Berkhof on Knowing God Through Scripture

Here is a short quote from Berkhof’s Systematic Theology on how we learn about God.

The only proper way to obtain perfectly reliable knowledge of the divine attributes is by the study of God’s self-revelation in Scripture. It is true that we can acquire some knowledge of the greatness and power, the wisdom and goodness of God through the study of nature, but for an adequate conception of even these attributes it will be necessary to turn to the Word of God. In the theology of revelation we seek to learn from the Word of God which are the attributes of the Divine Being. Man does not elicit knowledge from God as he does from other objects of study, but God conveys knowledge of Himself to man, a knowledge which man can only accept and appropriate. For the appropriation and understanding of this revealed knowledge it is, of course, of the greatest importance that man is created in the image of God, and therefore finds helpful analogies in his own life. In distinction from the a priori method of the Scholastics, who deduced the attributes from the idea of a perfect Being, this method may be called a posteriori, since it takes its starting point, not in an abstract perfect Being, but in the fulness of the divine self-revelation, and in the light of this seeks to know the Divine Being.

 

Berkhof on the Knowledge of God’s Being

In dealing with our knowledge of the Being of God we must certainly avoid the position of Cousin, rather rare in the history of philosophy, that God even in the depths of His Being is not at all incomprehensible but essentially intelligible; but we must also steer clear of the agnosticism of Hamilton and Mansel, according to which we can have no knowledge whatsoever of the Being of God. We cannot comprehend God, cannot have an absolute and exhaustive knowledge of Him, but we can undoubtedly have a relative or partial knowledge of the Divine Being. It is perfectly true that this knowledge of God is possible only, because He has placed Himself in certain relations to His moral creatures and has revealed Himself to them, and that even this knowledge is humanly conditioned; but it is nevertheless real and true knowledge, and is at least a partial knowledge of the absolute nature of God. There is a difference between an absolute knowledge, and a relative or partial knowledge of an absolute being. It will not do at all to say that man knows only the relations in which God stands to His creatures. It would not even be possible to have a proper conception of these relations without knowing something of something of both God and man. To say that we can know nothing of the Being of God, but can know only relations, is equivalent to saying that we cannot know Him at all and cannot make Him the object of our religion. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 44

Without the Holiness of God

Here is another quote from David Wells on what happens when the holiness of God is lost.

Holiness is therefore so much more than just a moral code or a set of rules. It is all about what is right because it is all about what God is in his utterly pure being. It is his being in its burning purity that drives us in the pursuit of what is right. And he has disclosed to us in Scripture, in a multitude of ways, what is true and right.

Without the holiness of God, sin has no meaning and grace has no point. God’s holiness gives to the one its definition and to the other its greatness. Without the holiness of God, sin is merely human failure, but not failure before God. It is failure without the standard by which we know it to have failed. It is failure without guilt, failure without retribution, failure without any serious moral meaning.

Without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of his judgment that covered the cross. Without God’s holiness, grace would be nothing more than sentimental benevolence. It is this holiness that shows the graciousness of grace, its character as unmerited, because it also shows us the offensiveness of sin.

Without the holiness of God, faith is but confidence in good fortune, optimism about our prospects, hope in some future happiness. It is not what takes hold of the one in whom God has wrought his propitiation. It is not that trusting in the utter reliability of the good character of God that makes his promises “Yes and Amen” in Christ.

Sin, grace, and faith are emptied of their meaning when they are separated from the holiness of God…That is really what the third mark of the church [discipline] is all about. It is about the people of God showing the same kind of moral seriousness that is in plain sight on the cross.

Not Only in Our Hearts

Let us then realize that we are baptized on this condition, namely, that we should devote ourselves fully to our God…so that we may glorify Him who has shown Himself so liberal towards us and who has exercises such pity. Every time that God’s benefits are recalled to our memory, and especially the remembrance that it has pleased Him to call us to the knowledge of His truth, we should add this: that it is in order that our life should be dedicated completely to His honor and to His service.

Baptism is our confession before men inasmuch as it is a mark and token by which we openly declare that we wish to be numbered among the people of God, by which we testify that we agree and concur with all Christians in the service of the one God and in one religion, by which, in short we publicly assert and declare our faith, in order that God may be glorified not only in our hearts, but also that our tongues and all the members of our body may, to the utmost of their ability, sound forth His praises. For in this way all that is ours is employed, as is fitting, in promoting the glory of God, which ought everywhere to be displayed; and others are stimulated by our example to the same course. (John Calvin, quoted in Pierre Marcel)

God’s Sovereignty and Complaining

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I love it when people comment on my sermons because it helps me see whether or not I got my point across accurately. Recently I preached a sermon from Hebrews 12:3-11 about God’s discipline. I encouraged the congregation to see the hardships, difficulties, and persecution as part of God’s discipline in our lives to kill sin and train us to holiness. A congregant of mine made comment about this sermon that implied since it was from God’s hand we should just submit to it and not do anything about it. From that comment it became clear that I need to clarify the connection between God’s sovereignty and us asking for help. Does God’s sovereignty over a situation mean we just sit back and let it happen or refuse to try to fix it. The answer to this is no. The fact that God brings something into our life to help us grow in holiness does not mean we don’t ask for help or seek to remedy the situation. Let me illustrate this a couple of ways.

Imagine you get a flat tire. Did God give you (permit) that flat tire? Yes. Did he give it to you to help you grow in holiness and kill sin? Yes. Does that mean you sit there and stare at the tire? No! Does that mean if do not know how to change a flat tire you shouldn’t ask for help? No! You fix the flat tire. You ask for help if you don’t know how. And you humbly learn from the situation.

