I’ve read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity several times but I’ve never read his second essay (“Miracles”) in the collection, God in the Dock, until this afternoon. It was a “sermon” he preached on November 26, 1942.
It far out-powers what I remember of Mere Christianity, and it is, no matter what Van Til said about Lewis or any other mistakes Lewis might have made, Presuppositionalist.
The collection also contains a column he wrote for the Coventry Evening Telegraph, published on January 3, 1945. It is chapter 7: “Religion and Science.” Written to be more popularly accessible, Lewis promoted some concepts that he had also argued for in “Miracles” in the form of a remembered conversation with a skeptic.
But he also added one: that there was a conspiracy of disinformation behind the widely held belief that the ancients were ignorant about nature.
“These are rather niggling points,” said my friend. “You see, the real objection goes far deeper. The whole picture of the universe which science has given us makes it such rot to believe that the Power at the back of it all could be interested in us tiny creatures crawling about on an unimportant planet! It was all so obviously invented by people who believed in a flat earth with the stars only a mile or two away”
“When did people believe that?”
“Why, all those old Christian chaps you’re always telling about did. I mean Boethius and Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Dante.”
At which point Lewis pulls Ptolemy’s Almagest off his bookshelf and read that first paragraph of Book 1, chapter 5, which indicates Ptolemy, who was the authority throughout the Middle Ages, know that the stars were an unimaginable distance away.
“Did the really know that then?” said my friend. “but — none of the histories of science — none of the modern encyclopedias — ever mention the fact.”
“Exactly,” said I. “I’ll leave you to think out the reason. It almost looks as if someone was anxious to hush it up, doesn’t it? I wonder why.”
And then Lewis emphasizes the point in his conclusion.
The real problem is this. The enormous size of the universe and the insignificance of the earth were known for centuries, and no one ever dreamed that they had any bearing on the religious question. Then, less that a hundred years ago, they are suddenly trotted out as an argument against Christianity. And the people who trot them out carefully hush us that fact that they were known long ago. Don’t you think that all you atheists are strangely unsuspicious people.
Back when I had a lot more time I wrote a post at Kuyperian.com trying to summarize the, or perhaps a, theme of Proverbs and the whole Bible’s concept of wisdom. It was entitled “If You Don’t Learn To Obey Orders You Will Never Be Free; Here’s Why.” In it I said a few things like,
This solution here [to sin in body parts in Romans 6] is not intellectualism or a mind-good/body-bad-until-domesticated doctrine. The point is that the intellect or brain does not master the body simply by force of will. You would never get done tying your shoelaces if the brain/body system was supposed to work that way. When you integrate your body into the service of God you are changing both your fingers and your forebrain. As I pointed out here, taking control of yourself is compared in the Bible to taming an animal. If I remember correctly, this has been confirmed by scientific studies measuring the brain activity of amateur and pro golfers. The amateur’s brain activity spikes as he thinks so hard about what he is doing, but the pro’s shows much less activity. He is simply riding the body that is already trained (as well as had a natural and inexplicable talent from the beginning, in many cases).
So now I want to write about barbells and Christian discipleship because I’m shallow like that…
Or maybe I’m not so shallow. I’ll grant you I am discussing, at best, a “first-world problem,” but sometimes such problems are real and need to be dealt with.
Also, segueing from sanctification to strength training may seem violently inappropriate. Paul certainly could be understood that way:
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8; ESV)
Okay, but think of areas where they might overlap. Think, for instance, of how hard it is for someone to get to a job in a timely manner if they haven’t trained their body to get up and shake off sleep.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:9-11; ESV)
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread. (Proverbs 20:13; ESV)
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:33-34; ESV)
Note that the same words are repeated twice in one book. God has confirmed the truth by two witnesses. And this, as those who have had to deal with themselves or others as habitual late-risers, involves improvement in the physical ability to rouse oneself when it is one’s duty to do so. Indeed, there is a record of this being an issue in the garden of Gethsemane in all four gospels.
