Mark Jones

The Happiest Person Alive: Rediscovering Divine Blessedness

The seventeenth-century English poet William Habington said, “He who is good is happy.” Indeed. He who is good and abounds in all good things is happiest and most blessed. And because none is good like God is good, none is blessed like God is blessed.

God’s blessedness or felicity (that is, his enjoyment of the highest good) was not given much attention in the work of the Reformers. Even after the time of the Reformation, blessedness does not receive the type of attention that other attributes do. Interestingly, in the medieval period of church history, two of the most famous theologians, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, gave copious attention to God’s blessedness. Others before the medieval period, like Augustine in the early church, were clearly not unaware of this special attribute of God when they connected the highest good with God’s own felicity and blessedness.

We live in a time when a reacquaintance with God’s blessedness could prove extremely useful for pastors and their flocks. This attribute may also function as an evangelistic tool to a generation of people, young and old, who are decidedly not experiencing true blessedness and joy.

Rediscovering Blessedness

Meditating upon God’s blessedness should, in a certain sense, cause us some holy envy of what God possesses. His attributes, as we conceive of them, involve a perfect union of all that is good. So, for example, his blessedness is an unchangeable blessedness, an eternal blessedness, an infinite blessedness, and so on. God’s delight is chiefly in himself as a fully self-sufficient being who needs nothing because he possesses everything. The apostle Paul speaks of “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” and calls God “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 1:11; 6:15).

The idea of blessedness as the union of all good things is not particularly difficult to understand. If we could conceive of a good God who is unable to effect good because he lacks the power to do so, he would not be happy but miserable. Or consider a God both holy and merciful but lacking the wisdom to be both just and the justifier of sinners — he also would be miserable. God is a perfect being insofar as his attributes are not in competition with one another, but instead gloriously harmonize in a way that can only mean he is blessed above all.

Theologians refer to God as a fully actualized being such that he is not just blessed but infinitely blessed. He cannot be more or less blessed than he is. Where unchangeable and infinite holiness, justice, power, knowledge, wisdom, and goodness exist, there must be blessedness.

Blessed Knowledge

God enjoys blessedness because there is no ignorance in him. He knows himself fully. As Stephen Charnock says,

The blessedness of God consists not in the knowledge of anything without him but in the knowledge of himself and his own excellency, as the principle of all things. If, therefore, he did not perfectly know himself and his own happiness, he could not enjoy a happiness. For to be and not to know to be is as if a thing were not. “He is God blessed forever” (Romans 9:5) and therefore forever had a knowledge of himself. (The Existence and Attributes of God, 624)

God is blessed because he fully knows his blessedness. God’s life is “most happy,” as the Reformed theologian Benedict Pictet said. Anyone who understands true happiness will affirm that God is “most happy” since he is “in need of nothing, finds all comfort in himself, and possesses all things; is free from evil, and filled with all good” (Theologia Christiana Benedicti Picteti, 2.4.7).

“Unlike humans, God does not need anything outside of himself to make him happy and blessed.”

Unlike humans, God does not need anything outside of himself to make him happy and blessed. The blessedness in this universe, wherever it may be, is from God and can only be from God. Even the human nature of Christ receives its happiness from the divine essence. As Edward Leigh once said, “The human nature of Christ himself in heaven . . . lives in God, and God in it, in a full dependence on God, and receiving blessed and glorious communications from him” (A Treatise of Divinity, 2:200).

Trinitarian Blessedness

When we say that God is “most blessed” we are affirming that the Father, Son, and Spirit all equally possess this infinite happiness. There is no divine attribute that belongs to one person and not another.

John Owen, who never shied away from his robust Trinitarian theology, speaks of the blessedness of God as the “ineffable [that is, indescribable] mutual inbeing of the three holy persons in the same nature, with the immanent reciprocal actings of the Father and the Son in the eternal love and complacency of the Spirit” (Works of John Owen, 1:325). The reciprocal love between the persons makes them blessed. True love is the ground for true happiness. The one who loves most is most happy.

We worship and serve a most happy God, which should make us happy. We bow before the three persons knowing they are not distressed like the pagan gods but rather full of joy, which is good news for us. God is not just happy but free from all miseries. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God knows his perfect blessedness, which means he also knows he cannot not be blessed. It is impossible for any misery to ever be in God.

Christ’s Blessedness

Affirming God’s blessedness raises an important question for us regarding our Savior, Jesus Christ. We drink from God’s blessedness because Christ drank in our misery as the God-man. God sent his Son to make us happy. But what, then, can we say about Christ’s own felicity, joy, and blessedness?

Was not Christ “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3)? Or was he a man of joy at the same time? While possessing a human nature allows for the experience of real misery, we should also think of our Savior as a man of joy who was always aware of his blessedness. Christ was always joyful and therefore blessed while on earth, even though he was also acquainted with grief.

As one who received the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), he would necessarily have been joyful (Galatians 5:22). As one free from sin, he did not possess the miseries of a sinful nature; rather, he was holy, innocent, and unstained (Hebrews 7:26). He would have been supremely satisfied in his holiness, which he received from the Father through the Spirit. Our Lord also knew that he was doing God’s will (John 4:34; 17:4), which brings joy and blessedness. Even going to the cross, Christ had joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). Knowing that all he was doing would lead to the salvation of his bride would be cause for great felicity. At one time, we read of Jesus rejoicing in the Spirit because the Father had revealed to “little children” the salvation accomplished through defeating the devil (Luke 10:18–21; Hebrews 2:14).

Our Lord was and especially now is a blessed man, the most blessed man.

His Blessedness Is Ours

What does the church gain by recovering blessedness today? There is no denying that we are living in a day when people are lacking joy. Depression is on the rise, and many are coping in unhealthy ways with their miseries.

We believe that God is the fountain of all blessedness and joy. We cannot experience true joy in this life until the triune God becomes our God. We are only as happy or miserable as the God we serve. Blessedness is not only something God is but something he offers, appropriate to our creaturely condition. God has decided to offer the best to us in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, which we can receive by our union with him and the Spirit’s dwelling in our hearts.

George Swinnock wisely states,

Those who serve the flesh as their god are miserable (Romans 16:18; Philippians 3:18) because their god is vile, weak, deceitful, and transitory (Psalm 49:20; 73:25; Isaiah 31:3; Jeremiah 17:9). Similarly, those who prize the world as their god are miserable because their god is vain, troublesome, uncertain, and fleeting (Ecclesiastes 1:2–3; 5:10; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; 1 Timothy 6:9–10). But those who have an interest in this great God are happy: “Happy is that people, whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 144:15). (The Blessed and Boundless God, 167)

The Lord Jesus received his happiness from God through the Spirit. We receive our happiness from God, in Christ, through the Spirit. This blessedness is the only blessedness worth having because it comes from an inexhaustible fountain overflowing into our hearts, a joy that will be ours forever.

Many people think that riches or prestige will make them blessed, but those gifts easily turn into curses when God is not put first. And it is hard to put God first when we receive riches and prestige. Unless we receive the greatest gift that God can give — his Son — we cannot receive any blessing well. David understood this in Psalm 16. He speaks of how the lines fell for him in pleasant places (verse 6), but only in the context of enjoying the Lord as his “chosen portion” (verse 5). At God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore (verse 11), which is how one may be truly blessed in this life and the life to come.

