Category Archives: Divine Impassibility

“An infallible interpretation” by Richard Barcellos

“Let us consider Genesis 1:2 once again.

While Genesis 1:2 says, ‘And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,’ Psalm 104:24 says, ‘O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions–‘ and in Ps. 104:30 we read, ‘You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.’

In Job 26:13 we read, ‘By His Spirit He adorned the heavens.’

These texts (and there are others) outside of Genesis echo it and further explain it to and for us. These are instances of inner-biblical exegesis within the Old Testament.

When the Bible exegetes the Bible, therefore, we have an infallible interpretation because of the divine author of Scripture.

Scripture not only records the acts of God, it also interprets them. If we are going to explain the acts of God in creation, God’s initial economy, with any hope of accurately accounting for those acts, we must first know something of the triune God who acts.

And the only written source of infallible knowledge of the triune God who acts is the Bible and the Bible alone.”

–Richard C. Barcellos, Trinity and Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020), 23.

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“Our safety lieth in God’s immutability” by Thomas Manton

“The Lord is unchangeable in holiness and glory. He is a sun that shineth always with a like brightness.

God, and all that is in God, is unchangeable; for this is an attribute that, like a silken string through a chain of pearl, runneth through all the rest:

His mercy is unchangeable, ‘His mercy endureth forever,’ (Ps. 100:5).

So His strength, and therefore He is called ‘The Rock of ages,’ (Isa. 36:4).

So His counsel, Mutat sententiam, sed non decretum (as Bradwardine); He may change His sentence, the outward threatening or promise, but not His inward decree; He may will a change, but not change His will.

So His love is immutable; His heart is the same to us in the diversity of outward conditions: we are changed in estate and opinion, but God, He is not changed.

Well, then,—

1. The more mutable you are, the less you are like God. Oh! how should you loathe yourselves when you are so fickle in your purposes, so changeable in your resolutions!

God is immutably holy, but you have a heart that loveth to wander. He is always the same, but you are soon removed, (Gal. 1:6); ‘soon shaken in mind,’(2 Thess. 2:2); whirried with every blast, (Eph. 4:14), borne down with every new emergency and temptation.

The more you do ‘continue in the good that you have learned and been assured of,’ (2 Tim. 3:14), the more do you resemble the divine perfection.

2. Go to Him to establish and settle your spirits. God, that is unchangeable in Himself, can bring you into an immutable estate of grace, against which all the gates of hell cannot prevail; therefore be not quiet, till you have gotten such gifts from him as are without repentance, the fruits of eternal grace, and the pledges of eternal glory.

3. Carry yourselves to Him as unto an immutable good; in the greatest change of things see Him always the same: when there is little in the creature, there is as much in God as ever: (Ps. 102:26-27), ‘They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; they shall all wax old as a garment: Thou art the same for ever, and Thy years have no end.’

All creatures vanish, not only like a piece of cloth, but like a garment. Cloth would rot of itself, or be eaten out by moths; but a garment is worn and wasted every day.

But God doth not change; there is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity; the arm of mercy is not dried up, nor do His bowels of love waste and spend themselves.

And truly this is the church’s comfort in the saddest condition, that however the face of the creatures be changed to them, God will be still the same. It is said somewhere, that ‘the name of God is as an ointment poured out.’ (Song of Solomon 1:3)

Certainly this name of God’s immutability is as an ointment poured out, the best cordial to refresh a fainting soul. When the Israelites were in distress, all the letters of credence that God would give Moses were those, (Exod. 3:14), ‘I AM that I AM hath sent me unto you.’

That was comfort enough to the Israelites, that their God remained in the same tenor and glory of the divine essence; He could still say I AM. With God is no change, no past or present; He remaineth in the same indivisible point of eternity; and therefore saith, I AM.

So the prophet (Malachi 3:6), ἔγω κύριος, οὐκ ἠλλοίωμαι, ‘I am the Lord, that change not’ (or am not changed); ‘therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’

Our safety lieth in God’s immutability; we cannot perish utterly, because He cannot change.”

–Thomas Manton, “Commentary on the Epistle of James,” The Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 4 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1871/2020), 4: 113-114. Manton is commenting on James 1:17.

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“The deep, deep love of Jesus” by J.C. Ryle

“Mark the depth and width of our Lord’s sympathies and affections. The Saviour on whom we are bid to repose the weight of our sinful souls is one whose love passeth knowledge.

Shallow, skin-deep feelings in others, we all know continually chill and disappoint us on every side in this world.

But there is one whose mighty heart affection knows no bottom. That one is Christ.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Volume 3 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1880), 312. Ryle is commenting on John 19:26-27.

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“Theology by its nature is a mystery discerning enterprise” by Thomas Weinandy

“I believe that a distinction between problem and mystery is relevant to how theologians ought to approach issues of faith and theology.

