John Owen on the Communicatio Idiomatum

Owen (Glory of Christ)The communicatio idiomatum (or the communication of properties) is one of the more important doctrines related to the incarnation of Christ, and yet it is not exactly one of the more well-known or commonly-discussed doctrines in our day.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its chapter entitled “Of Christ the Mediator” puts it this way:

“Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature” (8.7).

That, for example, is why Acts 20:28 can speak of “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (ESV, emphasis mine). Can God bleed? In the person of Christ, yes, but only according to His human nature. But because of the unity of His person, the Son of God can properly be said to have suffered, bled, and died.

The communicatio and some of its implications are helpfully summarized by Louis Berkhof:

“[The communicatio idiomatum] means that the properties of both, the human and divine natures, are now the properties of the person, and are therefore ascribed to the person. The person can be said to be almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, and so on, but can also be called a man of sorrows, of limited knowledge and power, and subject to human want and miseries. We must be careful not to understand the term to mean that anything peculiar to the divine nature was communicated to the human nature, or vice versa; or that there is an interpenetration of the two natures, as a result of which the divine is humanized, and the human is deified (Rome). The deity cannot share in human weakness; neither can man participate in any of the essential perfections of the Godhead.” (Systematic Theology, p.324)

In his book, The Glory of Christ, John Owen (1616-1683) explains how all of this relates to the earthly life, ministry, and death of Christ. He writes,

“The Lord Christ suffered and did many things both in his life and in his death as a human being. But all that he did and suffered as a human being was done and suffered by his whole person, even although what he did and suffered as a human being was not actually done and suffered by his divine nature. Because his human nature was part of his whole person, what he did as a human being could be said to have been done by God himself as God, e.g. God purchased his church ‘with his own blood; (Acts 20:28).” (p.43-44)

So we do not speak of the human nature of Christ dying for our sins, but of the death of Christ Himself (i.e. his whole person), according to His human nature. As Owen puts it, all that He did and suffered “was done and suffered by his whole person,” and yet also “not actually done and suffered by his divine nature.” Only this doctrine, properly understood, truly does justice to the incarnation of Christ, as well as to both His divine and human natures.

Hallowed Be Thy Name (THE LORD’S PRAYER – PART III)

Praying HandsThis is the third post in a brief series of blog posts about the Lord’s Prayer. As I pointed out previously, the Lord’s prayer is intended to be a pattern or model for believers to follow in prayer – it is given in order to teach us how to pray. In Matthew 6:9 the Lord Jesus introduces this pattern prayer by telling his disciples, “Pray then like this . . . .”

The fact that the Lord’s Prayer is given as a pattern or model prayer means that the Lord’s redeemed people can (and should!) learn any number of things about prayer by a thoughtful examination of its contents. There we learn what kinds of requests ought to be commonly mentioned in prayer. For example, we as believers are to pray that the will of our heavenly Father might be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). There we are also taught to pray for our daily bread (v.11), as well as for forgiveness (v.12). So those things should occupy a prominent place in our prayers.

But we can also learn a lot about prayer from the structure and order of the Lord’s Prayer. You may be familiar with the old adage, “first things first.” It means that some things have a higher priority than others. Well, what comes first in the Lord’s Prayer? It may surprise you. In Matthew 6:9 Jesus begins the prayer this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Now “hallowed be your name” may not sound much like a request, but that is exactly what it is. Another way of putting it would be to say, “Let your name be hallowed” (or revered as holy).

Think about that for a moment. The very first request in the Lord’s Prayer is that God’s name would be hallowed. In other words, the glory of God is to be the number one concern of the prayers of God’s people! It is not merely first in sequence, but in priority as well! That is no doubt a revolutionary thought for many in our day. How many of us actually pray that way? Is the glory of God at the top of your prayer list? It should be. Jesus himself says so!

May the Lord be pleased to teach you and I how to pray. And may his holy name be greatly glorified and hallowed in answer to the prayers of his people!

John Owen on the Folly of Arminianism

owen_death_of_deathJohn Owen on the folly of Arminianism:

“Alas! is it not a vain endeavor, to open a grave for a dead man to come out? Who lights a candle for a blind man to see by? To open a door for him to come out of prison who is blind, and lame, and bound, yea dead, is rather to deride his misery than to procure him liberty.” (The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, p.305)

In other words, if Christ Jesus died only to make the salvation of sinners possible (rather than dying to actually save His elect people), no one would ever actually be saved.

