Gordon Clark and the Philosophy of Occasionalism

This article seeks to explain something of occasionalism, secondary causes, and Clark’s comments on the relation of the two so that his view may be better understood.

I. Occasionalism

First, we ask, “what is occasionalism?”

Occasionalism is a philosophical theory of causation. Rather than one event being the cause of another, on occasionalism God is the only efficient cause of each and every event.

II. Gordon Clark’s comments on occasionalism.

Gordon Clark explains something of occasionalism in The Biblical Doctrine of Man:

The medieval philosopher, the Moslem Al Gazali, denied physical causation and referred all events immediately to the will of God. Zwingli also seems to have suggested something similar in his emphasis on the sovereignty of God. But Malebranche goes into detail. First he attacks the confused notion of causality. Theologians use the term glibly, but they never define it. The Westminster Confession states that God’s decree establishes secondary causes, but it gives no hint as to what they are or how they operate. The term cause is of course correlative with the term effect. If there be no effect, there could have been no cause. If there is a cause, the effect results necessarily. But no such relationship is found in sensory experience. If someone says that eating good food is the cause of nourishment, a touch of seasickness will disabuse his mind. Eating good food does not necessitate nourishment. The so-called cause can occur and the alleged effect fail. Hence the soul cannot cause a bodily motion. In fact there are no causes and effects in natural phenomena. That is rather interesting, for it means that Malebranche anticipated modern science in rejecting occult qualities and the like and in defining the scientific enterprise as a description of motions. … Since no one can see the soul affecting the body, why does it seem so? Aside from the intellectual lethargy of the general public and its unquestioning acceptance of traditional ignorance, the worlds of space and mind, in the light of revelation, do have an understandable relationship. Malebranche’s explanation of this is a theory called Occasionalism. God is the sole and indefeasibly effective cause of everything throughout the universe. He speaks and it is done. God produces mental events and physical events immediately. That is to say, when one stick’s one finger with a pin and experiences a pain, it is not the pin that produced the pain. God did. – Gordon H. Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man, Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1984, p. 90-91.

As for whether Clark held the belief or not, probably the most important passage comes from his book Lord God of Truth. It reads:

It is interesting to note that while Hume denied all miracles, there was a medieval Moslem who anticipated Hume’s arguments against causality and concluded that every event is a miracle. Since no sensation can be the cause of another sensation, every event is immediately caused by God. … “The second reply the apologete will probably give is that a Christian such as I am must acknowledge that God causes everything. Indeed, this I certainly acknowledge; but the meaning of the term cause has been drastically changed. … We now concur with the Islamic anti-aristotelian Al Gazali: God and God alone is the cause, for only God can guarantee the occurrence of Y, and indeed of X as well. Even the Westminster Divines timidly agree, for after asserting that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and that ‘no purpose of yours can be withheld from you’ (Job 42:2), they add, ‘Although … all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes…’ What they called second causes, Malebranche had called occasions. But an occasion is neither a fiat lux nor a differential equation. – Gordon H. Clark, Lord God of Truth, Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1986, 2nd Edition 1994, 24–25, 27.

In the present article I’ll refer a number of times to this passage. After discussing some of the statements in this passage I believe the passage will make greater sense when read through again.

III. Gordon Clark retained secondary causes in his own philosophy.

When Clark said both “We now concur with the Islamic anti-aristotelian Al Gazali: God and God alone is the cause” and “What they called second causes, Malebranche had called occasions” it is evident that he wanted to relate his own view in some way to occasionalism, the philosophy both Al Gazali and Malebranche held in each some manner.

But, while Clark wanted to relate his own view in some way to occasionalism, it is evident in a number of places that Clark retained the terminology of “secondary causes” in his own philosophy.

For one, he writes in a letter to R. J. Rushdoony, June 18, 1960:

The Stoics made clear distinctions between first and secondary causes. Even mechanical determinism make such a distinction. Indeed I rather believe that there are few determinists who do not make this distinction. Popular Mohammedanism may not, but then popular Mohammedanism is hardly determinism. I believe they assert that death is fixed, but that the events leading up to it are not. However, I may be mistaken about Mohammedanism.

And he wrote in What Do Presbyterian’s Believe? (1965):

The Bible teaches that all things are certainly determined, but that God’s providence (chapter V, section ii) arranges events according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. God does not decree an auto wreck apart from its causes; caution is the usual cause of safety, and wrecks are caused by recklessness. (p. 62)

And, most explicitly of all are two quotes from Religion, Reason, and Revelation (1961):

The distinction between first and secondary causation—explicitly maintained in the Westminster Confession—has not always been appreciated, even by those who are in general agreement. John Gill, for example, who is so excellent on so much, failed to grasp the distinction between the immediate author and the ultimate cause. For this reason there are some faulty passages in his otherwise fine work. … The secondary causes in history are not eliminated by divine causality, but rather they are made certain. And the acts of these secondary causes, whether they be righteous acts or sinful acts, are to be immediately referred to the agents; and it is these agents who are responsible. (p. 239-240)

The doctrine of creation, with its implication that there is no power independent of God, does not deny but rather establishes the existence of secondary causes. To suppose otherwise is unscriptural, and to avoid the notion of causality is illogical. (p. 237)

Even in the quote from Lord God of Truth itself Clark retains the term “second causes.” There he equates Malebranche’s “occasions” in some way with “secondary causes” of the Westminster Confession.

Some (though perhaps not all) occasionalists (Abu al-Hasan al-Ash-ari, for one), it is said, have rejected secondary causes entirely. If occasionalism requires a denial of secondary causes, then clearly Clark was not an occasionalist.

IV. What are Secondary Causes?

But, perhaps we should first ask, “What are second(ary) causes?” or “What did Gordon Clark believe secondary causes to be?”

To begin to answer this question it might be helpful to first look at two particular sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is here, for one, that the traditional Presbyterian view of second causes is confessed. It reads:

God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is the violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. – Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, Section I.


Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. – Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter V, Section II.

In What Do Presbyterian Believe? Clark goes point-by-point through the Confession. He comments on the material above from Chapter III saying:

The Scripture references show clearly that God controls the wills of men. … This does not mean that violence was done to the will of the creatures. It was not as if the men wanted to adopt Ahithophel’s plans and were forced to follow Hushai against their desires. Their psychological processes issued in a desire to follow Hushai’s plans. But it must be noted that God established psychological processes just as truly as he established physical processes. This ties in with the next phrase, “nor is the liberty of contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” In the case of Absalom the secondary causes were the psychological processes. The decision the men of Israel made was not made in opposition to those processes, nor even without them. God has established such processes for the purpose of accomplishing his will. He does not arrange things or control history apart from secondary causes. To mention other examples, God decreed to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt; but they had to do the walking themselves. God decreed that Solomon should build the temple; but Solomon had to collect the materials. God does not decree the end apart from the means. He decrees that the end shall be accomplished by means of the means. – Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe?, 1965, 2nd edition 2001, Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, p. 37-38.