And we should not forget who is at God’s right hand now: the exalted Christ. At God’s right hand is his greatest pleasure, his Son, and we are most like the Father when we love what he loves, which is true blessedness.

Undying Worm, Undying Men: The Eternal Horrors of Hell

Today, some Christians seem embarrassed by the doctrine of hell. As such, they either omit discussing it, or they reinvent the doctrine and rob it of any real horror. Our Lord, however, was not afraid to talk about hell. Jesus speaks of “the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22); the danger of the “whole body” being “thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29); “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43); the place where the impenitent are “thrown” (Mark 9:45), “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).

Many Christians struggle to believe that Jesus plays an active role in the destruction of the godless. However, the Scriptures leave us in no doubt about the reality: Our Lord will, with his angels, gather all “law-breakers” and “throw them into the fiery furnace,” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41–42). Christ calls this a place of “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30). If people doubt that Christ spoke of the judgment to come, often using vivid language, they have not read the Gospels carefully (see, for example, Matthew 3:12; 7:22–23; 10:28; 11:23; 13:30, 41–42, 49–50; 23:16, 33; 25:10, 31–33; 26:24; Mark 8:36; 9:43–48; 16:16; Luke 9:25; 12:9–10, 46; John 5:28–29).

At the same time, the doctrine of hell is not merely a New Testament doctrine. Indeed, some of the language used for hell in the New Testament comes from the Old. For example, Isaiah warns the godless of “the consuming fire” and the “everlasting burnings” (Isaiah 33:14). In the last chapter, he speaks of God coming in fire “to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the Lord shall be many” (Isaiah 66:15–16). Isaiah prophesies that the righteous “shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against [God]. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24; see Christ’s use of these words in Mark 9:48).

Daniel, along with others, also refers to the final judgment: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

Endless Punishment

There is no shortage of professing Christians who affirm a coming judgment of the wicked. Some, however, tend to think that this judgment will not be everlasting. As finite beings, we struggle to wrap our minds around the concept of eternity. But if God intended to either annihilate the wicked at death, with no future judgment, or put an end to suffering after an indefinite period of time, then he did a poor job of communicating that to us.

Scripture shows us that hell is a place of “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46 KJV). Hell is an “everlasting fire” (Matthew 18:8 KJV) that can never be quenched (Mark 9:45), where their worm never dies (Mark 9:48). Sodom and Gomorrah were punished for their sins by “undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). False teachers have a place reserved in hell where the “gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 13). We read of the suffering of the wicked, “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11; see also Revelation 19:3, Revelation 20:10, “forever and ever”). William Shedd rightly notes, “Had Christ intended to teach that future punishment is remedial and temporary, he would have compared it to a dying worm, and not to an undying worm; to a fire that is quenched, and not to an unquenchable fire.”

Shedd adds that other words and metaphors could have been used to describe a long, but not endless, punishment. Indeed, if hell is not endless, the New Testament writers “were morally bound to have avoided conveying the impression they actually have conveyed by the kind of figures they have selected” (Dogmatic Theology, 892). The word used to describe “everlasting life” is also used to describe “everlasting punishment.” For example, in Revelation 22:14–15, the existence of the righteous in heaven is coterminous with the existence of the wicked “outside” of heaven (that is, in hell).

Separation from God?

Another way people try to make the doctrine of hell more palatable is to say that hell is merely separation from God. But while hell does separate the wicked from the blessed life of God in Christ, hell is still punishment. Those who hate God in this life will continue to hate him in eternity, and they will continue to face God’s wrath.

Hell is a location, a place; it is not simply a metaphor that describes inner thought processes. Acts 1:25 tells us Judas went “to his own place.” Just as there is a place for the righteous after death, so there is a place for the wicked after death. The word Gehenna refers to the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem. The horrible history of this place involved, at one time, the Israelites and kings of Israel burning their children as sacrifices to the false god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). Gehenna may not be a reference to a burning trash dump (as some have claimed), but it is far worse: a place where the greatest horrors take place, such as the willful sacrifice of children. Hell is a place of pure evil, destitute of all hope.

Rather than being mere “separation from God,” hell is, as the Puritan Thomas Goodwin said, a place where “God himself, by his own hands, that is, the power of his wrath, is the immediate inflicter of that punishment of men’s souls” (Works of Thomas Goodwin, 10:491). God’s power will be “exercised” as his wrath toward those who are cast away from the presence of God’s blessedness. Those in hell will receive the opposite of those in glory, but they will still be in God’s presence. Those in heaven have a mediator, but those in hell have nothing between them and an avenging God.

If the foregoing is true, we should be careful not to say (as some have) that hell is giving people what they want. In a highly limited sense, this is true. They do not want to enjoy God in this life, so they will not enjoy him in the life to come. However, given the torments of hell, no one can possibly desire to suffer at the hands of the omnipotent God, especially for all eternity. Who could possibly desire for their despair to increase as well? As the creatures in hell realize more and more that they are suffering forever, the despair of eternal judgment can only increase. Those in hell have no promises, and thus no hope, but only increasing despair.

Escape Through the Cross

Goodwin makes the solemn point that the “wretched soul in hell . . . finds that it shall not outlive that misery, nor yet can it find one space or moment of time of freedom and intermission, having forever to do with him who is the living God” (Works, 10:548). The wicked will despair because there is no end to the righteous wrath of the living God. Thus, the concept of ever-increasing despair for all eternity, whereby the creature damned to hell can do nothing else but blaspheme a living, eternal God, gives us all the reason in the world to persuade sinners to put their faith in the one who experienced hellish despair on the cross.

Our Lord shrieked with cries so that we might sing with praise; he was parched with thirst that we might drink freely from the fountain; he was abandoned in the darkness that we might have fellowship in the light; he was crushed that we might be restored; he was publicly shamed that we might be publicly exalted; he was mocked by evildoers that we might be praised by angels; he gave up his spirit that we might have our spirits saved. As real as his sufferings were, our joys will be no less real. The hellish experience of the cross is the greatest testimony to the unspeakable joys of eternal life with God.

Arenas Are Cathedrals: What Sports Reveal About Worship

“Unceasing praise, songs of passion, a desire for triumph, unity of spirit, an object of worship, lament over wrongdoing, flawless attendance, and all in a beautiful sanctuary.” That may sound like a church service, but it was actually the experience I had years ago at a professional soccer game in England. In spite of the setting, it was encouraging to hear men sing with passion, a passion often lacking in congregational worship.

In this way, professional sports reveal that we were made to worship, celebrate glory, and admire excellence. We are worshiping beings. It is not whether we worship but what or whom we worship. And many today worship sports in some form or another. I have spent enough time in various sporting contexts (as an athlete, fan, and coach) to understand that both men and women, boys and girls, can be very passionate about sports and the teams they support. Yet particularly men and boys seem to be especially given to idolatry in supporting their favorite sports teams.

Worldly Passions

Enjoying sports and supporting one’s favorite team is not necessarily a problem (like I said, I’ve been a player, fan, and coach). Like anything in the Christian life, though, we must learn to manage God’s gifts wisely. However, sometimes we misuse God’s gifts, and we become worldly in our thoughts and deeds. John tells us to “not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). This doesn’t mean we can’t love a beautiful lake or a nice meal, but it does mean we need to be careful that we don’t love created things in place of the Creator. In the world are “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Professional sports teams offer ample opportunities for worldly desires to come to full expression.