What good would it be to preach the gospel to someone who is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), if God did not grant them new life, and even faith itself, so that they might believe in Christ and be saved (Ephesians 2:4-10)? It would be much like (to use Owen’s analogies above) opening up a grave, so that the corpse might come out; it would be like lighting a candle for a blind man to see; it would be like opening a prison door and bidding a bound man (or even a corpse!) to walk free.

As Owen rightly points out, if anyone is to be saved, God must do more than ‘open a door of salvation to all’ (the position of the Arminians). He must also give new life to the dead and saving faith in Christ to enter into salvation. And so all of the glory goes to God alone for the salvation of His people.

Apostles’ Creed Eschatology

Simpsons End Is NearThe subject of eschatology can often be very confusing, even intimidating for some people. Sometimes it can seem as if there are nearly as many different views as there are Bible scholars and teachers! And despite the fact that there are a seemingly endless number of resources (books, lectures, Bible conferences, etc.) available on the subject, we seem to be further and further away from any consensus. The result? Many sincere believers despair of ever grasping the basics of biblical eschatology.

That being the case, you might be surprised to learn that the eschatology of the early ecumenical creeds was rather simple. The Apostles’ Creed (circa 3rd century AD), for example, notes that the Lord Jesus Christ will return from heaven where He is presently seated at the right hand of God. It simply says “From there he will come to judge the living [or the “quick”] and the dead.” So the Creed clearly connects the return of Christ with the final judgment of all mankind.

The other aspects of eschatology that are found in the Apostles’ Creed are the resurrection of the dead and the eternal state (heaven and hell). The focus is clearly on how these two essential elements of eschatology relate to believers in particular. The creed simply speaks of “the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting” (which are, incidentally, the last two things mentioned in the creed).

So according to the Apostles’ Creed (and the Nicene Creed as well) there are only four (4) things that any truly biblical understanding of Christianity must necessarily include:

      1. The Return of Christ

      2. The Resurrection

      3. The Final Judgment of the Living and the Dead

      4. The Eternal State (Heaven for Believers in Christ; Hell for the Wicked and Unbelieving)

That’s it. No mention of the millennium. No mention of the tribulation. No mention whatsoever of a rapture of the church as distinct and separate from Christ’s second coming. All that is to say that there is no other aspect of a proper, biblical eschatology (if the Apostles’ Creed is viewed as a summary of the Christian faith) that can be held as definitive or essential to any truly Christian view of eschatology.

That is not to say that those other things are unimportant, nor that we should not study, discuss, and even debate them. We should strive to the best of our ability to rightly understand and articulate whatever the Scriptures say about the last things. We can disagree on those things, but we should not divide or break fellowship over them if the four basic essentials listed above are sincerely agreed upon.

For example, Dispensationalism certainly adds things to the four (4) essentials of Christian eschatology. In addition to the Return of Christ, this school of thought holds to a separate “rapture” of the church (which amounts to a sort of partial return of Christ before the actual return of Christ). They would also add a 7-year tribulation before Christ’s return, and a literal 1,000 year earthly reign of Christ before the final judgment. But, having said all of that, they nevertheless still hold to the four (4) essentials listed above; they just differ in some measure regarding many of the other details.

To be sure, I believe that Dispensationalists are mistaken on a number of things regarding their views on eschatology. (And no doubt my Dispensationalist brothers would say that I am mistaken on a number of points as well!) But I will not break fellowship over such things. Why not?  Because we both still hold to the four (4) essentials of what I term “Apostles’ Creed Eschatology.”

Our Father Who Art In Heaven (The Lord’s Prayer – Part II)

Praying HandsThis is the second post in a brief series on the Lord’s Prayer. (If you are not familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, it can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.) Before we get ahead of ourselves in discussing the various requests found in the prayer, it is vitally important that we rightly understand what is sometimes referred to as the “address” of the prayer. The address is found in Matthew 9:9 where the Lord Jesus instructs his people to begin our prayers this way: “Our father in heaven . . . .”