So, secondary causes are the means by which God accomplishes his decrees.

And of God’s use of “means” Clark must be said to be a strong proponent. He writes,

Does God ever accomplish his purpose without some means or other? Perhaps in two of God’s actions he uses no means. In creating the world from nothing, there were no means to use. Also in continuing to uphold in existence the universe in its entirety, there could be no means. But these two actions are not to be classified as “his ordinary providence” and so we may continue to wonder whether this [the words “without, above, and against” of Chapter V, Section III of the WCF] is a mistake in the Confession. – What Do Presbyterians Believe?, 1965, 2nd edition 2001, Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, p. 66.

V. Two Distinctions

Clark’s view might be better understood by considering the two elements of the statement after “What they called second causes, Malebranche had called occasions” in the Lord God of Truth passage. The statement he next makes is, “But an occasion is neither a fiat lux nor a differential equation.” What each of these—“fiat lux” and “differential equation”—are referring to must be considered. In doing so it will be clear that Clark is rejecting “continuous creationism” and “mechanical determinism” respectively.

A. “Neither a fiat lux” is opposition to “continuous creationism.”

Fiat lux is Latin for “Let there be light”—a reference, naturally, to the creation account of Genesis.

In opposing occasions or secondary causes as fiat lux Clark is denying that such events are related to any new creations. That is, all things are not left to disappear from existence and simultaneously be re-created by God at each moment, in a type of “continuous creationism,” but rather creation is held together by God’s providence; as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The works of providence are his [God’s] most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all of his creatures and all their actions.”

That Clark here opposes continuous creationism is compatible with his acceptance of traducianism. In holding to traducianism—the doctrine that man’s souls are generated from the soul’s of their parents—Clark rejects a creationism of souls where new souls are created at each human’s conception. In his acceptance of traducianism, in fact, it seems Clark rejects all creation after God’s original creation of the universe. He writes,

The most important argument for traducianism is based on Genesis 2:2-3. “God ended all his work.” “In six days the Lord made Heave and Earth … and rest on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11. “God rested … from all his works [apo pan to ton ergon]” (Hebrews 4:4). – Gordon H. Clark, “Traducianism,” The Trinity Review, July-August, 1982.

Now, based on Clark’s comment that in God’s ordinary providence he uses means, and Clark’s rejection of fiat lux, it is clear that he holds that God works primarily through mediate causation rather than immediate causation. If occasionalism has exclusively immediate causation, then clearly Clark was not an occasionalist.

B. “Differential equations” is opposition to mechanical determinism, and acceptance of contingency.

When Clark wrote that an occasion or secondary cause was not a differential equation, he was arguing against the view of mechanism or mechanical determinism. Evidencing this, there are a number of places in his writings where “differential equations” are mentioned in reference to that claim of mechanical determinists that everything in the universe, including man, is supposed to function according to an exact mechanical model.

Clark explains the connection between mechanism and differential equations in an entry on “miracles” he wrote for an encyclopedia:

Newtonian science was essentially the philosophy of mechanism. Mathematical equations, formulated on the basis of experimentation, were supposed to be accurate descriptions of how natural processes took place. These equations enabled scientists both to predict and to understand. As Laplace put it: Given the positions and velocities of every particle in the universe, one can calculate their positions at any future time. Lord Kelvin claimed to understand if, and only if, he could construct a mechanical model of a natural phenomenon. When these laws and others not yet discovered are universalized, that is, when every motion and process throughout the universe is said to be describable by differential equations, miracles are ruled out. Life and mind are ruled out too, unless these words are used behavioristically to designate certain sets of physical motions. – Gordon H. Clark, “Miracles,” Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1975.

In his lecture on “The Logos,” Clark also wrote in opposition to mechanical determinism with a reference to differential equations:

The doctrine of creation, asserting that the universe is not an everlasting mechanism, but a teleological construction of Intelligence, needs great emphasis today because it is so widely denied in the public schools. Purposeless differential equations have replaced an omnipotent and omniscient mind. – Gordon H. Clark, “The Logos,” a lecture from 1984, The Trinity Review, Sept 2008.

And in Religion, Reason, and Revelation,

The natural liberty of the will consists in a freedom from physical necessity. Choice is not determined as the planetary motions are. Physical or mechanical determinism, expressible in differential equations, is applicable only to inanimate objects; but there is a psychological determinism that is not mechanical or mathematical. The Calvinist repudiates the former but accepts the latter. Hence he may without inconsistency deny free will and yet speak of natural liberty. – Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, 1961, 2nd edition 1995, p. 226.

But we need not even depart from the book Lord God of Truth, for there Clark earlier notes the view of mechanism “in which there is no chance, i.e. exceptions to the proper equations.” (p. 10) And again, “The laws of physics are differential equations that supposedly describe the motion of some object.” (p. 25) This “no chance” contrasts with the Westminster Confession of Faith which upheld the “contingency”—the impredictability to man—of second causes. In mechanism there are no contingencies, but Clark holds, with the Confession, that there are.

As for this “contingency,” Clark explains,

One would like to know the meaning of freely and contingently. What the Reformation theologians meant by these terms may be fairly well surmised from a passage in Jerome Zanchius’ book, Absolute Predestination, The Will of God, Position 11. He writes, “Position 11. In consequence of God’s immutable will and infallible foreknowledge, whatever things comes to pass, come to pass necessarily, though with respect to second causes and us men, many things are contingent, i.e., unexpected and seemingly accidental.” Thus the term contingent refers to a man’s way of looking at events, or more explicitly to man’s incomplete knowledge of how the events were caused. – What Do Presbyterians Believe?, 1965, 2nd edition 2001, Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, p. 64.

VI. Causes and Teleology

Rather than a mechanical cause-effect relationship, Clark’s view of causation is teleological; having God’s ultimate purpose (or teleos) as the cause of all things. Thus, with God’s purpose being after all temporal events, the cause (perhaps surprisingly) is found to occur after the effect.

Clark briefly notes the Biblical warrant of this “teleological construction” over mechanism in a passage now quoted a second time:

The doctrine of creation, asserting that the universe is not an everlasting mechanism, but a teleological construction of Intelligence, needs great emphasis today because it is so widely denied in the public schools. Purposeless differential equations have replaced an omnipotent and omniscient mind. – Gordon H. Clark, “The Logos,” a lecture from 1984, The Trinity Review, Sept 2008.

And from Lord God of Truth he again mentions teleology over mechanism:

Finally, since all the laws of physics are false—as its history indicates—and since Scripture does not teach mechanism, but asserts that the world is governed teleologically by purposes that cannot be restrained nor understood, as Rene Descartes made clear, empiricism with its cosmological argument should be abandoned. – Gordon H. Clark, Lord God of Truth, Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1986, 2nd Edition 1994, p. 27.