There’s something else in Proverbs.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong…
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come. (Proverbs 31:17, 25 ESV)
Granted, wisdom itself is a kind of strength, and it is probably that which Solomon means to emphasize. Yet the metaphor only works if the literal meaning had positive value as well. Being strong is better than being weak. And if wisdom includes wise stewardship over resources, then enhancing and preserving one’s strength is one of those stewardship responsibilities.
We are creatures who, barring a birth defect or a tragic accident, have arms and legs. We were meant to use them. Increasing the ability of our limbs to overcome resistance (strength) makes them more useful. We ourselves become more useful.
We’ve reached a level of technology and wealth that may not require many of us to rely on strength to survive and thrive as much as we once did. Firearms, for example, mean the difference in strength between a criminal and his target doesn’t matter as much as it would if both only used clubs or knives. But strength is still useful and muscles still have a purpose. Indeed, we’ve learned the lack of bodily strength can have catastrophic consequences. Muscular atrophy is a form of disease, one that especially affects our elderly. So, getting stronger is likely a way to make us or keep us healthier, as well as more useful.
There is no moral judgement here. Grinding away at an office job is not as difficult as being a field worker. Nevertheless, it is wearisome. After a long day and a lengthy commute home, there is nothing intrinsically lazy about wanting to relax on a couch for the evening. A person can do so without neglecting any responsibilities. There is no reason anyone should be condemned for wanting to rest after their work.
But one can analyze the needs of the human body and realize that this pattern of behavior might have undesirable outcomes. The body tends to adapt to one’s environment. And sitting in an office all day, followed by driving and couch time, does not give the body much to do. Shopping and other errands may not do enough to cause the body to preserve its natural abilities.
Rudyard Kipling described the challenge of decrepitude:
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ “
Except it will help if you start practicing such will power when you still have heart and nerve and sinew left. It will help to start to exercise your will within your current power and gradually increase the load.
The rule seems to be that your body adapts so that the most difficult thing you do eventually feels hard to do. As you age this process accelerates. When you give up an activity because it feels hard another one starts to feel hard to do. As your body loses strength you start to avoid tasks and chores that were once easier. You accumulate weakness. In the words of Seneca, ”Soft living imposes on us the penalty of debility; we cease to be able to do the things we have long been grudging about doing.”
Wisdom (Seneca’s, not necessarily Solomon’s) would dictate, if there is a simple way to reverse or slow this process, you should do so. Wisdom might also point to a method: do hard things, rest and recover and adapt (“soft living” might help with this part), then do slightly harder things. Instead of losing abilities before you have to, you might start gaining abilities.
Increasing strength means more than a change in muscle size. It also means increased self-mastery. Lifting heavier loads involves adapting your nervous system through practice to handle greater resistance. Along the way, it also means learning how the leverages of your muscles and skeleton work to most efficiently deal with resistance.
That’s why, after I suffered an ischemic stroke, I wanted to get back under a barbell as soon as possible.
When I was in rehab and then out-patient therapy, the physical therapists did help me improve, but they couldn’t do much with tiny dumbbells or elastic bands. I don’t think it was necessarily useless, but I don’t believe those are the best tools to use to recover from a stroke.
The first time I walked any real distance without my cane, I did so to walk to my local gym down the road. I still felt I needed my cane but I didn’t want the gym staff asking me questions. When I got inside, the many full-length mirrors showed me that my gait was somewhat lop-sided.
I went to the squat rack and put a barbell on the back of my shoulders. I squatted down, so that the crease of my hip was just below my knee, and stood back up five times. I rested, and then I did another set of five. Then I did one more set. I entered into my log that I had squatted 45 pounds for three sets of five (it might have been wiser to get to a higher number that day, but I didn’t realize that until later).
I did some other exercises as well, but for now let’s just focus on the squat.
Two days later, giving myself two nights’ sleep and one day of rest, I returned to the gym. I went to the squat rack and this time, before I put it on my shoulders, I put a five-pound weights on each end of the bar. I squatted 55 pounds for three sets of five.
Two days later I did the same thing with 65 pounds. And so on. Pretty quickly I shortened my progress to five-pound jumps, but I kept going.