God created us with good desires, such as the desire to love or give vent to our joy. However, our sinful nature easily corrupts these powerful desires so that we love things we should not love, or we love things in ways or degrees that do not fit their God-given purposes. The Greeks used to speak of four passions, and Augustine and others saw these as helpful tools to analyze and understand human behavior: (1) desire, which is the good wished for; (2) joy, which is the good obtained; (3) fear, which involves an evil to be avoided and the good threatened; and (4) grief, which is when an evil happens and the good is lost. These passions run rampant among many sports fans, and where strong passions roam wild, one must proceed with great care.

Passionate sports fans desire the joy of victory, but in many cases, the fear of defeat and the accompanying grief can reveal how disordered our passions can be. I have heard it said by many players, coaches, and fans that they hate losing more than they love winning. For many, sports is the clearest window into their soul, where they show more joy or grief than in any other realm of life!

Enslaved Fans

In diagnosing whether sports have an unhealthy grip on our lives, we should ask ourselves some questions. For example, is our love for sports drawing us away from corporate worship on the Lord’s Day or consistently distracting us during worship? As in all things, can we enjoy God and give thanks to him in and through our delight in sports (Ephesians 5:20)? Or are we merely indulging self-focused desires? Remember, whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Even in the realm of enjoying sports, we must do so by faith, which also guards our passions as we seek enjoyment as God’s people enjoying his various gifts. We are to do all things to the glory of God, including support sports teams (1 Corinthians 10:31).

When we take pleasure in sports, are we causing damage to anyone — including ourselves? Some men can become so inordinately distressed or angry when their team loses that they take their anger out on others, even their own family members. This is a violation of the sixth commandment.

We could also ask, are we given to the pleasure of supporting a team, or is the pleasure given to us? In other words, we should not allow the failures of a sports team to dominate how we feel days after a loss. When we are given to something, it controls us rather than us controlling it. The art of enjoying sports is to remember that we can learn to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

I say this as an extremely competitive person (who hates losing more than I enjoy winning), but I need to continually see the success of the teams that I support and coach in both a temporal and eternal perspective. Even temporally, isn’t it amazing how we can get so riled up over sweaty men with whom we have no relationship except that they happen to wear a different color jersey than another group of sweaty men? And none of these sweaty men care in the least about my feelings. Plus, even when your team wins the championship, the joy is short-lived: on to next season where we will worry about the coaching or the quality of newly acquired players.

Greater Glory

The solution to our worldliness and idolatry in relation to sports cannot be found in merely showing the ultimate emptiness of becoming an enslaved fan. As Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847) famously argues in “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” you cannot destroy love for the world merely by showing its emptiness. Love of the world — and specifically an inordinate, enslaving love for sports — can only be expelled by a new love and affection for God from God.

Love for God the Father, as his children (1 John 3:1), is a delight that frees us from slavery to the glory of sports. So, unless we have a love for God based upon all that he has done and will do for us, we will find ourselves increasingly addicted to worldly pursuits like sports.

In addition, John also connects the beatific vision — seeing Jesus face to face — to our love for God. As God’s children, we patiently await what we shall one day become: fully conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). When Jesus appears, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Both our love for the Father and our hope of being made like Christ when we see him give us a passion to make worship of God, not sports, central to our daily living as God’s people.

And if supporters of sports teams can gather week after week to sit on cold metal, loudly chanting and singing to spur their team to victory, should we not also be able to gather each Lord’s Day with our brothers and sisters to celebrate, all the more enthusiastically, the victories of our King and his eternal glories?

Fit for Office: How Some Exercise Extends Ministry

As with any topic related to Christian living, discussing physical exercise in the life of a pastor runs the risk of twin dangers: legalism and antinomianism. Those two terms are tricky to understand and apply, but my point is hopefully simple: the antinomian pastor doesn’t think he is under much obligation to look after his body, whereas the pastor given to legalistic tendencies in this area has many commands on how to stay fit and healthy. Both pastors think of different things when they hear “six-pack.”

With these two dangers in mind, however, we do well to consider several reasons for why Christians, and pastors in particular, exercise.

‘Universal Obedience’

An obvious and sustained lack of discipline in one or two areas of our obedience to God — such as prayer, church attendance, hospitality — very often reflects a lack of discipline in other areas of the Christian life. In chapter 8 of John Owen’s famous work on mortification, he makes the point that we must aim for sincerity and diligence in all our obedience (“a universality of obedience”) if we are going to have success mortifying our sin.

Referencing 2 Corinthians 7:1, Owen writes,

God’s work consists in universal obedience. . . . If we will do anything, we must do all things. So, then, it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted. (Works of John Owen, 6:41–42)

If a pastor, or any Christian for that matter, is wildly negligent in some area of life — physical health included — we rightly ask questions about whether a pattern of general negligence is present. While indwelling sin is present in even the most sanctified Christians, we should exhibit a universal (that is, total) commitment to God in all the commandments that remain upon us (John 14:15, 21, 23) — not least because keeping a particular commandment is harder if one is actively breaking other commandments.

Breaking the Sixth Commandment

What parts of Scripture might command us to steward our bodies?

The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), requires us to wisely preserve our own lives and the lives of others. And if something is forbidden in the law, the positive is also commanded (see, for example, the way Paul treats the commandments both negatively and positively in Ephesians 4:25–32). In preserving our own life, we should aim to eat well, refrain from gluttony and drunkenness (Deuteronomy 21:20), and engage in appropriate bodily exercise, such as walking, sports, or physical labor.

Obvious benefits result from aerobic and anaerobic exercise. And especially for a pastor who spends a lot of time sitting, doing both aerobic and anaerobic training may prove crucial to his long-term physical and mental health. Whether with New Testament Greek or your muscles, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Paul likewise affirms the goodness of bodily training, commenting that it “is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8). Various types of exercise can alleviate anxiety, stress, and depression. Most pastors, especially the faithful, need all the stress-relief they can get. In addition, just as exercise can release helpful hormones and neurotransmitters, obesity in men is linked with low testosterone. Low testosterone seems to be a new epidemic, even among younger men. Some of this trend can be accounted for by our poor eating and exercising habits. Obesity also leads to cardiovascular problems that can kill someone earlier than if he had remained fit.

“Regular exercise will likely lead to greater productivity, not less, in both the short term and long term.”

Did Jesus care about physical health? Anyone who has read the Gospel accounts carefully will understand that our Lord did a lot of walking, and sometimes over distances and terrains that would have required a great deal of fitness. He likely walked several thousand miles during his ministry, with frequent trips to Jerusalem for various feasts. And his own preaching shows his remarkable familiarity with God’s creation.

Overlooked Sin

We can decry the lack of physical activity among children these days, many of whom are overweight even in elementary school (in part because of technological innovations that allow nonstop stimulation). But adults are not exempt from overusing gadgets and failing to exercise their bodies. Can the minister, in good conscience, speak to young people from the pulpit about their excessive use of phones and their failure to exercise if he is just as guilty?

Ministerial laziness in physical exercise, replaced with overeating, seems to be an acceptable sin in North America. Pastors are meant to be examples in our conduct — that is, in our overall lifestyle (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:1–3). A pastor can rail against the evils of alcohol, sometimes showing a legalistic approach to the topic, all while being practically silent on the immoderate use of food. Such ministers may be the type of person Solomon warns us to avoid: “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Proverbs 23:20–21).