VII. Conclusion

I noted before that Clark wanted to relate his own view in some way to occasionalism. He equated Malebranche’s “occasions” with the “second causes” of the Divines of Westminster. But, with the two distinctions following that statement—that these are neither fiat lux nor differential equations—we are left with only one similarity between occasionalism and the Westminster Confession; that is, both ascribe God as the ultimate cause. God is the only efficient cause for “only God can guarantee the occurrence of Y, and indeed of X as well.” But while God is the only efficient cause, He usually uses means to bring about His ends.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has God’s activity in occasionalism to be “direct and immediate.” While concurrentism has “both God and man directly involved” it has both man and God as immediate causes. So neither occasionalism nor concurrentism are entirely adequate labels for Clark’s view. His view is that of the Westminster Confession, it is Calvinism, and so should it be labeled.


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Notes on Rosaria Butterfield’s speech in Charlotte, NC

My wife and I went to hear Rosaria Champagne Butterfield speak at Christ Covenant Church in Charlotte, NC this morning (Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018). I had never read any of her books nor heard her speak before, but I did have some idea of the general outline of her story. At the book tables following her speech I bought both her “The Secret Thought of an Unlikely Convert” and her second book “Openness Unhindered.” So from these I suspect I shall hear her story in much greater detail.

I found Rosaria to be a good speaker and Biblically sound. In the Q&A session following the talk she noted a number of times the importance of church membership and leaning on your elders for help in dealing with many of these difficult questions of life and sexuality. Rosaria didn’t just “pass the buck” though. She provided great answers herself to the difficult questions raised by audience members. “Should I attend my daughter’s wedding where she will be married to another women?” To this Rosaria’s answer might be summed up, “No. While you can (or should) invite them both to birthday parties and other events, your presence at their wedding would give an improper sign of approval of their decision. But, to remain in their lives and give them a Christian witness, opposed to the LGBT agenda’s narrative, you can be involved in their lives. You may consider sending two weddings gifts, one for each person as signs that you care for them individually, instead of a single wedding gift showing approval of their decision to be together.”

Rosaria’s personal story, which I heard some of in the lecture, might lead one to think about how kind the pastor was who first worked with her, converting her from a feminist Women’s Studies professor and LGBT rights activists to a faithfully (and heterosexually) married Christian woman. But, more importantly in her story one should take away from it the power of the Biblical message to convert someone. For, while her pastor and his wife were instrumental in Rosaria’s conversion, it was the Bible that did the real work. She said, and I quote verbatim this time, “The Bible got to be bigger inside me than ‘I’.”

When a story like Rosaria’s “goes viral” or even just spreads to a moderate-sized audience, one is tempted to think it must have occurred recently. But the truth is, for authors like Rosaria, it can take a lot of time to get the word out and make much of an impact. Her “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” in fact first came out in 2012, and only in the recent year or two have I, for one, come across it. But that Rosaria’s story took some time to spread is also to the story’s benefit in some way. That is, she has now remained a Christian and been happily married for over 16 years. It is not just a fleeting thing she has gotten herself into, but a life changing event, made by the only true life-changer there is, Jesus Christ.

On some other notes, this was the first time I have been to the very large Christ Covenant Church, now pastored by Kevin DeYoung. Though the size of the church might be outside of my preference I do wish them well and am glad for their success. Rev. DeYoung had actually included my book, The Presbyterian Philosopher, as #2 on his top 10 list of 2017. This doesn’t mean that my book will ever sell 1/100th of one of his or of Rosaria’s, but I’m glad for the publicity nonetheless.

Coming to Charlotte also gave my wife and I the opportunity to stay a night with former Gordon H. Clark students Chris and Betty Williams. They had each taken philosophy courses from Dr. Clark at Butler University in the 1960s. Chris had from that time onward followed Dr. Clark’s writings and would purchase each of his books as they came out. He had an impressive collection of first editions of each of Dr. Clark’s books among his sizable library.

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Sermon on Romans 3:9-20 – “Where the Law Leads Us”

Preached on Feb. 18, 2018 at Dillingham Presbyterian Church

I preached this sermon on short notice and so went mostly without notes. Since I don’t have full notes to post here in my continuing series on Romans, I figured I would just post a outline of the passage using some elements a technique we learned in seminary called “syntactical-logical” flow which is meant to help show a visual presentation of the text.

9 What then, are we better?
We are not in any way
for we have before proved both Jew and Greek are all under sin.

10As it is written,
that there is none righteous,
not one.
11 There is none who understands,
there is none who seeks out God.
12 All go out of their way,
together they become unprofitable,
there is none that does good,
not even one.

13An open grave is their throat,
with their tongues they have used deceit,
the poison of asps is under their lips.
14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.

15 Swift are their feet to shed blood.
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways.
17 And the way of peace they have not known.
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that whatsoever the laws says,
it says to those in the law
that every mouth may be stopped
and all the world may become guilty before God.

out of the works of the law no flesh is made righteous in his sight.

From this passage I preached on these three points:

I. None is Righteous
II. The Law has its Purposes
III. Knowledge of sin prepares us to the Gospel

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Calvin, “Calvinists,” and the Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

There are at least three key passages in Calvin’s Institutes where he gives his view on the matter of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In these passages Calvin rejects the explanation that such hardening is merely by the “permission” of God. The permission view rejected by Calvin, however, has been taken up by some modern “Calvinists.” Seemingly oblivious to what Calvin actually teaches, these “Calvinists” have actually called Calvin’s view hyper-Calvinism.

First, here are Calvin’s comments:

Calvin’s Institutes, Book I, Chapter 18, Paragraph 2:

But nothing can be clearer than the many passages which declare, that he blinds the minds of men, and smites them with giddiness, intoxicates them with a spirit of stupor, renders them infatuated, and hardens their hearts. Even these expressions many would confine to permissions as if, by deserting the reprobate, he allowed them to be blinded by Satan. But since the Holy Spirit distinctly says, that the blindness and infatuation are inflicted by the just Judgment of God, the solution is altogether inadmissible. He is said to have hardened the heart of Pharaoh, to have hardened it yet more, and confirmed it. Some evade these forms of expression by a silly cavil, because Pharaoh is elsewhere said to have hardened his own heart, thus making his will the cause of hardening it; as if the two things did not perfectly agree with each other, though in different senses—viz. that man, though acted upon by God, at the same time also acts. But I retort the objection on those who make it. If to harden means only bare permission, the contumacy will not properly belong to Pharaoh. Now, could any thing be more feeble and insipid than to interpret as if Pharaoh had only allowed himself to be hardened? We may add, that Scripture cuts off all handle for such cavils: “I,” saith the Lord, “will harden his heart,” (Exod. 4:21). So also, Moses says of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, that they went forth to battle because the Lord had hardened their hearts (Josh. 11:20). The same thing is repeated by another prophet, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). In like manner, in Isaiah, he says of the Assyrian, “I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey,” (Isaiah 10:6); not that he intends to teach wicked and obstinate man to obey spontaneously, but because he bends them to execute his Judgments, just as if they carried their orders engraven on their minds. And hence it appears that they are impelled by the sure appointment of God.

