God Can’t Forgive

As is clear from the (few) recent comments around here, it’s been many months since the last post (I have stopped posting about the Vos study because of lack of interest; and suspended following the Vos study because of other things going on, but I do plan to pick it up again eventually…). I had a thought based on a recent oldlife post by DGH, and the comment thread there is already too long for me to catch up to, so that seemed as good a reason as any to write it up separately, here. In discussing forgiveness, DGH quotes Mark Jones:

We are all aware, I trust, that all sins are committed against God. Therefore, no one can forgive sins in the way that God can. He has a peculiar authority that we do not have. All sins, whether mediately or immediately, are committed against God. Sometimes the neighbour is the medium, but the sin is still against God.

That is all very true, but it reminded me of a particular difference between the way we can forgive, and the way God can forgive, which is that (in a sense), God can’t. Lemme ‘splain. How do we forgive? Freely. Why? Because we have been forgiven. Freely you have received, freely give. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Parable of the unforgiving servant and all that. Our own forgiveness from God is the ground, the cause, and the spur, of our forgiveness of others.

But what about God? Nobody has ever (legitimately) forgiven God, because he has never done anything that required forgiveness. So how/why does God forgive? Does he just, “out of the goodness of his heart”, let bygones be bygones? No, God can’t do that; he’s too just. God can’t forgive; his justice requires that he must punish. So the ground, the cause, and the spur of God’s forgiveness is that his wrath has been propitiated, and his justice satisfied, in Christ.

This perspective provides a happy resolution to the “dilemma” of those who would carp that God is a hypocrite, in that he requires us to forgive, but poured out his wrath on his own son. God is not telling us “you must not exercise your wrath; you must forgive, even though I poured my wrath on my son.” Instead he is telling us “you must (and can!) forgive, because I poured my wrath on my son (which enabled me to forgive you).”

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Vos Study #10

Vos Study #10 covers the first half of chapter 6: points 1-2 of 4 about The Period Between Noah and the Great Patriarchs. Point 2 on The Table of Nations is simply a paragraph that highlights the significance of Shem. Point 1 centers on Noah’s prophetic curse of Ham and blessings of Shem and Japheth, the progenitors of all humanity, in three redemptive-historical groups. One quote of Vos for each:

On Ham:

The Old Testament recognizes that among the Canaanites the same type of sin here cursed was the dominating trait of evil. The descriptions given in the Pentateuch leave no doubt as to this [cp. Lev. 18.22; Deut. 12.29-32]. Even among the ancients outside of Israel (Japhetites) the sensual depravity in sexual life of Phoenicians, and Carthaginians in particular, had become proverbial.

On Shem:

This is the first time in Scripture that God is called the God of some particular group of mankind. It is so extraordinary a thing as to inspire the patriarch to the utterance of a doxlogy; ‘Blessed by Jehovah, the God of Shem.’ Resolved into its explicit meaning it would read: ‘Blessed be Jehovah, because He is willing to be the God of Shem.’

On Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem:

A real political conquest is intended. But ultimately such physical conquest will have for its result the coming of a religious blessing to Japhet. Occupying the tents of Shem he will find the God of Shem, the God of redemption and of revelation, there. The prophecy, both in its proximate political import and as to its ultimate spiritual consequences, was fulfilled through the subjugating of Shemitic territory by the Greeks and Romans. For this blessing became one of the most potent factors in the spread of the true religion over the earth. Delitsch strikingly remarks: ‘We are all Japhetites dwelling in the tents of Shem.’

Bucey and Tipton spend a fair bit of time discussing how the curse of Ham “presses the antithesis”, in a Van Tillian way. They also point out (in a Klinean way) that, this not being a period of intrusion, Ham was not to be immediately executed.


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Vos Study #9

Vos Study #8 covered the first half of chapter 5, Development leading up to Noachian revelation, and Vos Study #9 finishes chapter 5 with (post-flood) Noachian revelation.

This episode is a Klineophile’s dream. They go well beyond Vos and spend a lot of time unpacking what Kline had to say, and there’s even a positive mention of “brother Van Drunen’s” use of Noachian revelation in his treatment of Common Grace.