One day I noticed my cane standing in the corner and couldn’t remember when I had last used it.
I had several challenges with form or getting adequate sleep or food. So, I have had to reduce weight on the bar occasionally and start again trying to make progress by increasing the load. I’m now stronger than I ever was before the stroke. Some of that comes from muscle growth. But I also retrained my nervous system. After all, the stroke didn’t remove muscle. My weakness came from a brain injury. And increasingly heavier lifts (I am confident) challenged my brain to “rewire” itself to better control my muscles. I became a better master of resistance because I became a better master of my body–myself.
MODERN LIFE & THE ANOREXIC MYTH
There was enough wealth and diversity of labor in the New Testament world that there were people who specialized in physical feats. Paul refers to their regimens. So does Seneca. Which brings up a point we need to keep in mind: strength doesn’t often become available to humans “in the wild,” but rather in a prosperous civilization. If you must work every day and food is expensive, you are not going to grow to near your potential.
In the movie Conan the Barbarian (80s version), the child Conan is enslaved and forced to push the millstone around. After growing up doing this, he becomes a muscular bodybuilder played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. In real life, such slaves wasted away and died. In real life. Arnold Schwarzenegger achieved his body through a regimen that included plenty of rest and food (and probably steroids—I am not recommending all of Schwarzenegger’s methods or goals).
The “fitness industry” tends to encourage the belief that we need to be careful to not eat too much and “work out” as much as possible. But to get stronger, we need to eat enough and not train too often. Marvel Comic’s Bruce Banner somehow at least doubles his mass when he changes into The Hulk. In real life, you can’t gain muscle mass unless you eat enough to gain it.
Thus, the availability of food and sleep and rest can be an asset rather than a liability. Our first-world prosperity can be an aid to our growth in strength and health, rather than a threat to them.
BY WISE GUIDANCE WAGE WAR
Conserving and growing one’s strength and health is just as wise as conserving and growing one’s wealth—something Solomon often addresses. Aside from the personal rewards, one is better able to help the weak and sick. Furthermore, by not becoming weak and sick (to the extent that you can avoid it) others don’t have to help you and can extend their resources to other people.
Note: This has little or nothing to do with improving your appearance. We all know that looking good is socially advantageous, and that often means looking lean in our society. That cultural value, in some instances, can lead to an unhealthy outcome. And there are a great many factors that determine the outcome of how you look to others. Only a few are within your control. But everyone can get stronger.
While people have many responsibilities that might require them to neglect getting stronger, the process of building strength is so easy, at least initially, that men and women ought to consider it.
When I was a teenager I used to work out. I used dumbbells, the EZ curl bar, cable machines, and the bench press. As a man in his late forties who eventually discovered the Starting Strength program, there is no comparison. The strength increase I have experienced through doing this program far exceeds what I experienced as a teenager.
The basic principles of increasing your strength are:
Lift heavy weight in a way that challenges your entire body, rest, and then lift heavier weight, and repeat.
The way to most easily challenge your entire body is to squat, deadlift, and press (standing overhead, and bench) with a barbell (the power clean is also useful for some people). As a novice lifter, you can add weight to the bar every time. How long you can do this depends on a lot of factors. Eventually your time of making “novice gains” will run out, and you will have to decide if it is worth the effort to progress in a more complicated way and more slowly (in which you basically move some steps back in order to make more steps forward).
Whether it is worth pursuing strength training farther than novice gains is a question I can’t claim to objectively answer. But, aside from learning the lifts (the squat being the most difficult) the program for novices is simple. Why not improve yourself when it can be done so easily?
For many of us, barbells are intimidating and associated with large, young men. That is a sad myth. I’m asking you to ignore gym culture and think of barbells are a tool to make a stroke victim more functional or an elderly lady experiencing early decrepitude young again.
Nothing lasts forever and a person has other duties beside getting stronger and staying healthy. But given the possible rewards, you should consider strength training with barbells.