Calvin’s Institutes, Book II, Chapter 4, Paragraph 3 and 4:

Ancient writers sometimes manifest a superstitious dread of making a simple confession of the truth in this matter, from a fear of furnishing impiety with a handle for speaking irreverently of the works of God. While I embrace such soberness with all my heart, I cannot see the least danger in simply holding what Scripture delivers. when Augustine was not always free from this superstition, as when he says, that blinding and hardening have respect not to the operation of God, but to prescience (Lib. de Predestina. et Gratia). But this subtilty is repudiated by many passages of Scriptures which clearly show that the divine interference amounts to something more than prescience. And Augustine himself, in his book against Julian, contends at length that sins are manifestations not merely of divine permission or patience, but also of divine power, that thus former sins may be punished. In like manner, what is said of permission is too weak to stand. God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission. We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When his light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when his guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence he is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method, which comes much nearer to the exact meaning of the words, is when executing his judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases. Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand (Deut. 2:30). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.

In accordance with the former methods it seems to be said, “The law shall perish from the priests and counsel from the ancients.” “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.” Again “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” These passages rather indicate what men become when God deserts them, than what the nature of his agency is when he works in them. But there are other passages which go farther, such as those concerning the hardening of Pharaoh: “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” The same thing is afterwards repeated in stronger terms. Did he harden his heart by not softening it? This is, indeed, true; but he did something more: he gave it in charge to Satan to confirm him in his obstinacy. Hence he had previously said, “I am sure he will not let you go.” The people come out of Egypt, and the inhabitants of a hostile region come forth against them. How were they instigated? Moses certainly declares of Sihon, that it was the Lord who “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” (Deut. 2:30). The Psalmists relating the same history says, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). You cannot now say that they stumbled merely because they were deprived of divine counsel. For if they are hardened and turned, they are purposely bent to the very end in view. Moreover, whenever God saw it meet to punish the people for their transgression, in what way did he accomplish his purpose by the reprobate? In such a way as shows that the efficacy of the action was in him, and that they were only ministers. At one time he declares, “that he will lift an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth;” at another, that he will take a net to ensnare them; and at another, that he will be like a hammer to strike them. But he specially declared that he was not inactive among theme when he called Sennacherib an axe, which was formed and destined to be wielded by his own hand. Augustine is not far from the mark when he states the matter thus, That men sin, is attributable to themselves: that in sinning they produce this or that result, is owing to the mighty power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases (August. de Prædest. Sanct).

Calvin’s Institutes, Book III, Chapter 23, Paragraph 8:

“Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, the object being to prove that the wicked perish only by the permission, but not by the will of God. But why do we say that he permits, but just because he wills? Nor, indeed, is there any probability in the thing itself—viz. that man brought death upon himself merely by the permission, and not by the ordination of God; as if God had not determined what he wished the condition of the chief of his creatures to be. I will not hesitate, therefore, simply to confess with Augustine that the will of God is necessity, and that every thing is necessary which he has willed; just as those things will certainly happen which he has foreseen (August. de Gen. ad Lit., Lib. 6, cap. 15).”

Calvin also wrote in his Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God:

How foolish and frail is the support of divine justice afforded by the suggestion that evils come to be not by His will, but merely by His permission. … Again it is quite clear from the evidence of Scripture that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills just as He will, whether to good for His mercy’s sake or to evil according to their merits. p. 176 ff.

One modern “Calvinist” theologian at odds with Calvin’s view was the late R. C. Sproul. His book Chosen By God has some excellent material and is of great value. But, when it comes to this question of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, Sproul’s view is not Calvin’s. In fact, Sproul’s view appears to be exactly the view Calvin opposes. Sproul writes,

Equal ultimacy is based on the concept of symmetry. It seeks a complete balance between election and reprobation. The key ideas is this: Just as God intervenes in the lives of the elect to create faith in their hearts, so God equally intervenes in the lives of the reprobate to create or work unbelief in their hearts. The idea of God’s actively working unbelief in the hearts of the reprobate is drawn from biblical statements about God hardening people’s hearts. Equal ultimacy is not the Reformed of Calvinist view of predestination. Some have called it “hyper-Calvinism.” I prefer to call it “sub-Calvinism” or, better yet, “anti-Calvinism.” …

Active hardening would involved God’s direct intervention within the inner chamber’s of Pharaoh’s heart. God would intrude into Pharaoh’s heart and create fresh evil in it. This would certainly incur that Pharaoh would bring forth the result that Go was looking for. It would also insure that God is the author of Sin. Passive hardening is a totally different story. Passive hardening involves a divine judgment upon sin that is already present. All that God needs to do to harden the heart of a person whose heart is already desperately wicked is to “give him over to his sin.”

– R. C. Sproul, Chosen by God, Tydnale House, 1986, p. 142, 144.

One finds some good things in Sproul, but I must conclude that in this one matter he has seriously departed from Calvin.

On the matter of permission I consider Gordon Clark to be a better example of one who’s views have agreement with Calvin: https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/clark-on-permission/

Another good example is from Dr. Joseph C. Morecraft in volume one of his Authentic Christianity: An Exposition of the Theology and Ethics of the Westminster Larger Catechism. He writes,

Although some try to explain the relation of God’s decrees to human sins in terms of God’s mere “permission” of sin, God’s purpose regarding evil acts of free agents is more than bare permission. It involves permission (Acts 14:16), “but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding (Ps. 76:10; 2 Kings 19:28), and otherwise ordering and governing, (of those evil acts) … to His own holy ends (Gen. 50:20; Isa. 10:6). (WCF, V, iv) – p. 410

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Thoughts on Soteriology


I drew this chart after reading just part of “Why I am Not An Arminian” by Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams. To my surprise I found that the authors were not very Calvinistic themselves! I laughed when I found my friend Theodore Zachariades’ review of the book on Amazon calling it “Why I am Almost An Arminian!” On my chart Peterson and Williams would be in the category of “Calvinism Light” which apparently qualified them for teaching at Covenant Seminary.

I hope to come back to this chart from time-to-time to further discuss related questions. Either I’ll include the chart on other posts or return here to add more to this article.

Perhaps a few points of explanation are in order.

I currently have no line separating any of the semi-pelagian positions from the Catholic positions. I am unaware of any difference. Perhaps someone else could note one.

The Arminian position can be differentiated from the semi-Pelagian in that while both are synergistic the former starts with God’s grace and the latter starts with man’s seeking God.

I’ve invented the term “Luther-minian” to describe the view of C. F. W. Walther that I had posted here: https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/a-lutheran-error/ The position Walther gives here is a sort of “reverse Arminianism.” That is, rather than the onus of salvation being on the person to believe, it is for him merely a matter of not rejecting God! This is at odds with the standard “paradoxical” Lutheran view. It is possibly that in other places Walther even takes the paradoxical view, inconsistent with his “Luther-minianism”.