Now granted, weight issues are a complex matter. While many are overweight because of self-indulgence, I do not doubt that maintaining a weight is much harder for some than for others. But then again, many sinful proclivities are greater struggles for some than for others. A person naturally skinny may have other hidden proclivities toward sins that are not as obvious. We all need to work harder than others in areas of weakness. We all have specific crosses to bear in our sanctification that, for others, are less of a burden.

Fruitful, Lively Ministry

Claiming one is too busy to exercise is a rather poor excuse. God is not a hard taskmaster. We can rightly order our lives and accomplish a great deal with some discipline. Regular exercise will likely lead to greater productivity, not less, in both the short term and long term. One can also listen to a book or podcast while going for a walk.

For pastors, we have many reasons to eat well and exercise frequently. Besides extending the duration of fruitful ministry, we will find ourselves more energized for the vocational labor God has called us to, and we will set a good example to our flock. But a life of self-indulgence will catch up with us in many ways, including possibly losing the ability to minister with energy.

As we exercise and aim to stay healthy, we also can find unique ways to enjoy God. Appreciate the beauty of his creation by finding nice places to walk, run, or bike. Meditate upon the glory of God and enjoy his goodness to us, which comes in more ways than we imagine. We are not too busy to keep ourselves healthy; in fact, to keep up with the inevitable demands of ministry, we can’t afford to overlook our physical health.

Exercise and ministry can be friends. For example, if a pastor can exercise by playing basketball, soccer, or some other team sport — as opposed to going for solo walks or runs — he may find unique ways to be part of his local community and develop relationships whereby he can share the gospel. Redeeming the time is hard to do, but getting exercise in a social context can have many benefits for a pastor.

God gives us his commands to help us, not hinder us. The sixth commandment offers us the good life — the life where we care both for others and for ourselves. And pastors who care for their bodies are caring for and loving their flock. Do not kill: that is, preserve your life, within reason, as you are able. You’ll be happier in God, and he will be magnified in your life and church by your enriched joy in him.

The Existence and Attributes of God: A Reader’s Guide to a Christian Classic

The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock (1628–1680) is one of the standout works from the Puritan era. This is quite an accomplishment when one thinks of the hundreds of well-known books and discourses that emerged from the pens of those theological giants. Published two years after his death, it was regrettably not yet fully completed, with fourteen Discourses finalized but more planned.

There has been no shortage of praise for Charnock and his work since its publication. Historian Edmund Calamy (1671–1732) speaks of Charnock’s reputation as a theologian:

He was a very considerable scholar, there being scarcely any part of learning he was unacquainted with. He had a peculiar skill in the original languages of the Old and New Testament. His natural abilities were excellent. He had, what rarely meet, a strong judgment, and a lively imagination. He was a very eminent divine.

Erasmus Middleton (1739–1805) called him “one of the greatest men in the church of Christ, with respect to his depth, clearness, accuracy in true divinity.” He added, “He was the Author of those unparalleled discourses on the Existence, Attributes, and Providence of God.”

Anglican hymn-writer Augustus Toplady (1740–1778) similarly commented on the greatness of the Discourses: “Perspicuity and depth; metaphysical sublimity and evangelical simplicity; immense learning and plain, but irrefragable reasoning; conspire to render that performance one of the most inestimable productions, that ever did honour to the sanctified judgment and genius of a human being.”

Joel Beeke once remarked to me that Charnock’s magnum opus is the one “must-read” on the doctrine of God from the Puritan era, and he added that the Discourse on God’s goodness is “alone worth its weight in gold, and is unsurpassed in all of English literature.” Jerry Bridges, in reading the Discourse on God’s holiness, at roughly half a dozen pages in, found himself on his knees before God, overcome with his holiness. As he got up and started reading again, a few pages later he was again on his knees before God.

Left alone with only two books for the rest of my life, I would happily keep myself busy in the knowledge of God with the Bible and Charnock’s masterpiece!

Theology for the Pews

Perhaps to the surprise of some readers today, the Discourses are written chiefly for homiletical (preaching) purposes. While there would be some obvious editing to the sermons, we must keep in mind that the pages before readers today were meant to be heard in the pews of the church where Charnock ministered alongside Thomas Watson. (Incidentally, one can’t help but envy the hearers of two of the most gifted theological wordsmiths alive in Britain at the time.)

The sophistication of this work does not mean it is inaccessible to the lay reader. In fact, what makes this work a sort of classic is Charnock’s ability to take perhaps the weightiest doctrine (the doctrine of God) and write on it in a way that not only scholars and pastors can appreciate, but also Christian laypersons — though, in today’s age, it may require a great deal more focus than the average Christian book.

Each of the fourteen Discourses contains an exposition of a well-known Bible text. Charnock would often choose the locus classicus for each topic, usually in continuity with other Reformed treatments on the same subject (for example, Psalm 14:1 on God’s existence). This was a typical approach for homiletical discourses on theological doctrines. As one quickly notices, Charnock is concerned with the practical implications of who God is, which means practical atheism takes up a major part of his treatment on God’s existence.

While more people were beginning to doubt God’s existence in the latter part of the seventeenth century, the major threats to the doctrine of God’s existence in that period were, first, attacks upon a classical understanding of God and, second, the ever-present reality of failing to live as though God exists and cares about our thoughts and actions. Charnock’s work is a penetrating analysis of the extent of these problems, but he also offers many solutions to our practical atheism.

While Charnock’s work looks at the existence and attributes of God, we should not think he lacks a strong focus on Christ. Littered throughout each discourse are golden nuggets on how each attribute relates to Christ. In fact, some of Charnock’s best thoughts on Christ in relation to the divine attributes appear in the “uses” section of each Discourse. This is a crucial observation, for the simple reason that even in the application of the doctrine of God we see Charnock anchoring his Discourses in the person of Christ.

Lucid Sophistication

The “uses” (or “instructions”) sections in the Discourses show us just how practical the doctrine of God is for Christian living. Without his applications, the work would be like a beautiful car but without wheels. Today we still suffer to some extent from the idea that a theology book is not very practical, and a practical book should not be too theological. This concept is demolished by Charnock’s work, which is as practical as it is theological and vice versa.

“If Calvin was known for ‘lucid brevity,’ I think Charnock should be known for lucid sophistication.”

Some of the more popular Puritan theologians, such as John Owen (1616–1683) and Richard Baxter (1615–1691), wrote extremely sophisticated treatises. Their learning was perhaps unparalleled among English-speaking theologians in the seventeenth century. And when you read the two of them, you sometimes need a “translator” of sorts — yes, for their works in the English language! But Charnock does not require a “translator.” He is simpler and clearer and has better turns of phrase than the other two. In other words, if any of these men belong on Twitter, it is Charnock (and Watson). If Calvin was known for “lucid brevity” (as he himself described his aim), I think Charnock should be known for lucid sophistication.

The beautiful turns of phrase used by Charnock are a result of putting his learning to use to bless God’s people in the pew. His metaphors and analogies are Christlike insofar as he possessed a remarkable grasp of the natural world (“consider the lilies,” Luke 12:27). He was a Renaissance man par excellence; and his medical training shines through in the metaphors, illustrations, and analogies that surface on most pages of his work. His insight into human nature is also a major strength of his expositions. One gets the impression that Charnock’s erudite understanding of God enabled him to peer deeply into the human soul and all the sinful peculiarities that beset us even in a state of grace.

