William Perkins has Entered the Chat

William Perkins has Entered the Chat

To know God’s nature and His works are essential to a blessed and full life. As we peer into simplicity and inseparable operations, our creaturely mind collides with divine truth that is so grand that we, like Job, must place our hands over our mouth as we see this simple and magnificent God who is three persons working to glorify His name to bring a wicked people like us to glory. 

It seems like everyone is talking about the doctrine of God these days. Debates surrounding theology proper continue raging on with no end in sight. Overall, I believe this is a good thing. For many in the church, these discussions promote sharper doctrinal formulation, greater awareness of creedal and confessional statements, and clarity in teaching.

Thankfully, these discussions have also revealed the immense value of theological retrieval. As we seek to retrieve the doctrine and teachings of those eminent saints of the past and bring them into current conversation, we find that these issues were already debated and clearly defined. Those things that may seem new to us are not so new after all. Faithful theologians have set the course for us to follow, allowing for a true catholicity as the Holy Spirit continues to work in the school of Christ.

For that reason, I again suggest that we let William Perkins enter the chat, if you will, to briefly comment on two issues currently being hotly debated: Divine Simplicity and Inseparable Operations.

Divine Simplicity

Confessional theologians, both Reformed and Baptist alike, confess the doctrine of divine simplicity. Both the The Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession in 2.1 teaches that God is “without body, parts, or passions” and “most absolute.” Similarly, the first article of the Belgic Confession says that “We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God.” To say that God is simple in being is not a controversial statement for confessional Protestants. The question of late though, if I can put it simply, is whether each of the attributes of God are ontologically identical with his essence and with every other one of his attributes.[1] Some critics argue that this view is inconsistent with Scripture, and that it comes exclusively from a Thomistic metaphysic that wasn’t articulated as such until Thomas “baptized Aristotle.”

William Perkins, who no doubt cited Thomas favorably at different times, affirms this classical definition of simplicity. Drawing upon various texts, such as Exodus 3:14Acts 17:24-25, and several in John, he writes “Hence it is manifest that to have life and to be life, to be in light and to be light in God are all one…Therefore, whatever is in God is His essence; and all that He is, He is by essence.”[2] Perkins first and foremost viewed the doctrine of simplicity as chiefly a biblical doctrine.

After giving a handful of scriptural references, the reformed catholic theologian then cites a major theologian of church history, showing that this doctrine is truly catholic and to be accepted. Yet he doesn’t quote Thomas, but one who precedes Thomas by several centuries.

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