I’ve made a distinction between “partial equal ultimacy” and “full equal ultimacy.” Basically this is a distinction along the lines of Calvin’s ultimate/proximate distinction. I find the ultimate/proximate distinction very valuable in understanding soteriology. That is, while God is the ultimate cause of both election and reprobation (and thus there is an “ultimate equal ultimacy”) God is not the author of sin, man is. And so on a proximate level, while Jesus Christ, who is God, died on the cross for man’s sins and so brought salvation to some, the sins of man are the proximate cause of the damnation of others. Lutherans are unwilling to go beyond the proximate level to discuss the ultimate level.

Some of the differences within the Monergist camp are either semantic or can be easily resolved. For example, if someone says they favor “single predestination” but are focusing on the proximate level, they may be able to agree with “double predestination” at the ultimate level. Ultimately, I believe that many who hold to “single predestination” and/or oppose equal ultimacy fail to make Calvin’s ultimate/proximate distinction. Once this distinction is in place, there should be no reason not to agree to double predestination and equal ultimacy on the ultimate level. Differences would still exists within the Calvinists camp between infralapsarians and supralapsarians and regarding the “Well-Meant Offer” or “Free offer of the Gospel.” If infralapsarians could remove temporal ideas that arise in their minds, and properly focus on the logical order of decrees, they would have little reason to hold their position or object to supralapsarianism. As for the “Well-Meant Offer” this just isn’t Calvinism. Even the authors of “Why I am Not an Arminian” (Peterson/Williams) despite their single-predestinarian “Calvinism Light” and support of “Common Grace” appear to be opponents of WMO/FOG.

As for “permission” I find Gordon Clark’s arguments against it devastating. The idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God. https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/clark-on-permission/

While synergists may believe that God’s grace is necessary for salvation, they do not see it as sufficient for salvation. They thus hold to a low view of God’s grace. In retaining some element of man’s activity in salvation synergists rob God of the glory due solely to him.

In time I will add more Biblical references to show why I hold to the “High Calvinist” position. Romans 9 is key, but I believe the Bible all over attests to the position.

So which theologians would be in each camp. Here are some examples:

Pelagian: Pelagius

Semi Pelagian: John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins.

Catholic: Council of Trent.

Arminian: Arminius, Simon Episcopus, John Wesley, Luis de Molina, William Lane Craig.

Luther-minian: C. F. W. Walther.

Lutheran: The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

Amyraldianism: Moise Amyraut, Richard Baxter.

Calvinism Light: Peterson & Williams.

Moderate Calvinism: R. C. Sproul, John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, Louis Berkhof, B.B. Warfield, Francis Turretin.

High Calvinism: John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Jerome Zanchius (see his Absolute Predestination), Francis Gomarus, A. W. Pink, Herman Hoeksema, Gordon H. Clark, John Gerstner.

Hyper Calvinism: maybe one “internet theologian” I know of.

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Review of Education, Christianity, and the State

Education, Christianity, and the State by J. Gresham Machen, ed. John W. Robbins, Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 1987, 163 pp.

Education, Christianity, and the State is a collection of essays written by J. Gresham Machen. While the essays are grouped here together they were not originally written at the same time nor with an attempt at a systematic presentation. Nevertheless, general themes and emphases may be noted.

In the first essay, “Faith and Knowledge,” Machen emphasizes the intellect and the importance memorization for, he argues, “It is impossible to think with an empty mind.” (p. 7) Machen notes that “The most important Christian educational institute is not the pulpit or the school, important as these institutions are; it is the Christian family.” (p. 8) Against theological modernism he argues that it deprecates the intellect and exalts the feelings. (p. 9) Various points in this essay (the importance of definitions, the primacy of the intellect, opposition to faith being contrasted with knowledge) clearly influenced Gordon Clark who carried forward Machen’s positions.

The second essay, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship,” is made up of three sections with the general title applied to each evangelism, apologetics, and Christian growth.

In the first section, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship for Evangelism,” Machen again critiques those who oppose memorization. He also critiques those who favor education as training a child to learn rather than actually teaching them some content. He calls this a “substitution of methodology for content.” (p. 14) While I must agree with Machen that memorization is valuable, I found in my university work in engineering and mathematics (where we did not memorize much but learned to solve problems) and in my M.B.A. studies (which used the “case method”) that there is much value in being trained to learn so that new problems can be solved independently. When it comes to “religious education” I can more easily agree with Machen who argues that it should be goal of the teacher to impart that fixed body of knowledge which God has revealed in the Scriptures rather than training the “religious faculty” of the child by diverse content. Getting to the topic of faith and knowledge more directly than in his first essay (which actually bore that title), Machen here argues that “faith” is not faith at all if it is not faith in Christ. That is, there must be content, an “intellectual element” preceding faith. (p. 17) He defends this position based on Biblical examples including Peter’s sermon at Pentecost which set forth the facts about Jesus Christ which three thousand individuals then came to believe. Christian scholarship then is important, Machen contends, because salvation “depends on the message in which Christ is offered as Saviour” and “it is obviously important that we should get the message straight.” (p. 20) Machen continues saying that because of the necessity of of the Biblical gospel it is important that we preach not our own experiences but that we preach the Scriptures. He writes, “Men are not saved by the exhibition of our glorious Christian virtues; they are not saved by the contagion of our experiences. We cannot be the instruments of God in saving them if we preach to them thus only ourselves. Nay, we must preach to them the Lord Jesus Christ, for it is only through the Gospel which sets him forth that they can be saved.” (p. 21)

In the second section, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship for the Defense of the Faith,” Machen opposes those who pretend to propagate Christianity without also defending it. He writes, “Certainly a Christianity that avoids argument is not the Christianity of the New Testament.” (p. 23) While “argument alone is quite insufficient to make a man a Christian,” “it does not follow that it is unnecessary.” (p. 24) Christian apologetics, Machen contends, is broader than “the immediate winning of those who are arguing vigorously on the other side.” (p. 25) It is a longer-term struggle to produce “an intellectual atmosphere in which the acceptance of the Gospel will seem to be something other than an offence against truth.” Opposed to those who desire that we just get along with everyone regardless of their theology, Machen notes “The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end.” (p. 29) And “Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth.” (p. 30) Machen gives two practical points for defending the faith. 1) It should be “perfectly open and above board”; that is honest, and 2) it should be “of a scholarly kind” focusing on the arguments and never analyzing another person’s motives.

