til’s and Bahnsen’s view identical to Don Collett’s formulation?”

Transcendental. No.

3. “We understand what it means for an inductive argument to be strong or weak. We know what validity and soundness is with regard to deductive arguments. What distinguishes a successful transcendental argument from an unsuccessful one?”

‘Strong’ and ‘weak’ inductive arguments can, presumably, both be ‘successful.’ ‘Validity’ and ‘soundness’ are more precise deductive categories than ‘successful.’ So although it is unclear what is meant by ‘successful,’ a ‘successful’ transcendental argument would likely demonstrate some precondition of knowledge and an ‘unsuccessful’ transcendental argument would fail to do so.


Revelation about God from Nature – Natural Theology

Coming now to the knowledge that man in Paradise would have of God, we must notice first of all that there man would be able to reason correctly from nature to nature’s God.[1] But the meaning of this fact should be taken in connection with what we have said when discussing the true theistic conception of physics. We may perhaps best bring out what we mean by saying that man could originally reason from nature to nature’s God by contrasting it to what is usually been meant by that statement. In the first place, when men say that we can reason from nature to nature’s God they usually take it for granted that nature as it exists today is normal, and that the human mind which contemplates it is normal. This is not true. Nature has had a veil cast over it on account of the sin of man, and the mind of man itself has been corrupted by sin. Accordingly, we must not, now that sin has entered the world, separate natural theology from theological psychology.[2] After sin has entered the world, no one of himself knows nature aright, and no one knows the soul of man aright. How then could man reason from nature to nature’s God and get anything but a distorted notion of God? The sort of natural theology that the sinner, who does not recognize himself as a sinner, makes is portrayed to us in the first chapter of Romans.

In the second place, when men speak of reasoning from nature to nature’s God, they do not usually recognize the difference between thinking of nature and man as proximate and derivative starting point and thinking of man as an ultimate starting point. It was this point that we sought to bring out under the headings of a Christian conception of physics and a Christian conception of psychology. Then man reasoned from nature to nature’s God in Paradise, he did not begin from nature as from something that was known to him independently of God in order thus to reason to God of whom he did not know. The phrase that we must reason from the known to the unknown[3] is in itself formal and misleading. The question is as to what is known and what is unknown. As Christian theists, we could certainly never allow that the universe was originally known to man before God was known to him. The cosmos-consciousness, the self-consciousness, and the God-consciousness would naturally be simultaneous.[4] To use a phrase that Hocking uses with an idealist meaning instead of a Christian meaning, we may say that the God-consciousness would have to come in at the level of man’s sensation if it was ever to come in at all. Man would at once with the first beginning of his mental activity see the true state of affairs as to the relation of God to the universe as something that was known to him in order afterwards to ascertain whether or not God exists.[5] He would know that God is the Creator of the Universe as soon as he knew anything about the universe itself.[6][7] – CVT, Introduction to Systematic Theology 2nd ed., 133-134

  1. [1]45. To begin the final series, we have revelation about God from nature. (C.1 in the outline), which Van Til calls “natural theology.” For many Reformed people the latter expression is a problem because of its Thomistic implications. Van Til is quite aware of the dangers of “natural law” and the kind of theology that attempts to build an edifice of preliminary truths on nature alone as revealer by means of unaided human reason. But he is quite comfortable asserting that nature is a source of revelation. In the lines that follow, he shows two flaws in what is usually meant by “reasoning from nature’s God”: (1) Because we are fallen, there is a veil cast over nature so that it is not clearly understood. (2) Because we are finite, we are dependent on God as the source of revelation, not on nature as an independent source. – Ed.

    Post author’s note: I disagree with Edgar’s assertion above that natural, or general revelation, is “not clear”, at least in a limited way; Van Til again and again affirms that general revelation is perspicacious. On the other hand, in a limited way, I agree that nature is not as clear as it once was, in a creation unmarred by sin. The issue does not seem to be that nature is unclear, albeit fallen – it seems to be that man’s faculties are faulty, and marred by sin – and that nature, along with man’s intellect, has been made “cloudy”, like water containing particulates that remain insoluble. These noetic effects leave man unable to properly process that revelation, and they instead suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Further, while they know God exists in a general sense, and while natural revelation leaves them without excuse insofar as their actual nature, and responsibility to God for it, they cannot “get there from here” insofar as salvific knowledge and proper understanding of the transcendent God as He truly is, without the transformed mind of a believer regenerated by the power of the Spirit. See the author’s Exposition of Romans 1.16-2.16 within In Antithesis V.1 No. 1, or in the cited volume, pgs. 50ff. for more explanation.