First off, they spend a good bit of time on Kline’s treatment of the covenantal rainbow as just a bow, a weapon, retired from attacking the earth, and hung up to rest, pointing away from the earth, and even towards God who is willing to redeem men by taking their punishment onto themselves.

There’s a good discussion of what can go wrong when the common, universal covenant to preserve life until the final judgment, is conflated or flattened with redemptive covenants. On the one hand, you can get Theonomy, where elements of the redemptive covenant are imported into secular government. On the other hand, you get Catholicism, where the entire earth becomes sacramental (see Sacramentum Mundi), and salvation is somehow extended to all.

And near the end, there’s a great discussion of the concept of Intrusion. Bucey makes an interesting point; in the many examples where Israel does not fully destroy Canaanites as God has commanded, that is an unauthorized extension of common grace. (And God punishes them for that). Tipton points out that examples of intrusion are always tied to a holy place installed on earth (the ark, the temple, the land of Israel, etc.).

All in all, a great episode, I recommend you go give it a listen (you don’t need to have listened to all the previous ones). You just can’t go wrong with a podcast that includes the sentence “And that’s why were’ not Theonomists.”

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Larger Catechism Class

Yesterday was the first class in a proposed 3-quarter (3x13wk) class on the Larger Catechism at EOPC, taught by (it’s all about) me. For anybody that’s interested, resources and recordings can be found online. Yesterday’s class on historical introduction was a lot of fun, but I expect it will settle down as we dive into the catechism itself starting next week.

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Vos Study #8

In Vos Study #8, we have the first half of Ch 5, “The Development Leading Up to the Noachian Revelation”. This section of scripture is summarized in Vossian understatement as “revelation here bears on the whole a negative rather than positive character,” watching the Cainite line slide into ever-increasing depravity, and even take the Sethite line with them (Vos explains how the “Sons of God/daughters of men” passage is Sethite men taking Cainite wives). The podcasters go into great length about how the Cainites’ city-building is sinfully autonomous, with only one concession from Bucey that “not to say that all cities are inherently evil, since Zion is a city.” I was missing what I found in Vos of picking out a thread of common grace. Continuing on from the quote above,

It contents itself with bestowing a minimum of grace. A minimum could not be avoided either in the sphere of nature or of redemption, because in the former sphere, without at least some degree of divine interposition, collapse of the world-fabric would have resulted, and in the latter the continuity of the fulfillment of the promise would have been broken off. … Had God permitted Grace freely to flow out into the world and to gather great strength within a short period, then the true nature and consequences of sin would have been very imperfectly disclosed. …

The narrative proceeds in three stages. It first describes the rapid development of sin in the line of Cain. In connection with this it describes the working of common grace in the gift of invention for the advance of civilization in the sphere of nature. It shows further that these gifts of grace were abused by the Cainites and made subservient to the progress of evil in the world.

The podcast concludes with a discussion of the “120 years” passage, which does not mean that God will limit the age of individuals to 120 years (many in the genealogies live much longer than that, even after the flood, including Abraham); rather it is a deadline, 120 years is the limit of God’s patience (cf 2 Pet 3:9), after which judgment comes in the form of the flood, which will be discussed more next time, for the back half of the chapter.

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Vos Study #7

In Vos Study #7, Dr. (congrats!) Bucey and Dr. Tipton cover all of the small chapter 4, The Content of the First Redemptive Special Revelation, which focuses on the results of the Fall.

First off is nakedness and shame, which is the result of “how Special Revelation attaches itself to General Revelation”. Previously GR showed God’s glory through creation, but now it reveals Adam & Eve’s sin and guilt. (See also Rom 1).