In the third section, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship for the Building Up of the Church,” Machen discusses the continued importance of edification after conversion. Sermons, he contends, should include the teaching of Christian doctrine while not confusing the audience with too many points. While it is good when in preaching “genuine Christian emotion is aroused,” if the sermon does not also teach Biblical content the hearers will not grow in their knowledge of God. Defending “the metaphysic” of Genesis 1:1, Machen argues that philosophical question are not a matter of indifference for the Christian. Ultimately, because the Gospel saves man from his condition of sin “the humblest man who believes the Bible is the Word of God is possessed of riches greater by far than all the learning of all the world.” (p. 44)

In Machen’s third essay, “Christianity and Culture,” he first begins his critique of the public school system, which he will address more in subsequent essays. He notes, “Our whole system of school and college education is so constituted as to keep religion and culture as far apart as possible and ignore the question of the relationship between them.” (p. 46) Each subject, he notes, is taught without reference to Christianity. Particularly notable is that “we studied history with careful avoidance of that greatest of historical movement which was ushered in by the preaching of Jesus.” (My own public school educations also attests to this. And most public high school graduates today probably couldn’t tell you what the Reformation was.) Machen then addresses the age old question of the proper relationship between Christianity and culture. He rejects two extremes. First he rejects the idea of “Christianity subordinated to culture” as an anti-supernatural destruction of Christianity. Then he rejects “the opposite extreme” of culture as “a matter at least of indifference to the Christian.” He holds that this separationism (a word he doesn’t however use) is “both illogical and unbiblical” as “God has given us certain powers of mind and has implanted within us the ineradicable conviction that these powers were intended to be exercised.” (p. 49) Before one concludes that Machen has made a logical fallacy, one should note that he is referring specifically to engagement in the arts and sciences, not immoral activities. Machen’s proposal then is that “Instead of destroying the arts and science or being indifference to them, let us cultivate them with all the enthusiasm of the veriest humanist, but at the same time consecrate them to the service of our God.” (p. 49) He writes, “let us go forth joyfully and enthusiastically to make the world subject to God.” (p. 50) The remainder of the essay defends this position.

Machen’s fourth essay is titled “Reforming the Government Schools.” Here he notes, “an education that trains the mind without training the moral sense is a menace to civilization rather than a help.” (p. 60) The attempts to remedy this in the public school, Machen says, are only making the situation worse. The only solid morality is found in the law of God. Machen’s supports “the encouragement of private schools and church schools.” (p. 63) Christianity, he contends, should be taught in Christian schools. Public education while “perhaps necessary” is “a necessary evil.” Given this necessity, he lists certain ways that the danger of the institution may be diminished. These recommendations include limiting the function of the public school by giving more authority to parents, and avoiding uniformity in education as that is “one of the very greatest calamities into which any national can fall” (p. 64).

Though Machen has some recommendations for improving the necessary public schools, his greater interest is in having private Christian schools. That is the topic of the fifth essay, “The Necessity of the Christian School.” He supports Christian schools “for American Liberty” and “for the propagation of the Christian Religion.” (p. 67) Machen notes in 1934 the despotism then already prevailing in Italy, Germany, and Russia. In America there is tyranny as well. There “a monopolistic system of education controlled by the State is far more efficient in crushing our liberty than the cruder weapons of fire and sword.” (p. 68) Machen opposes the child-labor amendment as it “masquerades under the cloak of humanitarianism” while being “just about as heartless a piece of proposed legislation as could possibly be conceived.” (p. 69) His concern is that the “youth of our country might be turned over … to the Washington bureaus.” (p. 71) Machen is writing at a time when the federal Department of Education is still only being proposed and is not the unfortunate reality it is today. Like one of the earlier essays, Machen opposes the “overemphasis upon methodology” of those who study “education” rather than history or chemistry. Also like a previous essay Machen writes against the evil of uniformity in education. Machen opposes “equal opportunity” as it inevitably provides an opportunity that is not worth very much as parents lack any incentive for providing educational advantages for their own children. While public education lacks a specific moral training, Machen opposes infusing Christian teaching into public schools since it is bound to be taught incorrectly. He equally opposes Bible reading in public schools as it would likely be selective readings, a “garbled Bible” used to teach the direct opposite of what it really says. Machen advocates the release of public school children at certain hours for religious instruction provided by parents. Yet this is a “makeshift measure.” Machen’s “true solution” is the Christian school. He writes, “I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the Gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the Earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism.” (p. 82)

Machen’s sixth essay is on “Shall we have a federal Department of Education?” If you’re much familiar with Machen, you know his answer is “no.” Here Machen supports the right of voluntary organizations to exclude certain persons from membership. Machen returns to the problems associated with standardization which a then-proposed federal Department of Education would likely produce. He notes as well that “Federal aid in education inevitably means federal control.” Machen argues that the principle of state control in education is the same as that of ancient Greece (not of the Bible). Many of the points and examples in this essay are repeated from previous ones.

The seventh essay, or rather seventh chapter for it is not an essay at all, is titled “Proposed Department of Education” and is the record of Machen speaking to congress in 1926. Most of Machen’s positions and arguments have already been outlined in previous essays. He again holds that it is the right of parents, not the state, to education children as they please. This is the Biblical rather than Greco-Roman approach. Machen’s political views are better displayed here than elsewhere. He “objects in general to the principle of federal aid” (p. 109) and “believes with all my soul in the principle for this country of the division of power between the states and the federal government.” (p. 110) It is recorded that there was applause after Machen said “If you give the bureaucrats the children, you might as well give them everything else as well.” (p. 114) Machen notes a number of times that he sees a role for the federal Bureau of Education only within the District of Columbia.

The eighth essay in the series is “The Christian School: The Hope of America.” Here Machen argues that the primary purpose of education is not vocation, but the broadening of man. These are themes that Gordon Clark later takes up in “A Christianity Philosophy of Education.” The influence of Machen on Clark is strongly evident. Machen notes that if you leave the average American alone for five minutes he has to turn on his radio and it seems to make very little difference to him what the radio gives forth. He writes, “An uneducated man shrinks from quiet. An educated man longs for it.” (p. 126) Machen lamets the fact that the federal government has built roads scarring “practically every mountainside” in the National parks systematically destroying their beauty. Machen opposes the Child Labor Amendment as placing “the wholes lives of those under eighteen years of age under the despotic control of whatever bureaus Congress may set up.” (p. 129) Machen further argues that there is value in Christian schools even if only in promoting liberty.

The ninth and final essay is on “Westminster Theological Seminary: Its Purpose and Plan” which was an address Machen gave at the school’s opening in 1929. He says that they are devoted to the service of Jesus Christ with the Bible as the core of what they do. Thus, they study the Bible rather than religion more broadly. Westminster is to be an institution of higher learning, not a school for lay workers. They will train in the original languages of the Scriptures and they will do “Biblical Theology” but have systematic theology as “at the very centre of the Seminary’s course.” (p. 150)

Where Machen might have stood on part of the Clark – Van Til Controversy (which he did not live to see) might be indicated in the following quote:

“There are those who think that systematic theology on the basis of the Bible is impossible; there are those who think that the Bible contains a mere record of human seeking after God and that its teachings are a mass of contradictions which can never be resolved. But to the number of those persons we do not belong. We believe for our part that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that he has given us not merely theology, but a system of theology, a great logically consistent body of truth.” (p. 150)


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Sermon on Romans 3:1-8 – “God’s Faithfulness Upheld”

Preached on Feb. 11, 2018 at Dillingham Presbyterian Church


At the end of Romans chapter 2 we saw Paul contend that what matters for salvation is not that you are a Jew outwardly, as a physical descendant of the nation of Israel, but that you be a Jew inwardly; that to be a true believer you must have the Holy Spirit within you which renews your heart and gives you faith.