  2. [2]Emphasis in original
  3. [3]Emphasis in original
  4. [4]Emphasis in original
  5. [5]William Ernest Hocking, The Meaning of God in Human Experience: A Philosophic Study of Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1912), 154-55, 204, 269, 286, 301-302, passim. -Ed
  6. [6] Emphasis in original
  7. [7]Post author’s note: Notice here that Van Til’s emphasis on an inability to “reason from nature to nature’s God” is one drawn from the necessary consequence of the noetic effects of the fall. This inability is part and parcel with that same man’s inability to keep the law of God, or to worship Him rightly. That is the driving force behind his apologetic, and behind this particular emphasis on man’s inability. It is involved in man’s ethical and intellectual endeavors – in fact, those two are well-nigh inextricable.

Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Cor 1:18-21

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In this first clause a concession is made. For as it might very readily be objected, that the gospel is commonly held in contempt, if it be presented in so bare and abject a form, Paul of his own accord concedes this, but when he adds, that it is so in the estimation of them that perish, he intimates that no regard must be paid to their judgment. For who would choose to despise the gospel at the expense of perishing? This statement, therefore, must be understood in this way: “However the preaching of the cross, as having nothing of human wisdom to recommend it to esteem, is reckoned foolishness by them that perish; in our view, notwithstanding, the wisdom of God clearly shines forth in it.” He indirectly reproves, however, the perverted judgment of the Corinthians, who, while they were, through seduction of words, too easily allured by ambitious teachers, regarded with disdain an Apostle who was endowed with the power of God for their salvation, and that simply because he devoted himself to the preaching of Christ. In what way the preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation, we have explained in commenting upon Romans 1:16

For it is written,
“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”

He shows still farther, from the testimony of Isaiah, how unreasonable a thing it is that the truth of the gospel should be regarded with prejudice on the ground that the wise of this world hold it in contempt, not to say derision. For it is evident from the words of the Prophet, that their opinion is regarded as nothing in the account of God. The passage is taken from Isaiah 29:14, where the Lord threatens that he will avenge himself upon the hypocrisy of the people by this kind of punishment, that wisdom will perish from the wise, etc. Now the application of this to the subject in hand is this: “It is nothing new or unusual for men to form utterly absurd judgments, who appear in other respects to be distinguished for wisdom. For in this manner the Lord has been wont to punish the arrogance of those who, depending on their own judgment, think to be leaders to themselves and others. In this manner did He, among the Israelitish people of old, destroy the wisdom of those who were the leaders of the people. If this happened among a people, whose wisdom the other nations had occasion to admire, what will become of others?”

It is proper, however, to compare the words of the Prophet with those of Paul, and to examine the whole matter still more closely. The Prophet, indeed, makes use of neuter verbs when he says, Wisdom will perish and prudence will vanish, while Paul turns them into the active form, by making them have a reference to God. They are, however, perfectly the same in meaning. For this is a great prodigy which God declares he will exhibit, so that all will be filled with astonishment. Wisdom, therefore, perishes, but it is by the Lord’s destroying it: wisdom vanishes, but it is by the Lord’s covering it over and effacing it. As to the second term αθετεῖν, (which Erasmus renders reject,) as it is ambiguous, and is sometimes taken to mean efface, or expunge, or obliterate, I prefer to understand it in this sense here, so as to correspond with the Prophet’s word vanish, or be hid. At the same time, there is another reason that has weighed more with me, [1] — that the word reject was not in accordance with the subject, as will appear ere long. Let us see, then, as to the meaning.

The Prophet’s meaning, without doubt, is precisely this, that they would no longer have governors that would rule well, because the Lord will deprive them of sound judgment and intelligence. For as he elsewhere threatens to send blindness upon the whole nation (Isaiah 6:10,) so here, upon the leaders; which is just as though he were plucking the eyes out of the body. However this may be, a great difficulty arises from the circumstance, that the term wisdom or prudence was taken by Isaiah in a good sense, while Paul quotes it for an opposite purpose, as though the wisdom of men were condemned by God, as being perverted, and their prudence set aside as being mere vanity. I confess that it is commonly expounded in this way; but as it is certain that the oracles of the Holy Spirit are not perverted by the Apostles to meanings foreign to their real design, I choose rather to depart from the common opinion of interpreters than to charge Paul with falsehood. In other respects, too, the natural meaning of the Prophet’s words accords not ill with Paul’s intention; for if even the wisest become fools, when the Lord takes away a right spirit, what confidence is to be placed in the wisdom of men? Farther, as it is God’s usual way of punishing, to strike blind those who, following implicitly their own judgment, are wise in their own esteem, it is not to be wondered if carnal men, when they rise up against God, with the view of subjecting His eternal truth to their rashness, are turned into fools, and become vain in their imaginations. We now see with what appropriateness Paul makes use of this testimony. Isaiah declares that the vengeance of God upon all those that served God with their own inventions would be, that wisdom would vanish from their wise men. Paul, with the view of proving that the wisdom of this world is vain and worthless, when it exalts itself against God, adduces this testimony from Isaiah.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? 

