Why Men Cannot “Help” God

Here, if we have rightly found the heart of the theology of the whole book, is a very great depth.  There is a rebuke in it for any person who, by complaining about particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe than those God currently uses.  Men are eager to use force to combat evil and, in their impatience, they wish God would do the same more often.  But, by such destructive acts, men do and become evil.  To behave as God suggests in 40.8-14, Job would not only usurp the role of God, he would become another Satan.  Only God can destroy creatively.  Only God can transmute evil into good.  As Creator, responsible for all that happens in His world, He is able to make everything – good and bad – work together into good.  The debate has been elevated to a different level.  The reality of God’s goodness lies beyond justice.  This is why the categories of guilt and punishment, true and terrible though they are, can only view human suffering as a consequence of sin, not as an occasion of grace.

From: Job: An Introduction and Commentary by Francis I. Andersen; Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1976), pp. 287-288.

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Job’s Appeal to God

Job has rightly appealed to God to maintain his cause.  In verses 8-14, Job is reminded that he does not have the ability to secure his own vindication.  Hence, the emphasis on the power of God.  The contrast between the two has not been rubbed in to humiliate Job, to convince him that he cannot hope to succeed in an unequal contest with God.  The point made now is quite different, and we suddenly see what all those apparently irrelevant excursions into nature were leading up to.  Job now must realize that he is no more able to exercise jurisdiction in the moral realm than he is able to control the natural. . .[I]t brings Job to the end of his quest by convincing him that he may and must hand the whole matter over completely to God more trustingly, less fretfully – and do it without insisting that God should first answer all his questions and give him a formal acquittal.

From: Job: An Introduction and Commentary by Francis I. Andersen; Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1976), pp. 286-287.  Commenting on Job 40.6-14.

Augustine Prays

. . .the pent-up spirit of devotion seems released [and] pours out in a perfect flood.  The name of God is uttered and repeated again and again, like the dominant theme of some mighty fugue, and each repetition develops some fresh aspect, some new idea, some hitherto unmentioned glory of Deity.  The holy name is reiterated with what would be monotony, but is redeemed from monotony by the inexhaustible abundance of the thoughts which it awakens.  God is conceived as Creator of all that is (“universitatis conditor”).  Then also, God is Father of truth, Father of wisdom, Father of blessedness, Father of the good and beautiful, so that fatherhood becomes the ruling idea.

From: St. Augustine’s Conversion: An Outline of His Development to the Time of His Ordination by W. J. Sparrow Simpson (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), p. 130.

On a Servant’s Love for God’s Word

Here is (1) the psalmist’s great affection for the Word of God.  “Your servant loves it.”  Every good man, being a servant of God, loves the Word of God because it lets him know his Master’s will and directs him in his Master’s work.  Wherever there is grace, there is a warm attachment to the Word of God.  (2) The ground and reason of that affection: he saw it to be “very pure” and, therefore, he loved it.  Our love to the Word of God is, then, an evidence of our love to God when we love it for the sake of its purity because it bears the image of God’s holiness and is designed to make us partakers of His holiness.  It commands purity and, as it is itself refined from all corrupt mixture, so if we receive it in the light and love of it, it will refine us from the dross of worldliness and fleshly-mindedness. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), commenting on Psalm 119.140.

Devout Meditations (10)

Many who have heard the gospel once, or a few times, will hear it no more.  It awakens their scorn, their hatred, and rage.  They pour contempt upon the wisdom of God, despise His goodness, defy His power, and their very looks express the spirit of the rebellious Jews, who told the prophet Jeremiah to his face, “As to the word which you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken to you at all.”  The ministers who preach it are accounted men who turn the world upside down, and the people who receive it, fools or hypocrites.  The word of the Lord is a burden to them, and they hate it with a perfect hatred.

How strongly is the disposition of the natural heart manifested by the confusion which often takes place in families where the Lord is pleased to awaken one or two in a house while the rest remain in their sins!  To profess, or even be suspected of, an attachment to the gospel of Christ is frequently considered and treated as the worst of crimes, sufficient to cancel the strongest obligations of relation or friendship.  Parents, upon such a provocation, will hate their children, and children ridicule their parents.  Many find, agreeable to our Lord’s declaration that, from the time a sense of His love engaged their hearts to love Him again, their worst foes have been those of their own households, and that those who expressed the greatest love and tenderness for them before their conversion can now hardly bear to see them. – John Newton (1725-1807), from “Forty-One Letters on Religious Subject” (Letter 34)

Works, Volume 1, Pages 265-266.

Matthew Henry (36)

After the title of the book (verse 1) is (1) a threatening of the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, an utter destruction, by the Chaldeans (verses 2-4), (2) a charge against them for their gross sin, which provoked God to bring that destruction upon them (verses 5-6), and so he goes on, in the rest of the chapter, setting both the judgments before them, that they might prevent them or prepare for them, and the sins that destroy them, that they might judge themselves and justify God in what was brought upon them.  They must hold their peace because they had greatly sinned (verses 7-9).  But, they shall howl because the trouble will be great.  The day of the Lord is near, and it will be a terrible day (verses 10-18).  Such fair and timely warning as this did God give to the Jews of the approaching captivity, but they hardened their necks, which made their destruction remedy-less. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), his summary of the contents of Zephaniah 1 (1712).