In the passage we’re looking at today we’ll find a series of question that Paul has found to come up against the Gospel. In Paul’s responses to these question we get the title of today’s sermons – “God’s Faithfulness Upheld.” REPEAT

Paul is defending God’s covenant faithfulness. The passage will be broken down into 3 points which we will address as follows:

1. Possessing the Scriptures was an advantage to the Jews.
2. God is faithful even though man is not.
3. God’s faithfulness does not give man liberty to sin.

We saw that being a Jew outwardly did not bring salvation.

Paul then imagines a person objecting to this saying “Is there then no advantage of being a Jew?” If being a Jew does not in itself bring salvation, is there no benefit to being a Jew?

1. Possessing the Scriptures was an advantage to the Jews. (v. 1-2)

We read from chapter 3 verse 1 of questions that Paul likely had dealt with:

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?”

Because one’s salvation is independent of their ethnicity, one might expect that Paul would answer this question saying “There is no advantage to being a Jew.” But he doesn’t. Rather, he contends that there is much benefit to being a Jew. There is much benefit because they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Continuing in Romans 3:2 we read Paul’s answer to the question “What advantage has the Jew?” He writes,

“Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

There is then a benefit that has been given the Jews. To begin with, for starters, Paul says “they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

What though are the oracles of God?

Were these oracles, like the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi, some sort of soothsayers or psychics?

The word oracle probably more often than not brings up these connotations of divination – where certain people in the ancient world might get themselves into a frenzied state and utter supposedly divine revelations. The most famous of these was the oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece to whom citizens and Kings alike to visit in an attempt to have their biggest questions about the future answered.

But the oracles Paul is referring to are not so much people/prophets at all, but are the communications from God Himself which have been written in the Old Testament. The oracles Paul is referring to are are the commandments, predictions, and promises of God given to His prophets and written down for posterity, for future generations. The oracles are the entire Old Testament. This is what has been entrusted to the Jews. It was to the Jews whom God gave the Scriptures.

The word we have translated as “oracles” is, in the Greek, the word the λόγια [logia] which is related to the word for “Word.” So the oracles are the words entrusted to the Jews.

It was a great honor for the Jews to be entrusted with these oracles of God. You might imagine that the scrolls themselves were pretty cool. Just as today we might view the Dead Sea Scrolls as a thrilling historical artifact. And the copies the Jews carried around were even older than the Dead Sea Scrolls! But it was not the physical paper (or animals skins, rather) that set these writings apart. It was their actual content – the words of God received by the prophets. And the Jews remained the keepers of this repository.

Thus the Jews were greatly blessed in having these oracles. Not only were some Jews followers of God through having heard God’s written word, but the Jews were blessed with good national laws based on the revealed law of God for Israel. This is great advantage.

And Paul says “to begin with.” That is, there are other benefits God has given the Jews, but Paul does not enumerate them here. Probably the other benefits are of less importance than the great benefit of having God’s oracles – His Words in the Old Testament.

Among the benefits that God gave Israel, Paul might have included the patriarchs, the judges, the prophets, the temple, the ark of the covenant, etc. All of these things were also entrusted to the Jews. But it is the Word of God which is preeminent. This is the greatest advantage for the Jews.

It should be noted too that God entrusted THEM with the oracles of God. That is, he entrusted the whole nation! All the people. God’s word is not just for some priestly class or wise scholars. God entrusted it to all the Jews!

This truth was greatly emphasized in the Reformation. Against the Catholics who desired to keep the Bibles in only Latin and with the scholars, the Protestant Reformers translated the Bible into the vernacular – the common language – German, French, English, etc. and encouraged every person to read the Bible themselves. So here too with the Jews – THEY were entrusted with the Scriptures. Parents were to teach their children the Scriptures, not leave the Word of God with the scribes and priests locked away in the temple. The Scriptures were for all the people of Israel. That is a great advantage.

Likewise, you today are to read the Bible and teach your children from it, not relying only upon Sunday school to do the work for you. The obligation, in the Scriptures, to teach children is upon the parents first! In fact, in church history some have worried that Sunday school might take away from that responsibility of parents. That they might shirk their responsibilities and rely on the Sunday school entirely to teach their children. But this is often an over-reaction. It IS the parents responsibility to teach their children; that is true. But Sunday school can be a good supplement to that teaching.

So, we return to our subject.

Paralleling the question “What advantage has the Jew” Paul asks another question “Or what is the value of circumcision?”

These might be essentially the same question – “circumcision” being a reference to the Jews. Or it might be a slightly more precise question asking about the advantage of circumcision itself for the Jews.

In the last sermon I mentioned some about this advantage. Some of this value.

What is the value of outward circumcision?

Circumcision did not save anyone, but it pointed to the covenant with God, a God who does save, and this has great value.


The modern version of the questions Paul addresses might be stated, “Then what advantage has the church-goer? Or what is the value of Baptism?”

One might very well be asking these questions after being told that attending church does not save you, and that baptism does not save you. These are both true statements.

“Then what advantage has the church-goer? Or what is the value of Baptism?”

There is a serious epidemic of those in the world today who say they are Christians but never attend church, nor are members of any church.

Some say they are not into “organized religion.” We ask, do they prefer disorganized religion?

Perhaps it is possible in some extraordinary circumstances for a Christian to not be a member of a church, and not to attend a church. But this is not the norm. Christians should have a passionate desire for church. They should attend. And they should become members so that they, like the new converts in the books Acts can be “counted among the number”

Christians are part of the body, the church. A Christian should not be separated from the church, just as a part of the body should not be separated from the whole. Christians, also, are to submit to their elders which is scarcely possible if you do not have a church and therefore do not have elders to submit to in discipline. Furthermore, the author of the book of Hebrews commands us to “not neglect to meet together.” And Paul commands us in Ephesians to use our gifts to build up the church. This is only possible in the context of a church.

Even though Church membership and attendance does not save you, it has great value. It is there where you worship God, hear his word, enjoy fellowship with the saints, be part of the body, and have the discipline of the elders. Church has immense value.

Baptism too. Though it does not save you, it has great value. Like circumcision, baptism points to the Covenant with God.

One pastor, speaking on this passage, has spoken of a personal story – his own grandmother, who it seems had no relationship with God, but would pull out her certificate of Baptism and say “here it says that I am a Christian.” We know that this is foolish.

Baptism does not save anyone, but it is — like circumcision was — a symbol of God’s covenant with us.

Paul, in fact, calls Baptism a “circumcision made without hands” and “a circumcision of Christ.”