This expression of triumph is added for the purpose of illustrating the Prophet’s testimony. Paul has not taken this sentiment from Isaiah, as is commonly thought, but speaks in his own person. For the passage which they point to (Isaiah 33:18) has nothing corresponding to the subject in hand, or nearly approaching to it. For in that passage, while he promises to the Jews deliverance from the yoke of Sennacherib, that he may magnify the more this great blessing from God, he shows how miserable is the condition of those that are oppressed by the tyranny of foreigners. He says, that they are in a constant fever of anxiety, from thinking themselves beset with scribes or questors, treasurers, and counters of towers. Nay more, he says, that the Jews were involved in such difficulties, that they were stirred up to gratitude by the very remembrance of them. [2] It is a mistake, therefore, to suppose that this sentence is taken from the Prophet. [3] The term world, ought not to be taken in connection with the last term merely, but also with the other two. Now, by the wise of this world, he means those who do not derive their wisdom from illumination by the Spirit through means of the word of God, but, endowed with mere worldly sagacity, rest on the assurance which it affords.

It is generally agreed, that by the term scribes is meant teachers. For as ספר, saphar among the Hebrews, means to relate or recount, and the noun derived from it, ספרsepher, is used by them to signify a book or volume, they employ the term סופרימsopherim, to denote learned men, and those that are conversant with books; and, for the same reason, too, sopher regis is often used to denote a chancellor or secretary. The Greeks, following the etymology of the Hebrew term, have translated it γραμματεις, scribes [4] He appropriately gives the name of investigators [5] to those that show off their acuteness by starting difficult points and involved questions. Thus in a general way he brings to nothing man’s entire intellect, so as to give it no standing in the kingdom of God. Nor is it without good reason that he inveighs so vehemently against the wisdom of men, for it is impossible to express how difficult a thing it is to eradicate from men’s minds a misdirected confidence in the flesh, that they may not claim for themselves more than is reasonable. Now there is more than ought to be, if, depending even in the slightest degree upon their own wisdom, they venture of themselves to form a judgment.

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

By wisdom here he means everything that man can comprehend either by the natural powers of his understanding, or as deriving aid from practice, from learning, or from a knowledge of the arts. For he contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of the Spirit. Hence, whatever knowledge a man may come to have without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, is included in the expression, the wisdom of this world This he says God has utterly made foolish, that is, He has convicted it of folly. This you may understand to be effected in two ways; for whatever a man knows and understands, is mere vanity, if it is not grounded in true wisdom; and it is in no degree better fitted for the apprehension of spiritual doctrine than the eye of a blind man is for discriminating colors. We must carefully notice these two things — that a knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke, where the heavenly science of Christ is wanting; and man, with all his acuteness, is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God, as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies. For in this way he reproves the destructive pride of those who glory in the wisdom of the world so as to despise Christ, and the entire doctrine of salvation, thinking themselves happy when they are taken up with creatures; and he beats down the arrogance of those who, trusting to their own understanding, attempt to scale heaven itself.

There is also a solution furnished at the same time to the question, how it happens that Paul in this way throws down upon the ground every kind of knowledge that is apart from Christ, and tramples, as it were, under foot what is manifestly one of the chief gifts of God in this world. For what is more noble than man’s reason, in which man excels the other animals? How richly deserving of honor are the liberal sciences, which polish man, so as to give him the dignity of true humanity! Besides this, what distinguished and choice fruits they produce! Who would not extol with the highest commendations civil prudence [6] (not to speak of other things,) by which governments, principalities, and kingdoms are maintained? A solution of this question, I say, is opened up to view from the circumstance, that Paul does not expressly condemn either man’s natural perspicacity, or wisdom acquired from practice and experience, or cultivation of mind attained by learning; but declares that all this is of no avail for acquiring spiritual wisdom. And, certainly, it is madness for any one, confiding either in his own acuteness, or the assistance of learning, to attempt to fly up to heaven, or, in other words, to judge of the secret mysteries of the kingdom of God, [7] or to break through (Exodus 19:21) to a discovery of them, for they are hid from human view. Let us, then, take notice, that we must restrict to the specialities of the case in hand what Paul here teaches respecting the vanity of the wisdom of this world — that it rests in the mere elements of the world, and does not reach to heaven. In other respects, too, it holds true, that without Christ sciences in every department are vain, and that the man who knows not God is vain, though he should be conversant with every branch of learning. Nay more, we may affirm this, too, with truth, that these choice gifts of God — expertness of mind, acuteness of judgment, liberal sciences, and acquaintance with languages, are in a manner profaned in every instance in which they fall to the lot of wicked men.