God is Sovereign

Amazingly and soberingly, to the man whose wealth God has confiscated, whose family God has taken away, whose greatness God has removed, and whose health God has ruined, God says, in summary: “I have made no mistake.  I know exactly what I am doing in your life and in every detail of the government of the world.  My counsel is perfect.  I have got nothing wrong.” – from Christopher Ash’s book, Job: The Wisdom of the Crossp. 402.

Augustine Begins His Treatise

The reader of these reflections of mine on the Trinity should bear in mind that my pen is on the watch against the sophistries of those who scorn the starting-point of faith and allow themselves to be deceived through an unseasonable and misguided love of reason.  Some of them try to transfer what they have observed about bodily things to incorporeal and spiritual things, which they would measure by the standard of what they experience through the senses of the body or learn by natural human intelligence, lively application, and technical skill.  There are others whose concept of God, such as it is, ascribes to Him the nature and moods of the human spirit, a mistake which ties their arguments about God to distorted and misleading rules of interpretation.  Again, there is another type: people who, indeed, strive to climb above the created universe, so ineluctably subject to change, and raise their regard to the unchanging substance which is God.  But, so top-heavy are they with the load of their mortality that what they do not know they wish to give the impression of knowing, and what they wish to know they cannot, and so they block their own road to genuine understanding by asserting too categorically their own presumptuous opinions and then, rather than change a misconceived opinion they have defended, they prefer to leave it uncorrected.

Indeed, this disease is common to all three types I have mentioned – to those who conceive of God in bodily terms, those who do so in terms of created spirit, such as soul, and those who think of Him neither as body nor as created spirit, but still have false ideas about Him, ideas which are all the further from the truth, in that they have no place either in the world of body or in that of derived and created spirit or in the Creator Himself.  Thus, whoever thinks that God is dazzling white, for example, or fiery red, is mistaken, yet these are realities of the bodily world.  Or, whoever thinks that God forgets things one moment and remembers them the next, or anything like that, is certainly quite wrong, and yet these are realities of the mental world.  But, those who suppose that God is of such power that He actually begets Himself are, if anything, even more wrong, since not only is God not like that, but neither is anything in the world of body or spirit.  There is absolutely no thing whatsoever that brings itself into existence.

From: The Trinity by Augustine; translated from the Latin by Edmund Hill; The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century series (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991), pp. 65-66.  (The Trinity 1.1.1)

God at Work “Behind the Scenes”

Just at this crisis (AD 384) came a request from the city of Milan asking the Roman Prefect, Symmachus, in his official capacity, to nominate for them a public teacher of rhetoric.  The Manicheans in Rome seized the opportunity to advance their brilliant, if vacillating, and only nominal adherent.  Symmachus was favorable.  It was a singular selection, a fact which the brevity of Augustine’s reference to it ought not to cause the reader to overlook.  For Symmachus, Prefect of Rome, was the chief supporter of the pagan divinities.  His celebrated speech on behalf of retaining the pagan altar of Victory in the Senate House of the imperial city was one of the last and ablest attempts of the dying religion to resist the encroachments of Christianity.  The chief opponent of Symmachus and his paganism was Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.  It is one of the ironies of history that the Manichean opponents of Christianity contributed to send Augustine where he would learn it, and that Symmachus, the ardent defender of paganism, should have placed Augustine under Ambrose’s influence, and so promoted the conversion to Christianity of its greatest exponent since St. Paul.  If either the adherents of dualism or the pagan statesman could have even dimly foreseen the course of events, they would rather have suppressed the office than have sent Augustine to Milan.

From: St. Augustine’s Conversion: An Outline of His Development to the Time of His Ordination by W. J. Sparrow Simpson (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), p. 49.  Bold mine.

“Creation was All-Inclusive”

In Genesis 1.1, we observed the absoluteness of the creative work of God.  The terms “heavens and the earth” also speak of the all-inclusiveness of the work.  The Westminster Confession speaks of “The world and all things therein whether visible or invisible” as being created by God.  The terms “heavens and earth” include all that we mean by the word “universe.”  Under the categories of “visible and invisible” may be understood both those forces and powers that lie within the physical universe, and also the spiritual realms.  Both of these have been created by God.  When it is said that God created light on the first day, and one remembers that physicists find light to be but a small portion of a much larger group of electro-magnetic waves, we may assume that this whole scale of energy was a part of that creative act.

Just when we are to understand that the creation of the angelic hosts took place is not clear.  Evidently, it was accomplished before the end of the sixth day.  Perhaps it belongs in the first day, before the ordering of the earth was begun.  The angels are not a race, as mankind is.  Each is a separate creation.  They are rational creatures, with moral obligations.  They were all created with freedom of will and, though originally inclined to good, were changeable.  As with the rest of creation, they were created for the praise and glory of God.  As moral creatures, they were obligated to obey God’s commands.  Some rebelled and fell into sin, as is indicated by Jude 6 and Revelation 12.  No plan of salvation was provided for them, as is the case for men.

From: Systematic Theology by Morton H. Smith; 2 volumes (Greenville: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994), 1:193.

Morton H. Smith (December 11, 1923 – November 12, 2017) was a founding member of the Presbyterian Church in America and a member of the founding faculty of both Reformed Theological Seminary and of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Among his survivors is his wife of 73 years, Lois.