Marcel and Maritain were well aware that, arising out of the Enlightenment, there grew the mentality that intellectual advancement consisted in solving problems that had hitherto not been solved. The former ‘mysteries’ of the physical universe were being resolved by approaching them as scientific problems to be decoded and unraveled.

The scientific and physical laws of nature became transparent and unmistakable. The new enthusiasm and success of the scientific method was the major contributing factor to this mentality.

Science became the means of resolving all kinds of problems and issues concerning nature and how nature worked. All this was done in a concise, rational, mathematical, and experiential fashion.

It was equally eminently practical. Scientific knowledge could solve a host of practical problems, and everyone gloried in its success. This mentality is illustrated in the contemporary belief that technology, one of the fruits of science, can solve almost any problem.

In the realm of science and technology this mentality, that intellectual advancement consists in solving theoretical and practical problems, may be legitimate. However, I want to argue that this mentality, to disastrous effect, has coloured how many philosophers and theologians approach questions of faith and theology.

Many theologians today, having embraced the Enlightenment presuppositions and the scientific method that it fostered, approach theological issues as if they were scientific problems to be solved rather than mysteries to be discerned and clarified.

However, the true goal of theological inquiry is not the resolution of theological problems, but the discernment of what the mystery of faith is.

Because God, who can never be fully comprehended, lies at the heart of all theological enquiry, theology by its nature is not a problem solving enterprise, but rather a mystery discerning enterprise.

This can bee seen already in the early stages of God’s revelation of Himself to the Jewish people. God manifested Himself to Moses in the burning bush (see Exod. 3).

Moses, in the course of the conversation, asked God: ‘What is Your name?’ Since names, for the Israelites, both revealed the character of the person so named and allowed for the knower of the name to call upon the person so named, Moses in asking God to tell him His name, wanted to know God as well as have the power to call upon Him.

God must have chuckled (It was obviously an ‘impassible’ chuckle!) to Himself as He replied to Moses: “I Am Who I Am’ or “I Am He Who Is.’

God did reveal to Moses His name and so Moses now knew more about God than he knew before. He now knew that God is ‘He who is.’

However, Moses must have quickly realized that, in knowing God more fully, God had become an even greater mystery than He was before. Previously Moses in calling God, for example, El Shaddai— God of the Mountain– may not have known a great deal about God, but the little he did know was at least somewhat comprehensible. God was He who dwelt on the mountain, which was the home of the gods.

However, Moses now knew much more about God. He actually knew that God is ‘I Am Who I Am,’ but what it means for God to be ‘He Who Is’ is completely incomprehensible. Moses, nor we today, can comprehend that God’s very nature is ‘to be,’ that He is the One who is the fullness of life and existence.

Here we learn a primary lesson concerning the nature of revelation and theology. The more God reveals who He is and the more we come to a true and authentic knowledge of who He is, the more mysterious He becomes.

Theology, as faith seeking understanding, helps us come to a deeper and fuller understanding of the nature of God and His revelation, but this growth is in coming to know what the mystery of God is and not the comprehension of the mystery.”

–Thomas G. Weinandy, Does God Suffer? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), 31-33.

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“The simple triune Creator is the self-efficacious and ultimate origin of all that exists” by Steven Duby

“This formulation of divine simplicity has proceeded on the conviction that this attribute is an implicate of God’s singularity, aseity, immutability, infinity, and act of creatio ex nihilo.

It has been maintained throughout that a dogmatic approach to the doctrine is in order, and this has involved attending to the biblical teaching on the various attributes that imply God’s simplicity and supplying elaborative clarification and examining the ways in which each of these divine perfections conduct the theologian to a recognition of simplicity.

After delineating the central claims of the doctrine of divine simplicity, the proposed exegetico-dogmatic approach was carried out, following the manner in which each of the attributes distinctly considered addresses and vouchsafes certain of the constituent claims of the teaching of God’s simplicity.

God’s singularity implies that He is Himself the fullness of His deity subsisting, that He transcends the categories of genus and species, that He is really identical with each of His perfections and is therefore not composed of substance and accidents, and that He is without composition altogether in the uniqueness with which He is God.

God’s aseity implies that He is actus purus, ipsa deitas subsistens, ipsum esse subsistens, really identical with each of His own perfections, and free from all composition with nothing back of Him governing or actualizing His being.

Likewise, God’s immutability implies again that He is wholly in act, without potentia passiva whereby He might be altered or enhanced.

In His selfsameness and indivisibility, He is each of His perfections subsisting, without accidents and without any composition whatsoever.

God’s infinity too implies that He is actus purus. In His boundless perfection, each of God’s attributes is really identical with His essence, and each of the divine persons is really identical with His essence subsisting in a certain manner.

Finally, the act of creatio ex nihilo implies that God is actus purus and ipsum esse subsistens without any eternal co-existents.

Just so, the simple triune Creator is the self-efficacious and ultimate origin of all that exists.”

–Steven J. Duby, Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 235.

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