More exactly, Paul says:

“In him [Jesus] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in Baptism” “In which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” – Colossians 2:11-12

So just as the Jews had many great advantages, so to do those who attend church and are Baptized.

So to summarize our first point – Possessing the Scriptures was an advantage to the Jews.

But to continue on, we see in the text that some Jews proved to be unfaithful. Not all who were Jews outwardly proved to be Jews inwardly, true believers.

And so Paul says in verse 3:

3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?

That is, does man’s sin void God covenant?

Paul answers as he continues in verse 4:

4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

And so this is our second point: God is faithful even though man is not. REPEAT

2. God is faithful even though man is not. (v. 3-4)

Stephen, the first martyr, the first recorded person who would die for the faith, in the book of Acts speaks about these people.

He says:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” [Acts 7:51]

They were uncircumcised in heart an ears. Resisting that Holy Spirit by whom only can the heart of man be renewed in righteousness with a circumcision of the heart.

But though man be unfaithful, God remains faithful. Paul says “Let God be true though every man was a liar.”

He then says “as it is written” which we known means he is going to reference the Old Testament.

As it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

Where is this written? Where does this come from in the Old Testament? It is from Psalm 51:4 which reads:

[Psa 51:4 ESV] 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

The unfaithfulness of man is set in relief to God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness is seen more strongly in contrasting it to man’s unfaithfulness. Like darkness makes light stand out, the evil of man makes the goodness of God more obvious.

But why is that God’s covenant promises have not been broken? Did he promise the save the whole nation of Israel?

The Jews of Paul’s time should have known from reading the Old Testament that not all individuals within the nation or ethnicity of Israel would be saved. REPEAT

The examples are plentiful.

In Korah’s rebellion, in the book of Numbers, some 249 co-conspirators, ALL OF WHOM WERE JEWS, were led by a man named Korah in a rebellion against Moses. Moses responded to Korah saying “in the morning the Lord will show who is his.” And God proved that the men of Korah, all of whom were Jews, were not his people when he had the ground under them split apart and the earth swallow them up.

And then, among others, there were Hophni and Phineas, the wicked sons of Eli in 1 Samuel. Both of whom were Jews, but are described not as “sons of God” but as “sons of Belial” or “sons of the Devil.” Not all Jews are chosen of God.
And then in the New Testament we have Judas Iscariot, who also was a Jew, but was not among God’s chosen people. Judas Iscariot is spoken of by Jesus in the Gospel of John as “the son of perdition” – the one destined for destruction.

It is clear, not all ethnic Jews are true children of God.

Perhaps more clearly than anywhere else Paul explains later in Romans, in chapter 9:

[Rom 9:6-8 ESV] 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

And so it is clear that God’s promise to the nation of Israel did not mean that he would save each and every individual Jew. God therefore breaks no promise in there being some Jews who are “uncircumcised in the heart.”

God remains faithful even though man is not.

3. God’s faithfulness does not give man liberty to sin. (v. 5-8)

So we move to the last section of this passage.

If our sin makes God’s righteousness that much more evident, as darkness makes light stand out, why are we blamed for sin?

In verses 5 through 8 Pauls presents a series of questions that an unbeliever may ask following what has just been said of man’s faithlessness and God’s faithfulness.

It again reads:

5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world?

7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

This can be broken into 2 questions. 1. Is God just? And 2. Why not do evil if God forgives us?
Let us look at the first question first. Is God just?

This is the center of all Christian ethics – it is God who is the judge, not man. So why are we blamed for sin? Because God is the rightful judge. His judgments are always right. When we say “God is sovereign” we not only mean that He is all-powerful and “in control” but that He determines what is true and what is false, and what is right and what is wrong. These are not categories above him, but are his own determinations from his eternal unchanging will.

And the second question, “Why not do evil if God forgives us?”

God forgives our sins in Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that we should sin more so that we might be more blessed.

In chapter 6 Paul writes more on refuting that terrible lie that says “Let us do evil so good may come.”

This is the lie of non-Christian ethics. Ethics which focus on some ENDS, some ends goal, which man choses. It is this type of non-Christian ethics that says “maybe I can do something a little bit evil so that something better will come of the situation.” It is this type of non-Christian ethics that says “I think it would be better for this child to not be born, and therefore I will abort him.” But God’s ethics says “thou shalt not kill.” Truly, you do not know whether the child will have a rough life and be a “drain on the system” or be the next great inventor or medical doctor. We don’t know the ENDS, we cannot know the ENDS. Only God can know the ENDS. As finite human beings the ethics God has given us are not ENDS-based, but are MEANS-based. God tells us not to kill, he tells us not to steal, he tells us not to commit adultery. We are not to wonder whether we might make a better life for ourselves if we skirt around these commandments. We are to obey them. Plain and simple. Only God knows the ends.

And the laws are JUST because God is JUST and they are His laws.

But opponents of the Faith slander the truth. They lie about what the Christians are saying. They say “So, you’re saying because God is forgiving that we should sin more!?” Certainly not!

By the time Paul is writing Romans he has been around for a while. He has been preaching the Gospel for years. And he knows what objections are likely to come up against it. If salvation is OF God 100%, then should we sin more? By no means! To say otherwise is to slander His teaching.

The Romans were also known to slander the Christians. For one, they would say that the Christians are cannibals! They heard about the sacrament of Holy communion and the bread and wine as symbols of the body and blood of Christ, and from this they said “you are cannibals,” “you are eating your own Christ.” We know that this is not true. This is a slander of what Christians actually believe.

These questions put to Paul are based on false inferences. It is as if I were to say “I like pizza” and someone concludes from that that I hate ice cream. This is a false inference. Likewise, it is a false inference to conclude that I should commit evil from the fact that God forgives sins.

The error Paul is addressing is called Antinomianism. This come from the Greek “anti” meaning “against” the Greek “nomos” meaning law. So an antinomian is one who is against the law; one who teaches that we no longer have to obey the law because God will forgive us anyways. But Paul is not opposed to the law as such. The law has its purposes. And just because we have the Gospel of grace, does not mean that we should no longer obey the law.

These are the nuances of the Christian Faith. There is a balance in many ways.

We find balance in the teaching that being a Jew does not save, but there is still advantage to the Jews in being entrusted with the oracles of God.

We find balance in the teaching that being circumcised does not save, but that it pointed to a God who does.

We find balance in the teaching that being baptized does not save, but that it points to a God who does.

We find balance in the teaching that attending church does not save, but that it is an important connection to the body of Christ for the Christian and should be embraced.

And we find balance in the teaching that the law does not save, but the law should be obeyed. When a person makes false inferences from one half of one of these doctrines, they slander Christians just as Paul stated they do. And, as Paul says, their condemnation is just.


So we conclude.

God’s faithfulness is upheld. God gave the Scriptures to the Jews, and though they rejected Him, He remained faithful. But this faithfulness of God does not give man the liberty to sin.

God keeps His promises. He does not change. God is always faithful. We hold on to that truth in all our trials. God is always faithful. Amen.

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