Is God your “Father in heaven”? Are you a child of God? The Bible says that to all who receive the Lord Jesus Christ, who believe in his name, “he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, ESV). So no one is inherently a child of God all on their own; no one is a child of God simply by virtue of being created by God; certainly no one is a child of God on the basis of their own virtue or goodness, not even by being religious. But one becomes adopted as a child of God through faith in Christ. He alone is the Son of God; sinners are forgiven and adopted as God’s children through faith in God’s Son!

The Fatherhood of God could be considered the central theme of the entire “Sermon on the Mount” (i.e. Matthew chapter 5-7). As you read those three chapters (which are the context of the Lord’s Prayer), you will find the Lord Jesus referring to God as “Father” no less than 17 times! In his teaching specifically on the subject of prayer in those chapters (which includes, but is not limited to, the Lord’s Prayer), he speaks of God as “Father” at least 7 times. Sounds like a pattern, doesn’t it?

It is not too much to say that the Fatherhood of God is in many ways the key to prayer. Believers in Jesus Christ are not to pray like hypocrites, who pray in order to be noticed by others (Matthew 6:5-6). Why? Because “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v.6). Believers are also not to pray like pagans, who, by the mindless repetition of empty phrases in their prayers, treat God as if he were an idol to be manipulated, and treat prayer as if it were a mere mechanical process (Matthew 6:7-8). Why? Because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v.8). Prayer is not for show. Prayer is not a way to manipulate God. It is rather to be understood as taking your concerns to “our Father in heaven.” If you can pray to God as your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9), that changes everything!

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) teaches that because God is almighty God, He is able to do all things for the salvation of his people, and that because he is a “faithful Father” he desires to do so (Q.26). In other words, if God is your heavenly Father, you can be sure that he is both willing and able to answer your prayers. As God, he is most certainly able to answer prayer. As Father, he is also then willing to answer prayer. What a comfort! What an encouragement to prayer!

Our Special Rule of Direction for Prayer (The Lord’s Prayer – Part I)

Praying HandsPrayer Defined

What is prayer? If someone were to pose that very question to you, what would you say? Talking to God? Sure, that would be a good place to start. Prayer is certainly talking with God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer in the following way:

Q.98. What is prayer? A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.”

But perhaps a more important question is whether or not one actually  knows how to pray. But doesn’t everyone know how to pray? Yes and no. Yes, everyone can grasp the simple concept of talking to God. But what if I told you that the Bible says that we do not just naturally know how to pray? The right way to pray is neither instinctual nor intuitive. Romans 8:26 actually says, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (ESV). Not only that, but even the disciples themselves were not ashamed to ask the Lord Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

Now they certainly asked Jesus that question not just because they knew their own weakness and inability, but also because they were well acquainted with His example of prayer. They knew that Jesus prayed. In fact, they asked Him to teach them to pray right after He had just finished praying. Luke 11:1 says that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (ESV).

Our “Special Rule of Direction” for Prayer

And what answer did Jesus give to them? How did He teach them to pray? He taught them what has come to be known as “the Lord’s Prayer.” If you really want to know how to pray, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to start than with a serious consideration of the Lord’s Prayer. It is found in two (2) places in the Bible – Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. The Lord Jesus didn’t just give that prayer to instruct the twelve disciples alone; He gave it to teach us about prayer.

As the Shorter Catechism points out,

“The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught His disciples, commonly called the Lord’s Prayer” (Q.99).

So the Lord’s Prayer is basically a summary of everything we need to pray for. It includes some things that may come to mind rather easily, such as our daily needs (“give us this day our daily bread” – Matthew 6:11), and the forgiveness of sin (“forgive us our debts”- Matthew 6:12). But it also includes (and starts with!) things that might not jump to mind when you pray, such as praying that the Lord’s name would be hallowed or revered as holy (Matthew 6:9), that His kingdom would come (v.10), and that His will would be done here on this earth just like it is in heaven (v.10).

In the forthcoming posts of this series, I hope to briefly go through the Lord’s Prayer, one petition or request at a time. I hope that you will find these studies helpful. Most of all I hope that they will encourage you to go to the Lord in prayer.