On to the curses. Most of the discussion on the podcast centered on “seed of woman vs seed of serpent”; noting how it is “obviously” collective at first, but then turns singular at “he will crush your head”. This was related to Gal 3:16 with the “seed” vs “seeds” stuff. (And that in turn related to the Christocentric vs Christotelic discussion which is currently occupying a lot of the blogosphere.) One especially nice point from Vos is how God shows his initiative with “will put enmity…”. Says Vos,

The essence of the deliverance consists in a reversal of the attitude assumed by man towards the serpent and God respectively. Man in sinning had sided with the serpent and placed himself in opposition to God. Now the attitude towards the serpent becomes one of hostility; this must carry with it a corresponding change in man’s attitude towards God. God being the mover in the warfare against Satan, man, joining in this, becomes plainly an ally of God.

The curses towards Eve and Adam (note curses are given in order of sin; serpent, Eve, Adam) are treated much less. But it is interesting that Vos finds the gospel even in the curses; obviously the protoevangelion in the serpent’s curse, but in cursing Eve with painful childbirth, God is promising childbirth; and in cursing Adam with hard labor, he is promising sun, and rain, and bread.

One off-handed comment got my goat; discussing the collective seeds of the woman and serpent, Bucey jokes “Those are the first two kingdoms, ha ha”; but Tipton follows up enthusiastically with, “Yes, if you want to properly consider the two kingdoms…”. It seemed like me to be a backhanded swipe at 2K, even though obviously, it’s not proper 2K if one of the Kingdoms is the Kingdom of Satan. But I’ll give them a pass, as the rest of the episode had lots of good things to say about Kline, both in Kingdom Prologue and Images of the Spirit.


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Dr. Strange Love; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Animus Impotentis

Sometimes you have to write a blog post just for the sake of a good title. Episode 337 of Christ the Center featured Dr. Alan Strange, discussing “Animus Impotentis”. Dr. Strange is rather a cut-up, and makes this discussion of a dry-sounding topic almost as entertaining as rodeo-skydiving a nuclear warhead!

A few highlights I recall:

Dr. Strange relates how 6×24 YECs like to insist that the confessional language “in the space of six days” means “in the space of six ordinary, twenty-four hour days” (or equivalently, the animus imponentis of the language means “ordinary 24-hour”). The only reason, they say, “24-hour” is not in the confession is because that phrase is modern, and it would be anachronistic for us to expect them to speak that way. However, in researching the minutes of the Assembly, Dr. Strange found a case where there was a debate over whether the 7th day of Creation is eternal and continuing, or “24 hours”. Maybe the phrase was even “24-hour day”, I don’t recall. I think how it went was, there was a motion to assert that the 7th day was a 24-hour day, and the motion was debated, voted on, and rejected. The point being, “24-hour”-ness was in their vocabulary.

Another interesting creation-related tidbit, from the OPC Creation Report (for which Dr. Strange was a committee member). (See lines 2859ff in the report.) In 1954, there was a Dr. Edwin Monsma who wrote a tract If Not Evolution, What Then, which he requested that the OPC Committee on Christian Education publish. “The way that he sets forth his view is quite irenic. … He summarizes his position on the length of creation days this way: ‘Without categorially dismissing all other views, it does seem that this one [6×24] is most easily harmonized with Scriptures and with the whole of special revelation.” And yet, the response of the committee was: “[the committee] has reluctantly concluded that it would not be desirable for the Committee on Christian Education to publish it because of the dogmatic position taken on the controversial issue of the length of creation days.” The Report’s conclusion : “Certainly it seems to indicate that almost twenty years after the formation of the OPC, the denomination remained unwilling to publish anything under its auspices that set forth the length of the creation days as being of ordinary duration.” (See also Robert Strimple’s historical reflections on the OPC and views of creation.)

Finally, to show that animus imponentis is not only about creation, Dr. Strange discussed its relation to other topics as well. One that stuck out for me was an assertion that, Limited Atonement is not nailed down by our confessions, but the common understanding that it is a non-negotiable doctrine is a matter of animus imponentis. Apparently Hodge wrote something that tried to prove that L is indeed in the confessions but Strange considers Hodge to have used somewhat weak, overreaching arguments, and Fesko has written something more recently that does a better job.

Anyways, it was a good discussion, and you should go listen to the whole thing!




Posted in Confessionalism, Confessions, Creation, Review | 4 Comments