 

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

The right order of things was assuredly this, that man, contemplating the wisdom of God in his works, by the light of the understanding furnished him by nature, might arrive at an acquaintance with him. As, however, this order of things has been reversed through man’s depravity, God designs in the first place to make us see ourselves to be fools, before he makes us wise unto salvation, (2 Timothy 3:15;) and secondly, as a token of his wisdom, he presents to us what has some appearance of folly. This inversion of the order of things the ingratitude of mankind deserved. By the wisdom of God he means the workmanship of the whole world, which is an illustrious token and clear manifestation of his wisdom: God therefore presents before us in his creatures a bright mirror of his admirable wisdom, so that every one that looks upon the world, and the other works of God, must of necessity break forth in admiration of him, if he has a single spark of sound judgment. If men were guided to a right knowledge of God by the contemplation of his works, they would know God in the exercise of wisdom, or by a natural and proper method of acquiring wisdom; but as the whole world gained nothing in point of instruction from the circumstance, that God had exhibited his wisdom in his creatures, he then resorted to another method for instructing men. [8] Thus it must be reckoned as our own fault, that we do not attain a saving acquaintance with God, before we have been emptied of our own understanding.

He makes a concession when he calls the gospel the foolishness of preaching, having that appearance in the view of those foolish sages (μωροσόφοις) who, intoxicated with false confidence, [9]  fear not to subject God’s sacred truth to their senseless criticism. And indeed in another point of view nothing is more absurd in the view, of human reason than to hear that God has become mortal — that life has been subjected to death — that righteousness has been veiled under the appearance of sin — and that the source of blessing has been made subject to the curse, that by this means men might be redeemed from death, and become partakers of a blessed immortality — that they might obtain life — that, sin being destroyed, righteousness might reign — and that death and the curse might be swallowed up. We know, nevertheless, in the meantime, that the gospel is the hidden wisdom, (1 Corinthians 2:7,) which in its height surmounts the heavens, and at which angels themselves stand amazed. Here we have a most beautiful passage, from which we may see how great is the blindness of the human mind, which in the midst of light discerns nothing. For it is true, that this world is like a theater, in which the Lord presents to us a clear manifestation of his glory, and yet, notwithstanding that we have such a spectacle placed before our eyes, we are stone-blind, not because the manifestation is furnished obscurely, but because we are alienated in mind, (Colossians 1:21,)and for this matter we lack not merely inclination but ability. For notwithstanding that God shows himself openly, it is only with the eye of faith that we can behold him, save only that we receive a slight perception of his divinity, sufficient to render us inexcusable.

Accordingly, when Paul here declares that God is not known through means of his creatures, you must understand him to mean that a pure knowledge of him is not attained. For that none may have any pretext for ignorance, mankind make proficiency in the universal school of nature; so far as to be affected with some perception of deity, but what God is, they know not, nay more, they straightway become vain in their imaginations, (Romans 1:21.) Thus the light shineth in darkness, (John 1:5.) It follows, then, that mankind do not err thus far through mere ignorance, so as not to be chargeable with contempt, negligence, and ingratitude. Thus it holds good, that all

have known God, and yet have not glorified him, (Romans 1:21,)

and that, on the other hand, no one under the guidance of mere nature ever made such proficiency as to know God. Should any one bring forward the philosophers as exceptions, I answer, that in them more especially there is presented a signal token of this our weakness. For there will not be found one of them, that has not from that first principle of knowledge, which I have mentioned, straightway turned aside into wandering [10] and erroneous speculations, and for the most part they betray a silliness worse than that of old wives. When he says, that those are saved that believe, this corresponds with the foregoing statement — that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Farther, by contrasting believers, whose number is small, with a blind and senseless world, he teaches us that we err if we stumble at the smallness of their number, inasmuch as they have been divinely set apart to salvation.