William Gurnall on Imprecatory Prayer

GurnallWilliam Gurnall’s classic work on spiritual warfare, The Christian In Complete Armor,  is basically an extended exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20 (totaling some 1,200 pages!). In it he includes a lengthy section (over 300 pages long) on prayer, which is, of course, his treatment of v.18-20 (where Paul speaks of prayer in relation to the whole armor of God).

In that section on prayer, Gurnall takes the time to speak of a subject that is rarely heard of today – imprecatory prayers.

What is imprecatory prayer? An imprecatory prayer is that prayer of God’s people which is directed at or against the enemies of God and His people. They often consist in prayers, not just for deliverance for God’s people from their enemies and His, but also for God’s just judgment against the wicked. Gurnall himself defines it as that prayer “wherein the Christian imprecates the vengeance of God upon the enemies of God and his people” (Vol. 2, p.444).

The Psalms are practically filled with such prayers. Here are just a few examples: Psalm 3:7 says, “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” Psalm 7:6 says, “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.” Psalm 10:15 says, “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.” If the idea of imprecatory prayer makes you uncomfortable, then you will find the book of Psalms to be a rather uncomfortable book indeed.

Not only does the book of Psalms include such prayers, but they are also found on the lips of the saints in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 6:9-10 we are shown “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” crying out out with a loud voice, saying, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” So even the martyrs in heaven are depicted as crying out for justice! They are crying out for the Lord to avenge their blood! And what does the Lord tell them? Does he tell them that they have the wrong idea? Does He tell them that such prayers are no longer appropriate? No! He tells them to “rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (v.11). Justice will come, and their blood will be avenged, but they might have to wait a bit longer.

Gurnall actually warns the wicked not to get the saints engaged in praying against them! He writes to them, “Take heed that by your implacable hatred to the truth and church of God, you do not engage her prayers against you” (p.448). He goes so far as to say:

“The prayers of the saints are more to be feared . . .than an army of twenty thousand men in the field” (ibid).

He points to the example of Esther (cf. Esther 4:16), whose prayers hastened Haman’s destruction on his own gallows; and also of Hezekiah’s prayers against Sennacherib (cf. Isaiah 37:14-20), which “brought his huge host to the slaughter, and fetched an angel from heaven to do the execution in one night upon them” (ibid.). He draws upon the examples given in Scripture to prove his point. The prayers of the saints really are to be feared indeed!

Now, Gurnall does offer some rules or guidelines as a caution against the possible abuses or misuses of imprecatory prayer. (See Vol.2, p.444-446.) They are as follows:

  1. “Take heed thou dost not make thy private particular enemies the object of thy imprecation.” So the right and proper subject of imprecatory prayer must be God’s enemies, the enemies of Christ and His people. And we must be careful not to presume that our own particular enemies are necessarily the enemies of God Himself, His Christ, or His church.
  2. “When thou prayest against the enemies of God and his church, direct thy prayers rather against their plots than person.” Our primary aim in such prayers should be that the Lord Jesus would defend His church. Imprecatory prayer (rightly conceived) should not preclude praying for the salvation of our enemies.
  3. “When praying against the persons of those that are open enemies to God and his church, it is safest to pray indefinitely and in general: ‘Let them all be confounded . . .that hate Zion,’ Ps.cxxix.5; because we know not who of them are implacable, and who not, and therefore cannot pray absolutely and peremptorily against particular persons.” In other words, you just never know whom God might have chosen to save. The Lord defended His church both by judging Herod (Acts 12:20-24), and converting Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-19).
  4. “In praying against the implacable enemies of God and his church, the glory of God should be principally aimed at, and vengeance on them in order to that.” Just as the glory of God comes first in both sequence and priority in the Lord’s Prayer (i.e. “hallowed be your name” – Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2), even so God’s glory must also then come first even in the right practice of imprecatory prayer.
So Gurnall cautions us against the improper use of imprecatory prayer, but nevertheless he also cautions the enemies of God’s people that if they should, through persecution or other such evil, incite the saints to the practice of imprecatory prayer against them for that evil, God will not count it as wasted breath. The prayers of the saints (as Gurnall states above) really are “more to be feared . . .than an army of twenty thousand men in the field.”