Now that is a simple example, but it applies in all situations. You are having a hard time with your children. Is that difficult situation from the hand of God? Yes. Is it there for your sanctification and growth? Yes. Does that mean you sit at home and hope it works out? No! It is possible that one of the reasons God brought this difficult situation into your life is so you will swallow your pride and ask for help. A husband doesn’t understand how to shepherd his wife. Is that from God? Yes. Is it for his growth in holiness? Yes. Should he sit there and refuse to get help? No.

But what about complaining? We don’t want to whine or complain. Isn’t it complaining if we ask for help or show that we are having  a hard time? The impulse to not complain is good one. The Bible tells us not to grumble or complain (Philippians 2:14). We are a nation of whiners. But grumbling and complaining is about attitude more than content. We see this with our children or with other folks we know. One child comes and asks mom for help with a hard chore. Their attitude is humble and sincere. Another child comes with raised voice, angry attitude asking for help. One is complaining. One is asking for help. Or an employee at work approaches his boss about some projects not getting done. He is sincere, wants the company to succeed and is not interested in destroying his co-workers. Another employee sees the same problem. He also approaches the boss. But his attitude is one of pride, bitterness, trying to get higher up in the company, and making his co-workers look bad. Both are approaching their boss about the same problem. One is complaining. One is not. Trying to get help for a hard situation or seeking a remedy for a hard situation is not the same as complaining.

So here is what you need to remember:

1. God is sovereign. Every situation in your life, good and bad, is from his fatherly hand for your good and his glory.

2. That means we are to learn and grow from each situation. We to approach problems, difficulties, and hardships trusting the Lord with an attitude of humility.

3. That does not mean we simply sit there. If we are having a hard time we tell someone. At the very least we get prayer for our difficulties. But we can also ask for advice, practical suggestions, etc. Asking for help, advice, and suggestions is not the same as complaining.

4. Complaining is almost always about the attitude someone has towards a situation. If you are bitter or angry about a difficult situation God has brought into your life. The answer is not to refuse to ask for help. The solution is to repent of your bitterness or anger and then go ask for help. Don’t just sit there. Fix the flat tire.

What is Marriage For?

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Here are some Biblical reasons for marriage.  The first five would be true even if man had not sinned. Only the last two are a result of sin in some way, though of course sin affects our ability to fulfill the first five. These are not in any particular order. 

First, God ordained marriage for taking dominion over the earth. Genesis 1:26-28 gives us God’s original plan for man.  Man was given dominion over the earth, he was to fill the earth and subdue it.  Eve was to be Adam’s helper as he subdued the earth (Genesis 2:18). Psalm 8 makes it clear that this dominion still belongs to man even after the sin in the Garden of Eden. Christ redeems us so that we might participate in His taking dominion over the earth.  Of course, a single person can participate in the dominion mandate. But typically we fulfill this command through getting married and having children. 

Second, God ordained marriage to be a witness to Christ and his church. Churches love to talk about evangelism, which is of course a good thing. But marriage is explicitly called a picture of Christ and his church. Ephesians 5:22-33 makes it clear that when a man and woman get married they immediately become a living, breathing painting of Jesus and His Bride. This means our marriages always point to something greater than the marriage itself. A failed or bad Christian marriage is a slander of Jesus Christ.

Third, God ordained marriage for our companionship. It was not good for Adam to be alone.  Over the years we are married there should be an emotional and spiritual intimacy that develops between husband and wife. There is a lot of sentimentality that surrounds marriages. People talk of “soul mates” and such things.  As Christians we should avoid this. But there is a kernel of truth there. God does want us to grow closer to our spouse. Husbands and wives should enjoy each other’s company and companionship more and more over the years.   

Fourth, God ordained marriage for the bearing of children. This is explicitly stated in Genesis 1:28. The Scriptures see children of covenant parents as a great blessing to God and his Kingdom. The Scriptures assume and expect that godly marriages will be fruitful and bear many children (See Deut. 28:4, 11, Psalm 127-128, I Timothy 5:10, 14, Titus 2:4).  A couple that refuses to bear children is violating God’s Word. If a couple cannot have children that does not mean they are not blessed by God. God intends to bless that couple in other ways and for them to honor him in other ways. However, most Christian marriages should result in a having many children and bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Fifth, God ordained marriage for our physical pleasure. Proverbs 5:15-20 and the Song of Solomon make this point. The sexual relationship is not just for the bearing of children or for sexual protection. It is also for the joy and pleasure of the couple. God intended for us to enjoy our spouses physically. Too many Christians find this a bit much, that God would create such a physical high. “Is that really spiritual”, we ask? But God made sex to be thoroughly enjoyed within marriage. It is not an idol to be worshiped. And your goal is not to have the “best orgasm in history” as the world tells us. But the marriage bed is meant to be fun and exciting. Those who tell you otherwise are liars. 

Sixth, God ordained marriage for our sexual protection. Paul makes this clear in I Corinthians 7:2-5. Getting married is one of the ways God keeps us from burning with lust. Long delays in getting married, which are common in our culture, make us more vulnerable to sexual sin including pornography and fornication. Marriage is not an automatic cure for sexual sin, but it does help. 

Seventh, God ordained marriage for our sanctification.  There are few situations like marriage and raising children that can show someone their sinful heart. We get married believing we are great and wonderful, only to find out there are a lot of ungodly thoughts and emotions that we need to repent of. Later we think we matured spiritually then children come along and the process starts all over again. God sanctifies us in other ways. But marriage is  one of the primary ways he helps us grow in the image of Christ.  

S&S Podcast 2016.29 The Blame Game

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In the podcast I reflect on how we use our good deeds, such as prayer, tithing, teaching our children modesty, going to church, catechizing, etc. to buy favors from God. What effect does this type of thinking have on our relationship with God? As always comments are welcome.