Big Book on a Big God

Why should you read Charnock on The Existence and Attributes of God? Quite apart from what has been said above, we should remember that the twentieth century was not a great century for the doctrine of God. Christians today still entertain ideas about God that are unorthodox, perhaps unwittingly due to poor or inadequate teaching. The remedy begins in the pulpit, but it also includes our private and corporate study.

“You are entering a big world as you learn of a big God.”

With the recent reprint of Charnock’s Discourses, pastors can easily access a work that has stood the test of time and read a treatment on God that will illuminate their own preaching. J.I. Packer once remarked to me that the best compliment he could give Martyn Lloyd-Jones was that he “brought God into the pulpit.” When the “Doctor” preached, it was clear God was powerfully present. If pastors are going to bring God into the pulpit, it will not happen if they are not consumed with the same God that Charnock so eloquently writes about.

In addition, whether as a pastor or a layperson, when reading Charnock, you are not simply reading a singular Christian thinker, but someone who widely engaged the broader Christian tradition. You are encountering other thinkers that span many centuries and traditions (even pagan poets and philosophers). You are entering a big world as you learn of a big God.

It is quite an accomplishment to read a work of over 1700 pages, but it seems to me that anyone who thoughtfully and prayerfully tackles this work will never be the same again. This book truly is life-changing. And if you are somewhat intimidated by the size, consider, at the very least, reading the Discourse on God’s goodness, and prepare to fall on your knees before God in humble thankfulness for the manifold mercies that he shows to you each day (many of which you have likely ignored).

It was a pleasure to edit these two volumes by Charnock in the hope of meeting a pressing need in the church today for a more robust, more biblically and theologically informed view of God that will stir not only the minds but also the hearts of God’s people. In my mind, few books from the last several hundred years can quite help the church today like Charnock’s Discourses in the never-to-be-sufficiently praised Existence and Attributes of God.

Does Jesus Still Sympathize with Sinners? The Compassion of the Risen Christ

ABSTRACT: In his exalted state, the risen Christ no longer suffers pain or distress; immortal and impassible, he dwells in heaven with perfected affections, no longer burdened by the sorrows he felt as he walked among us. Nevertheless, as a faithful high priest, he still feels deep compassion for his tempted and suffering people. This glorified compassion, far from detracting from the good news of Christ’s high priesthood, gives great hope to those who need his compassion most. For though Christ is not distressed by his people’s distresses, he is moved by them, and the compassion he offers is a powerful sympathy, supplying all the grace his people lack in all their times of need, until they finally dwell perfected with him.

For our ongoing series of feature articles for pastors and Christian leaders, we asked Mark Jones (PhD, Leiden), minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church, to explain and apply the exalted compassion of Christ.

During Christ’s life on earth, from the womb to the tomb, he lived what theologians call a “life of humiliation.” There are many aspects to his humiliation, his suffering chief among them. Keeping in mind that we are talking about a person who is the Lord of glory (James 2:1), the beautiful and glorious one (Isaiah 4:2), the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3), full of grace and truth (John 1:14), it is remarkable that he was also at one time “a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6). Our Lord was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

His sorrows and griefs were ordained by his Father for a time to equip him to be a complete Savior — a faithful high priest. As Stephen Charnock once wrote, “He was a man of sorrows, that he might be a man of compassions.”1 The author of Hebrews makes this plain to us:

He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17–18)

Christ’s sufferings, temptations, trials, and other sorrows during his life of humiliation enable him now to be a “merciful and faithful high priest” toward his brothers (Hebrews 2:11). And indeed, he is now in heaven what he was on earth: compassionate, merciful, and sympathetic. In his classic essay The Emotional Life of our Lord, B.B. Warfield makes the claim that the “emotion which we should naturally expect to find most frequently attributed to that Jesus whose whole life was a mission of mercy, and whose ministry was so marked by deeds of beneficence . . . is no doubt ‘compassion.’ In point of fact, this is the emotion which is most frequently attributed to him.”2 The compassion of Christ toward his bride is integral to his faithful calling as a high priest.

But an important question arises from this consideration of our Lord as a compassionate high priest — namely, How do his human compassions differ in his state of exaltation compared to when he lived on earth and showed mercy and compassion as a fellow sufferer? Is Christ pained at our pains in his state of glory, or is he now, according to his human nature, impassible — that is, no longer able to suffer? If he no longer suffers, is this good news for us in terms of his compassion toward us?

Our Lord’s Sympathy in Heaven

In one of the greatest works of pastoral Christology ever written in the English language, The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth, Thomas Goodwin addresses the human nature of Christ in relation to his sympathy and compassion toward sinners, in both his state of humiliation and his state of exaltation.

Christ’s affections, according to his manhood, are personal properties of his person in both his state of humiliation and his state of exaltation, though with some important differences. The differences and similarities between Christ’s affections in both states are due largely to Christ’s resurrected body being a “spiritual” body: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44). By “spiritual,” Paul does not mean the body is now immaterial, but rather that the body arrives at its goal of being fully animated and perfected by the Holy Spirit.

“There is now no weakness to characterize Christ as there once was in his state of humiliation.”

Jesus did not lose or shed his humanity upon his ascension into heaven, but rather his resurrected body is now “powerful” (i.e., Spirit-animated): “[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Paul does not mean to say that only his flesh is powerful, but that his human nature, consisting of both body and soul, is powerful; there is now no weakness to characterize Christ as there once was in his state of humiliation. Christ’s affections are “spiritual” because they belong to his spiritual body. Charnock notes that his resurrection body was made immortal, “and had new qualities conferred upon it, whereby it had acquired an incorruptible life.”3 His body is a “glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

The affection of loving, faithful compassion — of being able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) — is not merely metaphorical. In reference to God, especially in the Old Testament, the affection of sympathy is indeed metaphorical, based on anthropomorphic speech, because God in his essence cannot sympathize with humans since he is not a human. God cannot suffer in order to sympathize with our suffering. However, since Jesus is still truly human, his compassion and sympathy are truly human. We cannot therefore explain them as only metaphorical in his state of glory. What then can we say of the compassion of the glorified Christ toward sinners on earth?

The sympathy Christ shows toward us is not merely based on a past remembrance he has of his own temptations and sufferings, though it does include that. Rather, his affection is a present affection that leads to an ongoing compassion to those who need it. It is true and real; in fact, after asking how far and deep this affection reaches toward us, Goodwin says, “I think no man in this life can fathom.”4 His desire to help us does not, however, cause him any harm or suffering.

To understand this affection in glory more fully, Goodwin sets forth, using his scholastic apparatus (in a pastoral work), the matter negatively, positively, and privatively.

Impassible and Immortal

Negatively speaking, as noted above, the sympathy Christ now possesses toward his bride on earth is not completely synonymous with the compassion he had while living and suffering among us. In Hebrews 5:7, we read of Jesus “in the days of his flesh,” when he prayed with “loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). The “days of his flesh” refers not so much to the fact that he lived as human, but to “the frail quality of subjection to mortality”5 — that is, to the days before his glorification. Since he no longer can be said to be living “in the days of his flesh,” there is no need for loud cries or tears.