  1. [1]“Combien que j’aye vne raison encore plus valable, qui m’a induit a changer ceste translation;” — “At the same time, I have a still more forcible reason, which has induced me to alter this translation.”
  2. [2]The passage referred to in Isaiah is happily rendered by Lowth:-Thine heart shall reflect on the past terror: Where is now the accomptant? where the weigher of tribute? where is he that numbered the towers? The last of these expressions Lowth explains to mean, “the commander of the enemy’s forces, who surveyed the fortifications of the city, and took an account of the height, strength, and situation of the walls and towers, that he might know where to make the assault with the greatest advantage.” — Ed.
  3. [3]“The words of Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:20, ποῦ σοφός; ποῦ γραμματεύς; ποῦ συζητητὴς κ.τ.λ., are not, as some have imagined, a quotation of the words of this verse,” (Isaiah 33:18;) “the only points of agreement between them being merely the occurrence of γραμματεὺς, and the repetition of the interrogative τοῦ. It is not impossible, however, that the structure of the one passage may have suggested the other.” — Henderson on Isaiah. — Ed
  4. [4]The Hebrew phrase referred to occurs in 2 Kings 12:10 ספר המלך (the king’s scribe.) It is rendered by the Septuagint, ὁ γραμματεύς τοῦ βασιλέως.  The corresponding Greek term, γραμματεις, is employed by the classical writers to denote a clerk or secretary, (Demosth. 269.19.) The γραμματεις (notaries) “had the custody of the laws and the public records, which it was their business to write, and to repeat to the people and senate when so required.” — Potter’s Grecian Antiquities, volume 1.— Ed
  5. [5]Calvin, here has manifestly in his eye the original meaning of συζητητης, which is derived from συνand ζητεω (to inquire together,) and comes very naturally to mean one that indulges in arguments or disputes. The term was applied to the subtle Sophists, or disputants in the Greek academies. — Ed
  6. [6]La prudence civile, c’est a dire la science des lois;” — “Civil prudence, that is to say, the science of laws.”
  7. [7]See Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.
  8. [8]The reader will find the same train of thought as above in the Institutes, volume 1. — Ed.
  9. [9]Et outrecuidance;” — “And presumption.
  10. [10]Extrauagantes;” — “Extravagant.”

Are You Tired of the Word?: Sermon Introduction from “The Little Scroll” (Revelation 10:1-11)

Are you tired of the Word?

Perhaps the greatest trouble facing the Church today is our tendency to grow tired of the Word, and lose interest in the gospel, so that we seek out theologies and programs and excitement that, while not necessarily bad in and of themselves, are often based more on the world than they are on the Word. And so I ask you this morning, are you tired of the Word? Have you lost interest in the gospel?

Toward the end of the last century, American evangelicals became fascinated by end times particulars, hosting prophecy conferences and often undermining their pulpits through politics associated with holding various views. Toward the beginning of this century, a phenomenon now known as ‘New Calvinism’ swept across the younger generation in our country, focusing on the doctrine of election to the exclusion of robust ecclesiological considerations. And now, since roughly the beginning of this decade, otherwise theologically conservative evangelicals have tipped their hats to the teachings of so-called ‘social justice,’ which is a term historically associated with a Marxist worldview and the Critical Race Theory which currently dominates most higher academic institutions. Now, the Bible never uses the term ‘social justice,’ although it has much to say about doing justice, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. In our church, we practice what some Christians call ‘social justice’ through our caring for the widows, and the orphans, and providing and praying for the hungry, and other activities so many of us are involved in throughout the week. But we do these good works as an implication of the gospel, and to ‘adorn’ the gospel, not as a definitive component of the gospel. So I was troubled this past week to see a prominent, theologically conservative, Southern Baptist pastor in Nashville seemingly approve of a Washington Post article which claims that ‘social justice’ is a definitive component of the gospel. Folks, if we’re deriving our definition of the gospel from the Washington Post, then we’re in serious trouble. I am amazed that people from our camp, who are our friends, are so quickly turning away from him who called us by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is no gospel. I would remind you brothers and sisters, of the gospel you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This unchanging, propositional truth of the authoritative, inerrant Word of God is not a ‘reductionistic gospel,’ it is the gospel, and it is sufficient to save and to spark the process of progressive sanctification and transformation that necessarily follows from true conversion.

And so I ask you this morning, are you tired of the Word? Have you lost interest in the gospel?