Bottom line: let’s work for change where God calls us and gifts us, but let’s not forget that the Great Commission is go into the world and make disciples, not go into the world and build the kingdom.
The Great Commission:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Going, therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Interestingly, this is the only solid conclusion DeYoung comes to. The rest is cloudy and unsure, bifurcated and bipolar. He writes, “I don’t like the ‘third rail’ folks who are always positioning themselves as the sane alternative between two extremes, but I have to admit that there are elements of both approaches–two kingdom theology and neo-Kuyperianism–that seem biblical and elements that seem dangerous.”
So let me just summarize DeYoung’s actual communication. It isn’t about neo-Kuyperianism. It isn’t about two-kingdoms. It is against God’s law. He wants you to know that ministers in good standing (in complete opposition to the actual statements in the Westminster Confession, if anyone cares) will be permitted all sorts of intellectual hobbies to root around in one or the other viewpoints. But theonomists are outside the pale. In fact, opposing theonomy doesn’t require an exegetical reason (or, for that matter, any church court ruling). You as a reader need to be taught what you must do, how you must conform, to be acceptable to DeYoung and his cool friends.
Reject Theonomy! Not with an argument. Not with an ecclesiastical verdict. But with prejudice. All other viewpoints can be measured by their utility in rejecting theonomy.
There is nothing else to learn from DeYoung’s piece. It is one piece of dogmatism nestled in a pile of mush. Notice that, as there is no argument, the hope seems to be that the reader will, in the midst of all the other verbiage, simply swallow the dogma without evidence or argument.
In 1971 John Rawls published “A Theory of Justice,” the most significant articulation and defense of political liberalism of the 20th century. Rawls proposed that the structure of a just society was the one that a group of rational actors would come up with if they were operating behind a “veil of ignorance” — that is, provided they had no prior knowledge what their gender, age, wealth, talents, ethnicity and education would be in the imagined society. Since no one would know in advance where in society they would end up, rational agents would select a society in which everyone was guaranteed basic rights, including equality of opportunity. Since genuine (rather than “on paper”) equality of opportunity requires substantial access to resources — shelter, medical care, education — Rawls’s rational actors would also make their society a redistributive one, ensuring a decent standard of life for everyone.
So if this is the right way to determine how a society can be a just society, how would a rational agent in Rawls’ book differ from a wise agent in the book of Proverbs?
Here is the problem:
In Rawls’ view, society is “just there” and its resources and wealth fall from the sky. They aren’t produced. It didn’t require hard work by motivated people to make those resources available They don’t run out. They don’t need to be conserved. There is simply an eternal unchanging mass of wealth that needs to be minimally distributed.
But Rawls is being irrational to believe this. If he were rational he would realize that wealth gets created and conserved. People act with greater or lesser efficiency.
If he had any Biblical perspective he would know that peoples and nations rise and fall according to the aggregate decisions the people make.
Rawls was only really asking what about people who know they are joining a society that has reached the point like the one in which he was writing. And he was further assuming that resources would not get used up by the society that he was advocating.
American wealth did not just happen. It got created by people who had none of the so-called “rights” that he advocated. They had to provide for themselves.
And American wealth did not increase under the application of Rawls’ vision. It has been dissipating. People get a “right” to a shrinking pie.
So if you are lucky enough to hit the welfare-state jackpot when it is first flush with cash, you will be happy with Rawlsian rationality. But if you come to it later, you will find a different situation.
If you include ignorance of when the rational agents will join this society, then they are going to want a market driven, free society so that, even if they don’t have equal access to resources, they still have a growing standard of living.
I have decided to re-read John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. I’m reading the Banner of Truth paperback scan with the introduction by J. I. Packer.
J. I. Packer makes it clear that the Gospel is at stake in John Owen’s defense of “Limited Atonement.” This is the kind of thing where, if Packer is right, then the issue is really important. But if Packer is wrong, then he is being highly schismatic.