Also commenting on Hebrews 5:7, John Owen observes that Christ “is no more in a state of weakness and temptation; the days of his flesh are past and gone.”6 While he still possesses a “compassionate sense upon his holy soul of the . . . distresses” that we undergo on earth, he is free of temptations now.7 And while many still mock and ridicule his name, “He is far above, out of the reach of all his enemies. . . . There is none of them but he can crush at his pleasure.”8 This was not always so, of course; in his “days of flesh” he was subject to the cruel physical brutality of his enemies (Matthew 27:30–31). But now he is both impassible and immortal.

Glorified Affections

Positively speaking, the affections in his glorified humanity work not only in his soul but also in his body. The affections of Christ are truly human, but they arise from a body-soul composite, not just from one or the other. According to Goodwin, Christ’s body is “so framed to the soul that both itself and all the operations of all the powers in it are immediately and entirely at the arbitrary imperium and dominion of the soul.”9 That is to say, the infirmities that Christ possessed on earth during his humiliation, including hunger, weakness, and sadness, do not affect his soul now in glory because his body has been raised in power. He cannot suffer like he did in the wilderness temptation because he is not in the wilderness and does not have a body that is subject to wilderness pain!

Perfected Compassion

Owen likewise affirms that all the perfections that Christ’s humanity is capable of, in both body and soul, belong to Christ in glory. Retaining the same body that was formed in the womb of the virgin, Christ’s human nature remains truly human and therefore finite. His body now is the most glorious body that can be conceived, for the fullness of the Spirit dwells in him, and the glories of the deity, by virtue of the hypostatic union, shine forth. Owen says of Christ’s glorified humanity that it is “filled with all the divine graces and perfections whereof a limited, creature nature is capable. It is not deified.”10 Love is the highest perfection a creature can receive from God, and so Christ’s love, exhibited in many ways, including that of compassion, is heightened, not lessened, by his entrance into glory.

Goodwin explains that Christ’s affections (e.g., compassion, sympathy) move his “bowels and affect his bodily heart” both in his states of humiliation and exaltation.11 Yet there is an important difference: his affections in heaven “do not afflict and perturb him in the least, nor become a burden and a load unto his Spirit, so as to make him sorrowful or heavy.”12

In heaven, we will not suffer. We will be impassible. Christ, who has already undergone his glorification, cannot suffer now. While he is still sympathetic toward us, his glorification “corrects and amends the imperfection of [his affections].”13 “Perfected affections” now belong to Christ. When we are glorified, we too shall have perfected affections. Nothing indecent or unbefitting of a state of glory will accompany our affections in heaven. Sadness is an affection, sometimes entirely appropriate to this world. But sadness will not be appropriate in heaven because there will be no reason for sadness (Revelation 21:4).

Man of Succors

Adam, in his state of innocence, was endowed with natural affections. He loved, desired, and rejoiced, for example. Because he was created in holiness and righteousness, his natural affections did not have the taint of sin, but his reason allowed him to channel his desires to their appropriate end — until, of course, he sinned. Until that point, Adam did not possess the affection of grief because there was no reason for him to grieve. But he had the affection of joy because God was his end.

As a Savior of his people, Christ’s affections must be channeled to their appropriate end. He delights to be a Savior to his people, and so his affections of compassion in glory “quicken and provoke him to our help and succour.”14 Jesus was once a “man of sorrows,” but now he is no longer that. Instead, he is a “man of succors” (a man of reliefs) to his people.

On earth, the church goes through many trials and tribulations. We are people of sorrows because we are following in the footsteps of our Savior. He suffered in various ways while on earth, and so do we. We cannot escape this reality until we go to be with him in glory. Christ understands this about our condition in this world because he once lived in this world of sin and misery. Therefore, as a merciful high priest, he necessarily possesses affections suitable to our condition while he is in heaven.

If heaven were suited only for Christ’s personal happiness, then there would be no need for Christ to possess the affections of sympathy and mercy. But as Goodwin observes, Christ’s relationship to his people is a part of his glory. Therefore, these types of affections are required to be in him if he is to be a good husband to his bride. Moreover, far from being a weakness, Christ’s affections of pity and mercy are his strength. “It is his glory to be truly and really, even as a man, sensible of all our miseries, yea, it were his imperfection if he were not.”15

Enlarged and Undivided

The beauty and glory of good Christology emerges precisely at this point. Though Christ has shed affections that were once a burden to him and are thus not compatible or suitable to his state in heaven, there are nonetheless other affections that possess a “greater capaciousness, vastness” that more than make up for his lack of the former affections. In fact, Goodwin argues that just as Christ’s knowledge was “enlarged” in heaven, “so his human affections of love and pity are enlarged in solidity, strength, and reality. . . . Christ’s affections of love are as large as his knowledge or his power.”16 It was to our advantage that Christ ascended into the heavenly places.

Another way to look at this would be to argue that, since Christ is freed from oppressive affections, it gives greater scope to his effective affections — being free from grief allows you to be more compassionate. So, for example, when you yourself are desperately hungry, other people’s problems don’t receive your best attention because you have your own worries. When Christ was being attacked in the wilderness by the devil, he was not in towns and villages healing diseases.

Fullness of Joy Now and Later

Privatively speaking, if in the heart of Christ he is no longer suffering, how can we explain his joy being full when he knows full well that those he loves on earth are suffering and being tempted? Surely Christ will have a greater fullness of joy in his heart when we are fully glorified and in his presence?

There are two ways of looking at Christ’s fullness of joy in heaven as he shows compassion to us on earth. Christ has what Goodwin calls a “double capacity of glory, or a double fulness of joy.”17 One belongs to his person as God-man, “as in himself alone”; the other is “additional, and arising from the completed happiness and glory of his whole church.”18 Until all his people are fully glorified, Jesus “remains under some kind of imperfection.” In the same way, when we depart from this world to be with the Lord, we are away from our body and await the reunion of soul and body. This is a type of imperfection in us until we receive our resurrected body. From this, Goodwin reasons, “Although Christ in his own person be complete in happiness, yet in relation to his members he is imperfect, and so accordingly hath affections suited unto this his relation, which is no derogation from him at all.”19

Christ desires that we should see his glory (John 17:24), and until that prayer is answered there is some desire and expectation that is unfulfilled. When we all receive the answer to Christ’s prayer, he will receive a greater glory in relation to his bride. Because, however, he knows when this will all happen, and the certainty of it happening is infallibly known to him, he does not possess any anxiety or distress concerning its accomplishment. So, again, his perfected affections in heaven are a result of his perfected knowledge of all things that will be accomplished according to their intended ends.

His Proper Abode

Heaven is the only suitable place for the Lord in his resurrected glory. A perfected, glorified body requires a perfected, glorified place to dwell. As Charnock memorably wrote, “The most perfect body . . . should be taken up into the most perfect place.”20 True, in his life of humiliation, he had a body suitable to the condition in which he lived and the work required of him; but as Charnock says,

When he had put off his grave-clothes, and was stripped of that old furniture, and enriched with new and heavenly qualities, heaven was the most proper place for his residence. Again, had the earth been a proper place for him, it was not fit the Divinity should stoop to reside in the proper place of the humanity, but the humanity be fetched up to the proper place of the Deity, where the Deity doth manifest itself in the glory of its nature. The lesser should wait upon the greater, and the younger serve the elder.21

“That he no longer suffers is our hope that one day we will join with him.”