I may deal more with that later. What I want to notice in this blog post is that Packer has what a reader could interpret as two different versions of limited atonement in the first few pages of his introduction. On page 4 he sets out the five points:
(1.) Fallen man in his natural state lacks all power to believe the gospel, just as he lacks all power to believe the law, despite all external inducements that may be extended to him, (2.) God’s election is a free, sovereign, unconditional choice of sinners, as sinners, to be redeemed by Christ, given faith, and brought to glory. (3) The redeeming work of Christ had as its end and goal the salvation of the elect. (4.) The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men to faith never fails to achieve its object. (5). Believers are kept in faith and grace by the unconquerable power of God till they come to glory.
However, on page 7 he specifies that, the redeeming work of Christ actually accomplishes the salvation of the elect in a significant way.
Calvinists, however, define redemption as Christ’s actual substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners, through which God was reconciled to them, their liability to punishment was forever destroyed, and title to eternal life was secured for them.
In my opinion, the most natural reading of the second description–the understanding I remember deriving from these words when I first read Packer in my youth–is plainly wrong.
When Saul of Tarsus was on the road to Damascus he was chosen by God for eternal salvation, but he was also an enemy of God, liable to punishment for his sins, and had no title to eternal life. God had decreed to bring him to repentance and faith and union with Christ to grant him that title, but he had no claim on it yet. God had not given it to him yet.
On the formula offered above, if Stephen called out to Saul, as he saw him overseeing the garments of the Sanhedrin, and warned Saul he was under God’s wrath for his hardness of heart and violence against the Church, Stephen would be making a claim that was not true. The penalty for Saul’s past, present, and future sins had already been paid. The wrath of God was already satisfied for him.
The Westminster Confession contradicts this position:
God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them. (“Of Justification” – Chapter 11, paragraph 4).
I remember reading the Confession and yet never really thinking about what this paragraph was telling me. If memory serves (and it may be inaccurate) part of the reason I couldn’t really acknowledge this paragraph was precisely because I had read J. I. Packer’s introduction to The Death of Death by John Owen. It blinded me. I remember the recruiter from Westminster Theological Seminary, talking to me at Houghton College (late 80s) and mentioning that Arminians had no theory of the atonement at all. And I of course thought that made perfect sense at the time. Now I realize I had implicitly denied justification by faith.
What I find odd is that Packer wants to affirm a Trinitarian salvation. On page 6:
For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God–the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power, and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of the Father and the Son by renewing.
But if Jesus has already given us title to eternal life, and made us no longer liable to eternal punishment, then I don’t see how this Trinitarian salvation holds up. The Spirit then, is not working to achieve salvation but is, in fact, simply an effect of salvation. He works to prevent unregenerate unbelievers from dying and going to heaven because God has already removed his wrath from them.
I have other problems with this second description. Allow me to quote it again with the next sentence included:
Calvinists, however, define redemption as Christ’s actual substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners, through which God was reconciled to them, their liability to punishment was forever destroyed, and title to eternal life was secured for them. In consequence of this, they now have in God’s sight a right to the gift of faith, as the means of entry into the enjoyment of their inheritance.
That is simply not what Calvinists believe, it is not logically demanded from Calvinism, and (unless John Owen can prove otherwise) it is not biblical. People are not adopted at the cross–in billions of case, before they actually exist–and then discover the enjoyment of this inheritance later in life when they are converted to faith by the Spirit. Anyone who has memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism knows this is the case:
Q. 34. What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of, the sons of God.
And when are we adopted? The Catechism gives us the time frame:
Q. 29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.
Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
Q. 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.
No one has legal benefits, rights, or privileges before God as unbelievers who are not justified, even though God has chosen them for salvation and sent Christ to die and rise for them with their salvation as the end or goal of that work. We become heirs when we repent and believe. We don’t do this ourselves, God’s Spirit gives us faith by grace.
Since Packer is declaring what “Calvinism” is, I’m going to suggest it might be helpful to go to the source. Here is John Calvin, Book 3, of The Institutes of the Christian Religion:
THE WAY IN WHICH WE RECEIVE THE GRACE OF CHRIST: WHAT BENEFITS COME TO US FROM IT, AND WHAT EFFECTS FOLLOW
Chapter I: The Things Spoken Concerning Christ Profit Us by the Secret Working of the Spirit
1. The Holy Spirit as the bond that unites us to Christ. WE must now examine this question. How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son–Not for Christ’s own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us.
Calvin’s words immediately line up with the Westminster Standards from a century or so later. They don’t work that well with Packer’s description of the work of Christ–the one he insists all Calvinists believe in.
“In any successful attack on freedom the state can only be an accomplice. The chief culprit is the citizen who forgets his duty, wastes away his strength in the sleep of sin and sensual pleasure, and so loses the power of his own initiative.”–Abraham Kuyper
Let us imagine that there is a nation somewhere that is ruled by a wicked government. Let us further imagine that God doesn’t like the nation’s current regime and is looking for a way to change it.
You’re thinking, “But God is omnipotent so he doesn’t ‘look for a way.’”
Right, but I’m speaking of God’s actions within certain God-ordained constraints. God said he would not destroy Sodom for the sake of ten righteous persons (Genesis 19). So we can say, without denying God’s omnipotence that he was looked for an excuse to save Sodom and didn’t find it.
But what would be the God-ordained constraint that would make Him “look for a way” to replace a wicked government with another.
So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:15-18 ESV).
The typical interpretation, I think, is that the Gospel reveals God’s righteousness, and is the solution to God’s wrath which is revealed somehow “from heaven.” The idea is that God’s wrath is God’s actions of turning people over to further sin because they sin, as is vividly described in Romans 1.18ff.
God does indeed give people up to sin, and is just in so doing. But that process described beginning in Romans 1.18 is not the fullness of God’s wrath. Paul clearly states that this whole process, rather than satisfying God’s wrath, actually requires his patience and kindness. He writes at the climax:
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them
(Romans 1:32 ESV).
And yet death has not overtaken all human history. God has not sent a worldwide flood. God has not consumed the world by fire. Why not?
Then in the next chapter it is stated more clearly that God’s mercy is involved in all of this:
We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed
(Romans 2:2-5 ESV).
This plainly tells us that this whole process, where God gives up sinners to more sin, was not a simply an exercise of God’s justice, but involves a work of grace. Furthermore, the “day of wrath” is not an ongoing aspect of this history, but a future date.
This raises the question: Is Romans 1.18 telling us that God’s wrath is revealed in the Gospel because the Gospel tells us about this future day of wrath?
As Paul writes a little further on:
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:15-16 ESV).
If the Gospel reveals God’s wrath, we might understand Romans 1.16-18 as follows:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For [in it] the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:16-18 ESV)
I think this is right, but I don’t think the fact that the Gospel foretells the day of judgment is what Paul is referring to when he says that the Gospel reveals the wrath of God.
How does the Gospel reveal both the righteousness of God and the wrath of God?
The answer, of course, is spelled out in Romans 3.21ff. God displays both his faithfulness or righteousness and his wrath by publicly subjecting Jesus to His wrath.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who trust. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, through [his] faithfulness. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who belongs to the faithfulness of Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
First, notice that once again we see that God’s wrathwas not revealed in the process described beginning in Romans 1.18ff. Paul reiterates that God had “passed over former sins.”
But by putting Jesus forward as a propitiation, God has revealed his righteousness and faithfulness. He revealed his wrath on Jesus.
The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel because the Gospel reveals the wrath of God by preaching the cross of Christ.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh
(Romans 8:1-3 ESV)
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:19-24 ESV)
Note that, in that last passage above, Paul is not claiming that all the unbelieving Jews are beyond the possibility of redemption. There is still time to repent. He goes on to say that only a “partial hardening has come upon Israel” (Romans 11.25). The wrath here is not the eternal wrath on unbelieving sinners at and after the day of Judgment. Rather, it is the wrath displayed on the cross. Israel’s hardening brought salvation to Jew and Gentile alike.
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
(Romans 11:11-12 ESV)
For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
(Romans 11:30-35 ESV)
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV).
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
No comment needed, I don’t think. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,… One Book, One Commission.