The greatest part of Christ’s exaltation is the manifestation of his divine nature; the veiling of his divinity had to be temporary while he accomplished our redemption as a man of sorrows. Now, in heaven, the glory of his divinity shines forth in a way that would have destroyed us had it not been veiled before his death (Exodus 33:20). Heaven is the only suitable place at this point for Christ’s glory to be revealed in its splendor and majesty. Therefore, it is nonsensical to think, with the glorification of Christ in glory, that he should suffer or feel perturbed in his being. His good news — his resurrection life — is our good news. That he no longer suffers is our hope that one day we will join with him and possess those affections that have been perfected as we are fully conformed to the image of our Savior.

‘Uses’ of Christ’s Exalted Compassion

Where does this lead Goodwin, one might ask? In his “uses” section after writing so profoundly on the heart of Christ in heaven toward sinners on earth, he makes the following contention about believers: “Your very sins move him to pity more than to anger.” Now, this statement might sound nice as a tweet or a Facebook post, but written in the context of what has gone before, the statement has a weight that crushes the Christian with God’s overflowing mercy, love, and compassion toward us in Christ Jesus. Goodwin adds,

The object of pity is one in misery whom we love; and the greater the misery is, the more is the pity when the party is beloved. Now of all miseries, sin is the greatest; and whilst yourselves look at it as such, Christ will look upon it as such only also in you. And he, loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction.22

The impassibility of Christ’s human nature in glory is good news for us insofar as he can fully succor us without any hindrance or pain in himself to distract him from the full care of his flock. We have his absolute, undivided attention.

Another example of the value of good Christology in relation to a believer’s personal frailties comes from Charnock. Commenting on Hebrews 4:15, he argues that because of the incarnation “an experimental compassion” was gained which the divine nature was not capable of because of divine impassibility.23 As our sympathetic high priest, Christ “reflects” back on his experiences in the world, and so the “greatest pity must reside in him” because the “greatest misery was endured by him.” Christ is unable to forget above what he experienced below.24 Charnock does not intend to say that Christ’s human nature suffers in any way. Instead, he is speaking about Christ’s knowledge and memory of his sufferings as the means by which he is able to be sympathetic to his people in a way that would otherwise be impossible if he did not assume a human nature.

“Our Savior is more compassionate to us now than we can ever be to ourselves.”

Such is Christ’s compassion toward us that “our pity to ourselves,” says Charnock, “cannot enter into comparison with his pity to us.”25 His compassion toward his bride is a powerful compassion whereby he can give us grace in our time of need because he truly knew what it was to be in need.

Good Christology is not a matter only for theologians and pastors, but also for all of God’s children. In meditating upon the glories of Christ in heaven, we not only have hope for what we will one day experience, but we also can rejoice in the knowledge that our Savior is more compassionate to us now than we can ever be to ourselves; we can rejoice that his compassion to us is not mere sentiment, but a powerful compassion whereby he can supply us with his grace in our times of need, just as the Father supplied Christ with the Spirit in his time of need.

Does God Actually Get Angry? Why He Reveals Himself in Human Terms

God reveals himself to his people in the Bible. The opening chapters of Genesis show us that God is relational. Indeed, all true theology is relational theology since God, in his triunity, is a relational God. God relates to his creatures, especially those made in his image, in a manner suitable to their creatureliness. Because God is wise and good, he does not relate to Adam in the garden in a manner that utterly confuses him. Rather, there’s a beautiful simplicity concerning how Adam must live in relation to God, which was friendship with God based upon his gracious condescension.

Now, that does not mean we are not frequently confronted in God’s word, as Job was, with the supreme, infinite majesty of our God. God is infinite in his perfections; he possesses unchangeable omniscience; he enjoys eternal omnipotence. To him alone, we can say with David, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. . . . You are exalted as head above all” (1 Chronicles 29:11). Our God “is clothed with awesome majesty” (Job 37:22).

However, we also find that much of what pertains to us as humans is also attributed to God. We read of God’s “face” (Exodus 33:20), “eyes” (and “eyelids,” Psalm 11:4), “ear” (Isaiah 59:1), “nostrils” (Isaiah 65:5), “mouth” (Deuteronomy 8:3), “lips” (Isaiah 30:27), “tongue” (Isaiah 30:27), “finger” (Exodus 8:19), and many other body parts. What’s more, sometimes we read of God possessing human emotions. He is sometimes jealous or grieved (Deuteronomy 4:24; 32:21; Psalm 78:40; Isaiah 63:10). After Adam sins, God, who has just made the world by acts of divine power, wisdom, and goodness, asks Adam, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).

God Without Passions

What are Christians to make of these declarations of God? Is God eternally unchangeable in his being, or does he, like humans, have the capacity to change? Can God really experience distress or learn something new? What does it mean for God, who is Spirit, to “get angry”? Does God really need to ask Adam where he is, as if he can’t find him?

If we are committed to the biblical and theological view that God is unchangeable (see Psalm 102:26–28), we are affirming that in God there is no change in time (he is eternal) or location (he is omnipresent) or essence (he is pure being). God does not change, nor can he change (Malachi 3:6; Isaiah 14:27; 41:4). Thus, there are no “passions” in God, as if in his essence he can be more or less happy or more or less angry. God is what he always was and will be (James 1:17) in the infinite happiness and bliss we call divine “blessedness.”

An immutable God does not have passions; or, as John Owen famously said, “a mutable god is of the dunghill.” We do not deny that God has affections (for example, wrath or hatred), but affections like wrath in God are either acts of his outward will or they are applied to God figuratively.

Passions refer to an internal emotional change, which are suitable to humans. Think of our blood pressure rising with anger. God’s jealousy — a metaphorical way to speak of him — helps us to understand outward acts of his will. When God wills for the wicked to be punished, sometimes in the most severe way (like the flood in Noah’s time), we can speak of the “anger of the Lord.” Because God is holy and righteous, he must punish sin. When he outwardly executes his punishment, the Scriptures often speak of his fury or wrath. But to suggest that Achan, for example, could upset God so that God is less happy is to make Achan into God and God into Achan (see Joshua 7).

God’s Amazing Stooping

God relates to his image-bearers in a way that does justice to the history of redemption. He condescends and, for our sake, sometimes appropriates to himself “passions” that, while not properly true of his being, are ways of speaking that help us to understand how he will relate to us in terms of his purposes and will.

“God relates to his creatures, especially those made in his image, in a manner suitable to their creatureliness.”

Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) explains the importance of God’s dealings with us in this way: “If God were to speak to us in a divine language, not a creature would understand him. But what spells out his grace is the fact that from the moment of creation God stoops down to his creatures, speaking and appearing to them in human fashion” (Reformed Dogmatics, 1:100). If he did not, we would be left in a cloud of unsearchable darkness concerning who God is and what he is doing in the world.

Now God’s “stooping” and “appearing” are not mere anthropomorphisms in the sense that he is accommodating to us in terms of the language he uses. Rather, the humanlike language used of God in the Old Testament is fulfilled wondrously in the person of Christ in his incarnation.

Anthropomorphic Christ

The Son related to God’s people in the Old Testament by dwelling in their midst (1 Corinthians 10:4). According to Owen, in dwelling with his people, the Son

constantly assumes unto himself human affections, to intimate that a season would come when he would immediately act in that nature. And, indeed, after the fall there is nothing spoken of God in the Old Testament, nothing of his institutions, nothing of the way and manner of dealing with the church, but what has respect unto the future incarnation of Christ. (Works, 1:350)

This is a beautiful way to understand the Old Testament. These anthropomorphisms attributed to God are not only a form of accommodation on his part in terms of his covenantal relationship with his people, but they set the stage for the incarnation of the Son of God. Yet, since the Son is the reason for all things (Colossians 1:16), it goes without saying that anthropomorphic language concerning God is not merely prospective of Jesus but derives from him from the beginning.

Owen adds that it would have been absurd to speak of God continually by way of anthropomorphisms (such as grief, anger, repentance, and so on) unless it was intended that the Son would take to himself “the nature wherein such affections do dwell” (350).

“What is impossible for God, who cannot change, is possible in Christ because of the glory of the incarnation.”

Everything anthropomorphically yet not properly attributed to God is actually properly attributed to Christ as God-man. Jesus, who has arms and eyes, a heart and soul, also grieves (Mark 3:5) and expresses indignation (Mark 10:14). What is impossible for God, who cannot change, is possible in Christ because of the glory of the incarnation. In him we can affirm both God’s unchangeability and his ability to express human passions. The Son of God, as one person with two natures, is both unchangeable and changeable; he experienced an infinite joy in the deity but also, while on earth, an inexpressible sorrow in his humanity.

Always Set to Be Man

Our Lord Jesus is not only the fulfillment of all promises, which are yes and amen in him (2 Corinthians 1:20), but the fulfillment of all truth concerning who God is toward his creatures. The Lord’s hand (arm) is not too short to save because his “hand” is his Messiah who is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Hands are what we use to work, and God works with his hand (Jesus) our salvation.

God often spoke of himself in human terms because the Son was always set to become the true human, the one truly in the image of God (Colossians 1:15), who allows the faithful to see God by faith in this life and by sight in the life to come. As important for us as his divinity is his humanity — a humanity that such stooping language in the Old Testament always anticipated.

The One-Man Revelation of God: Why We Worship ‘the Word’

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1–2)

Bible readers young and old have wondered why John begins his Gospel referring to Jesus as “the Word” that became flesh (John 1:1, 14). The Greek term for “word,” logos, is common enough in Greek. It appears over three hundred times in the New Testament, with different meanings in different contexts. But when understood in relation to Christ, the word has been furiously debated.

Yet Christ being the Logos is cause for more than debate; it is cause for worship. As Christians, we insist upon certain truths concerning Jesus as the Word to better appreciate the beauty of his person and work.

Divine Identity

John may have used logos in connection with the common Aramaic language he used himself. The Aramaic Targums (loose translations and expansions of the Old Testament scriptures) often refer to the “word [memra] of the Lord.” Hence, “Israel is saved by the Memra of the Lord with an everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 45:17).

Moreover, the standard Hebrew of Hosea 1:7, “I will save them by the Lord their God,” is paraphrased in the Aramaic Targum as, “I will redeem them by the word of the Lord their God.” So the “the Word” is a way of saying the Hebrew name of God (YHWH), such as in Numbers 7:89, where the Palestinian Targums say, “From there [between the cherubim] the Word spoke to him [Moses].” God spoke to Moses, but specifically the Logos spoke to Moses.

“Referring to Christ as ‘the Word’ is a virtual assertion of his divinity.”

Referring to Christ as “the Word,” then, is a virtual assertion of his divinity because of how the Aramaic Targums make use of this title. We rightly take the immediate context of John 1 as evidence for the preexistence of Christ, yet we must also see John’s designation of Christ as “the Word” as evidence for the deity of Christ, since Aramaic-speaking Jews would have understood the terminology as such in their first-century context.

Divine Self-Expression

In addition, logos often designates a word or the act of speaking (Acts 7:22). More specifically, logos can have in view God’s revelation, his divine self-expression (Mark 7:13).

The personification of God’s words to humanity are principally and majestically summed up in Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh (John 1:14). The Word is with God, the Word is God, and the Word became human, revealing (unlike any other) the glory of God (John 1:1–2, 18). All things were created through the uncreated Word (John 1:3) for the Word (Colossians 1:16).

Jesus, as the Word, is the Word of life (John 1:4); he gives light to the world and overcomes the darkness. But shockingly, the Word who has life in himself (John 5:26) experiences death on the cross. Through both his death and his resurrection from the dead, “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). Jesus as the Logos is not just the divine Son but the creating, saving divine Son, who reveals God and his purposes.

Logos and Creation

We are missing out on the glory of this title of Christ if we fail to go back to the beginning — an oversight John is careful to avoid, taking us back to the very beginning in his prologue. The distinction in Genesis 1 between God and his creation is clear. Moreover, the Logos is not only the Creator of all things, but the sustainer of all things as well (Hebrews 1:3). The Bible knows nothing of a God who creates and does not also at the same time powerfully sustain his creation by his providential control over all things.

God’s outward works follow a basic pattern: they are from the Father, through the Logos (Son), in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 8:6). Genesis 1 also makes clear that God is a speaking God (“And God said . . .”). The psalmist tells us, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Psalm 33:6). When God creates, he also reveals, which is why the Son is properly called the Word of God. God does not speak to the creation unless through the Logos.

All truth comes from the Logos, for he is the sacred repository of all truth. The Logos provides the basis for God’s revelation to be communicated to humanity. Quite apart from his role as the Mediator in salvation, he is also the Mediator of all revelation, whether in creation or Scripture. The Logos creates, sustains, and speaks, communicating to all creatures some resemblance of God. He is God’s most powerful self-expression, which is precisely why John personifies the Word in order to highlight God’s ultimate self-disclosure. Apart from the Logos, we could know nothing of God.

Logos and Redemption

The Puritan Stephen Charnock speaks of the Logos as the one who makes continued declarations of God to humanity:

As the beautiful image of reason in the mind, breaking out with the discovery of itself in speech and words, is fittest to express the inward sense, thoughts, conceptions, nature, and posture of the mind, so the essential Word of God clothes himself with flesh, comes out from God to manifest to us the nature and thoughts of God. He which is the word of God is fittest to manifest the nature of God. (Works of Stephen Charnock, 4:132)

“God’s best declaration, his best words to humanity, come (fittingly) through the Logos.”

The Logos has the perfect ability to declare the revelation of God, for his “great end” is to reveal God (Matthew 11:25; John 1:18), whether to angels or men. Indeed, Charnock writes, even for the angels, when they looked upon Christ crucified, stricken by the Father, buried in the tomb, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven to be enthroned forever as King of kings and Lord of lords, “they learned more of God and his nature, more of the depths of his wisdom, treasures of his grace, and power of his wrath, then they had done by all God’s actions in the world . . . in all those four thousand years wherein they had remained in being.”

In the Logos, all of God’s attributes are manifested and glorified. Natural theology offers sinful man a dim knowledge of God, but because of the Logos, the attributes of God “sparkle” since they have redemption in view. “Christ is the stage,” says Charnock, “wherein all the attributes of God act their parts.” God’s best declaration, his best words to humanity, come (fittingly) through the Logos.

In sum, by calling the Son the Logos, John is offering us a glimpse into not just the nature of Jesus (the divine revealer of God), but also the purpose of Jesus: he is the revealer of redemption, which ultimately comes not only through words but through actions. As the one who conquered death, he is the Logos of God, the only one in whom there is redemption. And this one in whom we have redemption — the Logos — is Yahweh himself.

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